For the past couple of days, media outlets here in Britain have been full of stories speculating on who might move where and when and for how much: but here at Get the Mott and Buckett there's a more pressing issue regarding our Iberian cousins.
And so it was. On the 21st week of the 2010/11 La Liga season, Barcelona won their third consecutive title. Real Madrid's 1-0 loss to Osasuna on Sunday evening means they are now 7 points behind leaders Barcelona. In any other league in Europe that would be an assailable lead; not, however, in Spain.
For all the mitigating circumstances: the extra balls thrown on the pitch in the last ten minutes; Cristiano Ronaldo complaining that "all the opponents tried to do was kick us" - Real Madrid deserved to lose. They had two shots on target in the entire 90 minutes, and only one clear-cut opportunity. Ronaldo was kept, as has been the case for a lot of this season, at a distance. The two midfield pivots: Lass Diarra and Sami Khedira were woeful. And Karim Benzema proved that he can't cut it at the highest plain in the land.
But worse for Los Meringues is the worrying trend that this result seems to have continued. Madrid have now dropped 12 points away from home: two at Mallorca, Levante and Almeria and three at Osasuna and Barcelona. The last four teams they failed to beat were placed 17th, 18th, 20th and 1st (but let's forget about them). Three of La Liga's bottom five teams have now taken points off Madrid. And they have failed to score more than one goal in their past five games. As absolutely, wonderfully, brilliant Cristiano Ronaldo is, can Madrid afford to continue to rely on him? Can they survive without the vision and passing of Xabi Alonso? How badly do they miss Gonzalo Higuain? Is the squad good enough? Why didn't Mourinho invest properly in January? All of these are problems. But let's face it, they are not the problem.
The problem is Barcelona. With a seven point lead at the top of the Primera Division, Barca have effectively won the league. In late January! This morning's papers in Spain were full of similar sentiments: 'The league escapes Madrid' pronounced Marca. And over at El Mundo Deportivo, editor Tomas Roncero announced in his editorial: "Fighting for the league only to lose it in week 36 is a waste of effort now.... a team that can't win at Mallorca, Levante, Almería and Osasuna cannot expect to win the league."
But it's not just about those games, it's about other games. Barca's games. If throwing the towel in with 17 games to go sounds like madness, consider this caveat: Madrid trail Barcelona by seven points - a gap they've never turned around before. But it's effectively eight points. Because if the teams finish level at the end of the season, head-to-head goal difference will decide the league, and Barca, lest we forget, are 5-0 up. This morning, some even suggested that Barcelona might give Madrid April's clasico, by resting all their star players for the Champions League semi-final three days later, safe in the knowledge that the league title had been wrapped up.
Mathematically of course, it isn't. But you can understand why most people think it is. Barcelona didn't drop eight points for the whole of last season; and this year they have won 15 games in a row - a new La Liga record no less. Real Madrid would win any league in Europe except this one.
But in a league where draws are the new losses; and losses are the new catastrophes, what can be done to stop this duopoly? Or, as Deportivo fans displayed on a banner earlier this season: "Stop us becoming a Scottish league."
TV rights is one way of alleviating this unfair balance. In a league where Arab billionaires and Russian oligarchs are short on the ground, TV money, along with gate receipts, is the only plausible way of competing with the big teams. Unfortunately for the other 18 teams in La Liga, a new collective deal means that incomes will be higher, but, as always with Spanish football, not all teams will be equal. A new £2billion deal means: 16 teams will receive a 45% share of the money each year. Athletico Madrid and Valencia will each get 11%, and Madrid and Barcelona will each receive 35% of the total. La Liga's 'other teams' had effectively signed their own death warrants; just so most of them could stay in business.
Of course, the domination of The Big Two in Spain is not a new phenomenon. Between 1948-1999, Real/Barca only failed to win 12 titles. But the problem now is not that Real Madrid/Barcelona always win the league; they are the only teams who can win the league.
Real Madrid broke a La Liga points total last year, and yet still couldn't win the league. Asked at the end of the season to comment on the amount of points the two teams were racking up, Pep Guardiola replied: "It's F***ing barbaric." Quite.
Two months ago, it seemed for all intents and purposes that Roman Abramovich had lost all interest in Chelsea. The Blues complete lack of form mixed with Russia's winning World Cup bid looked like the west London club's final-nail-in-the-coffin. The sceptics presumed that with ten stadiums, hundreds of hotels and thousands of miles of new railway to be built, Abramovich's millions wouldn't be able to stretch back to his play-thing in London. But aligned with their pursuit of David Luiz from Benfica, it seems the Russian hasn't lost his appetite for English football.
Having lost Ricardo Carvalho, Joe Cole, Deco and Michael Ballack in the summer, Ancelotti was invited to make use of the club's burgeoning academy system. Expensively - and in some cases controversially - assembled, the youth squad's creme de la creme were meant to integrate some much needed freshness and vitality in to the ageing first team. The experiment of drafting four of the most promising young players has, however, born limited fruit. The emergence of Josh McEachran is an overwhelming plus, but Gael Kakuta has failed to produce what his early performances promised. Patrick van Aanholt has been shipped out to Leicester City on-loan, and Jeffrey Bruma has yet to establish himself in the first team - even being used as a make-weight for the David Luiz transfer.
And more to the point, Daniel Sturridge - who was seen as the new hope for Chelsea at the start of the season - has failed to displace Salomon Kalou, Nicholas Anelka and Didier Drogba from the starting XI, all of whom have looked underwhelming in the past few weeks. The 21-year-old has failed to find the net in any of his 13 league appearances.
