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Relocation, Relocation


So closure comes, after much speculation and some huge moves, the transfer window has closed with an unbelievable final day.

Just two weeks ago Darren Bent moved from Sunderland to Aston Villa, a move at the time which many were questioning. He cost £18m plus and many thought this was a huge sum for someone who wasn’t even an England regular. What Bent has though is tons of goals, spread over 5 years. His record at Sunderland was great and therefore this transfer shouldn’t have raised so many doubts. Although he’s not an all-round forward by any sense he scores loads of goals and Villa have needed someone like to do that for years.
With Young/Albrighton one side and Downing the other Bent should have a field day. His goal against City being a prime example of his positional play and being ready to take any chance that may come his way. The deal also seemed great for Sunderland, they had sold a want away player for a much around double the fee they paid 18 months previously and Steve Bruce, a manager who has a history of bringing some great players in wherever he goes, could reinvest. He has since used the money to bring in Stephane Sessegnon (£6m) from PSG. Read more of this post

Aim for the Sky: Why the loss of Richard Keys and Andy Gray will improve coverage


Gray and KeysThe most shocking thing about the sexism in football debate was the fact that people were surprised that Richard Keys and Andy gray said something stupid. Dated, simplistic, simple-minded views are what the pair have been pedalling on Sky Sports for a long time now, and truth be told the pair have been a disaster waiting to happen. Keys and Gray self-fashioned themselves so that they became the face of football, indeed millions of viewers merely regurgitate the pairs’ opinions as their own. Therefore they can have very little complaint when their bizarre views demand such attention and create such a fuss. They have visibly become complacent in this favoured role and the standard of their coverage has declined season on season for a while now. Ultimately it appeared more people were relieved at the duo’s departure rather than mourning the loss of hairy-handed presenter and his chimp like assistant. Read more of this post

Ibracadabra


2004. There is a party atmosphere in the Amsterdam Arena as Ajax are cruising to a victory over NAC Breda. The ball is played into their gangly young striker with his back to goal, surrounded by defenders. His first touch is poor, taking it towards an onrushing defender. However he manages to outmuscle the defender in the tackle and glide forward, expertly feigning a shot to send two defenders the wrong way. Then he starts to have fun. At the edge of the box, still the whole of the Breda defence to beat he feigns again with his left and moves off at lightning speed on his right. The ball seems to have come under his irrepressible spell as he jinks and dances through the box. An island of cool amongst a sea of chaos he feigns a shot on his right, calmly shifts the ball onto his left and slots the ball in for an astounding individual goal. This is the magic of Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Since that remarkable goal Ibra has regularly produce such moments of magic on an incredible march of seven league titles in seven seasons with four different clubs. It seems strange then, that he still divides opinion, attracting as much criticism as adulation.

With Ibra it seems to be an issue of personality, both on and off the pitch. On the pitch he is criticized for his supreme laziness. Critics observe he only emerges into the game when it most suits him, unwilling to sacrifice himself for the ‘greater good’ of the team. However this completely misses the point. Ibrahimovic is not very good at defending, so why should he waste his energy bustling around a la Carlos Tevez, when he could save that energy to do his job- win games. However the problem with this apparent sloth is more that it doesn’t endear Ibra to people. It portrays an arrogance, an ego that is very hard to like, no matter how talented the individual. There is no denying, Ibrahimovic is an arrogant guy and his strange, maverick personality has lead to many problems in his career. He often antagonises teammates for no apparent reason other than his own boredom, with bizarre incidents such as when footage emerged of him karate kicking his Milan teammate Rodney Strasser or when Van der Vaart claimed he deliberately injured him in an international friendly (which led to his departure from Ajax). The fact he seemed to think Pep Guardiola was ‘scared of’ him is evidence that his distinct personality was a major reason for him leaving Barcelona.

