Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year!

Well this is the last post for 2010, it's been a great year for me starting up this blog. I really had no idea what I was getting myself into when I decided finally decided to put all these thoughts I had on the game onto paper, or in this case cyberspace. The initial intent of Football Saves All was to bring up issues or match's in the game that intrigued me and then start a conversation about them. I have to stay this ended up being more successful then I could possibly imagine.

As we head into 2011, I hope to improve the look of the blog and maybe even publish a magazine on the beautiful game (closer to 2012 in truth). I also intend to keep up the same style of writing and coverage!

Thank you for reading and for following! Have a safe and happy new year!


Thursday, December 30, 2010

Alright here's another list!

So I know it's pretty cliche to put together year end lists, but I though I'd put some together. Please note these lists are completely subjective based on my ideas on how the game should be played, you are free to rip them all you like, personally I believe that what these lists are meant to do!

So with further a do I present my first ever top 5 year end list: Top 5 exciting club teams of the year!

Note: I have really only watched European and North American based clubs in 2010, I watched a bit of Brazilian league but not enough to form a proper opinion. Also note this list isn't for the BEST team, but the most exciting/entertaining on the pitch!

5) Palermo (Serie A)

Javier Pastore

Out of all the teams currently playing in Europe who can say the line this club boasts is not one of the most interesting and exciting in Europe? This team has always been on the fore front of signing promising young talent on the cheap and building them up to their potential. 2010 was no different, as players like Simon Kjær, Fábio Simplício, Edinson Cavani, Abel Hernández, Josip Iličić and Javier Pastore made or began to make their name at the Sicilian club. Although the first three were sold during the summer they helped the club to a Europa League birth. During first half of the 2010-11 season Pastore has stepped up to become one of the most sought after talents in world football with his outstanding control a pinpoint passing. While Iličić has provided some amazing performances and goals in the same period. If Palermo can hang on to these players, the ladder only leads to the top spots in the Serie A.

4) Blackpool (Premier League)
Seasiders manager Ian Holloway
Everyone like to root for the underdog, and in 2010 there is no bigger underdog than the team from England south coast. The seasiders are one of if not the smallest club to enter the top flight since the inception of the Premier League in 1992. Under the management of the charismatic Ian Holloway, the club took the Championship by storm in the early half of 2010, finishing in the final playoff spot in the race for promotion. Their improbable playof run culminated in their trip to Wembley and a shock 3-2 win over Cardiff City in the playoff final to make it up. The thing that makes this club fun to watch is their attacking style of play, Holloway has not compromised this so far in the Premier League scoring a big win at Liverpool. The key man on the squad is Scottish international Charlie Adam who has been the teams playmaker, however you have to look at the squad as a whole to really appreciate what they are doing. Blackpool struggled to sign players due to the lack of funds at the club, they played the first month of the season away from home as Bloomfield Road had to be renovated to accommodate PL standards and where picked by most pundits to finish dead last in the league....currently they are 8th and just outside a spot in Europe.

3) Lille (Ligue 1)
Gervinho of Lille
Les Dogues have slowly been building and bring up so exciting young talent in France that are now starting to show their worth. The attacking trio of Eden Hazard, Moussa Sow and Gervinho spearhead the northern French club who are sitting first in Ligue 1. I've mention Hazard on a few occasions on this blog as I believe he has what it takes to become a superstar in this game. Gervinho also has this ability and showed flashes of what he could do at this years' World Cup. As for Sow, he's finally getting his shot to be the the number 9 on a game in game out basis. He's repaid manager Rudi Gracia's faith by currently leading France in goals with 14. The excitement for this team doesn't just lay with the offence, playmaker Yohan Cabaye provided both the creativity and strong defensive covering a box to box midfielder requires. At the back the pairing of France International Adil Rami and Aurélian Chedjou has helped the club to one of the best defensive records in France.

2) Tottenham Hotspur (Premier League)
Gareth Bale- A Brazilian right backs worst night mare
Dirty Harry has done it again, he's taken a club who was bottom of the table when you found them and turned them in Champions League club who can beat Inter Milan at home. Though not the finished article yet this side can on dazzling displays of attacking football which at times is sorely lacking in England. It's been fun watching the development of Gareth Bale blossom into a top level player capable of jaw dropping performance like the ones against Inter this this years Champions League group stages. He still has to show some consistency in his game but at 21 he's only going to get better and grow as a footballer.

1) Barcelona (La Liga)

Unfair at times....just unfair

Champions of Spain....again. I know I haven't shocked the world with my number 1 but really who's going to deny the greatness of this club? It's not just Messi, or Xavi, Iniesta, Villa, Puyol, Dani Alves, Valdes, Pedro, Bojan, Guardiola or the ball boy who can dribble better than anyone on the TFC roster. It's the philosophy of play and the willingness to stick to the principle no matter who you play. Barca try and play attactive football all the time, it is demanded from the top senior level, right down to the youngest youth player. When you watch this club play it feels like your watching an art form in motion, I know my words are romanticising the team but it really does. The argument has been raised about if this generation of Barca players are the greatest club team of all time? I'm not sure if that is a valid argument as you really can't compare teams from different generations, but I've personally never seen a better club side, and this comes from a die hard United supporter who loves the 98/99 squad that won the treble. This is the best club side in the world...period.


Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The DeRo Dilemma...and why he needs to go.

Toronto FC's Dwayne De Rosario, left, trains with Celtic FC in Lennoxtown, Scotland on Dec. 28, 2010. To the right is Swedish midfielder Freddie Ljungberg, also on trial.

Over the last few days long suffering Toronto FC supporters have been watching an evolving soap opera of events take place at the club between management and its best player Dwayne DeRosario. And just like a soap there is a third party to complete the sordid triangle in legendary Scottish club Celtic. All jokes aside this trial...or training or tryout whatever DeRo's camp is calling it is starting to become an unwelcome distraction of a club that is trying to sort itself out for the upcoming MLS season.

The facts are this, DeRosario has gone to Scotland to "workout" with Celtic for a week in Scotland to keep himself fit..... in his terms. TFC first came out on Monday denying that DeRo was even in Scotland, then had to admit he was there when pictures surfaced of him in Celtic training gear in Lennoxtown. Now the club has come out stating that they knew he wanted to go but had no permission from the club to go train. Then there is Celtic who seemed to be convinced that a) The player and agent had permission from the club and b) that he was on trial with the possibility of a short term lease, or even a permanent switch.

On the surface the issue is whither or not permission to train with Celtic was given by MLSE to DeRo, right now things do not look good for the TFC captain as both the club and the league appear to be in the dark about the whole thing if you read their statements. However if you scratch below the surface the issues between club and player are coming to a head.

Last seasons cheque writing goal celebration  by DeRo put him in the dog house for the first time since his arrival in early 2009. It was clear money was an issue for the captain who felt he should be receiving DP level money considering he was by far the club's best player. Although he may have been right in asking for a raise, the way in which he went about it was "unacceptable" in the eyes of club President Tom Anselmi and put the club in a difficult position, say nothing and you are seen as condoning the behavior, say too much too strongly and best player demands a move out.

