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>

Athletic Bilbao – More Than a Club


The Bilbao Fans

Athletic Bilbao are the last team in modern football that can honestly claim to be a team of local players. Resisting the sweeping globalisation in football, this proud Basque club has maintained it’s policy of only selecting players born and bred in the Basque country. This policy has elicited much debate, gaining many admirers as well as critics, and makes Athletic a uniquely fascinating club.

Athletic are one of the oldest and most successful clubs in Spain. Formed in 1928 (only  Recreativo de Huelva are older), the club has since won eight national championships and twenty-three king’s cups. Only two teams have bigger trophy cabinets: Real Madrid and Barcelona. Along with these two, Athletic are the only club in Spain never to be relegated. However, with the rapid globalisation of football since the Bosman ruling, Los Leones have been somewhat left behind due to their la cantera philosophy. The last league title came in 1984, and since then the club has been mired in mediocrity. However, to judge this club in pure footballing terms is to miss the point. -read on>

Dani Pacheco, Liverpool’s Cesc Fabregas


Daniel Pacheco, Spain and Liverpool's young talent

It is the summer of 2007. A product of Barcelona’s famed youth academy has just been snapped up by a leading Premier League side. Hopes are high for the youngster. Comparisons are made with Gerard Pique and Cesc Fabregas. Have the Catalans let another young gem slip through their fingers? Liverpool hope that the answer is yes, as they unveil their new starlet. His name is Daniel Pacheco. -read on>

Does Foster have the ‘Hart’ to become England’s numer 1?


Ben Foster England's number 1?

We’ve heard a lot about English goalkeeping problems over the last year, and rightly so, but in my opinion, after several years in the goalkeeping wilderness, we now possess two who are potentially world class.  Joe Hart has been doing good things for the last two seasons, but it’s the man Manchester United kept hidden away who I wish to discuss: Ben Foster. -read on>

Nuri Şahin: Dortmund’s New Star


Dotmund's new star Sahin with Jurgen Klopp

Borussia Dortmund are back. After years in the Bundesliga wilderness since the heady days of the late 1990′s, Dortmund are back on top again. They have taken the Bundesliga by storm, sitting ten points clear at the winter break having played some of the most breathtaking football in Europe.It is a team full of technically excellent, intelligent young players who have produced some wonderful attacking play with excellent movement and high tempo passing. At the heart of it all is a young Turkish midfielder, Nuri Şahin. To many this will not be a new name, as he has long been touted as one of the most prodigiously talented youngsters in the world. -read on>

The Championship turned upside down


Preston recently sacked struggling manager, Darren Ferguson

Going into the New Year, many Championship clubs will be looking at their prospects of getting a play-off, or automatic promotion place by the seasons end. But while everyone is discussing how close the league is, and how any number of teams are in contention for these places, we often overlook the state of affairs at the other end of the table; more often than not it mirrors the close situation at the top.

The clubs at the foot of the table will be recovering from their festive hangovers knowing that action has to be taken soon, to stifle their demise. While other teams in the bottom half of the Championship will realize that just a short run of bad form could see them pulled down into a relegation battle. That’s why January is such an important month for these teams. The transfer window is open, so new recruits can be brought in, and there is still enough time left in the season for a new manager to make an impact, and save a club from relegation. -read on>

S.S. Lazio: Where Eagles Dare


The Eagle of Stadio Olympio

An eagle is released and soars around the Stadio Olympico, swooping through the clear Roman sky, roared on by thousands of fans before majestically flying back to its trainers arms. It is a bizarre and controversial scene, but then again Lazio are no strangers to controversy. The stir the eagle has created amongst animal rights groups is nothing compared to past controversies, a long list including Nazi salutes by players, racist banners and support for Serbian war criminals. Many of these were the acts of a minority group of extreme right-wing ultras but it nevertheless tarnishes the club’s image.

