Tag Archives: football

Quelle catastrophe!

From the moment Thierry Henry touched that ball with his hand to the moment I left France in May everyone I met, upon learning my nationality, apologised.  They were sorry that he had cheated but I got the sense that they were more disappointed about actually qualifying for the World Cup.  They were well aware of how poor the French team was and understandably did not want to go to a competition where they knew they would be shown up. Their hatred of Domenech actually seemed to outweigh their desire to go to South Africa as well.  The sooner they lost, the sooner they could get rid of him as coach.  As it turns out, their qualification did not stop them replacing Domenech even before the World Cup had started.

So, despite the wishes of a nation, France went to South Africa and so far have managed to create quite a spectacle.  Nobody expected France to win the competition, in fact most probably never expected them to make it beyond the first knock out round.  Even the fact that they have decided to act like five year old children has been received with a certain amount of resignation.  ‘Ah well, what else do you expect from the French?’ seems to be the most common reaction.  This has not been the first and will undoubtedly not be the last time that politics overshadow the French team’s performance.  What has happened at this World Cup can actually be traced right back to the World Cup in 1998.

The members of the team which won the World Cup in 1998 and then the European Championship in 2000 became heroes in France.  As they left the country to earn higher wages in the Premiership and elsewhere they were considered the greatest generation of French footballers to have ever played the game.  All of this may have been completely deserved and indeed accurate at the time but their fall from grace at the 2002 World Cup left them looking like old players past their prime.  By the end of 2004 eight of the eleven players who had taken to the field for the World Cup final in 1998 had retired.  The next generation of French talent was beginning to emerge.  But the final in 2006 saw an equal mix of players from the 1998 World Cup and the next generation.  It seemed the World Cup winners were unwilling to let go and were still clinging to their pre 2002 glory.  The European Championships in 2008 should have been the time when past heroes were forgotten and new ones made as emerging talent in the shape of Nasri and Benzema came to our attention.  However, these younger players did not seem to treat the veterans of the 1998 World Cup winning team with the same respect as the generation before them had.  The players who emerged after 2002 were willing to worship Zidane and Henry, the newer players who could outrun and outplay them were not so keen.   Their lack of respect for their elders and the conflict between the two generations has been blamed for France’s poor performance in 2008.  By leaving them at home for the 2010 World Cup, Domenech seemed to be giving a clear message.  Only players who were willing to work as a team would be welcome to go to South Africa, even if that meant bringing old players and leaving the best behind.

Which leads us to the main problem; a team decided because of politics and hugely influenced by the ‘revered’ players of World Cups past, will never be the strongest team.  France went into this World Cup handicapped by their team selection.  Their resulting failures can be blamed on nobody but themselves.  This I believe is the reason for the tantrums, the strikes and the resignations.  When external factors cannot be blamed frustration is taken out on those closest, in this case fellow teammates and the coach.  Domenech has allowed personal feelings influence his selections, he has thought about politics first and football second.  This means that when the politics get out of hand, in this case when Anelka was sent home for having a fight with him, the game is immediately affected.  If the French team had strong discipline and the coach was respected none of the events of the past week would have happened.  But the French team is still run by the aging heroes of the past and Domenech has done NOTHING to earn respect with his decision to leave two of the best French footballers behind.  The team itself has nothing to lose by walking out of training sessions because they have long since lost the respect of their country.  A new manager is being hailed by many as a new start for France and a chance to rebuild.  This will only be possible if the team can reunite and work together.  Erasing past memories seems to be the only way to do this, forgetting both the good and the bad.

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Are the referees going to ruin this World Cup?

While opinion on the vuvuzelas certainly seems to be divided, everyone watching this World Cup seems to be united in their frustration at the referees and their calls.   The end of what was a generally entertaining match between Brazil and Cote d’Ivoire was pretty much ruined by some bad decisions and some poor handling of the ‘scuffle’ involving Kaka.  FIFA seem to be unwilling to admit that referees are human and can make mistakes.  RTE are blue in the face trying to analyse the decisions of these men and more specifically their mistakes.  As long as they lack the assistance of a fourth official who has the power to call goals or decide penalties etc they are left stranded.  Extra officials can also be used for less divisive decisions.  Graham Poll had his reputation ruined when he gave three yellow cards to one player in the last World Cup.  While a mistake like this should not happen and is a major failing of any official, it could have very easily been avoided.  A fourth official at the end of an earpiece could have alerted him to the fact in a matter of seconds.

So what is the argument against the appeal system?  It will slow down the game and lead to too many stops and starts.  As an avid viewer of tennis and rugby, the use of hawkeye and the television match official has not reduced the entertainment levels.  The wait for a correct decision outweighs my desire to have a quicker match.  I do not believe that football would be adversely affected if a referee could admit he needed a second opinion once or twice in a match.  Even if players are allowed to make appeals during the match, as is the case in other sports, these can be limited to avoid too much disruption.

The lack of appeals after matches also seems absurd.  Most sports, motor racing and gaelic games spring to mind, allow appeals.  There is an acceptance that some decisions made by referees are incorrect and respect towards these officials seems to be maintained by allowing decisions to be debated.

I am fed up of undeserved yellow and red cards and unnoticed hand balls in this competition.  The referee singlehandedly destroyed the Germany -Serbia match on Friday for example.  Perhaps a fourth official isn’t the answer.   Maybe referees need a monthly review?  The referee who missed Henry’s handball is at this World Cup.  How and why?

Maybe the referees are not the only ones we should blame.  No player seems to have a problem diving, or indeed as is more common, over exaggerating an injury.  The discipline of everyone leaves a lot of be deserved.  One must imagine though that if the standard of refereeing were to be raised then the discipline of the players would move in that direction too.