This latest move by DeRosario once again puts the club in the same position with an added dilemma, "should we let him go?"

On this question you will get many different reactions some for, many against but what supporters and management have to weigh is " What's more important? star power and drawing power? or building a strong nucleus for the club?"

Right now DeRosario is in the middle of a 4 year deal with a roughly $400,000 a year salary. That made him the 3rd highest paid player on the squad behind Julian DeGuzman and the now departed Mista. If you take that $400,000 hit off the salary cap, TFC could bring in a lot of good pieces that could make this club a contender in the MLS very quickly and very cheaply. However the down side is the loss of quality, there can be no doubt that he is the most gifted player on the squad, who can go on massive goal scoring runs. But how many times last year was it asked, who else is going to score the goals? Who will provide the wide play? Who can stop the other teams best player? Sending DeRo and his massive contact to Scotland could begin to answer some of these questions.

Here's what Dwayne needs to understand, with his current contact and the club's current salary cap situation he CANNOT get a raise his salary is at the max for a non DP. As for the oft wondered option of making him a DP the answer is probably a no as well. The league likes to have clubs reserve those spots for international talent coming from overseas; plus the only "life long MLS'er" who has made that jump is Landon Donovan for political reasons more than anything. So unless DeRosario can find a way to live with his contact he could be seeing the door sooner rather than later.

At 32 he has only a hand full of real options available to him, one is to try and make a last ditch effort to catch on with a club in Europe (which he's trying to do now, no matter how much he denies it) Try and force a trade to another MLS club, but seeing how the re-entry went not a lot of teams are looking to pick up big ticket contacts right now. The third is to stay put.

Whatever he decides to do this latest move by the Canadian international is one of serious disrespect to both the club management no matter what you think of them, and to the supporters who will not take this one lying down.

Mike N

Sunday, December 19, 2010

CWNT unbeaten in 10 as they win Brazilian Tournnament

The Women's national team made it a national record 10 unbeaten as they drew with 3rd ranked Brazil in Sao Paulo 2-2 to capture the Torneio Internacional Cidade de Sao Paolo tournament on goal differential. This caps on of the most successful years for the senior Women's side who end 2010 with a overall record of  13 wins 3 draws and 2 losses. This tournament title is also the third this year for the women program who have made incredible strides under head coach Carolina Morace.

"We're very confident right now, I think Carolina and the coaching staff, have worked so hard with us and we've really developed under them, and I think the results are starting to show" said Christine Sinclair who's rocket left footer off the far post tied the game up at 2-2, after Josee Belanger opened scoring in the 43rd minute with a header from a Melissa Tancredi cross.

Brazil's two goals came from current world player of the year Marta, the first from a brilliant run past two Canadian defenders in the 55th minute to tie it at 1-1. Then she gave Brazil a temporary lead in the 72nd on a penalty when Marie-Eve Nault had been judged to handle the ball in the box. Nault was sent off with her second yellow, and Canada played the rest of the match down a player.

Sinclair who was recently named Canadian Women's player of the year by the CSA for the 6th year running, took the ball on the right flank and curled a hard shot on goal in the 82nd that angled in off the far post. It was defiantly the talking point of the match.

"Melissa Tancredi laid it off to me I think, and it just came back perfectly and set it up nicely for a one-time shot.," said Sinclair

I've added a video of the match highlights here. Please note the commentary is in Portuguese, if anyone wants to translate some of what's being said add to the comments.


Friday, December 17, 2010

The road to Wembley really begins!...Champions League round of 16 match ups.

I'll have thoughts on these match ups a bit later, but the draw shook down pretty much the way I though it would, especially for Arsenal and Spurs. Real Madrid are out for revenge against Lyon for last years dismissal at this stage, and finally we have a rematch of last years final between Bayern Munich and Inter Milan. Great match up, however both sides are a shadow of the sides that played in the final in May.

Here's the results of the draw....discuss amongst yourselves!

Roma v Shakhtar Donetsk

AC Milan v Tottenham Hotspur

Valencia v Schalke

Inter Milan v Bayern Munich

Lyon v Real Madrid

Arsenal v Barcelona

Marseille v Manchester United

FC Copenhagen v Chelsea

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Quick thoughts on today's Champions' league draw

The Champions' League starts in earnest today with the drawing of match ups for the round of 16 which starts in February. The potential exists for some seriously sexy match ups like another Manchester United v AC Milan showdown or Barcelona v Inter Milan...tell me you wouldn't watch that!

Who's playing who?

See this is the thing about Champions League I love, the potential for amazing match ups in the knock out stages. If I could just take off the intellectual football fan hat off for a moment and put on the simple fan hat, the knock out stages of this tournament excite me more than the World Cup. Mainly because there is the potential for titanic games between the best club sides in the world, which boasts the best players in the world. It also doesn't hurt that it's every year, and FIFA is not involved as well. I've heard arguments from platforms like the Footy Show, Match of the day and others that the group stage of the tournament takes some of the luster out of the match ups, or that the amount of money that floats around kills the vibe. Although I agree that the group stage can drag at times, I do believe this is the best footballing tournament in the world today.

Friday will prove me right with some excellent match ups. It also gives us an insight into some of the lesser known leagues like the Danish Superliga in which champions Copenhagen will enter the knock stages for the first time. It will be an up hill climb for the club whoever they draw, but as last year taught us with Bordeaux, anything could happen.

The draw I'm most interested in seeing is Arsenal's. In theory they could draw Barca or Real Madrid (Would take a day off work to watch that one) which could be instant classics. This is a squad most people thought along with Barcelona to have been drawn into an easy group, and it looked that way through the first three group games. However the wheels fell off a bit and it took a late fury of goals on match day 6 to qualify in second place. Now they face a real test against Europe's finest, will this force some serious spending by Arsene Wenger in January?

Also pre tournament favorites Real Madrid could come out with a slightly easier draw, or they could draw the already mentioned Arsenal or a stingy Marseille side who could provide some problems for Jose Mourinho's side. Remember he was brought in to get them past this stage in which they have fallen in 4 straight years. His goals were straight forward, retake the league from Barcelona, and win Champions league (European Cup) for a record 10th time. The pressure is on Mouriho and Ronaldo, but I would fancy them to make a deep run.

So much to talk about, but honestly let's see who draws who and then the fun can really begin.


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Football trend #143: The Mid Season Fallout

Carlos Tevez
Tevez, should he stay or should he go?

Manchester City supporters were feeling pretty good about themselves Saturday afternoon, the squad had just hammered West Ham 3-1 and looked very good doing it. Fans were finally seeing the free flowing, silky beautiful football they had been craving since the Abu Dhabi group took over the club and promised the world. Roberto Manchini's team were, albeit temporally, joint top of the table with Arsenal and finally gaining the respect of their cross town rivals United. It seemed City fans were getting an early Christmas present.

