Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Scoring For Spurs

Soccerphile writer Andy Greeves fulfills a boyhood ambition of scoring for Spurs.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Alex Miller sacked as coach of JEF United

Alex Miller sacked as coach of JEF United.
Former Rangers midfielder and Liverpool first team coach Alex Miller has been sacked as coach of Chiba-based JEF United following a miserable spell in charge of the J. League strugglers.

Miller was drafted in following the sacking of Croatian tactician Josip Kuze midway through last season, but after overseeing United's dramatic final-day escape from relegation, the Glaswegian paid a heavy price for his failure to strengthen United's squad in 2009.

A 2-1 home defeat to Shimizu S-Pulse was the final straw for club officials, but it was Miller's constant penchant for chopping and changing his starting eleven that arguably sealed his fate.

The taciturn Scot routinely baffled United supporters with his squad selections - consistently dropping the team's sole attacking outlets Masaki Fukai and Seiichiro Maki and fielding conservative starting elevens against equally-matched opponents.

A nominal 5-4-1 formation sent out against Sanfrecce Hiroshima a fortnight ago saw United hammered 4-1 by the promoted side, while Miller appeared reluctant to field the club's Brazilian contingent - with mid-season signing Neto Baiano only making his debut in what was Miller's final match in charge.

Both Chiba-based clubs have sacked coaches in recent weeks, after Kashiwa Reysol recently showed the beleaguered Shinichiro Takahashi the door in favour of veteran Brazilian coach Nelsinho.

Kashiwa lie second-from-bottom with just under half the season remaining, while JEF United will hope that replacement Atsuhiko Ejiri can steer his side to safety, with United currently sixteenth in the standings.

Oita Trinita are a massive nine points behind Kashiwa at the bottom of the table, with the Kyushu outfit having recently replaced coach Pericles Chamusca with former Sanfrecce Hiroshima assistant Ranko Popovic.

Copyright © Michael Tuckerman & Soccerphile.com

J.League News

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Bigger than Becks



Why MLS' fine on its star is a real own goal

Poor MLS. Just as European observers were calling it a credible league they go and ruin it all by fining their star man the equivalent of a night out in Beverly Hills.

I am not sure who thought $1,000 (£608) would be a suitable fine for David Beckham's confronting a drunken fan last week but it has made MLS somewhat of a laughing stock among its new-found followers, who had taken a lot of notice following GoldenBalls' wee altercation in the first place: Beckham and the Galaxy have occupied column inches in all the British media this week.

It is actually a fairly standard penalty for MLS. Clint Mathis was fined half that amount for an almost identical confrontation six years ago, while Brian Ching also lost $500 for a recent Twitter post criticising a referee. And why a fine in the first place instead of the 'first warning' the rest of us are familiar with in our workplaces? Could Beckham have not been called to MLS' HQ in 5th Avenue for a dressing-down and if a financial penalty really was necessary, why not add a few zeros to placate the naysayers? The league's rules state that "misconduct detrimental to the reputation and public image of MLS" will be punished, the equivalent of England's 'bringing the game into disrepute.'

Fair enough. But the screaming problem with the figure of $1,000 is that people have inevitably compared it to what the offender is earning and laughed, at MLS, who have in effect sullied the league's reputation more than the man they are punishing. Becks' annual base pay of $6.5m from the Galaxy is augmented by his endorsements and business interests - he rakes in circa 4 or 5 times that a year from 'Brand Beckham', which makes the fine appear to be mere chump change for him.

Fines for the rest of us have some connection to the transgression in order to teach us a lesson. When I once parked in the wrong place in London I was fined by Haringey Council what I earn in a week . I felt that was harsh but it made me think twice the next time I looked for a spot all right. The council showed me who was boss in the same way MLS should with their star product. But that is their dilemma. They have built Beckham up to be bigger than the league so they cannot infuriate him to the point he ups sticks and leaves, much as he might like to right now.

Recruiting Becks was the centerpiece of MLS' growth strategy in 2007 and all the publicity negative or positive is unquestionably raising their public recognition. The England star remains effectively untouchable, as long as he does not go and do a Cantona on one of the beery lard-asses now eager to confront him wherever he plays in America.

Premier League footballers who go astray are typically penalized two weeks' wages, not enough to bankrupt them but enough to make them think again about the tenth flashy motor or small flat they could have bought. So why aren't fines for footballers deterrents? Are soccer stars special because they are entertainers in the public eye? Yes they probably are, sadly. As with Steven Gerrard's breathtaking acquittal for violence this week, where the accused was signing autographs as he entered the court, there appears here to be one rule for the stars and one for the laymen. But there is not, MLS cry. That is not the point. The perception is more important than the reality when you are dealing with a public entertainment like football. The public feed MLS, who need them on-board to survive. Fame has its responsibilities and the public, Beckham's ultimate paymasters, on this issue have guffawed at the lawmakers.

Spain's FA provide an object lesson in failing to act decisively enough to infractions. Its meagre fines have singularly failed to punish or prevent repeats of the overt racism which have shamed its football in recent years. It issued a risible fine of £411 to Albacete, Deportivo and Malaga for racist chanting, only £2000 for national team coach Luis Aragones calling Thierry Henry "a black shit", £2,800 for Real Madrid fans' swastika flags and holocaust songs and £6000 on Real Zaragoza for its fans' racial abuse of Samuel Eto'o.

Had their FA fined the first club to transgress a fortune, made them to play behind closed doors, docked points, thrown them out of the Copa del Rey and forcibly relegated them from La Liga, it might not have stopped a repeat elsewhere, but it least it would have sent the right message that some things will not be tolerated. Of course No. 23 did nothing on that scale. In fact I am not even convinced he needed any punishment beyond a formal reprimand, but if an FA is going to play judge and jury then at least show them who’s boss instead of cow-towing to celebrity. It is about time MLS realised it is bigger than Becks.
This whole saga seems slightly surreal with a genuine world soccer star getting berated by have-a-go yobs in stadia which would not look out of place in League Two; here another 'fan' decides to bait Beckham in Kansas City:





(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

J-League Results 26-7-2009

J-League Results 26-7-2009.
Sunday, 26 July

Albirex Niigata 1 Montedio Yamagata 1
Jubilo Iwata 1 Yokohama F Marinos 1
Kyoto Sanga 3 Kawasaki Frontale 1

Saturday, 25 July

Gamba Osaka 1 Oita Trinita 0
FC Tokyo 0 Sanfrecce Hiroshima 0
JEF United Chiba 1 Shimizu S-Pulse 2
Kashima Antlers 1 Kashiwa Reysol 1
Urawa Reds 0 Nagoya Grampus 3
Vissel Kobe 1 Omiya Ardija 2

Kashima Antlers top the J-League by 10 points from Albirex Niigata and Urawa Reds.

Oita Trinita are still rooted to the bottom with only 7 points after another defeat away to Gamba Osaka.

Leading Positions

Kashima Antlers P19 Pts 44
Albirex Niigata P19 Pts 34
Urawa Reds P19 Pts 34

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Yorkshire’s lost son finds Copa Libertadores glory

Yorkshire’s lost son finds Copa Libertadores glory.
Estudiantes' Copa Libertadores winning coach Alejandro Sabella has come a long way since he was deemed surplus to requirements at Leeds United in the early 80s.

Just four months into his first management post the Argentine steered the club he finished his playing career at to a dramatic win in Brazil.

After drawing their home leg 0-0 Estudiantes came from a goal behind to topple Cruzeiro 2-1 giving El Pincha their fourth Copa Libertadores title and their first for four decades.

The victory was the culmination of a run which saw Estudiantes unbeaten in the ten Copa Libertadores games Sabella oversaw since his arrival in March. In the seven wins and three draws El Pincha netted 14 times while they leaked just two at the other end.

During this time the new coach also turned around their domestic standing as he propelled them from second bottom to a respectable sixth place finish in the Apertura.

“It's all down to the players. Someone should put up a monument to them,” Sabella said after the win in Brazil. “All I did was help them reach the final and tell them to go out and do what I never could as a player.”

