Editor's Note: Though most of our writers tend to go missing for an extended period of time without any explanation, Dave Clarke, actually has good reason for his absence. Dave has spent the past few months planning and organizing the Sandy Hook Soccer Shirt Auction, which raised over $30,000 for a scholarship fund in memory of Rachel D'Avino. Great job by Dave and all those involved and welcome back to Extra Time. Gareth Bale is one of the favorites, if not the favorite, to win English football’s Player of the Year Award. As a Spurs fan he has been great to watch, but only since the turn of the year. Before Christmas, Spurs best players were Aaron Lennon, Sandro, and Jan Vertonghen. Two players – Michu and Robin van Persie - are more worthy of consideration for the award than Bale. Michu’s goals helped Swansea City consolidate their Premier League status and also helped the Welsh club win the League Cup. However, the player of the year should be Robin van Persie whose goals have helped Manchester United regain the Premier league title. Where would United have been without him? And where would Arsenal be with him in their line up?
Manchester United won their 20th English League title and in the process silenced their neighbors Manchester City. From the moment United relinquished their title last May it was obvious that Alex Ferguson was determined not to allow City to win it twice in a row. Ferguson is a master motivator and his players have really responded to his desire to win the title. They are worthy champions.
United will head to The Emirates at the weekend to face Arsenal who must perform an honor guard to welcome the new champions and former player, van Persie, on to the field. Arsenal fans are not happy about this and many are still critical of the Dutchman leaving their beloved club. They didn’t seem to have a problem when Sol Campbell left Spurs under similar circumstances. They don’t do irony in Woolwich, do they?
Harry Redknapp took over Queen’s Park Rangers on November 24, 2012 with the remit of keeping the team in the Premier League. He had enough time to get in the players he wanted and plenty of time to change the system to win enough games to keep QPR up. Redknapp has failed abysmally and Rangers will almost certainly be playing in the Championship next season. Somehow we know relegation will not be Redknapp’s fault.
Sunderland has won two games in a row for new manager Paolo Di Canio. The Black Cats have turned in impressive performances to beat Newcastle United at St. James Park and Everton at the Stadium of Light. The two performances were full of desire and commitment, traits that were sorely lacking in the latter stages of Martin O’Neill’s reign. Are the wins an indictment of O’Neill’s managerial skills, or did the players stop playing for him?
If players are not allowed to transfer outside of the transfer window then why are transfers allowed to be announced during the season? The announcement of Mario Gotze’s summer move from Bayern Munich to Borussia Dortmund was timed to coincide with both club’s Champions League semi-finals and possibly to undermine the latter. A case could be made that Bayern have brought the game into disrepute with their announcement. UEFA/FIFA should stop this practice. They won’t.
West Bromwich Albion’s Billy Jones scored his team’s equalizer against Newcastle United at the weekend. There was nothing special about the goal other than the fact it helped the Albion secure a point. However, the goal has wider ramifications for the future of the English national team. Jones became the first English player to score for West Brom this season. When a small Midlands club such as West Brom goes almost the entire season without an English goalscorer then grassroots English football has some underlying problems. I doubt the powers that be at the FA will care too much as long as the EPL continues to bring in billions of pounds in revenue.
Rafa Benitez has been poorly treated by the fans of Chelsea since he took over as interim manager of the club. He took the blues to Anfield to play Liverpool at the weekend and received a hero’s welcome from the Reds supporters. Liverpool is a club with a proud tradition, a very successful club, a truly global support and a history of doing things the right way, Luis Suarez notwithstanding. They are everything Chelsea are not and Benitez deserves better from an ungrateful support.
Why are Spurs considered a one-man team? Are Liverpool a one-man team with Luis Suarez or Manchester United one with Robin van Persie? Of course not, but lazy journalists and pundits take the easy option by defining Spurs as overly reliant on Bale. If they did their homework they would know that Bale has only been playing well since the New Year and that Spurs players of the season are Aaron Lennon and Jan Vertonghen.
Why do Spurs have to finish in the top four to keep a hold of Gareth Bale? With a new stadium to fund, Spurs may end up selling the Welshman for an offer they can’t refuse, but finishing fourth will have no bearing on the decision. Everton kept Marouane Fellaini and Liverpool kept Luis Suarez despite finishing outside the top four last year while Spurs kept Bale despite missing out on the Champions League. There is nothing like the truth getting in the way of the story.