That was until about 6 pm, when Carlos Tevez decided he didn't like Manchester anymore.

The sensational news their club captain and top goal scorer had handed in a written transfer request stunned not only City fans, but the footballing fraternity in general. The fact that Tevez wasn't happy at City wasn't a huge shock. You could point to a number of actions by the Argentinian striker that showed his discontent. From repeated trips back home to Argentina during the middle of the season to see his kids, to locker room and on the field blow ups with other players and Manchini. To his requests during this off season to be transferred away from England in order to be closer to home, it was clear number 32's time at the club was going to come to an end sooner rather than later. However no one though this soon, and this abruptly.

In his own statement released Monday Tevez went out of his way to make us understand that his motives were not money based like some other striker in Manchester who tried to pull something similar. Though it is worth mentioning that City claim Tevez's handler Kia Joorabchian has been angling for an improved contact over the past year.

He stated that his relationships with "certain  executives" and management have "broken down beyond repair" and that family reasons, not money or more playing time were behind his request. Many are speculating what might be going on behind the scenes at Eastlands but Dan Roan of BBC Sport sees it as a  "developing power struggle between Joorabchian and City's board, especially chief executive Garry Cook". Whatever the case may be Tevez is not the first, nor will he be that last player who suffers from the mid season fallout bug.

Cassano's days on Sampdoria seem numbered.

Several players currently are either holding out from their clubs, or are being held out by their owners due to a mid season fallout. The biggest example currently is in Italy where Italian international striker Antonio Cassano is being "frozen out" of his club team Sampdoria for falling out with owner Riccardo Garrone. This situation is a bit different though as Cassano refused to attend a function with Garrone and later called the owner what loosely can be translated in English "an old piece of sh*t". Needless to say Cassano despite all his wonderful talent has not seen anything close to game action since, and is thought by many Italian football pundits to be living on borrowed time at the Genoa club.

Zlatan Ibrahimović is a two time member of this club, first falling out with the afore mentioned Roberto Manchini at Inter Milan before being sold to Barcelona in exchange for Samuel Eto'o (Who's no saint himself). Then admitting this summer that he and Barca manager Pep Guardiola hadn't spoken in 8 months and that he felt Guardiola wasn't good enough to manage him. That mid season fallout last season lead to his loan/will become permanent move to AC Milan in August.

Dishonorable mentions go to: Robinino (Another Man City disaster), Emmanuel Adebayor (Potentially a City disaster), Joleon Lescott, Wayne Rooney, Ronaldo (Not the current one) and the countless others who have run rampant with the Bosman ruling.

As players gain more money and agents become bigger players in the business end of the game, these "fallouts" or grievances will continue to grow in the game. I do not believe this Tevez affair is all about money, if it was I believe this wouldn't be playing in the press as freely as it has. Family has a lot of say in this, his two daughters live in Argentina and he wants to be closer to them. However I also believe that he might be losing the passion to play the game at the highest level. In the past Carlos has railed against the business of the game, saying it can ruin a players desire to keep on playing. By no means do I think Tevez will up and retire, but I do think he is getting sick and tired of all the football politics around him, especially around his agent Kia Joorabchian who also owns his economic rights in regards to his footballing income.

For Tevez's sake I hope he knows what he's getting himself into.


Sunday, December 12, 2010

This Boy's Special: Eden Hazard

I'm excited as this is a new feature that I hope to make a regular part of the site so please let me know what you think through comments or at This week our feature young star is Eden Hazard of French side Lille and the Belgian national side.
The most exciting part of watching football is finding that new or raw talent and watching that player develop into a world class player. Lille's Eden Hazard as all the tools to be one of the world's most exciting players, and at 19 he's only poised to become better.

At 16 Hazard made the jump from the Belgian pro league to join Ligue 1 side Lille on the back of some impressive performances and trials at the club. Lille scouts pointed out his blinding pace and dribbling skills, they were especially impressed with vision which was far more advanced than other players at that age. It didn't take him long to join the first team in matches, as he made his debut later that year as a substitute against Nancy. Although he only made three more appearances in that 07-08 year, he helped the youth side took a high finish in the French youth league. Hazard has been a first team regular even since. His early displays were so good that he was called up to the Belgian national senior squad at the tender age of 17. He since has been handed 17 caps and is now regarded as a automatic selection for the team.

Hazard combines several key elements that take a footballer from being of average ability and potential to the elite level. First as he's used mainly as a winger so pace is a key. He's known through out Ligue 1 for his blistering pace and ability to pick out a perfect ball. Many football pundits, supporters, and rival managers alike have dubbed Eden the “New Cristiano Ronaldo” for his impressive dribbling skills and nose for goal. However what impresses the majority of the people who watch him is football IQ. He rarely makes a bad decision with the ball, granted he needs to track back a bit more, but he always makes the right decision when it comes to distribution to his teammates. He has made Lille striker Moussa Sow a much better player, so much so he has displaced veteran Pierre Alan Frau as the the number 9 at Lille. Sow also leads Ligue 1 with 13 goals, many of them set up by Hazard's play.

Last season he was named Ligue 1 young player of the year for the 2nd consecutive season. The new season sees Lille at the top of the league before the Christmas break, mainly on the back of his strong performances. This of course leads to all sorts of transfer rumours, especially as we close in on the January transfer window. French football legend Zinedine Zidane was made it clear on a few occasions that he has dropped Hazard's name at Real Madrid. Zizou mentioned to Canal + a few weeks ago that “It is possible he'll come to Madrid. What he's doing to Lille is exceptional.” Although Hazard is linked to a few high profile clubs his best move may be to stay put and help guide Lille to the French title, and automatic Champions' League qualification.

Whatever his decision, Eden Hazard is on the way to football stardom. When Zidane is calling the player the next great superstar, it's time to stand up and take notice.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

How far can Spurs really go?

With tonight's entertaining 3-3 draw against Holland's FC Twente, Tottenham Hotspur took top spot in their Champions League group. They avoid a potential round of 16 match up with the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Manchester United. While no knock stage tie is a given some would really like Spurs chances on advancing to Europe's elite 8....but what are realistic chances that Spurs make it that far?

Of course a lot depends on who they draw next Friday. As week speak only the French champions Marseille and Italian legends AC Milan have qualified as group runners up in the reverse table. when looking at the other clubs that could potentially be drawn against Tottenham you quickly develop the sense that good things could soon be in store for the North London club, provided they can carry over their European form to February when the knock out stages begin.

