What Now for Liverpool?

25/11/2009

A few months ago, before the current season started, it seemed you couldn’t pick up a newspaper, football magazine, or watch any interview with Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher or Rafa Benitez, and not be told that this is the season, this is when Liverpool finely end their long wait to add to their 18 league titles. Much of this was based on their strong performance last season, when they finished 2nd, only losing 2 games but drawing way to many. The Liverpool gang felt that this was progress rather than the height that the team could achieve.

We’re now about to enter December and Liverpool, laying in 7th position in the league, have just been dumped out of the Champions League in the group stage, with a game to play. Benitez now says the goal is to finish in the top 4 and qualify for next years Champions League. It didn’t take long for their season to implode and their goals to shift. League Champions before the season started – hoping for 4th place 3 months in.

Liverpool are currently in a run of form that is comparable with a relegation battling team and not a title chasing one. They’ve won 2 of their last 10 games, one against bitter rivals Manchester United, that can be contributed to derby fervour and not an upturn in form, and the other, a rather pathetic 1-0 win, against Debrecen, a performance which hardly suggested that they were worth more than their 3rd place finish. Finishing 3rd means a place in the Europa League, scant consolation for their failures.

The truth is, as many ex Liverpool players have said before, had Rafa been at United, Chelsea or Arsenal, or indeed at any other team, he would be out of a job right now. He’s bought terribly, always has an excuse for his failures, and is living off the legend of his debut season. However the financial troubles that Liverpool find themselves in means that they have no choice but to stick with Rafa. Firing their manager would be to expensive  and losing out on Champions League money means that they are worse off then they already are. No, Liverpool have no choice but to pretend to the world that they are happy with Rafa.

So where to now? As Rafa has stated they have to try and finish 4th to get back into the Champions League next season. While a top 4 position has always been taken for granted by Chelsea, Man United, Arsenal and Liverpool, who have pretty much owned the Champions League positions over the years, this season is perhaps the worst time for Liverpool to go through bad times, with Man City, Spurs and Aston Villa all putting pressure on the big 4. Rafa has built a team that revolves around Torres and Gerrard and the team seems unable to cope without the star duo. The rest of the world knows this, even if Liverpool fans are blind to it, and with the two of them going through poor form and injury at the same time there has been no chance for Liverpool.

Liverpool fans object to the idea that their team is a two man team and point the accusation to United with Ronaldo, yet a Ronaldoless United are slugging it out with Chelsea and Arsenal at the top of the table, and qualified for the knock out stage of the Champions League with two games to spare. United are not as fluent as they were with Ronaldo, any team that losses the best player in the world would be, yet they have adapted their game to a life without him. Liverpool have no plan B. Without Gerrard and Torres they are leaderless and rudderless – and the fault their lies with their manager. Rafa and Liverpool have got what they deserve and how they respond will speak volumes about their character and the true worth of their manager.

Liverpools financial struggles means that they have to stick with Rafa but can they afford to drop any lower? How much more can their loyal fans stand? The blinkers will be off soon enough and the tide will turn. Chances are Rafa will jump before he is pushed – with excuses in hand.

 

pic from teamtalk.com


Still No Change

23/11/2009

There’s still no news out on any much-needed price reduction of the new Bafana Bafana jersey, the one the team will be sporting at the World Cup. For some reason those in charge, presumably at Adidas, have fixed the price of the replica jersey at between R1200 and R1500. With cheaper alternates available.

 

I’m sure they assumed we’d all be rushing to the stores to buy our new jersey in support of our country at the World Cup, and with this once in a lifetime chance, an African World Cup, we’d pay anything. What they failed to realise, presumably because they have never actually been to South Africa, is that 99% of South Africans can’t afford that price, and those that can would be fools to actual pay R1500 for a football jersey.

