What a strange weekend of football. On Sunday there were two surreal matches, one in England, and one in Italy. In England, Liverpool hosted Chelsea, and in Italy, Lazio played host to Inter. In both matches the home fans wanted their team to loss, although both got their wish, there was only one where the team agreed with the fans.

Lazio’s fans may have jeered and booed whenever their team attacked or the keeper made a save, they were determined that Roma were not going to win the league, and so happily favoured an Inter win over their team, but there was a difference to what was happening in Liverpool – the players still tried.

From the moment the Liverpool Chelsea match kicked off the viewers were treated to a limp, lifeless and really shameful performance from Liverpool. They wouldn’t make any tackles, stood off the Chelsea players, inviting them to attack, and refused to go at anything other than a jog. Chelsea fared little better, looking as nervous as they had in losing to Spurs a few weeks earlier. They were there for the taking, and until Steven Gerrard gave them an opening goal Liverpool could have easily sprung into action and had them. If they wanted too – clearly they didn’t.

Obviously Liverpool fans will protest that their was nothing sinister or underhanded in Gerrards pass to Drogba. Perhaps there wasn’t, but the truth is would he have been that reckless, careless and irresponsible, had he been concentrating? If he cared? I doubt it. It was the attitude of the players that was alarming.

There can be two things drawn from this. Either they, like the fans, did not want to allow United to win a 19th league title, or they were determined to get rid of the manager. Both are favourite now, so which ever it was they will get their wish. Rafa should be on his way, probably to Juventus, and Chelsea have one hand on the league.

Whoever takes over at Liverpool next year should be alarmed and disgusted by the unprofessionalism of the players, and the loss of integrity they’ve given to the game. They’ve done themselves, their club and the game a disservice. unfortunately I doubt they realise and sadly I don’t think they even care.


At Last Spurs Rise


Each year I predict that Spurs would be the team to crack the top four, and while many have opined that Arsenal would be the team to lose out at the expense of their North London rivals, I always felt it would be Liverpool losing out. Now finally that looks to be on the cards.

Last season Liverpool pushed United to the title. Much was expected of them this season. Many, admittedly within the camp and their fan base, felt this would be there year. That proved to be far from the truth. What we have seen this season is that Liverpools title challenge last season was a once off surprise and not the dawning of a new period of success. They are a team with not enough quality and over reliant on the little that they do have. While many would suggest that Rafa is a genius, this stems solely from the Champions League success of his first season. A success born from an inherited squad. It’s what has happened since that has been the problem. They have stagnated as a top four club and this seasons decline has been a long time coming. It’s fine to turn up for a couple of big games a season but it’s the 30 odd other games that win you titles.

By contrast Spurs have been on the verge of breaking into the top 4 for years. That they haven’t has been mostly down to their form against the big teams where they have flattered to deceive time and again. Not so now. This last week they have beaten both Arsenal and Chelsea and travel to United on Saturday to try to make it 3 in a row. It’s a remarkable record at the business end of the season. While they have steadily build their squad they have had to compete with the shift in power that has seen Manchester City splash the cash to compete for 4th place. In the penultimate weekend these two will battle it out for what should be a winner takes all 4th place play off.

The number of English, and British players, in the Spurs squad must be a factor in their rise. King, Dawson, Jenas, Defoe, Crouch and Bale, supplemented by some foreign flair and experience is a better recipe than Rafa’s bit part foreign mercenaries.It’s meant that there is less time needed for players to adapt and get to grips with both the team and the league. The relatively smaller squad to that of United and Chelsea has meant that they’ve had to persist with the likes of Gomez in goal, who had a nightmare start to his career at Spurs, and Roman Pav has had to remain with them, and is now coming good.

With the right investment, and there is little room for error, they can sustain their push next season. They’ll have to find a blueprint that would take them to the next level and not follow Liverpool path. Next seasons race for 4th, with Spurs, City, Liverpool, Villa and Everton all comepeting promises to be one of the most intense yet.

The Case of Berbatov


Ask  any top footballer and chances are you’ll be told that Dimitar Berbatov is a great footballer. Ask any Spurs fan and they’ll probably tell you he’s a prat (anyone who leaves usually is) but they’ll say he was a world class forward. Ask a United fan and you’ll get differing views. So what do we make of the enigmatic Bulgarian?

As much as United have failed to see the best of him, or anywhere near the best of him, there is little doubt that he is a great forward. But why have United not seen this? In Germany he was impressive. At Spurs he was magical. At United he’s been a 30m flop. And is that the reason? £31m is closer to the exact figure and it made him United’s most expensive player. That comes with a lot of expectation. Expectation is just that – it is not always delivered. At Spurs he formed a dangerous partnership with Robbie Keane. They both left Spurs and have not been as dangerous since. Was the partnership one made in heaven? The stats sure make it look so. They formed the perfect foil, Berbatov the energy conserving, wonderful touch player, with keane the energetic, unorthodox forward. They both like to come deep, but in different ways. keane hurries back, rushing at the defence to regain possession. Berbatov waits in open space and looks to unlock defenses. They both scored goals too.

At United Berbatov arrived when Tevez and Rooney were the front two. Clearly from where the season went Berbatov was bought to play with Rooney and Tevez was moved on. Many United fans use this as the reason for Berbatov’s unpopularity. They would rather have Tevez. Yet Fergie wanted and got Berbatov to play with Rooney.

After a season of bedding in much was expected of Berbatov this year. It hasn’t happened. It’s even got to a stage that United prefer to play with just Rooney upfront and Berbatov sits on the bench. In truth he is not a player in decline, but one who isn’t suited to United. United players are full of energy and work rate. Berbatov isn’t. They style and system is not suited to him and it’s Rooney that is the focal point of play, as it should be. Berbatov was an idea that looked good but just hasn’t worked. What this has meant is that he hasn’t had the game time to be effective or to adapt and fit in with the United way. He starts, sits on the bench for a few weeks, then plays again. He needs to be playing week in and week out, and maybe if he had been United would be seeing a different Berbatov, the Spurs version. But with things so tight at the top, in terms of domestic and Europe, United don’t have the luxury of sticking with a learning player.

So Berbatov may be shipped off, at a loss, next season. Don’t be surprised if wherever he finds himself next season we see goals and energy from the forward. Maybe he’ll still be at United. Maybe he’ll be able to play in their system. Maybe he’ll be a success. Maybe.

pic from teamtalk.com

What Now for Liverpool?


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


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


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



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.