April 8 – more good news

Happy Easter to those who mark the holiday and Happy Passover to any Jewish followers here at Sofaball. And good riddance to Stockport Massive and, above all, those mercenary expats who returned to Islington and were played off the ptich. Left for the medals, eh? So how did that work out? Not that I’m super thrilled about Beetface winning the league but he deserves it. Arsenal supporters who moaned about Vermaelen’s absence last year should look at how United won it without Nemjana Vidic playing for most of the season. Liverpool fans who bemoan the loss of Lucas Leiva should mark the absence of Darren Fletcher from the centre of the park. Yeah, they bottled it in Europe but this league title is, by some distance, Fergie’s best accomplishment in my estimation, ahead of the treble or the Champions League win. Yes, he’s an insufferable bastard who has benefited from some soft calls but they were also jobbed on a penalty call against the Geordies so I’m not convinced this is some kind of stitch-up job by referees. I can’t help but contrast the performance that they put in at the Emirates versus the Massive, who didn’t muster a shot on target and really should have lost by two or three goals but for Joe Hart’s brilliance, Vincent Kompany’s interventions, some rotten luck and Thomas Vermaelen demonstrating he doesn’t have a hint of a right foot. Embarrassing.

As far as Arsenal goes, it’s another performance that vindicates Wenger and I really believe we’ll be battling among the top sides next year with (fingers crossed) Jack Wilshere and Lukas Podolski, the subject of a lengthy analysis by Raphael Honigstein, who believes he will light up the Premier League next year.

Enjoy your turkey, lamb, ham or whatever particularly repaste you tuck into, hopefully with family and friends.

Saturday

More misery on Merseyside but no small delight in our house, where I insisted Robert watch the game, dismissing his doleful pre-match pessimism about Villa’s chances at Anfield. King Kenny has that same haggard expression worn earlier in the season by Wenger.

There’s something worth reading from James Horncastle, who profiles United’s Antonio Valencia, who is as underrated as an 18 million pound player can possibly be. Happy Easter, if you celebrate it and we’ll back on Monday, hopefully with the Chalice of Crisis having been passed from King Kenny to Roberto Mancini, who will be trying to dissemble a couple of red cards and a shambolic 5-0 away defeat at the Grove.

Thursday

As a teenager, I remember watching the final fight of Muhammad Ali’s glittering career, when the floundering former champion, robbed of his quick hands and silky movement, was decisioned by Trevor Berbick, an awkward, well-muscled Jamaican who was the Canadian heavyweight champion. It was profoundly saddening to see Ali reduced to losing to a buffoon that he would have cut apart in a couple of rounds just a short time earlier. Father Time is a merciless bastard who can humiliate even a real legend like Ali.

I was brought to reminiscing about Ali while watching a recent MOTD and seeing Alan Shearer embarrass himself with some doleful remark. While certainly not in Ali’s bracket of sporting legends, Shearer was a fantastic all-round forward and one of the best in the business in the 1990s. If  the likes of Andy Carroll is worth 35m these days, Shearer in his prime would fetch at least 70m from an English club. And probably 50m from a Continental giant. Of modern Premier League footballers, probably the most apt comparison would be a white Didier Drogba who was slightly smaller, less pacy but didn’t dive. Oh and had a mean streak. Ask Neil Lennon.

Still being a great player doesn’t necessarily qualify you to let alone manage a club, if you don’t approach your craft with the same relentless passion to hone your skills as a footballer. As a pundit, this means doing research or, failing that, paying somebody also to do it and provide the Cliff’s Notes for you.

Which is a rather long and rambling route to the subject of today’s links, one Hatem Ben Arfa, a French international made famous by Shearer’s biggest slaphead moment on MOTD.  Now operating on the right side of Newcastle’s refashioned attacking trident, the mercurial winger/attacking midfielder is now bothering the French national side again, something seized upon by both Ben Lyttleton and Tom Williams.

Whenever the subject of tempermental internationals arises, Mario Balotelli’s name is never far from the conversation. James Horncastle preaches prudence with the tempestuous Italian international. I’ve often wondered whether Beetface or Wenger would take a punt on him. The talent is obvious and immense but I get the feeling that his mindset isn’t the same as your usual type of footballer. Fergie’s had difficult and strong-willed characters such as Keane or Cantona. RvP was no angel either and I’m sure there were times when Wenger would have gladly throttled him but Balotelli seems an entirely different prospect. He is extraordinary good at football, when the mood takes him but he certainly doesn’t exhibit the same appetite for the game that any of those fellows did.