The bid for Torres then, is both an admission of weakness in the playing squad and, perhaps more importantly, an understanding that Carlo Ancelotti is the man to lead Chelsea out of the baron spell they currently find themselves in. Whether the oligarch will sanction the £50million bid which will release the clause in his contract is yet to be seen. But with Torres cleared to play in this year's Champions League, it would make him particularly valuable as the club prepare for the last 16 game against FC Copenhagen next month, and will certainly cement their place in the top four, ready for a European challenge next year.
Torres's state of mind has been a talking point for months, and although it is true that he never looked himself under Roy Hodgson, it was not the ex-Fulham manager's arrival which blighted his form or confidence. A succession of injuries last season and a general malaise under Benitez were under-pinned by his performances at this summer's World Cup where his complete lack of anything resembling class was as baffling as that of Wayne Rooney's for England. Having become such an icon at Anfield, Torres in decline seemed to symbolise the spiral the club was taking under Rafa Benitez. And it seemed all to easy to conclude that the departure of Xabi Alonso, followed by Javier Mascherano, had forced him to give up hope.
Although his performances seemed to have picked up since the arrival of Kenny Dalglish, it seems as if Torres has become disillusioned with life at Liverpool. Missing two seasons of Champions League football has become a major gripe for the Spaniard, and he feels as if he's been betrayed by the club's lack of investment. All the signs now point towards Torres moving to Chelsea, with the player himself asking for Liverpool to negotiate with the west London club. The departure of Torres could pave the way for Luis Suarez to join from Ajax: but is this the result Liverpool fans want?
It's been proven before with numerous examples that goals in Holland don't equate to goals in England, and with Manchester United on the verge of finally "knocking Liverpool off their f***ing perch", this probably isn't the best time to be a Reds fan.
The chances are, that unless you are a proper football buff, you may not have heard of FC St. Pauli. On the pitch they are entirely unremarkable: floating between Germany's first and second divisions. But off it they have become a 'Kult' club, recognised for their fans' unique counter-culture.
Based in Hamburg, FC St. Pauli are the football wing of the larger St. Pauli sports club, which includes other pursuits such as: rugby, American football, baseball, bowling, boxing, cycling, handball, softball, table tennis, skittles and chess - yes, they have a chess team. 'The Pirates of the league' as they are known, officially formed in 1910. The team played as an undistinguished lower league side until, in 1934, they made their debut in the German top-flight. This wasn't quite the achievement it first seems as football had been reorganised by the Third Reich, so that all 16 divisions in German football were determined as 'premier divisions'. Promotion and subsequent relegation followed St. Pauli for the next decade, until the outbreak of World War II meant all football in Germany was cancelled.
After the war, leagues resumed normal practice, and once again, promotions to higher divisions were followed by relegation. The 1950's were topsy-turvy for St. Pauli, and by the end of the decade they found themselves being overtaken by their great rivals SV Hamburg. 1963 saw the introduction of the Bundesliga as Germany's sole top division and unfortunately for St. Pauli, they weren't invited; instead being instated to the league below: 2.Bundesliga. The 60's and 70's saw the side yo-yoing between 2.Bundesliga and the German third division. And towards the end of the 70's St. Pauli very nearly went out of business; living above their means and only attracting crowds of around 1,000.
It was this near escape from bankruptcy that jolted the club and its fans into action. Moving the club's ground from the outskirts of Hamburg to the city's infamous Reeperbahn region - or, Red Light District - the team started attracting a different type of fan, a politically left-leaning one, who used the games to create a party atmosphere in and around the ground. The fans adopted the 'skull and crossbones' as its unofficial emblem, and became the first team in Germany to ban right-wing nationalist activities and displays within their stadium - this at a time when fascist-inspired football hooliganism was threatening the game across Europe. The fans quickly became known for their anti-racist, anti-fascist and anti-sexist sentiments, and was soon attracting crowds of well over 10,000.
During this period, the club, as for the previous 70 years, were constantly moving between Germany's second and third divisions until, in 1988, they reached the promised land of the Bundesliga. Unfortunately, this didn't last long, and were relegated back to 2.Bundesliga after only two years.
The team's 'Kult' aesthetic however only grew stronger. Punks and Goths became a large part of the fans' community and the club went a step further to integrate these groups by announcing the club's official song as "Hells' Bells" by AC/DC. And still fan numbers grew. By the 1990's St. Pauli had the largest number of female supporters in Germany, and continued their anti-sexism stance vehemently - removing advertisements for the men's magazine, Maxim, within the stadium after the club's fans protested at the sexist depictions of women.
Into the new millennium, and things looked to have picked up on the field. A sustained period in Germany's top division lasted a full six years - the longest in the club's history - and this coincided with St. Pauli's ever-growing popularity, not just throughout Germany, but the whole of Europe. Fan links were created with Scottish side, Celtic and Israel's Hapoel Tel Aviv. Over 200 fan clubs were created, and it's estimated that St. Pauli now have over 11 million fans in Germany alone. The turn of the millennium also saw a change in ownership for the club. And only St. Pauli could be owned by a man like Corny Littman. Owner of the Schmidt Sex Theatre in Hamburg, Littman is openly gay and often works in the nude. He introduced a 'sausage and beer train' that runs through the stadium's executive boxes and allowed one box owner to implant a dancing pole and mirrors to his suite. I doubt he'd pass the Premier League's 'fit and proper persons test'
As well as their fantastically weird fans and charmingly odd chairman, St. Pauli also invest heavily in local and international charities. Donating millions of pounds towards numerous homeless charities in Hamburg and helping build water tanks in Peru.