While it has caused him some trouble, this exuberant individualism, a throwback to the likes of Chinaglia and Best, it is one of the qualities that makes him so fascinating. The modern football landscape often seems devoid of personality, but Ibra refutes that claim. His gigantic ego and confidence are part of what makes him such a good player as well. In many ways his contradictory and incomprehensible personality defines the way he plays. Tall and strong and in the exact same moment quick and agile, both a bull and a ballerina. It is this all round ability that makes him such a fearsome opponent. He has the physicality and directness to demolish teams, the searing pace to get in behind them and the sheer skill to make goals out of nothing. Sometimes he is defined as a poacher but this couldn’t be further from the truth, his all round hold up play is excellent, expertly bringing other players into the game or picking a pass. And obviously his goalscoring record is phenomenal but not in the simple numbers, which are impressive (broadly averaging a goal every other game in his career), but rather in the incredible range of goals he scores. Acrobatic volleys, simple tap ins, spectacular long range efforts, powerful headers he is both a great goalscorer and a scorer of great goals. With Milan this year he appears to have reached his zenith, leading a decent team to the top of Serie A with 8 assists and 13 goals in just 21 matches, producing countless moments of Ibra magic. It is often said Ronaldo and Messi are on a different planet, but in terms of modern attackers they’re not too far away from Planet Zlatan.

The player has his faults. He can be temperamental, disinterested and infuriatingly anonymous. But they come as part of the Ibrahimovic package and it is some package. At his best he is a literally unstoppable attacking force, one of only a few players who can consistently produce moments of pure inspiration. No matter his detractors they cannot take away his incredible success. Surely no player has ever done what he seems on course to and win eight league titles in eight seasons with five different clubs. He has an unlimited capacity to dazzle and annoy, enthral and infuriate all at once. To watch Ibrahimovic is to be spellbound.

by Ryan Murphy

Homophobia in Football


Kick It Out are leading the way

If the average football fan was asked to name an openly gay player their answer would more than likely be based on speculation rather than fact. This is because in the modern game only one man has openly declared his sexuality, Justin Fashanu, and he sadly took his own life in 1998.

Homophobia is an issue that has very rarely been tackled in the “beautiful game” and is seen by many as a taboo subject, PR tycoon Max Clifford openly admitted telling two big name Premier league players to keep their sexuality hidden because English football “remains in the dark ages and is steeped in homophobia.” Read more of this post

The Great Legacy of Santos FC


Pele's Santos

The story of Santos will always be inextricably linked and defined by Pele. This is perhaps inevitable, any club would be defined by a player widely recognised to be one of the best footballers of all time. However even before Pele Santos were a reasonably successful club, having won the Brazilian state championship in 1935 and 1955. The clubs trajectory was completely altered though in 1956, when Valdemar de Brito invited a mere 15 year old named Pele to sign for the club. The rest, as they say, is history. From the Brazilian culture of poverty and street soccer (he couldn’t afford boots or a ball, so played barefoot with a stuffed sock), Pele rose to the pinnacle of the worlds game. In twenty years at Santos, Pele scored a frankly ridiculous 1087 goals in 1120 matches. -read on>

How do we combat sexism in football?


West Ham's Karen Brady ahs led the way for women off the pitch

In recent years, women have started to have more and more of a substantial role in football. Karen Brady has led the way off the pitch, currently as vice-chairman of West Ham United Football Club and previously as CEO of Birmingham City Football Club. On the pitch, Wendy Toms was the first ever female assistant referee, officiating in the football league as early as 1994.

So why when women have been a part of men’s football for so long is there still sexism in our game? -read on>

Are Diamonds Forever?


Rushden Diamonds, Aaron O'Connor shows what Rushden means to him - image sourced from northantset.co.uk

It is far too often that we talk of football as a money rich industry based on greed. The likes of Manchester City and Chelsea don’t even batter an eye lid at spending 30million pounds on a single player. But how often is the small club considered when talking about football and wealth? Some teams in the lower realms of English football struggle to even pay their players wages.

It is not unfamiliar for clubs in the Blue Square Premier (we will call the league its rightful name, the Conference)  to hit rock bottom. Established clubs such as Chester and Boston have had huge financial problems which have led to administration and multiple relegations over the last few season. However the Conference is full of teams that have catastrophically fallen from grace, lost nearly  everything but have just about survived! Luton Town, Grimsby, Cambridge, Darlington …. Rushden & Diamonds! -read on>

City Undone by Lack of Ambition


Tevez, Silva and Balotelli - all possess enormous talent

Manchester City have soared to new Premier League heights this season on the back of an impressive away record that is second only to Manchester United’s. On Saturday however, facing a resilient Villa side, the dour uni-dimensionalism of City’s style was stripped naked to its ugly core.

