Friday, May 27, 2011

Shocking! FIFA and Blatter under investigation

I hope, for once, that justice and rational minds prevail. Sepp Blatter, the "leader" of FIFA, was looking to buy...errrr I mean win a 4th term in office (which he claims would be his last, unless he finds some other source of "revenue"). In his quest to continue his reign, he decided that it would be in the best interest to launch an investigation of his primary rival - Mohamed bin Hammam. Nothing like using your position of authority to squash the competition...wonder if Blatter has taken pages from the Saddam Hussein and Kim Jong Il election playbook. What is dripping with irony is that these charges have now raised the eyebrow towards Blatter's prior indiscretions...and there are many to pick from!

Make sure my "envelope" is at least this thick
So now the entire election will be called into question and most likely delayed. Good. I also hope that the investigations are done properly and that we are finally able to shed some light on the "leadership" of FIFA. Blatter has always had a dark cloud over his head, and for reason. He is a shady character. He has clearly come close to and most likely crossed many ethical lines - his original election was rife with allegations that bribes were offered to secure his passage.

The Swiss has made ridiculous statements such as: "Let the women play in more feminine clothes like they do in volleyball" Uh okay...yet the concept of leveraging technology, like goal line technology, is constantly poopooed by the Swiss. He has also presided over bring the World Cup to Africa - South Africa - that was a great achievement. Seen the World Cup head to Russia, also good, as well as Qatar...uh what? Qatar? Still a questionable move, especially when the Swiss Genius then comes out with the idea of playing the game in the winter since Qatar summers tend to be slightly warm.

So now Blatter finds himself under the scrutiny of his own organization...and let us all hope that they find the truth and hold those responsible accountable. If, as I believe, we discover that Blatter turned a blind eye or had direct involvement with any bribery scandals, then he MUST stand down. And CANNOT be re-elected. It would be an absolute disgrace and will completely discredit FIFA.

Do the right thing FIFA, get to the bottom of this and let us all hope that if the results warrant it, that Blatter does the right thing as well - step down.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Blanc comments on Cisse and Payet - sheds some light into potential formation

Laurent Blanc made some comments on the likes of Gourcuff, Payet and Landreau. Basically stating that none of these players have been written off for Les Bleus. The most interesting comment came around Cisse:

«On suit également ses performances. Mais il faut un équilibre. On a déjà deux buteurs, dans un système qui n'en utilise qu'un seul. On ne va pas l'appeler juste pour lui faire plaisir. Mais la porte n'est pas fermée

"We already have two goal scorers, in a system that only requires one..." I guess that means we should see Les Bleus evolving in a 4-2-3-1!

Blanc announces his list for upcoming internationals - Martin the new face to the mix

This morning, Laurent Blanc announced his list of players that he will leverage in France's upcoming matches. France will face Belarus in Euro qualifiers and then play 2 friendly matches against Euro 2012 hosts: Poland and Ukraine. It will give Les Bleus an Eastern European test to go into the summer break!

First of all the list:

Gardiens : Hugo Lloris (Lyon), Steve Mandanda (Marseille), Cédric Carrasso (Bordeaux)
Défenseurs
: Eric Abidal (Barcelone/ESP), Bacary Sagna (Arsenal/ANG), Adil Rami (Lille), Mamadou Sakho (Paris-SG), Patrice Evra (Manchester United/ANG), Anthony Réveillère (Lyon), Younes Kaboul (Tottenham/ANG)
Milieux: Alou Diarra (Bordeaux), Blaise Matuidi (Saint-Etienne), Yohan Cabaye (Lille), Yann Mvila (Rennes), Florent Malouda (Chelsea/ANG), Abou Diaby (Arsenal/ANG), Jérémy Menez (AS Rome/ITA), Samir Nasri (Arsenal/ANG), Franck Ribéry (Bayern Munich/ALL), Marvin Martin (Sochaux), Charles N'Zogbia (Wigan/ANG), Mathieu Valbuena (Marseille)
Attaquants : Kevin Gameiro (Lorient), Guillaume Hoarau (Paris-SG), Karim Benzema (Real Madrid/ESP), Loïc Rémy (Marseille)

France's next play maker?
The biggest surprises - the play maker from Sochaux Marvin Martin gets his first call up to the senior squad. The leading assist man from Ligue 1 gets a well deserved inclusion. There is no Gourcuff, who is injured, so this might open the door a bit for a player such as Martin to create a bit of a presence as France's #10. Interesting to also see N'Zogbia included in a squad that seems to have a number of options on the left flank: Ribery and Malouda.

As usual Blanc has a deep set of players to lean on for his holding responsibilities: Diarra, Matuidi, MVila, Diaby and Cabaye. He has options on the left, see above, and some decent depth for the right - Menez and Valbuena, even Nasri in certain formations.

What makes me nervous are his options up front. France seem thin when it comes to true world class strikers. Benzema will most likely be the starting option, but I am not convinced that the secondary options can be relied upon. I am not saying there is not some quality there, but just not the level that inspires confidence.