This season saw The Pirates return to the Bundesliga with much fanfare. A poor first half of the season was lifted brightly with a 2-1 home win over fierce rivals Hamburg, and after 19 games, St. Pauli lie within the relegation zone in 16th place.
The antithesis of everything that football has to offer in Britain, FC St. Pauli are not just a football team, but a statement of your beliefs. A lifestyle. A 'Kult'. In short: your next favourite team.
After 25 anonymous years, a return to the league looks imminent for the Cosmos. Now, just the small matter of finding a few players.
Over the past week, two of football's most recognisable ex-professionals have upped sticks and moved to some of the game's most improbable clubs. Both clubs are in countries and cities that the UN have regarded as 'high-risk': one of them is run by a former leader of a known terrorist organisation; the other, doesn't even exist.
So why have Ruud Gullit and Eric Cantona moved to two of the world's most absurd football clubs?
It's been 15 years since Ruud Gullit coined the phrase "sexy football", but now, the former Milan and Holland midfielder has the chance to implement his sexiness on the Russian Premier League side Terek. Based in Grozny, the capital city of war-frazzled Chechnya, Terek are currently the 12th best side in Russia (out of 16), and only survived relegation last season by three points. The Dutchman's new boss will be the infamous Ramzan Kadyrov: a boisterous former rebel fighter, who's militia are accused of widespread human rights abuse. Gullit's new job will take him to a belt of southern Russia which, in recent years, has been plagued by bombings, abductions and terrorist attacks. And yet, despite all of this, Kadyrov has ordered Gullit to finish within the league's top 5 this season.
Whatever the owner's expectations, taking on Terek will be quite a challenge for Gullit: as well as the oft-reported problems of racism within Russia (Gullit will be the first ever black manager in the Russian Premier League), there is also the issue of security. The club are formally known as Akhmat Abdulkhamidovich Kadyrov Terek (Grozny) Football Club, in honour of the current owner's father who, back in 2004, was blown up by Islamist militants during a military parade at the club's ground.
Of course, we all know why Gullit has taken up the opportunity to manage in one of the world's deadliest places: Roubles. A couple of million Roubles if reports are to believed. And according to Khaidar Alkhanov, Terek's vice-president, the big money moves won't be stopping at the Dutchman: "The club are in talks to buy one of the 10 best strikers in the world, who is currently playing in the English Premier League. The deal is almost done."
When Gullit left his position as manager of LA Galaxy back in 2008, he claimed it was because his family couldn't settle in California. Three years and a move to Chechnya later, it now seems evidently clear what the acronym 'WTF' was invented for.
It may not, on the face of it, seem as strange a move as Gullit to Chechnya. But Eric Cantona's move to the New York Cosmos to become Director of Football is in some ways even weirder; mainly for the fact that the New York Cosmos aren't an actual football team.
Back in the 1970's - when the USA was just beginning its love affair with the beautiful game - there was one team that attracted the biggest crowds and the best players. Based at the 80,000-seater Giants Stadium, the New York Cosmos were the side in NASL (North American Soccer League), winning five straight conference titles between 1977-1981.
Owned by Warner Brothers president, Steve Ross, the Cosmos were able to offer the most ludicrous wages to international stars: the team's marque signing, Pele, was famously the world's highest paid sports star, earning a reported $1.4million per year. Other world class players quickly followed: West Germany captain, Franz Beckenbauer, World cup winner, Carlos Alberto, and Dutch international, Johan Neeskens made the Cosmos almost unbeatable.
But the good times couldn't last forever, and Pele's retirement in 1981 signalled the end for the Cosmos. Attendances fell, the club's brand diminished, and eventually the franchise's profitability was nil. Three years later, not only did the New York Cosmos fall out of the league; the entire league itself disappeared.
A brief period playing in the Major Indoor Soccer League ended after only 33 games, and since the end of 1985 the New York Cosmos have failed to exist.
But a revival of the team and its brand is now in the pipeline. English businessman, Paul Kemsley, bought the Cosmos brand back in 2009 and instantly appointed Pele as the club's honorary president. Also on board are: former Liverpool CEO, Rick Parry, the Cosmos' all-time top goalscorer, Giorgio Chinaglia and now, Eric Cantona.
"I am very honoured to join the legendary club New York Cosmos" said Cantona, "It’s a big project, a wonderful project. The Cosmos are very strong, beautifully made, with a great past. It’s kind of a mix between football and art. In addition to my artistic engagements, I will do everything that I can to help us first find our way to regain the #1 position in the United States, and then for us to become one of the best clubs in the world over the coming years."
After 25 anonymous years, a return to the league looks imminent for the Cosmos. Now, just the small matter of finding a few players.
|Jeff and the lads.|
Since '92 Soccer Saturday has become the saviour and indeed the lifeblood of many a long afternoon. Previously, when the call came to say 'game off', or when you'd decided not to take the 5 hour trip to watch your side away at Plymouth, there was always the worry that 'she'll take me shopping' or heaven forbid 'there might be some rugby on at 3 o'clock'. So thank god for Jeff and the lads. Not since 'Rhythm is a Dancer' reached number one with Cult dance act Snap, has any decent male had a legitimate reason to be doing anything non-football related between the hours of 12.00-18.00 on a Saturday. Anything thereafter, particularly in '92, must be Snap related.
As you can tell, here at Get the Mott and Buckett we love it. We love the conversation, the exclusives, the interviews, but more than anything we love the banter. As some would say, this show is "mainly for the lads". And we love that too.