Under Harry Redknapp the club has been transformed from a nearly there club to a solid outfit that can hang with the best in Europe, if you don't believe me ask defending European champs Inter Milan after their two matches with them in the early group stages. The team combine both pace on the wings with a ever improving back line. The club as been especially lifted by the displays of the recently added Rafael Van Der Vaart and the maturing world class talent of Gareth Bale. It's crazy to think that just as little as a year and a half ago Bale with on the transfer block, and Van Der Vaart couldn't get a game at Real Madrid. Now both player have become crucial to Spurs as they travel uncharted waters. Also you have to consider by the time the knock out stages starts the club should be getting healthy again, and barring any major set back, could have a full squad to pick from. However the question around Spurs has really never been the talent, but more the mental make up of the team, Can this team handle both a grueling Premier League schedule and the high pressure demands of the Champions League?

So far the answer is yes, but the knock out stage is a different beast.

If Spurs run into a experienced club, like a Milan or...wait for it....possibly Arsenal. The mistakes that may not have been magnified as much in the group stage become world wide fodder for the press in an instant. The experienced campaigners know how to handle it, it's why you seem them in the final 8 or semis year after year. In the past this type of scrutiny has buried inexperienced teams Ex: Roma in 07 against Manchester United at Old Trafford or Stugttart v Barcelona last year. I feel Spurs can avoid being completely blown of out the water in the round of 16, but they will have to be more tactically sound then they were in the first 15 minutes against Inter at the San Siro or tonight against Twente. I watched that game against Inter in Milan and for that entire first half Spurs looked completely out of their depth. They no answer for Eto'o as he carved up the back four, and tactically they were outmatched. Granted they were saved blushes by the first of two outstanding performances by Gareth Bale that took the world by storm, however there must be some concern about how more astute clubs could pick this team apart especially down the middle of the park.

With all that said the thing that gives me hope for Spurs is their drive and determination. When I watch them in Europe I see a team that's looking to prove that they belong in this tournament. Which is a bit odd as at times they lack this drive in their domestic games (aside from the North London derby with Arsenal). It reminds me of Bordeaux last year, a club that were going all out in Europe but lacked something domestically. Spurs will want to avoid Bordeaux's mistake of solely focusing on Champions League as although they made the quarter finals, they failed to qualify for the tournament this year with a disappointing French league campaign.

Along with the drive, Spurs need their defence to step up, especially with Younes Kaboul out. William Gallas will need to lead this defensive core as he has the experience of big European matches. If they can play like they did against Inter at White Hart lane Spurs are in with a shout, if not them they could be in trouble. Also the unsung right back Alan Hutton will have to shut down what ever winger is coming down that left hand side of the pitch. It will be crucial that the defence play well in the first leg as Spurs will want to win the first leg in order to control their own destiny in the second.

As my World Cup form showed this summer predictions are pretty useless in football, but if Tottenham get a favorable draw for the knock outs this team could be playing European football well into the spring.

Mike N

Monday, December 6, 2010

Chris Hughton's firing a massive error in judgement at Newcastle

"It makes no sense. Here is a guy who has done an unbelievable job"
Newcastle defender Sol Campbell

"Chris Hughton has brought dignity, stability and a respectable Premier League placing to Newcastle United - so it should be no surprise that his reward from owner Mike Ashley is the sack" - Phil McNulty's blog

So after some time off I'm back reflecting on an issue that will become more prevalent as the silly season of January comes, of course that is the glut of football managers in Europe that will be fired from their clubs. We've already seen a few managers go in the Italian Serie A and now the Premier League has its first.

It seems not that long ago that Newcastle United were in complete crisis mode. At the end of the 08/09 season the club were relegated from the top flight to the championship, the Alan Shearer experiment failed and owner Mike Ashley turned to a fairly unknown Chris Hughton to steer the club through its first campaign outside the Premiership in 16 years. I remember that summer because most people had written the club off and truly thought they may not make the journey straight back to the top flight. Many predictions, including mine, had the club finishing mid table in the championship and maybe enduring an extended stay in the 2nd tier.

Little was expected from Hughton who was the bookie's favorite to get the sack first, but all he did was stroll though the championship season and get the club promoted with a record breaking season. He helped develop a great young striking talent in Andy Carroll, revive the career of Shola Ameobi and once the EPL season started in August he lead the club to a decent start. However even with high profile wins over Arsenal, Aston Villa and derby rivals Sunderland there were always whispers that Hughton's job was never quite safe. There was a feeling amongst Newcastle hierarchy that they needed a more experienced manager. Although Hughton has been in coaching for almost 15 years he never was a full time manager of a club until he got the call at Newcastle.

So when the news dropped that he had been sacked today by the few people were really shocked. What might have surprised us as observers and, by the sound of it the teams was the timing. This weekends 3-1 loss to fellow promoted side West Brom was arguably their worst performance of the season, however I never got the sense the club was in danger of falling into the relegation battle. The team played a solid, disciplined game, maybe not flashy or high octane but it got results. Which this club needs considering the last few years in this clubs history with manager upheavals, poor over priced signings and poor on pitch performances.

Also aside from Andy Carroll's off the field activities, the players seemed to be pulling for each other and for their manager. The fist real rumblings about Hughton's job came in mid October just before the club played in the Tyne-Wear derby against heated rival Sunderland. With the club sitting mid table it seemed out of left field that Mike Ashley would want to fire a popular manager, the players responded by thrashing the Black Cats that Sunday 5-1. At that point his job looked safe....Well as safe a football managers job can be.

This is not the first rash decision Newcastle ownership has made, but this could be the most costly. The team currently sits 12th in the table, but with only 4 points separating them from the drop zone, it seemed a level headed approached was needed instead of a change in leadership just before the busy holiday fixture list. Can a big name manager come in a gain the respect of the players in time to keep the club out of a relegation scrap? My question to Ashley and the rest of the Newcastle board is why even go down that road? The season is long and clubs go through bad patches, just ask Chelsea, but a panic move just before Christmas could inflame the situation and cause a wide spread crisis.

The board released a statement today saying  "The board would like to place on record their thanks to Chris for his considerable efforts during the club's transition from Championship to Premier League club, but later added they were looking for someone "with more managerial experience". The last time they went down this road it got them relegated, we could be watching history repeating itself on Tyneside.

Mike N

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The original Van Basten goal

Due to the popular demand from my FIFA Goals of the year post yesterday I've added Two of my favorite goals. One is over 20 years old and the other is when people started to realize Leo Messi was for real.

The first is the classic Marco Van Basten goal from the 1988 European championship tournament. It is THE goal that most volleys are now measured. I know I've chosen Linus Hallenius goal as the 2010 goal of the year, but it's being known as a "Van Basten" goal for a reason. Enjoy the greatness of a man who's career was ended too soon due to injury.

The 2nd is Messi before we really knew what was about to hit us, I believe he was like 18 or 19 at the time and he left poor Getafe in his wake. Truly the modern version of the World Cup 86 Maradona goal against England...Sorry England supporters!