Roberto Mancini’s structured approach to building a top-four team has made many a dull 90 minutes seem like 180. The Mancini method is as follows: make a strong and disciplined base and decorate with flair and creativity later on. Judging by the evidence of Saturday’s game, he is still a long way from putting the cherry on top. -read on>

Sven’s Leicester


Sven with assistant Derek Fazackerley

At the start of the season, with their team languishing bottom of the Championship most, if not all, Leicester City fans would not have predicted the situation they find themselves in now. They are currently residing tenth in the league, just four points of the play-offs, managerial magpie Sven-Goran Eriksson is at the helm and they have a strike partnership of Yakubu and Darius Vassell. Perhaps this was not entirely out of the blue though. At the beginning of the season Leicester were brought by a Thai consortium led by 25-year-old Aiyawatt Raksriaksorn, who have since invested money into the club, bringing in new players and the new manager.

That being said, Leicester have not just gone on a spending spree and chucked money around. They have improved the squad where it was needed, and have showed integrity in how they have spent their money. This will be reassuring to fans, especially considering the controversy surrounding the takeover of the club. The owners had to undergo the new ‘fit and proper persons’ test, before they were able to complete their takeover of the club. The test was introduced to combat situations, that clubs such as Portsmouth have found themselves over the past couple of years.  Read more of this post

A league of their own?


 

In the future could matches between Chelsea and United only be in a European league?

Something that has been spoken about in many pubs and bars across Europe for many years is the prospect of a European Super League. How many times have you heard someone make the statement “It’s inevitable, football’s all about money anyway and TV money drives everything so it’ll happen”. Usually this is closely followed up by someone else chiming in with “Yes but, who wants to watch Man U – Real Madrid four times a season, what about the local rivalries?”
And so it goes. Most supporters feel that someone, somewhere is working away at making this happen and that there is a willingness there, a desire to make this happen. However, you look at the current set up for the clubs, the money-spinning Premier League and the really major cash-machine of the Champions League.

Why change? Well certain other planets are currently coming into alignment which might push the game’s power brokers into reviewing their future horoscopes.

Platini’s so-called financial fair play rules are upon us. Rules which may – on the face of things – make European football more equitable and lessen the power and influence of the major clubs.
In short, clubs could be banned from European competition from the 2014/15 season onwards if they do not comply with the new financial rules. So what will this mean for the clubs? -read on>

Nativity: Pep and Maradona with the young Messi


Nativity by Paul Gleeson

We are working with These Are Utopias Who Never Happen to bring you a brand new Illustrations section to upper90magazine. If you are interested in having your artwork published by us please email us at upper90magazine@googlemail.com

 

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Omar Cummings and the American Way


Can we learn from Omar Cummings and the American way?

Colorado Rapids talisman Omar Cummings isn’t exactly a household name within the realms of world or even domestic football. But his performances during a recent trial spell at Aston Villa could have altered the former, with Gerard Houillier pronouncing that Cummings was ‘getting better with every training session’. However, tragedy struck for Cummings, who was to be let down by a slip in the international rankings of his native Jamaica, rendering his work permit application an impossibility.

Cummings’ rise to relative, albeit short-term European fame highlights an intriguing contrast of youth player development between the US College system and the British YTS route. For us British football enthusiasts it would be unheard of to think that a recent graduate of even the English football powerhouse universities such as Harper Adams College or the University of Bath could eventually rise through the ranks to within touching distance of the Premier League in such a short space of time. -read on>

Playing Politics


 

Welcome to Thailand - Chonburi fans in Ayutthaya

The 2011 Thai Premier League gets underway on February 12th amid unprecedented levels of popularity. The huge wave of interest in the TPL generated by the 2009 relaunch shows little sign of slowing: attendances are high, half a dozen TV channels offer TPL coverage, big-name sponsors have got involved, new stands and stadia are springing up and the game has never been so awash with cash. And the game has never been so awash with cash. That fact is a double-edged sword. Money builds new stadia and buys quality players; money also creates vested interests. The concern is, and with no little justification as we shall see, that the waterfalls of money that have been pouring into the game will influence decision-making by those in power whose impartiality should be unquestionable. And whose decisions should be influenced solely by doing what’s best by Thai football. Doing what’s best, for example, by the national team.

