Sunday, September 28, 2008

Dave from Newcastle Returns in "I'm on Setanta Sports"

In this week's episode, Wayne Rooney conducts yet another insightful interview, this time with an insider in the Newcastle takeover situation. Wazza, fresh off scoring a goal in United's 2-0 win over Bolton yesterday, also receives some tactical instruction from Fabio Capello.


Monday, September 22, 2008

No Excuse for Attack of Manchester United Team Bus

Shortly after Manchester United's 1-1 draw at Chelsea yesterday, their team bus was attacked by an as-of-yet unknown assailant, who cracked the bus' front windshield (as pictured here) with a thrown bottle. No one was hurt, and United continued their short trip across London to the train station and following trip back to Manchester.

Let's be clear here. I'm not exactly going out on a limb when I say that it seems obvious that a Chelsea fan, or fans, was responsible for this. There would be no real motivation for anyone else in this instance to hurl something at a moving vehicle belonging to Manchester United. Yes, there's a possibility that it was just a random act, but come on, let's be serious.

There is a rivalry between United and Chelsea, of that there is no doubt. United have won the last two Premiership titles after Chelsea had won two in row before that. United beat Chelsea in a shootout in last year's Champions League final. They battle for big-name signings all the time, including the much-debated controversy regarding John Obi Mikel, who eventually went to Chelsea, in 2005. Rio Ferdinand, hardly a model citizen, and Patrice Evra got involved in heated exchanges with Chelsea personnel the last time United visited Stamford Bridge.

These two teams don't like each other. Their respective fans really don't like each other. I get it, believe me. With that said, however, there is no excuse for what happened yesterday. None. There can be no justification for it.

What many fans in England, and more so in other places, to be fair, fail to realize, or at least don't want to embrace, is that soccer is just a game. That's all it is. It isn't life and death. No matter what happens in one particular game, the world will go on. Life doesn't stop for soccer. It's a game. It doesn't need to be taken as seriously as it is. There are more important, pressing things going on in the world, in this country, in your city that merit your attention.

If people worked as hard in their daily lives as they care about "their club", this world would be a better place and those people would be better off. They have a bad habit of living vicariously through a team that plays once a week and vastly overpays their players and overcharges their fans to watch those same players. They don't realize that for the most part, the club doesn't care about the fans half as much as the fans care about the club.

I love soccer and the Premiership very much. It's entertaining stuff, and there's so many stories and so much quality to talk about every week. But that's all it is to me, and that's all it should be. It hasn't yet and will never cross the invisible line to where it becomes life and my sole drive. I don't count the days until the next time a game is played. I don't get through the week only looking forward to the weekend when my team plays. That's not how it should work.

Whoever is responsible for yesterday's event needs to get over him/herself in a hurry. There's more to life than soccer.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

"I'm on Setanta Sports" is Back

Despite the addition of new "director of programming" Fabio Capello, The Special One tries to carry on, business as usual. With his staff being rotated, though, a showdown between Mourinho and Capello was always on the cards.

Who won Round 1? Stay tuned to find out.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Two Academy Subs Would Be a Mistake

According to an article on ESPNsoccernet, the Premier League will explore the possibility of implementing a rule that would require its 20 member teams to include at least two academy graduates from that particular club in the seven available substitutes on gameday.

This was one of the options put forward this summer in addition to the 7-man bench, which is up from its previous five this season. Obviously it wasn't introduced; the Premiership likely wanted to take things step by step and not make radical changes right away. Like FIFA and UEFA, though, the Premiership is in favor of increasing the amount of home-grown players on each team.

To get this proposal passed, it would take the approval of 2/3 of the top flight's 20 clubs (14, for all you math majors out there).

I'm completely against this idea and most others like it. There should be no requirement for a club to field a certain number of players from whatever country said club is based in. Teams should field the best side they can, regardless of players' nationalities. If you're an English club, who cares how many players from Ghana or Japan or the US or France or Sweden or wherever you have. Your primary goal is to win games and be successful. If you believe you can do that without one English player, then that's fine. Why should there be a rule forcing teams to include or play players they don't want to use?

My good friend, Kartik Krishnaiyer, is in favor of MLS requiring its teams to have a certain number of Americans on their rosters and in gameday lineups, and in Toronto FC's case, is in favor of them having a certain number of Canadians. That's silly. MLS is a league that is desperate for attention in this country's crowded sporting landscape. If the best a team can get is Americans, fine, but if a team can get better players from outside the US that can make an impact, they should make their best efforts to get them.

I don't mean to be anti-nationalist or nationalist here at all; I'm saying go after the best players you can get, no matter where they're from. If you feel that signing Americans makes better business sense because your fans can identify with them more and may buy more jerseys or merchandise, then that's fine too. Sign those Americans. But there shouldn't be a rule requiring teams to do so.

Let's face it -- the Premiership is a global league now. The only thing traditionally English about it anymore are the cities and stadiums where teams play, and the core group of fans for each club. That's it. The world's top talent isn't coming from England anymore; the vast majority of the Premiership's best players are foreign, with Steven Gerrard and a few others the primary notable exceptions. Forcing clubs to play a certain number of English players would just water down the league, because the fact of the matter is English players, by and large, aren't good enough at this point in time. We're seeing it with probably the top 10 or 12 teams in the league: starting lineups have more foreign-based players than English and British players, and it's not even close. Why? Because there's more talent to choose from outside of that small island's borders.

It's not even necessarily about that either, though. I don't care where players come from. If they're good enough to play for me, they're going to play. Not playing them because of where they're from or playing others because of where they're from is wrong. I'd have no problem playing a midfielder from Burkina Faso over a midfielder from England if I was a Premiership manager if the former was a better player or fit what I was trying to do more. That's what it should come down to, not filling out rosters and playing players to satisfy a stupid rule.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink Has Retired

The Premiership's 8th-leading goalscorer of all time, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, retired today, and I'm amazed at how quietly the whole thing has gone down.

The Dutchman is one of two players never to have played in the Eredivisie and still be selected to Holland's national team, scoring 9 goals in 23 games for the the Oranje.

Hasselbaink tallied 128 goals in England's top flight with Leeds, Chelsea, Middlesbrough, and Charlton Athletic, and piled up a whopping 175 in all competitions. His best years were spent at Stamford Bridge in the early part of this decade, where he was a club-record $30 million signing at the time and scored 87 goals in 177 games, a staggeringly proficient strike rate at any level, much less the Premiership.

He then moved to Middlesbrough, where he was still a solid option, but Father Time finally caught up to him at Charlton in '06-'07 and Cardiff last season. His contract with Cardiff wasn't renewed for this year, and although there were some rumors linking him to a couple Championship clubs late this summer, nothing ever came to fruition. Instead of pursing other options further, the 36-year-old Suriname-born striker has chosen to hang his cleats up.

As I said earlier, though, it's shocking to me how little attention this announcement has gotten from the media. There's no question that Hasselbaink's career really stalled at the end of his tenure at Middlesbrough and at Charlton and Cardiff, but this guy was as good as there was in three countries -- Portugal, Spain, and England -- for 10 years. Anything better than a goal every three games is considered pretty good for a striker, and Hasselbaink was close to a goal every two games at his prime.

I get the feeling that if Hasselbaink was English, this would be more of a story. He'd be hailed as a national hero and celebrated far and wide. Because he isn't, however, this is getting overlooked and it's a shame. The article I found was buried way down on the BBC's soccer page and wasn't even on ESPNsoccernet or Sky Sports, at least not at the time of my writing this post. Instead, I have to read things about Chelsea's appeal of John Terry's red card, Manchester United's backup goalkeeper signing a contract extension, Samir Nasri's questionable status for a Champions League game against Dynamo Kiev, and Craig Fagan's broken leg. Come on.

Hasselbaink is a classy, classy individual, and there aren't enough of those left in the game. He was dangerous every time he stepped on the field. He'll certainly be missed by me, and I hope you pay tribute to his accomplishments as well.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Mike Ashley Got the Message

After a week of protest and criticism from fans and neutrals alike, myself included, current Newcastle owner Mike Ashley finally got the message: he’s not wanted anymore.

Here’s the complete transcript of the statement he made earlier today:

“I have enjoyed sport since I was a boy. I love football. I have followed England in every tournament since Mexico ‘86. I was there to see Maradona and his hand of God.

I know what it means to love football and to love a club. I know how important it is to other people because football is so important to me.

My life has been tied up with sport. It was the passion that I felt for sport that helped me to be successful with my business. That success allowed me to mix my passion and my business.

I bought Newcastle United in May 2007. Newcastle attracted me because everyone in England knows that it has the best fans in football. When the fans are behind the club at St. James’ Park, it makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. It is magic.

Newcastle’s best asset has been, is and always will be the fans.