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

2010 FIFA Goal of the year nominee's

As we get closer to the end of the year FIFA begins it mass of useless awards season, but there are two that are always the most debated. With the Ballon d'or now rolled into the FIFA world player of the year award, there will be endless debate about who the best is. Though I've already answered that (wink..wink). The other surprises me a bit. FIFA goal of the year is always a debate starter as it is so subjective, depending on which league you watch, the club you support or the national team you cheer for. For example, if you were cheering for Uruguay you probably won't pick Gio Van Bronckhorst’s goal in Holland’s World Cup semi-final win over Uruguay. Or if you're a Valencia supporter you not picking a goal in which Messi made your team look like school boy players.

Needless to say FIFA has to narrow this down to 10 finalist, though we have no idea on what the criteria for this group other than they all look awesome. So I've embedded the 10 nominee's in this post let me know what you think by leaving a comment. I personally I'm haing a hard time between Matty Burrows's flick goal and Linus Hallenius "Van Basten" impression.

Decide for yourself...

Linus Hallenius "Van Basten" impression

Arjen Robben’s goal v Schalke in the German League Cup back in March.

Gio Van Bronckhorst’s goal in Holland’s World Cup semi-final

South Africa’s Siphiwe Tshabalala’s opening goal of the World Cup v Mexico

Kumi Yokoyama in Japan’s loss to North Korea in the Women’s under-17 Final, dribbled around most of the team.

Turkey’s Hamit Altintop’s amazing volley strike against Kazakhstan in Euro 2012 qualifying


Santos’s Neymar with a flashy display that surely caught Chelsea’s attention

Northern Ireland’s Matty Burrows scores an unforgettable goal for Glentoran

Samir Nasri’s goal last season in the Champions League (Believe I shouted out this goal out earlier this year by the by)

Messi....What I need to say something else?

Canada must embrace the Women's national team

This is the second time in little over a week that I'm writing something about the Canadian women's national team which is probably a record for me, but it also outlines that lack of coverage about the team in Canada.

Did you know you know that Canada's national women's team just became the Continental champions by winning the CONCACAF Gold Cup? Did you also know what win got them automatic qualification to the Women's World Cup in 2011?

I wouldn't fault you if you didn't, most of this country didn't have a clue either. The Canadian sports scene wasn't that keen on reporting the weeks events in Mexico, but if you did you saw a team that got better in each game they played. After Canada narrowly beat Trinidad and Tobago 1-0, the team seemed to pick their game up winning the rest of their group games by 8-0 and 3-0 over eventual finalist Mexico. Over the span of the tournament the team showed not only excellent footballing skill by keeping it on the ground and at times playing nice one touch passes to get attacks going. They also had the strongest defence not allowing a goal though out the whole tournament.

Aside from the fantastic Christine Sinclair who once again proved again why she is one the most complete footballers in the world, head coach Carolina Morace has to get the majority of the plaudits. There hasn't been a major turnover in terms of the core players on the team, yet in just under two years she has transformed the way the squad plays it football. When watching the team play during the tournament you could see the technical skills of the players have greatly improved from the Evan Pellerud days of long ball lump ins to Sinclair. There is a lot of thought in terms of passing, link up play and wing play. This team is defiantly more fun to watch then in a past, unlike the Pellerud era you can see a progressive line of improvement and where the team is going in regards to their style of play.

So why is this team not getting any love from Canadian sports fan? It not just that it's women's soccer or that absolutely no coverage is being done on the team. The issue now seems to be that the team has qualified from the Wold Cup before. In fact this will be their 5th straight appearance, however they have had disappointing runs in all 5 of those tournaments and now people want to see success. For us soccer fans who have followed what this team has done over the past 7-10 years, we want to see a deep run into the knock out stages of the tournament.

There are only about 10-15 countries that can field a decently competitive team in the women's game and Canada is one of them. It should now be an expectation that the squad at least make the quarter finals maybe even the semis. Success will be the way this team gets taken seriously both in the media and in the minds of Canadians. However this should not be the only reason we embrace this team, what we are seeing is the building of a strong national women's program that soon will be able to challenge the mighty United States. Although the States only finished 3rd in the Gold Cup tournament and have to play Italy in a playoff to get into the tournament, make no mistake they will still be favorites to beat Italy and win the World Cup. However expect the gap between Canada and the U.S to close in the next few years.

2011 promises to be a big year for the Big Red, lets hope that they get some love from home this summer when they take on the world.


Thursday, November 11, 2010

Another one flies the coup

So It's official, the long rumored decision has been made...and it's not good for Canadian soccer. Kansas City Wizards forward Teal Bunbury Has chosen to play his international football with the U.S.A. I've blogged in the past about other Canadian born players like Owen Hargreaves, Johnathan DeGuzman, Asmir Begovic etc choosing other nations to play for ahead of Canada. I was disappointed then and I'm extremely disappointed now. Teal's father Alex was a great player for Canada, he score 16 international goals for the Red and White during his international career. Although I'm not super surprised by the 20 year olds decision, it seemed as though he was leaning towards Canada back in January.

"I was born in Canada, I have a lot of family members there, and it would feel wrong for me to play for the U.S. I feel a connection with Canada."

Well apparently that connection wasn't strong enough to turn down the potential of World Cup football in 2014. As he said today in his decision.
"Just really my heart, I guess. Ultimately, I want to play in a World Cup. That's one of my goals I've set," Bunbury said. "And just speaking with Bob Bradley, I really wanted to get on board with what he was coaching and what his philosophies were."
Though we could all stand back and be completely angry with Bunbury for the rest of his career like some are with Hargreaves, I believe this is yet another indictment on Soccer Canada, and how the men's program has been run. Clearly the CSA does not have the same kind of money to compete with the United States, however it does not excuse a lack of a development plan to get the senior squad to the World Cup. This in the end is what Teal saw.

Now the argument could be made that if Canada could keep the quality of players that have turned their backs on the team they could have made a World Cup by now. However the reality is we cannot deal in the maybes when it comes to international results, the CSA must come up with a plan to train and retain these players beyond the U-20 level and into the senior set up. Granted Teal received most of his football training in the U.S, but this did not stop him from representing us at the various junior levels.

A another frustrating day for the men's program, another lost Canadian to bolster some other country's options!


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

R.I.P Robert Enke

Former Germany keeper Robert Enke passed away one year ago today. 
I'll be posting some regarding Enke and the issue of suicide in football later this week. For now let's remember the man, the father and the footballer.

Mike N

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Derby Day in Manchester

As I sit here on the eve of what could be the biggest Manchester Derby at least in my life time, I find it hard to be objective while writing this post. As I've stated on several occasions I am an unapologetic Manchester United supporter. I wait, expect them to win tomorrow night. However these feelings of needing to beat Manchester City are new to me, it comes from the fact that City have now become a true player in the Premier League. Even the hardest United supporter cannot deny this anymore, maybe little brother has finally grown up?

