The Emirates has often been accused of being antiseptic, lacking atmosphere. This Arsenal fan put that to rest celebrating wildly after RVP's goal leveled the scores in the north London derby. A few more unhinged fans like him and the Gunners should have no problems ending their title drought.
February 2012 Archives
No Fernando Torres, no David Villa. No problems. Spain shows why it is still favourites to win Euro 2012. Iniesta got things moving the right way, Fabregas continues his post Arsenal resurrection, and Roberto Soldado returned to the national team after five years and celebrated with a hat trick. La Furia Roja swamped Venezuela five to nothing.
The little maestro might be answering all those knocks he needs Xavi, Iniesta, and the Barca passing system to flourish. Here he is taking on the Swiss team, no mean opponents, and dismantling them thoroughly.
Check out the second goal as other worldly as it can get. Messi running full tilt, using his low center of gravity to shift weight and direction, to get past the Swiss defense, and then using his superior spatial skills to overcome that acute angle and lift the ball with his left foot over Benaglia. He finished his hat trick through a smartly struck PK after Gonzalo Higuain was brought down.
The Swiss had a beautiful highlight of their own as Xherdan Shaqiri scored an absolute cracker to equalize before Messi exerted his will and skill on the match.
The first half produced little except for an Arjen Robben effort shut down by Joe Hart and Adam Johnson's slanted drive that missed goal. Stevie Gerrard had to exit with a hamstring pull with Daniel Sturridge replacing him. There was little inkling to what lay in store in the second half.
Gareth Barry was taken off and James Milner came on. The Netherlands opened their account with Robben driving through midfield as Klaas Jan Huntelaar coming in for RVP drew away Chris Smalling and Gary Cahill allowing the Bayern Munich man to change direction and drive the ball with his left foot. A minute later, Huntelaar fed Kuyt on the right flank and when the Liverpool's cross came curling in he elevated to get his header, a fantastic effort, onto goal.
In doing so, he paid a price clashing heads with Chris Smalling. Both went down in a heap and were down for a while. Huntelaar suffered a broken nose, two teeth missing, and a concussion. Smalling was taken to the hospital for a head wound and received stitches. The Dutch noticeably took their foot off the accelerator after that 2-0 lead.
England missed a golden chance minutes later when Sturridge managed to corral Baines's mishit but scuffed it straight to Stekelenberg. However, Gary Cahill showing some serious striker chops latched onto a Leighton Baines through ball with aplomb, drew back, and sent the ball under Maarten Stekelenberg. In stoppage time in an exchange of passes Phil Jones played the ball back to Ashley Young who smartly lifted the ball over Stekelenberg to equalize. But the Dutch switching back on in characteristic fashion managed to score the winner as Robben brought off another lethal left footed finish to win with a minute to spare.
The Dutch were like Roger Federer upping their game at will just when they looked in trouble. England played well but there was always this feeling they were allowed back in. This was a bit costly too as Gerrard, Smalling, and Sturridge also received injuries that will not make their respective club managers too happy.
Stuart Pearce was competing with a very good Netherlands side using a makeshift, transitioning team. All things considered he acquitted himself pretty decently.
Brek Shea and Sacha Kjlestan get call ups as Timothy Chandler, Landon Donovan, Jose Francisco Torres, and Jermaine Jones miss out on the trip to Genoa through illness and injuries.
Juergen Klinsmann has bad memories of the last time he coached against Italy as Germany lost to the eventual winners in the 2006 World Cup semi-finals. This time he fields a patched up and new look US team. Tall order. But if he should get a positive result or a rousing performance his stock will surely rise.
Not a very surprising choice to be honest. Parker has been at the heart of a Spurs midfield with some teeth although in the last match against Arsenal he acted out his frustration picking up two bookings to exit with a cloud over his head as Spurs were victimized, 5-2.
Which probably gives an indication that Stuart Pearce had already picked him. Of the other candidates, Steven Gerrard recently returned from a protracted injury absence. He was on the pitch for that gripping Carling Cup victory but was not really instrumental in its outcome. Gareth Barry does not cut an inspirational figure. And Joe Hart who has undoubted leadership qualities is still a bit green.
Parker was also named England player of the year so this adds some momentum to his international future after being overlooked in the past. He first made his debut in 2003 and in those nine years has only managed 10 appearances.
Meanwhile, the more intriguing development is Stuart Pearce's claim to England's coaching job. Harry Redknapp's stock took a bit of a beating since that comprehensive Arsenal loss. Much of his tactics were questioned in a second half meltdown that saw Spurs concede three more goals. The ineffective Niko Kranjcar was subbed off for the equally ineffective Sandro while Adebayor was kept in place over the more industrious and dangerous Saha. Spurs were inept defensively being pushed back by Arsenal as the Gunners were given time and space.
Pearce will be in the spotlight today against a thunderous Netherlands side which has Van Persie starting after a groin injury scare supposedly ruled him out. He will have to marshal his resources well without Wayne Rooney and Darren Bent leaving a relatively inexperienced attack in the hands of Daniel Sturridge and Danny Welbeck. City's right back Micah Richards also finds favour. Gary Cahill and Phil Jones look to take over the John Terry and Rio Ferdinand pairing in a generational overhaul. The midfield may see Tom Cleverly get his debut as Frank Lampard's career wanes. If Pearce can pull off a win or an equally creditable draw against their more fancied opponents then the FA will have to weigh his claims seriously.
Chelsea's problems of late are not one that any manager can solve. Roman Abramovich's loaded the club with high priced stars who were instrumental in the club achieving unprecedented levels of success but also encumbered it with crippling debt which Abramovich is now putting on its books because he needs to be paid.
The honeymoon is over, the players have turned old, many of them in their twilight, and after seven managers under Abramovich's hire and fire, the feeling is that the club somehow took the wrong fork in the road. The owner's desire for instant gratification turns every manager into soulless automatons programmed to seek yet another title without any thought beyond the very short term.
We can point to City whose equally profligate ways is reminiscent of Chelsea's spending on steroids but these comparisons are superfluous because even while the Manchester club historically struggled in the league, it always produced top notch talent from its academy. That bit of long term vision is being utilized by Roberto Mancini to the fullest in the form of Micah Richards and Michael Johnson amidst all the high wattage marquees at his disposal in the present squad.
There are others like John Guidetti on loan at Feyenoord having a sensational season and Alex Nimely away to Coventry City heralding a new generation, some who fill fit in with City's more egalitarian and studied outlook of top down and bottom up.
In contrast, Chelsea's record of youth development has been spotty and expedient. Daniel Sturridge, Chelsea's best prospect is actually a City product. To be fair, Abramovich did pay some lip service after it became clearly evident that Chelsea was a highly leveraged club and the present policy was untenable.
