Friday, April 29, 2011

Disturbing accusations about FFF quotas.

A disturbing story was written about in the blog MediaPart, click here to read the summary. What it accuses the FFF of is setting secret quotas based on a player's race, aka get more white players into the French developmental program. Wow. This smacks of Front National and JM Le Pen. If this is true than it is disgraceful and completely unacceptable.

Until proven otherwise, I am siding with Laurent Blanc and the FFF, that these accusations are completely baseless and unfounded. The French national team has been one that has embraced the diversity of its population. The last time I checked some of France's best players have been from a diverse back ground. Zizou, Desailly, Thuram, Tresor, Djorkaef, Vieira, Makelele, Tigana and the list goes on. Look at some of France's U19 Euro champs: Bakumba, Tafer, Griezmann and Kakuta all different ethnic backgrounds. Clearly the French Federation, as does any nation looking to win, will take the best youth available and look to groom them to represent the national team at the highest level.

Now an interesting twist could be, that the directors of the federation might have been discussing the dilemma of selecting youth players that have multiple eligibility. The majority of these situations involve a former French colony in Africa. Recently Blanc has specifically called out the fact Les Bleus have not been able to select players that the FFF has developed. Going back to the 2002 Euros where Kanoute was pre-selected for the French national team for the Euros (he has even had a game for the French B side as well as 16 games for the U21 squad) but instead he decided to commit to Mali. Kanoute was born in France. Today players such as Moussa Sow, Sebastien Bassong and Mourad Meghni have been developed at the youth levels for Les Bleus, only for them to choose another senior national side. Granted, Les Bleus have benefited from their colonial heritage and their diverse population for the French squad: Makelele from Zaire, Desailly from Ghana and Vieira from Senegal to name a few big name players who have worn the blue kit for France rather than from their birth nation. Yet, all these players spent the majority of their youth and lives in France so more reasonable than a player born in France who has been part of the French development system only to switch national team at the penultimate moment.

I hope that the article was penned from a misinterpretation of what the federation was discussing. If the directors are looking to impose some strategy around regulating the amount of players they put into their academies that after years of grooming can simply jump to another national team, then by all means that is a good strategy. I hope that this is the crux of the misunderstanding that led to the article....otherwise...well I rather not think about the alternative.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Zizou's next career

Great story on Zizou and his active role with Real Madrid, click here to read. Since his infamous head butt in Berlin...I still get a bit depressed whenever I think about that game...Zizou has been very active in the world of football. He was a key figure in Qatar's successful bid to host a world cup. Efforts for which Zidane came under considerable criticism about doing this simply for a financial windfall. Zidane stated he was interested in seeing an Arab nation host the global tournament and even if it were simply for money...what is wrong with that? It is not as if he was supporting Qatar's bid going up against a bid for his homeland France.

He has also played an active role with Real Madrid. And based on what the article outlines has done considerable work behind the scenes. The former player of the year has the Special One's respect, and that goes a long way in the game. Zidane clearly has the respect of the Real Madrid brass as well as players. His son also plays for the youth set up and is already in a tug of war between the Spanish and French national teams (I personally think it would be a tragedy if the former France captain's child plays for anyone other than Les Bleus).

Zizou makes it all right for Real Madrid
Zidane mentions wanting to run a club some day, I would hope that teams in Ligue 1 are paying attention. The French league would be well served trying to attract back into the fold some of France's big name exports. I would love to suggest PSG look to bring Zizou in to run the club, but he is from Marseilles and not sure he would want to take over the Parisian club when his heart is in the Velodrome. So why not Marseilles? OM could do worse than having Zizou play an active role in the club. Marseilles, and this pains me to say, is the only French club with true global potential. Lyon, PSG, Bordeaux, Lille to name a few are all clubs with real aspirations and relative strengths, but Marseilles is the only French club that has the cache. The fact they are the only ones with a Champions League title doesn't hurt either. Adding the likes of Zizou to their front office could propel OM into another orbit. It would also be great for Ligue 1 to have a favorite son back. Add Wenger to PSG and Ligue 1 might start to truly begin to live up to their potential.

