Friday April 20 — the Drogba-less London repechage, part IX

The release of Forbes annual list the most valuable football clubs could not have provided a more suitable backdrop to Saturday’s Battle of the Brands. Because the tilt between Roman’s Rent Boys and Holloway Road Properties PLC is nothing if about the money. There’s no silverware on the line in the London repechage as the league title will be a strictly Mancunian affair. At stake is a 30m pound swag of Heineken/Sony Playstation/McDonald’s branded loot for playing in the Champions League. And yes, neutrals would point out — probably laughing hysterically — that Arsene Wenger would be appalled about spending that loot on actual players while Roman Abramovitch would use to pay the annual fuel bill for his fleet of yachts (or mistresses). Well, I suppose there’s always local pride to consider.

Anyway, both teams will enter the Grove without key players. Mikel Arteta did his ankle against Wigan and proceeded to watch his teammates bottle it and refuse to shake hands with Wigan as their manager melted down on the sidelines shrieking about timewasting. The Rent Boys will be without injured talisman Didier Drogba, who apparently strained his vagina knee after hurling himself to the Stamford Bridge potato patch one too many times against those ferocious tacklers from Catalonia on Wednesday. As Drogba has personally filleted the Gunners back four by himself over the years, there’s some relief in north London. Although given the club’s appalling record without Arteta in the lineup, there really shouldn’t be. I’m still deciding whether or not my constitution will be able to handle it, especially as the game gets going at 5:30 a.m. in my time zone so I’ll be cranky enough without having to suffer another piss-poor bottle job. My television may not make it through the match.

Enough of that rot. There’s actually precious little reading material worth relaying but Tom Parfitt’s piece about the anglicism of Athletic Bilbao is a little bit special and well worth your time.

Boy, the kids have been bringing some colour to Beetface’s ruddy complexion — and probably in some of the dialogue in the Carrington training complex. First, it was Ravel Morrison and his fascination with firearms (and apparent disinterest in training). Then it was Paul Pogba’s disinterest in extending his deal. Now, Duncan Castles reports Italian starlet Davide Petrucci is considering his options. Kids these days, eh, Fergie?

Speaking of which, my first training session for the outdoor season starts this weekend. Cannot wait. Enjoy your football and have a great weekend! AG

Thursday April 19 — deja vu all over again at the Bridge

I did manage to laugh when I read Cesc Fabregas’ pre-match comments about how di Matteo had remoulded the side. “In recent games against Chelsea when I was at Arsenal and now with Barca, even though we kept possession it’s hard to play against them. They counter very easily and Didier Drogba can score against you. So you have to be careful and aware of the threat they pose on the counter-attack.”

Nostra – frigging – damus couldn’t have called it better because when I watched the match, I immediately realized I had seen that same movie replayed a number of times in the past few years, both at the Bridge and the Grove.

The Catalan pass masters tika-takked their way around the blue-shirted training cones at the Bridge only to be foiled by Petr Cech and Cesc Fabregas’ inability to kick a soccer ball inside the penalty area. Part of his brain must switch off when he enters the box — it really must irritate his managers. Anyway, Bobby di Matteo borrowed the tactics book of Air Marshall Pulis and proceeded to hoof the ball at Didier Drogba, who was in one of his moods. You know the one I’m talking about — it’s the moany, bi-polar hypersensitivity that causes the occasional collapse to the pitch and the snarling willingness to throw an elbow. If he isn’t the most infuriating player to mark in the game, he’s in the top three. Anyway, the Rent Boys put together one move to bother Victor Valdes. Frank Lampard robbed Lionel Messi and released Ramires with a peach of a pass. The Brazilian — who has quietly become a stellar ever-present for Roman’s Rent Boys — teed up the Drog to knock it past Valdes with his left foot. And then proceeded to park the bus for the second half.

Barca should be able to step it up a couple of gears back in Catalonia but it’s the kind of result that sets up nicely for di Matteo’s boys, who can lay back and try to hit Barca on the counter. And as Holloway Road Property customers have seen over the past five years, that can be a very effective strategy.

In the other semifinal, the holy trinity of tactical punditry – Jonathan Wilson, Bobby McMahon and Michael Cox – break down how FC Hollywood defeated Franco FC, although the Bavarians really should be heading to Spain with a two or three-goal lead in the tie.

One observation I’d like to make is the Catalan Aesthes get all kinds of plaudits for La Masia but have a look at the Bavarians lineup and you’ll see the same willingness to grow their own. Phillip Lahm, Holger Badstuber, Thomas Mueller and Bastian Schweinsteiger all spent time in their youth system. The latest two to roll off the factory line, Toni Kroos and David Alaba, look like fantastic players who are ready for prime time. Obviously, they have spent big (Ribery, Robben, Neuer) and generally act like arrogant twats but Barca can be pretty insufferable and have paid over the odds to bring in the likes of Villa, Sanchez and Cesc.

That’s today’s homily. Enjoy and I’ll be back tomorrow with thoughts of Saturday’s tong war between Roman’s Rent Boys and the toddlers from the Holloway Road nursery.

Tuesday April 17 – enjoying the egg on the omelet maker’s face

Supporting Arsenal is a little like smoking — it takes years off your life. Just when you think they’ve turned the corner, you see them step in a big, steaming pile of what was served up on Monday night. It was pretty amateur stuff but it ought to highlight a few points:

1. Wigan’s win against United wasn’t a fluke. They are a pretty well organized side and it’s amazing they sit below Villa given how they’ve played in the past few weeks. They look solidly midtable. Victor Moses — the Cronaldo of the January 2009 transfer rumour mill — gave Bacary Sagna more trouble than any left winger in recent memory. They fully deserved to win and it was embarrassing to see Wenger bitch about their timewasting and RvP slap away Gary Caldwell’s hand after the match. Unacceptable and unseemly behaviour.