Why was there not more outrage in the media for the manner in which Juventus systematically and cynically fouled Celtic at set pieces in their Champions League qualifier? Players are vilified for diving because it is considered blatant cheating. What Juve did was cheating too and has been a part of the club’s culture for years. UEFA and FIFA need to come down on all forms of cheating in the game and not just the diving.
Why is Luis Suarez always vilified by the English media when he dives to win fouls, but Daniel Sturridge avoided criticism for his blatant dives against Man City and Swansea City?
Why did Neil Lennon start Efe Ambrose for Celtic in the tie with Juventus less than 48 hours after he played in the African Cup of Nations final in South Africa? Ambrose was at fault for two of Juve’s goals and missed Celtic’s best chance of the game. It was a gamble that did not pay off and leaves Celtic with little chance to advance to the last eight.
Why are some pundits in the game so ignorant of the Laws of the Game? The recent Newcastle United-Chelsea game is a case in point. Demba Ba was kicked in the face by Fabricio Coloccini and there were calls for a penalty and a red card for the foul. It was not a penalty. It was an indirect free kick for dangerous play and at best a yellow card for the Newcastle defender.
Why is every error made by Manchester United’s David de Gea highlighted by the media and pundits, but similar errors in judgment by Man City and England keeper, Joe Hart, go unmentioned?
Why was the referee in the Real Madrid-Man United Champions League game criticized by the English media for blowing for full time before United could take their injury time corner? If time was up then the referee was well within his rights to blow for full time. Why should United have been given an extra couple of seconds just because they had a corner to take? Did the experts want a repeat of the bizarre situation involving Clive Thomas at the 1978 World Cup when he blew for full time while the ball was in flight from a corner? Brazil scored, but Thomas did not award the goal because he had blown as soon as the ball was kicked.
Why was there so much uproar about Emmanuel Adebayor reporting back late to Tottenham Hotspur after he had played for Togo at the African Cup of Nations? Did the players who participated in last summer’s European Championships report back to their clubs right away? Of course they didn’t. So why are Adebayor and other African players being singled out?
Why has Alan Pardew not been called to task for being a hypocrite after adding a tenth French born player to his Newcastle roster to bring the total of foreign players at the stadium, formerly known as the Sports Direct Arena, to 20? I seem to remember him having a lot to say at one time about the number of foreign players at Arsenal.
Why are more questions not asked of Arsene Wenger and Arsenal when financial constraints are cited as being a factor in their current predicament? Arsenal have a wage bill that is $1.5 million more than Spurs, their main competitor for a top four place. That is 10 players on over $100,000 per week difference between the two sides. Arsenal have also invested heavily in the transfer market and their team against Bayern Munich was purchased for $170 million. Surely such expenditure warrants beating lower league opposition in the League Cup and the FA Cup and a more competitive performance in the last 16 of Champions League?
With the greatest of respect to Shakhtar Donetsk, Borussia Dortmund, Valencia, and Paris Saint Germain, the two best ties of this week’s UEFA Champions League last 16 games are in Glasgow, where Celtic host Juventus, and in Madrid, where Real Madrid host Manchester United. Extra Time takes a look at the prospects for the two British clubs.
Celtic v Juventus
The Bhoys of Glasgow face the Old Lady of Turin as two of world football’s greatest clubs return to prominence in their rightful places in the latter stages of the Champions League. Neither club is the most popular team in their home city, but both are seen as the biggest in Scotland and Italy respectively. In recent years the two clubs have endured a period of watching the knockout stages from the outside looking in and both will relish this tie. Juventus will enter the first leg as overwhelming favorites to advance to the quarter-finals, but will do well to respect the threat Celtic will provide.
Celtic’s Keys to Victory:
1) The support at Celtic Park on a European night is one of the most deafening and supportive in football. The home side needs to ignore the emotion of their fans and be patient in attack. If they don’t, then Juventus will open them up. If they lead late, then the backing of the 60,000 fans will be pivotal in maintaining their lead.
2) Celtic must take a scoreless draw or a one goal lead into the second leg in Turin. If not, the tie will be over. To do so they will have to defend resolutely and pick their moments to counter attack. A lot will be required of the Celtic back four and goalkeeper, Fraser Foster, in particular. He needs to repeat the heroics of his two performances against Barcelona. If he does then Celtic will have a chance to advance.