 

We all want to support our country in what will be its biggest ever sporting event – but not at any cost. Until the price is dropped, and radically not just fractionally, I’d urge all South Africans to go out and buy a Protea’s cricket shirt or a Springbok rugby jersey, both symbols of support for our country, and both having the Protea badge on them without the price doubling. Another option would be to choose another African teams jersey to wear, since we should all be supporting all the African qualifiers and not just our own Bafana. I’d recommend the Cameroon or Ivory coast jerseys, with the Cameroon away kit being particularly appealing. Unlike our new jersey you should be able to find these other teams, and just about every other team competing in international football, jersey’s for around about R600.

Don’t pay R1200 -R1500 for a jersey that the rest of our country can’t afford. It’s insulting to all of us and should not be supported. We must all get behind Bafana, but wearing their jersey is not the only way to show your support. Force Adidas to drop the price by not buying – it’s the right thing to do.

 


Les Bleus Les Cheats

19/11/2009

France striker, and record goal scorer, Thierry Henry broke Irish hearts and “handed” favourites France a place in next years World Cup in South Africa. Henry, one of the most respected footballers in the world, added a new notch to his impressive resume, which now reads – Arsenal legend and record goal scorer, France legend and record goal scorer, cheat.

 

On a night when the former world champions were out played and out worked by a spirited Irish team, when France’s world class stars where made to look ordinary, a moment of controversy stole the limelight from what should have been one of Irelands greatest sporting nights.

 

Ireland’s world cup qualifying campaign, in which they’ve punched way above their weight, came to an end in the most bitter of circumstances. Drawn in a group they weren’t expected to get through, a group containing World Cup holders Italy, a Bulgarian team that much was expected of, always improving Montenegro and Georgia, and Cyprus, who have dented Irelands hopes in previous qualification campaigns, the Irish not only finished second, behind Italy, but remained unbeaten in doing so. 2nd place meant a playoff with one of the other 2nd placed teams.

 

They were dealt a blow when FIFA decided in the last week of qualification to change the rules and seed the playoff draw to ensure that bigger teams that were expected to top their groups but failed to do so, teams like France, Portugal, Greece, Russia and at one stage Germany, had a better chance of getting through to South Africa 2010. So the elation of finishing 2nd was quickly replaced by bitter taste shared by the other small teams to get through, Bosnia, Slovakia and Ukraine.

 

Ireland were always going to have to so things the hard way and a draw against France was predicted by most Irish fans and players. To make matters worse they were the only small team to be drawn away in the 2nd leg. This means that should a game go to extra time it would mean the home team in the return leg getting a significant advantage.

 

Ireland were unlucky not to come away with a draw in Dublin with Anelka’s deflected goal going in off the post and giving France a goal lead to take to Paris. In France last night Ireland put in a superb performance bossing their more illustrious hosts and after levelling the tie through captain Robbie Keane, they were unlucky not to finish France off with O’Shea, Duff and Keane having chances to add to the score. On last nights performance a heavy Ireland win would not have been unjust. France had their young keeper, Hugo Lloris, to thank for keeping their hopes alive.

 

With the score after 90 minutes 1-0 to the Irish the game went to extra time. Just as in the prevailing 90 minutes France did little to suggest they’d trouble Given in the Irish goal. With the first half of extra time nearing an end France were awarded a freekick just inside the Irish half. As the ball was played two French players were offside. The linesman flag stayed down. The ball found it’s way to Henry who stuck a hand out to control the ball and then to ensure it didn’t go out he handled it again before playing it to Gallas to nod the ball in to the Irish net with Given and the Irish players appealing for hand ball. The goal was awarded. In a moment Henry’s reputation was tarnished and Irish hearts were shattered. And FIFA rejoiced.

 

Henry has admitted he handled the ball, though he has said it is up to the ref to spot it and not him to basically not cheat. It’s all well an good for players to talk about fair play, and federations such as FIFA to preach it, but it has to be done on the field and not just given lip service. The fact is that with a place at the World Cup up for grabs Henry, and most other players, would have cheated to get their team through. It’s up to the ref and linesman to stop them, as tragic as that is. And the officials did not spot the two players offside, or Henry catching the ball, controlling it with his hand, and setting up the goal. The ref told the Irish players he is 100% sure it was not a hand ball. If that’s the case then he must have been in a good position to see it. Which makes him a liar. And a FIFA puppet.