But finally, here's what we love most; the numerous hours spent on youtube repeatedly watching the best bits of the last 19 years. From Kammy's first 'Unbelievable Jeff' to Mers' tooth falling out. But now, in one place, are the collection of Get the Mott and Buckett's greatest Soccer Saturday moments, enjoy!
"What's happened Chris?" "I don't know Jeff!"
Kammy misses a goal at Fratton Park in what has come to be known as one of his greatest ever Soccer Saturday moments. Spot the tie, not round the collar of his shirt in tradiotnal fashion, but in fact round the neck. Classic Kammy.
"Don't really know what's happening Jeff!"
More classic Kammy. Note "PAPPA BOUBA DIOP WITH THE HEADER!" on 0.12.
"Go on Jeff! Don't hold back Jeff!"
Captain Jeff Stelling's famous rant on Middlesbrough.
Thompson reaction to Riise own goal.
Some say Thomo is shouting "Payney" at Ian Payne, others have suggested that he is in fact a diabetic in urgent need of glucose, leading him to shout "PENGUIN!" I guess we'll never know.
"Somebody's been sent off Jeff but I'm not sure who, but I'll tell you what, this game's flatter than my Mrs' Yorkshire puddings!"
Dean Windass. Better than Charlie Nicholas any day.
"Would you say that is just hyperbole Paul?"
Jeff confuses Mers with a big word.
"Spurs are fighting like beavers!"
Kammy. Enough said.
Jeff jumps out of his seat.
The laughter which follows him leaving the chair is what makes this classic Soccer Saturday.
"I'm not gunna' sing, but I'll tell you what . . ."
Jeff with what has come to be trademark Stelling.
"The Ambre Solare's on Jeff, I'm just topping up my tan."
"Noel Hunt's 5'10 and white and Jimmy Kebe 6'4 and black. I apologise"
"Torres. OH MY GOD!"
Phil Thompson and Frank McLintock co-commentate on Liverpool v Arsenal, European Cup Quarter-Final. Not strictly Soccer Saturday, but essentially.
"I told you it works wonders this Chang beer!"
Kammy doing his best for Anglo-Thai relations. Also note "Zinedine Kilbane". Again, not Soccer Saturday. But anything with that man in is worth a look.
This time last year, the whole of Africa - nigh, the whole footballing world - was looking forward to the 2010 African Cup of Nations. Held in Angola for the very first time. The competition, as always, was meant as a celebration of all that is good about football on the planet's largest continent. Togo, one of the smallest nations taking part in the tournament, arranged to travel to Angola via bus; racking up a distance of 400km and passing through Nigeria, Cameroon, DR Congo, and fatally, the provence of Cabinda.
The bus would never make it to Angola.
After Angola's independence from Portugal in 1975, Cabinda - which was a seperate nation - became an enclave province (think France/Monaco, but without the tax breaks) of the newly-freed Angola. The Alvor Agreement was signed by parties representing both countries, stating that both nations would now share a governement and armed forces. Almost as soon as the agreement was signed a seperatist group formed calling themselves the 'Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda' (FLEC). For the next 27 years a civil war was fought in Angola, with nearly one million civilian casualities. It wasn't until the death of FLEC's original leader, Jonas Savimbi, that the war finally ended in 2002.
Although the war had ended eight years previous Cabinda was still seen as a 'high risk' area for the Togolese national team. And as the bus passed over the border from DR Congo, 15 gunmen unleashed an unprecidented attack on the team's vehicle and its travelling security convoy. The gunfight lasted half an hour, with three men being killed. One of the men killed was the team bus-driver Mário Adjoua, meaning there was no-way of escape for the passengers on board. FLEC took full responsibilty for the attack, stating that: "This operation is just the start of a series of planned actions that will continue to take place in the whole territory of Cabinda."
Emmanuel Adebayor, Manchester City striker and captain of Togo, later said in an interview, "this is the worst thing I've ever been through in my life." As Adebayor was one of the very few people unhurt in the attack, he was charged with carrying his screaming team-mates into a nearby hospital. Thomas Dossevi, a team-mate of Adebayor describes the attack as thus: "It was a real hell. Twenty minutes of shots, of blood and fear. The bus carrying the luggage was riddled. Maybe they thought we were there. Then they opened fire, even against our coaches. It was terrible. We were machine-gunned like dogs."
Following the shootings, the Togolese team called for a boycott of the competition. Thomas Dossevi and other players spoke of their disgust and lack of desire to compete following their experience. Subsequently, the Togo national team withdrew from the tournament. A few days later however, after a dramatic change of heart, the players decided to compete in the tournament, "in memory of those who have died". The Confederation Africaine de football (CAF) however, had other ideas: instead of allowing this grieving nation back into the competition, they fined them $50,000 for travelling through Cabinda. Virgilio Santos, a member of the Organisation Committee, said, "The rules were clear: no team should arrive by bus. I do not know what has led Togo to do it anyway." On 14th January 2010, Togo were officially disqualified from the next two African Cup of Nations. Many called for the competition to be cancelled because of the atrocity, but CAF decided to continue with the tournament. A minute's silence was held before every game. Egypt eventually won the tournament, beating Ghana 1-0 in the final, but the victory was a hollow one.
It's been exactly 365 days since the attack, and CAF's reputation hasn't recovered. The shambolic way in which they went about dealing with the atrocity was condemned by players, managers and journalists alike, all over the globe. FIFA also came for criticism; completely washing their hands of any involvement: "This tragedy took place during the Africa Cup of Nations, which is organized by CAF and not by FIFA. The regulations of the organizer are the ones which apply, and there are no specific FIFA regulations for such competitions.”
