Saturday, December 29, 2007

Let's Talk About Cesc

A crazy day in the Premiership. Tottenham bash six past Reading and nearly lose and West Ham continue their jinx over Manchester United. Apart from discussing how long Spurs can keep Berbatov, the talking point of the day for me was the sending off of Everton's Arteta for an apparent elbow on Fabregas. I say apparent because the referee was taken in by Cesc's antics as he sprawled on the ground, his jaw apparently shattered by the blow. Arteta may have had his arms up a bit high but he barely touched the midfield genius. I love to watch Fabregas and the way he plays with Rosicky and Hleb but I can't stand to see this sort of behavior. Miraculously, he was back on the field seconds later only to be soon removed by Wenger after a booking. Many people were predicting Everton, a much improved team this season, may have nicked this game but the stuffing was taken out of them after the sending off and they collapsed to an unfair 4-1 defeat. Fabregas is right up there among the European elite but this sort of behavior does him no good. Anybody wonder why Ronaldo didn't quite make it as World Player of the Year and Kaka did? Because Kaka is class on and off the field and some of the younger players still need to know what that means.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

It's Bouna's Time

Bouna Coundoul, the Rapids goalkeeper and all-round great bloke, has been called up to the Senegal national team squad for the upcoming Africa Cup of Nations, according to the BBC. Now, he just has to wait anxiously until January 10 when the squad will be further trimmed before the tournament starts January 20. Given that there are currently five goalkeepers in the temporary squad, there will naturally be some wastage in that area once the squad is trimmed from 38 to 23. Bouna appears to be competing with two others for a number three spot behind regular Tony Sylva and Cheikh Tidiane Ndiaye, both based in France. Still, given his recent outings for the team in friendlies in France last month and his emergence in Colorado as the go-to goalkeeper, he has a good chance of making that final squad.
We all wish him luck and hope he plays well if he gets the chance. Only not too well because we want him back at DSG Park come March 29 to face Becks et al. Realistically, Bouna is not going to play soccer with the Rapids for the rest of his career given his youth and his great skill and drive. He will get offers from European clubs, especially if he can perform on global stages such as the upcoming tournament in Ghana. Just one more season in Colorado would be nice though.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Canada Shows Us How It's Done

There's a lot of stuff written about Toronto and how they have real fans, not ones who complain about buying tickets for superstars who then don't show up to play. Well, there may be substantial truth in that if a recent snippet or two of information is anything to go by. For a start, all season tickets have been sold for 2008. And, the club had to limit such tickets to 16,000, up from 14,000 in the inaugural season this year. Just goes to show you don't necessarily need a team to be playing well to create demand. You just need fans who will support the team through thick and thin. As I never tire of saying, well maybe after having to explain to Americans where it is, I am a fan of Gillingham FC and I will be till the day I die. And we never win anything. You also need, of course, a club who recognizes the importance of such fans.
The other brilliant piece of information about Toronto is that the club recently organized a major pub crawl in the city for fans to mingle with players. Fantastic. Talk about team and fan bonding. This is surely a lesson for all clubs. Hats off to Toronto. I hope they have a better season next year on the pitch because their fans, the players and the club certainly deserve it. I, for one, would love to make it to Toronto next year for an away game. Any Rapids fans agree?

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Fat Lady's Still Waiting in the Wings

Listening to all the self-proclaimed experts, you would think the Premiership is now solely a two-horse race. The FSC guys have basically written off Liverpool following today's defeat to Manchester United and they don't give Chelsea much chance either. We all accept that Derby will go down but we are only halfway through the season and it seems a bit early to be writing Chelsea off. Liverpool were realistically always a bit of an outsider given they are still in a transforming stage after splashing all that money out on Torres and others. Chelsea, though, have performed brilliantly since the shock of Mourinho's departure and they will be a contender right up to the end. Admittedly, Arsenal and United seem to have the edge in terms of consistency but who knows what a defeat here and there for them will do? There's a long way to go.
Today's games, watched at the British Bulldog pub in downtown Denver, were scrappy and tight. Chelsea fought back well in the second half after Cech's error allowing the Arsenal goal. They didn't allow the usually unstoppable Arsenal midfield to play, a feat in itself, but they couldn't break the defense down either. Shevchenko, a player who should be admired for his persistence during a not particularly happy time at Chelsea, brought a great save from Almunia right at the death, but did anybody notice the ridiculous argument he was having with Mikkel about who should take the free-kick? These two guys wasted a full two minutes of precious injury time arguing amongst themselves. When the title is on the line, these are the sort of petty incidents that need to be stamped out in the name of teamwork.