 

Had Ireland gone out to a legitimate goal, or on penalties, they would have been disappointed, but not so let down and bitter. Remember when Paolo Di Canio stopped play from a goal scoring position because an opponent was hurt? Remember when Arsenal replayed a game against Sheffield United because they scored a goal that was well within the rules but not the spirit of fair play? Henry could have joined the small band of fair play purveyors but made a choice that he must be called out on.

 

The match should be replayed so that a fair result is obtained but there is no chance of that happening. FIFA wanted France to go through and the officials ensured that happened. The game, just like life, is unfair and justice is a hope and not a given. Given that this is a sport, subject to control and scrutiny more so than life, we should expect more. The right thing would be for the game to be replayed, but since FIFA won’t risk France missing out, something their performance deserved, they won’t sanction a replay. They could ban Henry from the World Cup, sending out a message against cheating and doing more than talking about fair play. Again, this won’t happen.

 

Ten years ago, in a playoff match between Ireland and Belgium, Belgium were awarded a throw that was clearly an Irish throw and scored directly from that play, knocking Ireland out. After last nights happenings it seems that Irish luck is merely a myth. The heroes from the Irish team last night had their World Cup dreams shattered by pure and simple cheating. The likes of Given, Kilbane, Keane and Duff won’t in all likely hood have another shot at a World Cup. Where’s the justice? Henry should be ashamed of what happened but Blatter, Plattini and co will be smiling as Irish hearts bleed. Football is a game – fairness should be the least we expect.

 

pic from http://www.teamtalk.com


When Greed Comes Before Sense

18/11/2009

 

On Saturday and Tuesday Bafana Bafana debuted their new World Cup shirts, and while looking stylish in their new Adidas kit, the gleaming yellow shirts weren’t inspiration enough to break Bafana’s goal scoring drought – even with recalled Benni McCarthy. At least they didn’t lose. Two 0-0 draws, against Japan and Jamaica, may not inspire confidence in the host country progressing to the second round of the World Cup, but not losing was a step in the right direction, post Joel Santana.

 

What South Africa needs, with dwindling confidence in the national team, is the imagination to be caught by Bafana fever, with support from the people lifting those on the pitch, as it’s clearly not happening the other way around. Initiatives like the one asking people to wear a Bafana jersey to work on Friday’s are a sound way to drum up national support and bring back pride in our team. So with a new shirt, the one that will be worn during the World Cup, no on sale we can expect Bafana fans to go out in mass and cover the country in a sea of yellow, swelling the pride we have in our team, and hopefully translating that onto good performances on the pitch. Sound reasoning right? There’s one thing that can throw a spanner in that plan, and by spanner I mean totally kill the idea. The price of the new Bafana jersey? Between R1200 and R1500 depending on where you shop. Insanity or greed, perhaps both, is at play here.

 

With a country struggling with poverty and unemployment Adidas, or whoever has dreamed this price, have made the jersey of the national team of the national sport, out of reach to those real supporters who love the game and love the team. At a time where we should be bringing the country together to ensure that Africa’s first World Cup will be a success this aberration has insulted the people of South Africa. Firstly, who can afford to pay over a grand for a football replica jersey? Secondly, who would want to? Apparently the only ones who can afford the new jersey are those that will probably get it for free, the players, the SAFA and Adidas boards, and the countries president. The people, the real fans, will have to make do with knock offs and the old jersey, and while I am completely against buying fake goods, and wouldn’t do it myself, this is one instance where’d I’d fully support such illegal actions. The average man should be able to buy the shirt of the team he supports, not the highest earning 1% of the country.

 

Adidas have made a cheaper shirt available, one that does not have the Protea badge on it, which is available for about R599. Again two points to consider here, firstly, while R599 is still on the high side, and still way to high for the average South African, how insulting is it to say to Bafana fans that you can’t afford the real thing, so here’s a cheaper option that isn’t quite the real deal? Secondly, who are they trying to fool by suggesting that one little badge costs an extra grand?