2. The planks who’ve moaned about us signing Mikel Arteta should be forced — after being slapped upside the head a few times — to watch this match over and over. They should be joined by the wannabe Kenny Dalglish muppets who complain we should have signed a proven EPL defender rather than Laurent Koscielny. Both of their absences were keenly felt.

3. Aaron Ramsey is struggling and some impatient Chicken Littles are already chirping about him being a poor player blah, blah, blah. The kid has been overplayed this year as much as Jack Wilshere was last year. The halfwitted twats who think Wenger should play a best XI each and every single game have no clue about the physical demands of soccer, possibly because they’ve not dragged their fat asses from in front of the television to actually play the game. Or they are too counting up points playing “fantasy football.” Or Football Manager. Or some other dumbassed role-playing timewaster  that has nothing to do with the sport of football. Wenger’s biggest mistake last year was overplaying Wilshere. He’s made the same mistake with Ramsey and, what’s worse, has asked the kid to play out of position. It’s not firing for him right now but about the dumbest thing we could do is boo the kid or run him off the club. Believe me, Beetface would snaffle him up in a second. I rarely run overtly partisan blogs but Gilberto Silver’s words on gunnerblog about Ramsey and the Ox are about as sensible as you’ll find.

The Ox, by the way, is a nominee for the PFA Young Player of the Year, which is simply ridiculous. He’s started in five frigging Premier League games. Now I happen to think he’s going to be a fantastic player but there’s a difference between talent and accomplishment. Iain Macintosh sees it as footballers exhibiting their usual sound judgment.

And when you think of sound judgment, Andy Carroll is never far from that conversation. Gabriele Marcotti explains the rationale behind Dalglish FC’s investment in the felonious Geordie to the hedge fund crowd.

On the subject of high finance, there are fewer better authorities than the Swiss Ramble, who assesses QPR’s books and finds some interesting but troubling numbers. I wonder whether Sparky will stick with them if they wind up getting relegated?

To the land of clogs and tulips, where Mohamed Moallim sees Ajax break free of a tight pack at the top of the Eredivisie.

Monday April 16 – hungry like Klopp’ wolves

To Wembley, where a pair of fiercely contested rivalries were decided by a couple of beleaguered individuals who had endured much abuse for poor performances. Well done to Andy Carroll and Martin Atkinson for ignoring the critics and making the decisive moves in the penalty. Carroll may never live up to his 35m price tag but he headed Dalglish FC into the final over their bitter rivals.

Fresh from ignoring Mario Balotelli planting his studs into Alex Song’s knee, Atkinson continued his pigheaded idiocy in awarding a non-goal to Rent Boys that allowed the tactical witlessness of the wheeler dealer to be absolved by his buddies on Fleet Street. Michael Cox breaks down the contributions of Ramires and outlines how Robbie di Matteo has changed the Rent Boys defensive system. David Pleat, meanwhile, highlighted the contribution of Juan Mata beyond that ghost goal.

Fresh from Sunday’s disaster, Scott Parker was announced as a finalist for the PFA Player of the Year, which underscores that a few footballers should not be entrusted with a ballot because they either see it as a popularity contest or — in the words of Bobby Charlton — they are thicker than seven planks.

One player who deserves to be on that list ahead of Parker is Michael Jackson FC’s attacking midfielder/rapper Clint Dempsey, who is profiled by Bobby McMahon.

And finally to the Continent, where Raphael Honigstein watches the hungry wolves (no, me either — something must either be lost in translation or somebody is a Duran Duran fan) Borussia Dortmund best their rivals and all but clinch the Bundesliga for the second straight season.

Friday April 13 – sending in the clowns. Or Johan Cruyff

When it comes to villians of convenience, few ownership groups in sports can rival the Glazers, whose stewardship of the more genteel, prawn-munching side of Salford has engendered its own green-and-gold fashion line. Being shrewdly astute, they’ve likely got a piece of the company producing the Newton Heath protest kit for angrier elements. Hell, I’ll bet David Gill is looking into an official kit supplier and sponsorship deal right now.

Anyway, they have been routinely ridiculed for the very legal if unethical hijacking of United and loading debt on to the club in a sort of all-you-can-eat buffet of arcane debt instruments. Yet the sides fielded by Beetface – who channels his inner rottweiler while defending them — continue to churn out both results and favourable cash flow. Even if they have to pressgang the odd ginger passing geniuses back on to the field after Ravel Morrison flounced off to the east end porn merchants when Fergie refused his request for a club-issued firearm to hunt United interns for sport. Kids these days, eh Fergie?

Anyhooo the point is while the Glazers get more bad press than an oil company on Earth Day, Fenway Sports Group were hailed as model foreign owners. Let’s review

1. They bought one of football’s biggest brands for pennies on the pound in a bankruptcy hearing after two of the biggest and most unpopular idiots in organized sport failed to stump up and repay RBS.

2. They appointed Damien Comolli as DoF based on the advice of long-time baseball general manager Billy Beane. That’s a baseball insider advising them on football.

3. They fire Woy Hodgson, who had a limited transfer budget and whose purchases reflected it, and reappointed a club legend to replace him.

4. They splashed the cash on promising young British talent supplemented by the odd experienced Premier Leaguer.

All of this — plus occasional tweets interacting with supporters – elevated John W Henry to god-king status on Merseyside but how wise was this?

As David Hynter pointed out, all they needed to do was ask Arsene Wenger about Comolli’s credentials rather than Billy bloody Beane.