Sabella was ably assisted on the pitch during this time by among others his captain Juan Sebastián Verón who took to the field in Copa Libertadores’ games like a man possessed as he sought to emulate his father in lifting the famous trophy for his hometown club.

Verón has further parallels to his current gaffer as he joined up with Estudiantes after having a less than spectacular impact on the English top flight.

‘Alex’ Sabella first arrived in England when Sheffield United came to Argentina sniffing around for talent in the wake of the country’s 1978 World Cup win.

First off Sheffield United targeted another young playmaker but Argentinos Juniors turned down the Steel City club’s £180,000 bid for Diego Maradona.

Sabella had been enjoying a mixed time at River Plate for whom he had made over a 100 appearances for by that time. The stocky playmaker was both feted and criticised for his individualism on the pitch and there were question marks over his lack of pace. Indeed during his time with River he gained the nickname Pachorra, slang for lazy.

A major stumbling block for Sabella at El Monumental was that he was behind Norberto Alonso in the pecking order for the number ten shirt. Alonso was the undisputed fan’s hero at the time and that left his understudy little chance to impress in his favoured position.

On one occasion a scout from Grêmio came down from Brazil to scout on Alonso for an upcoming Copa Libertadores clash. Alonso was out injured for the game with Independiente so Sabella deputised and played a blinder. The scout returned to Grêmio and said he didn’t get to see Alonso but if he keeps that other lad on the bench then he must be pure dynamite.

Sheffield United’s representatives seems to like what they saw as well and a £160,000 transfer was agreed between River Plate and the second division side.

The statistic say that Sabella made 76 appearances for the Blades and bagged a poultry eight goals, in which time the club were relegated to the third tier. A word with some of the fans who saw him play during this time offers a different perspective.

One Bramall Lane regular remembers Sabella scoring the best goal he has ever seen at the ground against Dundee in the Anglo Scottish Cup. On that occasion the Argentine Blade dribbled past five players before slamming the ball home.

Sabella is fondly recalled as the type of player who was worth the admission price on his own with a box of tricks to compete with any player in the world. Unfortunately at times he could even bamboozle his own teammates with back heeled flicks and the like that were far beyond the comprehension of most players fighting a second division relegation dogfight.

Another Blades fan recalls a piece of skill by Sabella down by the corner flag against West Ham United which led to a clash of heads between Billy Bonds and Frank Lampard Snr. as they collided in the Argentine’s wake.

Allan Clarke brought Sabella to Leeds United in the summer of 1980 for £400,000 after the player had refused to move to Sunderland in a £600,000 deal because of his ambitions to play in the top flight.

In a season and a half at Elland Road Sabella made 23 appearances for Leeds United before leaving halfway through their relegation season of 1981/82. Sabella is also fondly recalled by many Leeds fans who saw him play and remember him entertaining the crowd alongside Frank Worthington. Sadly the duo’s showmanship came at the determent of the club’s results.

It was a visit to Yorkshire by then Estudiantes coach Carlos Bilardo that convinced Sabella to come home sharpish rather than hold out for a dream move back to River Plate.

Bilardo had been keeping tabs on Sabella during the player’s time in England and convinced the Estudiantes board to rustle up the cash to finance a trip to Leeds.

“The club didn't have any money but I managed to get a few dollars together and made the journey,” recalls Bilardo, who would go on to coach Argentina to World Cup triumph in 1986. “I convinced the directors it was a good deal but I had to borrow money from Sabella to pay for the trip home.”

Bilardo was already a well established name in El Leóns’ folklore as part of the team that won three Copa Libertadores and the Copa Intercontinental in the late 60s. Now he had taken the manager’s job Bilardo was looking to build another golden period for the club.

Sabella was joined in a new look Estudiantes’ midfield by Marcelo Trobbiani, Jose Daniel Ponce and Miguel Angel Russo which played their way towards a Metropolitano title in 1982 and added an Argentine league title a year later.
The final piece of the jigsaw was the Copa Libertadores and El Pincha came close in 1983 but eventually fell at the semi-final stage.

During this period Pachorra saw his stock rise beyond previous comprehension in his homeland and he picked up four caps for the national selection. He left for a spell with Grêmio, maybe that scout who saw him against Independiente finally getting his man, before returning to Estudiantes for a second spell.

He was still living close to the Jorge Luis Hirschi Stadium when he eventually hung up his boots in 1988 and his bond remained strong with football in La Plata.

Two years later Sabella started out on his coaching apprenticeship as Daniel Passarella’s second in command. In a seventeen year spell with Passarella he worked at River Plate twice, Parma of Italy, Monterrey of Mexico and Corinthians of Brazil. The management team also took charge of the Argentina and Uruguay national selections during this time.

The deputy finally struck out on his own and got the opportunity for his first job when Estudiantes parted company with Leonardo Astrada earlier this year. Just like Ángel Cappa at Huracán questions were asked if Sabella would be able to cut the mustard.

Four months down the line with a Copa Libertadores title in the trophy cabinet nobody is questioning the quick work of Pachorra.

Copyright © Tim Sturtridge and Soccerphile.com

Friday, July 24, 2009

One rule for the stars?

Steven Gerrard has been cleared of affray after a jury accepted his claim that he was acting in self-defence in punching a man three times in a Merseyside bar.

Some years ago I was the victim of a robbery in Liverpool, on my first visit to the city in fact. Returning to the vast QE II Courts for the trial, the same complex where Gerrard would appear as the accused this week, I recall a Scouse detective looking up at the towering red-brick buildings and lamenting to me, "This place will always be busy."

Liverpool was England's second city in the 19th century but suffered steep economic decline when its shipping industry died in the post-war decades of the 20th. In freefall during the Thatcher era, crime boomed and the city won an unfortunate reputation as Britain's most deprived and desperate place, a tag it has done much to try to shake off, including being named Europe's Capital of Culture in 2008.

So the last Liverpudlian you expected to see in the dock was a well-respected successful multi-millionaire soccer star, a local hero forever idolised for his sterling years at Anfield and heroic retrieval of the 2005 Champions League Final from the jaws of defeat.

I value Gerrard higher than any other English player in ability and admire the fact he is a link to the football I grew up with: Loyal to one club, he plays for his local team and speaks with the local accent. Gerrard hitherto has been a good role-model with his never-say-die endeavour on the pitch, his polite and measured contributions off-field to journalists and lack of private scandal, until now. He has been England's best player for the best part of a decade, a true talisman and footballing treasure and a man
about whom no-one had a bad word to say.

But I cannot feel sympathy for him today. While
CCTV footage is not crystal clear regarding Gerrard's attack, he had in police interviews accepted responsibility and apologised for throwing three punches at Marcus McGee while being "7/10" drunk, on a scale where ten equals complete inebriation. He had said he had acted in 'self-defence' because he had thought McGee was about to attack him, when camera footage clearly shows Gerrard's friend elbowing the DJ in the face before the footballer and others pile in on the helpless victim, who lost a front tooth and sustained facial cuts and bruises from the onslaught.

Footage then shows Gerrard being restrained by the Southport bar manager and being frogmarched away. And all because he had tried to wrest control of the bar's music from its DJ, who was having none of it, England legend or no.

The evidence was compelling that Gerrard was guilty, but the jury acquitted him alone of the seven accused of violence, sending a completely wrong message to society. You can get away with drunken crime if you are famous and universally-loved, it seems. I forgive Gerrard, who has contritely apologised, but the Liverpudlian jurors should have known better.



(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

All To Play For As K-League Reaches Halfway Point

All To Play For As K-League Reaches Halfway Point.
As the rainy season, hopefully, comes to an end, the football season in South Korea is just past the halfway stage. It has been a very interesting and unusual campaign so far with some big fish struggling down in the murky waters while minnows play around in unfamiliar waters near the surface.