The departures of Peter Kenyon and Frank Arnesen was a signal that the club was looking to change its direction. Under Carlo Ancelotti, there was even a sighting on the bench of what a future Chelsea side would look like when he debuted Gael Kakuta, Jeffrey Bruma, and Josh McEachran to the Premiership. The latter, a highly touted prospect was on Ancelotti's horizon and there was every indication the Italian had big plans for the midfielder to become an integral part of the senior team. But Abramovich reverted to type firing Ray Wilkins and later Ancelotti after he failed to secure a title in the second season.
McEachran was shipped out to Swansea this January as Andre Villa Boas, Ancelotti's replacement has been caught in the same maelstrom of ensuring another title and has no time to mentor probabilities.
Chelsea's senior citizens have also not helped. This is one club where the players hold more power than the manager, a outgrowth of Abramovich's revolving door that leaves no place for a manager to stamp his authority. John Terry was instrumental in getting rid of Jose Mourinho, going directly to Peter Kenyon to have him removed after he fearing he would be transferred. The same is playing out now with Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole acting the prima donnas after they were excluded from the squad for the Champions League against Napoli.
That decision had Abramovich's surrogates bending Villa Boas's ears making sure he did not get ahead of himself. This last week has been spent in damage control as the Chelsea manager became a Buddhist trying to find zen with his senior players. He has virtually assured them he will never tamper with the squad fearing for his job safety. In such a pyramid, there is very little hope for a youngster like McEachran to find a place.
Over-archingly, there is the albatross of Fernando Torres, a £50m vanity project that has left Abramovich obsessing and delusional. Every manager from the day Torres joined has to find a cure for his scoring ills. There maybe even a clause built into the managerial contract to save Abramovich from his biggest mistake. Torres might still score, regain his goalscoring prowess, overcoming what appears to be a protracted case of performance anxiety. But till then he adds to the neurosis afflicting this club's managers. To quote Woody Allen, "When I was kidnapped, my parents snapped into action. They rented out my room." Yes, that may sum up Abramovich. He has you by the nutsack.
Gabriele Marcotti has a good article on the "ghost goals" that are breathtakingly missed by the human eye and calls for technological innovation which already exists to put them to rest.
On Saturday, against Juve, Sulley Muntari's header saw the ball clearly cross the line about a yard inside before Gianluigi Buffon was able to push it out. The linesman Roberto Romagnoli had a line of view that appeared unobstructed when it happened but after conferring with referee Paolo Tagliavento, play was allowed to go on. As the stunned Milan players milled around, Inter almost scored at the other end.
Marcotti provides evidence that these "ghost goals" are not as uncommon as one would think. So why is football still run by Luddites? One of the strongest objections to any goal line technology is the myth that these controversies keep the sport alive as people endlessly debate these injustices. However one must bear in mind that the first priority is to ensure a fairness and not controversy. Secondly, such events further cynicism that is already dangerously prevalent in the sport. And lastly, the introduction of such technologies does not preclude a memorable match which will go down in the annals of history for the right reasons. Refer to Rafael Nadal vs Novak Djokovic's Australian Open classic.
Leo Messi's amazing free kick against Atletico came on the heels of his rival's very cheeky back heel goal for Real Madrid against Real Vallecano. In both instances they proved to be the winners. It's a slugfest between these two players and if one had to bet money, they both feed off each other raising the sport to new heights. We just get to sit back, crack a few brews, and enjoy the spectacle.
We can heap encomiums on encomiums on Messi for his amazing gifts on and off the ball but he also happens to have the sharpest footballing brain in the world.
A stubborn Atletico Madrid team that refused to be broken were undone by the quick witted maestro who launched his curling and deadly accurate free kick from wide on the left against the hapless Thibaut Courtois before Atletico's players could get their feet set. Something similar happened with a Giggs free kick a few years ago against Lyon. In both instances the players protested being unprepared but the referee can't protect against a lack of preparation, can he?
Barca went on to win against a very good Atletico side, 2-1 through Messi's free kick keeping their very slim chances of a Liga title alive.
Cesare Prandelli named a 23 man squad which was top heavy with Juve talent. In form striker Alessandro Matri joins compatriots, Ginaluigi Buffon, Giorgio Chiellini, Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci, Claudio Marchisio and Andrea Pirlo.
Prandelli practically included most of Juve's defense, the stingiest in the Serie with just 15 goals conceded. In Marchisio, they have a clever playmaker while the ageless Pirlo finds rejuvenation (pun intended) at his new club.
The most glaring omission was that of Balotelli and the obvious reason is the Italian's manager's distaste for his extra-curricular activities on and off the pitch. The latest infraction being the four match suspension received for a stamp on Scott Parker in the Tottenham match. There is an obvious desire to remain free from these distractions, free from the Balotelli "what did he do now?" media circus. Prandelli has not excluded the City striker from the Euro campaign in a wait and watch mode explaining he "still lacked maturity" and was a "bit rough."
Goalkeepers: Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus), Morgan De Sanctis (Napoli), Salvatore Sirigu (Paris St Germain), Emiliano Viviano (Palermo).
Defenders: Ignazio Abate (Milan), Davide Astori (Cagliari), Federico Balzaretti (Palermo), Andrea Barzagli (Juventus), Leonardo Bonucci (Juventus), Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus), Domenico Criscito (Zenit St. Petersburg), Christian Maggio (Naples), Angelo Ogbonna (Torino).
Midfielders: Daniele De Rossi (Roma), Claudio Marchisio (Juventus), Riccardo Montolivo (Fiorentina), Thiago Motta (Paris St Germain), Antonio Nocerino (Milan), Andrea Pirlo (Juventus).
Forwards: Fabio Borini (Roma), Sebastian Giovinco (Parma), Alessandro Matri (Juventus), Giampaolo Pazzini (Inter).
Well, no Giuseppe Rossi to get all bent out of shape on a love of country controversy, eh?? Maybe Prandelli really wants to be distraction free. We shall see if the USA vs Italy match generates enough heat in keeping with past encounters.
Looks like Fabio Cannavaro, Hernan Crespo, Robbie Fowler, and Roberto Pires will have to wait for another payday as the newly formed Premier Soccer League that was supposed to start on March 24th and go on till May 6th in the state of West Bengal has been indefinitely postponed. Originally, the tournament dates were Feb 25th to March 8th but the pitches were unsurprisingly not ready.
The league has run into a number of problems including the All India Football Federation, the apex body stating the 6 teams could not pick any Indian U21 player as this was essentially a state level tournament. The AIFF also temporarily declared the transfer of international players null and void under FIFA rules as the organizers, the Indian Football Association failed to affiliate their teams with the national body. And things came to a head when the state government failed to release the public grounds as they wanted more clarity from the organizers source of funding and their financial state.