As the Telgraph’s Hugh Grant points out, appointing a strong-willed club legend has created issues of its own, especially when King Kenny decided to dust off his early 1990s template used at Ewood Park.

So then where to now for FSG? They need to look at that other “model” American owner, Randy Lerner, as a cautionary tale.

In the vaccuum created by Comolli’s departure, various agents, old boys and others are floating their own rumours. Fresh from causing a schism at Ajax – one that featured racial undertones, Johan Cruyff is mooted as being looked at by FSG. The Times, meanwhile, has them sounding out Cruyff’s rival Louis van Gaal. Can I be the first to throw Shanghai Shenhua player-manager Nicolas Anelka’s name into that ring? He even comes with his own agent, a really charming fellow. Honestly, check with Arsene Wenger.

Anyway, FSG must carefully plot its next move, including a succession plan for King Kenny, or else it will totter down the same path trudged earlier by Randy Lerner. Sound management starts at the top rather than the technical area. FSG haven’t demonstrated that beyond more than an eye for an undervalued asset and the ability to extract top dollar for endorsements.

If Liverpool are looking for a new manager, Brian Simpson proposes Paul Lambert.

Thursday April 12 – the long knives are drawn at Anfield

So fare thee well Damien Comolli, whose tenure as Director of Football at Anfield did not even last two years. Brought to Merseyside to install a Moneyball philosophy, one could argue it never really arrived after the club splurged 35m on Andy Carroll and another 22.8m on Luis Suarez shortly after his arrival. Even allowing for the fact that those signings could be cast as a goodwill gesture to Dalglish FC supporters in wake of Statler and Waldorf’s disastrous reign at the club, the summer signings at Anfield were simply not good enough. Full stop. Brought in for more than 40m, Jordan Henderson, Charlie Adam and Stewart Downing did not deliver value for money and Comolli signed off on those deals. And if I’m John W Henry, Tom Werner and the rest of the FSG braintrust, I’m casting those deals against what my rivals spent and their impact. Liverpool was supposed to supplant Arsenal in the Champions League spots — that was conventional wisdom in August on Fleet Street based on the summer spending but you’d have to look at Wenger’s 23m spent on Mikel Arteta and the Ox and suggest they delivered more for less, which is a big reason why Arsenal is in third and Liverpool is in the middle of the table. Newcastle is bothering the top four and both their dynamic midfield duo — Chiek Tiote and Yohann Cabaye — cost less than Charlie Adam.

Many observers suggest Comolli makes a convenient scapegoat for an underperforming while club legend King Kenny has escaped the axe somewhat unfairly. After all, Dalglish admitted he wanted those players and praised Comolli for bringing them into the club, which Phillip Cornwall sees as an unwise act of loyalty.

Life is not fair and Dalglish is not going to be getting it in the neck. He’s a club legend but I cannot help but think these signings — which he has nobly taken responsibility for — are strikingly similar to how he re-made Blackburn Rovers in the early 1990s with Sir Jack Walker’s money by buying the best British footballers (Alan Shearer, Tim Flowers, David Batty and Chris Sutton, among others) in the Premier League and bringing them to Ewood Park. He took them from the second division to Premier League champions in three years and it appears he tried to repeat that formula 20 years later and found the same level of success enjoyed by Martin O’Neill at Aston Villa — a very expensive spot in the upper mid-table. The problem for Dalglish — and one of the reasons that he looks very much like yesterday’s man — is looking at how his great rival Sir Alex Ferguson has evolved in terms of his transfer policy. Fergie signing Antonio Valencia for 18m — about two million less than Liverpool paid for Stewart Downing. Fergie has moved beyond the British Isles, both in recruiting ready-made players and youngsters. That was underscored by his willingness to sell Ravel Morrison — touted as the next great English footballer — for persistent indiscipline and persists with French youngster Paul Pogba even though the kid still has not agreed on a new deal. The rabid hobbits, David de Gea, Patrice Evra, Nemjana Vidic, Anderson, Dimitar Berbatov all suggest Fergie isn’t hung up on Britishness in terms of signings.

Not that everything is entirely sunshine and roses for football’s gentlest knight. Nick Miller says the 1-0 loss to Whelan FC underscores United’s embarrassing reliance on 37-year-old Paul Scholes. It’s amazing they have not lost with him in the lineup and all those snide commentators who dismissed Fabio Capello’s SOS to Scholes to attend the 2010 World Cup should be forced to wear a dunce cap.

To Spain, where Cronaldo hit the 40-goal mark in dismissing Atletico Madrid and ending FC Franco’s wobbles. Sid Lowe has the story. The free kick to open the game was simply sensational. He’s been incredible this year and I wonder how much more acclaim he’d receive without Lionel Messi performing similar feats in Catalonia.

To Germany, where Raphael Honigstein saw Borussia Dortmund end FC Hollywood title hopes. Michael Cox provides the tactical breakdown. Dortmund lost Nuri Sahin but they will retain their crown and that’s no small feat given how much the Bavarians laid out in the summer.

Wednesday April 11 – the new Curbishley

The wails of injustice and gnashing of teeth pierced the smoggy summer air around north London when Samir Nasri decided to follow his heart — and well-worn track from the Grove to the Middleastlands broken by Kolo Toure and subsequently followed by Emmanuel Adebayor and Gael Clichy. The chirps of doom from Chicken Littles increased when Arsene Wenger brought in Mikel Arteta, deemed over the hill and injury prone by the sage never-weres and has-beens in the stands and on Fleet Street. In light of Sunday’s win, which ended any chance of Na$ri collecting a winner’s medal that he left north London to collect, Michael Cox and James Maw look at his contribution to City, which is surprisingly similar to the same anonymous shift that he put in last spring during Arsenal’s collapse. 25m pounds — talk about taking the piss.