3) Juventus have a more talented squad than Celtic, but only one player, Andrea Pirlo, who makes them tick. If Celtic stops him then they will go a long way towards stopping Juve. This is one game where manager Neil Lennon might be best advised to man mark the Italian playmaker - perhaps a job for captain, Scott Brown. If not, then Pirlo can give Celtic the run around the way he did England at last summer’s European Championships.
Juventus’ Keys to Victory:
1) Juventus will need to silence the crowd and stop them from being a factor for the home side. They can do so by keeping possession of the ball, slowing the game down, and scoring early, something Barcelona failed to do in both of their games against Celtic.
2) Celtic’s back four has been very inconsistent this season and is the team’s Achilles Heel. Until recently Juve have not been prolific in front of goal, but in Mirko Vucinic and Alessandro Matri they have two players who can punish any hesitancy from Celtic at the back.
3) Celtic rode their luck at times in their six group games with their opponents, guilty of some horrendous misses in each game. Juve will get chances in Glasgow and must take them or will be left to rue the cost.
Extra Time Prediction:
The first leg in Glasgow will be a very cagey affair with Celtic’s new found experience helping to frustrate their Italian opponents. The best Celtic can hope for is a hard fought 1-0 win, but if it stays 0-0 for long spells then a goalless draw will be seen by Celtic as a victory.
Real Madrid v Manchester United
This game has everything for the supporters of the two teams involved as well as for the neutral watching on television. It pits Jose Mourinho against Alex Ferguson, Cristiano Ronaldo against his former club, La Liga against the Premier League and more importantly two of Europe’s most attacking and most successful clubs against each other.
Real Madrid’s Keys to Victory:
1) United have struggled to keep clean sheets all season, so Real will fancy their chances against their back four. Patrice Evra is a major weak link for United, and a match-up with Ronaldo could hand the initiative to the Spanish champions.
2) Real have pace and attacking threat in abundance. Their speed on the ball and speed of movement off it will cause problems for United. If United are to contain Real then there can be no place in the line-up for Rio Ferdinand, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, Michael Carrick or the aforementioned Evra. Phil Jones can play in the Carrick role and Chris Smalling at full back, or vice-versa.
3) Wayne Rooney is always a danger man for United on the domestic front, but too often in the European games he can be nullified. The main threat to Madrid will come from Robin van Persie. Stop him and Madrid are a step closer to stopping United.
Manchester United’s Keys to Victory:
1) The Bernabeu crowd will start the game fully supportive of Jose Mourinho and his team, but the longer the two sides remain scoreless, the sooner they will turn against Real. United need to slow the game down, dictate the tempo, silence the crowd, turn them against Real, and put all the pressure on Mourinho’s side.
2) Alex Ferguson is an experienced manager, and he showed by his man marking of Marouane Fellaini on Sunday that he can adapt his tactics to the modern game. He will need to conjure up a similar tactical master plan if he is to get anything from the away leg. He must go with a youthful team and pick players with pace, or United will be in for a long 90 minutes in Spain.
3) To have any chance of advancing to the next round United must score in Madrid because they are not going to keep a clean sheet at Old Trafford. Real’s back four is their weakness, so Rooney, van Persie, Valencia, and Young must run at them all night.
Extra Time Prediction:
The demise of Real Madrid has been over exaggerated and they will show their class over the two legs. United would be best advised to ignore Real’s domestic performances because Madrid have only one goal this season: to win the Champions League. Mourinho will relish setting up his team to play against Ferguson’s and safeguarding his standing as the Special One. If Real score first and early in Madrid they have the ability to take United apart and demonstrate the gulf in class that exists between La Liga and the EPL. This game will be nothing but a comfortable win for the Spanish champions.
The transfer window closed last night and not many last minute deals were done. Manchester United tend not to involve themselves in the January window, but I fully expected Manchester City to bring in a player or two. They didn’t. Chelsea did add Demba Ba from Newcastle, but as long as Rafa Benitez is still in charge at Stamford Bridge, he will play second fiddle to Fernando Torres. Newcastle United and Alan Pardew were one of the busiest teams, signing a number of French players. They still have Gabriel Obertan on their books, so he can now earn his pay check by acting as an interpreter.
Call me a cynic, but I don’t buy David Beckham’s "I won't receive any salary. My salary will go to a local children's charity. That's one of the things we are excited and proud to do" after he signed for Paris Saint-Germain. Beckham, despite the fawning of the English media, is all about Beckham. Everything he does is calculated. It is all about maximum exposure for brand Beckham and Paris is just the latest stop on his carefully planned world tour.