Team of the Week:
Watford FC, last season's whipping boys in the Premiership, for their backing of player Al Bangura who faces deportation back to his native Sierra Leone. Still a teenager and about to become a father, the UK government said he has to go back because his claim for political asylum doesn't hold up. First, his manager, Adrian Boothroyd, had the guts to put the game in perspective with an articulate defense of his player and what he has been through. Then, the fans came out together with banners of their hero during half-time demanding he be allowed to stay. Elton John, former chairman of the club, has also been on the campaign trail. The local MP is also involved so we can all hope there is a happy outcome. Much respect for the Watford community for seeing the big picture and doing all they can to secure Bangura's future in his chosen country.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Ciao Fabio

The world's worst kept secret is now totally out in the open. Fabio Capello will be the next England manager with a four and a half year contract and an option to quit after 2010. So, he can take the team to World Cup victory in South Africa and then say arriverderci.
A great choice. Not Jose Mourinho but a manager with a more than impressive CV. We can easily discuss the league titles at Juventus, Real Madrid etc. but let's not forget he took Roma to its first scudetto in 18 years in 2001. His leadership of AC Milan when they absolutely thrashed Barcelona in the 1994 European Cup should also be highlighted. Remember the European Cup? The pinnacle of achievement for any European club prior to some of the nonsense that is today's Champions' League tournament.
The predictable moans about him not being English have emerged. Tony Adams, Gareth Southgate, Paul Ince and others. I understand the frustration but Paul Ince really takes the biscuit. He actually says there are plenty of English managers with similar records to Capello. Really? Exactly where? He also lambasted the fact that the FA had to go to "Europe" to find the new coach. Where does he think England and the UK are? Asia? Great player, up and coming manager but a little short on the open-mindedness.
The backroom staff will be interesting. Capello looks to be bringing a number of Italian support that he trusts. I would love to see Stuart Pearce in there for the English contingent. A hero for England, a progressive coach and a possible future England manager. David Platt, managerial experience aside, would also be a key asset given his experience of playing in Italy for three years. Former Chelsea superstar Gianfranco Zola would also be a great appointment. Nobody seems to mention Zola's former teammate Gianluca Vialli but his extensive knowledge of both the Italian and English games would be more than useful.
But we have a manager installed who gives us hope. Maybe not the messianic hope of Mourinho but a superb manager who will take no BS from the players and whose record is so impressive. It's time to get behind him 100 per cent.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Oh The Romance

We rhapsodize about the romance of the FA Cup and, if Horsham versus Swansea today is anything to go by, we do so with some justification. Just for a minute, the almost unthinkable was being thought when Horsham went ahead twice in the space of three crazy first half minutes. Born deaf and mute, striker Lee Farrell scored two goals with brilliant finishing either side of a Swansea goal. There are four divisions between Swansea, top of League 1, and non-league Horsham but Horsham came to play football and they were not only in it for the first half an hour or so, they had the edge. They could even have had a penalty in the opening ten seconds but I think the referee, who was probably still checking his boots were laced up properly, was right in not calling it contrary to the opinion of the over zealous commentators. The Welsh Swans predictably came back and scored three goals in about five minutes at the end of the first half and eventually ran out winners 6-2. Do I hear the boring old lament that soccer does not attract many Americans because they don't score enough?
The Swansea manager is a Spaniard and he admitted that there is no such competition in his native country where the minnows can play against the big boys. There can't be because the gap in quality is too wide. That may be the case if Liverpool were to play Horsham, admittedly, but this kind of second round tie gives a tanatalizing glimpse of what can be possible. The first weekend in January is the time for the third round when the Premier League teams come in. Most results will no doubt follow a predictable course but there is always the chance of an upset in the FA Cup and Horsham nearly showed us how today. That is what makes the FA Cup the best competition of its kind in Europe. The Spaniards don't have anything quite like it and the Coppa Italia games are scheduled all over December rather than at the set times the FA Cup has. I only remember something similar in the French Cup some years ago when a lower league side, Calais, almost won it. Natural bias aside though, the romance of the FA Cup is alive and well. The country looks forward now to that first week of the New Year and the hope of a healthy dose of schadenfreude as a bigger club comes undone.