But like any business with assets the club has debts. I paid £134 million out of my own pocket for the club. I then poured another £110 million into the club not to pay off the debt, but just to reduce it.

The club is still in debt. Even worse than that, the club still owes millions of pounds in transfer fees.

I shall be paying out many more millions over the coming year to pay for players bought by the club before I arrived.

But there was a double whammy. Commercial deals such as sponsorships and advertising had been front loaded.

The money had been paid up front and spent. I was left with a club that owed millions and part of whose future had been mortgaged.

Unless I had come into the club then it might not have survived. It could have shared the fate of other clubs who have borrowed too heavily against their future. Before I had spent a penny on wages or buying players Newcastle United had cost me more than a quarter of a billion pounds.

Don’t get me wrong. I did not buy Newcastle to make money. I bought Newcastle because I love football.

Newcastle does not generate the income of a Manchester United or a Real Madrid. I am Mike Ashley, not Mike Ashley a multi-billionaire with unlimited resources. Newcastle United and I can’t do what other clubs can. We can’t afford it.

I knew that the club would cost me money every year after I had bought it. I have backed the club with money.

You can see that from the fact that Newcastle has the fifth highest wage bill in the Premier League.

I was always prepared to bank roll Newcastle up to the tune of £20 million per year but no more. That was my bargain.

I would make the club solvent. I would make it a going concern. I would pour up to £20million a year into the club and not expect anything back.

It has to be realised that if I put £100 million into the club year-in, year-out, then it would not be too long before I was cleaned out and a debt-ridden Newcastle United would find itself in the position that faced Leeds United.

That is the nightmare for every fan. To love a club that over-extends itself, that tries to spend what it can’t afford.

That will never happen to Newcastle when I am in charge. The truth is that Newcastle could not sustain buying the Shevchenkos, Robinhos or the Berbatovs.

These are recognised European footballers. They have played in the European leagues and everyone knows about them.

They can be brilliant signings. But everybody knows that they are brilliant and so they, and players like them, cost more than £30 million to buy before you even take into account agent commissions and the multi-million pound wage deals.

My plan and my strategy for Newcastle is different. It has to be.

Arsenal is the shining example in England of a sustainable business model. It takes time. It can’t be done overnight.

Newcastle has therefore set up an extensive scouting system. We look for young players, for players in foreign leagues who everyone does not know about. We try and stay ahead of the competition. We search high and low looking for value, for potential that we can bring on and for players who will allow Newcastle to compete at the very highest level but who don’t cost the earth.

I am prepared to back large signings for millions of pounds but for a player who is young and has their career in front of them and not for established players at the other end of their careers.

There is no other workable way forward for Newcastle. It is in this regard that Dennis [Wise] and his team have done a first class job in scouting for talent to secure the future of the club.

You only need to look at some of our signings to see that it is working, slowly working.

Look at Jonas Guttierrez (sic) and Fabricio Collocini (sic). These are world class players.

The plan is showing dividends with the signing of exceptional young talent such as Sebastein (sic) Bassong, Danny Guthrie and Xisco.

My investment in the club has extended to time, effort and yet again, money being poured into the Academy.

I want Newcastle to be able to create its own legends of the future to rival those of the past. This is a long-term plan. A long-term plan for the future of the club so that it can flourish.

One person alone can’t manage a Premiership football club and scout the world looking for world class players and stars of the future. It needs a structure and it needs people who are dedicated to that task. It needs all members of the management team to share that vision for it to work.

Also one of the reasons that the club was so in debt when I took over was due to transfer dealings caused by managers moving in and out of the club.

Every time there was a change in manager, millions would be spent on new players and millions would be lost as players were sold. It can’t keep on working like that. It is just madness.

I have put Newcastle on a sound financial footing. It is reducing its debt. It is spending within itself. It is recruiting exciting new players and bringing in players for the future.

The fans want this process to happen more quickly and they want huge amounts spent in the transfer market so that the club can compete at the top table of European football now.

I am not stupid and have listened to the fans. I have really loved taking my kids to the games, being next to them and all the fans. But I am now a dad who can’t take his kids to a football game on a Saturday because I am advised that we would be assaulted.

Therefore, I am no longer prepared to subsidise Newcastle United. I am putting the club up for sale.

I hope that the fans get what they want and that the next owner is someone who can lavish the amount of money on the club that the fans want.

This will not be a fire sale. Newcastle is now in a much stronger position than it was in 2007. It is planning for the future and it is sustainable.

I am still a fan of Newcastle United. We, my kids and I, have loved standing on the terraces with the fans, we have loved travelling with the away fans and we have met so many fans whose company we have enjoyed. We have absolutely loved it, but it is not safe any more for us as a family.

I am very conscious of the responsibility that I bear in owning Newcastle United. Tough decisions have to be made in business and I will not shy away from doing what I consider to be in the best interests of the club. This is not fantasy football.

I don’t want anyone to read my words and think that any of this is an attack on Kevin Keegan. It is not.

Kevin and I always got on. Everyone at the club, and I mean everyone, thinks that he has few equals in getting the best out of the players. He is a legend at the club and rightly so.

Clearly there are disagreements between Kevin and the board and we have both put that in the hands of our lawyers.

I hope that all the fans get to read this statement so that they understand what I am about. I would not expect all of the fans to agree with me.

But I have set out, clearly, my plan. If I can’t sell the club to someone who will give the fans what they want, then I shall continue to ensure that Newcastle is run on a business and football model that is sustainable.

I care too much about the club merely to abandon it.

I have the interests of Newcastle United at heart. I have listened to you. You want me out. That is what I am now trying to do, but it won’t happen overnight and it may not happen at all if a buyer does not come in.

You don’t need to demonstrate against me again because I have got the message.

Any further action will only have an adverse effect on the team. As fans of Newcastle United you need to spend your energy getting behind, not me, but the players who need your support.

I am determined that Newcastle United is not only here today, but that it is also there tomorrow for your children who stand beside you at St. James’ Park.”

Mike Ashley.

Sunday 14th September 2008

I can’t say I feel sorry for Ashley at all, although to be fair, I don’t think he’s asking for any kind of pity. I commend him for writing this letter; he didn’t have to do it and he doesn’t owe Newcastle’s fans any explanation if he wants to sell the club — that’s his prerogative.

His absence will benefit Newcastle, even if the new owner doesn’t have as much money to spend as Ashley does. Ashley is incompetent in his position. Just because he loves soccer doesn’t mean he should be running a club like Newcastle, or any other club, for that matter.

Once the fans turned against him, it was going to be near-impossible to bring them back on his side. Ashley has little choice but to sell the club now, which will surely devalue the return he’s going to get from any potential suitor.

Mike Ashley, the moron, will not be missed.

Legend of Cahill Continues

Last December, I wrote a post ( detailing the impressive late-game exploits of Everton and Australia attacking midfielder Tim Cahill.

There is no doubt that Cahill is the most clutch player in the world, bar none. Cristiano Ronaldo? No. Lionel Messi? Nope. Fernando Torres? No.

If your team needs a goal to either equalize or win a match, Cahill is the man for you. He has a remarkable knack for being in the right place at the right time, and most importantly, burying the chance. Cahill isn't what you'd call a natural goalscorer, it just seems like every goal he does score is so important, so significant. He'll often pop up from nowhere to convert the finish, which is amazing because you'd think opposing defenders would be marking him so tightly given his reputation and penchant for heroics.

He struck again today, scoring the 77th-minute winner off a corner kick in Everton's 3-2 victory over Stoke City, rescuing the three points after Stoke had climbed back from 2-0 down. He also had the assist on Yakubu's goal, which put the Toffees two goals to the good. That's Timmy Cahill in a nutshell for you. He gets himself in the right position and when he gets an opportunity, he makes it count. He's gutsy and hard-nosed and is at his best when the situation means the most. That's the type of player I'll take on my team any day.

His only problem is a significant one -- staying healthy. He missed the start of this season with a fractured metatarsal, the same one that caused him to miss a considerable amount of time last year. A knee injury cost him eight weeks in late 2006. Various knocks and nagging injuries have blighted Cahill's career, but when he's fit, he's extraordinarily valuable.

New "I'm on Setanta Sports" Episode

I know it seems like all I do lately is post these videos, so let me explain.

Here at Mercyhurst, I'm having a hard time being able to find games to watch because I don't have FSC or Setanta. I'm doing the best I can to catch as much action as I can online, but it's not exactly easy. Until I get Setanta Broadband and/or FSC Broadband, posts on game action itself are going to be few and far between as I just don't get a chance to see much.

This doesn't mean, however, that I won't be writing here. What I love doing most anyway deals with original content, which made up the vast majority of what you saw last year. I'll use what happens in real life and incorporate it into a larger point, whether it's rules changes I'd like to see, players and teams I think you should keep an eye on, or whatever. Believe me, I'm not going anywhere, so just stick with me until I can get back to full strength here at English Soccer Talk.