Usually, there is no smaller catch in the K-League than Gwangju Sangmu. The military club spends every season at the bottom. That is not a huge surprise considering that they are restricted to players on their two-year tour of duty and are not able to go out and sign exotic foreign stars, something that many clubs in the league are doing right now.

The addition of strikers Choi Sung-kuk has helped. The ‘Little Maradona’ has revitalized the team, adding invention, creation and, at the risk of going overboard, even a touch of magic from time to time. He has bagged seven goals, the same as strike partner Kim Myung-joong, a big man to compliment Choi.

Gwangju’s problem is a small squad that will struggle if injuries and suspensions take their toll. That hasn’t really happened yet but is always a worry. Recent results have taken a downturn with three straight defeats but the team is still in third-place and on course for a place in the end of season championship play-offs.

The biggest fish this season and top of the standings is FC Seoul. The 2008 runner-up is accustomed to life at the top. Everything is going smoothly in 2009; the team is playing well, scoring goals and looking forward to the quarterfinal of the Asian Champions League against Umm Salal of Qatar.

As you would expect in the rainy season, there are clouds on the horizon. One problem of gathering young talent is that European clubs are quick to notice young and talented players from East Asia. The prospect of a player that can improve a team on the field and contribute commercially off it is one that excites chief executives from Madrid to Manchester to Milan and to Moscow.

English Premier League club Bolton Wanderers is about to pay $3.5 million for Lee Chung-yong. That amount would be the highest ever paid by a foreign club to one in the K-League. Lee left for a medical test on Monday and said goodbye to the team on Sunday by scoring one and creating another as Seoul won 3-1 at Gangwon FC to stay top.

"I thought long and hard about it since Bolton made an offer,” said Lee. “I had many things to consider about leaving Seoul as the team has lots of important games to come. I am looking forward to the challenge.”

It may not stop with that young star. Midfielder Ki Sung-yong, Lee’s fellow South Korea international, is also in the sights of European giants. The 20 year-old has been on the radar of past European champions such as Porto and Hamburg. Now Sports Seoul newspaper is linking the youngster to a move to another ex-European giant, PSV Eindhoven. The Dutch league is seen as an ideal introduction to Europe and the club is also the former home of a certain Korean duo – Park Ji-sung and Lee Young-pyo.

Unlike Lee Chung-yong, who ultimately would like to play in Spain, Ki wants to go to England. He has the talent and a move could be made sooner rather than later.

Lee Dong-guk has been there and done that, though the Lion King’s time with Middlesbrough was far from successful. He returned home in 2008 and is now scoring goal after goal for Jeonbuk Motors. The total has now reached 14 goals in 14 games as the Jeonju team challenges for a first ever title.

Incheon United is in fourth but don’t quite have the look of champions as a 4-1 loss at home to Pohang Steelers and then last week’s 5-1 thrashing at FC Seoul demonstrated. Pohang is the league’s form team with five straight wins and only a slow start to the season means that it is down in fourth.

The south-easterners demonstrated in 2007 that they can come from nowhere to win the title.

There is still a lot of soccer to be played. Lee Chung-yong is going to miss a very interesting second half of the season.

Copyright: John Duerden & Soccerphile.com

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Stevie nicks yet another Brucey Bonus from the Americas

Stevie nicks yet another Brucey Bonus from the Americas.
It came as little surprise to see Steve Bruce dip his hand into the Americas early as he begins to stamp his authority on the Sunderland team. The addition of Paraguayan centre-back Paulo Da Silva will hopefully add some of the steel required to shore up one of the leakiest defences in last season’s Premier League.

Bruce acted fast to secure Da Silva’s services as the Paraguayan captain signed a three-year deal with the Wearside club despite overtures of interest from a number of Premier League rivals. It is a sign of the increasing respect that Bruce governs in this part of the world that the established Da Silva should choose to join up with the Black Cats.

The Paraguayan skipper has been capped 61 times by his country and Bruce’s network of scouts have witnessed the defender help his nation inch its way towards next summer’s World Cup in South Africa as well as being named Player of the Season in Mexico last year.. Now Da Silva must prepare for the challenge of keeping out some of the world’s top marksmen when he pulls on the Sunderland shirt.

“Firstly, I must adapt to life in England and I want to help Sunderland to the best league position possible,” the defender told his new club’s website. “It’s a good challenge and I am very happy to be in the best league in the world.”

“Sunderland are a great club, I am very happy and I wish the Premier League could start today.” Added a bullish Da Silva.

He may not be a household name for many football fans but his new manager is sure that Da Silva has all the attributes to make it at The Stadium of Light.

“Paulo comes with a great pedigree as captain of his club and his country,” said Bruce at the player’s unveiling.

“I’ve seen him play on a couple of occasions and I can tell you he’s a very, very good player whose credentials are there for all to see."

High praise indeed from one of the most consistent and successful centre-backs the Premier League has ever seen. With Bruce’s experience of getting the best out of his recruits from the Americas as well as his work over the years with defenders such as Matthew Upson there is cause for optimism among the Sunderland faithful.

After an auspicious start to his management career which saw Bruce start and finish stints at Sheffield United, Huddersfield Town, Wigan Athletic and Crystal Palace in the space of three years the former Manchester United captain eventually settled at Birmingham City.

It was during his time at Birmingham that Bruce was able to demonstrate his keen eye for promising players. After taking the Blues up to the Premier League during his first season with the club the manager was afforded the money to experiment with signings.

The first Latin American to sign for Bruce’s Birmingham City was Argentine Luciano Figueroa who was plucked straight from Rosario Central at a cost of £250,000. The striker turned out to be a flop but helped change Bruce’s approach to signing players from South America.

Bruce changed his style to try before you buy and the next Latino to join up was Walter Pandiani, the Uruguayan hitman nicknamed The Rifle. Pandiani joined on loan for the backend of the 2004/2005 season and his goals help the Blues to a 12th placed finish in the Premier League.

Unfortunately after signing Pandiani on a permanent basis the following season the striker struggled to replicate the form which had impressed Bruce and the Uruguayan was sent packing at Christmas.

There were some tough times for Bruce round the corner as Birmingham were relegated that season but the young manager was able to take the club back up to the top tier at the first attempt.

Among the names to join Birmingham for the start of their 2007/08 Premier League campaign was the Honduran midfielder Wilson Palacios. Getting Palacios on loan signalled Bruce’s scouting network had worked its way north of the Panama Canal.

With boardroom rifts undermining Bruce’s efforts on the pitch the manager left Birmingham City for a second spell at Wigan Athletic just two months into this latest campaign.

One of his first bits of business at the JJB was to bring in Wilson Palacios on a permanent basis as well as getting Ecuadoran Antonio Valencia on loan from Villerreal. Along with Palacios’ countryman Maynor Figueroa and some more shrewd deals for players from far and wide Bruce turned the Latics from relegation fighters to Europa League contenders in the space of two seasons.

Even now that he has upped sticks once again it seems Wigan Athletic will continue to benefit from Bruce’s time at the club just as Birmingham City have done.

While the contacts Bruce made while at St Andrews helped broker a deal to bring in the Ecuadoran duo of record signing Christian Benitez and experienced defender Giovanny Espinoza the new management at Wigan is also looking forward to chasing up the still warm trails Bruce left behind.

“We’ve had a lot of success at this club with the South American and Central American markets,” said new Wigan boss Roberto Martinez. “We need to spread our network and make sure we bring the players we need for a really competitive and healthy dressing room.”

While at The Stadium of Light last season’s hero of the hour Ricky Sbragia has been installed in the new role of director of scouting. The specially designed role is part of a shake up in the way the club identifies the new talent so important to Bruce.

Sunderland’s balance sheet may still be reeling from Roy Keane’s free spending but Sbragia along with current chief scout Mick Brown will be handed Bruce’s book of contacts in South and Central America and expected to turn up yet more of the good stuff.

One player already known to Bruce who could soon bolster the Latin American contigentent on Wearside is Chilean marksman Humberto Suazo. The leading scorer in international football back in 2006 is still only 28-year-old and banging them in for Monterrey in Mexico as well as for his national side.