These problems should never have arisen if the IFA and the Celebrity Management Group (CMG), the company conceptualizing the league had done their homework right. Strange given the IFA is the oldest association for that sport in the country and it could not even get their own state government to agree to release the grounds.
Robbie Fowler is not holding his breath and given the nature of the problems, this league appears to be a non-starter. Someone's got major egg on their faces.
One of the biggest matches played this weekend between the two top teams. Milan is leading the league but Juventus has a game in hand. Antonio Nocerino gave the Rossoneri the lead. It could have been worse for Juve as Sulley Muntari's header clearly broke the line before Buffon gathered the ball
but it was declared offside but it was bewilderingly missed by the referee and the linesman.
Juve went down to 10 men as Arturo Vidal did a Mark Van Bommel number on Mark Van Bommel and was ejected. Alessandro Matri equalized for the Old Lady in the second half.
There are legends and then there is Ryan Giggs who looks good for another 900 appearances for Man Utd. Here is his extra time winner against Norwich City. His midfield counterpart Paul Scholes opened the score as the two evergreens stamped their class over Norwich who are no pushovers demonstrated by Grant Holt's late strike.
Giggs and Scholes have combined for 1586 appearances for Utd which would mean the duo have run approximately 16,000 kms (a midfielder covers 10-11 km per match on average) which is about the distance from New York to Sydney. This is of course one way of looking at it. The other is to look at how Utd have flourished with them in the squad. One does not have to be a genius to figure Utd improved perceptibly since Scholes's return from retirement in late January.
The corollary is obvious. What does Sir Alex do when they finally hang up their boots? Tom Cleverly has shown glimpses of his immense potential but one can't say the same about the on and off Nani and Anderson. However Utd also look to benefit from a decline in that same vital area amongst its rivals like Chelsea and Arsenal which should keep them ticking at the top.
Full marks to Cardiff. Battered, bruised, and buckling at the knees after the Dirk Kuyt goal in extra time with what looked like the winner for Liverpool, they willed themselves back into the game earning three corners in the last few minutes and pulled back from the brink through Ben Turner's goal following a goalmouth melee. Just seconds before it was Kuyt rescuing the Reds from another damaging corner with his goal line save. The match ended 2-2 after extra time.
Cardiff had shot into the lead in the 20th minute against the run of play with Joe Mason's opener. Liverpool for all their possession had to wait till the 60th minute to equalize through the heavily tattooed Martin Skrtel. A note on Skrtel. Has any film maker ever considered him for a skinhead role? He looks perfect in that part.
Onto the penalty shootout and the Bluebirds could not have asked for a better start with Tom Heaton bringing off a fabulous save to stop Steven Gerrard's blistering shot. But Kenny Miller's effort clanged off the upright as both teams missed the mark with their opening statements. Charlie Adam's response was dire spooning the ball over the crossbar by a mile.
Don Cowie brought huge cheers from the Cardiff fans when he found the net to draw first blood. Kuyt brought it all back when he finally found the target for Liverpool. Rudy Gestede pushed his ball through tiredly finding the upright and it was 1-1. Stewart Downing and Peter Whittingham traded spots moving the shootout to sudden death. Glen Johnson converted his spot leaving Anthony Gerrard, Steven Gerrard's lesser known cousin under tremendous pressure to save Cardiff. He did not deliver and Liverpool were left to celebrate their 8th League Cup title. Anthony Gerrard was inconsolable and Gestede was overcome with tears. PK shootouts are cruel but Cardiff can be proud about the way they played.
The quality was inconsistent but there was no denying it was a engrossing 120+ minutes of football. Cardiff had their chances with none better than Miller's in front of goal with Reina at his mercy but the striker sliced the ball over the crossbar. The side from South Wales were also helped by a sub par Gerrard and Luis Suarez. The Liverpool captain found the stratosphere every time he lined up to shoot. The Uruguayan was more Bendtner than Brahms on the ball. But the introduction of Kuyt was the game changer. He scored, effected a goal line save, and converted his spot kick to keep Liverpool in the final.
Both Liverpool goals came from second time efforts as Skrtel managed to latch onto a rebound after Suarez's header found the upright. Kuyt's first effort was tame but it fortuitously returned to him by a Cardiff defender and he managed to stroke the ball past Heaton even as he lost his footing. Yes, good fortune does play a huge part even as Liverpool proved to be a superior team.
Football is a funny old sport. The sharks were out circling Wenger and Arsenal before this match with so many negative articles written, admittedly many here on this blog. Spurs had outwitted Arsenal according to Amy Lawrence and there was no escaping some of the salient points she made. It is a club that is ebbing away even as it waits for the financial fair play rules to lift it higher to shore. But today, today there was no evidence of a club in decline.
A two goal deficit wiped out by half time setting up a second half which saw Arsenal grab Spurs by the scruff of the neck and pour in three unanswered goals. Villains turned to heroes as Tomas Rosicky turned in a magnificent display, Theo Walcott hearing the boos descend down found his scoring touch, Thomas Vermaelen scorched in the first half by slothful defending was a force of nature in the second.
It was an all around display but here one has to point out what a relief it was to see two pressing full backs finally play a full match and make all the difference. Both Sagna and Kieran Gibbs provided movement and service and in the same token neutralize the threat posed by Bale and Kyle Walker. Sagna especially was immense. For Spurs, the dangerous Bale was able to exert his influence by diving for the Adebayor PK but did little else of note. Song and Kos took care of Adebayor who cut a frustrated figure by the end of the match.
All of Arsenal's five goals were something special. Bakary Sagna's booming header off a delightful Arteta chip. RVP collaring Benoit Assou Ekotto's clearance at the edge of the box shifting the ball to his left foot and curling his shot past Friedel in the tightest of spaces. Rosicky finishing off his move by flicking Sagna's sliding pass with his left foot over Friedel for a rare score. RVP collecting the ball and holding off Spurs just enough for an outlet to Walcott motoring down the right, controlling the ball after a heavy touch and angling his shot. Then Song's perfectly weighted pass which found Walcott breaking nanoseconds from the offside trap to finish emphatically for his brace.
Arsenal's commitment and work ethic was equally impressive and should be commended. The little things sometimes this side sometimes forgets to do. Spurs never had it easy as Arsenal swarmed them in numbers to claim the ball back. Here was Arteta getting the better of Luka Modric, there was Kos swiping the ball from Adebayor. Scott Parker, Modric, and later Rafael Van Der Vaart were played right out of the game. Parker in a characteristic rush of blood was sent off after collecting his second booking for clipping Vermaelen late on the ankle. Discounting those two breakdowns early in the first half, Arsenal were defensively disciplined till the end of the match showing rare concentration and effort.