It is very refreshing that two unfashionable clubs, Bradford City and Swansea City, have made the League Cup Final, which will be played at Wembley next month. Both teams have earned the right to play in the final and only the most snobbish of Sky Premier League armchair fans will begrudge them their day out. And for those fans that followed football before Sky and the EPL, the mere mention of Bradford will invoke memories of that horrific day at Valley Parade in 1985, when 56 fans lost their lives in a fire. Bradford City Football Club deserves its moment in the spotlight, on the hallow turf of the national stadium, and the chance to honor those who died.
Eden Hazard was quite rightly sent off for kicking or trying to kick the ball from under the torso of a not so innocent Swansea City ball boy. It was galling for so many ex-professionals to defend him and to point to the age of the lad involved and his pre-game Tweets as a justification for Hazard’s action. Did the young Belgian player know how old the ball boy was when he kicked him? Did he know of the ball boy’s pregame boasts? Of course he didn’t. Had the City keeper been holding onto the ball in a similar manner and Hazard kicked out he would have received an automatic red card. It was very convenient for Chelsea Football Club that Hazard’s action and subsequent red card deflected attention from yet another woeful performance and their elimination from another cup competition.
It was a great weekend for the minnows in the FA Cup with Luton Town, Leeds United, MK Dons, Millwall, and Oldham Athletic all beating Premier League opposition. People talk about the ‘romance of the cup’ and how magical the competition is compared to others. Remind me in May of that romance when one of Man City, Man United, Arsenal, or Chelsea lift the cup. The FA Cup is a great and historic tournament, but the notion of romance is overstated. It does provide some excellent story lines in the early rounds, but only once in the last 26 years has that romance translated to a team winning the cup. And even then, the victors were Portsmouth, who under Harry Redknapp, spent their way to the final.
Alex Ferguson is a great manager and perhaps the greatest ever in the British game. As the years have gone by he has become more outspoken, but because of his status he is rarely called to task for his comments. The FA should throw the book at him for the manner in which he questioned the linesman after United’s recent game against Spurs at White Hart Lane. Ferguson brought the game into disrepute by bringing up calls the official in question supposedly made against his team down the years. But why stop there? Why not highlight Mark Clattenburg’s failure in 2005 to award Pedro Mendes a goal at Old Trafford; or his failure to blow his whistle, when Nani unsportingly profited from Heurelho Gomes thinking he had been awarded a free kick five years later? He could also have highlighted Howard Webb’s decision to award United a penalty against Spurs at Old Trafford in 2009 when Gomes clearly won the ball. It was an incident that led to Webb’s demotion the following week. Fergie in his waning years, like all old people, has selective memory.
Last Friday morning I was sitting in the women’s soccer office at Quinnipiac University when our men’s coach, Eric Da Costa, stuck his head in the door and told me to turn on the news. I looked at the television screen and was sick to my stomach to read of a shooting in an elementary school in Newtown, Conn. not too far from our Mount Carmel campus.
I, like the rest of the country, spent most of the day watching the various news channels and listening to every update intently. As the major news outlets began to have their on-air personalities broadcast from the scene most used the same backdrop, the school’s soccer field. The more I watched, the more I began to focus on the field.
The field was empty. The goals stood idle. There were no children playing. No goals being scored. No goals being celebrated. No goals being saved. No shouting. No cheers. No arguments. A field more often associated with fun provided the backdrop for the reporting of an event that was pure evil.
Adam Lanza walked through the front entryway of Sandy Hook Elementary School at approximately 9:30 a.m. Ten minutes later he had murdered six staff members and 20 students all ages six or seven. He then took the coward’s way out and turned his gun on himself.
In just over 10 short minutes Lanzo ended the lives of 26 innocent people and shattered the lives of every one of their families. The adults will never again coach a soccer game. They will never again watch their sons, daughters, grandchildren, nieces or nephews play a game. They will never see them score a goal. Never see them play in high school. Never see them graduate nor see them play in college.
The 20 children will never again set foot on the Sandy Hook soccer field. They will never again kick a ball for fun. They will never again play the beautiful game. They will never celebrate a state championship like the Newtown High School girls’ team did last month. They are players lost to the game forever. The game has lost future administrators, coaches and fans. The game has lost 20 future parents and with them a generation of Newtown soccer players will never be born.