To understand this you have to understand the history of the Manchester derby. Although heated it's not at the level say of the Merseyside derby (Everton v Liverpool) or the Eternal city derby (Roma v Lazio). Unlike the two rivalries mentioned they has been a massive gulf in class between United and City for a very long time. For stretches of time during the 80's and 90's City were in the 2nd division, now known as the championship. While United were challenging for titles and winning major trophies. In all competitions United lead the the way in terms of wins by a 65 to 42 margin with 49 draws. During this time City would come up with a win here and there but for the most part the match was a write off for United, Big brother kicked little brother, there fore it is hard to build a real rivalry when it's so one sided. Especially in the 90's where United  won every game played between the two.

However the stakes changed in the middle of the last decade when investors were suddenly interested in investing with City and bringing success to the club. While United were in the midst of winning 3 straight league crowns, City were starting to pour money into the club and buy players we never though would ever want to play at Eastlands.

Then came the news that on September 1st 2008 Sheik Mansour, one of the richest men on earth had bought the club and had signed Robinho for a British record fee. This was the first time I become concerned about the Blue threat. Although Robinho didn't turn out to be the world beater people expected it was clear that the gauntlet had been thrown down, especially to United who had for the longest time flashed its own money for top talent. Now with United unable or unwilling to spend on the best players in the market, there is all the reason to think City could take over as the powers not just in Manchester but all of England as well.

When looking at the two potential line ups for tomorrow's game, one could easily see the possibility that United could get hammered by the "noisy neighbours" as Sir Alex called them. I pray that won't happen, but there is a chance. United have a very thin squad in terms of proven talent, the club has a lot of promising young talent in its ranks, like Fabio and Rafael Da Silva, Federico Macheda, Javier Hernandez, Chris Smalling etc... but done of them are top flight ready just quite yet. I include Hernandez in there even though he's had an amazing start to his United career, you have to remember he's only 21 and still learning the Premier League. Also factor in the proven players like Nani, Ryan Giggs, Owen Hargreves, Michael Owen, Wayne Rooney will not play due to injury and potentially Paul Scholes and Dimitar Berbatov may miss it due to illness and one can see where the issues arise.

Now compare this to City who's only major missing pieces in the recently suspended Mario Balotelli and  potentially Kolo Toure, and the bench is deep enough to replace these players without too much fuss. They will also be boosted by the return of their top scorer and former United player Carlos Tevez. He could be the X factor between United leaving Eastland with points or leaving empty handed.

If last years games are any indication on the how this year will play out, Red Devil supporters have every right to be concerned. Yes United won all 4 match ups last season. However there is a case that City were not only in every game until the end, but might have deserved a better fate than they got last season. This is especially true of the first derby of last season where the game was back and forth and by the 6th minute of 4 minutes of injury time City deserved at least a point....until Michael Owen showed up.

That game was one of the best games of football I've even seen, but it also served as a warning to us United fans. The days of dominating City were now over. So far this season City have proven themselves potential title challengers and have shown that they can break into the big four clubs of England. This puts them for the first time in almost 40 years in direct competition with United for the title, and even though it early in the season United a paying close attention to it's cross town rivals.

So while tomorrow's game will not decide who will win the Premiership, rest assured it will go a long way in either maintaining the order of things or changing the dynamic of this long standing derby.


Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Klinsmann job

Interesting developments out of Toronto FC this week, it was rumored for about a week, but it was made official by the club today. German legend Juergen Klinsmann and his company Soccer Solutions has been hired by TFC to help consult with the entire operation of the club. From identifying and hiring the new head coach and GM, to working on the football operations of the club right down to the academy level. Many people have been applauding the move as at the very least MLSE have recognized that they need to have proper football people helping to make decisions. However a world of caution to those who think Klinsmann or his company is the savour...they are not, they are just a part of the solution.

Juergen Klinsmann, here to clean the mess.

First thing to note, Klinsmann himself is not taking any official office position with the club, he is just a consultant. In fact since he's the CEO of Soccer Solutions there is no guarantee that he will be talking the executives at TFC. I believe that he'll be apart of the dialogue, but he's not managing the club nor will be  apart of the transfer policy. Nor will Juergen be moving anywhere near Toronto during the off season, he'll be running the show from his home in California.

What I think he and his company will bring is contacts in the world game. Last season the idea what that TFC needed a manager with MLS experience, that didn't turn out that well. Now the organization realises that they need the best person available, regardless of MLS experience. Soccer Solutions will be able to line up the best football people in the world for TFC to look at. The great advantage for this club over other in the league is that money is really no object when it comes to hiring the best talent. This will allow the club to seriously pursue some great managerial talent both on and off the pitch.

lthough the GM and manager positions will be the two high profile finds for Soccer Solutions the one that intrigues me the most is the involvement with the TFC academy. I'm a big proponent of building academies and growing a clubs strength through youth players developed in house. Toronto have an excellent crop of players to choose from as I believe only B.C soccer produce players at the same level. The youth levels is where I believe the company can have it's greatest influence and success. current interim GM and academy head Earl Cochrane has done an amazing job building the program form the ground up, but having a few ideas from one of the game's greats can only make it better. Tom Anselmi, MLSE's executive vice-president and chief operating officer, indicated that Klinsmann's role with the club ends in the summer. Although you have to believe that his wisdom will be called upon will after his tenure is over.

The next few months in TFC land will be interesting, it's clear the club will be looking to go big with it head coach signing, and the new GM will probably have some serious pedigree behind him. TFC will want to make a splash this off season, with Vancouver joining the league in 2011 the club is about to lose its strangle hold on the Canadian soccer market.

A duel at high noon

Back in March I posted about who was the best player in the world was, and at that time I chose Leo Messi. Now I won't go into all the reasons I chose him again, but the main one was that in terms of value to his team Messi trumped Ronaldo and....Wayne Rooney. Yes at that point Rooney was in the conversation, wow what a difference 9 months can make!

As the first installment of the the game known the world over as "El Classico" approaches later this month, arguably the two best players in the world will be going into the game in top form. As it stands now Cristiano Ronaldo and Leo Messi are 1st and 2nd respectively in La Liga goal scoring, Ronaldo with an incredible 12 in 9 games, and Messi on 7 in 7. They have also lead their respective clubs to the the top of the Spanish league table and to healthy positions in the Champions League group stages, which makes the upcoming installment of Real Madrid v Barcelona so intriguing. Not only will this be a battle for top spot in Spain, but it will also be a battle for top player in the world.

With all due respect to Wesley Snejider who is the pundits pick for the FIFA Ballon O'dor world player of the year, the true #1 contenders play in Spain. I agree that both Ronaldo and Messi endured poor World Cups this summer compared to their usually blistering form, but a one month tournament should not mask the 11 other excellent months.

When looking at Ronaldo, you have to acknowledge that he had a rather slow start to his first season in Madrid. Maybe he had issues adjusting to the slower pace of La Liga compared to England, or maybe he was trying to live up the massive transfer and contact that allowed him to become a Galactico. Whatever the case may be the first few games of the season he was struggling.

