Total Pageviews

Thursday, February 17, 2011


It is always a pleasure to talk, and write, about a game one has just seen, provided that the game has been of the highest quality, and the game played between Arsenal and Barcelona on 16/2/11 is one such occasion that deserves to be written about.

Barca scored first in the first half through David Villa via a defence-splitting pass from an excellent Lionel Messi, before Arsenal levelled through a Robin van Persie strike from a narrow angle just outside the six-yard box found its way past Victor Valdes in the Barcelona goal. Moments later, Andrei Arshavin, he who should have his index finger cut off, scored the winner for Arsenal from close range and, instead of his usual irritating celebration, threw his shirt over his head.

A deserved win for Arsenal, but only just, as there were comparatively few shots on goal from either side throughout the game.

No matter. The technical quality was breathtaking from start to finish. There were maybe five corners taken in the whole of the game, maybe fifteen throw-ins taken to boot, but it was, in spite of five yellow cards dished out by my man of the match, Italian referee Nicola Rizzoli - who refereed the game stylishly and unobrtusively, always using the advantage rule to full effect- thoroughly enthralling.

Robin van Persie had the first real chance, well saved by Valdez, after some fine masterly dribbling work by young Master Theo Walcott and a nifty ball through by Cesc Fabregas, both of whom performed to the highest level throughout (in Walcott's case, until he was substituted by The Gunners' Danish Honey Monster, Nicklas Bendtner, before van Persie's equaliser).

Arsenal's third keeper, Wojchech Szczesny performed more than creditably throughout, but he was given no chance after 26 minutes when Loinel Messi's intricately threaded through-ball found the foot of David Villa, who did the expected by side-footing the ball to the Pole's left.

In between Villa's opener and van Persie's well-taken equaliser, there were indeed few chances of note, but the football was both technically enthralling and intoxicating, not to mention sporting in the extreme. Fouls were rare, and, as mentioned, Rizzoli had the game well and truly under control, ably assisted by his linesmen. Talk about pass and move; the first 20 minutes were breathless, with the ball barely leaving the ground, and although the tempo slowed somewhat as the game went on, the manner in which the game was played barely altered, and the pass and move style from both teams throughout the game was an absolute joy to behold.

What a difference from the game in the Giuseppe Meazza/San Siro last night, if reports are to be believed. (Your correspondent did not see the game between AC Milan : Spurs due to educational committments.) A goal from Der Crouchmeister (ahem, Peter Crouch) made all the difference, as did a rather reckless two-footed tackle from AC Milan's Mathieu Flamini on Tottenham's Vedran Corluka.

According to some of those who saw the match, it changed the whole athmosphere of the game, with Gennaro Gattuso having a couple of run-ins with Spurs' assistant manager Joe Jordan, so much so that Gattuso and Jordan had verbal (and physical) run-ins during the remainder of the 90 minutes, which led to Gattuso rather tamely head-butting Jordan after the final whistle.

If both were let loose in an enclosed space last night, my money would have been on Joe Jordan to come out on top. They would have still been looking for bits and pieces of Gattuso in the second tier of the Giuseppe Meazza.. Never mind the handbags in Milan, though, I am looking forward, to 8/3/11, to seeing the footballing ballet in the Nou Camp that is surely to come between Barcelona and Arsenal. Can't wait.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


Many in the media and on blogs such as this one concentrate their efforts at year's end with looking back at the year just gone. I have decided to look the other way - forward. Some of you reading this blog may say that it is a bit late to publish something covering a look ahead to 2011, but, hey, it's my blog and I'll do exactly what I want with it.

I decided to ask some friends and acquaintances who love and worship the great god football what they wanted to see happen to the sport in 2011, and the answers were many and varied. Gemma told me that she thought that Spurs would win the 2011 Premier League, while also stating the hope that "[Roman] Abramovich would leave Chelsea, that the club would go bust and that Old Trafford would burn to the ground". Now, I must say that although most of those of a Red persuasion (such as myself) and a great many other football fans all across the British Isles would most probably concur, this wasn't quite the answer I was looking for.

Robski, himself a referee, expressed the hope that cameras would be placed on the goal-line at all major tournaments. This was a recurring theme throughout many answers received. Gero probably earned himself a place on Robski's Christmas-card list by agreeing with the call for goal-line technology, but probably more so for being of the opinion that referees should be respected and that those guilty of carrying out bad tackles should be given a 10-match ban. The noble Gero had much more to say, but I mislaid his wish-list, which in retrospect, may not have been such a bad thing as it was big enough to keep me in Blogland until April, and as one of his hopes was that Liverpool would be relegated. In any case, sorry, Gero.