I look at my four young children, three of whom are in elementary school and my wife, a kindergarten teacher, and I think of the soccer memories we have created in our short time together as a family. I feel sad for the 26 victims that they will never have the opportunity to create the same memories.
They will never travel to tournaments in San Antonio or Seattle and visit The Alamo or Mount Rainier respectively. They will never travel to an elite tournament in Florida and visit Disney World or Universal Studios. They will never travel to London to watch an English Premier League game or to Gillette Stadium to watch the United States men play Spain. They will never have the chance to escort the United States Women’s Olympic team out at Rentschler Field against Germany.
Adam Lanza murdered 26 innocent people. He took away their lives and with them he took away their dreams, their aspirations, and the hopes their families had for them. He took away their potential.
We will never find out if Daniel, Dylan, Chase, Jesse, James, Jack, Noah or Benjamin could have been the next Landon Donovan or Clint Dempsey.
We will never find out if Charlotte, Olivia, Josephine, Ana, Madeline, Catherine, Grace, Emilie, Caroline, Jessica, Avielle, or Allison could have been the next Alex Morgan or Abby Wambach.
Rachel, Dawn, Anne Marie, Lauren, Mary and Victoria will never see their 20 students grow up and become the adults they were shaping them to be.
I come back to the empty soccer field beside the Sandy Hook Elementary School. The goals stood idle. There were no children playing. No goals being scored. No goals being celebrated. No goals being saved. No shouting. No cheers. No arguments.
The game was moved. God is now refereeing a 10 v 10 match in Heaven with six fans cheering them on.
Football has the habit of putting you in your place when you least expect it. With one minute left in the game at Goodison Park, Spurs fans were celebrating a great win at Everton and going level on points with Chelsea. A few minutes later they stood in disbelief as they somehow managed to lose by conceding two goals in injury time and questions were once again being asked of their team and manager. Football also has the habit of raising your spirits when you are down. Thank you Bradford City!
After 16 successful years at Arsenal, Arsene Wenger has earned the right to leave the club when he feels it is time to move on. Whether Arsenal’s fans and its board will now give him that time is another question. Pressure is building on the Frenchman and the 5-2 win against the 10 men of Spurs painted over a lot of cracks in his side.
There are many in the English media who dismiss the Europa Cup as a Mickey Mouse competition. The last 32 of this year’s competition will feature the likes of Tottenham, Chelsea, Liverpool, Inter Milan, Atletico Madrid, Lyon, Lazio, Bayer Leverkusen, Ajax, and Benfica. That is an impressive list of accomplished clubs and not quite the second rate cup it is made out to be.
I was in Ireland recently and it was interesting to see the stranglehold the game has on the Irish public. Leeds United still have a massive presence in the country and generate interest and coverage that belongs to a Premier League team. It was also interesting to see that six EPL shirts – Man United, Arsenal, Liverpool, Chelsea, Man City, and Spurs - were on sale in every sports and department store.
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers recently asked, if Gareth Bale was Uruguayan, would he come in for more criticism when supposedly diving to win fouls. Funny thing Brendan, I have asked similar questions in the past. If Steven Gerrard wasn’t English would he come in for more criticism when he dives to win penalties, or would he be considered world class?
Yes, Celtic can outspend almost every team combined in Scottish football, but it is still refreshing to see them qualify for the last 16 of the Champions League while oligarch clubs Man City and Chelsea were eliminated. The fact that City and Chelsea are the reigning English and European champions respectively adds to the satisfaction. A big spending club will most likely win the cup, but Celtic have shown that astute scouting and shrewd purchases can help them compete with the big spending clubs.
While Celtic were celebrating their European qualification, Scotland’s newest club Rangers were celebrating a victory of sorts. The club formerly known as Rangers won its big tax case against Her Majesty’s Revenues and Customs. Rangers’ fans have flooded the airwaves, newspapers, and forums celebrating the fact they did not cheat and demanding some sort of retribution against all those experts who they feel contributed to the club’s demise. Can I remind Rangers fans, oldco or newco, that their club was put into administration, then receivership, and closed down because it failed to pay its small tax case. They have not yet been cleared of cheating because the Scottish Football Association has not yet ruled on the old club’s use of Employee Benefit Trusts. EBTs are not illegal, but under football rules, a club cannot use them in the manner Rangers are alleged to have done. If proven guilty then oldco Rangers will have titles and cups stricken from their history.