Enjoy the new episode, you *******.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Mike Ashley is a Moron

You're an owner of a Premiership team, one that's well-known all across Europe and is one of the best-supported in England. You've just gotten rid of your manager, one who you brought back just a few months ago to rescue the club from perennial mediocrity and is a hero to the fans. Those fans are threatening to boycott home games in response to the way you forced that manager out the door. Your team itself has little-to-no top young talent (the recent sale of James Milner to Aston Villa made sure of that) and has no real shot at a place in the top half of the table.

What do you do?

You go to New York City for Fashion Week and spend "$200,000 in (a) club and (order) well over 200 bottles of champagne including Cristal and Dom Perignon - buying a bottle for every patron in the club", according to an insider for the New York Post. Those patrons weren't even anyone of note; it was a bunch of D and F-list Hollywood-types, with the possible exception of Deion Sanders. This is just a week and a half or so after you were caught drinking a pint of beer in under 15 seconds in the stands by TV cameras, drawing "words of advice" from Scotland Yard.

Let me get this straight. Instead of caring more about your team and running it properly by actually bringing people who have knowledge about the game on board, Mike Ashley chooses to fly across the Atlantic and get drunk in a club with a group of nobodies. Instead of spending some money to bring some quality players to the team, Ashley sits on his reported $2.8 billion dollar fortune and do nothing with it. Why should he, really? He only spent $270 million to buy the club. No big deal or anything. I have that kind of money in my back pocket. Besides, Newcastle has scored 2 goals in 3 league games this season. They're a juggernaut that can't be stopped.

If I was a Newcastle fan, I'd simply refuse to attend another home game until this guy sold the club. A stand has to be made here to get this moron out of Newcastle. He is an absolute joke. He is incompetent and shouldn't own a hardware store, much less a Premiership team. He clearly has no interest in turning Newcastle into a contender anytime soon, which was his stated goal.

What a fool.

Part 2 of Wayne Rooney's Interview With Fabio Capello

England blasted Croatia 4-1 yesterday in Zagreb in their second World Cup 2010 qualifying game, spurred by a hat trick from Theo Walcott, of all people. It was an impressive victory, to be sure, especially since Croatia hadn't lost in a competitive game on home soil since 1994 and England was missing Steven Gerrard and Owen Hargreaves. This was essentially the same Croatian team that beat England at Wembley last November, too, so the Three Lions have to be over the moon with this result.

Why Walcott was starting ahead of David Beckham in the first place was unclear to me, but the pacey 19-year-old came in and did the job. Talent and potential has never been an issue with him, it's been inconsistency. Don't be surprised if Walcott's form takes a dive in the next month, which would reopen the right flank for Beckham.

Fabio Capello had to have been happy with the win, and he sits down here with yesterday's other goal-scorer, Wayne Rooney, in the second part of their interview for "I'm on Setanta Sports". Enjoy.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Football Manager 2009 Release Date Announced

The Football Manager series is the best, most realistic soccer simulation game out there, bar none. It satisifies the itch you can't even begin to scratch by playing games like FIFA and Pro Evolution Soccer, which don't delve deep enough into off-field matters and what it's really like to build and lead a team.

In FM, actual game play is important, but it's more about what you do before and after the matches themselves. You can buy and sell players. You can hire staff members. You can create custom practice schedules. You answer questions in press conferences. Essentially anything that a real-life soccer manager does, you do in this game. The best part? Pretty much any team you can think of in real life is available to manage and the depth and accuracy of the player ratings and skillsets is unbelievable.

This season's edition will be coming out for PC on November 14, and I can't wait. You have no idea how many hours I've spent playing these games over the years -- probably far too many, but this game is so addictive that it's just hard to quit. Once you get into it, you're going to find yourself saying, "One more day, just one more day, one more day and I'll save it, one more day", then finally save after a month on the game calendar.

I encourage you strongly to pick up a copy when it comes out, which you can do by going to the official website ( and downloading it right there, or by going to that site and following the links to pre-order it through It's not going to be cheap, but it's worth the price -- about $60 here in the US. While you're there, check out the game features and screenshots, and watch a couple videos about the product. There's a community forum there too, where you can connect with other fans of the series across the world and just shoot the breeze about whatever you want.

November 14 -- remember that date. Football Manager '09, a can't miss item for fans of the beautiful game.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Two Newest Episodes of "I'm on Setanta Sports"

While I took my break last week to get acclimated to my new college, a new "I'm on Setanta Sports" segment was released and I didn't get around to posting it. I'm doing so here and that episode is followed by yesterday's show, the first in a two-part series that will take us through this international break. There's some quality new material here, including a clever game show based on "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?" and Fabio Capello's interview with "The Boy", Wayne Rooney.

Trust me, you'll love these two episodes.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Goodbye, Kevin Keegan

Another Premiership manager bit the dust today as Kevin Keegan joined Alan Curbishley on the unemployment line.

The "Geordie Messiah" was supposed to turn Newcastle's fortunes around and make them a top-four contender, if you believe most of the Toon Army, but didn't even last a full season's worth of games after returning to the club midway through the '07-'08 campaign. In 21 competitive games in Keegan's second stint as Newcastle manager, the Magpies went just 6-6-9, hardly an impressive record for a team whose fans consider "big" in the English and European scenes.

As was the case with Curbishley, Keegan was unhappy with his club's transfer policy:

"It's my opinion that a manager must have the right to manage and that clubs should not impose upon any manager any player that he does not want."

This tells me he wasn't fully behind this summer's signings of two Argentine players, Jonas Gutierrez and Fabricio Coloccini. I also don't think Keegan was given permission to go out and buy players that he himself, not sporting director Dennis Wise or club owner Mike Ashley, wanted, and that's unacceptable. The sale of James Milner, the team’s only real talented young player, to Aston Villa may have put the final nail in the coffin as Keegan had made it clear that he wanted to keep the England U-21 captain. A manager knows more about players, particularly ones he believes will fit in well, than anyone in the backroom and especially the owner, who in this case has no real background in the game. Any power struggles going on behind the scenes should end up in favor of the manager, because he's the one person outside of the players most responsible for a team's success or lack thereof.

Keegan is a hero in Newcastle so this resignation has hit fans there extremely hard. They put more stock into Keegan than they would've with any manager outside of a couple of the big names that were available when the position opened in January. To be sure (and the evidence is in the archives here), I was never in favor of him coming back to Newcastle and didn't think he'd be successful. Even so, though, it's unfortunate that things ended like this because Keegan is a character and a voice that is good for the Premiership. He'll end up back on his feet somewhere if he wants another job, but the question is, where does Newcastle go from here?

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Goodbye, Alan Curbishley

The first managerial departure of the season came today as Alan Curbishley resigned his post as West Ham manager. Curbishley had been at or near the top of the list of managers speculated to go, along with Newcastle boss Kevin Keegan, so this bit of news shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone.

However, the reason for it is very interesting. Managers typically resign or are forced to resign when their teams aren't playing well on the field and not living up to expectations. That's not the case here, though; it's still early in the season but West Ham is in 5th place, having taken six points out of nine and advancing to the 3rd round of the Carling Cup. Curbishley has taken a lot of heat over the years for mediocre finishes at Charlton Athletic and West Ham, some of it fair, but it's important to remember (and this has been vastly overlooked) that he guided West Ham out of the relegation zone (with the considerable help of Carlos Tevez) in 2006-2007 and may have been leading the Hammers in Europe this season if it wasn't for the horrific rash of injuries to his first team last year. All-in-all, Curbishley did a fine job at West Ham.

His authority was undermined, however, at the end of this summer's transfer window and that was the final straw. West Ham sold Anton Ferdinand, still a promising young center back, and George McCartney, who started every league game last season for West Ham at left back. Craig Bellamy was offered publicly as well, though no one came in and made a serious move for the injury-prone striker. Curbishley didn't seem to have any say in those decisions, and even though a manager's primary task is to lead the team he has at that moment, it's still important for him to at least be involved in incoming and outgoing transfers. After all, he's the one who has to put a squad on the field.

I can't blame Curbishley for leaving. A lack of trust and cohesion had developed between himself and the front office, and that's not healthy for either party. His resignation looks better for him personally than him being fired, which may have happened soon anyway if the oddsmakers were right. He can walk away with his head held high while West Ham looks worse as a club for taking crucial bits of control away from the man who really needed it most.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Peter Reid Becomes New Manager of...Thailand??

Here's one of those random news stories we read about every season:

Born in the same Liverpool suburb as current well-known midfielders Steven Gerrard and Joey Barton, Peter Reid had a solid playing career, most notably at Bolton, Everton, and Manchester City. He won the FA Cup and old First Division twice (both at Everton). He was selected as the PFA Footballer of the Year in 1985. Reid also represented his country 13 times and was a key cog in England's World Cup 1986 team, which was eliminated in the quarterfinals by eventual tournament champion Argentina.