While mired in controversy the club is also steeped in history, being the first club established in Rome in 1900 (they often brag to rivals Roma that Lazio brought football to Rome). In those 110 years however they have only won two Scudetto’s, the most recent of which was in 2000. The current side are looking to build on that and honour this clubs fiery and dramatic past. -read on>

Have West Brom finally thrown away the yo-yo?


Before I begin can I just say a happy new year to all you football lovers. Without you guys reading our ramblings we wouldn’t be able to function…so thankyou!

As I sit here watching West Brom against Man Utd, still slightly inebriated from the New Year excursions, I wonder if West Brom have finally found the right style of football to stay in the country’s top divison? -read on>

Window of Opportunity


Arshavin signed for Arsenal in the January transfer window in 2009

Sky Sports News doesn’t like to admit it, but often the January Transfer Window turns out to be a bit of a damp squib. Whilst there have been some notable signings such as Arshavin, Vidic and the loan of Mascherano, ultimately it can be disappointingly quiet. Teams prefer stability, and many don’t wish to lose key players halfway through a season. This in turn creates an inflated market for potential buyers. However, the top half of the Premier League appears to have more pretenders and contenders than expected this season.

After a disrupted winter schedule there are definitely four, possibly five, teams still with ambitions to fight for the title. Below them though are still a number of teams, including a couple of surprise packages amongst some underachievers, which still feel that they can push into the European places. With the league so close and the outcomes of this season still so uncertain, could the hype be justified as managers look to spend to try and gain every possible advantage and climb the table? The radio, papers and internet sites are already full of rumours. So what can we expect? -read on>

Wally with the Brolly


Wolfsburg taunt McLaren, the Wally with the Brolly

It’s the time of year that underperforming managers dread…Christmas. By now you have had your chance to prove what you can do and if it’s not working out the vultures will start circling. In recent weeks we have seen Chris Hughton, Sam Allardyce and Rafa Benitez (read Benitez joins the Italian Job…less) all lose their jobs and it looks like Steve McLaren’s time as manager of VFL Wolfsburg is hanging by a thread! -read on>

Umbrellas for Goal Post


This is England

Big Sam is renowned for taking a dogged approach to the game, his style often described as ‘dirty’ or ‘hit and run’. So would it surprise you that I would call Sam Allardyce innovative? Allardyce has had more ideas than Stuart Baggs, remember when the FA decided to change the offside rule so that you have to effect play to be offside….so Sam put two players on the line from a free kick. And what about his training techniques…according to Michael Owen, he had his Newcastle squad on morning bike rides and pilate’s (quite a contrast from the usual football training regime’s).

Despite being sacked from Blackburn in the week, Big Sam didn’t go down without leaving one of his latest ideas with us…’Youth Football should be played in the Summer!’

Well should it? -read on>

Man United v Arsenal: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly


Giggs celebrates his 'wonder goal' vs Arsenal in 1999 - sourced from http://img.dailymail.co.uk

Arsenal are back on top of the Premier league, the place their fans will hope they will be come the end of the season. With Manchester United in second the match between the two on Monday, has been described as the most highly anticipated encounter between the two in recent years!

In previous seasons, the winners of the clash have often gone on to win the title, so what is it that we have seen in previous meetings that will re-appear in Monday’s clash?

Well one thing is for sure, when the two meet there is always; the good, the bad and the ugly. Just look at the pre match build up to Monday’s game, there has been Ferguson calling on United fans to get off Wenger’s back (the good),  Evra’s random outburst claiming ‘Arsenal won’t win the league’ (the bad) and the on-going who will/ who won’t be wearing a snood (the ugly). -read on>

Will FIFA Change Because of the English Reaction?


Sepp Blatter announces Russia to host the 2018 World Cup - http://images.planetf1.com

After a disastrous World Cup this year English football fans looked forward to the possibility of ending 2010 on a high note by winning the right to host the World Cup in 2018. This however was not to be the case, England lost out to Russia after going out in the first round only managing to gain two votes, one of which being from our own English representative Geoff Thompson. Another surprise was that the ‘great’ footballing nation of Qatar would be hosts for the 2022 World Cup.