Player for player Manchester City have a better squad and team than Manchester United. Therefore, it is impressive that United now lead City by six points courtesy of their 3-2 win at the Etihad Stadium. Roberto Mancini is coming in for a lot of criticism about his team selection and tactics in the Manchester derby. However, one thing that has been overlooked is the lack of local born players in the City team. United had more players in their squad who grew up United fans and who you could say play for the shirt. How many City players can claim the same?
We all know that managers see the game through their own biased spectacles, but Arsene Wenger and Andre Villas-Boas took it to another level after Saturday’s North London derby. Wenger’s Arsenal won 5-2 after Villas-Boas’ Spurs had led 1-0 before having a man sent off. Wenger, in a post-match interview said that it was not clear that the sending off of Emmanuel Adebayor had an impact on the result. AVB, on the other hand, felt his side had been “on top from the first minute to the last.” They are both deluded.
Are there any fans besides those of Chelsea who felt sorry for John Terry when he was lying prone on the turf in last week’s game versus Liverpool? No. Didn’t think so. Terry received some good news from the Stamford Bridge medical staff who said his knee injury would keep him out for weeks rather than months. That’s a shame.
It is interesting to see that the web site VisitBritain lists the top five nations going to see EPL games are supporters from Ireland, Norway, USA, Spain, and Germany. That Ireland and Norway are at the top of the list is no surprise because of the level of support the game has in both countries. It is impressive that the United States is third on the list and goes to show the level of support for the game that exists in America. With the crowds attending MLS games and NBCs investment in the sport, is there any doubt remaining that the US is now a major soccer market?
Wilfried Zaha, the Crystal Palace winger is viewed by many to be the hottest property outside of the Premier League and the next England superstar. While Zaha has lived in England for most of his life, he was born in the Ivory Coast, so qualifies to play for the country of his birth as well as his adopted country. For years the FA and English media lambasted the Republic of Ireland for selecting players who were not born in Ireland. I guess the criticism does not apply when it comes to England. Zaha joins Tony Dorigo, Owen Hargreaves, Cyrille Regis, John Barnes, Terry Butcher, and Gary Bailey as non-English born players to represent England.
Sunderland’s James McClean has received death threats because he refused to wear a red poppy on his shirt in honor of Remembrance Day. It would have been far easier for McClean to wear the poppy rather than take the stand he did. McLean is from a community for which the poppy represents all that is wrong with Imperialism and deserves credit for not being politically correct. It is ironic that his right to freedom of expression, the very right those who fought and died for, has been called into question.
I know it is not the done thing in the modern game, but I am getting bored of players who score against their former clubs not celebrating. Therefore, it was refreshing to see Charlie Mulgrew wheel away in excitement when scoring for Celtic against his former club Aberdeen. It was one thing for Denis Law not to celebrate his back heal that relegated former club Manchester United down, but is it that much of a big deal if Kevin Nolan celebrates the winner for West Ham at Newcastle United?
There are two rules in the game that continue to throw up controversial situations – offside and handball. If FIFA’s International Board members have an ounce of common sense amongst them they will address them sooner rather than later. The offside rule should be adjusted to read that if any part of the attacker’s body is level with the defender then the player is onside. The current rule too often favors the defending team when that is not the intent of the law. The word intent with regard to fouling was dropped from the Laws of the Game some years ago, so why can’t the handball portion of the rule be adjusted too? Referees should be able to award a direct free kick for handball they consider to be intentional or denying a goal scoring opportunity, or an indirect free kick for any time the ball is played by the arm. This adjustment would go a long way to clearing up some controversial incidents in the game.
If there is any doubt that Roman Abramovich and Chelsea Football Club represent all that is wrong with modern football then it was eliminated with the sacking of Roberto Di Matteo. Chelsea, despite their glowing reputation in America, had no class before the oligarch era started in 2003 and have demonstrated precious little since. The club’s sacking of the Swiss-Italian being the latest example of that lack of class. Yes, they have been very successful, but older Chelsea fans that followed the club since the dark days of the English Second Division might now be finally embarrassed by their owner. Throw in the fact that John Terry and Ashley Cole are the modern faces of the club and is it any wonder they have few fans among neutrals.