Wenger should also be given kudos for his gamble of starting Benayoun up front with RVP spurning the easier choices of Ox and the Forehead. The Israeli was a busy body with his clever feet and the only thing missing was if he was a bit more of a unit. For once those missed chances did not come back to haunt Arsenal as RVP missed a couple of them inches out and on another occasion found the woodwork. Rosicky, Benayoun, and Walcott also came close and indication of how Spurs were clinging onto flotsam and jetsam of their shipwreck at the Emirates.
Arsenal now climb back over Chelsea in the race for fourth. Next up Liverpool at Anfield and this time we may not have RVP. But for a few days we can transport ourselves back to a more fulsome era and savour this win over our upstart neighbours.
Ominous start for Arsenal as they go to sleep characteristically to allow Louis Saha to romp ahead and score a deflected goal. Shockingly poor defending by Thomas Vermaelen. Then Gareth Bale bulldozes his way past Kieran Gibbs and Vermaelen and is brought down by Wojciech Szczesny. Adebayor takes the PK and it is 2-0 to the Spurs.
The Gunners refused to roll over with Bakary Sagna pulled off a blinding header off a Arteta cross and then a minute later RVP turned on a dime to curl a delicious left footer past Friedel for a sublime equalizer. Great response.
Vermaelen is having another meltdown. The centre back seems to be a poor reader of the game which finds him out of position when Spurs mount these counterattacks. At the other end one can legitimately say Walcott has "no footballing brain". He also seems to have the physical pizazz of a gnat.
Onto the second half. Arsenal have to pull up their defensive socks because those Lka Modric - Gareth Bale led counterattacks are going to come. They have to keep up that attacking intensity.
Mario Balotelli announced his arrival scoring City's opening goal by pulling up his jersey to show his love for girlfriend Raffaela. The Manchester club polished off Blackburn further through goals by Kun Aguero and Edin Dzeko.
There was a Carlos Tevez sighting but more importantly for Roberto Mancini he extends his lead over Utd to 5 points.
Kasabian: " Where did the love go?"
Lets face it. Tomorrow is a big match not just for these obviously narrow reasons. Not only is fourth place at stake, it is a match against the proverbial snapping North London shih tzus who are now and only now getting a hefty bite of that ankle and have suddenly gotten lock jaw.
This match represents the last chance of igniting the dying embers of Arsenal's pride almost extinguished after that colossal show of ineptitude against Milan followed closely by that subjugation to Sunderland.
No, the bigger reason a loss would be devastating would simply mean that it is incontrovertible proof Arsene Wenger has stopped inspiring his players. Despite the uncharacteristic verbal lashing given to the players after the Milan loss, the Gunners lost tamely to Sunderland in a blizzard of self inflicted wounds, injuries, and lack of ambition. That hairdryer moment made no difference in the end even as it has become rote for Sir Alex who seems to always get a response when he demands it.
For many a loss to the Spurs would actually come as relief as it could mean the hastening towards an exit and an open mutiny if the board continues to persists in its policy of blind faith in a manager going on 7 seasons without any title big or small.
Even those who have a more progressive interpretation of success would find a hard time weaving a positive spin on an adverse result. One can argue that a loss would mean an end to Wenger's revisionism of considering coming fourth as some sort of trophy. After all there is only so much revisionism one can indulge in before running out and being confronted by the grim reality of your own shortcomings.
For Wenger to continue unscathed, tomorrow's result must be an Arsenal win. The board came out with a full throated endorsement of the manager before the match. But if I were them, more attention would be paid to the distinct rumblings of discontent in the trenches and terraces which could erupt into open disenchantment if Arsenal folds abjectly to Spurs.
Arsenal in seasons past relied on its midfield for any chance at success. The present midield is a weakened and bowdlerized version that leaves the defense exposed and RVP isolated up front. Wenger needs a positive response from Tomas Rosicky, Aaron Ramsey, Mikel Arteta, and Alex Song who have been big let downs in the last two matches.
Usually Wenger is more concerned with Arsenal's execution of a plan paying lip service to possible opponent match ups. But there needs to be some cognizance of how Spurs play pushing up the flanks and the big gaps in the middle where they have capitalized scoring some big time belters. This is exactly the time to roll out tape and study them case by case. Arsenal's is not the dominating midfield of yore and in fact, rather slow getting the ball out to the flanks. It has to pick and choose where it can do most damage.
David Luiz, love him or hate him, is always going to play on his terms. Today, he got the party started in the second half scoring a goal the forward formerly known as Fernando Torres now known as the Great White Hype would have been proud of. Luiz if you must know is listed nominally as a central defender.
Didier Drogba overcoming that huge ACN letdown in the finals showed he's still full of goals thumping in a header from a Frank Lampard corner. And then it was Lampard's turn to score from a Juan Mata cross as Chelsea romped home easy winners against Bolton.
One more thing. In what planet is one of the sport's hotshot managers in his first year in one of the toughest league suddenly in danger of losing his job? Yes, you're right. It's the Roman Abramovich bubble world. Andre Villa- Boas is now the one saddled with the albatross of resurrecting Torres's career. The one that cost Carlo Ancelotti his job. It's not the matter of winning the CL or the Premier League anymore. Abramovich wants someone, anyone from making him look like a clown for paying £50m for a player who has scored just three goals.
This win keeps the pressure on Arsenal to come up with the goods tomorrow against Spurs who're now looking to reverse a lifetime of living in the shadows of their more illustrious North London rivals.
The news of Andrey Arshavin departing for Zenit St Petersburg on a loan move signals yet another inflection point in Arsenal's decline from the top echelon of the Premier League.
Barely a month ago, Arsene Wenger defended Alex Oxlade- Chamberlain's substitution for Andrey Arshavin against Man Utd saying " Arshavin is captain of the Russia national team. I have to justify [substituting] a guy of 18 who's playing his second or third game? Let's be serious."
Wenger also demanded respect for the Russian captain from the fans.
" I personally have a huge respect for Andrey Arshavin and if you would see him behave every day you would have one as well."
When asked if the winger was contemplating a return to the Russian league, he categorically stated he was not up for sale. "For me, no," he said. Pressed if anyone else has a say in that decision, Wenger said: "Andrey Arshavin." Has the playmaker, then, intimated that he wants to leave? "No."
Three weeks later, Wenger's £15 million record signing departs without any fanfare making those words ring hollow. Arshavin's transfer was an extra-ordinarily complicated pieces of business conducted shrouded in secrecy and competing statements. Arsenal is usually faulted for blinking first as the price escalates for a player's signature. Not so for Arshavin. They fought of Spurs and managed to sign the player in a dramatic finish as the Premier League extended the last day of the 2008 winter transfer because of inclement weather.
Another track light burning out in Arsenal's dwindling fortunes shedding more gloom. But up above is a glimpse of the promise, the magic that Arshavin initially brought. A player who lit up the pitch with his movement and finish. He was undoubtedly a mercurial talent. At times too mercurial for his own teammates who seemed a step slower to get to his preternatural passes. He brought that same breezy, quirky quality to his observations of life on his website.