I will be interested to see what formation Blanc looks to lean on, the game in Belarus may look very similar to the one in Stade de France: Belarus defending 10 men behind the ball and looking for a goal on the counter and set pieces. Knowing that, Blanc might opt for a more offensive formation. Maybe a 4-4-2 diamond, play one holding midfielder, two wide flank players and an offensive midfield player sitting right behind the two strikers. It will also be interesting to see who Blanc turns to in central defense, Mexes is out due to knee surgery.

LLoris
Abidal-Rami-Sakho-Sagna
MVila (or Diarra)
Ribery Menez
Nasri
Hourau - Benzema

I can see Blanc leveraging Hourau, looking to get control of the Belarus' 18 yard box and allow him to get crosses from the wide players. Nasri would tuck in behind the strikers, Ribery and Menez will provide the width. Much will be expected of Diarra/M'Vila to do the work cleaning up any loose balls in the middle of the park. Sakho will be expected to find his bearings quickly with the other defenders.

It should be interesting!

Allez les Bleus.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Nasri to the Red Devils...the horror

A recent transfer rumor is that Sir Alex Ferguson is keeping tabs on Arsenal and French play maker Samir Nasri...ugh the horror. The last thing Arsenal needs is to see one of their bright lights jumping ship and heading north. Wenger is going to need to get his business in order - aka sign Nasri and either sign or jettison Clichy. Add to this the never ending rumors over Cesc and this off season will prove to be an interesting one once again in North London.

My thoughts - sell Cesc now, if Manchester City is truly interested that could start a minor bidding war with Barcelona - sell high. Move Clichy to Italy, I just do not see the French left back's game evolving any more, I think Wenger has maximized that player. Resign Nasri...now. And go spend some money on players. Look for some thoughts on who Wenger should target over the next few weeks.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

PSG heading to an interesting off season...typical

Sigh, PSG had a chance to move into the Champions League by defeating reeling Bordeaux, but instead they dropped all the points falling to Bordeaux 1-0. So with 2 games to go, PSG find themselves 2 points behind 3rd place Lyon. With a game this Saturday against league leader Lille, who subsequently defeated PSG a week ago for the Coupe de France title, the road to the Champions League does not appear to easy for the Parisians. Lyon face Caen and then finish with Monaco, while PSG will have to face St Etienne on the last day. Again, advantage Lyon. This weekend's game will be no cake walk for PSG, Lille will be pushing for at least a draw, which would secure them the double. And finishing with Les Verts is not easy task either. Of course Lyon will be facing two sides in a relegation battle, so no quarter will be given in those matches either.

Mathematically, PSG is still in the running for the bid to the Champions League next season, but the odds are not in their favor. This fact has been the catalyst for some rumblings coming out of the president's office at the Parc de Princes.

"We were not up to the game, and that is a big deception."

The quote from the PSG coach...which was a little tame compared to what the PSG president stated:

«Je suis assez énervé parce que ce soir (Ndlr : mercredi soir) les joueurs ont failli. Ils sont passés complètement à côté de leur match. Je crois qu'ils n'ont pas bien saisi que le Paris Saint-Germain avait un rendez-vous important avec la Ligue des Champions. C'était sans envie, sans impact et j'ai envie de dire presque pas sérieux. Cette place de troisième nous tendait les bras. Seulement il faut entrer sur le terrain avec un autre esprit. Il faut avoir faim, avoir envie, je pense qu'ils n'ont pas pris la mesure de l'événement», déplorait le président parisien, ajoutant un «on va régler ça entre nous» qui laisse augurer d’une sévère soufflante à venir du côté du Camp des Loges

To paraphrase - "We were not ready and we will take care of this in house" aka Heads will roll. Clearly we are in for an interesting off season. PSG, once again, will be entering the transfer season with much work to do, a lot of uncertainty and once again (much like Arsenal) will not be adding to their trophy case. Alas, this is becoming too regular an occurrence.

I would like to think this off season will be different, the PSG spring...but I will not hold my breath. If PSG and their president is serious about getting back to the Champions League they must hold on to their young talent - Sakho, Chantome, Clement and Makonda to name a few. They need to also ensure if the likes of Erding and Hourau exit they have the proper replacements in mind. PSG must acquire a legitimate keeper, sound familiar? And finally, make some bold moves! They must find some difference making players, otherwise they will be destined to chase Lyon, Marseilles and the like.

I fear that we will just see more of the same PSG soap opera this off season.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Essien back with Ghana, good for the game

Chelsea's hard tackling midfielder, Michael Essien is back in the mix for Ghana. 18 months ago it was feared that his knee injury would force him to retire from the international game, which would have been bad for the game. Essien who burst on the footballing scene when he made his move to Lyon and subsequently Chelsea. Valued for his unstoppable engine, tough tackling and occasional pile-driver goals his missing the World Cup last summer was ashame for Ghana.

The Black Stars built on their success from the Germany World Cup to get to the 1/4 finals in South Africa...and were one missed penalty kick from becoming the first African nation to reach a World Cup semi final. Imagine what Ghana would have looked like had their #8 been on the pitch.