 

Brian Kerby, the managing director of Adidas, had this to say at the launch “We also wanted to incorporate something that will symbolise the unity of South Africans and we chose the South African flag, which is prominent on the front of the jersey. The jersey defines who we are as South Africans.” Nice sentiment, but how about making it affordable to South Africans? Hopefully parliament, who likes to make their views clear when it comes to Rugby and Cricket, will make a big fuss and investigate what exactly is going on here. They’ve already said that no more jerseys will be produced without the Protea badge. Hopefully this doesn’t mean that the only price available will be R1500.

 

Until the price drops I won’t be buying the new jersey of the team I support, and I’d suggest that everyone do the same. We need to take a stand against greed.


Mumbai Indians Take Note

15/11/2009

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Many cricket watchers outside of South Africa will not be too familiar with Loots Bosman, but South Africans are all too aware of just how capable he is in limited over cricket. Loots “The Hammer” Bosman is the leading batsman in the domestic Pro 20 Series, and is currently the only player to score a Pro 20 Series 100. After being out of action with knee ligament damage he has returned to action with a bang, scoring 58 and 94 in the two T20 internationals against England.

 

Bosman is not new to the South African set up, having played 12 ODI’s and 6 T20 games, with limited success in the 50 over format. In ODI’s he has only one 50, a score of 88, and has been less destructive than he can be, perhaps an indication of not having settled in international cricket at that level. However it seems he was born to play T20 cricket. Before today’s match he had an international record of 5 games, an average of 40.75 with an impressive strike rate of 153.77, and Fridays score of 58 being his highest. He also shared the best opening partnership record for South Africa, 146 that he and Smith put on against Pakistan. Today’s innings saw him and Smith better that record, and the world record, as they put on 175 from only 88 balls. Bosman’s innings of 94 is also the highest by a South African in T20 internationals, beating Gibbs 90 not out, and he now has the highest score in both South African domestic and international T20 cricket.

 

Domestically Bosman has played 34 Pro 20 Series matches, with an average of 34.66, a strike rate of 144.24, and a highest score of 104. That’s a record that would hold up with the best in the world. The freedom that he is allowed in T20 cricket is just what Bosman thrives on. While is record is impressive what he has shown in the last two games against England is that his game has gotten better. The freedom that is afforded to him, particularly with the relative newness of T20 cricket, has seen Bosman as a bit of gun slinging batsman, swinging for every ball. While this is an approach that has worked for him, his move from the Free-State Eagles, to the Kwa-Zulu Natal Dolphins, has seen Graham Ford working with him to build an innings. This was evident in both games, particularly in today’s master class, where he took a couple of overs to play himself in before launching, picking the balls to hit, rather than swinging for each one.

 

Hopefully the selectors for the Mumbai Indians have been watching these games. Bosman has been Indian for two years but is yet to play a game. The 4 non Indian players rule means that is tough to get into the side, particularly with the likes of Duminy, Malinga, Jayasuriya, Bravo and Mills in the squad. However there have been many opportunities to play Bosman but Ashraful, Napier and Ronchi have been picked ahead of him. Ronchi in particular has had many chances to prove himself but has failed to do so.

 

The talents of Bosman are obvious to all South Africans and will have been noted by others. If the Mumbai Indians continue to ignore these I’m sure other IPL teams will have no problems finding a place for the explosive hitter in their teams.

 

pic from cricinfo.com


Opportunity Lost?

13/11/2009

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It was a step in the right direction when CSA arranged two ODI games against Zimbabwe to ensure that the Protea’s didn’t start cold against England, a mistake they’d previously made against Australia and prior to the Champions Trophy. While this was a belated but positive move none the less perhaps that Protea’s could have made better use of these two games, which were both won comfortably, as expected.

 

They did manage to give run outs to fringe, returning and new players, with the likes of Tsotsobe, Langeveld, Alviro Peterson and debutant Ryan McLaren playing. While ensuring that everyone got a run out and got at least one competitive game under their belts before the big England series, perhaps the Protea’s management did miss an opportunity for a bit of experimentation.