So, one year on, how are Togo recovering?
After much uproar, CAF relented with their disqualification of Togo from the African Cup of Nations, lifting the ban of 12th April 2010. Adebayor, Togo's best player and talisman, retired from international football soon after, claiming that he "was still haunted by the events of that horrible afternoon".
As well as the deaths of three of the team's support staff, a number of players were injured during the attack: most notably, goalkeeper Kodjovi Obilale. Having been shot in the back, surgeons were unable to remove the bullets from his body; they are still, one year on, burrowing into his stomach. His career, as you'd imagine, has been tragically cut short; and he has to rely on the use of a permanent wheelchair. And the compensation fee he received? A measely $25,000. Obilale had this to say late last year: "There are people who just don’t have hearts. All they think of is counting their cash. Honestly, if my name was Samuel Eto’o or Didier Drogba it wouldn’t be happening like this. Nobody would be offering me $25,000. But it’s because I play for Pontivy.We all kick the same ball – it should be fair for everyone. They don’t know what I’m going to do tomorrow, what my plans are. Nobody is asking.”
And that's the problem: nobody has asked. They may not play for Inter Milan and Chelsea, but they still deserve the sympathy and respect of the footballing world.
|Time's up for Roy Hodgson at Liverpool|
And so, after weeks of speculation, Roy Hodgson has finally left Liverpool. His tenure has been marred by dismal performances against Wolves, and most recently, Blackburn Rovers. But the dismissal of the mild-mannered Londoner has left a sour taste in many fans' mouths.
After leading Fulham to their first ever European final last May, it seemed Hodgson, after years of trying, finally had the world at his feet. Voted PFA Manager of the Year by his fellow professionals and in some outlets touted as the successor to Fabio Capello in the England job; Woy, after 36 years in management and unknown successes on the continent, was, it seemed, finally being appreciated back home.
Beginning his career at Malmo in Sweden, Hodgson was a revelation. He won five Swedish Championships in five years and two national cup competitions. Such was his popularity at the club that even do this day a corner of the ground is referred to as 'Roy's Horna' (Roy's Corner). He also did well in European competitions with the minnows; knocking out Inter Milan at the last 16 stage of the Champions League - a club he would later go on to manage. The greatest period in the club's history culminated in him being offered a lifetime contract, unfortunately for them he declined the offer.
He continued his globe-trotting exploits over the next ten years: managing Swiss side Neuchatel Xamax, the Swiss national side, Grasshopper (also in Switzerland), FC Copenhagen, Udinese, Finland and the United Arab Emirates. His biggest job in that period was at Internazionale; leading them to a UEFA Cup final and second in Serie A. Perhaps an underachievement with (the original and the best) Ronaldo in your side.
Having proved his calibre in Europe, it is surprising how late England has been in appreciating Roy Hodgson. Unsuccessful spells at Bristol City in the 80's and Blackburn Rovers in the 90's were probably the catalyst. But the miraculous job he did at Fulham finally had a big English club calling.
In his first press conference as Liverpool manager, Roy Hodgson called Liverpool "one of the biggest clubs in world football", it's perhaps unfortunate then that he inherited one of the worst squads the club has ever seen. Admittedly he didn't help matters by signing Christian Poulsen and Paul Konchesky, but if a club with only three world class players truly harbours title-aspirations, then they are probably living in a Jamie Carragher induced coma.
The takeover of Liverpool by the NESV (New England Sports Venture) group back in October was also, in a hindsight, a bad omen for Hodgson. Not being 'their man' when new investors take over a club is always, in most cases, a precursor for a sacking, but after only three months working together, most neutrals looking on will agree that Hodgson hasn't been given nearly enough time. John W Henry - the owner of NESV - promised in various interviews back in November to give the manager both time and money. Obviously, it's naive to expect everything a new owner says as gospel, but the marginalisation of Hodgson right from the outset has been an embarrassing indictment on the club.
It was clear from the off that Woy wasn't the man the majority of fans' wanted; many of them asking for a 'bigger name'. And fan-power has finally won out at Anfield. The performances have been awful (games against Utrecht and Wolves stick out), but to blame that entirely on the management is ludicrous. It was said before the season on the Guardian's Football Weekly podcast that Hodgson is very stuck in his ways regarding training. Danny Murphy, last season, was quoted as saying that the manger's sessions were "boring, but worth it". Concentrating largely on keeping the ball and patterns of play, it wouldn't surprise me if Liverpool's players' found Hodgson's training sessions beneath them, and instantly took a dislike to him. By some of the players' body language, that looks almost certainly the case.
Still, Kopites have finally got the man they wanted all along: Kenny Dalglish. The last man to win a league title with Liverpool is a hero on Merseyside. Their greatest ever player. But 11 years out of football management is a long time, and with only six months to turn things around, not many people - apart from the most ardent of Liverpool fans - believe he can.
Today's FA Cup defeat to Manchester United was an improvement, but the initial ecstasy that inevitably occurs when a new manager joins a club will almost definitely fade from the Anfield Road. With Steven Gerrard missing the next three games; including a Merseyside derby, it will be up to Dalglish to get Fernando Torres firing again, something which Rafael Benitez, Vicente Del Bosque and Roy Hodgson failed to do over the past 12 months.