The time to act on El Chupete Suazo could be now before a good showing in South Africa at the end of the season could see his value sky rocket.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Eriksson the target as Notts County hatch master plan

League Two side Notts County are in talks with Sven-Goran Eriksson about becoming their director of football.

Earlier in the month, Middle-Eastern consortium Munto Finance took over the club and laid out a set of ambitious plans, with the ultimate aim to “bring success back to Notts County Football Club.”

Reports had linked Eriksson to the managers job but according to BBC Radio Nottingham these claims are “wide of the mark.” Current boss Ian McParland has been kept on by the new owners and it seems more likely that a director of football role will be created, with former England boss Eriksson in pole position.

Also linked to the job is another former England manager, Glenn Hoddle, however with Eriksson actively searching for a new job since his sacking by Mexico in April, he seems a far more likely candidate than Hoddle, who has been out of the game since 2006.

Eriksson and his agent Athole Still have so far refused to comment but the ambition of the Magpies new owners is likely to prove attractive to Eriksson, who became Manchester City manager in 2007 shortly after they were taken over.

Notts County are the oldest professional football club in England but have struggled in recent years, finishing in the bottom half of League Two every season since they were relegated to the fourth tier in 2004. However, with the new owners set to deliver quickly on their promise to invest significantly in playing and coaching staff, many of the club's fans will be dreaming of a bright new era.

While in the process of completing the takeover, Munto Finance announced plans to make Notts County a Championship Club within five years. Simply by opening talks with a such a high profile figure as Eriksson suggests that these dreams have every chance of becoming a reality.

Monday, July 20, 2009

World Soccer News for week of 7/19

Ozren Podnar reports...

Manchester United cancel a friendly game due to Jakarta bombings

The English champions Manchester United cancelled a friendly in Indonesia to be played on Monday due to two bombing attacks last Friday in Jakarta.
Suspected Islamic terrorists carried out suicide bombings in two luxury hotels and a commercial centre of the capital city. One of the stricken hotels was the Ritz-Carlton, where the United squad planned to reside during their sojourn in Jakarta.
At least two people died in the explosion in Ritz-Carlton with a further seven casualties at the Marriott and a commercial centre in the north of the city. The attacks were attributed to the radical Islamic group Jemaa Islamiya, an Al-Qaeda affiliate in South East Asia.
United were supposed to play a game against an Indonesian select eleven during their Asian tour.


Estudiantes claim their fourth Latin American title

The Argentinian side of Estudiantes from La Plata were crowned champions of the Copa Libertadores for the fourth time by beating Cruzeiro 2-1 in Belo Horizonte.
Once labelled "the roughest soccer team in the world", Estudiantes drew 0-0 in the first leg in La Plata, but upset the Brazilians in their packed Mineirao Stadium in Belo Horizonte.
The "Students" came from behind in the second half after conceding a goal from Henrique in the 51th minute. The Argentinian goals were scored by Gaston Fernandez five minutes later and Mauro Boselli in the 72th minute. This has been the first Copa Libertadores for Estudiantes in 39 years after having won the competition in 1968, 1969 and 1970. Their win means they will take part in the World Club Cup in Abu Dhabi next December along with Barcelona, Atlante of Mexico and Auckland City, among other continental champions.
Estudiantes won one world club title back in 1968 by defeating Manchester United 1-0 and 1-1 in two infamous, violent clashes. The current generation coached by Alejandro Sabella and the supremely intelligent Juan Sebastian Veron, the son of Juan Ramon Veron, who starred in the triple-crown winning team four decades ago.


Platini: If Cristiano costs 92 million, I would have cost 93

The UEFA president and former soccer king Michel Platini launched an ironic comment on the price Real Madrid paid Manchester United for star winger Cristiano Ronaldo.
"If he cost 92 millon euros, I would have cost 93 million at his age, although maybe in my case it would have been old French francs" said Platini, adding a twist to his comment:
"In fact, my transfer would have been free, because I respected my obligations and stayed in my clubs until the end of the contracts," declared the soccer supremo.
Although denying that he has it in for Real Madrid and Florentino Perez in particular, Platini claims that the transfer fees and wages have reached unsustainable levels.
"It is a moment to remember that a half of the European clubs have losses (...). The pharaonic costs push the market upwards and feed the inflationist surge that has negative consequences on all the European clubs.
While announcing new UEFA norms designed to introduce more equality in European soccer by 2012, the Frenchman again dismissed the idea of a new continental Superleague promoted by Real Madrid, among others.
"We already have such a Superleague and it's called the Champions League."


David Beckham booed on his return to LA Galaxy

On his long awaited and belated return to Los Angeles Galaxy, David Beckham had to face a not entirely friendly crowd, unhappy at his preference of AC Milan over the Major League Soccer franchise.
Last week Becks played his first game for Galaxy in nine months even though his initial loan agreement had required his return to the US by the end of last March.
In the meantime, LA skipper Landon Donovan was quoted in a book expressing his disdain for Beckham on account of his lack of commitment and attachment to Galaxy colours.
At the end of the game between Galaxy and Red Bulls of New York (3-1) the former England captain asserted he was aware of the booing directed at him.
"That was something I expected, but I still believe I can help this team," said Becks.
The animosity between him and Donovan has apparently been settled and Beckham seems set to continue his American adventure, or the "Beckham Experiment", as author Grant Wahl titled his controversial book in which he slammed the most expensive signing in the history of US soccer.


Ibrahimovic to Barca for 45 million plus Eto'o plus Hleb

Another gargantuan signing is being forged in Spanish soccer. In what could be the second biggest transfer in history, after the recent Cristiano Ronaldo switch from Manchester United to Real Madrid, Zlatan Ibrahimovic would change Inter's shirt for Barcelona's, while the current European champions would pay the Italians 45 million euros in cash plus the ownership of Samuel Eto'o and a one-year loan of Aleksandr Hleb. The total price of the transfer would amount to 85 million euros, since Eto'o is valued at some 35-37 million plus a couple million for the former Gunner's loan.
Inter and Barca have apparently reached an agreement, Ibrahimovic is also willing to move south-west to Camp Nou, but the African goleador may still cause problems because this is the way he is.
"I will be the one to decide if the transfer goes through," Eto'o apparently told the Catalonian Sport daily, awaiting a proper offer from Inter.
Jose Mourinho on the other hand seems eager to see the Cameroonian in his squad, fully aware of Eto'os terrific goalscoring abilities.
Barca's president Joan Laporta admitted that the efforts to sign Ibrahimovic "are going in the right direction," but allowed for the possibility that in case it fails, the club may yet turn to Valencia's David Villa or Atletico's Diego Forlan.
Valencia priced Villa, the most lethal Spanish scorer in recent years, at 50 million euros, which initially seemed a tad too much for Barca. Still, they will have to show something to their fans after Real signed Kaka, Cristiano and Benzema. Even at an exorbitant price Michel Platini has been refering to in his criticism of the inflated European soccer market.

Copyright Ozren Podnar & Soccerphile


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Saturday, July 18, 2009

One Seoul, Two Uniteds

Bucheon and FC United coaches swap shirts.
Asia is accustomed to hosting teams from Europe. Every summer sees big clubs from the west heading east to play exhibition games in attempts to win new fans and conquer new markets.

The likes of Real Madrid, Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea, Bayern Munich, Roma and Juventus have all paid visits to the world’s largest continent in recent years. After all, over half of the planet’s football fans call Asia home.

There is something slightly special happening this month however with two teams from Manchester visiting the Land of the Morning Calm. One is English champions, European Champions League runners-up, FIFA Club World Cup winners and all-round general behemoth, Manchester United.

The storied English team have won 18 domestic and three continental titles and is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, club in the world. It also boasts Korea’s favorite sporting star, male at least, Park Ji-sung.

United is in action on July 24 against K-League club FC Seoul at Seoul World Cup Stadium in a game that is a 64,000 sell-out. Chief Executive David Gill said: “Our tours to Asia are always special. The atmosphere generated by the supporters is amazing. The Club enjoys unrivalled support across the continent and it is great to give those fans the opportunity to see their heroes in action in their own country.”

