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!