The Russian never lived up to that high bar thereafter struggling with fluctuating levels of motivation and desire leading to the lackadaisical displays that frustrated fans. What was once captivating became ponderous, a player robbed of the ball once too often, showing neither the requisite aptitude to track back, or more ominously to finish. Another gestalt emerged; of a player looking far removed from the game, hands on hips, indolent, disenchanted with English life, fueling stories of a Barca move.
Arshavin became too predictable on the wings with the debate shifting to whether he would be more useful deployed centrally. But Wenger used Tomas Rosicky and Aaron Ramsey as surrogates after the departure of Fabregas and Nasri to fill that gap. With the rise of Alex Oxlade Chamberlain, the role of Arshavin was further limited.
Arseblog rightly wonders why this transfer took place on the eve of a defining match in Arsenal's season. But this is yet another reactive move reminiscent of Wenger dipping into the last day of the summer transfer period well after it was clear Fabregas and Nasri would depart.
Arshavin reacted to the news tweeting, "I've moved to "Zenit". On loan, will play under number 29. All the details tomorrow, when you wake up. :) " He will see immediate action in a huge match against CSKA Moscow who are trailing Zenit in the Russian league on March 3rd.
So long Andrey and farewell! You gave us some delicious memories which we will hold onto.
Juergen Klinsmann mines the German American connections as the Bundesliga gets top billing in his 21 man roster named for the Italy match on March 29th. The latest entry, 21 year old forward, Terrence Boyd from the Borussia Dortmund reserves. In now a very familiar path to national selection, Boyd's father is an American serviceman and his mother German. He was originally selected for the U23 squad against Mexico for a match to be played on the same day till Klinsmann elevated him to the MNT.
The other less surprising selections are midfielder Jermaine Jones (Schalke), right back Steve Cherundolo (Hannover 96), midfielder/left back Fabian Johnson (Hoffenheim), midfielder Danny Williams (Hoffenheim), and right back/ winger Timothy Chandler (Nurnberg).
Klinsmann also kept faith in Michael Parkhurst and Geoff Cameron, both featuring in the Panama game played a month ago. The shape of the national team is still evolving but under Klinsi, the duo along with Jermaine Jones are getting very decent face time.
After matches against Venezuela and Panama, the roster again features Michael Bradley, last seen in the victory against Slovenia. Steve Cherundolo and Carlos Bocanegra also return to give this roster an experienced look at the back.
The midfield sports a decidedly defensive look with Jones joining Maurice Edu and Fabian Johnson. Michael Bradley gives box to box qualities and Jose Francisco Torres brings his play making abilities. The latter's selection is particularly gratifying because against the Italians it will be important to match them in the midfield and try and break a stubborn Italian defense.
Torres last played in the loss against Belgium on September 6th, 2011. Undoubtedly, Klinsi has been inspired by Germany's revolution as a creative fount spearheaded by a new generation of attacking midfielders like Mario Gotze, Marco Reus, Marko Marin, Toni Kroos following in the footsteps of Mesut Oezil. This is an area sorely in need of development in the US as it needs to shrug of its reliance to hit on the counterattack to settle into a more all around game to match the elites in the sport.
Up front, Clint Dempsey re-unites with Landon Donovan. The inclusion of Donovan will be a huge boost after his bright sojourn at Everton. Dempsey has been his usual productive self for Fulham. They can look forward to combining with Jozy Altidore or Edson Buddle. Altidore reclaimed his starting spot for AZ Alkmaar after being kept on the bench for a while following an injury to Charlison Benschop, the striker finding favour with coach Gertjan Verbeek.
Here is Brian Sciaretta of Yanks Abroad discussing the growing influence of Germ-Americans in the national team.
Goalkeepers: Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Tim Howard (Everton), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)
Defenders: Carlos Bocanegra (Rangers), Geoff Cameron (Houston Dynamo), Timmy Chandler (Nürnberg), Steve Cherundolo (Hannover 96), Clarence Goodson (Brondby), Michael Parkhurst (FC Nordsjaelland), Jonathan Spector (Birmingham City)
Midfielders: Michael Bradley (Chievo Verona), Maurice Edu (Rangers), Fabian Johnson (Hoffenheim), Jermaine Jones (Schalke 04), Jose Torres (Pachuca), Danny Williams (Hoffenheim)
Forwards: Jozy Altidore (AZ Alkmaar), Terrence Boyd (Borussia Dortmund), Edson Buddle (LA Galaxy), Clint Dempsey (Fulham), Landon Donovan (LA Galaxy)
Back to blogging after a mini vacation. The world didn't end but FC Basel continue their giant killing ways as they shocked Bayern Munich at St Jakob's Park through Valentin Stocker's late goal in their Champions League first leg.
Heiko Vogel continues Thorsten Fink's legacy of a well coached Basel team which uses the physicality of Alexander Frei and Marco Streller to full effect with some quality service from the excellent Xherdan Shaqiri. They have an outstanding goalie in Yann Sommer who made a number of important saves behind a well organized defense. Bayern were wasteful. Franck Ribery does all the important spadework but this match once again shows why he doesn't score too many goals.
The stage was set for a Basel to snatch a memorable victory when Jacques Zoua turned past Rafinha and slotted the ball through a slow reacting Bayern defense to the waiting Stocker exposing Manuel Neuer on the left. The Swiss midfielder made no mistake.
This will loss will surely enrage the micro managing Bayern cabal led by the ever watchful Uli Hoeness and father figure Franz Beckenbauer. Jupp Heynckes will have to have a ready response at the Allianz Arena in the return leg.
In two or three years, we can expect Sir Alex Ferguson to step down at United, and live out his wife's dream - as a milkman!
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Aziz Yildirim, Fenerbahce's president and the most prominent name amongst the 93 arrested on charges of match fixing finally had his day in court this week. At least 19 first and second division matches in the Turkish Lig are said to be fixed. The scandal hit Fenerbahce, Turkey's most storied club the hardest with 13 including Yildirim arrested.
Turkey's Football Federation also banned the club from taking part in the CL, giving Trabzanspor, the runners up that distinction. Yildirim has been characterized by the prosecution as "being a gang leader " facing charges ranging from match-fixing to paying bribes.
Yildirim maintained his innocence bombastically stating he would jump of a bridge if he was found guilty of any of the charges. He also threatened to reveal secrets that would shake Turkey. Sounds very much like Jack Warner when he threatened to reveal FIFA's dirty little secrets after he was found to have arranged the Mohamed Bin Hamman money for votes presidential scandal.
Everyone in Turkey is watching this court case. It has President Abdullah Gul doing a delicate dance initially advocating a tough line if the suspects were found guilty and then softening his stance to come more in line with the Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who fears a public backlash if seen as meddling in an institution as sacred as soccer in a country that is synonymous with passion when it comes to that sport.
