Posts tagged football
Posts tagged football
Recently on the website football365.com, regular pundit John Nicholson wrote a diatribe against the modern obsession with statistics and claimed that they can only illuminate pundits and the fans on the approaches of teams rather than yielding any light on what actually happens. He warned against the obsession to equate possession stats with performance and said that what is important is how the team uses that possession. He didn’t go as far as to extol the age old adage that the only statistic that matters is how many goals each side scored, but he did deny the priority that statistics seem to have taken in modern football analysis when saying that “no stats will ever prove that Team A plays better football than Team B but they can illuminate how they choose to play and what the consequences of those choices are”.
So diving is a cancer in football. The other thing that’s cancerous is stupid sensationalist responses to diving. There are two counts of this: firstly there’s the lacking perspective angle of the likes of Tony Pulis who thinks that a yellow card offence is worthy of a 3 match ban, then there’s the ‘blame the foreigners’ angle of any old school “hoof it oop t’ bloody pitch” punter. Both angles are deeply floored and their silliness dilutes any attempts that football organizations might be making to cure this cancer.
So it’s back. The Premier League resumes its normal service of thrills and spills with Fulham, Swansea and West Brom thrilling and Liverpool, Norwich and QPR spilling. The annual analysis of who’s going to challenge for the title and who’s going to be relegated, based on just 90 minutes of football, has already begun. Lack of fitness, teams yet to gel and form yet to be really established, various punters will already know that Norwich are going to suffer second season syndrome, City are going to struggle to cope with the added pressure of being champions and Liverpool fans are already beginning to call for Brendan Rodgers’ head. Insane? Yes. Inevitable? Of course. In reality we won’t really know the pattern of the season till the end of October. An Arsenal season ticket holder once told me that there’s no point evaluating the start of the season till the ten match point, by which time the general quality of each team should be beginning to pan out over the isolated dips and flips in form that can happen on any given weekend. But first weekend judgements are inevitable such is the unquenched thirst for pseudo-punditry that has been going unfulfilled for the summer months. So what am I going to do? Yep, here comes some pseudo punditry based on the isolated gameweek one matches which finish with Fulham as the champions and Liverpool in the relegation zone.
Amid Robin van Persie’s transfer from Arsenal to Man Utd and Luka Modric’s imminent move away from Spurs to Real Madrid, questions are again to be raised over what exactly motivates footballers and the choices they make. The life of a top level footballer seems pretty surreal – taken out of school early to end up being paid hundreds of thousands of pounds to play a game two times a week in front of thousands of spectators with their lives lived in the glare of the paparazzi, it’s hardly your average life. More intriguing still is how people, the fans, react to each of their decisions when it comes to their footballing career. Looking at Arsenal you can see varying responses to their players’ fleeing – fans respected and supported Cesc Fabregas in his long dreamed of move to Barcelona but castigated Samir Nasri for a perceived mercenary’s lack of loyalty to the Gooner cause. With van Persie’s departure comes a genuine despondency and slight anger – the man who admirably lead the Arsenal from the doldrums of despair at the start of last season to the relative success of third place this season all of a sudden reveals his ambitions do not match those of the club, the club who spent only around £40 million to buy three international attackers. Arsenal fans seem more perplexed by van Persie’s now infamous statement than understanding or aggrieved. So what actually was it that motivated van Persie to leave? What is that motivates players in any of their decisions these days? It surely can’t be as simple as money can it? Don’t they earn enough?
I read Paul Little on F365 today bemoan Roy Hodgson’s conservativeness at Euro 2012 in comparison to Stuart Pearce’s more extravagant GB team at the Olympics. The argument was that if Pearce could make a quickly assembled team play winning attractive football, why was Hodgson so adamant that fear induced defensive organization was the way to go for the Euros? Little was particularly keen to point out that such were the low expectations around England going into the Euros that he essentially had a free shot at the tournament – the opportunity was there to experiment with new expressive formations and players rather than revert to a model based on stoic defensiveness. Pearce’s GB side have been refreshing. Playing a possession orientated 4-3-3 with Ramsey, Allen and Cleverly controlling the ball in the midfield and the likes of Sturridge, Bellamy and Sinclair providing pace and guile in the attacking third, GB have been able to control games and employ speedy counterattacks to decent effect. Their defence has been at times ropey but this is perhaps due to a lack of availability of the better GB defenders and Pearce’s insistence on Richards actually being a good defender. But otherwise GB, since their being outplayed by Brazil, have been good to watch and impressive in qualifying top from a tricky group. So why couldn’t England have played a similar 4-3-3 and have been similarly attractive on the eye at the Euros?