Six days previously before that however, a team from England’s seventh tier is in action against one from Korea’s third division. FC United of Manchester faces Bucheon 1995. FC United was formed in 2005 by disillusioned fans of Manchester United. These followers acted after the club was taken over by American businessman Malcolm Glazer in 2005, another stage in what was, according to these supporters, the final straw in a move away from the club’s Manchester roots and fan-base.

FC United are run by the fans for the fans. Starting all the way down in England’s tenth tier, the club has climbed up to the seventh rung of the ladder and is regularly watched by 3,000 fans. Ahead of next season, the club announced on its website recently that each fan could choose what they paid for the season ticket that will grant entry into all home games.

The same home page could also hardly contain its excitement at the all-expenses-paid trip to Korea. “This is an amazing opportunity for FC United and we’re honored to be able to feature in a game against a fans-owned club with similar founding principles to our own,” it said.

Andy Walsh, general manager of the club, added his take at a very well-attended press conference at the swanky Seoul Plaza hotel.

"Our club, like yours, was founded when others who weren’t supporters of the club took it over," Walsh explained. "In our case, it was the Glazer family from America that came and bought the club. They were not supporters of Manchester United, they were there merely to make money from the supporters and the football club. Football is an important part of our lives as fans, players and coaches. It was important that we had a club we could support and it was affordable and we could watch every Saturday."

Andy Walsh in full flow

"The Glazers have been around for a very short period of time. They won’t be around much longer," Walsh warned. "When they leave, they will leave the club in debt. It will be left to those who care about the club to right those wrongs.

"We are extremely honoured that you recognised the similarities between our club and your club and invited us here."

There are similarities. Bucheon 1995 were also set up by fans whose club was literally taken away. SK Bucheon FC was a K-league team that had been struggling in the lower reaches for some years. Those fans woke up one morning in February 2006, a month before the start of the new season, to find that owners SK Energy, one arm of the giant SK conglomerate, had decided to move it, lock, stock and barrel to the southern island of Jeju. This new team, Jeju United, was to utilize the last of the vacant stadiums built for the 2002 World Cup. It hasn’t exactly been a successful move and the island incantation of the team has fared little better in terms of points collected and fans attracted.

But the fans left behind channeled their anger into setting up their own club. It wasn’t an easy process but it has been handled skillfully and professionally. The club is in Korea’s K-3 League, unsurprisingly, the third tier, and has sponsorship deals and media exposure that most of its rivals can only dream of with deals with giant media portal Daum as well as SK Telecom.



The match with FC United, which takes place at Bucheon Sports Complex Stadium on July 18, has caught the imagination. As of July 12, 15,000 tickets had been sold and between 20-25,000 are expected on the night.

At the very least, it will be a fun night for all involved and a great opportunity for lower league English players to play a match in East Asia and if it raises profiles as well as questions as to how the beautiful game operates in the respective countries, so much the better.

Copyright: John Duerden & Soccerphile

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Thursday, July 16, 2009

Terry pursuit parallels Gerrard chase

The irony of Manchester City's chase of John Terry will not have escaped the attention of Liverpool supporters still bitter over Chelsea's pursuit of Steven Gerrard before the 2004/05 season.

The parallels with Terry's rumoured switch away from the Blues are uncanny, as any Reds fan will have already pointed out.

Then, Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich was spending money like it was going out of fashion and used every inch of his financial muscle to tempt the Liverpool captain into leaving the club he joined as a youngster, with some locals having already burned their team shirts before Gerrard 's about face.

The England midfielder may have believed his switch to Jose Mourinho's Stamford Bridge revolution would provide a greater chance for silverware, but the potential to earn a staggering amount more than he was already collecting on Merseyside was another clear motivating factor.

And now to Terry, whose silence over a double-your-money transfer to Eastlands is deafening. Like Gerrard at Liverpool, he's been raised by Chelsea, becoming the England captain and the heartbeat of his club.

But judging by the weekend's round of one-on-ones with Abramovich and other senior Chelsea officials Terry's isn't convinced of the merits of seeing out the remainder of his five-year contract with last season's third-placed finishers.

Already 28, and with a recent catalogue of back complaints, Terry would be short-sighted not to be eyeing one final giant payday as well as the lure of helping establish City as one of Europe's grandest.

While it is debatable whether Chelsea are a club on the rise or decline, he will doubtless have cast an envious glance at Mark Hughes's signings of Roque Santa Cruz and Carlos Tevez while his own club have scratched around to add goalkeeper Ross Turnbull from Middlesbrough and Yuri Zhirkov from CSKA Moscow, not to mention 19-year-old Daniel Sturridge from City.

Sturridge's arrival for a tribunal fee perfectly encapsulates the cyclic nature of modern football. Only a handful of years ago it was Chelsea doing the raiding, paying over the odds to take Shaun Wright-Phillips to the Bridge for a mammoth £21 million.

But Wright-Phillips is already back in Manchester, as is England full-back Wayne Bridge – a close friend of Terry – who joined City from the Blues in the January transfer window.

Some Chelsea fans can't stop themselves wondering whether £40 million wouldn’t be such a bad exchange for Terry. He's even been branded a mercenary by those who suggest his standing with the Chelsea faithful has taken a battering over recent contract negotiations, including his latest tight-lipped stance on leaving.

Chelsea chief Peter Kenyon has claimed Terry is not for sale at any price, which means a player popular with his team-mates must go out on a limb and place a written transfer request before City's interest can be taken to the next stage.

What's certain is Terry's involvement in Chelsea's 10-day tour of North America is meaningless. City have already significantly bolstered their attack but their defence remains relatively fragile and Terry is one of England's top three central defenders.

They will not simply roll over and forget all about it.

Intriguingly, Hughes already has two of England's finest up-and-coming centre-halves at his disposal in Nedum Onuoha and Micah Richards.

England's under-21 central defensive pairing for the recent European tournament in Sweden are certain to benefit from Terry's tutelage in the long-term, as would Fabio Capello as he casts his mind forward to the 2014 World Cup, should the most expensive transfer involving a defender come to fruition.

Copyright © Marc Fox and Soccerphile.com

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Déjà vu for Dragan

J.League
"It's Groundhog Day!"

There's no sign of Punxsutawney Phil, but Nagoya Grampus coach Dragan Stojkovic must be checking his calendar in disbelief as the Aichi-based side prepare to face FC Tokyo at Ajinomoto Stadium for the second time in three days.

Naohiro Ishikawa looks set to play the Ned Ryerson role to the Serbian coach's Phil Connors, with Ishikawa causing opponents plenty of irritation with some career-best form.

The diminutive winger was the catalyst for FC Tokyo's 3-0 thrashing of Nagoya at Ajinomoto Stadium in the J. League last weekend, scoring his 10th goal of the campaign and taking himself level with Davi and Edmilson at the top of the goalscoring charts.

The two sides meet up to do it all over again on Wednesday night, only this time they're not battling for league points. Instead it's the quarter-finals of the League Cup that take centre stage, with FC Tokyo looking to add to their solitary piece of silverware - the 2004 League Cup crown.

The capital club are in a bullish mood after a stunning rejuvenation under former Japan youth coach Hiroshi Jofuku, with FC Tokyo turning around a poor first half to the season to become the most eye-catching team in the league.

Much of their success is down to the stellar performances of Ishikawa, whose outstanding form has lead to calls for the two-time Japan international to be restored to the national team.

"I don't know how he feels about me, but what I have to do on the pitch is pretty clear," Ishikawa told The Daily Yomiuri after Japan coach Takeshi Okada watched him tear Nagoya apart.

"If I do my job the way I'm expected to, then the opportunities will naturally open up."

How Dragan Stojkovic must wish he had a player like Ishikawa on his books, with the tempestuous Serb railing at his players in the wake of their latest league defeat.

