Thursday, November 30, 2006

No Mas No Mas

A terrible run of three games for the Gunners -

  • 1-1 Draw versus Newcastle
  • 3-1 Loss to Bolton
  • 2-1 Loss to Fulham
ONE point from 3 games! Arsenal dominated Newcastle and were unlucky not to get the full complement of points. Bolton has owned Arsenal in the past few seasons, the team from the Reebok just mauls the Gunners and Wenger has never really figured it out. Maybe next time Arsenal should look to have the "Beast" on the pitch from the opening whistle. And finally a terrible loss to their London rival, Fulham....

These three games have ended Arsenal's threat for the Premiership. Assuming that Arsenal gets three points from their game in hand (again a big "if"), that will still put them 13 points behind leaders Man U and 10 points behind Chelsea. Granted Arsenal still have two games against Chelsea and a home match against Manchester United, that means Arsenal could cut Man U's lead to 10 points.....but then they must see Man U loss 4 games more than Arsenal...a daunting task. Arsenal are back in the chase for the third spot in england.

Wenger needs to make some moves this January to get the team ready for next season. Items on the shopping list for me - another striker, attacking midfielder, defender, and goalkeeper...okay that covers most of the pitch but I think they need another option to Henry...maybe David Villa? The midfield is solid but could us Ribery to add pace in the right or left flanks, I also think Yaya Toure could be had to give more muscle in the midfield, Monaco is falling rapidly in France and could use some cash. Defender, I think the loss of Gallas has hurt the defense, Senderos is useless to me, he has no speed and repeatedly gets beaten due to poor positioning. Abidal has been rumored, I think that is because he could play in the middle of the pitch as well as on the wings. Goalkeeper, Lehman is not a problem but getting older by the day, maybe we can revisit the Buffon idea althought it looks as if Juventus will be promoted after the end of the year.

Second half of season will give Wenger a chance to mesh and build a young team, but he needs to add some toughness to compete in England.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Racism rears its ugly head once again

It was bit ironic or tragic that after I posted my last rant about PSG that we learn that a fan was killed post UEFA cup match this past week. What is even more disgusting and terrible is the manner in which the incident occurred.

From the early reports a group of PSG "fans," were so bitter about their teams humiliation against the Tel Aviv club that they looked to work out their anger and frustrations on the opposing fans. With a team from Israel it is not hard to imagine the crassness and unacceptable jeers that were sent spewing towards the opposing fans. Again from early reports, an under cover police officer, who is black and also became the target of ugly and unacceptable name calling, bravely defended the fan from the ugly crowd. It appears that the police officer used justifiable force to attempt at controlling the crowd, pepper spray and final his fire arm. A member of the crowd fell victim to gun shots, no doubt tragic, but not as tragic as what would have happened had this officer not responded to what must have been an overwhelming situation for one officer to handle.

While our sympathies go out to the victims family, it uncovers an ugly wound festering in the world of football - xenophobia, racism, and antisemitism. The problem has long been known to occur at the Parc des Princes where PSG play their home matches. The "Ultras" who are part of the Boulogne Boys are known trouble makers, known hooligans of the worst type. This latest situation needs to be addressed by the city of Paris, the French government, and more importantly the Paris St Germain club. PSG needs to do a better job policing and weeding out these hooligans from the stadium and the surroundings. If PSG needs to play a few games in an empty stadium than so be it.

However this problem is greater than PSG and is rampant through out Europe, and needs to be continually addressed. We have seen teams walk off the pitch because one of their players is treated to monkey calls each time he touches the ball, other players have bananas thrown in their direction. One can debate for weeks about the cause: stupidity, fear of globalization, ignorance, the disguise of being a fan to give one the outlet for racism, mob mentality, and the list goes on.

