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Spain Not Boring – Old Attitudes Are

13 Jul

“Boring”, “Tedious”, “Dull”.

Just some of the nonsense used to describe Spain at the World Cup.  Reading blog responses and fans forum comments during the tournament, it’s clear that many British fans still don’t enjoy the Spanish approach to the game.  Clearly keeping possession, dictating the pace of a match and ultimately, winning, isn’t for everyone.

Despite losing their opening game, Spain are deserved world champions.  They were the best team in the competition and their ability to retain the ball meant they were able to be patient, controlling the tempo of games, and often wearing the opposition down in the second half. 

However, some fans don’t enjoy a side being able to hold the ball.  Perhaps that’s down to the type of football that fans in the UK are used to watching.  Chris Waddle recently described English Premier League matches as being like “a basketball league – you attack then they attack – but other leagues don’t play like that.”  As a result, many fans are not used to the slow approach of foreign teams in domestic, European and international matches.  Go to any match around Britain and you’ll hear shouts to get ball up the pitch.

So how should Spain have played then? Perhaps it would be more entertaining to have Puyol or Pique bringing the ball out from the back, before knocking a hopeful punt downfield into open space.  Then Villa and Torres chase the ball down, hoping for a mistake from the centre-back.  If one of the strikers wins possession they hold it up, waiting for a lung-busting run from Xavi or Iniesta.  Yeah that would work.  With that approach Spain would have been home before England.

One criticism that could be levelled at Spain is that they didn’t score enough goals in South Africa, with only eight during the whole tournament.  That however, was largely down to opposing sides getting plenty of men behind the ball, and the Spanish failing to convert many of the chances they created. 

It seems that some people fail to see the link between keeping possession of the ball and waiting for an opportunity, and successful results.  The only thing boring, tedious or dull about Spain is that generally, they keep on winning.


What Next For Le Guen?

24 Jun

Many of the managers and coaches at the World Cup are experienced campaigners who’ve seen it all before.  The likes of Capello, Lippi and Eriksson had successful club careers before taking on the challenges of international football.

Paul Le Guen, on the other hand, probably didn’t expect to be in charge of a national team at this stage of his career.  Whether he will remain in the job after Cameroon’s early exit from the competition remains to be seen. 

Just five years ago, Lyon had won their fourth straight Ligue 1 title, the third in a row with Le Guen in charge.  Considered to be one of Europe’s top young managers, Le Guen reportedly had offers to move to Benfica or Lazio, but instead decided to take over at Rangers in 2006.

What may, on paper, have looked like a stepping stone to a top job in England proved to be anything but.  At Lyon, Le Guen’s focus was solely on coaching the first team, and he had no involvement with the signing of new players.  Le Guen’s inexperience in the transfer market was shown at Ibrox, with some poor signings including a bizarre triple swoop from Austria Vienna, and Rangers quickly fell behind Celtic in the title race.

Some shocking results were compounded by Le Guen clashing with captain Barry Ferguson , striker Kris Boyd and even the club doctor.  Le Guen’s position became untenable and he left after only 7 months in the job.

Next was a season and a half at Paris St Germain, where Le Guen starred as a player in the 1990’s.  Despite helping PSG to avoid relegation, his contract was not renewed in 2009.

So where does he go from here? It looks likely that Le Guen will leave the Cameroon role, and already there is talk of him taking over as coach of Australia.  Given the battering his reputation has taken since leaving Lyon, Le Guen has to ensure his next move is the right one, particularly if he has any aspirations of returning to the top level of European club football. 

It’s difficult to comprehend that a man who, only 5 years ago had such a bright future, is now battling to save his career.

No Longer The Main Event

10 Jun
Each World Cup seems to provide an equal mixture of football magic, and on and off-field scandal.  For every Maradona wonder goal, there’s a Zidane headbutt.  Everybody has their own favourite tournament – for French fans it’s 1998, anyone from Argentina has 1978 or 1986, and if you’re a Brazilian pensioner, then take your pick.
The tournament in South Africa is eagerly anticipated and will hopefully be one to remember – if they can overcome injury problems, Spain look a good bet to become champions for the first time. However, no matter how good a competition it turns out to be, the days of the World Cup being the number one football event on the planet are over – over the past 10-15 years, the Uefa Champions League has become football’s most important competition.

While patriots and traditionalists across the globe would be disgusted at such a statement, they need to face facts. The football played in the Champions League is of a higher standard than anything at international level, and there are a number of reasons for this. For a start, pretty much of all the world’s best players appear year in, year out, in Europe’s premier club competition. If a player is good enough, the chances are he will be bought by one of the top sides – nobody misses out simply because of their nationality, unlike George Best, Ryan Giggs and George Weah, none of whom had the opportunity to appear at a World Cup

It also stands to reason that a group of players who train together every day, and play together 50-60 times a season will develop more of an understanding than a team who meet up a handful of times over the course of a year. That’s before you consider that some big names only appear for their country when it’s a competitive fixture and give the friendlies a miss, meaning they even less chance of gelling with team-mates.