Many fans, myself included, thought that England was almost guaranteed the privilege to host the World Cup when it was announced we would be putting a bid in. So last weeks announcement came as a huge shock, not only that but it has also angered and bewildered many people. This has been brought about by the way FIFA seems to have conducted the bidding process. The British media recently exposed elements of corruption and bribery within FIFA, most notably coming from investigations conducted by the Sunday Times and BBC’s Panorama. -read on>

What has happened to Chelsea?


 

John Terry - sourced from http://i.telegraph.co.uk

What is the form of Champions? Scintillating football without losing a game? well only one team has ever done that in the Premier League, but most champions hit that ‘bad patch’, the part of the season where wins are a distant memory! If Chelsea are to be the 2010/2011 Premier League champions then November/December will certainly be remembered as their ‘bad patch’! Read more of this post

West Ham and the ‘Pack’: The race to avoid the Christmas Curse!


Scott Parker shows what West Ham means to him - sourced from http://www.dlcache.indiatimes.com

This weekend, all Premier league games were tinted with a delicate skirting of snow around the pitches. The presence of snow throughout the UK is a reminder to all that, winter is here and christmas is just around the corner. This is the time of the year when clubs dwelling at the bottom of the table start to get itchy feet, the time when the race to avoid being bottom at Christmas starts.

In the Premier leagues 18 year history only one team has managed to avoid the drop after being bottom at Christmas (West Brom in 2005), this is why the trend has been dubbed as ‘the curse of christmas’.

So it was no surprise when West Ham manager Avram Grant referred to yesterday’s crunch match with Wigan, as the match to ‘Save Our Season’. With West Ham and Wigan joint favourites to be relegated the atmosphere  around the game was a very much a ‘do or die’ feeling.

Fortunately for West Ham, they won the game quite comfortably, 3-1. Although still bottom the win kept them only 3 points behind Fulham in 17th and in  touching distance of safety. More Importantly they managed to pull Wigan right back in to the scenario for bottom place, separating the two teams by just two points and two places.

At Upton Park there is one player blowing bubbles….Scott Parker. The ever inspiring vice captain was sensational on Saturday and he capped his fine performance with a well deserved goal. However looking around the rest of the squad there is real reason for concern. To me this season there appears to be a real lack of urgency and pride, traits that has been associated with West Ham teams of the past. Maybe due to a transfer policy that has involved buying to many ineffectual foreigners or maybe due to the up and coming players not being as good as home-grown talent of the past. -read on>

Arsenal’s Defensive Disaster: Should Wenger Now Start Havard Nordtveit?


Havard Nordtveit - sourced from http://gfx.dagbladet.no

As Arsenal ended the 2009/2010 campaign without the refreshing, rewarding presence of a trophy, manager Arsene Wenger vowed to implement changes into his youthful squad in hopes of reinforcing a stronger title challenge for next season.

Critics and fans alike believed the goalkeeper position was the most glaring in need of change. Since Jens Lehman departure in 2008, the Gunners have failed to boast a quality, reliable presence between the sticks. Manuel Almunia and Lukasz Fabianski had tried gallantly and were occasionally brilliant, but both had a tendency to make vital errors on a consistent basis.

However, Wenger was unable to attract a quality keeping presence, but the Frenchman was tremendously active in terms of defensive reinforcements. So as 2010-11 commenced, all felt that once again Arsenal’s keeping conundrum would be the main reason to their eventual failure.

But, surprisingly, it has not been the case. Manuel Almunia began the season in solid fashion before a persistent elbow injury has seen the Spaniard absent since September. Deputy Lukasz Fabianski has been superb in Almunia’s absence, proving his capability as a dominant keeper. -read on>

Will Forest help Ramsey grow?


A fully fit Aaron Ramsey - sourced from http://www4.pictures.gi.zimbio.com

As an Arsenal fan living in Nottingham the story that has caught my eye this week has definitely been, Aaron Ramsey’s loan move to Nottingham Forest .