Players like Henry and Ronaldino have made efforts to address racism and need to continue in these efforts. Federations are the ones that need to take more responsibility for the actions of their national and domestic teams. The fact the Spanish FA did nothing when Aragones made derogatory remarks about Henry, what kind of message does that send? Federations need to ban together and agree on harsh sanctions against clubs and venues that allow such behavior. Cause teams to give all game revenues to anti racism associations, force teams to lose points (and I don't mean lose points like the Italian justice system sees it....where as long as you whine enough you get most back), force national teams to forfeit qualifying games, ban teams from European competition (a harsh but effective technique leveraged after the tragedy in Heysel, 39 fans died prior to the Juventus - Liverpool Champions Cup finals, English teams were banned from continental European championships for 5 years), and if teams do not properly address the situation drop them to a lower division or disband them for a season or more. Maybe that will send the message that this behavior has no place in football or society.

While the unfortunate reality is racism will remain in society, where we can control it we need to. Football matches are entertainment, fans are passionate which makes it enjoyable and fun, but there is no room for the ugliness we saw in Paris this week. The real world is hard enough, our entertainment venues need not be.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

PSG, another lost season

For those fans of PSG that remain, it is once again a lost season. Mired in the middle of the table in Ligue 1, and lets face it with little hope of usurping the Lyon juggernaut that is steam rolling France once again, we had little to hope for, maybe a good run in the French Cup and a decent run in the UEFA Cup. It is now clear that second is not likely to happen. After barely qualifying for the group stages, PSG had to beat a bunch of post men and firefighters from the amateur club from somewhere in the UK, and now they fall hard to l’Hapoël Tel-Aviv....uh who?

While the Israeli national team and championship has become stronger in recent history, taking a 4-2 defeat at HOME is inexcusable. The PSG manger, Bernard Lacombe, must be sacked. Granted this will continue the trend of PSG looking to have at least two managers per season. But this team is in complete ruin. They have the resources and fan base to be a player in France and Europe, but fall hopelessly short of both.

PSG was in the "running" for Gonzalo Higuain...please....not going to happen. Their best signing Landreau must be wondering what he is doing playing for a team with such a weak defense...maybe Wenger should take a look at him for his long term goalkeeping solution. Dhorasso, which was a coupe a year ago, left the team in disgrace. Rothen has not found the form that had managers around Europe salivating while he played for Monaco.

PSG has been whallowing as underacheivers since the last great PSG teams of the 1990s, when players such as Djorkaef, N'Gotty, etc would actually play well for the capital club. It is amazing that PSG with one of the greatest players of the world Ronaldino, could muster not as much as a peep in Europe and France while he plied his trade in southwest paris. The last time PSG made the Champions League they went out the side door in embarassing fashiom, not even getting the UEFA spot!

I think the main problem is PSG needs to find a high profile manager, pay him what he wants and guarantee him 4 years or 5. Have an owner that is dedicated to winning, who not just spend the money but so wisely. Revamp the youth system, they use to find players like Anelka, no longer.

Teams in Ligue 1 remain a tier below the powerhouse leagues or England and Spain, which makes the developement program that much more vital. They cannot hope to purchase what they need as does Real, Man U, Barca, Chelsea, etc. Until there are some radical changes I fear that PSG will once again be an after thought in both France and Europe...then again no one has really "thought" of PSG in Europe in over a decade.

Monday, November 13, 2006

3-0 drubbing

Arsenal with a famous 3-0 victory this weekend over the pretenders - Liverpool. The score might have been much worse had a end of game break away been collected by Henry rather than one of the Arsenal's fullbacks.

Of course had anyone thought that Flamini, Toure and Gallas would have found the back of the net for the Gunners one would have thought you to be crazy. But Arsenal showed why they are a team that will play a role in this season's premiership title chase.

Liverpool played well, but once again Benitez stuck Gerrard out on the wing when he needed desperately to control the middle of the pitch. This gave Arsenal the freedom and ability to build the play via the middle of the pitch. This was especially surprising since Sissoko was out through injury. Arsenal demonstrated its passing class and ability, when they are passing the ball like this they are hard to beat.