He's had some success in the managerial ranks, too, with more than respectable records at City and Sunderland, where he was on the bench for 159 victories in his seven-year tenure. Reid didn't fare particularly well in either of his last two jobs, though, as he compiled a combined 16-25-12 mark at Leeds and Coventry City. He left the Sky Blues in January of 2005 after the goal of getting them promoted back into the Premiership had fallen miserably short -- they were sitting in 20th place at the time.

Still, Reid's past accomplishments basically guaranteed him a job in the game somewhere if he was interested. He departed from Coventry before the age of 50, which is relatively young for a manager these days. He'd worked in TV to pass the time -- for Sky Sports and the Football Channel -- so it was clear his enthusiasm for the sport was still there. Unlike Kevin Keegan, Reid kept himself involved.

Enter the Thailand national team, currently ranked 112th in the world by FIFA. Believe me, I've never been one to put much stock into those things (it's hard to take them seriously when you see how highly the US and England, among others, have been ranked, and how low countries like Ghana, Ivory Coast, and Switzerland have been ranked) but common sense wins out in this case. They've never participated in a World Cup, despite the fact that Asia is without a doubt the weakest continental confederation from which to qualify. They finished last in their four-team qualifying group in the third round of AFC competition for the 2010 World Cup, behind formidable powerhouses in Japan, Bahrain, and Oman. Thailand earned one point in six games and finished with a -9 goal differential. Sure, Thailand may not be exactly the 112th best team in the world. They could be a bit better. They could be worse. They're bad either way.

None of this stopped Reid from undertaking the monumental challenge of building up the Southeast Asian nation's soccer program, however, as he agreed to a four-year contract with the aim of qualifying for World Cup 2014 in Brazil. I'd be lying to you if I said I recognized anyone on the roster chosen for their last competitive game. 15 of the 18 players picked play their domestic soccer in Thailand, and two of the other three play for Manchester City, who, until yesterday, had a Thai owner in Thaksin Shinawatra who simply brought those two to the club.

Thailand has the 20th-largest population in the world, so it's not like Reid doesn't have the numbers in his favor from that standpoint. Out of the approximately 63 million people residing in that country, surely he can find 20 of them or so and field a competitive side, right? Not so fast. Thailand is known across the world for its monsoons, which aren't exactly condusive to soccer. It's ridiculously hot and humid there. The economy is strengthening slowly and the capital city, Bangkok, is the hub of Southeast Asia, but to say Thailand as a whole is doing well financially would be a severe misrepresentation of the facts.

The odds are certainly stacked against Reid. Fellow Liverpudlian Peter Withe steered Thailand to a couple ASEAN Championships (Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam) in the early part of this decade, but this is a country that does want a team that can compete on a bigger stage. If Reid is able to get them there, full credit to him. It would be a remarkable managing job and one that hopefully would get its share of publicity around the world. If not, no big loss because Thailand was never there in the first place and everyone knows how difficuly of a task this is. It's a no-lose situation for Reid.

Monday, September 1, 2008

I'm Back!

It was a hectic weekend here in Erie, but one that I wouldn't mind living again. I posted early last week that I'd be taking a brief leave of absence to get situated at college, which is what I've been doing for the past few days.

Clearly I've missed a lot in the soccer world with the transfer deadline having come and gone and a whole round of fixtures played. I won't lie; I was only able to watch bits and pieces of a couple games so there won't be any analysis here of all the action -- my weekly All-Star Team will be back when the Premiership restarts after this international break.

The England national team returns to the limelight with its first two World Cup 2010 qualifying games, at Andorra on the 6th and at Croatia in nine days' time. I haven't agreed too often with the roster inclusions of manager Fabio Capello and that won't change with the 23-man squad he picked for these two games, but I was pleased to see him call up Fulham's talismanic midfielder, Jimmy Bullard. Bullard is presumably replacing Steven Gerrard, who will miss the next two weeks after having a minor groin operation. Where’s Peter Crouch? Where’s Darren Bent? Where’s Ashley Young? Theo Walcott?? Wayne Bridge?? Paul Robinson?? Please.

England absolutely has to beat Andorra, and I think anything they get in Croatia would be considered a bonus based on Croatia's talent and how well Slaven Bilić's team plays at home (Croatia is undefeated in competitive matches on home soil since 1994). I don't see that record changing, though England may able to squeak out a draw in this game.

It's good to be back, obviously. College has been great so far but nothing really compares to the beautiful game. I'll be going back to a regular posting schedule from this point forward (hopefully).

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Why So Many Empty Seats For Cup Competitions?

Coventry City hasn’t been in the Premiership since the 2000-2001 season, when they were relegated after finishing 19th with 34 points. The Sky Blues have spent every season since then in the Championship, so close to England’s top flight, but yet so far. They’re a proud club — they’ve been in existence since the early 1880’s, they were a founding member of the Premier League, and have won the FA Cup.

Before that dismal ‘00-’01 campaign, Coventry had spent the previous 34 seasons in the First Division/Premiership. Their fans had been used to seeing the best opposition in the world on a week-in, week-out basis, so the drop to the Championship couldn’t have been easy. They’ve come nowhere near promotion since then; in fact, they’ve nearly been relegated to League One on a couple different occasions.

The Carling Cup Second Round started today, with Coventry welcoming Newcastle to the Ricoh Arena. Newcastle is a popular team in England and despite their lack of success in recent years, they’re by no means a bad side. One would think that a chance to upset a Premiership team in a one-off game in a cup competition would be a draw for Coventry fans. One would think the crowd would really be up for this game, even if it’s just to see a team they don’t get to see anymore because the two clubs aren’t in the same league. It came as a bit of a surprise, then, when I turned on the game and saw a half-filled stadium with a crowd quieter than the ones at some of my high school games, at least until Coventry equalized right at the death through a long throw-in into the box (Newcastle eventually won 3-2).

This is the problem with both the FA Cup and the Carling Cup, though. For some reason, and I’m wondering what it is, matches in these competitions don’t ever seem to sell out unless it’s the quarterfinal stage or beyond. It doesn’t matter who the opponent is; a “Big Four” team could come to town and there still probably won’t be a full crowd.

I don’t understand this, and I’m hoping you can help me out. These are cup games. They have more individual meaning than most any game in a 38-match (Premiership) or 46-match (lower leagues) schedule. In the Carling Cup, one team will advance and the knock the other out on that given day. In the FA Cup, the same could happen unless the game ends up in a draw, in which case the tie is decided in the return leg. Victories propel a side one step closer to a trophy. If a Premiership team goes to one of those lower league sides, that’s the best, most talented opponent they’ll see all season. The Carling Cup winner and usually both the FA Cup winner and runner-up receive a berth in the UEFA Cup, which is no small consolation prize for many teams. The domestic cups provide another chance to win a trophy, and it’s hard to argue with that.

It doesn’t make sense to me. Is it because the games are played on weeknights? It’s not like they go on late into the night, meaning people can still get home at a decent hour and be ready for work the next day. It’s my understanding that ticket prices are lower for cup games and at lower-league clubs, so that can’t have much to do with it.

Why do I see so many empty seats like I did today?

A Few Days Off..

Tomorrow I leave for Mercyhurst College in Erie, Pennsylvania, which will be my home for the next three school years. Move-in is Thursday, with the typical orientation/getting used to the campus/meeting people stuff going on the rest of the weekend.

I'll be busy with that, obviously, and just doing the things a new college student does. My blogging pattern isn't going to change -- I'll still be posting daily or as close to daily as possible based on what's going on in the soccer world -- but I am going to take these next few days off to immerse myself in everything up there and prepare for the start of classes next week. If I get a chance and there's something worth mentioning, I'll do a post here, but it's more likely that you won't find much here at least until this weekend.

Just wanted to give everyone the heads-up. Thanks for your understanding.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Premiership All-Star Team--Round 2

Manchester United's 1-0 victory at Portsmouth earlier this afternoon concluded the second round of fixtures in the Premiership. It would be foolish to read too much into the standings at this point in this season, but it's still interesting to see the likes of Hull City and Newcastle near the top of the table while Portsmouth and Tottenham are languishing at the other end.

This weekend was full of unexpected results and exciting finishes, from Steven Gerrard's 94th-minute curling effort to beat Middlesbrough to Mamady Sidibe's late header for Stoke City in their victory over Aston Villa. Fulham triumphed over Arsenal for only the second time in 16 meetings. Sunderland went to White Hart Lane and upset Tottenham -- a result that I told you to watch out for in my post on Friday night.