Journeying north to the Geordie Shore, where Fleet Street’s fashionable  pre-season relegation candidates are pushing for a Champions League spot. Alan Hansen, who had been tipping Dalglish FC to pip Arsenal for fourth a couple weeks ago, puts the kiss of death on the poor barcodes. I included this piece for the irony value as Hansen has extolled the virtues of a “British” spine that Newcastle replaced with cheaper, better exports from the Continent. In doing so, they relied on Graham Carr, whom Daniel Story salutes as the unsung hero behind the Magpies’ success.

Talking of sudden success stories, David Conn traces the rise of Swansea City on and off the pitch.

If the Swans could turn themselves into a Welsh version of Stoke City — in terms of success rather than the inelegant mixture of hoofball and rugby union favoured by Air Marshall Pulis — I’m sure they’d be happy. However, Matt Stanger sees Pulis as holding back the Potters. While Pulis ranks high as one of my least favourite twats in English football, the criticism of him “holding back” a midtable club in the Premier League is astonishing. Ask Charlton Athletic fans how they feel about the boring mediocrity of midtable security under Alan Curbishley. I suspect their view has changed a little in the past couple of years.

Wednesday April 10 – imposing a Balotelli moratorium

Once charming and amusing but now unescapable, perhaps it’s time to consign Mario Balotelli stories to the same dark place where we’ve put Paul Wilson’s punditry, Metro transfer rumours and other football-related felonies. That’s right — it’s time to open up Sofaball’s moratorium closet to wedge in Mario analysis for the rest of the year. It’s been an exhausting 24 hours of reading amateur psychoanalysis and second-guessing of Roberto Mancini by has-beens and never-weres who wouldn’t know a UEFA Pro License from a parking ticket. Anyway, Roberto Gotta assesses possible Italian destina . . . ARRGH. What have I done – I accidentally violated the moratorium on Balotelli links, which officially starts NOW.

Anyway Martin Atkinson claims he actually saw the studs-up challenge on Song’s knee, which prevents the FA from retrospective action on He Who Shall Not Be Named. Which proves he is either too pigheaded to admit his mistake or too incompetent to referee even a u-8 recreational game. Sorry shouldn’t be hard to say for a mistake that bad. Even Roberto Martinez received an apology for dodgy officiating that cost Whelan FC at least one point at the Bridge.

Let’s return to where we were in August with some Wenger bashing. It’s a little tougher to indulge in the reflexive action of kicking the Frenchman, what with his club now in third place and having played the year without Jack Wilshere or Cesc Fabregas or Samir Nasri. To be fair, we didn’t have Gael Clichy or Emmanuel Eboue (or any recognized fullback for about a month) so there’s something of a saw-off. But Duncan Castles doesn’t see it as a time for Wenger to rest on his laurels. Which I suppose I should be filed with a “no shit” hashtag. I suppose even the best pundits can serve up the occasional stinker.

There’s usually no such criticism of Stevie G, Liverpool club captain, midfield dynamo, occasional club deejay and fiull-time Phil Collins fan. Jonathan Wilson breaks with Fleet Street orthodoxy and risks the wrath of the red side of Mersyside by questioning whether Gerrard is good for Liverpool these days. Truthfully, I’ve seen him play about dozen times and I thought he’s been excellent. He’s not the player that he was three or four years ago, when I thought he was overrated because of his tactical indiscipline. But I think he’s done a far better job at adapting his game with age than Frank Lampard as one example. Liverpool’s season went straight to hell with Lucas Leiva’s injury with the nonsense around the Suarez-Evra incident being a contributing factor. Whatever the stats suggest, Steve Gerrard doesn’t inhibit Charlie Adam or Jay Spearing. That’s down to their modest abilities.

Another piece of orthodoxy under siege is possession statistics, with tactics guru Michael Cox laying siege to the argument that successful sides need to dominate the time with the ball to win in the Premier League. When you have a midfielder with the vision and technique possessed by Yohan Cabaye and finishers such as Papiss Cisse and Demba Ba, it’s true that quality versus quantity of possession is more important.

The good folks at Football365 love their lists and this one caught my eye as Matt Stanger rates the 10 ten French players to grace the Premier League with a very predictable top three.

Stanger was a busy boy on Monday as he explains why Newcastle could finish fourth after keeping up their improbable run. They certainly won’t lack for support as every single neutral will be rooting for them and rightly so. They’ve done it through shrewd management that is jarringly out of character on the Geordie Shore. It’s almost as though the club’s hierarchy went through a collective brain transplant. If they manage to oust the wheeler dealer from a Champions League qualifying spot and consign the Rent Boys to Europa League, it will almost as satisfying as adding a piece of silverware at the Grove. Almost.

To the Continent, where Raphael Honigstein sets the scene for the Bundesliga title decider between Dortmund and FC Hollywood on Wednesday.

In Italy, Richard Whittle explains how an unlikely hero helped the Old Lady overhaul Berlusconi FC.

Monday April 9 – Teetering on Tottenham High Road

Twenty hours after Sheik Mansour’s merry band of monied mercenaries were exposed again again as title pretenders in north London, the wheeler dealer’s lesser lights bottled it at home against Norwich even with the considerable assistance of referee Michael Oliver, who clearly mistook the lesser lights for Manchester United. The official denied the visitors two clear penalties and did not send off Ledley King, who decided to switch codes to rugby union and tackle Grant Holt in the area.