Proof required? The courthouse is ringed with Fenerbahce fans pleading with the police to take them in and set "Aziz free".
So if Yildirim is found guilty, does he supersede Luciano "Lucky" Moggi, as match fixer par excellence?
The other Manchester club was also in action. They faced Porto and the very impressive Hulk, who wasted no opportunity coasting down the left to sizzle in a cross for Silvestre Varela to turn past Joe Hart. City came back in the second half through an own goal by Alvaro Pereira. In the 84th minute, substitute Kun Aguero's goal sealed the win.
This was Mario Balotelli's first match back from suspension. City were further bolstered by Yaya Toure's return from the ACN. Both players were subject to racist chants by the Porto fans. Not really the right tone coming in the wake of the unsavoury Evra - Suarez and Terry - Ferdinand racial abuse cases that has consumed English football.
Tom Cleverly shows glimpses of his special talent. Many see him as the next Paul Scholes. Man Utd won through goals by Ashley Young and Chicharito Hernandez. The win was marred by Antonio Valencia's hamstring injury which could see him away for a month. The Ecuadorian has become an integral part of Utd's robust midfield.
The lovers squabble dogging Roberto Mancini and Carlos Tevez continues. Mancini says the problem is he treated Tevez too well in response to the striker's contention he was "treated like a dog."
" But I totally disagree with Carlos and what he says. I have not treated him badly. Maybe the opposite of this. I treated him too well. Always. This is the last time I will answer and questions about him for three months. "
Both Mancini and Tevez need to go out and see this movie. It will help clear the air.
The first half: The first two stages of grief, denial and anger predominate.
The second half: The next three stages unfold as bargaining, depression, and then acceptance that Arsenal are just not good enough. Or even if they are they don't have the bottle.
Wenger uncharacteristically didn't mince his words:
" It is our worst night in Europe, we were punished and deservedly so. We were very poor offensively and defensively. We were beaten everywhere. There was not one moment in the 90 minutes we were really in the game. What made it worse is that we had to chase the game. It was always the same problem, balls over the top and we were well beaten."
The Arsenal blogosphere was understandably subdued. Arseblog, who had been vocal about the lack of transfer activity and making proper investments while at the same time being supportive of Wenger had this to say:
" Yet you cannot look at the way this team, this squad, has been managed and not worry about where we go from here."
This is a perceptible shift. We might have the talent but they are not being developed the right way or there seems to be a mismatch between strengths and their expected roles within the team. Theo Walcott is the most glaring example.
He is listed as a winger without the necessary tools to harness that pace to its fullest extent. You only need to look at Antonio Valencia as a reference point. Walcott could be a second striker with his direct speed but he's shown questionable finishing skills and no great skill on the ball. He is now officially in a developmental cul de sac.
The enigma is not confined just to his role but to his onfield presence. Did anyone remember Walcott being on the pitch yesterday? These levels of anonymity are not new.
Walcott will be negotiating a new contract with more money expected. Johan Djourou just signed a contract which gives him better wages. Someone, somewhere, please stop this madness. For a club so careful about dishing out transfer money, there seems to be an awful lot wasted on players who don't perform. How does blind faith square with a self sustaining economic model?
It's time to consider we maybe reaching a ceiling effect with Wenger and Pat Rice.
The CL is but over bar a miracle at the Emirates. Now we must recover in time for the FA Cup fixture against Sunderland for this weekend. Arsenal have to kindle that fire for the next seventeen matches. Here is Dennis Bergkamp who knows something about a winning mentality in his interview with the Telegraph. Tell me the number of times you nod your head in agreement. His Ajax take on Utd today in the Europa Cup.
I have yet to see Arsenal put up a more pathetic, inept, and disjointed display of football than seen this evening at the San Siro. It was not just bereft of the rudiments of the sport, it was shorn of the most basic of English virtues, of spirit, of spine. The 8-2 lambasting at the hands of Utd one can take because we had so many players out through suspensions and injuries.
But it was not just the players, the rot began at the top, Wenger was outcoached, outwitted, and out and out made to look like an rank amateur by his Italian counterpart. There are two standard adages in sport: Put out your best XI and always study your opponents well beforehand. None was done.
If it were, Wenger would have prepared his team for a Milan midfield that compensated for the loss of creativity with a muscular, physical, and well oiled presence. Even Allegri pre-match characterized his team as a ham sandwich after so much champagne and caviar. He was honest in his candour because at least a ham sandwich is still edible - Arsenal looked like a stale loaf of bread in comparison.
Arsenal's lack of coherence was the direct result of Milan swatting them off the ball like flies in so rote a fashion, it was stealing candy from a baby. Tomas Rosicky should never touch a ball again. Never. He was pathetic. Ramsey was anonymous and Arteta went side to side as Milan sapped every bit of speed from Arsenal and slowed them down to a crawl playing their game. Which of course makes the absence of Ox all that more puzzling. The winger was sorely missed all of the first half and most of the second half. The Arsenal manager is a middling tactician at best propped up by the qualities of his players in the past.
At this point one really sees the glaring shortcomings in Wenger's coaching without that cover. He doesn't even pay proper heed to the best players at his disposal or to the best match ups. He has one plan which he executes without any preamble or thought to exigencies. The halftime substitution was Thierry Henry which Wenger thought would strike a note of terror in the Milan camp. Henry's is a lovely little story but it is not going to build a team or even dig you out of a hole. And if you must know, like RVP, he too waited in vain for the ball to arrive because all around the midfield was imploding. Finally, the Ox came on giving all a hint of a different game if he had been on but it was too late.
Give Milan all the credit for the 4-0 scoreline. Zlatan was too much to handle, Kevin Prince Boateng's opening goal was other worldly, and what can one say about Robinho? They deserved it but in reality they didn't have to do much for this team to capitulate. From Szczesny's poor clearance, to a botched offside trap, a Vermaelen slip up, to Djourou's laughable attempt to stop Ibra, it was all a comedy of errors. By the time it was done Arsenal had resurrected Robinho's career as sharpshooter. The Milan fans at the pub who were passing around a You tube clip a compendium of Robinho's misses before the match whooped it up as the Brazilian looked like he could shoot a ball through the eye of a needle. At our end, my mates were looking at each other and wondering aloud, "When did Arsenal become so sh*t?" The illusion is over.
You have to chortle at Ivan Gazidis's delusions of grandeur to optimize the "Arsenal brand" because we've not been savvy at tapping all that fan interest and monetizing it to its full. What brand? The one that can't string two passes together. Observing Arsenal fans tune out the game at the pub is an indication that Swansea and Nathan Dyer stand a better chance of selling T-shirts globally.
