Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Back to the future - Argentina looks to Diego as their new manager

When I started hearing the rumor I thought to myself "this is crazy, the man has done nothing but become an embarrassing caricature of himself the past few years." But it appears that Diego will now become the new manager of the Argentinian national team...um...okay. This man does not paint the picture of the "ideal" candidate: cocaine abuse, firing guns at reporters, hanging out with Castro, becoming a fat whale, getting his stomach stapled....etc etc. This is the same man that has been seen at La Bombonera, shirt off egging on the crazed Boca fans, great for someone who is a fan but not someone who is suppose to be running a national side, let alone one that aspires to major titles.

This selection is fraught with risk. While Diego remains a hero in his homeland, how long will that last once Argentina hits some rough roads? Does he have any experience selecting a team? Training a team? Being the spokesperson for his nation? no no no to the above. Yes he was his nation's captain during his playing time, but he led more by being the best player on the pitch than by his locker room leadership skills. He has never managed anything other than his cocaine habit. Argentina has the talent to be one the best teams in the world, they are young, experienced and loaded across the pitch. I fear that putting an irrational, untested, national icon such as Diego, in charge may waste this generation of Argentinian talent. Too bad

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Domenech wake up

I wonder if Domenech watches Serie A...to see that the best French keeper is Frey. Mandanda and Lloris might be the future, but Frey needs to be the now...too bad Domenech is too stubborn and has he personal skills of a cheese grater.

PSG scores a huge win

PSG beat their ancient rival, Marseilles, 4-2 this past weekend. The game continues to be discussed for a multitude of reasons - OM had a real chance to threaten Lyon and their title run, the rise of PSG and Ben Arfa not seeing the pitch and his subsequent pouting.

The game went back and forth, a typical Paris - Marseilles derby match. What struck me the most was that finally Hourau looked a bit more dangerous that beginning of the season. While he is not going to have anyone mistaken him for Ronaldo, he is starting to play more like the goal scorer/poacher that PSG needs to have any success. There remains many games to go, but this is promising for PSG.

What is less promising is what went down with Ben Arfa. The French starlet did not start the game and then refused to come into the game at the half time. Granted he apologized publicly after the match, but what does this say about the mentality of the player? The fact he did not take the pitch, too protest the fact he was not a starter is inexcusable. This behavior is not entirely surprising from Ben Arfa, he has been dogged by a bad attitude, and I think that attitude is what kept clubs such as Arsenal away from him during the past transfer season. Ben Arfa will need to work on his attitude, he has the talent, but if he does not have the right head on his shoulders he will waste away and never live up to his tremendous potential.

A great win for PSG, but there remains a lot of footie to go...

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Tottenham - relegated?

The London club is in real danger of being dropped this season, not a huge surprise when you sell your top two strikers and get.....no one to replace them. Smart. As of right now, both Tottenham and Newcastle would be relegated...ha.

A week to digest Les Bleus

Ok the international break has been over for a few days and we are back to club footie, and due to my travel I have not been able to reflect on the matches played by Les Bleus. I have however had plenty of time to think about the Romania game to some extent the friendly against Tunisia.

First the important match, the one in Romania for World Cup qualifying. I was able to watch the match on TV5, and for the first 20 minutes wished the game had not been broadcast. Quick recap, France looks like disjointed defensively the first 20 minutes and then mount a comeback that gets them a point for the draw and could have easily been the full 3 points of a win. Some thoughts:

The Good:
  • Gourcuff, after his strong showing against Serbia (prompting me to search for a Gourcuff kit while at the Adidas store on the Champs D'Elysee, they did not have his number and name, but I am sure that will change now) he followed up that showing with an encore that included an assist and a spectacular goal, his first for Les Bleus. In the young man from Brittany, France might have the piece they have been missing since Zizou retired - a #10, someone to pull the offensive strings for the team. While I am not ready to even place Gourcuff in the same time zone as Zidane or Platini, he has demonstrated an ability and willingness to take on defenders with his dribbling, look for the deadly thru balls, attempt the school yard back heel or flick on, and is not afraid to attempt to test keepers from long range. This is what France has been dearly missing, and was evident this summer at the Euros (amongst many deficiencies in the French game). His partnership with Ribery is especially intriguing, the two players linked up on more than one occasion carving up the Romanian defense. The future is very bright for Yoann.
  • Speaking of Ribery he too was very good, scoring an important goal before the end of the half cutting the deficit in half. For his first game back in Blue the Bayern man looked dangerous running at the defense and linking up with Gourcuff. He also demonstrated his emergence as a leader for the French team, his work rate after the second Romania goal was what kept the French afloat. The partnership between Ribery and Gourcuff might be the cornerstone for Les Bleus for years to come.
The Bad:
  • The French defense, was absolutely TERRIBLE. They dug themselves a nice 0-2 hole after 17 minutes. The first goal was on a poor effort from Evra who fell asleep at the wheel allowing his man to run right by him to latch onto a long through ball to fire Romania up 1-0. And of course, my good friend Boumsong did not shower himself in glory once again. France has the talent defensively - Mexes, Clichy, Evra, Sagna, Gallas, Squillaci all play a big time European clubs, but for some reason the French defense remains a huge enigma.
  • What about Malouda? His form for Chelsea is finally coming up to the level he demonstrated while at Lyon. Yet for France he appears lost. He got a surprise start on the left side but was completely invisible and substituted out well before the end of the first half. Is this the last we will see of the talented left wing? With Nasri, Ben Afra, and even veterans Henry threatening to assume the responsibility for the left side of the French attack, the Chelsea man might only be in Blue at Stamford Bridge.
  • Have I mentioned that Boumsong is absolutely terrible? He jumped 3 inches on the second goal, last I checked he is a central defender with some size and on set pieces is suppose to stick his head in there to clear the ball, not allow an attacking player to easily out jump him for an open header at the net.
The Ugly:
  • Boumsong, yes once again he qualifies for both Bad and Ugly. And what is really ugly is that he got the start in the friendly against Tunisia. That makes no sense to me. First of all, the only reason he was on the squad was due to the injury to Gallas, so technically he is your 4th or 5th best central defender, yet he gets to start both games???? That makes no sense what so ever to me. Why was Mexes not starting the friendly? I realize he is a player I love to hate, but there is plenty there not to like...Les Bleus will go no where with that donkey in the middle of the defense.
  • Defending set pieces, the French defense was overall bad but defending set pieces was UGLY. It is incomprehensive that a team cannot defend corners or free kicks. You would think it was a team of 7 year olds just learning the game. The goal on the corner kick was terrible and in some perverse way humorous, you could almost see it coming, the French defense flat footed and allowing a free run at the ball.
  • The fact Domenech still has his job is pure ugly. He should have been sacked minutes after France got humiliated at the Euros. The fact he remains in charge is preposterous. He continues to make questionable decisions with regards to selecting players. He appears to have no desire to work with the talent around him - how do you explain the whole Mexes fiasco? He continues to alienated players. And remains standoffish and aloof with the fans and media. Also, can he practice defending set pieces? Is that too much to ask? I fear that sticking with Domenech may waste the talented youth that France has...
The trip to Romania, was thankfully, not the disaster that it could have been. Being down 0-2, I was ready to see Les Bleus dig themselves into a deep hole for South Africa 2010, but they fought back and dominated the game. When France shifted Henry to the left, Benzema up front with Gourcuff sitting in the middle and Ribery on the right, they looked very dangerous. If you look at this offensive combo it is very young, with only Henry the "elder statesman" but you also have Nasri and Ben Arfa that will contend to hold that left channel. I could even see Remy or Gouffran getting a look soon to fill those roles. The holding roles are also in good hands - Toulalan and Diarra look like they will be able to hold down those roles.