 

While South Africa have been the most consistent team, statistically at least, over the last few years, they have been accused of being too predictable, with this being their undoing in ICC events, and knock out matches. The bowling in particular came under intense scrutiny following the team’s poor showing in the Champions Trophy. South Africa’s winning formula had been built around a rigid batting line up, with 1-11 sticking to their assigned positions, and the batting powerplay being saved for the final 10 overs with Albie Morkel’s big hitting being held back for the powerplay. The bowling generally unfolds as rigidly as the batting, with opening bowlers, Steyn and Parnell being followed by Kallis and Morkel, and then the spin twins of Botha and van der Merwe bowling the middle overs, hoping to tie down the batsman, before Steyn returns for a couple of overs at the ball change, and Parnell returning at the death. While this static formula of batting and bowling has proved successful in bi-lateral series, most notably home and away against Australia, it is easy to prepare against, as there are generally no surprises. Both Sri Lanka and England capitalised on this in the Champions Trophy, scoring over 300 batting first and managing to defend their scores. Predictability has been the bane of South African cricket.

 

So we were told that things were looked at and would change in the future, with South Africa taking the next two years to prepare for the 2011 World Cup. An ideal chance to try news things would have been these two “warm up” games against Zimbabwe. While the personal changed, and new aspects were debuted, such as Kallis moving up to open, a position he will occupy against England, there was no real spark or imagination in the tactics. McLaren debuted, Langeveld returned, Tsotsobe got a chance to open, and Peterson came in at number 5, a role he has been earmarked for, and not his natural opening position. But where was the experimentation? The batting line up and bowling was still rigid and formulaic, and aspects spoken about did not come out. We were told that Boucher was batting too high at 6, and the batting line up would thus be addressed. And so in the first game Boucher came in at 4 – and struggled. Math must not be a strong point for the selectors, a toddler could tell you that 4 is higher than 6. Boucher is a good batsman, and has a record to back that up, but he is a finisher, and his game is not made for batting at 4. Kallis did open, and de Villiers and Duminy each moved up one, and all three produced, but this was not an experiment, that is the roles that they will occupy for the England series. Morkel, who’s bowling has struggled over the season, was told he’d move up one, to 6, and play as a batsman who could bowl, and not be burdened with having to bowl 10 overs. It’s fair enough ensuring the de Villiers and Duminy get batting time, but we all know what they are capable of. Morkel should have been pushed up the order and given the responsibility of building an innings. It should have been him at 4 and not Boucher. The world knows about Morkel’s destructive hitting, but to fully utilise it he should be coming in earlier so that he can set himself, before launching. He can’t be expected to only bat for the last 6 overs and hit from ball one. The likes of India have fully exploited the big hitting of Dhoni and Afridi, using them as floaters as the situation is presented. The have been proactive and reactive and not predictable.

 

If South Africa is to break their major trophy drought these things must be considered. It’s all good having the best team and the best individuals, but if they are not utilised according to situations and strengths they are being wasted. Predictability has cost South Africa time and time again. Predictably the Protea’s did not experiment in their two warm up games. They’ve moved forward in recognising the need to arrange games to ensure they don’t start a big series cold, but some things haven’t changed – and maybe it’s time they did.

 

pic from cricinfo.com


Embarrassing, Shameful, Cheat

10/11/2009

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Liverpool supporters are probably sick to death of the Liverpool bashing in the media over the last few weeks, but the fact is they are giving the press so much material, and can expect little else. Their form has been terrible, and apart from one match, against United, they have looked more like relegation candidates then league challengers. What that suggests is that they seem to get their spirit up for the derby and are unable to do the same for all other games, domestic or in Europe. That’s a sad indication of the control Rafa has over his misfiring team.

 

Last night they were lucky to get away with a point against Birmingham. That they did escape with a draw, and not their 6th league defeat of the season, owed everything to do with the bane of football – diving. When Americans think of soccer, they don’t think of the game we all know and love, they think of men falling and writhing around with exaggerated pain. They call it a sissy’s game, forgetting for convenience that their “football” is played with more pads and protection that an over cautious, paranoid, parents baby proofing house. However the fact is that diving, and theatrics, have become an embarrassment and shame of the sport, and not a way to showcase the game.