Talking of appetites and controversial figures, Bombardier Allardyce’s love affair with the east-end jellied eel set in Hackney thanks to some intemperate words about criticism of his tactics and team selection. Mark Segal explains. Although truthfully, it’s clear Fat Sam isn’t in his real element at Upton Park. No, the biggest hoofball merchant in England sees himself more suited to FC Franco. Because why shouldn’t a club packed with overpaid disagreeable twats be managed by one?

Oh wait, that’s right! That job is already filled by the omelet maker, whose own sense of self regard makes Bombardier Allardyce look like Mother Theresa. That could be tested by a very sturdy FC Hollywood, who have a history with the Spanish giants. So says Sid Lowe.

Til tomorrow.

AG

Wednesday

With Rent Boys FC and Franco FC — lovable rogues that they are — securing berths in the semifinals of the Champions League, it’s become increasingly difficult to find a club to root in UEFA’s chief moneyspinner and Heineken advertising vehicle. The remaining sides are:

1. FC Franco, arm of a bankrupt Spanish government and managed by the omelet maker, a moaning, eye-gouging, self-reverential prat.

2. Catalan Aesthes diving moaners, led by business ethicist Sandro Rosell.

3. FC Hollywood, the Bundesliga’s underachieving Rent Boys

4. The real Rent Boys, fresh from getting their latest gaffer sacked, and now to be cast as the (cringe) plucky underdogs. Ugh

Leaving aside my own tribal partisanship, is there a club that neutrals could root for among that bunch? Honestly? There’s plenty of clubs outside the confines of north London who I could stomach seeing in the semi finals. Napoli, Udinese, Dortmund, pretty much any team in France outside of Quatar FC. I suppose the only thing to root for is plenty of red cards and injuries, Lionel Messi excepted.

I also have a great deal of respect for Pep Guardiola, something shared by Jonathan Wilson, who looks at his attempts to freshen his side’s approach. Michael Cox breaks down the 3-1 win over Milan with his usual insightful thoroughness.

To the links, where French Football Weekly compiled a list of the best 50 young players in France. Or Arsene’s summer list of tranfer targets as it is also known.

Tim Vickery looks at Benfica’s pipeline to Brazil.

Strikers seem to be exciting various pundits in Europe with Iain Macintosh profiling Papiss Cisse, also known as the anti-Carroll, while James Horncastle profiles Schalke’s Hunter, or Klaas-Jan Huntelaar.

Tuesday

It’s time to break out our well-thumbed copy of the Big Book of Bonkers Britishisms, something that came in handy in assessing the car wreck that was Fleet Street’s punditry of this weekend’s Premier League matches. With this as our guide, let’s get cracking, shall we?

Was the weekend’s biggest criminal:

A) a somewhat eccentric striker who scored two goals?

B) his manager for admitting he was substiuting him for indifferent play off the ball?

C) a 35m non-scoring striker whose cartoon pratfall earned both a yellow card and the contempt of his hometown fans?

If you answered Arsene Wenger, you’d normally be right. But Mario Balotelli is giving him a race for Fleet Street’s most favoured villian, even after netting a real scorcher to get the noisier side of Salford back into the match against Erin Go Bragh FC.  But that was apparently not enough for Alan Hansen, who suggests the brooding Italian should be either drawn and quartered or, failing that, sold to the highest bidder. He manages to stick in the boot on Mancini early, too, suggesting the manager for indulging a striker who has scored 13 goals in 21 league appearances and 20 goals overall for the Massive.

What, then, would Hansen make of the situation at his old club, where Andy Carroll — who cost about 15m more pounds than Balotelli — proved as comically inept at simulation as he is at putting the ball into the net (three goals in 29 league appearances, six overall). Like Gareth Bale, Carroll’s Britishness renders him immune to the kinds of screeching criticism from Fleet Street only reserves for dirty, cheating foreigners – i.e. Cronaldo or Didier Drogba. Instead, the normally sensible Iain Macintosh continues to believe the potential in the pony-tailed felon can be unlocked. Whether this will happen at Dalglish FC, though, remains open to question. It’s fair to say the weight of that pricetag has ground down the “new Shearer.”

Talking of Merseyside and catastrophes, the media continue to thrust the Chalice of Crisis to the lips of King Kenny, who continues to spit the proffered drink back at his critics. Louise Taylor sees the millstone of his overpriced Britpack signings and ludicrously tribal stance in the Suarez-Evra contremps as the millstones dragging down the Merseyside idol. Liverpool supporter Paul Little, meanwhile, wonders about the patience of Fenway Sports Group for the results produced by King Kenny’s expensively assembled signings. The most damning thing that can be said is Martin O’Neill got better results while spending less at Aston Villa. Harsh but true.

Still, it could be much, much worse. Raphael Honigstein chronicles the relegation struggles of Bundesliga giants Hamburg, guided by the genius that is former Rent Boy youth majordomo Frank Arnesen is overseeing another train wreck.