I realize these might be pipe dreams, but one can always hope. With the other French favorite son - Platini - running UEFA and potentially FIFA one day, French soccer exports are doing well. But let us try to get some of that talent back into Ligue 1.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Time for Cesc to go...and truly rebuild Arsenal

Just a matter of time
After another terrible game where Arsenal fell to their boogie man - Bolton - it is time to admit we are going nowhere fast and must change. That change starts with selling Cesc. I realize his statements this week mirror much of what many Arsenal fans think: get some more veteran talent on the squad. Yet as the captain of the team you cannot allow yourself to come out and make such comments, I realize the media can sometimes twist your words and statements. Just do not allow yourself to be in such a position.

Add to this the fact that Cesc did not appear too averse to all the wooing that occurred last summer from Barcelona and you have a volatile situation. Wenger cannot stubbornly rely on youth it just does not work, especially not in a league with the likes of Chelsea, Manchester United, Liverpool and Manchester City, all clubs with deep pockets who are willing to spend on veteran talent. As I stated in a prior post, it is time to clean house, spend some money and bring in a team that will get over the hump.

Cesc needs to be the first to go.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Arsenal - another wasted season

Sigh, so any glimmer of hope that Arsenal would find a way to truly challenge Manchester United for the Premiership title all but evaporated today after another heart-breaker....once again versus North London rival Tottenham. Oh and did I mention that our other London rival, Chelsea, have now gone ahead of Arsenal in the table to the second spot.

Barclays Premier League : Table
Wednesday, 20 April 2011 21:45 UK

| Home | Away
1 Man Utd 33 15 1 0 42 9 5 9 3 28 23 38 70
2 Chelsea 33 12 2 2 32 10 7 5 5 29 17 34 64
3 Arsenal 33 10 4 3 31 13 8 6 2 35 21 32 64
4 Man City 32 10 4 2 28 11 6 4 6 22 19 20 56

5 Tottenham 32 8 7 1 25 15 6 5 5 22 24 8 54

6 Liverpool 33 10 4 2 29 12 4 3 10 17 27 7 49
7 Everton 33 7 7 3 28 22 4 7 5 19 19 6 47
8 Bolton 32 9 5 2 31 19 2 5 9 15 24 3 43
9 Newcastle 33 5 7 5 36 23 5 3 8 12 24 1 40
10 Aston Villa 33 7 5 4 23 17 3 5 9 19 37 -12 40
11 West Brom 33 6 6 5 27 29 4 3 9 20 33 -15 39
12 Fulham 32 7 6 3 23 16 1 8 7 13 19 1 38
13 Stoke 32 8 4 4 25 16 3 1 12 14 26 -3 38
14 Sunderland 33 6 5 5 20 19 3 6 8 15 28 -12 38
15 Birmingham 33 6 7 4 18 19 2 7 7 16 27 -12 38
16 Blackburn 33 6 6 4 20 14 3 2 12 20 40 -14 35
17 Wigan 33 4 7 6 18 31 3 6 7 14 22 -21 34

18 Blackpool 33 4 3 9 25 33 5 3 9 22 36 -22 33
19 West Ham 33 5 4 8 23 27 2 7 7 16 31 -19 32
20 Wolverhampton 32 7 3 6 24 25 2 2 12 12 31 -20 32


So what to make of what is clearly another season without silverware? I will not harp on the quadruple talk, as my fellow Gunner and podcaster (it has been a while), Sam pointed out, what was Wenger to say when his club was still in contention in 4 chases? However after a historic crashing out in the Carling Cup (see video to relive that debacle)

an embarrassing showing in the Champions League and a whimper in the FA Cup, Arsenal are clinging to a last gasp effort to somehow convince themselves they can still catch and surpass the Red Devils...what is the first sign of insanity? Doing the same thing and expecting a different result? 