No Way says Jose

So the Special One said no to the FA. After frenzied speculation in the English press, some of it undoubtedly self-generated since the apppointment of the Portuguese maestro would have made their jobs infinitely more interesting, Jose Mourinho has ruled himself out of the running for the England post. His statement in full is below.
At least, the FA tried to get the right man. Maybe the real reasons why he said no will come out in the end. Yes, he may have got bored with the reality of being England manager and not having daily contact with his charges but maybe it was more to do with the suits at the FA not being up to his standards. Or maybe it was money. Who knows? The truth is that he would have been brilliant for England. Just two years or so to take them to the World Cup, win it and be an honorary Englishman for life. Who am I kidding? We still wouldn't have won the World Cup even with him in charge but at least he would have made us and the players feel it was a possibility. And that's the point, isn't it? To have a manager who can make you all believe something quite so improbable. There is really nobody else out there with such charisma and self-belief and the CV to back it all up. Good luck at Barca, Real Madrid or AC Milan (Liverpool?), Jose.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Check Your Vocab

I may be missing something here but I don't think Rapids' Captain Marvel Pablo Mastroeni will be too happy at being nominated for a "dubious" award. The Denver Sports Fans Choice Awards sees players from a range of sports in the city competing for various accolades including MVP, which Mastroeni is rightly up for. However, amongst all the blurb on the awards website is the following phrase: "Athletes nominated by fans and local sports media for Most Valuable Player will go head to head with their peers for this dubious honor." Did someone try and use a fancy word and just get it wrong? Prestigious maybe but dubious? Less hype, more substance please. As well as Mastroeni, midfielder Omar Cummings is up for a rising star award and crowd favorite Bouna is nominated for a special humanitarian award. Nothing dubious about these guys.

Buying Into Local, Thinking Global

Why should we take notice of the FIFA Club World Cup currently taking place in Tokyo? Because it's an honest attempt to encourage clubs from the not so well known footballing nations to play against some of the big boys. That is fundamentally a good thing. Like many others, I personally will forget very quickly who actually wins this tournament (probably AC Milan if they can be bothered) but that does not mean we shouldn't at least take note. After all, it's hardly an easy money spinner for FIFA when the likes of Iranian club Sepahan take on the mighty Waitakere United of New Zealand but no matter. You can bet these players will be fighting to play the likes of Kaka et al. We can always fall back on our ethnocentric view of things. My first reaction today was to check out the mighty Gills against Port Vale (they miserably lost 2-1 at home) but I at least like the idea behind this tournament. This is the only global game after all. As Beckham and his entourage so recently found out when they packed them to the rafters in rugby mad nations New Zealand and Australia.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Jose for England

Quick Mourinho for England update. I wrote a few days ago about how the jungle drums were deliberately beating and leading to the inevitable hiring of The Special One for the Three Lions job. Now, a prominent BBC journalist has added his well respected opinion and demanded the FA pick up the phone and call Jose (see link below). He can only say no. My guess is he won't and the FA would be foolish to delay the approach any longer. I also agree with the comment about John Toshack. Why does the FA insist on consulting with a Welshman about the England job? No offence towards the Welsh but its national team has hardly won a lot. John Terry has also been making some comments saying Jose is the man for the job. He is the England captain after all and, playing for his club just three days after saying he couldn't play against Croatia aside, he has an opinion worth listening to.