Here are the weekend's standouts, with the number in parentheses next to their name representing how many points they have in my personal competition. Remember, a player gets 10 points for being an All-Star, 15 for being the Player of the Week.

GK: Petr Čech (Chelsea) (10) -- Made five saves to earn the shutout in Chelsea's 1-0 victory at Wigan. These weren't just run-of-the-mill, low-difficulty saves either -- the Czech goalkeeper was sent sprawling in both directions to come up with his stops.

CB: Brede Hangeland (Fulham) (10) -- Hangeland's first goal for Fulham since joining the club last January turned out to be the winner against Arsenal, a game that ended 1-0. As a center back, Hangeland's main responsibility is to prevent the opponent from scoring, which he did, and it's not often that Arsenal fails to do so. Hangeland's goal was a huge bonus added on to his solid performance in defense.
CB: Nemanja Vidić (Manchester United) (10) -- United's win was mentioned earlier and it wasn't as close as the final scoreline would indicate, especially in the second half. Portsmouth generated absolutely nothing going forward, with Vidić the main reason why. He was United's rock at the heart of the defense, shedding blood (literally) for the cause.
CB: Jamie Carragher (Liverpool) (10) -- He was turned around a couple times early in the game (though neither mistake cost Liverpool on the scoreboard) but his fluke equalizer was a reward for his otherwise outstanding, if underappreciated, play. Gerrard won it at the death but without Carragher holding the back four together, the captain's goal wouldn't have mattered.

RMF: Stephen Ireland (Manchester City) (10) -- Had the assist on both of Elano's goals in City's comfortable 3-0 home win over West Ham. Forced Callum Davenport to clear the ball off the line with a shot in the 13th minute. You wouldn't know he's a central midfielder by trade based on his performance -- his crossing was great and he was able to get up and down the flank almost at will.
DMF: Vincent Kompany (Manchester City) (10) -- Made his City debut in style, picking up the Man of the Match award for his spectacular effort. Started out in the holding role, but moved to center back when Micah Richards had to be taken off on a stretcher with a head injury barely into the second half. West Ham didn't record an official shot on goal.
CMF: Darren Fletcher (Manchester United) (10) -- Fletcher's second goal in two games, United's only two tallies of the season, was all the Red Devils needed today. The Scottish international certainly wasn't flashy, but he and Paul Scholes pulled the strings in a midfield that led United to 64% of the possession, an extremely high figure for any Premiership game, much less an away fixture.
AMF: Elano (Manchester City) -- Two goals, two cool finishes from the Brazilian.
LMF: Kieran Richardson (Sunderland) (10) -- Fantastic strike gave the Black Cats a 1-0 lead over Spurs in the second half. Sunderland eventually won the game 2-1, and Richardson looked great on the left wing.

ST: Michael Owen (Newcastle) (10) -- If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. Owen came off the bench in the 53rd minute, had a close-range header saved, then buried one from an almost-identical setup barely a quarter of an hour after he'd entered. Those were Newcastle's only two shots on goal, but they beat Bolton 1-0 anyway.
ST: Ricardo Fuller (Stoke City) (10) -- This guy scrapped and scrapped all game before being subbed out in the 87th minute. Made a beautiful turn around Martin Laursen and finished the play with a great goal from a bad angle to put Stoke up 2-1 at the time.

Player of the Week: Elano (15)

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Harry Redknapp Interested In Coaching 2012 UK Team

Portsmouth boss ‘Arry Redknapp confirmed his interest in leading a Great Britain soccer team in the 2012 Summer Olympics, which will be held in London.

Redknapp is from London and spent a combined 15 years playing for and managing West Ham, a club based in the eastern section of England’s capital. The other teams he’s led — Bournemouth, Portsmouth, and Southampton — are all on the South Coast, also not far from London. This familiarity with the area clearly plays into his willingness to take the job if he gets the chance:

“I’m absolutely flattered that my name is being mentioned about managing the Great Britain team,’ he told the Sunday Mirror yesterday.

‘Would I take it if they offered it to me? Absolutely, I would be a fool not to.

‘I’ve had some great managerial jobs during my career but there is no doubt this would be the icing on the cake.

‘The fact it is being held on my old stamping ground in East London makes it even more appealing.”

As of right now, though, it appears unlikely that a combined team will even be fielded. The Welsh, Scottish, and Northern Irish FA’s are all opposed to the idea, which puts a huge damper on it seeing as those are three of the four countries that would be involved. There’s no doubt that most of the talent on the team would come from England, but it can’t be given the go-ahead unless those associations give their seals of approval. They feel that it would be a threat to the future of their respective national teams, which obviously operate independently of one another.

England’s Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, supports the plan:

“I hope there will be a team by 2012. It will be Team UK. I hope we can get an agreement on that.

‘I think when people are looking at the Olympics in 2012 - Britain, home of football, where football was invented, which we gave to the world - I think people would be very surprised if there is an Olympic tournament in football and we are not part of it.”

‘I am determined to work with the football associations and the Olympic Committee to ensure that when we come to 2012 we have a men’s football team and we have a women’s football team playing.”

There’s no doubt to me that the UK should have a team. These Olympics are in their backyard. Soccer is the most popular sport in the region, and its main competitors — rugby and cricket — aren’t Olympic events. If some sort of agreement has to be reached saying that Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales each have to be represented on the squad by a certain number of players, then fine. I don’t see why that should be too much of a problem, although as I hinted at before, the best players in Great Britain are English.

Redknapp would be a terrific leader for this team. Other than Martin O’Neill, I don’t think anyone is more of a “player’s manager” than Redknapp. He has the right personality and temperament to unite a multi-national side. He’s going to be 65 in 2012 so he may not have the same enthusiasm as he does now, but something tells me the thrill of playing in his home city would reignite the engines and give him a little pick-me-up, if he even needs one in the first place.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Waken Up! It's Time for "I'm on Setanta Sports"!

On the new season's second episode, Dimitar Berbatov's potential transfer to Manchester United is the hot topic. "The Boy" makes a special appeal to give the Bulgarian striker a home. Rafa and both Keanes -- Robbie and Roy -- all call in to give their takes on the "heartbreaking" plea.

"It", aka Mr. "WELL! wellwellwellwellwellwellwellwellwellwelluhhhh!!!", brings an old habit back to the forefront as well.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Games To Watch This Weekend

With a relatively lazy Friday as far as soccer news is concerned, I thought I'd put out a quick primer for the weekend's most interesting matchups. This is something I'll be doing sporadically throughout the year, though more so for domestic and continental cup competitions (when English teams are involved) rather than the Premierhip.

Tottenham vs. Sunderland -- Neither team got a result in their respective opening games last week, but Sunderland looked more impressive in their 1-0 loss against Liverpool than Tottenham did in their 2-1 defeat at Middlesbrough. The Black Cats were even with Rafa's boys all game long until a thunderbolt from Fernando Torres won it. Spurs needed an own goal in second half stoppage time just to account for the final scoreline. Boro played them off the park in that match.

The so-called "Tottenham trio" — Pascal Chimbonda, Teemu Tainio, and Steed Malbranque — will be returning to White Hart Lane for the first time since moving to Sunderland this summer. You can bet Chimbonda and Malbranque will be motivated to play well against the team that gave up on them. The three players each spent a couple seasons at Tottenham, though Tainio probably had the most success. He’ll miss this game with a muscle strain.

Tottenham made it clear through their summer signings that they're pushing for a place in the Champions League. Performances like the one they turned in last week aren't going get to it done, obviously. Sunderland, on the other hand, wants to stabilize their position in England's top flight and then push their way up the table. This is the perfect opponent for them -- one who struggles to defend. Sunderland won't score many goals without star striker Kenwyne Jones, but if they can find a way to steal one or two tomorrow, this is a game from which they can pick up points.

Manchester City vs. West Ham -- City opens their home schedule coming off a 4-2 shellacking at the hands of Aston Villa last week. That loss isn't the main concern at the Eastlands right now, though, as news broke tonight that owner Thaksin Shinawatra, one of the most corrupt men in all of soccer, is preparing to resign from his position or, at the very least, sell some of his stake in the club. Instability is the name of the game right now in that area of Manchester.

His team doesn't have much up front, which is a huge concern for manager Mark Hughes. Daniel Sturridge played very well off the bench at Villa, but he's not ready to be a full-time starter. Valeri Bojonov is injured once again, as are Benjani and Darius Vassell. Chedwyn Evans and Sturridge are all City has for the time being, at least until record signing Jô comes back from his Olympic duty for Brazil.

West Ham picked up three points in a solid 2-1 win over Wigan at Upton Park. Dean Ashton scored both goals and would've earned himself another look-in to the England national team, but the striker came off with a cramp in his lower leg and was not selected by Fabio Capello. He should be ready to play tomorrow against a defense that was torn to shreds by Villa's firepower.