At this point no one expects Wenger to be fired because no one can. This board has no balls. Stan Kroenke is a soulless moneygrubber and Peter Hill-Wood is too senile. Achieving 5th will be the new 4th. Getting to the Europa League the new Champions League and the yardsticks of success forever be moved to accommodate a new reality.
The AKB crowd will promptly trot out the medieval ages Arsenal used to live in and point to Chelsea and Liverpool. Or course, the real perversion is that by giving us the taste of the good life, the manager and board now seem hell bent on reeling in those years. But with Wenger we will get cheap rationalizations, like " football is not a supermarket where you go in there and say 'give me a left-back please, and a right-back and a centre-back'. We have to find the players better to what we have."
Yes, there are better players and after watching this match, Eden Hazard has decided they all play for Spurs. Because even if it is a goal.com story, this sorry display will actually scare off any aspirational midfielder or player.
Champions League, 1st Leg: AC Milan vs Arsenal at the San Siro @ 2:45 EST
Three positions where the Gunners face unpredictability are at left back, attacking midfield, and down the wings.
Left back: The most vexing decision is at left back where Wenger has Kieran Gibbs available after months away with an injury. But he is desperately short of match practice. Do you risk exposing him in such a big encounter without him playing a single minute? Thomas Vermaelen has been filling in and has done a decent job but due to Per Mertesacker's injury should relocate to centre back pairing up with Kos after months of being a stand in that position. Wenger could also plug Frances Coquelin who has shown his adaptability in his appearances as left back surrogate. Or he could pair Djourou with Kos and keep Vermaelen at left back.
Attacking midfield: Aaron Ramsey or Tomas Rosicky? Or both? Rosicky has shown an improvement with his attacking intent and mobility. There is undeniable progression to the box with him on the ball. But for all his good protection his passing is just not refined enough and he cannot shoot for the love of money. Ramsey is less assured with a tendency for the attack to fizzle out when he's on the ball but he's shown to be a better goalscorer. The other option is to do what happened at Sunderland, rotate Song to centre back after Mertesacker's injury and introduce Ramsey alongside Tomas Rosicky. Arteta would anchor the holding midfield position in a continuing evolution for the Spaniard from his Everton days.
At the wings: Ox's recent performances and Gervinho's ACN absence should make this an easy choice. But Wenger could also go for the unlikely choice of giving Andrey Arshavin a start. It won't happen. Ox down the left and Walcott down the right as bookends to Van Persie.
Arsenal have a good record against Milan having beaten them most recently at the San Siro in 2008 with Fabregas and Adebayor scoring goals. But as pointed out by many and Wenger too, these are different circumstances with a team that is still seeking out self assurance with a side that only has Walcott and RVP as holdovers from that Milan win. On their part, Milan although sitting on top of the Serie, is also going through some similar soul searching. Their suave style has given way to a functionality that has proven effective if boring. Or as Allegri most succinctly put it:
"You can't always dine on lobster and caviar. Every now and again you have to be satisfied with a ham sandwich."
They just righted the ship beating Udinese this weekend after earning a draw against Napoli preceded by a defeat at Lazio. Allegri also indicated he will have Alexandre Pato and Kevin Prince Boateng ready to play some minutes after their injury time off. In store, the dangerous Stephan El Shaarawy, as the impact man off the bench, who scored the Udinese winner. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, their target man, has been quite lethal with his legs and his hands. Allegri has veteran Clarence Seedorf, a proven big time goal scorer, and Mark Van Bommel, his dreaded enforcer going up against national compatriot RVP. Bommel's role will be simple: Disrupt Arsenal's passing flow.
Arsenal: Szczesny, Sagna, Vermaelen, Koscielny, Coquelin, Song, Arteta, Rosicky, Ox, Walcott, RVP.
Prediction: Arsenal 2 Milan 1
Did we say Leo Messi is the best footballer in the world? Maybe we did. But did we also mention he had the fitness and strength of Hercules and the will of Bismarck.
Check out that third goal created and finished by Messi. Tell us in the 88th minute of a match, ANY match, if an ordinary mortal would have the legs and the passion to get to that ball from Dani Alves as displayed by Messi and we'll show you how to transform Katy Perry into a real chanteuse. It was a beautiful cross by Alves but it was Messi's desire and fight to get past that Leverkusen defense leaving us slack jawed as he latched onto the ball turning it into goal. Just when you ran out of superlatives.
See in the 88th minute leading 2-1 on the road, you are dreaming off that warm soak in the bath tub with a companion to sud you up.
Gerard Pique victimized by Osasuna over the weekend was left out. Mascherano was at centre half partnering Puyol. Meanwhile, Barca's next generation, hastened through injury and attrition was ready to take to the pitch. Fabregas is already a staple but add Thiago and Isaac Cuena to the mix. Leverkusen did mount a brief comeback through a very potent header by Michael Kadlec with former Spurs man Vedran Corluka doing all the spadework.
The German club were also denied by Victor Valdes as the Barca goalie got his fingertips deflecting Gonzalo Castro's slanted grounder onto the upright. Barca march on with a brace from Sanchez and the sublime Messi goal virtually assured of a place in the last eight.
Bayer Leverkusen vs Barcelona, Bay Arena @ 2:45 PM EST
Robin Dutt, the coach of Bayer Leverkusen has his work cut out for him. He faces Barca today in their Champions League first leg after a series of disappointing results in the Bundesliga has left his side in 6th place. They have managed only one win in seven matches in all competitions.
Goal scoring is an issue with only 28 goals from 21 appearances. Key injuries have decimated the team and Dutt is without the services of Michael Ballack, Erin Derdiyok, Sidney Sam, René Adler, and Tranquillo Barnetta.
The absence of Derdiyok is a particularly severe blow because of his Solksjaer like impact off the bench. Sam also an important factor in their 2-1 Valencia win will be badly missed.
Dutt is understandably quite realistic about their chances.
"No matter what tactics you employ, you have to prepare for Barcelona having 65 to 70% possession and your only chance of success is if you implement them and Barcelona have a bad day. "
The best goalscoring opportunities will come from midfielder Simon Rolfes, forward Stephen Kiessling, and on set pieces from their defenders who have scored 11 goals in the domestic season. Arne Friedrich scored a 91st winner in their group stage match against Chelsea sealing their entry into the second round.
Here is more about Dutt and his Indian roots including a possible future as that country's coach.
Last week it was the Anfield cat decidedly unimpressed by Brad Friedel's overtures, yesterday it was Carlos Tevez whining about how he was "treated like a dog" by Roberto Mancini.
Lets face it, Joleon Lescott scoring City's winners is a sign of serious trouble because Wayne Rooney has ominously kicked it up a notch for Utd. We at Soccerblog had predicted Tevez would be back and play an important part in City's push for their maiden Premiership title because consistent scoring from their frontline has been an issue of late.