Since moving to Arsenal at just 17, for 5 million pounds, from boyhood club Cardiff City, the most interesting aspect of  Aaron Ramsey’s career has always been, what will Arsene Wenger’s next step be?  

Wenger slowly introduced the youngster in to the first team during his first season with the Gunners, playing 22 games in the 2008-2009 season, most of which being in cup competitions however it was during the 2009-2010 campaign that Ramsey got his real chance. 

Making 18 appearances in the first half of the season, Ramsey’s technique and vision enabled him to thrive in the centre of Arsenal’s midfield next to the ever influential Cesc Fabregas. But then there was that tackle! Read more of this post

Ian Holloway-No longer the managerial class clown


Ian Holloway - sourced from http://i.dailymail.co.uk

Say the name Ian Holloway a year or so ago and conversations of hilarious post match interviews and talk of the class clown would be all you would hear.

How much can change in a year of football.

Say it now and a different man will be discussed. A man of seriousness and passion, positivity and opinions. A man who is greatly admired not laughed at.

Starting his managerial career at his home team of Bristol Rovers (as player manager at first), he was always going o be a hit. He played there for most of his professional career and was a fans favourite. After a successful 5 year stint there, with a win percentage of 36% in 247 games and getting them to the play offs, he thought it was time to move on and another of his old teams came calling. He had spent 5 years playing for Queens Park Rangers, and was challenged, half way through the 00-01 season, with trying to keep the club in the old First Division. He failed to do so but, unlike many modern managers, was kept on for the following year to try and rebuild the club. In doing this I believe he won many of the fans hearts with his never say die attitude and churpy exterior. He eventually got the club promoted again in 2004 and, with even more hard work, finished a very respectable 11th that season. Many people in the game were starting to take note of Holloway. His post match interviews started to draw fans of other clubs to televisions and also to youtube. His most famous surely being the “a win is like a bird” speech after a hard fought messy 1 goal win. Holloway was so much more than just a joker but not many could see past the comical remarks as ,to date, he had no real major managerial honours (or so it seemed to the premier league fans who would watch his interviews). However a few football league clubs in a similar position to Q.P.R’s were starting to take note of Holloway’s hard work and in February of 2006 he was sent on “Gardening leave” by the Queens park rangers board, as he was being increasingly linked with the vacant managerial position at a club he would later manage, Leicester City. Those rumours were never going to help the progression of the club and a difficult season ended in a 21st place finish and a loss of respect for Holloway. -read on>

Scotland Yard: Is there too much pressure on referees?


Scottish Referee Dougie McDonald giving as good as he gets

Maradona, Pele, Zidane, Cruyff, Moore….the list of world-class players across the years is endless, but can you say the same about referees. The stereo-typical decrepit old man in black is possibly the most  influential figure in any football game but is he influential for the right reasons?

There’s certainly a few grey heads on the Scottish FA pondering the same question. Following Celtics harsh criticism of  referee, Dougie McDonald; Category One referees in Scotland have voted to strike… meaning there could be a week of postponed fixtures in the SPL. Former referee Kenny Clark told BBC Scotland “Referees are at the end of their tether, and it’s not just how it’s impacting on them but it’s the impact it’s all having on their families and business lives.” -read on>

Mikel “uncapped” Arteta


Mikel 'uncapped' Arteta - sourced from http://static.guim.co.uk

You may ask yourself what is the purpose for the inverted commas and uncapped between Mikel Arteta’s name? Well I offer another question, who is the best player in the premiership yet to play for his own nation? Or better yet in the world?

Whilst twiddling my thumbs to the boredom of part time retail work I threw this question too and from the depths of my brain and one name popped up amongst others, Mikel Arteta. Mikel was one of many hot prospects which rouse from Barcelona’s well renown youth system. When of age he moved to Scotland for a loan spell with rangers before committing to Everton where he plays his professional football today. take a peak

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