Shaun may well join Gero in Rob's good books with his request that players who swear at match officials should be instantly red-carded, adding that, when sanctioned, "players should be men about it".

Meanwhile, goal-line technology was busy racking up the points in the wish-list, with Frank, Ton and Remco  all advocating is introduction, with Remco also introducing the introduction of cameras following play along the touchline (such as is used in American Football) in order to ascertain when someone has strayed offside. He also said that, in professional football at least, the option should be open for each team to "challenge" the referee's decision 3 times per half per game.

Ton's wife, Petra, wished for a more sporting year on and off the pitch, for more honesty from players and match officials alike, and for an end to abuse of match officials by players. She also said that every footballer should get a chance; those who fail to make the grade should be given help to find a club more suited to their level of ability. Players should be paid much less than they are, she went on, and unsporting players should be banned for life.

Ton himself, meanwhile, said that professional clubs should have a back-up plan to assist players who don't make the grade, and that 6 out of the 11 players who take the field on match-day should be nationals of the league competition they are playing in. The January transfer-window should be abolished, and those clubs whose debts aren't brought under control during a 3-year period should have a transfer embargo imposed.
He also called for fair-play above everything else, as did Maurice.

As, indeed, did Henk, who is also praying for a Bayern Munich : Barcelona final in the Champions League: "At least we'd get a good game", he said. He would also like to see some "good football; lightning-fast football".

FIFA didn't quite escape everybody's attention in my little survey. Silke, apart from expressing the unlikely hope that Sankt-Pauli would win the Bundesliga, also told me that corruption would always exist in FIFA and UEFA. Possibly, but I would like to see it stamped in football, full-stop, with life bans and imprisonment for those convicted of corruption.

Richie is keeping his fingers crossed that Sepp Blatter gets struck by a bolt of lightning, and would like the World Cup taken from Qatar and "given to somewhere like the US". (I can't see the latter happening, but I hope and pray that Sepp will go on an advanced driving course this year..)

And now, it's my turn on the swings. I would, first of all, like to thank those named above who took the time to answer the call to contribute; your help was, and is, greatly appreciated. It was hardly a scientific affair, but my survey did throw up a few unexpected ideas as well as the more familiar subjects. My thanks also go to Roberto Muylaert, biographer of the 1950 Brazilian World Cup goalkeeper Moacyr Barbosa (more on Barbosa in another blog shortly), who was the only person out of a list including footballers such as Lionel Messi and Alessandro Del Piero, managers and referees past and present and others involed in, and writing about, the game of football, to actually send me a proper answer to my original question.

I must say that I disagree with goal-line technology; I much prefer the notion of an umpire standing on each side of the goal, as in Gaelic Football. This could be used as a first step in becoming a referee, should the umpire wish to do so. I believe that umpires could be used from the lowest levels of football right up to and including the World Cup Final; it keeps the human aspect of decision-making very much alive, and I would like to think that there are at least 3 honest people (umpires plus linesman) in every amateur club!

I would like to see the Champions League and Europa League scrapped and revert back to the old formula; two-leg knockout ties right from the start, with a completely open draw. It's good for the smaller clubs, as they could potentially profit from a big pay-day (gate reciepts and TV money), and they would also receive some free publicity and a place in the sun.

Unsporting behaviour also featured prominently in my survey. Two-footed tackles must be outlawed, as must be diving. A direct red for the first, and a yellow for the second. (Cristiano Ronaldo, Arjen Robben and Luis Suarez must be medal hopefuls for their respective countries at the 2012 Olympics; 10-metre springboard, anyone??)

The same goes for players who incite opposition supporters, especially after scoring a goal; for example, Rafael van der Vaart, El Hadji Diouf and Andrei Arshavin all deserve to be taken into the centre-circle and ceremonially given a good slapping and then a yellow card for such things, with Arshavin getting the index finger on his right hand sliced off at the quick for good measure.

Football hooligans should also be banned for life from attending football games at whatever level, and there should be no recourse to appeal. Racism, xenophobia and homophobia in the game must also be stamped out, and those guilty of same, on or off the field of play, should also be banned from football for life. The media have their role to play as well, but do not always do so.

In other words, I agree with Henk, Ton and Maurice said about fair play being paramount, on and off the pitch. This was also a view shared by Roberto Muylaert, who also hoped for much more attacking football and "less of the defensive football we are seeing today." That would be a good start, and goes to show that a simple statement can say a lot. However, it is all very well for those involved in the game to talk about fair play. It is up to them, and to us all, players, fans, media and so on, to show it.