There’s no such fears at Guus Hiddink’s Anzhi Makhachkala, where Duncan Castles reports the owners are unleashing their petrorubles with wild abandon in hopes of qualifying for the Champions League. Which should prove to be an interesting test given UEFA’s Financial Fair Play rules kick in this year. The Samuel Eto’o deal alone should disqualify them.

The New York Cosmos were the original Anzi and one of their biggest stars was Giorgio Chinaglia, who passed away on the weekend. Lawrie Mifflin profiles the poacher. For those of us who were introduced to the beautiful game through the NASL, Chinaglia’s name rings out loudly so please indulge this short trip through memory lane. He didn’t come to North America with the reputation of Pele or Franz Beckenbauer but he scored goals by the bucketload.

Finally, the ever-excellent Michael Cox breaks down Juventus 3-0 win over Napoli. Sorry for the late post and I’ll try to get something up a little earlier tomorrow. Cheers AG.

17 comments
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  1. EWTT- “Dist:

    Haha. Join the rest of the Britain…apart from Devon, Surrey, and Kent. Proper support down there since 2007-08′.

    I thought about Liverpool’s plight recently and came to the conclusion that if you lot manage to simply hang around the CL places, Comolli may just be able to grab a player or two to help break through the glass and get into one of the places should a team have a bad season and lose their place. Very similar to what Spurs have managed to do. Just a hunch…thoughts? I know there are a ton of variables but (unfortunately ;c) I don’t think its impossible.”

    Hahaha good to see that you recognize that United’s fans are mostly outside of Mancunia :)

    As for Liverpool, I honestly think they are two players away from competing for a CL place and perhaps even a title run in if they managed to stay healthy and focused primarily on the league. They have some decent squad players, I think they need someone on the right to add stability to the whole side and I think most importantly, they need, what I call, a facilitator. Whether that be a “10″ or “someone in the hole” they need someone who can provide those deft touches, killer passes and such to their front three. It would create a whole new Liverpool that I think many sides would struggle with.

    Oh and don’t let Carragher and Adam see the pitch unless its the Carling Cup. Well kidding about Adam(as bad as he’s been he could fill in as a decent squad player) but Carra I love him to death but its time to say goodbye.

  2. @disturbance

    More than anything else, FSG’s first priority must be a new stadium or redevelopment of Anfield. Full stop.

    On the pitch, they need at least two or three more players to mount a challenge for the Champions League and they have a reasonably deep squad in spots, Lucas Leiva’s injury has exposed a lack of depth in the squad in central midfield. They looked a completely different side without the Brazilian in the lineup and his absence has coincided with their slide down the table. They will have some tough decisions to make on several players over the summer, particularly Andy Carroll and Joe Cole.

    On the plus side, their squad cull pales in comparison to the situations facing Chelsea and Spurs, both of whom have large squads with a sizeable contingent of thirtysomethings.

  3. Is it just me or did Arsenal really blow it last weekend? They have a tough run in to the end of the season, yes? Chelsea could easily get a 6 point swing on them, if Arsenal lose to Man City and Chelsea.

  4. @shmish

    They definitely shit the bed and it’s ratcheted up the importance of the City match. They absolutely need to win it.

  5. Dist:

    Bang on about a facilitator, something they’ve missed since Alonso left. Not that he is the type to play brilliant through balls but he offered an outlet in transition to attack and controlled tempo for them quite well while Masch did the dirty work. Did they think Adams could be the type with Lucas imitating Song? Thinking back to before Lucas’ injury, it almost worked.

    Despite the CC success, I still believe KK should quite possibly be fired for sending out Lucas against Chelsea and sacrificing their entire season. Something like 4 wins in the PL since his injury and around 8 before. I know you and I agree on this full stop. Mancini is guilty of the same thing with Silva. Can’t remember the last time the lad didn’t play and he looks knackered.

    Still think Kenny is the man for the job? I’m having trouble understanding exactly what Liverpool do well from match to match which I think could be a sign that the manager doesn’t have a clue either.

    AG:

    I don’t really like Barca (though I respect them immensely), detest Chelsea, and have nothing but contempt for Real Madrid. Bayern it is for me. Still sort of feel bad about 99′ for that lot. Football…bloody hell.

  6. @ewtt

    I’d rather have my wife go out clubbing with JT than root for the Rent Boys so I suppose it’s the Catalan business ethicists for me in one semi. FC Hollywood is the lesser of two similar evils, largely because their manager isn’t a self-reverential twat. Plus I think Bayern will give a test to Pep’s boys so I guess that’s my dream final. As opposed to the diving, imaginary card-waving, eye-gouing in the technical area Super Classico.