The Elephants have been making headlines recently for the wrong reasons. Rather embarrassingly, they failed to make it out of their group in the AFF Cup in December. This tournament, contested by the eight best footballing nations in Southeast Asia, has been dominated by Thailand over the years. But in the 2010 competition, they didn’t manage to win one of their three group games and needed an injury-time equalizer to avoid what would have been a shocking defeat to Laos. The players complained of fatigue brought on by a hectic domestic league and cup schedule for their early exit. It’s not in my nature to indulge the complaints of the modern player; but this time he should be listened to. -read on>

Liverpool FC: Time For Heroes


Player-Manager Kenny Dalglish wins the double in 1986

If you thought the situation that Roy Hodgson met at Anfield was difficult, well then spare a thought for Kenny Dalglish who has walked into a complete and utter mess. Bereft of confidence a squad that should be comfortably in the European spots finds itself closer to relegation. The reasons are many but primarily come from the mismanagement of the club at the top level over the last few years. The club Hicks and Gillett bought was heading to its second Champions League Final in three years. Negative net spending, a chief executive and a manager later John Henry and NESV bought a club in the relegation zone. They needed to turn the club around and immediately appointed Damien Comolli in a Director of Football style role. The plan seemed to be to change managers in the summer. However, with Roy Hodgson’s methods serving only to further accelerate any decline the owners felt was time to bring back the biggest living Liverpool legend in an attempt to turn things around. -read on>

Spurs Searching For Their Killer Instinct


In Gareth Bale Spurs possess a frighteningly talented footballer

Spurs performed wonderfully against Manchester United on Sunday afternoon. At times, they completely overran their opponents, who remain undefeated in the league this season. They created the best attacking moves, and the best opportunities, but they could not land the knockout blow. Spurs are still lacking the killer instinct they urgently need.

This season has seen Spurs’ meteoric rise to the mantle of Europe’s great entertainers. Harry Redknapp has put his team permanently into the ‘gung-ho’ mode that even the most daring fan rarely flirts with on Football Manager. Top scorers in the Champions League; a stunning victory over the European champions; and in Gareth Bale, Spurs possess a frighteningly talented footballer.

But the success of the last 2 years is at risk of being a fleeting phenomenon. As much as their fans might like to deny it, Tottenham are not a big club. Two UEFA cup wins in 1972 and 1984, and a league and cup double in 1961 don’t hide the fact that this season is Spurs’ first outing in Europe’s elite club competition since the 1960s. -read on>

Arsene Wenger: How to Run a Football Club


Wenger with Petit, one of his bargain signings

 

Arsenal Football club are one of the most financially sound teams in the world. While the likes of Manchester City and Chelsea have gone out spending hundreds of millions of pounds in the pursuit for success, Arsenal have operated very differently, constantly making profits while still growing and challenging for silverware.

 

This is down to one man, Arsene Wenger, who during his tenure of 14 years has revolutionised Arsenal while at the same time making them a profitable organisation. But how? -read on>

Hegemony and Football: Forcing the Celebration upon Mario Balotelli


Robbie Keane Celebrates

With a glint in his eye, Robbie Keane launches himself into a fluid cartwheel-followed-by-forward-roll movement, finished with the customary gun slinging projection to the crowd. Meanwhile, Filippo Inzaghi hurtles with no inclination as to where he is heading, hands sporadic, with his mouth contorted in the image of Munch’s The Scream. Perhaps the crème de le crème though, is the Klinsmann dive – considered de rigueur within celebration etiquette.

What, though, is to be said for the arrogant glare or the refusal to acknowledge anything having happened. Of late, Balotelli has taken to declining the flamboyant nature of the celebration and rebuking the hedonistic divulgences of his piers, favouring a more minimalist approach. In turn, a slight moral panic materialised, the likes of which Britain had not seen since the snood threatened to effeminate the world. -read on>

The times, they are a changing


Platini handing Man Utd the Champions league runners up medal

Michel Platini. The name that sends a shiver down the spines of the Premier League big boys. He’s finally got his wish, ever since he was installed as king (or whatever) of U.E.F.A, he has been on a one man mission to demolish all that is evil about the European game. No, not the racist supporters of Italy, Spain and Eastern Europe. Not the bungs and backhanders from shady agents. Not the diving and cheating at the highest level. Not even the blatant tapping up of players through the media. Platini has seen only one thing that is a danger to the European game, English football. Be afraid; be very afraid, because he has finally found a way to destroy it. -read on>

Mario Balotteli: Uber Troll


Mario Balotteli: Uber Troll by Paul Gleeson

Mario Balotteli: Uber Troll by Paul Gleeson

We are working with These Are Utopias Who Never Happen to bring you a brand new Illustrations section to upper90magazine. If you are interested in having your artwork published by us please email us at upper90magazine@googlemail.com

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