It’s going to be interesting to see how the wheeler dealer’s many friends on Fleet Street cast the latest turd served up by his side. The company line that has morphed into conventional wisdom is a group of experienced professionals — who took up ten spots in Henry Winter’s all north London XI — were distracted by the clarion calls for their manager to “rescue” the Three Lions. Given the past creativity exhibited by Fleet Street’s Big Thinkers in absolving ‘arry, at least we will not lack for material for our Taking the Piss award. I’m personally hoping to see someone — the Daily Mail’s Jeff Powell is probably the best bet — blame Spurs loss of form on Fabio Capello’s decision to “abandon” England.  It’s far more likely the wheeler dealer’s carping about lacking the funds to compete with the big boys will receive widespread sympathy.

No such luck – or excuses – exist for Roberto Mancini, whose motley band of millionaires were played off the immaculate billiard table pitch at the Grove. For neutrals, it’s hard not to feel a little sympathetic for the Italian, who increasingly wears the same bemused, haggard expression of Bob Newhart (have a look — it’s absolutely uncanny). Although it’s now obvious Mario Balotelli — the Zap Brannigan to Mancini’s Kif Kroker – has aged him. Balotelli seemed eager to get sent off and only the blindness/myopia/incompetence/pigheadedness of Martin Atkinson allowed him to stay on after he buried his studs into Alex Song’s knee. But Mancini persisted with him and was duly blamed by all and sundry in the media. Rather than list all the links, let’s make do with the reproaches of Phil McNulty and Duncan Castles. With all the finger pointing at Mancini, not much praise was directed at the visitors who should have really won by three or four goals but wound up spurning several chances. I’d like to make the following points:

1. I was totally and completely wrong to call for Arsene Wenger to buy Mario Balotelli. As misjudgments go, it ranks with urging Wenger to purchase an experienced keeper rather than bring in Wojciech  Szczesny. Balotelli is an immense talent but he was stupidly self-destructive on Sunday. Mancini’s warning that he will be out of top-level football in three years should be heeded by a young man with the tools to be one of the very best players in the world.

2. Alex Song and Mikel Arteta (total transfer cost — 11m) completely bossed the midfield, something noted even by former Spurs boss David Pleat.  As Michael Cox points out, Yaya Toure’s injury aided the host’s cause in the centre of the park. With that said, we’ve played without Jack Wilshere for the entire bloody year. United have made do without Vidic. Mancini could pick from Nigel de Jong, James Milner, Gareth Barry and David Pizzaro, who cost more than Arsenal’s entire starting XI. The excuses were as thin as Abu Dhabi’s creativity and it’s damning they failed to muster a single shot on target. Outside of Yaya Toure, Vincent Kompany, David Silva and Joe Hart, none of them deserve to be champions. As pucker jobs go, this one is Keeganesque.

Speaking of which, we must give a big Sofaball salute to referee Lee Mason for supplanting Howard Webb and Michael Oliver in the Manchester United XII for the season. Not only did he fail to give Ashley Young a yellow card for a dive, he actually awarded a penalty and sent off a bemused Shaun Derry. He also managed to ignore the fact that Young was offside at the time, something acknowledged in Beetface’s splendid postmortem of the match (Fergie suggested the sending off was a bad thing for his side because they “relaxed” too much. His cheek — like his man management — remains magnificent). Later, of course, Mason ignored Wayne Rooney’s challenge on Samba Diakite, which was worthy of a red card. Mind you, that tackle wasn’t endlessly replayed by broadcasters with shocked outrage from commentators as a voiceover so I doubt there will be any retrospective punishment for the United striker given the lack of any media coverage, let alone outcry. After all, why would the FA want to piss in the cereal of Beetface or their best player? But there’s a reason why his disciplinary record in Europe and internationally is much worse than in the Premier League and it’s not because he plays any differently. It was a disgraceful challenge and he should be sitting a few games for it.

Enough sermonizing and let’s go to some links. Bobby McMahon explains to the hedge fund crowd at Forbes why expanding the Champions League makes sense.

Ben Lyttleton talks to a couple of football insiders on how successful clubs try to find a new manager. As opposed to how Aston Villa make a pig’s ear out of it. This article should be sent to Randy Lerner.

Finally, Brazilian clubs are rarely known for their sound adminstration but Tim Vickery sees how Santos has managed to punch above its weight.

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35 comments
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  1. Two observations from this past weekend:
    1. If there is one manager that should lose his job that is Mancini. Drama with two high profile players, one of them which he brought in. He can’t keep his mouth shut after the game to the press. Therefore, City’s troubles with the two players are well documented and lowers the asking price drastically. Even City managed to keep Tevez, which if they convince him is a well worth while capture, Balotelli needs to be moved on. But telling the press what your summer is unprofessional and shows Manacini’s self inability to hold his own emotions so how is he supose to help B

  2. 2. Opportunity strikes for Wenger or Beetface to take the Balotelli challenge. If either dared to do so, could bring him in at a discount. But I doubt City would play ball with United.

  3. I think a proper manager could turn things around for Balotelli.

  4. @CIAO

    One thing I failed to mention is Mancini seems to have fallen out with a lot of his players, particularly his strikers as Tevez, Dzeko, Adebayor and Balotelli all have taken turns in his doghouse. Which is somewhat ironic given that he was a striker of no small skill.

    I don’t know if either Fergie or Wenger would take on Balotelli at this point. There’s no way that the Massive would ever let him cross the divide. Would Ancelotti take a punt on him?

  5. AG
    Ancelotti will not go for Balotelli. He will probably return to Milan, which color is yet to be seen. Inter keep talking about bringing him back. Milan also…
    If Wenger goes for him I would think he would be contract sealed with behavior clauses.