May 25, 1967, when they won the European Cup versus Inter Milan, and April 15, 1970, when they beat Leeds United in the semi-final of the same competition, are the two greatest nights in the history of Celtic Football Club. November 7, 2012 will now join them in the annals of Scotland’s greatest club. Barcelona, Europe’s best team, arrived at Celtic Park, Glasgow having lost only one game so far this season and that to Real Madrid in the second leg of the Spanish Super Cup. Ninety minutes plus injury time later Barca left Paradise with a 2-1 loss to a team that was assembled for the average yearly wage of Lionel Messi. The Scottish champions may have defended resolutely, but their win was well deserved and a major boost to the much maligned Scottish Premier League.
Last October Celtic trailed by three goals at half-time away to Kilmarnock. Neil Lennon was 45 minutes away from being sacked from his dream job. Two goals from Anthony Stokes and the equalizer from Charlie Mulgrew secured Celtic an unexpected draw, saved Lennon his job, and set the club on the road to the league title. Lennon and his young Celtic side have gone from strength to strength since that game and, with the win against Barcelona, are now on the verge of qualifying for the knockout stage of the Champions League. No manager deserves more success than Lennon who has endured a campaign of hatred against him in his time at Celtic.
Manchester City drew 2-2 at home to Ajax in the Champions League. It is a result that has all but ended their hopes in this year’s competition. The Dutch team, a long way from being the club that provided us with Total Football, still managed to dominate and outplay mega rich City at the City of Manchester Stadium. City may eventually buy the Champions League as their southern counterparts Chelsea did last season, but for now it is nice to know that they still are some way off landing the ultimate prize.
Former Everton player, Michael Branch, was convicted of dealing drugs and sentenced to seven years in prison. Why a player who made a fortune for the Toffees had to deal in drugs is a question only he can answer. His story should serve as a warning to today's superstars that no matter how much money they earn it can all be lost if they don’t plan for the years after their careers. The sad fact is that Branch is not the first former player to fall afoul of the law and he certainly won't be the last.
San Jose Earthquakes went to the Home Depot Center and won the first leg of their MLS playoff tie with the defending champion Los Angeles Galaxy. The win should have set up the regular season’s best team to advance to the Western Conference Final. It didn’t. In the second leg, three first half goals, including two clinical finishes from Robbie Keane, showed that the Galaxy are not going to relinquish their MLS title without a fight. They won’t be playing the New York Red Bulls in the dream final though because Thierry Henry and his underachieving teammates crashed out of the play offs with a home loss to DC United. Hans Backe’s days as coach of the Red Bulls are surely numbered.
The Society of Black Lawyers has threatened to lodge a formal complaint to police if Tottenham Hotspur Football Club does not stop its fans from singing songs or waving banners that use the word Yid or Yiddo. The SBL consider the words to be racist and anti-Semitic. Spurs have a long standing tradition of drawing support from London's Jewish community which has led to their fans using “Yid” as a term of endearment and according to a club statement “as a defence mechanism” against the anti-Semitism of fans of rival clubs. Some fans of Chelsea and West Ham in particular are known to hiss and sing songs like "Spurs are on their way to Belsen", in reference to the gas chambers used by the Germans to exterminate the Jews in World War II. It is therefore quite ironic that the fans of a club with a strong Jewish support, who embrace their Jewish connections, should somehow be charged with racist chanting, while the scum fans of other clubs who hiss and make Nazi salutes avoid prosecution.
Who knew Luis Suarez has a sense of humor? His dive to celebrate scoring for Liverpool against Everton in the Merseyside derby was very funny and memorable. His goal and belly flop in front of the Everton bench was the perfect response to David Moyes assertions that Suarez is a serial diver. He is of course, but his Klinsmannesque celebration was still class.
Javier Hernandez’s winner for Man United against Chelsea appeared to be offside. In such a situation the attacking team is supposed to get the benefit of the call, so why the uproar in the media when Hernandez did?
Chelsea fans can’t help themselves. They constantly booed Man United defender Rio Ferdinand during their loss at Old Trafford in a shameful show of support for their fallen hero John Terry. And then when Hernandez scored United’s winner, Chelsea fans in the Matthew Harding Stand, threw coins and objects including a seat at the celebrating United players. It was nice to see the nouveau fans returning to the roots of the old Chelsea that English football knows so well. All that was missing was some Nazi salutes, hissing and the chant of “no one likes us we don’t care.” I wonder what Ledley King thought of it all.
There were a lot of contentious decisions made in games last weekend, but many in the media seem to have overlooked Arsenal’s winner against Queens Park Rangers. Mikel Arteta was in an offside position when Olivier Giroud first shot on goal. When the ball rebounded to him off the cross bar the linesman’s flag should have gone up immediately, but he seemed to be wearing Arsene Wenger designed glasses and missed the infringement.