 

Diving is more prevalent in Spain and Italy than it is in England, but that isn’t saying much. It hasn’t so much as creeped into English football but rather immersed itself in what many see as the strongest league in the world. Make no mistake, these players aren’t being clever, but are cheating. They are conning the ref’s and are shamming and embarrassing their team, their club, their fans and the sport.

 

David Ngog’s goal last night was a brilliant and lethal finish. He hit that ball as sweet as he could ever hope. But his biggest contribution to his team would be by cheating and winning his team a penalty in the second half. He should be ashamed of himself but will probably be congratulated by his team mates for gaining them a point. Rafa even admitted afterwards that Ngog said he didn’t think it was a penalty. While Rafa did admit so much, and that is more than most managers would do, the game needs managers and team mates to come out against such behaviour and not defend it when it benefits them, and speak out when it goes against them. You can’t have it both ways.

 

Lets name and shame divers – even if they play for your team. The best players are as guilt as the less talented players in the league. When Christiano Ronaldo first game to England he was guilty of diving a lot. It was a trait he brought with him from Portugal, as was very evident when Porto played English teams in the Champions League. While Ronaldo curbed his diving as his career progressed, perhaps with prompting from his team mates and manager, his early years of falling to the ground hurt him later as defenders got away with kicking lumps out of him and ref’s letting his early reputation cloud their decisions. Before Ronaldo left for Spain he was denied many legitimate penalties with refs falsely accusing him of diving. The ground work was laid in his teens, much to his disadvantage. Another United player, and again a Portuguese player, Nani, is another who needs to stay on his feet more. Nani doesn’t actually dive in the sense that Ngog did, he tends to go to ground at the slightest bit of contact, rolling around, clutching himself, as if he’s been shot. If Nani stayed on his feet his United career would probably be more advanced then it is. Contact that actually takes him to ground will get him free kicks, going to ground to easily, and the theatrics that follow, will only harm his development and gain him an unwanted reputation.

 

Like Nani, Arsenals Robin van Persie is not actually a diver, per say. When contact is made he makes the most of it, ensuring that he gets a free kick or penalty. He’s more of an embellisher than a cheat. He gets fouled and then theatrically goes to ground, making sure the ref and everyone else knows that he has been fouled. While not as shameful as Ngog’s theatrics, it is again something that should be cut down. While not actually cheating a player of his skill and class has more to offer young fans then this.

 

Another player who’s skill and talent are supplemented by bouts of cheating is Chelsea’s Drogba. Drogba is perhaps one of the strongest players in the league, but like Nani he just needs a feather touch to go down as if he’s been shot. He then rolls around, complaining, limps when he gets up, and miraculously fully recovers once the defender has been given a card, and steps up to take the free kick. Drogba also doesn’t need a touch to go down. He’s happy to dive when he can. There’s no doubt that on form he is up there with the best in the world, but this part of his game is one that he can do without.

 

Ngog is in good company at Liverpool and is following the example of his captain Steven Gerrard. Liverpool fans have been very quick to chastise Ronaldo, Drogba, van Persie and co for diving, but because of the god worshipping they bestow on Gerrard they are blind to see that he is probably the worst offender in the league. Gerrard doesn’t even need the player to be close to him to put in an Olympic style dive. His reputation is well known outside of Liverpool and it is the reason why non Liverpool fans don’t speak highly of a player who on his day can be the best in the world. As captain of Liverpool Gerrard should be setting a better example, but his diving has become part of his game.

 

There should not be a place for diving in soccer. With most top flight games on TV and subject to scrutiny from all angles, diver will be caught out, as Ngog was last night. Ngog has not lived up to the hype that Benitez has placed on his young player, but he has now found a label that all other players and ref’s will be aware of – cheat. The shame and embarrassment must be cast out of the game. Divers must be called out – don’t let your love for a player cloud that.

 

pic from teamtalk.com