The Champions League is now an incredibly difficult competition to win. The old knockout format, containing only the league champions from each country was replaced by group stages with more top teams. This year’s winner’s, Inter Milan, entered the competition knowing they would be competing against three sides from their own country as well as the top four sides from La Liga and the English Premier League. That’s before you even start to think about sides from Germany, Holland, Portugal and Russia.

Slowly but surely, club football has become more important than the international game. The amount of money now earned by the top professionals is obviously a huge factor – it’s natural that someone earning £100k per week is going to put their club first. Due to the demands of the modern game, more and more players retire early from the national side in order to prolong their club careers, something that would have been unthinkable 30 years ago.

The World Cup is one of the world’s greatest sporting events, bringing people together and nations to a standstill like no other football tournament. The fact that it’s only held every 4 years adds to it’s appeal. No doubt there will be moments in South Africa, good and bad, that will remembered for generations.

However, times have changed. The rise of the Champions League, and the level of football it produces, means that the World Cup is no longer the pinnacle of the game.







At The Back of Fernando’s Mind

11 Mar
As the World Cup draws closer, the thoughts of players across the globe will turn to South Africa in the summer. Many will be making a last ditch attempt to force their way into their national squad, while some of those already assured of a seat on the plane will dream of glory, and the possibility of going all the way to the final on 11th July.

Fernando Torres falls into the latter category. He will be a key part of the Spanish squad, going into the tournament with possibly their best ever chance of becoming world champions. His formidible partnership with David Villa makes them probably the deadliest strikeforce in international football.

Torres could have been forgiven for thinking that this year would be equally successful on the club front. Instead, Liverpool have toiled in the English Premier League and made an early exit from the Champions League. Their cause hasn’t been helped by knee and groin injuries which have meant that Torres has only appeared in 18 of a possible 29 league games during the current campaign. The fact he’s still managed to hit 13 goals this season shows how crucial he is to Liverpool, and how heavily they will rely on him during the remainder of the season.

However, given the number of matches he’s missed, Torres will be reluctant to gamble with his fitness, and may already have one eye on South Africa. Any further injuries could lead to him missing out on some, or all, of the World Cup. That concern may have been easier to put to one side had Liverpool still been in contention for the club game’s biggest prizes, but Torres only has a Europa League run and a fight to finish fourth in the league to look forward to – he could have done that at Atletico Madrid.

Torres is not the only player who will find himself in this situation in the coming months, and his professionalism is not in question. He’s not going to start ducking out of ’50-50′ tackles or pull his head back when the boots are flying in. However, he’s only human, and during the run-in when Liverpool need him more than ever, it’s only natural that at the back of his mind, he will be thinking of being fully fit to join up with his national side in the summer.



Classroom Patriots

9 Feb

With Andrew Driver seemingly committing his international future to Scotland, there will be the usual outrage from traditionalists who feel that international football should be played by teams made up of players born in the country they represent.

If, or when, Driver makes his Scotland debut he will become the first senior player to take advantage of new rules agreed by the home nations. These changes mean that anyone who has a UK passport and five years of schooling in a particular country can then go on to represent that nation at international level. Celtic’s young striker Islam Feruz, born in Somalia, has already played for Scotland’s under-17 side after meeting the criteria.

One of the most outspoken critics of the new ruling is former Leeds, Manchester United and Scotland defender, Gordon McQueen:

“I would rather not qualify for the World Cup ever again than play someone with Driver’s background. We’re awful and we know we are. But I’d rather stay awful and play with people who were entitled to be called Scottish.”

Strong words indeed. In an ideal world every national side would be made up of 11 players born in the country they represent with a coach or manager to match. However those days – if they ever existed – are long gone. The ‘grandparent rule’ enabled the Republic of Ireland to reach the last eight of Italia ’90 and then there’s Deco and Eduardo, Brazilians who turn out for Portugal and Croatia.

Should England upset the odds and win the World Cup, will the open top bus and the reception at Downing Street be cancelled because the Manager is Italian? Not likely.

Scotland fans unhappy at Driver’s imminent call-up should also think back to former stars like Andy Goram (born in Bury) and Richard Gough (born in Sweden, raised in South Africa) who didn’t have any trouble being accepted.

While it could be argued players with a family connection are more entitled to represent Scotland, surely a kid who grows up there, attends school and experiences the culture, has more of an emotional bond than somebody whose granny left on a boat 50 years ago and never returned.

Given the number of people moving to Scotland from other countries, it’s only natural that the SFA try to take advantage of what’s on their own doorstep, particularly as it’s now 12 years since Scotland qualified for a major championship. If kids from Polish, Slovakian or Somali families eventually make the national team, it will provide heroes for immigrant communities and open the door for others to follow, hopefully leading to a Scotland team that reflects the multi-cultural population it represents.