When Spurs took to the field at Southampton they wore a hideous grey kit reminiscent of the one worn by Manchester United in the 1995-96 season when they were hammered at The Dell by the Saints. Spurs managed to win the game and are off to their second best start in the Premier League era, sit in one of the Champions League qualifying places, and have earned more points per game than during the Harry Redknapp reign. And still there are pundits who doubt Andre Villas-Boas ability as a manager.
Paul Lambert is a good manager and will be successful at some point in his career. He may not get the chance to achieve it at Aston Villa where the manager’s role is looking more and more like a poisoned chalice. It may take Villa being relegated like Newcastle United and Man City in recent years in order for the club to come back stronger. They are one of English football’s greatest clubs, more so than Chelsea for example, and their long-suffering fans deserve some success. Right now the former European Cup winners are a long way off their glory days.
Fans and media critics alike love to hone in on players who dive in order to con referees. But what about players who argue for throw-ins or corners which are clearly not in their team’s favor? Is this not cheating too? What about pulling an opponent’s shirt in the penalty area at a corner or impeding a keeper on the same play? Or how about manager’s tapping up players or commenting through their media surrogates about signing them from their current club? Why focus on player’s diving when there are other such incidents in the game that should also be labeled as cheating?
For five minutes against Guatemala on Tuesday night the Jurgen Klinsmann era with US Soccer was in danger of ending in ignominy. The US trailed to an early Carlos Ruiz goal and the dream of a seventh World Cup in a row was fading. Two goals from Clint Dempsey and one from Carlo Bocanegra turned the game around and kept the American qualifying hopes alive. Klinsmann still has a lot of work to do to fully convince the fans he is the man for the job. His team looks short on confidence and quality at the back, but it has the attacking talent to score goals. The hexagonal stage will provide a sterner test of his managerial qualities and unless he tightens up his back four, Klinsmann might not lead the USA to Brazil.
Once again the mighty England flattered to deceive, this time away to Poland. They stumbled their way to a 1-1 draw that keeps them top of their World Cup qualifying group for now. The English should make it to the finals in Brazil, but anyone who thinks they can win it are delusional. The England team are overhyped and overrated. Only when they accept they are mediocre will England have a chance of advancing past the quarter finals of a major tournament again. That and some penalty practice.
The Republic of Ireland showed how far they have fallen with an embarrassing home loss to Germany. Yes, Giovanni Trapattoni has made some selection missteps, but the truth is he has a poor pool of players to choose from. The Irish are devoid of real talent and the days of Paul McGrath, Roy Keane, and Liam Brady pulling on a green shirt are long gone. However, no Irish team should lose 6-1 at home, even if it was to the powerful Germans. Ireland managed to restore some pride a few days later when they won against the Faroe Islands. The result needs to be kept in perspective because the Faroese are one of the worst teams in world football. Trapattoni does not seem to be the man to help develop the next generation of Irish greats. Irish football is at a low point and needs an overhaul if it is ever to get back to the heady days of previous tournaments.
If Ireland are an embarrassment then what are Scotland? They have stumbled from one poor game and campaign to another and are set to miss out on qualifying for the eighth tournament in a row. Scotland have not qualified for a finals since 1998 when they made it to the World Cup in France. The status of the national team in particular and Scottish players in general has never been lower. Craig Levein’s tenure as national team manager may be untenable, but he is not the reason the Scots are bottom of their group. The country is no longer producing world-class talent and Levein has limited options to help take the Scots to the next level. They will remain in the international wilderness until they discover a golden generation.
While Scotland and the Republic struggled in their games, Northern Ireland gained a modicum of respect by earning a 1-1 draw away to Portugal. It was a backs against the wall performance full of passion and desire. It was reminiscent of that glorious night in Valencia 30 years ago when a Gerry Armstrong goal helped the North beat Spain in the World Cup Finals. Had England, Scotland or the Republic shown the same attitude and desire they would have earned better results and be on the way to qualifying for Brazil 2014.
The Northern Ireland result in Portugal also makes a mockery of the suggestion that the minnow nations should have to pre-qualify for the World Cup qualifying campaign. Northern Ireland, Wales, the Faroe Islands, and the other small nations deserve the right to play at the highest level and compete against teams like Germany, England, and Portugal. Football is the people’s game and the powers that be should never lose sight of that fact.