In the end, this could be the best thing to happen to Roy Hodgson. Any educated fan will recognise that six months was too short a time to make any sort of mark on Liverpool football club. And on the other hand, if he were to of been given till the end of the season, on current form, it could have been the likes of Barnsley and Crystal Palace playing their games at Anfield next year: and Hodgson's reputation would have been ruined forever. As it is, the general consensus is that he didn't do well, but then what sort of squad did he have at his disposal? Let's just hope, over the coming weeks, Dalglish manages to kneecap Glen Johnson in a training ground 'accident'.
Debates about having a footballing Christmas break have been amalgamating over here in Blighty since time began. But the problem with having a three week break over the festive period is that some players might swan off to warmer climes, and possibly not return.
And that's the case with two of AS Roma's most tumultuous South Americans. Both Adriano and David Pizarro failed to report back to training after Christmas, the former citing a slight knee twinge; the latter, an expired passport.
There's no doubt that Adriano has been happy to kick back in the Eternal City for the past six months. His complete lack of anything resembling fitness has seen him become a laughing stock in Italy - being given the Bidone d'Oro award (golden dustbin), for the season's worst player, a record third time - and all this from a player that only a few years ago, looked to all intents and purposes, a world-beater (especially if you played PES 6).
However, in the last game before the winter break at AC Milan, he proved that an overweight striker can cause a defence some problems: using his giant frame to hold up the ball, and falling over in the box any time the breath of a defender was felt. It was only his second start for Roma in what has been a torrid six months for the rotund forward. Having signed a three-year contract back in June, it looks like Adriano better squeeze himself into those snug airline seats, and get back to Rome to spend the next six months eating ice-cream on the bench.
David Pizarro, on the other hand, may not be so lucky. He's fallen out of favour completely with Roma's manager Claudio Ranieri, and may be banished to spend the rest of his days with former boss Luciano Spaletti at Zenith St. Petersburg.
Another Samba Star who's also failed to return to the peninsula is Ronaldinho. He took full advantage of AC Milan's all-expense paid trip to Dubai, before jetting off to Brazil to mull over tempting offers from Flamengo, Gremio and, ummm, Blackburn. Sandy beaches, blazing sun, and not having to wear a wooly hat again are never too far from Dinho's mind. So it's not particularily difficult to see where his future lies.
Still, without him, Milan managed to beat Cagliari in their first game back after the winter break; winning 1-0 with a late goal from debutant Rodney Strasser.
That goal kept Milan five points clear at the top of the league, and 13 points clear of rivals Internazionale. The new man in charge of the Nerazzuri is the ever-charming Leonardo who, after Rafa Benitez was shown the door, entered Inter's training ground at Appiano Gentile like a returning war-hero. And his first game at the helm couldn't have gone any better: 3-1 winners over the eternally-exciting Napoli.
After that loss at the San Siro, Napoli still cling onto 3rd spot in the Serie A table, just one point above Roma who beat Catania 4-2 in a thriller at the Stadio Olimpico; Marco Borriello and Mirko Vucinic with the goals for the Gallorossi.
What with Palermo winning again, and Lazio gaining a hard-earned point away to big-spenders Genoa, this seasons' Serie A title race looks like going down to the wire.
|The greatest player of his generation very nearly plied his trade at Ewood Park|
The next four weeks are probably the most exciting, and yet the most ridiculous four weeks of the entire season. 'The January transfer window' has become the silly season for football teams. With unhappy players pining for moves. And clubs inflating prices beyond comprehension. The BBC's Transfer Gossip Column will become the go-to place for all fans: whether it be for the well-sourced, likely-to-happen stories (Beckham to Tottenham), or for the 'my uncle's mate just saw Ribery's agent at Hull airport' type of stories. So here at Get the Mott and Buckett, we have decided to look at the transfers that have gone down in folklore that, if they had happened, would have changed the footballing landscape forever.
Zinedine Zidane (Bordeaux to Blackburn Rovers, 1995)
Before 1994, Zinedine Yazid Zidane had been a virtual unknown outside of France. Moving from Cannes to Bordeaux in 1992, his form had been pretty unremarkable. Scoring the odd goal, but showing only a glimpse of his creative genius; he was, frankly, rather lucky to earn a national team call-up. But his debut for Les Bleus was where he introduced himself to the world. And Kenny Dalglish.
Coming on as a substitute, with France 2-0 down to Czech Republic, he scored two magnificent individual efforts, and earned France an entirely undeserved point. Watching that night was Blackburn manager Kenny Dalglish. Having just won the Premiership title the previous season, Rovers were looking to sign a world-class midfielder to add to their ranks, and Zidane, at only 23, seemed the ideal candidate. Unfortunately, Jack Warner, Blackburn's chairman and the original football sugar-daddy, had other ideas. And, in a private chat with Dalglish the next day, utter the immortal words: "What do you want to sign Zidane for? We've got Tim Sherwood". Hindsight is a wonderful thing.
Diego Maradona (Argentinos Juniors to Sheffield United, 1978)
Perhaps the ultimate 'what if?' transfer. Back in 1978 a 17-year-old Diego Maradona had been lighting up the Argentinian Premera Division with some mesmeric performances. Such was his form, that it was actually a huge surprise in Argentina when he wasn't selected in their '78 World Cup squad.
Whilst all those in Argentina knew how good this young prodigy was, the rest of the world was seemingly oblivious, and it wasn't until four years later in 1982 that Maradona would actually complete a move to Europe. But, beating everyone in spotting this once-in-a-lifetime-talent was Sheffield United's manager Harry Haslam. Haslam was renowned as a wheeler-dealer, and had a huge metaphorical finger in the South American pie. Spotting Maradona and team-mate Alex Sabella whilst on a scouting mission, Haslam agreed a £200,000 fee with Argentinos for Maradona, but the Blades stalled on the deal, claiming it didn't represent value for money. Instead, they opted to pay £160,000 for Sabella. Who? Well, exactly.