  6. As indicated in the headlines, if there is a duel for Balotelli in Milan. I hope AC Milan wins. I dont think Inter have he managers that would be able to handle him. I believe Inter should stick with current manager and focus on rebuilding. There should be no expectation of a trophy for at least 2-3 years. With current manager in place males it an easy message that we need to focus on rebuilding. The club would save money and build a sustainable team. As I have been saying for years now, there needs to be a player transition every year to weed out older players. Too late here though. Now they need whole sale changes: FIRE SALE
    Sadly I have little faith in Moratti, the trigger happy fuker will at some point get impatient. I hope he has changed…

  7. I’m back miss me?

  8. If you want to be angry read this article, supposedly it is satire but it isn’t funny at all.

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123680101041299201.html?mod=WSJ_article_comments#articleTabs=article

  9. Fox Soccer Report cancelled? Wtf?!

  10. From Bobby himself: “Shaw Media is closing down Fox Sports World Canada so we will not be available in Canada. The FSR will continue on Fox Soccer in the USA for the foreseeable future.”

  11. Well thats good news, condolences to the Canadian counterparts

  12. If they desperately want to watch it as I imagine some of you might. I would just torrent it.

  13. Damn. First Agent Benitez, now Agent Comolli…

    It’s all on you Kenny.

  14. Well Kenny maybe next…

  15. Liverpool clearing house?

  16. Sorry fellows but I have to escort a television crew around one of our mines today. An update will be posted in the evening featuring Moneyball Comolli, Dortmund and Cronaldo.

  17. Gary Neville’s stance on players going to ground, bears repeating. He’s become a helluva pundit.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=5dWgs0QZWYM

  18. @RDM

    Thanks for the link — it was awesome.

    So choked right now — just got home and flipped on the TV and realized Fox Sports World Canada is off the air so I’ll be missing Bobby McMahon’s punditry. I’d drop Shaw as my cable, phone and Internet provider if it wasn’t such a pain in the ass.

  19. No blog post today as I’m speaking at a school (don’t ask) and then in meetings for most of the afternoon. I’ll definitely have an update for the weekend because it’s a “sunny” Friday so I’ll have some time to look for interesting links.

  20. http://video.fanatik.com.tr/Neymar-rakibini-cildirtti_1_34976.htm?auto=1

    My 5 y/o daughter watched this and after seeing how Neymar falls, said “he really does not know how to play.”

  21. I watched Neville video and am still left wondering why does everyone love him? All he does is offer something that the current generation can relate to. Guys like Lawro, Shearer, Redknapp, Sounness, et al all played in a different generation and the way they see the game is different.

    Proof of this is in the way Neville takes on the diving “epidemic” as he calls it. First, he says its not cheating to go over with no contact or to go over and be the one to actually initiate contact because you’re just trying to win your team a penalty and the contact would’ve happened. Well that is cheating. Plain and simple. In fact thats the definition of cheating.

    Second, he offers no solutions to stomp out the diving. He says its a problem but offers no solutions(the Liberals guide to politics). The retroactive punishment would only allow defenders to stomp on players’ feet and such, apparently. Thats such horse-shit. If you do retroactive punishment, then you won’t have Ashley Young swimming at Old Trafford as much anymore and the officials might actually be looking for the stomping.

    Does anyone else see what this really is? He’s a former United player coming out in defense of his former team when they’ve cheated two consecutive games. End of story. Exceptional pundit? I put him just above Soccerlogical.

    EDIT: Proof that I believe that he is full of shit is that I will admit Stevie G is a diving cheat. Hell of a footballer, but still a diving cheat. :)

  22. Dist:

    Seriously mate…did you watch that video from start to finish? You can level with me. Its not a problem if you didn’t but I find it hard to believe that if you watched the whole thing you would come to the conclusions you have. I think his overall point was that whatever phrase you would like to attach a player who goes down easily, it is so engrained in football from coaches and managers right down to the players, that to punish retroactively would be extremely difficult. That isn’t difficult to understand. Its not a biased opinion and it is 100% accurate.

    What really makes me wonder if you watched the entire video was this gem…

    “Does anyone else see what this really is? He’s a former United player coming out in defense of his former team when they’ve cheated two consecutive games. End of story. Exceptional pundit? I put him just above Soccerlogical.”

    Complete and utter shite and I know you know it. You may not like him as a pundit and I couldn’t care less, but you’re taking the piss saying he was defending Young. You should watch the video again on a serious note because I thought his explanation as to why diving happens and why policing it is so hard was dead on. Its also refreshing to hear some responsibility be placed on the players who defend like complete idiots some times.

  23. Ewtt- Of course I watched the video or else I wouldn’t have commented. Plus it killed 15 minutes of my work day.

    “I think his overall point was that whatever phrase you would like to attach a player who goes down easily, it is so engrained in football from coaches and managers right down to the players, that to punish retroactively would be extremely difficult. That isn’t difficult to understand. Its not a biased opinion and it is 100% accurate.”

    First off, what would make it difficult to punish retroactively? They already do punishments retroactively if referees don’t see it. And it is his biased opinion, as I’ll explain later, and the only thing that’s 100% accurate of what he said is that it is very ingrained into the game. Where he is wrong is that it is acceptable.

    Second, his main point was that you can call players for diving or whatever else you want to call it but don’t call them cheats because as you said, “its so ingrained in football” which is, again, as you said, “utter shite”.They’re cheats, end of story.

    “‘Does anyone else see what this really is? He’s a former United player coming out in defense of his former team when they’ve cheated two consecutive games. End of story. Exceptional pundit? I put him just above Soccerlogical.’