"If I start to analyse player by player, I'm scared the results will be very bad," Stojkovic snarled to The Daily Yomiuri.

"And definitely I have to make some changes for the next game. Some players will be on the bench."

One of those changes is unlikely to be Australian international Josh Kennedy, with the 1.94 metre striker not expected to make his Nagoya debut until the J. League clash against Kyoto Sanga at Toyota Stadium on July 18.

The pressure on former Karlsruher SC striker Kennedy to perform was ramped up a notch last week, with Nagoya announcing that top-scorer Davi is set to depart for Qatari outfit Umm Salal.

Nagoya are well off the pace in the J. League, but the Toyota-backed side face Kawasaki Frontale in the quarter-finals of the Asian Champions League in September.

The remaining League Cup quarter-final, first leg fixtures sees Kashima Antlers host Kawasaki Frontale at Kashima Stadium, Gamba Osaka welcome Yokohama F. Marinos to Expo '70 Stadium, while Urawa Reds take on Shimizu S-Pulse at Saitama Stadium.

Copyright© Michael Tuckerman & Soccerphile.com


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Saturday, July 11, 2009

Thank you for the music - a tournament review

The UEFA u21 Championship gets slowly bigger every two years, but remains half in shadow, a curious sideshow to the bigger tournaments.Thank you for the music - a tournament review.

Clashing with the FIFA Confederations Cup meant more international eyes were focused on South Africa, even in UEFA's backyard, since two European nations were involved (Italy & Spain). In Britain this led to an interesting media rivalry between Sky, the tournament rights holders, and the BBC, who were showing the Confederations Cup and did their best to ignore the U21s, even waiting until the following day to post results on their website, despite England's participation.

The attendances in Sweden ranged from 3,000 to the 20,000 capacitThank you for the music - a tournament review.y of the new stadia in Malmo and Gothenburg when the hosts were playing. Clearly, the show is not big enough yet to take to the super stadia of the continent. Should England for instance host it, Millwall's The New Den (20,000) would make more sense than Arsenal's Emirates (60,000) as a capital venue. Malmo's new stadium is an interesting exercise in dark minimalism, a brooding hulk of a spacecraft against the long Scandinavian summer evenings, as if from '2001 A Space Odyssey', or as UEFA described it 'something out of Star Wars'.

It and the New Gamla (old) Ullevi in Gothenburg had perfect sightlines inside though lacked character like all new venues do. Compared to its iconic older brother, a feature of the skyline of Sweden's second city, it is hidden away between buildings and hard to spot. Both arenas' size reminded me of MLS stadia, although Thank you for the music - a tournament review.unlike those American examples, both were roofed for Northern Europe. Happily, the familiar eliptical rooves of the old stadia in both cities remain, with the new grounds built cheek by jowl.

The two other venues, Helsingborg (12,500) and Halmstad (7,500) were real charmers, especially the tranquil forested riverside stadium in Halmstad. Both used for the 1958 World Cup, they dated originally from 1898 and 1922.

You would have known a tournament was on in Sweden as UEFA repeated their FanZone experiment of Euro 2008 in the host cities, although as in the beer tents of Euro '92, most locals were probably there for the cheap ale and sausages. It was midsummer in Sweden, their biggest national fest and a time for relaxation more than enthusiasm anyway. But no complaints about the host. Everything went smoothly as far as I could see, although scheduling late kick offs in small cities without enough hotel beds was not kind to the fans.
Thank you for the music - a tournament review.
As for the football, what U21 players do is intrinsically less important than what they will do next. It remains, in the words of UEFA's Technical Director Andy Roxburgh, 'the final stepping stone' for footballers on their way to the big time. That was at the back of the mind of everyone watching, knowing that the teams on show were about to break up and that only a smattering of those in Sweden will be there in the next u21 tournament in two years' time. Perhaps for that reason, tactical innovation seemed absent, too.

It is hard to know what to read into the different teams' performances given the lack of a clear correlation over the years between this competition and the big ones. France were world and European champions at the end of the 1990s but never reached a u21 final in that decade. Ditto Spain in the noughties. If there is a pattern to pick out here it is that Germany have won the most recent u17, u19 and now u21 competitions.

And what is also notable about Germany is that for the first time their team is predominantly non-Teutonic. A few years ago a Deutsche Elftal would never have had a Mesut Ozil, Gonzalo Castro, Anis Ben-Hatira, Ashkan Dejagah, Sami Khedira and Chinedu Ede on the same field. Are Germany's immigrant offspring propelling them to greater heights? Could be.

The national styles were clearly embossed on the young players: Germany were ruthlessly efficient, the Italians solid and skilful throughout, Serbia were tough and England talented but reckless.

The scouts, over 100 official ones, were buzzing around as usual, but most stars have already been spotted by their late teens. Take Finland's jaunty young striker Teemu Pukki for instance, 19 years of age and playing for Sevilla in Spain.

In my earlier post I listed the 15 or so players we will be hearing more of in years to come who played in Sweden, but it is still too early to be sure who will be the greatest. Michael Ballack, Raul and Zinedine Zidane graced the U21s previously, although no-one probably foresaw all that they would achieve then. If I had to stick my neck out I would go for Marcus Berg, Mesut Ozil and Mario Balotelli as seasoned international stars of the future.

The promotional literature included Giuseppe Rossi and Theo Walcott prominently, but the former was at the Confederations Cup and the latter disappointed in Sweden, cryingly isolated alone up front in the final.

England arrived as favourites and were still the bookies' tip up until the final, before they collapsed humiliatingly 0-4 to a tactically astute Germany. Three key suspensions in the semi-final killed their chances, exposing Stuart Pearce's decision to bring only three forwards (two of whom were ruled out by cards), while replacement goalkeeper Scott Loach echoed Peter Bonetti's calamity replacing Gordon Banks in Mexico 1970.

If Pearce can take some succour from this setback it is that England have been genuine contenders for the last two U21 tournaments and could have won this one with some better discipline in the semi-final.

Other nations have more worries, particularly Spain, who left with a whimper and, as if in a timewarp, played exactly like their national team always used to pre-Euro 2008.

All in all a successful tournament for fans and football and UEFA were happy too. Euro 2012 remains their big headache, although a blazered official assured me it will go ahead in Ukraine even with one venue, because of political pressures regarding Europe's gas supplies pumping from Russia via their neighbour.

The 2011 edition of the U21s will be in the Jutland peninsula of neighbouring Denmark at Viborg (9,566), Aalborg (10,500), Herning (11,800) and Aarhus (21,000).

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Lion King Set For Revival?

Lion King Set For Revival?
East Asia has long struggled to produce prolific goalscorers and most clubs import attackers from Brazil, Africa and Eastern Europe.

It is a chicken-and-egg situation. Do clubs buy foreign forwards because there isn’t enough local talent or is there not enough local talent because clubs pack their offensive lines with overseas stars? Whatever the reason, in Japan, China and South Korea, imports usually top the goalscoring charts.

In 2008, the top four scorers in the K-league all hailed from outside the land of the Morning Calm. Things are different this time round. At present, only three foreigners make it into the top ten.

Lee Dong-guk leads the charge. The former Middlesbrough marksman didn’t score a single league goal in 18 months, from the start of 2007 to the summer of 2008, in the English Premier league. The memory of that barren spell is fading by the week as in 2009 he has found the target 11 times in just 12 matches for Jeonbuk Motors in the K-League. Every time he scores, there are more headlines about a possible return to the national team ahead of the 2010 World Cup.

That chorus reached a crescendo last weekend as Lee grabbed his second hat-trick of the season as Jeonbuk won 3-2 at the home of league leaders Gwangju Sangmu in an entertaining Jeolla province derby.

"There is lots of time left (before the World Cup) and the national team is watching,” said the man himself. “If I keep doing well then good things could happen.”

Others agree.

"Lee Dong-gook is ready to play for the national team at any time," said Jeonbuk coach Choi Kang-hee.