Ronaldinho (Gremio to St Mirren, 2001)
I know it looks like I'm just making this up, but this transfer was literally just one unsent fax away from happening. In the summer of 2001, Ronaldinho had already lined up a move to Paris St-Germain, but was looking for a short 6-month loan deal to acclimatise himself to European football. How playing at Tannadice and Tynecastle was preparing the buck-toothed winger for trips to Marseille and Monaco was never made clear, but the player himself had been persuaded to swap the Samba for the Scottish Highlands.
As Tom Hendrie, the then St Mirren manager tells it, it was only sluggishness on part of the Brazilian FA that meant the move never happened. "He has been playing with Gremio, but he was willing to come and play for us before going on to PSG. We spoke about Ronaldinho but there was a legal problem at the club he was at. Because of the problem, the Brazilian FA would not release the player's international clearance in time for us to register him ahead of the deadline". And thus, Ronaldinho's move to St Mirren goes down as the pinnacle of 'if only' signings.
Steven Gerrard (Liverpool to Chelsea, 2005)
It's amazing how the transfer merry-go-round works. Like a twisted property chain: if one move breaks down, so do the rest. If Patrick Vieira had of moved to Real Madrid - as was reported - in the summer of 2004, Michael Carrick would almost certianly have been an Arsenal player. As it happened, the move broke down, and Carrick ended up on the other side of north London. Or Gareth Barry's move to Liverpool two seasons ago. A deal was reportedly done between Aston Villa and the Reds, but Benitez's failure to off-load Xabi Alonso meant Barry's transfer couldn't be subsidised.
It's an awful feeling when you don't get the one thing you'd set your heart on, yet sometimes the second option turns out to be the best: just as Chelsea found out in 2005. Whether Steven Gerrard turned down his 'nailed on' move to Chelsea out of blind loyalty or something rather more sinister (Liverpool fans sent death threats to Gerrard and his family), we'll never know. But as a result Chelsea bought one of their most influential players: Michael Essien.
Alfredo Di Stefano (Millonarios/River Plate to Barcelona, 1953)
As Diego Maradona says himself: 'Pele was good. I was great. But Di Stefano was the greatest'. An absolute phenomenon in Spain. He has, over the years, become synonymous with the great Real Madrid sides of the 50's and 60's, and is widely regarded as their greatest ever player. He was the key player in the Madrid side that won five straight European Cups and, in his 11 year stint at the club, won nine La Liga trophies. And yet, after all the trophies and all the goals, he could, and probably should, have been a Barcelona player.
After a players' strike in his home country of Argentina, Di Stefano, along with many other players, moved to the rebel league set up in Colombia. Numerous, yet unofficial league titles followed, and in the summer of '53 a move to Barcelona was quickly completed. However, because the Colombian league was a rebel one, it wasn't officially recognised by FIFA. And so began an unbelievably complicated wrangle over who owned Di Stefano. Was it Millonarios? Or was it Di Stefano's parent club River Plate? Whilst Barcelona were meeting with FIFA to try and strike a deal for the player, Real Madrid's president Santiago Bernabeu secretly met with the Argentinian and convinced him to sign for them instead.
A huge row erupted between the two clubs. Eventually the Spanish FA intervened, and allowed Di Stefano four seasons in Spain, two with Real and two with Barca.The Barcelona hierarchy were so incensed by the decision that five board members resigned, and they allowed Di Stefano to play for Madrid for good. And so began what is now called El Clasico.
Matt Le Tissier (Southampton to Tottenham, 1990)
What would have happened if Matt Le Tissier had joined a big club? A Spurs fan as a kid, in 1990 he signed a contract to join Tottenham before changing his mind and ripping it up with the permission of the then Tottenham chairman Irving Scholar. Later there would be constant links with AC Milan - which would have been too exciting to comprehend - and Chelsea. But the ultimate one-club-man found the lure of the south coast too strong.
Some will always deride him as a big fish who could only handle the smallest of ponds. But the man who Xavi Hernandez describes as 'his inspiration' is the sort of player that the big-money of the Premier League has killed off: a loyal one. However you see him, it's ironic to note that the two managers who tried to sign him for Tottenham and Chelsea - Terry Veneables and Glenn Hoddle - were also the ones who ostracised him when managing England. Alanis Morrisette could have a field day with that one.
Johan Cruyff (Unattached to Leicester City, 1981)
The fourth best player in the history of the game had had enough. The North American Soccer League (NASL) just wasn't doing it for him. Washington was not the place for the Cruyff family. But weirdly, Leicester almost was. Having bought himself out of his contract with the Washington Wizards, Cruyff was looking for a club that would guarantee him good money and the opportunity to get back in to the Dutch squad for the 1982 World Cup in Spain.
Sitting bottom of the First Division, Leicester were struggling. Their young, fit squad had all the attributes, but not necessarily the quality. They needed an experienced player who could unlock a defence in an instant. And luckily, Jock Wallace, Leicester's manager, knew exactly who that player was.
Johan Cruyff had been living the footballing high-life for over a decade, and any club that wanted his undoubted talents would have to dig deep. With many top clubs in financial dire-straits, the Foxes were one of very few clubs who were willing to take the economic and personal risk on the Ajax legend (Cruyff was prone to causing huge upset wherever he played).