So where to start dissecting yet another failure of a season? A couple of thoughts:

  • Transfer season - I am not saying that Given or Schwarzer would have solved all that ills Arsenal, but it was a clear indication that Wenger was not willing to go the extra mile for the season. Putting your faith in Almunia and a collection of Polish kids did not instill a high level of confidence in me. Add to this that Wenger did not address other areas of need - midfield metal anyone? The likes of Chamakh and Koscielny were nice additions but again still needed to bring in more fresh blood.
  • Relying on the likes of Diaby, Rosicky, Cesc, Bendtner, Van Persie and the likes. All very talented all injury prone, add to that list Nasri and you have a MASH unit. Again if you are serious about competing for 4 trophies you better have players that can stay on the pitch.
  • Losing Vermaelen was a major set back, no doubt, but not being able to secure the proper replacement was the kiss of death. I realize that Wenger did explore some options and had to settle for French international Squillaci, who has shown some decent performances but overall too many howlers. Again this goes back to the lack of depth, lose a key player such as the Belgian international and your ability to compete evaporates. Last I checked it appears that Manchester United also suffered some injuries to the likes of Vidic and Ferdinand....just saying.
  • Being soft...I realize this is a running theme for my Arsenal rants, but it was never more apparent than this season. Up 4-0 against Newcastle, 2-0 versus Tottenham, 3-1 against Tottenham, 1-0 against Liverpool....see a theme? I realize the game versus Liverpool was an anomaly, but still. Oh how about losing at home to WBA and Newcastle? What is maddening in the games where they held a 2 goal or better lead is the fact there was no Vieira or Keown or Parlour or Berghamp players who would will their teams through toughness and desire. Arsenal do not have these players...and need
So once again we will qualify for the Champions League, have a team that is "talented" and on the verge of winning, head into the off season with hopes of big signings but instead see a bunch of kids Wenger signs with the labels of potential and future stars. Meanwhile clubs like Manchester United, Chelsea and Manchester City will go out and sign big name established players. My advice to Wenger - sell the following players:
  • Clichy - his stock will not get any higher and I fear has dropped. Move the French back, Serie A has shown interest, move him.
  • Clean out the midfield - sell Diaby, Rosicky and Cesc....yes Cesc. Get the maximum you can for the Spaniard. His talent is unquestionable, but I am not convinced he is the captain and leader of this squad. While you are at, get rid of Arshavin, if you can.
  • See if anyone will take Van Persie, again not questioning his ability, just cannot count on him being healthy for an entire season.
  • Target a keeper, it will be tough since Manchester United are also looking for a long term #1, but Wenger must stop the merry go round that is goalkeeper at Arsenal. 
  • Find your midfield holding player - De Rossi? Schweinsteiger? Diarra from Bordeaux? Do what it takes to get a player that you can rely on to play that box to box role. While you are at it, why not go after another such player - Matuidi or Toulalan? The latter is probably inexpensive and eager for a change of scenery right now.
  • Lean on Nasri and Wilshere as your midfield anchors, hope that the likes of Ramsey come back to form as well. 
  • Get some depth at central defense - Sakho or Mertesacker would fit the bill.
  • Find some depth up front - Sow from Lille? How about Remy at Marseille? Niang at Fenerbahce? I am not expecting any of these options to be the next Titi Henry, but additional depth at striker.
  • Make a bold move, aka don't get outbid - and get a player such as Hazard or Muller.
I realize many of these are pipe dreams and Arsenal will be cautious in their approach and once again feed us the story of being fiscally responsible and counting on the players they have. And once again the only silverware we have much hope of winning is the Emirates Cup...One day we will once again add something to our trophy case, meanwhile I will just count the days until the youngsters become adults.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Copa America....and Spain.

Copa America has always struggled to gain the prestige of the European Cup. Even with the likes of Brazil and Argentina in the competition it never carries the heft of the Euros, and that is really just because of numbers. The Euros,like the World Cup, has a 2 year qualifying campaign and then a very entertaining and competitive tournament every 4 years. In the past many have called the Euros - "the World Cup without Argentina and Brazil." Now with the rise of African and Asian football, as well as other nations in the Americas that statement does not hold the same weight. At the crux is a simple math equation - UEFA has 53 nations, CONMEBOL has 10...