What terrifies me is the defense. There is talent there, but there does not seem to be the system or partnership in place. Mexes - Gallas? Gallas - Abidal? Mexes - Squillaci? Boumsong? The right and left side are well served - Clichy might be getting a leg up on Evra and on the right Sagna is quickly cementing his place. The problem is with the central pairing. Mexes needs to be in the mix, but Domenech appears to be hot and cold with him. Gallas will be there but needs to develop a partnership and soon. Also, I think Mandanda has a wealth of talent and is the long term solution in goal, but I find Domenech's jettisoning of Landreau and Frey as irresponsible. Neither man really did anything to deserve that fate. I think Frey should be France's #1, he is clearly the best keeper in Serie A and has been that for a few seasons. However for whatever reason Domenech decides he will be discarded to the rubbish heap...stupid.

France have some talent and have the pieces, I fear that Domenech in his stubbornness and inability to properly manage might see this talent waste away.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

The Euros look like the NHL playoffs

Ok I realize this is relatively old news, but I have been busy! However still need to discuss this idiotic idea that the UEFA Euros will go from 16 teams to 24 teams in 2016. Obviously this was done with one motivator - MONEY. Pretty soon the Euros will have more teams in the tourney than the World Cup! 24 teams is basically half of the 53 member European nations...eliminate sides such as Andorra, Faroe Islands, Luxembourg, and Lichtenstein (no offense to those nations) and basically any and every nation that has a half decent soccer pedigree should qualify for the tournament. Ugh. Sounds a lot like the NHL playoffs...

I think that at 16 the tournament is perfect, granted I am a purist and loved it when it was 8 nations. However at 16 you still have most of the heavyweights in the tournament, as well as 1 or 2 surprises. With 16 nations, you were guaranteed to have solid groups, difficult group games, surprise nations (see Russia and Turkey) going far, exciting tournaments, and meaningful qualifiers. I fear that much of that will disappear with the expansion. While it will only add one more round to the knock out stages, it will dilute the group stages and more importantly make qualifying a formality for the heavyweights. Now speaking as a irrational die hard fan of one of those heavyweights, I am happy to assume France will qualify for the Euros from now on, but as a footie fan I think it is a bit silly. Let us look at the last Euros and see who would have rounded out the tourney:

The eight additional teams could have been:
  1. England
  2. Scotland
  3. Serbia
  4. Norway
  5. Ireland
  6. Bulgaria
  7. Northern Ireland
  8. Denmark
Um ok, all solid teams, but seriously. Look at the next "top nations" - Finland, Slovenia, Belarus, Ukraine....um ok. Again, out of all these nations England is the one "heavyweight" that missed out, and that is because they, once again underachieved and could not get a point from a meaningless game for Croatia at Wembley....same goes for Scotland. They could not beat Georgia or even draw with Georgia. With the new format the Scotland - Italy game would have be a "friendly." Of course, with more teams you might get what happened when Denmark surprised the world and won the 1992 tournament - a second tier football nation who wins the entire tournament. Or what happened in Portugal when Greece won the title. However we already have that with the current format. I would argue that adding another knock out round will LIMIT the ability for one of these surprise nations to emerge with the title. Longer knock out rounds usually mean the cream rises - heavyweight nations have more depth and talent, can adjust better and deal with injury and suspensions better than outsiders.

I cannot wait for the Euros to expand to 40 nations...allow the minnows to use the qualifiers to determine which go to the Euros to get destroyed by the heavyweights. Come on UEFA, keep the Euros as what it should be, an exciting and difficult tournament. What is better, a group with Holland, Italy, France and Roumania? Or one where North Ireland or Norway or Serbia is there?

Ah the power of money.
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