If City loses on Sunday, make sure you turn up the volume when the final whistle is blown. Nothing like the clear sound of "boos" to get you going early in the morning, I always say.

Portsmouth vs. Manchester United -- Make no mistake: this is not the same Manchester United team that won the Premiership a year ago. Cristiano Ronaldo's absence affects United as much as the loss of any one player from any team in the world. Without him, Sir Alex Ferguson's team is vulnerable and struggles to score goals, which we saw in their 1-1 draw against Newcastle last week. No disrespect to Newcastle, but United beat them 6-0 at home last year when Ronaldo played (he had a hat trick), and Newcastle hasn't improved their roster that much since then.

For their part, Portsmouth looked nothing like they did last season in their 4-0 spanking at Stamford Bridge last Sunday. Chelsea dominated the game -- Pompey had a hard time advancing past midfield for stretches of the 90 minutes.

United and Pompey have developed a very nice little rivalry over the past few seasons, one that saw Sulley Muntari and Ronaldo get sent off in a two-minute span in the corresponding fixture last year, a game that ended 1-1. United won the second league game between the two 2-0, but Pompey returned the favor by knocking the Red Devils out of the FA Cup, a competition eventually won by the South Coasters. Just two weeks ago, United triumphed over 'Arry Redknapp's side in PK's in the season-opening Community Shield.

There's nothing like a Monday night game at Fratton Park. The crowd will be buzzing for an upset, one which wouldn't be too surprising from this writer's point of view.

Should be a good weekend in the Premiership.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Final Observations of England Friendly Against Czech Republic (2-2)

• It’s clear that England is really lacking in two positions – left wing and center forward. Steven Gerrard is a very good player and performed well on the left today, but that’s not his natural position and he doesn’t give England much width. He needs to play in the position Frank Lampard occupied today. Stewart Downing should be nothing more than a squad player. Wayne Rooney, as we all know, is not really a striker, and neither Jermain Defoe nor Emile Heskey (who has 5 goals in 45 appearances) are the answers for England long-term. Fabio Capello left the best options for those positions at home, in my opinion, in Ashley Young (left) and either Darren Bent or Peter Crouch up top. Bent or Crouch paired with either Defoe or Rooney and England would be in business. Young provides the pace and on-ball qualities that England just doesn’t have. Joe Cole is a versatile option who can play either wing and as a second striker, but I’m not sure if he’s consistent enough on the international stage to start.

• Wes Brown scored today, but I don’t think he’s the best option at right back. Glen Johnson brings more to the table than Brown while making half as many mistakes, of which Brown made two bad ones in this game. Luke Young isn’t a bad player. Phil Neville is still serviceable. It seems like Brown’s spot isn’t even up for contention, and that’s a problem.

• The Czech Republic were the better team in this match. They’re not half as flashy as England can be at times, but they get the job done. It was nice to see them rebound with a victory after that disastrous collapse against Turkey in Euro 2008, the last game they played. They deserved the victory and were harshly done by when Joe Cole scuffled home the late equalizer.

• As with the U-21’s, I was disappointed with the turnout at Wembley. Look, there aren’t too many international games played each year so when there is one, I’d expect it to be sold out or close to it. If you don’t think you’re going to get that at Wembley, move the game to a smaller stadium. There’s no need to have a “national stadium” anyway, not when there are other fully capable grounds in the country.

• England’s players didn’t have the same passion as their Czech counterparts. I can’t blame it on their new captain, John Terry, I just think they need to put a little more into their performances in the future. It’s hard to explain, really – it seemed like something was missing. They get plenty of credit for their two comebacks, though, because those are hard to come by at this level (unless you’re Turkey, of course!)

• All things considered, Capello can take some positives and negatives out of this game. As I said, his team came back twice from a goal down. David Beckham looked very good on the right side and still gets it done. Ashley Cole put in a solid 90 minutes. The negatives, though, outweigh the positives. England generated nothing up front. They were very, very sloppy at times. David James wasn’t at his finest, even though there was nothing he could do about Jankulovski’s fantastic free kick. There's a lot to improve upon, and I'm sure Capello knows that.

England is back in action on September 6, when they'll pay a visit to minnows Andorra. Andorra began their qualifying campaign for World Cup 2010 today with a 3-0 loss at Kazakhstan. It'll be England's first game in UEFA Group 6 and should be a victory for the Three Lions. They outscored Andorra by a combined 8-0 in their two games against the 182nd-ranked team in the world in Euro 2008 qualifying.

Observations of England Friendly Against Czech Republic--First Half

• Well, I had it wrong earlier when I said Gareth Barry would be on the left and Steven Gerrard in the middle. The two were reversed to start, though Gerrard ended up drifting inside anyway. Ashley Cole and Wes Brown, the left and right backs, respectively, both needed to get forward and provide some necessary width to the team.

• David Beckham can still hit a dead or slow-moving ball pretty well. Big shock, huh? He's still England's best option on the right side.

• I’m getting tired of seeing Wayne Rooney listed as a striker for England. He comes back so far to collect the ball that’s he virtually a fifth midfielder, and when you only have Jermain Defoe (hardly a target man) up front and the firepower that’s already in England’s midfield, Rooney doesn’t need to drop so deep. It hurts the team more than it helps, though you have to like the hustle and work rate.

• Well-deserved yellow card for Barry – reckless tackle.

• Good awareness from Wes Brown to clear the ball after David James made the one-handed diving save after a quarter of an hour.

• Even though Gerrard rarely plays on the left, he looked great bursting forward out there today. He tested Petr Cech early after cutting in and ripping a low, hard drive, won a corner kick in the 35th minute after having his shot deflected out of bounds, passed it very well, and drew a couple fouls in good position for England. When he came back inside, though, he struggled a little bit to connect his passes.

• After Brown’s good play earlier, he was largely responsible for the Czech Republic’s first goal, scored by Milan Baros. As a defender, Brown made the huge mistake of diving in and letting the attacker walk it right around him there at the corner of the 18. The ball was then passed to Baros, who made no mistake. The goal itself went in off Ashley Cole, an unfortunate bounce because it appeared that James was going to make the save before the ball could sneak into the corner.

• As match commentator Robbie Earle wisely pointed out, the width of the Czech Republic put England at a big disadvantage because the Three Lions have little of it. When the full backs have to go that far forward, they leave holes in the back that can be exploited.

• Frank Lampard was fortunate to not receive a yellow card for his sliding challenge in the 28th minute. He caught all man first, ball second, and it wasn’t even close.

• England’s best stretch of the half came between the 25th-40th minutes, but Cech was up to the task. Better finishing from Rooney and Defoe, in particular, was needed to equalize.

• Great long throw from James to his Portsmouth teammate, Defoe, just before halftime. Defoe then won a foul. The free kick from that foul resulted in an England corner kick, which was headed in by Brown, whose first international goal makes up for his earlier mistake.

Lampard Paired With Gerrard in England's Starting Lineup

Yes, you read correctly.

We've seen this story before. Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard can't play together in the same midfield, but yet England boss Fabio Capello is going to give it another try in today's friendly against the Czech Republic. This should be interesting.

The other surprise in the starting lineup is Gareth Barry, not because of his inclusion but because of his position. Barry will be playing left wing, definitely not his best role or the one he's been so successful in for Aston Villa lately. Why play Barry, who has a great relationship with Gerrard and would allow the Liverpool captain to go forward, in the holding role, where Barry is best, when you can play Lampard, who gives you nothing defensively? Makes no sense to me.

Here's the full lineup:

GK: James

RB: Brown
CB: Ferdinand
CB: Terry (captain)
LB: A. Cole

RMF: Beckham
CMF: Gerrard
CMF: Lampard
LMF: Barry

ST: Rooney
ST: Defoe

More analysis later.

Final Observations of England U-21 Friendly Against Slovenia (2-1)

• I was disappointed to see how many empty seats there were at Hull City’s KC Stadium. I know this was only a friendly, but come on. These players are the future of England’s national team, and the already small stadium wasn't even half-full to watch them.

• I liked the 4-3-3 employed by Pearce. He showed some tactical flexibility by adapting the formation to suit his players rather than fit players into a predetermined formation, which too many international head coaches are guilty of. He then moved to a 4-4-2 when he introduced Fraizer Campbell on the hour, again demonstrating his willingness to change things around.

• I’m not entirely sure why Aston Villa’s Gabriel Agbonlahor wasn’t in the starting lineup. He’s coming off a perfect hat trick in seven minutes against Manchester City, and it isn’t just that – he played well in Villa’s European games before the league season kicked off. Matt Derbyshire, who can barely get a game at Blackburn, got the start ahead of Agbonlahor. The match commentator made the point that Agbonlahor was getting some “extensive treatment” for his groin on the field during warm-ups, so I would have to assume that that was the reasoning behind the decision to sit the pacey young striker.