It is a testament to Lee’s mental strength that he has bounced back after a fairly terrible three years. In fact, it even goes back further than that. As a youngster, he was the star of the 2000 Asian Cup and it was expected that he would lead the Korean frontline at the 2002 World Cup. Guus Hiddink had other ideas and surprisingly omitted the Lion King.

It was a tough blow. Not only did Lee have to watch his former team-mates become heroes at home and stars abroad, he had to start his military service just after the competition finished in the knowledge that national team members had been granted exemption for their legendary run to the semi-finals.

With the departure of Hiddink, it wasn’t long before Lee was back in the team and six months before the 2006 World Cup, he was Dick Advocaat’s main striker. Then, just two months before the tournament was due to start, he tore a cruciate ligament and dreams of Germany were over.

The following year however, things were looking up. A dream move to the most popular league in the world came Lee’s way and he became a Middlesbrough player. A hit post in his first game was the closest he came to a league goal and after his 16-month spell, there were few ‘Boro’ fans sorry to see him depart.

He ended up back in Korea with championship-chasing Seongnam at the end of last season. The short spell was not a success as the team crashed out of the title race in the play-offs. Departing coach Kim Hak-beom even said that he hadn’t wanted Lee to join the team at all.

Whatever the truth, Lee was on the move once again in January 2009 as he became a Jeonbuk Motors player. He hasn’t looked back since scoring twice in his second game with the Jeonju team. The greens are a good team to watch and offer attacking options all over the field and for the first time in three years, Lee, who is leading the line as well as ever and bringing others into attack to a much greater extent than before, is evidently enjoying his football.

After missing 2002 and 2006, Lee could just be third-time lucky when it comes to the 2010 World Cup. It is only a matter of time before he receives a recall and while he won’t be counting any chickens, the Lion King revival could be complete in South Africa next summer.

Copyright: John Duerden & Soccerphile.com

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Sweden u-21 Euros

See a slideshow of images of the u-21 European Championships in Sweden. The tournament was won 4-0 by Germany against England in the final.



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Friday, July 3, 2009

Carlos Ruiz Zafón - bestselling man but not a Barça fan

One well-known Barcelona man who was certainly not thrilled by the Blaugrana's Champions League triumph against Manchester UnitedZafon. was Carlos Ruiz Zafón, author of international publishing phenomenon The Shadow of the Windand the biggest-selling contemporary writer in Spanish.

The Catalan capital is the setting for Zafon's works, which have been translated into 45 languages, but the 'mes que un club' (more than a club) mantra has never been one of his.

"I don't take it too seriously," Barcelona-born Zafón told Soccerphile about the club's cultural grip on the city and region. "I take it more with a pinch of salt. It's not a matter of life or death is it, eleven men against eleven kicking around a ball."

The horror! I was shocked that anyone from Barcelona could fail to be taken in by such a big event as their city's famous club winning the ultimate club prize. I like to think football is the world's greatest unifying force, a tidal wave of popular feeling at times like this. And that no club breaches the boundaries of the stadium to define its wider community more than Barcelona does. Have you been to the Camp Nou and its museum? It is a cathedral for a mass faith, isn't it? Maybe not.

Meeting Zafón, in London to promote his new title, 'The Angel's Game', I was reminded of the first time I went to Liverpool to see a match at Anfield. I had been expecting every Liverpudlian to be a mine of soccer knowledge and a world away from the snobbish middle-class folk of my southern home county for whom a knowledge of football was a real rarity...I was rebuffed when the first Scousers I spoke to told me they weren't really interested in football and preferred to watch horse-racing...To each his own, I shrugged, but what a comical let-down.

Of course, when football gets really big it is a national TV event which reels in all but the most die-hard curmudgeons, and even Señor Zafón, who now resides in Los Angeles, cannot escape that.

Was Zafón interested at all in FCB's Champions League victory in Rome? "I was a little bit," he conceded. I am happy for them when they win as it is such a big thing in Barcelona."

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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Fifa World Rankings July 2009

Fifa World Rankings July 2009.
Brazil go back to the top of this month's Fifa world rankings after winning the Confederations Cup in South Africa. Brazil are followed by Spain and the Netherlands England are down one in 7th place.

France are in 9th. Côte d'Ivoire are the highest African team in 18th. Russia are 6th, with the USA in 12th.


1 Brazil
2 Spain
3 Netherlands
4 Italy
5 Germany
6 Russia
7 England
8 Argentina
9 France
10 Croatia
11 Greece
12 USA Turkey
13 Switzerland
14 Serbia
15 Denmark
16 Australia
17 Portugal
18 Côte d'Ivoire
19 Ukraine
20 Uruguay

Full world rankings

Last month's Fifa World Rankings

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Thursday, July 2, 2009

United Sign Valencia While Ronaldo Completes Record Move

It's all change at Old Trafford as one winger leaves and another is brought in to take his place. As Cristiano Ronaldo completed his world record £80million transfer to Real Madrid, Sir Alex Ferguson wasted no time licking his wounds and has instead snapped up Ecuador star Antonio Valencia.

The former Wigan Athletic winger put pen to paper on a four-year deal on Tuesday night, in a transfer believed to have cost United around £16million. Valencia had been linked with a move to Old Trafford for the last 12 months and Ferguson said: “Antonio is a player we have admired for some time now, having spent the last two years in the Premier League with Wigan.

“I am sure his pace and ability will make a significant contribution to the team.”

The 23 year old is one of a number of foreign players to have made their name at Wigan in recent years and he was quick to thank his former employers. He said: “I hope the fans at Wigan can understand that I am an ambitious guy and a chance like this might never come again for me.

“I am happy that the club has benefited from the move financially because I owe them such a lot. I have had a great time here.”

Many have been impressed by the way Valencia has adapted to the English game, however he will need to continue improving if he is to fill the sizeable void left by Ronaldo. Up for particular scrutiny will be his goalscoring prowess - while Ronaldo regularly scored upwards of 20 goals a season, Valencia managed just three last term.

With the World and European Player of the Year now firmly planted in Madrid, the pressure is on both Valencia and Ferguson to come up with the goods. There is no doubt that the United boss has acted quickly and decisively in finding a replacement but will it be a case of true love or has Alex been caught on the rebound? Football betting on that one would certainly be interesting!

Jets fume at Van Egmond defection

Jets fume at Van Egmond defection.
You have to think that Gary van Egmond had endured enough turmoil in his 32-month stint at the helm of the Newcastle Jets.

To some, it was no huge surprise when Van Egmond, an affable 44-year-old and former A-League coach of the year, this week handed in his resignation to outspoken Jets owner Con Constantine.

Any brownie points his side had earned from reaching the knockout phase of the AFC Champions League had evaporated in Pohang as the Steelers ran out 6-0 victors last week, eliminating them from the competition.

Such a heavy defeat would often be enough to prompt many trigger-happy chairmen to act or noncommittal managers to walk away - notwithstanding Van Egmond had recently penned a contract extension tying him to the Jets until 2013.

But revelations since that Korean nightmare have revealed Van Egmond's hasty resignation wasn't prompted solely by his under-prepared team's ACL humiliation.

He already had his eye on exiting the club he helped transform from cellar dwellers to champions and had formally applied for a coaching position within Football Federation Australia, the game's governing body.

As the application process proceeded, it became clear Van Egmond was the outstanding candidate for the role of working with some of the country's finest rising stars, as Australian under-17 assistant coach and with a remit to guide the youngsters at the Australian Institute of Sport.

But whatever the ramifications of bringing Van Egmond into the FFA stable with an eye on his long-term coaching development within the national body, from the outside it appears unusual to move from a head coach's position in the A-League to the lower ranks of the national side.

Van Egmond has been earmarked for a larger job since making an immediate splash when he took over at Newcastle in October 2006. The man known to all as 'Dutchy' led the Jets from the basement to the championship within 18 months and was labelled the brightest young manager in the Australian game.

But Newcastle's title defence was a disaster. They finished bottom, yet sympathy was shown for Van Egmond's position as his championship side was ripped apart by a combination of dubious incoming and outgoing transfers.