  7. Right now Chelsea seem like the champion’s league version of Stoke City when compared with the three other teams left. I can’t in good conscience root for that shit. Real have a number of players who I enjoy watching play the game when they’re not being completely detestable and same thing goes for Bayern and Barcelona so really provided Chelsea get ousted I’ll deal with whatever we end up getting I suppose.

    I’ve got similar feelings as you AG when it comes to watching another “super duper champions league -this time for sure, no honestly I mean it – classico” because I have a feeling that as much as Real have improved this year, if Barcelona are up for it and on their game, there isn’t another team around that could touch them and we’ll more than likely be forced to watch Real try and kick Barca off the pitch.

    Actually I’d like to see Bayern vs Real Madrid, is that even possible? I haven’t really kept up with the draw.

  8. AG-Off the field, Stadia issues have to be concern #1 and from all the press FSG give about it, it seems it is. Its something that will help them maintain a challenge, obviously.

    I think Cole is gone but I’m not sure its time to get rid of Carroll. I know he hasn’t produced but where ever there is potential there is the possibility for great things. Of course thats probably what got Liverpool to where they are now, ha!

    Hate to tell ya this but I’m rooting for Newcastle and Tottenham to take the remaining top 4 spots. Arsenal and Chelsea seem like Liverpool’s biggest competitiors and if they continue to get CL money they will pull even further away(though Chelsea has the Rubles).

    As for the CL final, I think a Barca v Bayern final would be great. Don’t count out the Germans.

  9. EWTT-Well said.

    “Did they think Adams could be the type with Lucas imitating Song? Thinking back to before Lucas’ injury, it almost worked.”

    Exactly which goes to show how important Lucas is. Adams could give the ball away any time he wanted because Lucas was there to shore up his mistakes. Now that he’s not in there Adams is punished much more harshly.

    As for firing Dalglish, I’m not there yet. I would like to give him at least another full season. Rome wasn’t built in a day and all that good jazz

  10. @disturbance

    “I think Cole is gone but I’m not sure its time to get rid of Carroll. I know he hasn’t produced but where ever there is potential there is the possibility for great things. Of course thats probably what got Liverpool to where they are now, ha!”

    With Carroll, I don’t think the issue is potential. I think he needs a change of scenery to bring it out because he’ll always have the millstone of that transfer free burdening him at Anfield. Whether that’s fair is irrelevant. People will use it as a stick in the same way they did with Joe Cole’s salary last year.

    “Hate to tell ya this but I’m rooting for Newcastle and Tottenham to take the remaining top 4 spots. Arsenal and Chelsea seem like Liverpool’s biggest competitiors and if they continue to get CL money they will pull even further away(though Chelsea has the Rubles).”

    Every neutral outside of Mackem territory should root for Newcastle to gain a Champions League spot. What they’ve done is nothing short of remarkable. What’s more, they’ve provided a template for every other club outside of greater Salford, the Rent Boys and Arsenal in how to move from being promoted to challenging for a Champions League spot in a very short time, all while cutting their payroll and turning a profit.

  11. Another horrible call? Get out of here!!!! How far offsides does a player need to be?

    Looking forward to seeing the league making a dramatic return for City to make it close again…..YAWN

  12. I guess I have it all wrong. They want United to win the title to prove money doesn’t automatically give you the title. What a fucking joke. Is there anyone who really thinks that things “balance” themselves out over the season?

  13. Lee Mason — United legend! Still, it’s going to be tough for the bald one to crack United’s first XI what with Michael Oliver’s awesome non-call for a Fulham penalty.

    Speaking of myopic officiating, how Balotelli is still on the pitch remains a mystery after three studs up challenges. Top, top work from Martin Atkinson.

  14. AG-You gotta understand, the PL needs United to win the league but for City to make it interesting. Sending off Balotelli for a definite red would only make it more obvious that they want United for the title.

    City players would pretty much have to shoot someone with a gun to get sent off.

    Of course as I say this, I just read this article:

    http://www.football365.com/liverpool/7658991/KD-raises-Reds-agenda-theory

    Has the Liverpool way silently crept into me…in a backwards way?!

  15. Well Atkinson finally sent off Balotelli about one hour too late. Cannot believe we only won by one goal. The Massive didn’t have one shot on target.

  16. What was with the one commentator moaning about Arsenal players (usually Sagna) falling to the ground and play acting?
    1. I imagine that when Balotelli kicks someone with his studs that it does actually result in some pain
    2. Is there anyone in this sport on any continent that plays differently?
    3. Has he never heard about Eduardo’s and Ramsey’s broken legs, which were the result of the exact same type of tackles?

    I bet Scholes or Rooney would never do that, nah.

  17. I don’t condone the laughing at crying children but there are times when I’ll make an exception…

    http://twitter.com/#!/W3101_LUHG/status/189112865628766208/photo/1

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