Future Copa America champs? Well at least they had colonies there
UEFA needs to have a qualifying campaign to get to the 16 nations that will participate, although soon those qualifiers will be almost moot as the tournament expands to 24 teams not a fan of that. For Copa America, CONMEBOL has  always invited Mexico and then another nation to the tournament. Most of the time that nation is from Central or North America, however Japan has also yeah...Japan. Aren't they in Asia? This is the case Japan had to withdraw due to the earthquake. So who has received the fill in invite? Spain. Um what?

So technically the defending World and European champs could also be the Copa America champs...really? As Sid Lowe stated in his article in Sports Illustrated...ABSURD! It makes no sense. Cope America is for...the AMERICAS! The fact that Japan has been a regular participant is already idiotic.

Here is how Copa America can improve, include the nations from CONCACAF. Wow no brainer there! That would add another 40 nations, granted some of those are minnows...okay many of them are minnows. So how about this formula - the top 8 teams from the combined regions go to Copa America, the other 4 slots are in qualification - maybe two of those teams are already there and the other teams have to qualify in a traditional method. How would this look, based on recent FIFA rankings?

Automatic qualifiers:
  • Brazil
  • Argentina
  • Uruguay
  • Chile
  • USA
  • Paraguay
  • Mexico
  • Colombia
Hondorus and Ecuador would  qualify for the play in for the final 2 spots, their opponents would come from the rest of the nations. Therefore the likes of Bolivia, Peru and Venezuela would have to qualify against the other nations rather than simply walk into the Copa America.

This would make it a true Cup for the Americas. It would afford the smaller nations a chance to play qualifiers and potentially get into the competition. Other nations such as Mexico and USA would know that they would have a regular tournament every 4 years that will give them a real test, unlike the Gold Cup. Finally it might start putting Copa America on par with the Euros. Of course the timing would have to be standardized!

But Spain? Really...

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Mexes injury - set back for Les Bleus

Such is life in professional sports...well all sports for that matter. Injuries. There is never a good time for an injury. The latest one suffered for Les Bleus is the torn ACL from France's sweeper - Mexes. He will miss the remainder of the AS Roma season, which means he could have also played his last game for the Rome squad (he is out of a contract and rumored to be heading to England or Milan). Mexes will also miss the upcoming matches for France. Will this be detrimental to Les Bleus? The one match of significance will be the visit to Belarus on June 3rd, otherwise he will miss 2 friendlies. Blanc and Les Bleus should be able to navigate these upcoming games without Mexes, but it is a set back. Why? It has been clear that Blanc is leaning on and building his squad around Lloris - Mexes - Rami. While this trio has looked very solid the past few games, their time together is still under 1 year. With the Euros coming up next year every game and every opportunity for this trio to work together is crucial to the long term success of Les Bleus.

In the near term, Blanc will need to figure out who to pair with Rami as central defender, both options are talented...but young: Sakho and Koscielny. Based on what Blanc did earlier I would see Sakho as the first option. Let us hope for a rapid recovery for Mexes, in the mean time Blanc will need to figure out who is the obvious second lieutenant at central back.

Friday, April 01, 2011

When politics and football cross paths

Interesting news from the world of soccer that could impact Les Bleus and their qualifying campaign - read here. Bosnia has been suspended from FIFA and UEFA...meaning they might not be able to complete their Euro qualifiers. While they sit 4th in Group D, they have a game in hand and assuming they win that match would only be 2 points off the pace set by group leaders France.

Group D


1France France520120040181712
2Belarus Belarus51101112213128
3Albania Albania52100112214408
4Bosnia-Herzegovina Bosnia and Herzegovina41011102116427
5Romania Romania511001212256-15
6Luxembourg Luxembourg6012003015111-101

It would be unfortunate if this were to occur, Bosnia is one of Europe's up and coming nations with the likes of Pjanic and Dzeko, not having these players participate in international competitions would be a shame. All this over the Bosnian FA not complying with president rules outlined by the UEFA. The root cause - ethnic division within the FA. Again, rekindling some old political and ethnic divisions, sad, but reality of what are the Balkans.

Let us hope that Bosnia can at least play out the remainder of the qualifiers and Euro if they qualify. This is similar to what happened to the former Yugoslavia in 1992 when the war disqualified them from the Euros...where replacement nation Denmark went on to win the trophy!