And so, on Monday 23rd February 1981, Leicester City proposed an offer of £4,000 a game to the Dutchman; a preposterous amount in 1980's football. With the club confident the deal had been secured, the press seized on the story, and one newspaper from the time released this story:
'Johan Cruyff is today set for a sensational move to First Division strugglers Leicester City.
The Dutch Master has lined up a deal worth £4,000 a game for 11 matches – and if everything works out, he will make his debut against reigning European Champions Nottingham Forest on Saturday.
Last night jubilant Leicester boss Jock Wallace insisted: “Johan and I have already agreed terms. He has one or two problems to sort out, but I am very hopeful he will join us on Thursday.”
Cruyff is considering the move for two reasons. He must play competitive football to make his international comeback for Holland, and he wants to try out the English First Division before deciding on a one-year contract with Arsenal next season.
The one barrier to Leicester’s transfer scoop lies with Spanish Second Division side Levante, who could make a late final bid."
Because Levante have wasted so much time Cruyff looks like he may plump for England, though by doing so he would lose £75,000 on any agreement with the Spanish club.
He told me: “I still like the idea of Spain, because the climate suits me and my family.”
“But I cannot wait any longer for Levante. I want a guarantee from them and we have been negotiating for a month but every day they tell me a new story.”However, by the time this story had been printed, Cruyff had already arrived at Valencia airport. An eleventh hour bid from Levante - including a quarter of all gate receipts for Cruyff - meant he plumped for eastern Spain, rather than the East Midlands.
A tonic for the distraught Jock Wallace was that Cruyff was a disaster at Levante. Despite getting the manager sacked, and having his own man employed, he was an unmitigated failure; being booed off in his final game for the club. Still, Jordi Cruyff got to play in England, so it's not all bad.
|Even after his death, Robin Friday was seen as a maverick: Super Furry Animals used this image on the cover of their single 'The Man Don't Give a Fuck'|
Robin Friday is the greatest footballer you never saw. A mercurial talent with a taste for the high-life, during the 1970's - the age of the football maverick - Friday shone the brightest. He was voted Reading FC's player of the millennium, despite only being at the club three years. And was also voted Cardiff City's all-time cult hero, paralleled to the fact he only played 25 games for the club. Wherever he went, Robin Friday left a remarkable impression.
Born in Acton, London, Friday began his football career at non-league side Walthamstow Avenue as a loud-mouthed 19-year-old. It was during this time that he worked on a construction site and nearly died falling from scaffolding, being impaled on a metal spike, missing vital organs by inches. It was this accident that he blamed on his subsequent wild lifestyle.
Initially, Friday was reluctant to play professionally, as it was less money than he was earning at the time. Nevertheless, Reading kept persisting, and they eventually got their man in the summer of 1973. In a brief three year spell for the Royals, Friday scored 55 goals in 135 matches, and provided a countless number of assists. It could, and probably should have been more were it not for the injury problems Friday encountered, brought about by his reluctance to wear shinpads and the opposition - unable to get near their man - kicking lumps out of him.
In a game against Tranmere Rovers in March 1976 Friday scored, what is generally considered, 'the greatest goal never seen'. Standing on the left-hand touchline about 35 yards away from goal; a high ball came towards his chest. As his back was towards goal, he, with his chest, flicked the ball over his head, and on the volley, sent the ball crashing into the far top-hand corner. The internationally renowned referee Clive Thomas was officiating that day, and his reaction to the goal was to clutch his face in utter disbelief. Asked later about the strike, he said: 'Even up against the likes of Pele and Cryuff, that rates as the best goal I've ever seen,' In typical fashion, when told about Thomas's comments, Friday replied: 'He should come more often then. I do that every week.'
That year, Reading were promoted to the Second Division for the first time in their history. Without Robin Friday, that would never have happened. Yet, three months later, Friday was sold to Cardiff City. And six months later, he had left the game for good. So how could such a talent never be allowed to play top-flight football?
The answer is simple: if George Best was football's first pop star, then Robin Friday was football's first rock star. He literally ran riot in Reading. Smoking weed, dropping pills, drinking heavily and accommodating every woman that came his way. Friday's off-field antics became so infamous that visiting scouts - of which their were many - refused to gamble on signing a man of such unpredictable actions. The summer-long celebrations he undertook after taking Reading to the Second Division signalled an unbelievably rapid physical decline. Hence the move to Cardiff.
His brief tenure in Wales started badly. Travelling from Reading to Cardiff by train, he was arrested on arrival for travelling without a ticket; leaving the Cardiff City management to wonder where on earth he had got to? His eye for the sublime wasn't lost however, as later that month, on his debut against Fulham, Friday scored two goals in a 3-0 win, celebrating his second goal by squeezing the testicles of Bobby Moore, Fulham's captain. The Welsh fans best remember him for a goal he scored against Luton. Milija Aleksic, the Luton goalkeeper, had constantly tried to foul Friday during the game. So, as he went round the 'keeper to score his team's winning goal, he flicked the 'V's' at the stranded Serbian.
In all, he scored 6 goals in 25 games for the Bluebirds. His last game was marred by a rash sending-off in a game against Brighton: kicking Mark Lawrenson in the face (yes, that Mark Lawrenson) before defecating in his kit bag. After that, he walked out on the game for good.
Sadly, Friday died in 1990, found in his flat having been suspected of overdosing on heroine. He was only 38.
Maurice Evans, Reading's manager during the 70's once told Friday: "If you settle down for three or four years you could play for England". Friday replied, "How old are you?", Evans answered, and Friday duly told him: "I'm half your age, and I've lived twice your life".