Monday, December 3, 2007

DSG outdebates Invesco Field

This is a soccer blog, not a football blog, at least here in the US anyway. However, I feel I have to get a sentence or two out there about a major difference I see between local soccer fans and local NFL fans when it comes to standing up, being counted and no longer taking BS from the powers that be. There is some genuine unhappiness out there about the Rapids' decision to hire coach Clavijo for another season after the disappointments of 2007. I'm not going to enter a discussion here about the rights and wrongs of that but what I am grateful for is that at least there is a major debate about it from the fans' side. And, I think, the organization is at least willing to listen to frustrations. So, my point. As I watched the former Superbowl champions lurch to another crappy defeat at the hands of the equally crappy Oakland Raiders yesterday, I wondered aloud for the umpteenth time about the status of Mike Shanahan as the Broncos' coach. Remember that this defeat was on top of the snatch defeat from the jaws of victory shambles against Chicago the previous week when the punter got all the blame for giving the ball not once, but twice, to one of the best ever returners. Granted, it was not exactly brilliant decision making on the hapless punter's part but where is the criticism of the coach for even allowing it to happen? The truth is that a coach has a shelf life in any sport, no matter his past exploits. If it's not working anymore, the time has come for exit. Good God, coaches are sacked at Real Madrid even if they win the Championship one season because they didn't win the Champions' League at the same time. Shanahan brilliantly won the Superbowl not once, but twice. But that was a long time ago and the Broncos need a change. However, there will be none if the fans just keep showing up, paying for their excessively priced tickets and don't complain. They might want to come along one day to DSG and appreciate the fact that at least we have a debate about it.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Arsenal Go Marching On; Thank God for Bungs

Another typical day in the Premiership. Chelsea win at home, Derby lose and Manchester United don't play when practically everybody else does. Arsenal come back from a goal down, not so typical, and forge a 2-1 victory away at Villa Park. They showed a lot of resistance against a wave of second half pressure, reminiscent of the days of Adams, Bould, Dixon and Winterburn. What price another unbeaten season in the league?
So Harry Redknapp thinks his arrest has ruined his chances of being the next England manager? Nice bloke that he is and fantastic club manager, this is not a person that England needs to head up a dispirited national team. Bungs and allegations apart, Redknapp is an old school type who has done wonders with underperforming clubs but where is the pedigree for leading the Three Lions? Same with Allardyce. A great manager in the small sea of Bolton, he is in big trouble at the ocean that is Newcastle. Another big defeat today at Blackburn. He doesn't have the record either for the England job. It didn't stop the suits at the FA appointing McClueless but Barwick and Gentleman Trev must be aiming higher. Notice how many England players have come out this week supporting the candidacy of Mourinho? A few calls have gone from the The Special One's people to the cellphones of some of the big England players, methinks, to help generate media discussion. Self-fulfilling phrophecy? You betcha. The Portuguese maestro may be playing his own denial games but it seems a lot more likely now than it did a few weeks ago that he could be the man to step in.

Beckham Down Under
Another meaningless tournament was announced this week. The Pan-Pacific Cup will be played in Hawaii next February with teams from Japan and Australia as well as MLS champion Houston Dynamo and, of course, LA Galaxy. The promoters can bang on all they want about how Hawaii has a "history of hosting top international sporting events.” ??? Couple of skins golf tournaments with ageing players, the ProBowl? Give me a break. Beckham can talk about top quality opposition before the MLS season. Houston, maybe, but this is a little too far. The truth is, and this isn't exactly going to endear as yet to be turned on US sports fans who are highly skeptical about soccer, it is simply another money spinner for the Galaxy. There is no problem selling out grounds to 80,000 fans in Sydney but the Galaxy is in danger of being seen simply as a glorified shopping mall unless it can get the MLS results next year. It's a very good move getting Cobi Jones on the coaching side but will Gullit's sexy football still be quite as alluring on a freezing day next April at DSG Park? My good friends at Class VI have been talking up the likelihood Beckham and Co. will be first up at the Rapids' award-winning complex next season. I wish the Galaxy and Beckham well, apart from against the Rapids of course. I really want them to have good results next season so that the MLS looks good to the rest of the world. The jaunt to Hawaii will then be seen as what it is, a pre-season warm-up in a nice sunny place good for Posh's tan. If the Galaxy fail to deliver on the MLS pitch, it will be more fodder to the skeptics.