    Complete and utter shite and I know you know it. You may not like him as a pundit and I couldn’t care less, but you’re taking the piss saying he was defending Young. You should watch the video again on a serious note because I thought his explanation as to why diving happens and why policing it is so hard was dead on. Its also refreshing to hear some responsibility be placed on the players who defend like complete idiots some times.”

    Hahaha sorry I can’t help but laughing there. I have great respect for ya but if you are so naive to think that he comes out saying that they aren’t cheats(Young included), his words not mine, right after two consecutive weeks of United diving to win penalties and getting another player sent off, then thats your deal.Its all about timing, as there were many diving instances beforehand and I remember him calling Suarez disgraceful for going to the ground easily earlier in the year, so to come out now would make it a very biased opinion. Fortunately for me I can see, as they say, the forest through the trees in this case.

    And yes, I think he’s a terrible pundit and commentator. I’ll admit a lot has to do with him being one of the biggest twats in his playing days but with this all I have to do is use his words and his timing to show who he really is. It wasn’t tough.

    But what made his commentary just pure shit was the fact that he offered no solutions to stamp it out which pretty much laid way to the fact that he was saying we should just accept it. Just complete bull shit and you know it. I urge you to watch the video again, and take your allegiance from United out of it. You might see it differently.

  24. And when I say its all about timing, aren’t United in the middle of a title fight? Shocking it comes out now. And to say this is as shocking as United getting ridiculous penalty calls for them and definite penalty calls waived off when going against them at Old Trafford.

  25. Dist:

    I figured you watched it but given how well I know you know the game, I had to ask because it didn’t add up.

    Right…

    “First off, what would make it difficult to punish retroactively? They already do punishments retroactively if referees don’t see it. And it is his biased opinion, as I’ll explain later, and the only thing that’s 100% accurate of what he said is that it is very ingrained into the game. Where he is wrong is that it is acceptable.”

    He gave a great example of how a defender should have positioned himself when Young was in front of him. The lad got him self completely square so that when Young made a move to the defender’s left (which he was always going to do given he’s right footed) the defender was totally off balance and stuck his leg out. Contact was made and you’d be hard pressed to make a decision based on that video evidence and the rules of the game that Young made the most of it. Now, you and I both think he dove but those types of incidents as well as the others Neville highlighted are extremely difficult to punish given how the laws of the game are structured. You have to remember that they can’t make rules out of the blue for one or two incidents that take place in a season. As far as the authorities are concerned, if contact was made, its a pen.

    “Second, his main point was that you can call players for diving or whatever else you want to call it but don’t call them cheats because as you said, “its so ingrained in football” which is, again, as you said, “utter shite”.They’re cheats, end of story.”

    Wasn’t sure what he was on about there but I understood his overall point. Its simply a part of the game and no different than Barca having 78% possession, Stoke hitting nothing long balls, or United winning the league. When you say they’re cheats you have to refer to every club in existence today. Again, the laws are set up in a certain way that enables players to take advantage of these rules. Don’t blame Neville for calling it like it is.

    And he actually did offer a number of solutions whilst saying he doesn’t condone cheating in any way. But he did reiterate that they would be difficult to implement which seems logical to me.

    “And yes, I think he’s a terrible pundit and commentator. I’ll admit a lot has to do with him being one of the biggest twats in his playing days…”
    “I urge you to watch the video again, and take your allegiance from United out of it. You might see it differently.”

    I’m thinking of a word…begins with H, ends with “crite.” Know it? Whilst the word escapes me I think it might apply to your quotes above. So really anything he said that didn’t immediately agree with your stance would make him biased and obviously because I don’t agree and happen to be a United supporter as well, I get lumped in too. But no bias on your part because you were able to use his words and timing to form an unbiased opinion. Yeah, that must have been easy.

    Hypocrite! That’s it.

  26. Neville on Tevez/Aguerro:
    http://youtu.be/2BTD0XbM0to

  27. I am not a United fan, quite the opposite. Regardless, I thought Neville did a good job in his analysis. He even gave himself as an example. And his own teammates. I have heard much worse.

  28. Ewtt-Am I biased? Of course. I never said I wasn’t, so I’m not sure how I am a hypocrite? But its all in good fun so no harm, no foul.

    Look if you need greater perspective than compare this to the rolling around and fake injury for time wasting incidents. That is so ingrained in the game, should we just accept it? Am I going to see Gary Neville come out and explain that before we used to only have French wine in restaurants but now have Argentina, Spanish, Australian, etc?

    The man didn’t give anything that was thought provoking nor any solution. If he did provide solutions, please tell me them. I just re watched and still have yet to see a solution provided other than to criticize and say that the solution of retroactive punishment is too harsh.

    Btw, football is a contact sport. Just because Ashley Young touched the foot of the defender doesn’t make it a penalty. A foul has to occur. Ashley Young was already on his way down, just like the example of Dzeko that was shown. They aren’t fouls, nor does it mean its bad defense. The defender is blocking off a lane that Young is going to, forcing him back to the middle of the pitch where the other defenders were.

    Finally if you don’t see the connection that United play @ City on April 29th for the title, Ashley Young and United cheating their way to two wins and Neville now coming out saying this “analysis”, that is fine. I do see it and I called him out for it. I also know that he accused Suarez of diving, which means he is labeling him a cheat, and now is saying that its alright.

    As Mancini has come out saying, “Seems there are different rules for different teams” and I think Neville is doing a good job of showing that.

    And I’ll end on this note, if you think that Young’s was a penalty thats fine too. Then why isn’t it called on every ground around the country? The answer is staring you in the face, just like Neville’s timing here.