However great players, and he is a great player regardless of what you think of him as a person, find a way to produce. He did just that starting around October of last year, and aside from injury he hasn't really stopped scoring. He currently on the hottest goal scoring streak of his career, and this includes his 2007-2008 season with Manchester United when he scored 42 goals in all competitions and was named world player of the year. Under Jose Mourinho's leadership at Madrid he has been given more of a creating role on top of primary goal scorer. In turn this seems to have ignited the Portugal captain as he now does not have the entire burden of goal scoring on his shoulders, although he is a shoot first type of player.

As for my choice for best player on Earth, Leo Messi is just doing what he does best, score and set up beautiful goals. Granted Barcelona have not quite hit full stride in terms of their play this season, but Messi provides flashes of what Barca are all about. I had the great fortune to watch Messi in action live a few months ago and I can say I've never been more blown away by a players raw skill. He didn't score against AC Milan that night, but in the 20 minutes he played looked like he could score whenever he felt like it. His control of the ball is now legendary and his vision is second to none.

Unlike Ronaldo he has been fairly healthy over the past year, although he suffered an ankle injury early on this season which forced him to miss two matches. The other thing Ronaldo did not have last season was a European Golden Boot in his cabinet. Last season's unreal 47 goals in all competitions in my mind should stamp him as the world's best regardless of the fact he went goalless in South Africa.

No matter which team you support in the world of football November 28th should be marked down on your calendar. Not only are two of the best club sides in the world are set to battle in Barcelona, but also two of the best players in the world will state their case for the number 1 spot.


Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Why you need to appreciate Christine!

Canada's captain, and one of the top 10 strikers in the world Male or Female.
 With her four goal performance against Guyana in the Women's World Cup qualifiers on Sunday, Burnaby B.C's Christine Sinclair proved why she is Canada's best soccer player Male or Female. Now lets put aside the quality of the opposition for a second and look at the big picture within her performance.

Which other Canadian player male or female can you name that can put in a performance like that? Do you know of any Canadian international regardless of sex that could say that they are the undisputed face of Canadian soccer? Can you name a player in Canadian soccer history that has answered that call for his or her country and produced at a high level almost every single time they are called upon?

Christine is the only player that comes to mind for me, consider the stats at the senior level including Sundays game she has made 142 caps for Canada, she has 106 senior team goals. Think about that for a second...if your good at math figure out the average. She score in 74% of the matches she plays for Canada, that's one of the highest strike rates in the world even when you stack it up against men. Many of those goals have also been massive ones to either put Canada into the Women's World Cup, or into the Olympics. She is a 5 time (probably soon to be 6 time) Canadian player of the year, she is still the all time single tournament goal scorer for the FIFA U-19 tournament in which she scored 10 goals, and she got her 100th cap for Canad at the age of 25. These feats are unheard of at any level of the game but the fact that she's Canadian should make her one of our country's biggest sports stars.

So why is it that I believe that the majority of you who will be reading this have absolutely no idea who she is, especially those of you right here in Canada.

The issue here is two fold, the first one is the most obvious. Women's soccer gets little respect by the male dominated soccer media, therefore the population at large give the game little respect.

The second and a bit more disappointing issue is the lack of support Canadians give it's non major professional sports athletes. Amateur athletes get their love every two years, Hockey players get it 24-7, but soccer players get little coverage or time here. It leads to a situation where a large part of the nation never hears about Christine's great performances for Canada, and this is not at a small time level. This is at the international level, against some of the best female players in the world. However few people know her, I doubt she's met the Prime Minister or is in the mentioning for those Canadian athlete of the year awards. Yet year after year she puts up the performances to warrant the consideration. What gives?

If it helps FIFA in its annual player of the year lists has shortlisted Christine as one of the top 10 female players in the world. Brazil's Marta has taken the award the past few years now and I believe she will take it again this year. However being mentioned in a list with all those great players should get Miss Sinclair some love back home.

The question is will we take it a really appreciate that as Canadian soccer fans we are witnessing one of the greatest soccer players in the world today do their thing? In our shirt! Or will we do what I fear will happen, ignore it and tout Justin Bebier as our best export of talent.

I just threw up in my mouth a bit!


Wednesday, October 27, 2010


I've been a strong advocate for building the skills of youth players, while protecting them form the harsh lime light of the football media. I'm hoping at some point there will be a Canadian kid who has the skills that will light up the world and propel the national team to the World Cup. Until then we have to satisfy ourselves with young talent over seas.

Like this kid! His name is Noah Shawn and he's a youth player at Bayern Munich's academy in Germany. As the video shows he has amazing skill and control of the ball. The absolutely scary thing is....he's just 7. I'm a person who has to give credit where credit is due because he's simply amazing for his age. What I hope not to do or to happen is that this kid gets his head turned by the scum of the football world, and let's face it those kind of people are out there in the game trying to make a quick buck.

All I ask is that you take the video for what it is, a gifted boy doing his thing.


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Gary Neville: Know when to fold em'

This is probably going to be the most uncomfortable post I've written so far, as most of you know I am an unapologetic Manchester United supporter and have been since I was a kid. I'm 27 now which means I followed the club through the beginning of the Premier League era which means I watched Fergie's golden generation win title after title, cup after cup.

A major part of those title winning teams was a strong back four to cover up for the aggressive attacking style the club played, and a major lynch pin to that back four was right back Gary Neville. During the 1990's and early 2000's Neville was the unquestioned right back not only for United but for England as well. A fiesty and well positioned back he was one of the best at shutting down opposing teams attacks from the wings. He also had a habit of running his mouth about the strength of the club, which made him public enemy #1 with other clubs supporters and made us laugh as United supporters. Outside of the pitch he carried himself with class when it came to representing the values of Manchester United, which to his credit he still does.

However the same can not be said about his play on the pitch.

During the middle part of the last decade Neville could not catch a break with injuries, especially to his knees which is the key joint for a footballer. Gary would be in and out of the squad for almost 4 seasons as his various comebacks would be hampered by other nagging injuries and re-occurrences of the knee tear. As anyone who has a major knee injury will tell you your mobility can never quite get back to what it was no matter who much rehab you put yourself through. Neville was never the fastest right back, but he was quick enough and agile to hang in with some of the best wingers and left midfielders in the world.

As he started to come back from those injuries and begin to play again you started to see little mistakes happen that just didn't occur before. Badly missed tackles, poor positioning, lack of pace etc... Of course no one stays on top forever, but as Sir Alex continued to pick him for matches it became clear that Gary Neville's best days were behind him.

Over the past year this has become glaringly obvious, with Sunday's game being the ultimate tipping point for me. Gary was poor for the entire 45 minutes he was on the pitch at Stoke. Matthew Etherington ate him alive down the wing as he knew he could beat him at anytime. He gave away the ball countless times from the back which lead to chances for the Potters, and although his yellow card was a bad call from the ref he should have been sent off after a shockingly poor tackle on Etherington after he clearly ran by him. To cap it all off he was embarrassed at the beginning of the second half.  It looked like he'd start the half and then he was immediately taken off by Sir Alex for Wes Brown. He has to endure the walk of shame back down to the dressing room, and came back to the pitch in his jeans.