• Nedum Onouha played center back even though he’s a better fit on the right with his blistering speed, and his Manchester City teammate Micah Richards played right back even though he plays in the center for the club. Again, it’s an assumption, but England U-21 manager Stuart Pearce probably knows he can’t count on having Richards for much longer, so the greater benefit to his team would be playing Onouha where he normally plays for the Young Lions instead of shifting him over to accommodate Richards, who is fully capable at right back. Richards’ future with the senior national team is probably at right back anyway.

• Michael Mancienne looked OK at center back. He’s on loan from Chelsea, where he’ll probably never feature, at QPR, where he’s one of the team’s best players. He seemed very calm and composed, especially under pressure, but he did back off and give Slovenia’s attackers too much room to operate at times. He was burnt badly by a through ball on Slovenia’s only goal as well.

• Derbyshire violated a cardinal rule of the game – play until the whistle blows – when he stopped on a dime, threw his hands up, and turned around at the referee when he did not award a PK in the 15th minute for a questionable tackle in the area. Derbyshire went down, popped back up, and didn’t pursue the ball. If he would have, Slovenia may not have been able to clear it. Yes, it should’ve been a penalty, but once it’s not called, it’s not going to be called. Don’t complain about it while the play is still going on.

• West Ham’s Mark Noble and City’s Michael Johnson (in the hour he played) really bossed the midfield. Both are regulars for their respective clubs, so I’d expect nothing less against the inferior Slovenian side.

• England did a good job winning their set pieces in the air, particularly Richards, who hit the post with a header off a corner kick early in the game and picked up his own rebound (which also came off a header) and scored a tap-in in the 25th minute. Richards was superb in the air all game long, looking like a man against boys. Onouha also looked lively.

• Tom Huddlestone was shaky in open play, especially in the first 30 minutes. To be fair to him, he hasn’t really gotten and isn’t going to get an extended run in Tottenham’s first team, and the rust was clearly evident. He had trouble passing the ball early and was constantly giving it away, both on the dribble and with his passes. He did play a nice through ball to Noble at the beginning of the second half, though Noble didn’t do anything with it. His play steadily improved as the game went on, which is a good sign. He also delivered some dangerous set pieces.

• James Milner’s terrific finish bailed out his bumbling and stumbling on the pass that led to his goal, the game-winner. The U-21 captain battled the same problem yesterday as he has for most of his career: inconsistency.

• The substitutes used by Pearce – Campbell, Michael Kightly, Fabrice Muamba, Martin Cranie, David Wheater, and Adam Johnson – were a mixed bag. Johnson was impressive and showed best out of those six. Kightly picked it up after he moved to the right wing. Campbell took a few minutes to get into the game and provided a bit of a sprak. I hardly noticed Muamba, Cranie, and Wheater. Tom Heaton replaced starting goalkeeper Joe Lewis at halftime but had very little to do.

• All-in-all, England put in a decent performance. Slovenia exploited a couple weaknesses in the first 15-20 minutes, over which they played well, but England dictated the game after that. For how strong of a Young Lions side this was, though, I don’t think they’re going to be too happy with the final scoreline. There was too much short passing in the back and then kick-and-chase, rather than individual skill, movement, and the use of incisive through balls. England was a man up for the last 25 minutes but didn’t do anything to capitalize on their advantage.

Man of the Match: Richards, with Noble a close second.

England's senior team plays later this afternoon against the Czech Republic. I'll be doing the same thing for that game as I did here, but my commentary will be posted immediately following the match rather than the day after.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

John Terry Should Not Be England's Captain

I'm sure you've all heard it by now: England manager Fabio Capello named John Terry captain of the Three Lions today.

If you believe the numerous media reports, the strong favorite to be handed the armband on a permanent basis was Manchester United center back Rio Ferdinand, whose steady, and at times fantastic, play tends to greatly overshadow his off-field transgressions over the years in the minds of many England fans. I've already dedicated a post as to why I didn't think Ferdinand should've even been considered ( for the captaincy, so I won't go into that again. Suffice it to say that I'm glad he was passed over by Capello, but I'm disappointed that he was, in fact, named vice-captain. Ferdinand is a very good player, but he doesn't deserve to lead out his country.

Again going by the media's prediction, Terry was the second choice for this honor. In that same post I highlighted above, I was all for the Chelsea central defender being given another chance to skip England when Capello was still rotating the captaincy in his first few games as manager. The credentials are there -- club captain, England's official captain for 14 games (though he missed five others due to injury), PFA Player of the Year for the 2004-2005 Premiership season, inclusion in the World Cup 2006 squad of the tournament, and two-time Premiership winner at Chelsea, among others. I didn't think then that he should be the permanent captain, but based on his past achievements on the field and his form at that particular time, I was in favor of him getting a sort of ceremonial final run-out with the armband.

Like Ferdinand, Terry has been responsible for a fair bit of controversy off the field. The day after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center, Terry and a couple teammates, including Frank Lampard, went on a drunken binge in a hotel filled with American tourists and made insensitive, inflammatory remarks about the tragedy in New York City, stripping naked at the scene as well. Terry was fined by Chelsea. He spent a night in jail in 2002 after his involvement in a fracas at a London nightclub which left a doorman injured, although to be fair, Terry was later cleared of all charges. He was accused of making a disparaging racial remark towards an England teammate and Tottenham player after being sent off in Chelsea's 2-1 loss to Tottenham in 2006. He parked his expensive car in a handicapped spot in the middle of March, which may not seem like too big of a deal, but it symbolizes his arrogant attitude and blatant disrespect -- "I'm John Terry, I can park where I want. Why should I walk an extra two feet into the store when I can be lazy and make it easier for myself?" He is a known high-stakes gambler, and, like Wayne Rooney, has admitted to cheating on his significant other.

I understand that what a player does away from the field is his business. Still, being a captain has as much to do with your qualities as a person and your leadership ability as it does with what you bring to the game itself. Terry can motivate his teammates, he can get them up to put in a good performance. When things don't go his or his team's way, however, you see a petulant, juvenile side of Terry that suggests he has no business representing England as captain.

Let's see...there's the time Terry literally tried to grab a red card out of referee Mike Dean's hand in a game against Manchester United last September, again showing his disrespect for authority. Or the time he publicly questioned Graham Poll's integrity after that game against Spurs, for which he was found guilty of misconduct by the FA. And the numerous occasions in which Terry has physically accosted and intimidated referees when a big decision goes against him or Chelsea. Terry will make contact with officials, he'll bump them, he'll confront them, and instead of stopping his teammates when they do the same thing (which they're known for at Chelsea), he'll just jump in and do it himself. Remember when Ashley Cole turned his back on Mike Riley in a game against Tottenham last season? Cole had been told and signalled to come to Riley and receive his yellow card for a sliding challenge. Terry did nothing to help the situation like a captain should do.

Terry also isn't the same player he was back when he collected those awards I mentioned earlier. He's injury-prone now, and that's clearly affected the way he goes about his duty at center back. He seems a bit hesitant to get stuck into a challenge. He's still a presence in the air, but doesn't go up for balls any more than he actually has to. In the biggest game of his life, last season's Champions League final, he missed what would have been the trophy-winning PK in the shootout.

No, Capello made a mistake in appointing Terry as England's captain. He had his chance in the Euro 2008 qualifying campaign and didn't get it done.

I’ve said it several times before, and I’ll say it again: Liverpool’s Steven Gerrard was the only choice for the role in my mind. He is England’s best overall player, taking into account what he does both offensively and defensively. I can’t count how many times he’s put Liverpool on his shoulders and single-handedly carried them to victory in a game they needed to have. If it wasn’t for Gerrard, there’s no way Liverpool wins the ‘04-’05 Champions League final against AC Milan or the ‘05-’06 FA Cup final against West Ham. He was responsible for those comebacks. He’s the only player to have scored in all four major finals (Carling Cup, FA Cup, Champions League, UEFA Cup) possible for an English-based player to take part in. This guy, unlike Lampard, who couldn’t play alongside Gerrard for England because of his one-dimensional style, is a great tackler and tracks back better than any attack-minded midfielder in the world. He is a big-time player and steps it up when it matters most.

The personal recognition he’s garnered — awarded the MBE for his services to the game, three times in the UEFA Team of the Year, Champions League MVP in ‘04-’05, PFA Player of the Year, PFA Young Player of the Year, six appearances in the PFA Team of the Year, three-time nomination for FIFA Player of the Year — and his accomplishments with Liverpool, where he’s won every major trophy except the Premiership, serve to show just how influential of a player Gerrard is. He is the heart and soul of his club and will occupy 20th place on the list of England’s most capped players (ahead of famous names like Terry, Paul Scholes, Ashley Cole, Alan Shearer, Kevin Keegan, Paul Gascoigne, and Lampard) after tomorrow’s friendly against the Czech Republic, his 68th appearance for his country. He’s well on his way to 100, an accomplishment reached only by five players at this point in time.