Last summer it seemed that Malaga were poised to become the biggest threat to el Classico dominance in La Liga. Sheikh al Thani bought the kind of funds needed to pose a threat to the dominance of Real Madrid and Barcelona whose dominance is partly fuelled by the disproportionately large shares of television money that the two great clubs annually receive in comparison to other Spanish clubs. With Valencia prevented from genuinely challenging them for a number of years by their perennially precarious financial situation, Malaga had the foreign investment that is probably needed to genuinely challenge. The signings of Toulalan, Joaquin, Mathijsen and Santi Cazorla from Villarreal among others, were a signal of intent. With former Villarreal and Real Madrid Pelligrini in charge, Malaga were certainly building a team to gain entry to the Champions League. And they did. Well they finished 4th allowing them the chance to enter the competition via what can be the tricky playoffs (they may end up having to play Italy’s fourth best team (Udinese) to qualify). So the first step towards challenging for the title should be taken – Champions League football. And yet, this summer has seen zero transfers in with rumours that they are unable to pay wages and owe other clubs money from transfers. There are rumours that they are going to have to sell their best players to raise funds to eradicate these quite serious problems – Cazorla has notably been linked with a move to Arsenal in the last couple of days.
So it’s a month or so until the football’s back and Premier League 2012/2013 begins. With the England vs South Africa test series, the Olympics and Wimbledon a couple of weeks back filling the football gap between the end of the Euros and the start of the upcoming season, there’s no real cause for complaint. But after one of the most exhilarating seasons ever concluding with that ridiculous Aguero title winning goal, Chelsea’s fairytale Champions League victory and Spain’s tiki-taka masterclass at the Euros, there’s plenty of reason for excitement. Strangely, in comparison to previous summers, the behemoth that is the transfer window has not been so prominent. City seem relatively content with their title-winning squad, as do Madrid in Spain, Man Utd seem determined to go with youth and the Venkys no longer have being in the Premier League to aid their fantastical attempts to entice Ronaldinho and David Beckham to Ewood Park (Danny Murphy’s a fine coup though and Nuno Gomes!). The biggest money spenders this summer have been Paris Saint German with the bombastic signings of Lavezzi, Thiago Silva and Ibrahimovic, while Chelsea look determined to build on the European victory and also seem to be attempting to build a new post-Drogba brand of football relying on speed and youth rather than the Drog’s sheer power. It would seem then, apart from Chelsea, we have no reason to expect much change amid the top of the table tussles. How, with a month to go, can this all change?
Even had they lost last night, I don’t think anyone would have denied that the last 5 years have been dominated by the Spanish. Even if they completely fluffed their lines in Poland and Ukraine, Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup coupled with Barcelona’s three Champions League victories in six years (quite a monumental achievement when you consider how difficult it is to win that trophy) would have been enough to allow such an acclamation. There’s no doubt now after Spain won their third international tournament on the spin – an unprecedented achievement, which could be replicated in our lifetimes, but is a rare and impressive feat nonetheless. Considering how many teams could have been worthy winners of each of the last three tournaments, the fact that Spain have somehow kept their heads and their shoulders above the rest (they’re practically looking down at the rest of us on the ground from atop the heights of the famous Sagrada Familia) is undeniably brilliant. Are they as good as the famed 1970s Brazil team? Such talk is often ridiculous mostly for the fact that most people who make such claims were probably too young to remember, or not even born at the time. Furthermore there are other great teams that have been forgotten in the vagaries of time – the ‘Golden Team’ of Hungary in the 1950s were also said to be legendarily brilliant. Certainly the game is more competitive now – the art of defending in particular has improved across all countries while the competitiveness of non-European/South American teams is monumentality greater now than back in 1970. Plus, the athleticism that came with the tricks and possession of that Brazil team which gave them an advantage back then is now a common feature to all teams at the highest level now. So it’s impossible to compare between the 1970s Brazil team and the 2008-2012 Spain team.
Rosol beats Nadal 6-7 (9-11) 6-4 6-4 2-6 6-4 (Wimbledon 2nd round)
Germany 1 - 2 Italy (Euro 2012 semi-final)
Warning: a clichéd potentially over-the-top tribute to the wonder of sport.
Never think you know what’s going to happen, before the matches are finished. It’s never over till the rotund lady bellows. The supposed champions elect of Euro 2012 were blunted and outplayed. The 11 Grand Slam winning legend and world number 2 was knocked out by the little known number 100. The latter is stunning. The former was far, far, less surprising but a surprise to many nonetheless. Italy now take on Spain in the final. Lukas Rosol has just powered his way into the headlines from utter obscurity. Expectations? Scrap them. Predictions, however empirically justified, are just that, predictions, not necessary truths, but utterly contingent statements which have no guarantee of vindication. Just ask Mark Lawrenson.
Spain 0 - 0 Portugal (Spain win 4-2 on penalties)
Three major tournament finals in a row with the first two already won. Spain are undoubtedly one of the great international teams, and should they win on Sunday, the extraordinary triple would suggest they are the greatest. Of course the 1970 Brazil team are always touted as the great World Cup team, but for sheer consistency and know-how Spain would surely have done enough. Couple this with the multiple Champions League wins of Barcelona and the aura that shrouds their famous (or perhaps now infamous) tiki-taka style and you would have to say that this current era has been a Spanish one.