This loss puts an end to Liverpool's title hopes, 14 points behind Manchester United, with Arsenal and Chelsea between the two, Benitez's boyz will have to focus on other trophies since for one more season Liverpool will be without a Championship title. This cannot be well regarded at Anfield Road, Benitez took over for Monsieur Houllier, looking to take Liverpool to the next level. However, were it not for a crazy second half in Istanbul, might Benitez be on a hotter seat than he is today? I think so. Yes he has won titles, FA cup last year, the above mentioned Champions League title against AC Milan, but he has not been competitive in the Premiership, the one title Liverpool fans really want to see the Red bring home. Houllier also brought home titles both European - UEFA cup and domestic cups, but could not break the duopoloy of Arsenal and Manchester United at the top of the Premiership mountain, who would have thought the last time Liverpool won a league title, 1990, that it would be Chelsea breaking the duopoly of these teams?

Benitez deserves much of the blame. He has demonstrated a stubborn streak that has brought down many other coaches, former Lyon, France and Tottenham manager Santini comes to mind. Benitez constant desire to change line ups, force Gerrard on the wing (much like Santini did with Zidane), and overall stubborness with regards to going it his way frustrate the Liverpool supporter. I think Benitez will find his way out the door once again unless he finds another miracle such as the one in Istanbul. And so the rotating door continues at manager Paul Le Guen....too bad his star has fallen to West Ham levels.....

Friday, November 10, 2006

Higuain say "No thanks"....for now

So the young Franco-Argetina star, Higuain has declined the invitation to join the World Cup Vice Champions for their match against the defending Euro Champs. This does not really come as a surprise. It was clear that the young prospect was feeling a tremendous amount of pressure from his club, River Plate, as well as others to not accept to play, at this time, for his birth nation - France.

And lets face it, he really is Argentinian....having spent a total of 10 months of his life in France. Now do I wanted him, if he is as good as the media makes him out to be, to play for Les Bleus? Absolutely! If he is the talent the press makes him out to be, he would make a nice combination with the young attacking talent France has such as Ribery, Gourcuff, Benzema, etc.

Something tells me this entire story has been drummed up by his father to get his name on the front pages and to get his stock in Europe on the rise. Granted, he is young, plays for one of the premier South American teams and has been producing. But until he turned down a call up for the Argentina national team, stating he was interested in playing for France, he was just another prospect from South America.

This is what I think will happen - he will refuse call up to either nation until he lands his new job. With clubs like Real Madrid, Chelsea, Liverpool, AC Milan and others expressing interest in his signature there appears no shortage of suitors for him to transfer too come the Jan transfer window. Assuming he is comfortably installed at Stamford Bridge, the Bernabeu or the San Siro by then, we will all turn a curious gaze towards the Feb 7th friendly between....France v Argentina in Paris......we might see all the fireworks starting again then.

My heart and mind tell me we will see him line up next to Crespo and Messi in the sky blue striped kit before he is receiving passes from Ribery and Malouda wearing the blue of France.

It would be too easy and nice to France to get such a potential talent drop into their laps....ah what could have been.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Wait for Monday

So Higuain will make a decision on Monday wether or not he will accept the call up to the French national team. So goes the soap opera for the talented 18 year old. We have seen more of these situations the past few years as nations vie to grab talented players who have multiple eligible national teams, notably two cases in the US. As well as players that would not otherwise be national team quality players for their native land find parents or employement situations allow them to be naturalized and play for an adopted nation.

Freddie Adu was offered a post on the Ghana national team over the summer and Giuseppe Rossi is being coveted by the US national team but had his heart set on the Azurri of Italy. We have also seen a number of lesser Brazilian players end up on Japan or Serbia's national teams, as well as two Italians playing for the Soccerroos.

As travel and employement becomes more international and easy, we will see a growing number of these cases. However it is rare to see tug of wars between National team powers like Argentina and France....

Higuain doubts

So the latest on Higuain, he will turn down the selection offered to him by Domenech. Rumor is that his club River Plate has made it difficult for him to accept the selection and not to play for the Argentinian national squad.

Rumor is Higuain wants to play for France, but will not accept a selection for the French team at least until he leaves River Plate....where his contract expires in June 2007. There is a fear that if Higuain plays for the French his return to Argentina would be very difficult, fans and managers would not be "happy." Supposedly his father has been visiting Europe and some large clubs, see Real Madrid, also spending time in Paris, assume chatting with Domenech and others, see PSG.....the plot thickens

Domenech picks his squad....the next Trezeguet?