He stays squeaky-clean off the field, where he’s settled down with his wife and two young daughters, aside from one minor incident that was not his fault in early October last year. You won’t find Gerrard in the headlines for anything he does outside the lines, at least not for anything negative.

It’s a shame that Gerrard wasn’t given the armband by Capello, and I’m sure it’s partly because he isn’t a center back or goalkeeper, the two most common positions for captains. That notion makes sense to me only to a certain extent. If I was a manager, I’d want my central midfielder as my captain. Everything goes through him; he’s the team’s linchpin. He’s the one who distributes the ball, he’s the one who plays a total game — attack and defense.

Gerrard was Capello’s first captain as England boss; his team beat Switzerland 2-1 in a game in which Gerrard played very well and set up the winning goal. It’s downright criminal that he wasn’t at least named vice-captain, and it doesn’t make sense that Ferdinand would be placed into that role when he isn’t even the captain of his club and England’s captain will be right next to him in the defense. Coupled with the questionable squad call-ups made for this game, I’m starting to lose a little faith in Capello in whether he can turn this England team around. If it happens with Terry and Ferdinand at the helm, I can tell you that it will be in spite of them, not because of them.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Premiership All-Star Team--Round 1

I'm going to do something new this season. After every round of games -- that is to say, after any league games that have been played between Tuesday of one week and Tuesday of the next (which takes into account the rare Monday night game) -- I'm going to name an All-Star Team based on that week's performances. I didn't do this last year, but I think this is a good way to recognize players that don't necessarily get much publicity over the course of 38 games.

I'm also going to make this a contest of sorts. For each time a player is an All-Star, he'll earn 10 points. My Player of the Week, who obviously will be in the team, gets 15 points. Most points at the end of the year wins, and that should give us a solid indication of who's in the running for Player of the Year in the Premiership and who's in line for other awards and international call-ups.

The formation isn't always going to be a traditional 4-4-2; it can be any "recognized" way to set up a team. I don't want my hands to be bound and have to choose players just to fit a formation, I want to be able to fit as many deserving players as I can into the team. It's not going to be anything outlandish, though, so don't worry.

Here's my All-Star Team for this weekend:

GK: Shay Given (Newcastle) -- Did you see those early, short-range saves on Wayne Rooney and Paul Scholes? He even took another off the ol' noggin when he denied Fraizer Campbell. Without Given, Newcastle loses that game.

RB: Grétar Steinsson (Bolton) -- Accidental or not, his tally will be a candidate for goal of the season. Also played well defensively.
CB: David Wheater (Middlesbrough) -- Scored the opener, had another disallowed (it should've stood), looked dangerous going forward, and spearheaded the unit that shut down Tottenham's vaunted attack all game long. Played right back in this game, but will move back into the center now that Justin Hoyte has arrived.
CB: William Gallas (Arsenal) -- The captain stepped up in Kolo Toure's absence, as it's usually the Ivorian who is the commanding presence in the center of Arsenal's defense. Arsenal didn't concede a goal, and Gallas was a big reason why.
LB: Stephen Warnock (Blackburn) -- Picture-perfect diagonal long ball to Santa Cruz for the equalizer, great free kick into the area to set up the winner.

RMF: Mikel Arteta (Everton) -- Scored on a terrific free kick from an acute angle in Everton's 3-2 loss to Blackburn. Was their shining light, by far.
CMF: Gareth Barry (Aston Villa) -- Everything goes through Barry for Villa. Had some chances going forward, and distributed the ball well to both flanks in a 4-2 win over Manchester City.
LMF: Ashley Young (Aston Villa) -- One direct assist and started two other goals. Terrorized City's defense the entire game.

ST: Dean Ashton (West Ham) -- Scored both goals in the Hammers' 2-1 victory over Wigan.
ST: Gabriel Agbonlahor (Aston Villa) -- Perfect hat trick in seven minutes. Enough said.
ST: Johan Elmander (Bolton) -- Celebrated his first game in the Premiership with a goal and looked very lively before being subbed out in the 76th minute.

Player of the Week: Agbonlahor

Saturday, August 16, 2008

England Squad Announced for Czech Republic Friendly

Fabio Capello has named his 23-man roster for England's friendly against the Czech Republic on Wednesday, and there were a couple of surprise absentees, one of which really bothers me.

I can't emphasize enough just how highly I rate Aston Villa's Ashley Young, who had a breakout season last year and was rewarded with a place in the PFA Team of the Year for his efforts. He's right-footed but plays on the left wing and has a good enough left foot, which he showed midweek on the terrific goal he scored in Villa's 4-1 victory over FH in the UEFA Cup Second Qualifying Round. England has a huge void on the left flank: Stewart Downing isn't good enough, Joe Cole doesn't bring much pace to the position, and there really aren't many options behind those two and Young.

Young was snubbed by Capello -- that's the only way I can put it. He should've been in the squad and should've started in the game. It's that simple. You cannot and never will convince me that Downing is a better player than Young. Cole should be on the field, but not at that position. If anyone watched Aston Villa last season, they'd know just how good of a player this guy is. His peers recognize his talent, hence the spot on that PFA team.

The other notable exclusion was that of Darren Bent, who lit it up in the pre-season for Tottenham with, I believe, 12 goals in 5 or 6 games. I understand that pre-season doesn't mean much but they're games. What else is Capello supposed to go on? The main issue with Steve McLaren was that he seemed to pick his team on reputation and name value rather than form, and Capello didn't do that when he took over. It's almost impossible to be playing better right now than Bent.

My surprise here is coupled with the fact that Capello selected Wayne Rooney as one of his three strikers. Rooney has been out for a couple weeks with a virus he contracted on Manchester United's pre-season tour of Africa. He definitely has the talent to be on this team, but he hasn't played in a while and is only just now near complete recovery. He has a tendency to drop back into midfield, where England is already loaded, to pick up the ball instead of staying up front to receive it. This is fine, and I wouldn't have as much of a problem with it as I do, but Capello also picked Jermain Defoe, who is another quick, slight striker, and only one center forward, Emile Heskey, whose best days are clearly behind him.

There's no way that Bent shouldn't be in this group based on his attributes and his current form. If you're going to play Rooney, it's like adding another midfielder with the way he plays for England, and if you're going to play Defoe, he's going to be alongside an unfamiliar face in Heskey. Bent and Defoe were teammates at Tottenham last season before the latter moved to Portsmouth in January, so they should have some chemistry. Defoe has been training with Peter Crouch, a perfect contrasting partnership, all summer, and Crouch also wasn't named to the England team.

West Ham's Dean Ashton certainly would've made the team after his two-goal performance today against Wigan as he's a solid center forward, but he's been ruled out with an injury problem, something that has plagued his career.

Here's the full squad, followed immediately by a couple additional thoughts on the team and my personal starting lineup based on the options available, not necessarily who Capello will use:

GK (3): David James (Portsmouth), Joe Hart (Manchester City), Paul Robinson (Blackburn)

DEF (8): Wayne Bridge, Ashley Cole, and John Terry (Chelsea), Wes Brown and Rio Ferdinand (Manchester United), Glen Johnson (Portsmouth), Jonathan Woodgate (Tottenham), Matthew Upson (West Ham)

MID (9): Theo Walcott (Arsenal), Gareth Barry (Aston Villa), Joe Cole and Frank Lampard (Chelsea), David Beckham (Los Angeles Galaxy), Steven Gerrard (Liverpool), Stewart Downing (Middlesbrough), David Bentley and Jermaine Jenas (Tottenham)

ST (3): Wayne Rooney (Manchester United), Jermain Defoe (Portsmouth), Emile Heskey (Wigan)

• Eight defenders and nine midfielders, but only three strikers? Interesting, considering Rooney has been sick lately.

• I have no idea how Wayne Bridge, who can’t even get a game at Chelsea and certainly doesn’t start on a regular basis, is the second left back ahead of guys like Nicky Shorey, Stephen Warnock, or even Joleon Lescott, a natural center back capable of playing on the left. Those three are all starters, play a lot, and are good players. Bridge doesn't fit into either of the first two categories, so how can be on the team?

GK: James

RB: Johnson
CB: Ferdinand
CB: Terry
LB: A. Cole

RMF: Beckham
DMF: Barry
CMF: Gerrard (captain)
LMF: J. Cole

SS: Rooney

ST: Heskey

Update (08/17-4:28 PM): An ankle injury suffered by Carrick in today’s Manchester United-Newcastle game has ruled the midfielder out of this upcoming friendly. Capello replaced Carrick with Jermaine Jenas. My original starting lineup included Carrick but has now been adjusted and based on Gareth Barry’s current form, he gets the nod.