While on the bench Gary cut a figure who might have finally realized his time in the game just might be up, and to be frank I really hope this is the case. I am not questioning his heart or passion for the club, but there's a time in every athlete's career where they must make a tough decision. Can I still put in a worthy performance? Can I still do this without either hurting the club? Or making a fool of myself? These are questions only Gary can ask and answer, but from the looks of it the answers are no across the board. The worst thing as a sports fan is watching a washed up player hanging on to past glory when they know their time has long past.

I do not wish this for Gary Neville. As a greedy fan...and I know I'm acting like one now, I want to see him remembered as one of the great Manchester United defenders of all time. I do not want the lasting memory of Neville be one in which he is being clowned by a Messi, Ozil or Matthew Etherington. At 35 and with 600 club appearances he will have a job with the club for life, at this point he would be of more use to the club by stepping aside as a player, and move into a coaching role. He could focus on helping the young Da Silva brothers become better full backs and Chris Smalling into a better overall defender.

I know Sir Alex stays loyal to his players, especially the Giggs, Scholes, Neville era of players, but even Fergie has to be recognizing that he just doesn't have it anymore. At some point Fergie is going to or has had the talk with Gary, I hope Gary takes this advice at has a serious think at the end of the season...

Because it's time to hang em up.


Monday, October 25, 2010

Ronaldinho back in the mix with the Seleção?

When the final rosters were announced for the 2010 World Cup squads, one name what was ominous by its absence was that of Brazilian super star Ronaldinho. After being frozen out by then manager Dunga it seemed Ronny's time on the international stage was over. At 30 and struggling for a glint of the form that made him the best player in the world at one point, the questions surrounding him were more about his suspected party life then about his football.

Welcome back

Coming into the new Serie A season there were a lot of questions as to how Ronaldinho would handle the national team rejection and if he could maintain the good form he showed near the end of last season with Milan. The answer to both after 8 rounds is .......very well. By no means is he back to the 2003-2007 form which saw him become the most electrifying player in the world (and I had ever seen) but there are flashes of the pace and ball skills that in any other situation than Dunga being manager would make him a automatic selection for a national team.

Though his goal output is lower than his amazing stint at Barcelona, he is starting to mesh with midfield partners Andrea Pirlo and the ageless Clarence Seedorf at A.C Milan and is a major reason to Milan's excellent start to their season. The club currently sit second in the league are looking good to make the second round of the Champions league. Ronaldinho's contribution has not just been noticed in Italy, but also by new Brazil manager Mano Menezes who is looking to return Brazil to is free flowing attacking football. Menezes said in a press conference last Tuesday that he was excited to bring Gaúcho back to the Brazil fold.

"I think I will call Ronaldinho. I have seen him play well and he is adapting to his new role," the coach told La Gazzetta dello Sport.

Although it is doubtful that he'll be in the Seleção fold by 2014 for their home World Cup, he could still make an impact in the next Copa America in 2011 to help Brazil retain it's South American title. More than anything it will be an opportunity for Ronny to prove one more time that he is deserving to be mentioned in the discussion of greatest footballer of all time. Currently I would say that he's still a ways off from being in that level of player but I do not believe he's not that far off the list.

The question for fans of the Brazilian machine, the question will be where does he play? He now started to play in a more withdrawn and deeper role at Milan, and is no longer the up front dynamo he was, though like I mentioned earlier he still has flashes of it. I would imagine Menezes would prefer to have him supporting the attacking the mid or be the attacking mid in a short substitute role. Either way it was clear in the World Cup this squad still needs a player like Ronaldinho even if it`s off the bench for 20-25 minutes.

The question now is can he re-discover that made him the best player in the world, or will he squander the chance yet again?


Sunday, October 24, 2010

Is there a point to a Scottish Premier league?

A few weeks back I got into a heated conversation with a Scotland supporter after their loss to the Czech Republic in which Scotland boss Craig Levein decided to play what was in a sense a 4-6-0 formation. After watching that the supporter openly questioned the quality and importance of the Scottish Premier League. I responded to him by saying that Scotland needs to continue to have it's top league in order to push through young talent to the national side.
His answer to this shocked me, he answered by saying that if the SPL folded into the English football league, save Rangers (Who he supported) and Celtic who would enter the English Premier League, Scottish football would progress much faster then if they stayed in Scotland.

I asked him how he could think this? How did he think that joining the football league would improve Scottish football? Most importantly how would Scottish football keep it's traditions and identity if it joined up with England?

Again his answers gave me a moment to think. The reckoning was that the level of competition in England would be of a higher quality then if the same teams kept playing each other at a lower level of skill. Spreading the clubs out between the Championship, League one and League 2, would open them to higher skill levels and different ways of approaching the game. This in turn would force the clubs to improve in order to keep up. As for the two clear front runners in Scottish football, Rangers and Celtic, making the long rumored move to the Premier league would also expose them to a higher level of competition that would shake off the complacency of only thinking about competing with one another. Also there would be a financial incentive to Rangers and Celtic, the EPL move would net them T.V revenue that would allow them to further improve their internal payment development.

As for the identity of Scottish football he did concede that a move could lead to more foreign players being introduced to the squads which could defeat the purpose, but overall he though that it could actually bolster Scotland as having a healthy weekly competition with English clubs would reinforce pride in Scottish football.

This gentleman made some good points and it clearly a true supporter of Scotland and Scottish football, but here's why I do not agree with him and why it's vitally important that the SPL continue.

As some who writes from a country that suffers from not having a domestic league to call its own, I am in a unique position to know that it becomes extremely difficult to grow interest in the national side and develop players without one. To break it down even further it is still difficult to build those two things mentioned above while you have teams playing in another domestic league. The objective of any domestic league is to develop its own talent to feed into the national side. This leaves the league with no obligation to help foreign teams succeed. This is not to say that the English Football League would show not interest in Scottish sides, but it's priority is English players for the England squads.

Although the building of England v Scotland club rivalries may reinforce Scottish pride, you would think that over time they may lose their identity as they blend into English culture. For evidence of this take a look at the Welsh clubs that compete in the Football League. Neither Cardiff or Swansea have been promoted to the Premier League, nor has the Welsh national side improved any of their results.

As for the front runner clubs, they need to stay in the SPL. Leagues need these type of dominate clubs in order to set some kind of yard stick for other clubs to aim at. Yes...either Rangers or Celtic always win the league, but this does not mean that the league is completely un-competitive. It just means that other clubs need to step up the search for financing in order to compete.

I'll leave you with this, if there was no SPL would you have a Sir Alex Ferguson?  Kenny Miller? Mo Johnston?