So Domenech makes his selection for next week's friendly against the Greeks. Here is the squad -

Les 24 joueurs retenus
Gardiens : Grégory Coupet (Lyon), Mickaël Landreau (Paris-SG)
Défenseurs : Eric Abidal (Lyon), François Clerc (Lyon), Julien Escudé (FC Séville/ESP), Patrice Evra (Manchester United/ANG), William Gallas (Arsenal/ANG), Philippe Mexès (AS Rome/ITA), Willy Sagnol (Bayern Munich/ALL), Lilian Thuram (FC Barcelone/ESP)
Milieux : Alou Diarra (Lyon), Sidney Govou (Lyon), Gonzalo Higuain (River Plate/ARG), Claude Makelele (Chelsea/ANG), Florent Malouda (Lyon), Rio Mavuba (Bordeaux), Franck Ribéry (Marseille), Jérémy Toulalan (Lyon), Patrick Vieira (Inter Milan/ITA), Sylvain Wiltord (Lyon)
Attaquants : Nicolas Anelka (Bolton/ANG), Karim Benzema (Lyon), Thierry Henry (Arsenal/ANG), Louis Saha (Manchester United/ANG)

Here is what strikes me:

  • Why does Domenech insist on selecting Makelele? I understand why he wants him available for the qualifiers for the Euro, but maybe if he allowed him to stay home during friendlies he might win some points with the club managers. I doubt he will even play Keke, so why not let him sit at home for some R&R.
  • I like seeing Anelka back in the squad, I think he is going to be valuable to the French squad moving forward. Had he been selected for the WC finals he was the type of striker that can make the difference by himself.
  • I understand why Trezeguet was not selected (0 goals in 5 games). But I think he deserved to be recalled, especially since the team will be honoring the 1998 WC winning squad during the he could help Higuain...
  • Speaking of which, surprise selection of Mr Higuain. The 18 year old prodigy who plies his trade for River Plate was unknown in France untill a few months ago, when he turned down a selection to the Argetinian under-20 national team stating he wanted to play for Les Bleus. This created a flurry of speculation that Domenech would call him up etc, which he has done. The question becomes will he accept the call up...I do not see why he would not. The arguement that he turned down the Argentina call up was to preserve his French citizen does not hold water. Having been born in Brest, Higuain held a French passport, had he played for Argentina he would still have a French passport making his ability to play for a European club seemless, last time I checked Crespo plays in Europe and for Argentina, as does Heintz, Riquilme, etc. It will be interesting to see the dynamics if Higuain ends up in the Stade de France next week wearing the "rooster." I think Trezeguet might have been useful having around, he made the same move. He being of Argentinian - French decent, decided to play for Les Bleus rather than Argentina (seems like a good choice, since he has been playing with Les Bleus he has won two major titles and reached another world cup final...Argentina...not so much)
  • Chimbonda....again not sure why he did not get the call but Evra did. An article I read alluded to the fact he might have forfeited due to injury, if that is the case I retract my rant.
  • Boumsong not called due to injury...he should not be called up due to the fact he is not good. Mexes or Escude are the ones that should be getting his time
  • Benezema - It is great seeing Domenech call up another youngster. His run of form lately at Lyon and with the under -20s gives him the right to play with the big club.

I think domenech has called up some youth, some players that it will be good for him to take a look at. I do think that he should push that more with these friendly matches. Maybe he is starting to think about the future for the squad.....

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

How the mighty have fallen, at least for a week

This past weekend was full of crazy are some observations -

Lyon Finally Loses! Lyon lost a tough match to Rennes 1-0. On a missed assignment on a corner kick, Toulalan again lost his man...similar to what happened during the France - Scotland match to his teammate Abidal. Lyon saw their brazilian talisman, Juninho get red carded...and without Fred found it difficult up front. Wiltord did have some chances, Carew was a serviceable striker, but the run had to end. I do not see this being an omen of things to come. Lyon is still too talented and has a huge lead against Nancy, that is playing over its head. The main teams that you would think would challenge are too far behind - Marseilles, Bordeaux or the dysfunctional PSG. The lose was a blip on the season.