  29. Just saw Ferguson coming saying he had a “word” with Ashley Young. Thank God the man in charge of the EPL is having a word with the cheats of the game.

    Oh and I saw that in my last post, I put “finally” and then “I’ll end on this note”….poor form from me.

  30. Alan Pardew has come out saying that if Newcastle reaches the Champions League with this team, it will surpass what Bobby Robson did in earlly 2000′s.

    I have to say that I agree, though I wouldn’t say by much. Both did it under two terribly cheap owners.

  31. Ciao-Fair enough. I’m not surprised I am in the minority on this. He comes across as level-headed and to be honest I wasn’t against what he was saying until I saw the clip of Stevie falling over. Then I realized, because Gerrard’s was such an obvious dive and cheat, he was just splicing clips of his teams’ biggest critics and showing them going down too.

    Meh, it is what it is. I guess my biggest problem is that the league race is being destroyed because of these just absolutely horrible calls and horrendous officiating.

  32. Dist:

    I respect you admitting to a bias but I brought no such bias to the table when watching the video. It just simply made sense to me.

    “The man didn’t give anything that was thought provoking nor any solution. If he did provide solutions, please tell me them. I just re watched and still have yet to see a solution provided other than to criticize and say that the solution of retroactive punishment is too harsh.”

    14:23 at the very end of the video. I admit it was quick and he pretty much dismissed the options but that just highlighted how difficult the task would be to stamp that sort of behavior out of the game.

    “Btw, football is a contact sport. Just because Ashley Young touched the foot of the defender doesn’t make it a penalty. A foul has to occur. Ashley Young was already on his way down, just like the example of Dzeko that was shown. They aren’t fouls, nor does it mean its bad defense. The defender is blocking off a lane that Young is going to, forcing him back to the middle of the pitch where the other defenders were.”

    He blocked off a lane? Sure, ok. Because Young constantly crosses the ball on his left. That’s lack of preparation on the defender’s part. There’s no excuse for that type of defending and it resulted in Young taking advantage of him. I’m not excusing Young for diving. He dove and I really hope he’s learned his lesson because United don’t need that. But the leg extended plus the contact that Young created made it a clear penalty as far as the officials are concerned. Instead of blaming those responsible for making the rules you choose to take the easy option and bang on about United getting penalties left, right, and center.

    “Finally if you don’t see the connection that United play @ City on April 29th for the title, Ashley Young and United cheating their way to two wins and Neville now coming out saying this “analysis”, that is fine. I do see it and I called him out for it. I also know that he accused Suarez of diving, which means he is labeling him a cheat, and now is saying that its alright.”

    No, I don’t see it and never will. You don’t have any proof, never will, and neither will I so that point is mute. He did call Suarez a diver and that may be a clear bias. He’s saying its ok now because he’s got the video in front of him but that’s his opinion after further review. Another person may see it differently which again shows how difficult it is to punish players retroactively for perceived diving.

    “As Mancini has come out saying, “Seems there are different rules for different teams” and I think Neville is doing a good job of showing that.”

    Irrelevant, ridiculous, unproven, moronic, etc.

    “And I’ll end on this note, if you think that Young’s was a penalty thats fine too. Then why isn’t it called on every ground around the country? The answer is staring you in the face, just like Neville’s timing here.”

    Inconsistent refereeing and poor interpretation of the rules by the referees. None of which has anything to do with United.

  33. Admission time for me. When I first saw the Young incident, I thought it was a penalty. Having said that, I had been up late the night before with a couple buddies, who had treacherously brought over a flat of Moosehead that required – nay, demanded — to be dealt with. So my vision was a touch fuzzy that morning. But my kid — who was Ashley Young’s biggest fan when he was in claret and blue — leapt off the couch and shrieked “DIVE” when the play occured. After reviewing the replays, it’s clear Young threw his leg into Clark’s before going down. Robert’s face turned puce (think Beetface at the presser following the Veron signing) and he was screaming about cheating, disrespect for his old club, blah, blah, blah. I told him the lesson to learn as defender was not to stick out a leg and invite contact. It was no different than how Wayne Rooney conned the ref into a penalty because Sol Campbell was gullible enough to stick out his leg, which ended the Invincibles run.

    Having said all that, the non-decision for a penalty for Michael Jackson FC by Michael Oliver make me understand disturbance’s point about shitty officiating resolving the league title but I think the same penalty would have been awarded if it was Liverpool playing at Anfield or the Massive at the Middleastlands so I reject there’s a conspiracy afoot to gift the league to United. It’s just incompetent officiating but I’ll guarantee you it will be a long time before Young gets awarded a penalty again. Referees are human and don’t like getting conned. He showed up that ref and others will take that on board.

  34. Ewtt-Maybe Clark saw this stat on Young, “with just five Premier League goals all season from 46 shots, we would politely suggest that there are very few occasions when Ashley Young is definitely “going to score”. That was from F365′s mediawatch. They were responding to Sir Alex saying that he was definitely going to score. So maybe the cross was a much better option for Young at the time.

    AG-I would never say that Liverpool doesn’t get calls at Anfield. I’ve seen them myself. The problem with this season is that besides a horrible call against United when they were playing Newcastle, EVERYTHING has pretty much been United’s way. Its been even worse this year than usual and thats where the problem is and why you’ve seen so much rhetoric on it. Yes refs are human but at some point, someone has to stand up and say enough is enough with the love affair of United.

  35. Sorry boys but between my coaching course last weekend (and the coming one), dealing with the provincial (state) election and organizing a television crew filming two commericals at our site, I’ve been insanely busy and unable to keep updating blog. My apologies and I’ll try to get something up ttonight after watching the FC Franco-FC Hollywood match. AG

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