The coach would have tired of the revolving door at the Jets, particularly when it was clear a number of those coming and going did so against his wishes.

Newcastle have endured the biggest turnover of players of all eight foundation clubs with Van Egmond this season facing the prospect of managing without full internationals Jade North, James Holland, Joel Griffiths, Adam Griffiths, goalkeeper Ante Covic and Mark Milligan.

The Jets hierarchy brought in only journeymen and youngsters as replacements.

Still, Constantine had little sympathy for Van Egmond on his controversial departure, saying he blamed the defector more than the FFA, who he claimed poached his employee behind the club's back.

"He forgets that if it wasn't for me, he wouldn't be where he is now. He was selling Pepsi to me eight years ago. He pleaded then to help him get involved in coaching in the game," Constantine told The Australian.

He added: "If the FFA want to fine me (for his public condemnation of their actions), well, it would be like fining Jesus Christ because of the treachery of Judas."

Branko Culina, Van Egmond's replacement, is seen by the Jets movers and shakers as Newcastle's saviour.

Culina, a former Sydney FC coach, became the Jets' technical director earlier this year, a kind of guiding hand for Van Egmond.

He had said that his axing by Sydney in 2007 had left a bad taste, but the TV pundit couldn't resist another crack at frontline coaching after Constantine asked him to fill the breach, certainly for the medium term.

Culina signed a two-year deal, immediately jetting off to Europe to scout a pair of imports to change the Jets' fortunes this forthcoming season.

“I think that Branko is the best man for the job," trumpeted CEO John Tsatsimas. "He has been here since February and he has seen the club, he knows the players first-hand. He is an experienced coach, he is a very technical coach as is (assistant) Mark Jones and we believe that they will work well together. We also believe that it will provide the foundation for rectifying us results-wise and it will lead us into the finals.”

Copyright © Marc Fox and Soccerphile.com

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Kawasaki gear up for epic Kashima showdown

Kawasaki gear up for epic Kashima showdown.
If there's one team that can stop the Kashima Antlers juggernaut from steam-rolling to a third successive J. League title, it's Kawasaki Frontale.

The Kanagawa side geared up for an epic showdown with Kashima on Sunday by beating Gamba Osaka 1-0 at Todoroki Stadium in a rescheduled Round 10 fixture overnight.

Youngster Yuji Yabu scored the only goal of the game, setting up a highly anticipated clash with runaway league leaders Kashima in four days time.

Kawasaki can cut the deficit at the top of standings to just five points with a win over Kashima, but Gamba's title hopes look all but over after they lost to Kawasaki for the second time in a week.

The reigning Asian champions were knocked out of this year's Champions League after Kawasaki beat Gamba 3-2 in a thriller at Expo '70 Stadium on July 24.

Kashima Antlers were also knocked out of the Champions League on the same night - losing on penalties to South Korean club FC Seoul - but unlike Gamba, the Antlers look well placed to pick up another piece of silverware this season.

They hammered a disappointing Nagoya Grampus 3-0 in the evening's other rescheduled fixture overnight, with midfielder Takuya Nozawa scoring either side of goals from strikers Shinzo Koroki and Marquinhos.

A full round of top flight fixtures takes place on the weekend of July 4/5, with the highlights seeing Omiya Ardija welcome Yokohama F. Marinos to Omiya Park, while the bottom two clash at Kyushu Oil Dome when Oita Trinita host JEF United in a relegation six-pointer.

On Sunday night, Nagoya Grampus host Gamba Osaka in a Toyota Stadium blockbuster, injury-riddled Sanfrecce Hiroshima take on Jubilo Iwata at Big Arch Stadium, while all eyes will be on Todoroki Stadium as Kawasaki Frontale welcome Kashima Antlers to town.

Caio Junior becomes the season's first casualty

Vissel Kobe coach Caio Junior became the first J. League coach to exit his post this season when stepped down following the Kansai club's latest 2-0 defeat away at Urawa Reds.

The Brazilian tactician arrived with impressive credentials, but the man last in charge of Brazilian giants Flamengo failed to endear himself to the Kobe faithful for his inability to win with a side that includes former Japan captain Tsuneyasu Miyamoto.

The disastrous signings of compatriots Alan Bahia and on-loan Benfica forward Marcel contributed to Caio Junior's unpopularity, and the Brazilian jumped before he was pushed, with Vissel Kobe currently lying fourteenth in the standings.

Masahiro Wada has stepped in to take charge on an interim basis, and his first match is the home clash with FC Tokyo this Saturday night.

Copyright © Michael Tuckerman & Soccerphile.com

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Wednesday, July 1, 2009

UEFA u21: Scouting Report

Over 100 scouts registered to attend the UEFA u21 Championship which has just finished in Sweden. Previous participants have included Raul, Michael Ballack, Luis Figo, Frank Lampard, Henrik Larsson, Eric Cantona and Zinedine Zidane.

Here are the rising stars who caught my eye -

#1 - MARCUS BERG
, 22, Groningen & Sweden The hottest shot of the toScouting report.urnament began with a hat-trick and ended with seven goals in four games. A class apart from his rivals with two deadly feet and immaculate off the ball running. What are the big clubs waiting for?

#2 - ZORAN TOSI
Ć, 22, Man Utd & Serbia. Signed by Sir Alex in January, he has only made two cup appearances for the Red Devils so far but with his high-speed dribbling, free kicks and ability to play on both wings, expect to see more of this Serbian starlet in the EPL soon.

#3 - MESUT ÖZIL, 20, Werder Bremen & Germany. Germany's ace in the pack destroyed England in the final and with his speed and pinpoint vision has the potential to be his country's greatest attacking midfielder since Lothar Matthaus.

#4 - MARIO BALOTELLI
, 18, Inter & Italy. Astonishingly good for his age, he will likely be one of Europe's most feared forwards across the next decade. Balotelli is fast, strong, difficult to mark and shoots with abandon. Looks dangerous whenever he is on the ball.

#5 - ANDREW DRIVER
, 19, Hearts & England. Driver by name and by nature, the Hearts teen made his u21 debut against Germany in the group stage, but what a debut. A revelation on the right wing, unlike his first-choice colleagues, he caused no end of problems to the eventual winners with his penetrative surges.

And the best of the rest:


Sebastiano Giovinco 22, Juventus & Italy. Blessed with speed, strength and skill, the young Juventino has that knack of being the protagonista in the middle, dominating proceedings and threatening to score with his deft shooting.

Nikola Petković, 23, Eintracht Frankfurt & Serbia. A wise head on young shoulders, Petkovic looks the finished article at left-back: Strong, quick feet & thinking and top-drawer distribution.

Jack Rodwell
, 18, Everton & England. A classy midfielder with an silky touch, direct running and a range of passing; broke into Everton's team last year; expect to see him in feature in full England squads in years to come.

Ola Toivonen
, 23, PSV & Sweden -a dangerous and intelligent deep-lying support striker who notched three goals in four games in the finals.

Teemu Pukki
, 19, Sevilla & Finland. Looks like a young Jonathan Spector, the wiry, mulleted striker plays with fearlessness and shoots on sight. With a bit more game-savvy and some time with the weights, he could follow in the footsteps of Mikael Forssell and Jari Litmanen.

Gojko Ka
čar, 23, Hertha Berlin & Serbia. A tough-as-nails midfield anchor who breaks up and kick-starts attacks with consummate ease.

Sergei Kryvets
, 23, BATE Borisov & Belarus - An elegant playmaker the like of which the modern game should find a place for. Like the best orchestrators, Kryvets creates space and time on the field and neutralises quicker and more muscular opponents.

Rasmus Elm
21, Kalmar & Sweden - A clever passer with vision from left midfield.

Javi Martinez
21, Atheltic Bilbao & Spain - A skilful attacking midfielder who would not look out of place in the European Champions' 16.

Gustav Svensson
, 22, Gothenburg & Sweden - a solid holding midfielder assured in every way and with sound distribution.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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