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The problem with Liverpool

Rafa Benitez, will have woken up this morning worried about his job but more importantly worried about what he’s going to do come January.  With the Champion’s League cash flow over for this season he is facing a transfer window in which he will be under pressure to make money, not buy a new injury free striker as he may have hoped.  In fact, Liverpool have earned very little from the group stages itself.  Money is distributed by UEFA according to results and the late concession of goals against Lyon could have cost the club over €300,000 each time*!  While Steven Gerrard is keen to encourage both fans and players that Liverpool will now win the Europa League, financially it is not even a second prize.  In 2007 when Liverpool lost the Champion’s League final to AC Milan they came away with a bonus of €4 million.  Sevilla FC won €2.5 million for winning the UEFA Cup the same year.   That competition may have a new name but its financial reward is considerably lower than the Champion’s League.

So a club which is trying to find a buyer is effectively in financial crisis.  However, the problem at Liverpool is not just financial.  Any football fan will tell you that luck always has a part to play and it would seem that the players of Merseyside (both Everton and Liverpool) have been hanging horse shoes upside down and walking under ladders.  Injuries have been coming thick and fast and well there is no point even talking about Darren Bent and the infamous beach ball.  A run of bad luck breeds a sense of disheartenment.   Maybe they were lucky to equalise in the seventieth minute against Manchester City or Birmingham but a draw is not the result any of the team would have hoped for at the start.  Blaming bad luck may be a bit dubious but the lack of confidence which it has produced amongst the players has become a tangible problem.

Then there is the manager.  But more importantly the manager’s crazy decisions.  Taking Benayoun off when he is the best player on the pitch.  Playing Torres in a crucial game when he is far from fit enough and thus risking a more serious and prolonged injury.  Acting as if a draw against Manchester City was a positive result.   Benitez has been notorious for his strange decisions, his inability to stick with a winning team but right now there is clearly a spark missing.  Liverpool need a Harry Redknapp, someone who can take a team from the relegation zone and have them beating teams 9-1 less than a year later.  Has he delivered anything?  Fernando Torres?   The Champion’s League?  The first was an obvious target.   The team that won the Champions League was without doubt the team of Gerard Houllier.  There have certainly been good days and he has achieved very positive results but the lack of trophies is without doubt hanging over his head.

Which brings us to perhaps the biggest problem of all.  The Liverpool Football Club which has been playing in the Premiership since 1992 is effectively the younger brother of the club which preceded it.  It has had to live up to the achievements of the beloved son, eighteen league victories, four European cups.  The younger son wins a lot of badges for effort, is runner up very often, is leading for two thirds of a race and then loses in the last mile.  When he does achieve something, it is always compared to the achievements of his elder brother, a reminder that he has more to do and to achieve.  The teams of old haunt the Liverpool team of today when in fact it should encourage it.  Nobody wants to become Notts Forest, the forgotten team who actually won the European Cup – twice.

There are certainly other problems and this is just the tip of the iceberg but it would seem that for another year Liverpool supporters will continue what has become their mantra – maybe next year.

*These figures are not exact.  They were correct when I wrote my dissertation in 2007.  We can assume they are similar this season.

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The Problems for Real Madrid

The irony has not been lost on anyone who has listened to the news in the past fortnight, the headlines report job loses, falling prices and national banks which require even more assistance from a government already strapped for cash, while the sport news, which follows, informs us of a €94 million transfer fee for a football player.  This only a few days after a €68 million fee was paid for another.  These excessive prices provide evidence that the global recession is not nearly as global as we expect.

However, the problems which these fees create are many.  Firstly there is the obvious problem, Real Madrid have paid €162 million on two people, not a whole team.  There are no guarantees that the players, Kaka and Cristiano Ronaldo, will automatically fit into the side and that they will be able to lead the team to success.  This is probably not a huge concern for the team as both have signed six years contracts so there is plenty of time for them to find their feet.  This is an aspect of the game which the players have some element of control over, unlike injuries which pose a much bigger problem.

Regardless of a player’s price, he is still as likely to get injured as before and this is one of the biggest gambles Real have taken.  Just this year Kaka was out for a month with an ankle injury while in 2008 he was out with a more prolonged knee injury.  Ronaldo has hobbled off the pitch on several occasions in the past season with everything from a groin injury to a sore hip.  Just a few days before he signed his contract with Real Madrid he was shopping in Los Angeles rather than playing for the Portuguese national team due to a suspected hernia problem.  Both players are likely to take knocks, as happens to every footballer, but perhaps this is a risk Real are happy to take?

The bigger risk is probably the money itself.  The money used to pay for these players has been sourced from commercial earnings, match day takings and television rights.  As we have just seen in the past week, Setanta Sports are in trouble and while BSkyB and other larger television groups are unlikely to collapse in the upcoming season, the lack of competition means that they will be unwilling to pay above the odds for television rights.  Likewise, commercial earnings and match day revenue will undoubtedly fall as the ordinary supporter finds it harder to fund trips to football matches and buy replica kits.  While the new Ronaldo jersey will undoubtedly be on the top of many summer wish lists, with recession comes less consumer spending so it is unlikely they will earn the €94 million predicted.  All this does not take into account the huge debts which Real already currently hold.

However, the only thing which really should matter is whether or not these signings and any others which follow will help Real Madrid to win games and titles.  Just a month ago, Ronaldo played against Real’s biggest rivals and despite their lack of a solid defence he failed to score a single goal.  The biggest challenge Madrid now face is not money, or fitness but Barcelona.

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