Tottenham wins, Tottenham wins! The Lily Whites post a historic victory over west london rivals - Chelsea. This match was fantastic. Tottenham's defender, Chimbonda and King were absolutely huge. King's back track on Robben was nothing short of spectacular. Chimbonda showed why, Domenech should not forget him for the French national team. Michael Dawson was also a rock, and his equalizing goal was smashing. The goal from Lennon was equally impressive, but what was more impressive was the run Keane made on the wing, the irishman made the Cannibal look more like Clarese rather than Hannibal. The opening goal was equally fabulous....had Lampard scored the goal we would all be praising its power and beauty, but the fact it was originated from the goal challenged Makelele makes it that much more impressive (not that anyone should criticize Makelele for not contributing a goal here and there)

What struck me of this game was the signs of some cracks in the Chelesea armor. I think that not seeing Sheva on the pitch at any point is an indication of how little Mourinho trusts the Ukrainian striker. Terry's sending off was an idication to me of the Chelsea arrogance and frustration that they are not running away with the Prem. Terry was being a thug all game, handing in late tackles, cross checking players in the box, etc....Terry has taken on the attitude that he "plays for chelsea and is therefore superior"...maybe he gets that from his boss. I think Chelsea, while still the odds on favorite to win the prem, will find the road much more difficult to navigate. I think they are feeling a little entitled and they are becoming a team of superstars. While they always had internationals at every position, they were players like Duff, Gudjonsson, and even Gallas....solid players, but not prima donas - Ballack, Shevchenko, Cole etc....I think players come to Chelsea expecting to just be handed a champions medal. Every team needs its plodders.....the rest of the season should be interested.

Arsenal - West Ham boxing match... Wenger and Pardew had to be seperated after West Ham scored the winner in the 89th minute. Classic moment, usually reserved to Arsenal - Manchester United matches. Arsenal looked shaky, while they had opportunities they allowed West Ham to threaten, and the lack of finishing for Arsenal is a little frustrating.....

Barca loses to Sevilla....The lose of Edo'o is really hurting the Catalan Giant. Ronaldino is having a terrible year, maybe the world cup was a prelude of what was to happen to the Brazilians - Ronaldo, Ronaldino, Adriano are all having subpar years....

Finally, has anyone seem the Scottish PL? Le Guen's Rangers are struggling in THIRD place! I cannot see a manager's stock fall so much...when he left Lyon he was the toast of not so much

Friday, November 03, 2006

France v Argentina

France will be playing Argentina in a friendly on Feb 7th....maybe I can a way to be in Paris for that match. This will be the first time in 20 years since the two nations will face one another. Here is a crazy thought, Gonzalo Higuain of River Plate has just turn down a call up to the Argentina under 20 squad (Higuain was born in France and still hold a french passport). He stated his desire to play for Les Bleus, maybe Domenech calls him up for this match....that would be interesting.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Champions league results

Much to image of Titi Henry, Arsenal should be disappointed after a 0-0 draw with CSKA Moscow. After numerous occasions, especially in the first half, Arsenal needs to be kicking themselves for not emerging without the full 3 point complement after yesterday's showing.

Arsenal could have and should have won easily 3 0r 4 nothing....the image of Rosicky missing a WIDE open net from inside the 5 yard box was exemplification of the evening. Cesc, Henry, Rosicky et al. missed golden chances the first half. The Russian keeper was left high and dry the first half, having to face 1v1 confrontations with the Arsenal attackers, being saved by the Gunners lack of finishing rather than "standing on his head." The CSKA keeper made a spectacular save in the second half from a Gilberto header that seemed destined for the bottom corner. With Porto winning convincingly, the group remains up in the air. CSKA, Porto and Arsenal all sit within 1 point with 2 more games to go. Arsenal who had a very promising first two games, now face a dog fight to qualify. All is left to play for....

In other matches - Barcelona is in real danger of not going through, all will come down to the last match between Barca and Bremen....Milan and Lyon look the strongest teams (an arguement could be made for Chelsea as well), getting Fred back for Lyon will determine if they can advance further than the past two seasons....Manchester United now faces a potentially trap game versus Celtic, after dropping points in Denmark.
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