Glad he is back, I have always regretted that Wenger and Arsenal did not grab him when they could. He would have solved many of the Gunner's problems.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The quota issue with the FFF, the underlying story

It would appear that the quota fiasco has been put behind us but the underlying issue remains an interesting one to debate. What is that issue? The dilemma that nations such as France have when it comes to players who have the opportunity to play for different national squads - whether due to dual nationalities or because of residence rules. During this debate over who said what and when the word quota was mentioned, it made me think about the issue of France developing talent through their youth organizations only to see them commit to a different nation when it comes to the A side. Originally I was adamant that this was bad for Les Bleus and France. How can Les Bleus nurture a player through all the youth teams only to see him commit to a national team for a country he may have never set foot in? According to a report, linked to the entire quota discussion, close to 50% of recent players that have gone through the French development system committed themselves to another national side. That appears like a high number. I am sure that some of those players could help Blanc and the squad.

Players such as Moussa Sow, who is the Ligue 1 leader in goals, would be nice for Blanc to call upon. How about Chamakh for Arsenal? Born in France, playing U19 for France but decided to play for Morocco. Or Taarabt who showcased for Les Bleus at the youth level but also decided to follow the same path as Chamakh, granted Taarabt was born in Morocco and moved to France at a young age, but he was still groomed by the youth system for Les Bleus. Of course there are some players that have gone through the famous Clairefontaine academy who now play for other national sides:

Name DOB Club before Academy Years at Academy Club after Academy Current Club International
Nicolas Anelka 14 March 1979 (age 32) France Trappes FC 1993–1996 France Paris Saint-Germain England Chelsea France France
Habib Bamogo 8 May 1982 (age 29) France ASV Châtenay-Malabry 1994–1998 France Montpellier France Nice Burkina Faso Burkina Faso
Sébastien Bassong 9 July 1986 (age 24) France FC Saint-Leu 1999–2002 France Metz England Tottenham Cameroon Cameroon
Habib Bellaïd 26 December 1986 (age 24) France Red Star FC 1999–2002 France Strasbourg France Sedan Algeria Algeria
Hatem Ben Arfa 7 March 1987 (age 24) France AC Boulogne Billencourt 1999–2002 France Lyon England Newcastle France France
Jimmy Briand 7 August 1985 (age 25) France CSF Brétigny 2000–2001 France Rennes France Lyon France France
Abou Diaby 11 May 1986 (age 25) France Red Star FC 1999–2002 France Auxerre England Arsenal France France
Issiar Dia 8 June 1987 (age 23) France AC Boulogne Billencourt 1999–2002 France Amiens Turkey Fenerbahçe S.K. Senegal Senegal
William Gallas 17 August 1977 (age 33) France AVG Football 1992–1994 France Caen England Tottenham France France
Thierry Henry 17 August 1977 (age 33) France ES Viry-Châtillon 1992 France Monaco United States New York Red Bulls France France
Blaise Matuidi 9 August 1987 (age 23) France CO Vincennois 1999–2002 France Créteil France Saint-Étienne France France
Mourad Meghni 16 April 1984 (age 27)
1999–2000 Italy Bologna Italy Lazio Algeria Algeria
Gabriel Obertan 26 February 1989 (age 22) France Paris Saint-Germain 2004–2005 France Bordeaux England Manchester United France France U21
Jérôme Rothen 31 March 1978 (age 33) France Versailles FC 1991–1994 France Caen Croatia Hajduk Split France France
Louis Saha 8 August 1978 (age 32)
1991–1994 France Metz England Everton France France


What is interesting to me...those players that are showcasing for other national squads, are they really good enough to be key members of the French national set up? The answer is no. They are good players, no doubt, could be useful for Les Bleus. Yet they are not players that I look at and say "wow, they would be the starting for Les Bleus in the place of Insert current player name"

On the contrary, players who could have showcased for another nation, who became key elements for France, opted for France. Vieira, Desailly, Makelele, Trezeguet and Zidane could have all played for another nation but decided to play for France.  Will some players opt for another national team that could become an important cog, sure. Hey it would have been nice if Higuain had opted to play for Les Bleus rather than Argentina! I do realize he lived in France a whole 3 months....but he was born in France! France, both the soccer team and the nation itself, have been built on the immigrants and colonies. This diversity brings it strength and a multicultural diversity. From a footballing point of view there is good - players like Vieira and Desailly - and there is reality - players who are developed by France only to play for the likes of Mali, Algeria or Morocco.

At the end I will accept this reality to take advantage of the good: picking from a diverse, large and talented pool of players.  It is never pleasant to nurture a player only to have them snub you at the ultimate moment. That happens in international football. The world is flat, nations like France with a strong youth system and a diverse population might "suffer" more because of this, but it will also have a first look at more talent than other nations. Rather than worry about quotas, the FFF should work on how to ensure their prized jewels that might switch nationalities are put on a track where that becomes a non issue.
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