Lo and behold, despite Tevez's metamorphosis into man's much kicked around best friend under Mancini, there is now a rapprochement between the two which should see a gradual return to first squad action. After all that negotiating for the highest bidder failed, the Stockholm Syndrome is very much at play. Tevez in his hundredth revisiting of the episode at Munich.
"I never refused to play," said Tevez. "I refused to keep warming up. He's [Mancini] in the middle of an argument, so then he tells me to keep on warming up and treats me like a dog."
Warming up is never a good idea? Isn't it a precursor to coming onto the pitch? And wasn't Tevez on the bench when he refused. Anyways, despite the words, in a nutshell, Tevez needs to play to be considered one of the sport's peers and enhance his marketability while City need his goalscoring, a consistent feature last season leading to their first CL appearance.
The Belgian wonderkid says he wants to go to England and drops a hint that it might not be Arsenal he's interested in. Could Thomas Vermaelen, as Belgian captain get on the hotline and convince the 21 year old that Spurs don't really develop players? He won't be cheap which is all one can say.
Cast your eye at the number of goals scored by each club in the fourth column from the right. At this point is there any wonder why this is not even a two horse race anymore? The race for La Liga is effectively over as even Pep Guardiola has all but conceded defeat, for the rest it ended in September last year. Real and Barca's share of goals is approximately a quarter of the total goals scored in La Liga.
Third placed Valencia has scored 40 goals less than Real while fourth place Levante is 46 goals adrift. These two clubs are competing for a Champions League spot scrapping with Espanyol, Atletico, Malaga, Osasuna, and Bilbao, as they fall further and further in goals scored and negative goal differentials. Yes, it is that dire.
Elsewhere, there is a real dogfight between City and Utd in the EPL with Spurs as an outside contender. The Serie could see Milan, Juventus, Lazio, and Udinese all go down to the wire. In the Bundesliga, Borussia just overtook Bayern which is having a torrid time staving off M'gladbach and Schalke. There is unpredictability and an anticipation of an upset in these leagues that keeps interest alive.
Can La Liga get any more stale if you are not Real or Barca?
The Old Firm is infirm. At least one of them is. That would be Rangers who are on the precipice of bankruptcy and face administration as the only viable option. They are said to owe a whopping £75m in taxes which owner Craig Whyte is unable to pay off. In the next 10 days the club will appoint an administrator, a CVA will be drawn up if the tax authorities (HMRC) can be persuaded to issue a moratorium on the taxes owed, to pay off the first line of creditors with a reduced sum. Rangers will be docked 10 points by the SPL which will end their chances of European representation.
At the heart of the matter an EBT scam that was perpetrated over a decade ago as a way of paying nominal taxes while still paying the contractual obligations of player salaries, bonuses, and appearance fees in the form of loans. All laid out neatly in a nice paper trail for the tax authorities to sniff out. Which means that this would have gone on unnoticed if the players and their agents had trusted the club executives who were in the know.
One can't see Scotland without Rangers. The Old Firm derby is one of the most historic matches in the world and in very stark terms, the one that makes the most business sense. Here is Wishbone Ash singing "Phoenix" which seems fitting given the circumstances.
Luis Suarez has apologized, Kenny Dalglish has apologized. Both have exhibited sociopathic behaviour for the last two months which has brought much opprobrium on them and the club. But at least their apologies should be taken in good faith.
Here we are not 24 hours later with Richard Williams still milking it for all its worth. After Suarez's mental malfunction on Saturday, Williams wonders if subsequent encounters between Liverpool and Man Utd will be as vitiated as the Old Firm rivalry.
Two things. The Old Firm rivalry has roots in ugly sectarianism and nationalism which have claimed actual lives and wounded countless others. Bruised egos don't count. Neil Lennon could do with that luxury. Second, to sustain this level of poison you have to have two clubs going at each other knowing fully well if they lose it could cost them the title. No team outside the Old Firm has won the SPL since it was formed in 1998.
Liverpool haven't contended for a league title since god alone knows when. They're fighting to remain in contention for fourth at their most optimistic and a Europa League. Utd are homing in on their 20th title. Twelve of them in the Premier League era. There is no comparison.
The Luis Suarez handshake that never was will never be a PhD candidate's dissertation topic. At least not if they want it to be in the league of, "An Identity of Two Halves? Celtic Supporters, Identity, and Scottish Society" That and similar studies are part of a thriving cottage industry of Old Firm related sociological phenomena.
Not a surprising development given the fact the Baggies, their Midland rivals routed them in front of the home crowd, 5-1. Having watched that match it was befuddling to see that much space given to Peter Odemwingie. The striker was made to look like a genius in the course of getting his hat trick. The fans left in the stands started their booing after the third goal and kept up well after the match was over.
The defense collapsed after Sebastian Bassing was taken off injured and Christophe Berra was installed. Berra was nowhere near marking his man on at least two scoring occasions. With this loss Wolves only garnered 14 points in their last 22 league games. They lie firmly in relegation zone keeping company with Wigan and Bolton.
McCarthy led the Wolves back into the Premiership in 2009 and kept them promoted for two seasons with the last one a touch and go affair as Wolves managed to beat Blackburn on the last day and then waited for a late Tottenham goal that doomed Birmingham.
Steve Bruce and Neil Warnock are probably favourites to replace him. McCarthy's replacement will have their work cut out for them trying to achieve the 40 points necessary to stave off relegation. They have 13 matches in which to get 19 points.
Didier Drogba had a golden chance to win it for Ivory Coast in regulation but missed his spot kick by a MILE. That set the stage for a nail biting PK shootout with both teams deadlocked after 120 minutes + which was won by Zambia as Sunzu Stophira converted his penalty after Gervinho's miss.
The amazing Chipolopolos pull off the impossible as Gervinho misses his PK. The art of war, Sunzu Stophira made no mistake with his chance as Zambia win their first ACN.
A fairy tale end for a country who lost so much 19 years ago in one of sport's heart breaking tragedies minutes away from Libreville, the venue for today's finals. They beat the prohibitive favourites, the Ivory Coast, 8-7 on PKs. This was a weekend of upsets. None more historic than this one. Bravo, Chipolopolos!!
Fabio Capello is reportedly in Moscow after his skiing holiday in Switzerland. The big drop is he's meeting with Anzhi Makhachkala officials who are looking for a replacement for their coach Yuri Krasnozhan.
The Russian coach is an acolyte of Alan Soziyev, the former director general of the club, who departed the club after his contract was terminated by mutual agreement. Krasnozhan whose fate is tied to Soziyev is also expected to depart. A meeting this Monday will decided his fate. Anzhi is managed by oligarch, Suleiman Kerimov, whose boundless money and ambition has him dreaming off bigger prizes.
Here is a FT profile on Kerimov who has propped up Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, and Deutsche Bank in these troubled times after fronting the money through banking surrogates to lose the money trail. Kerimov is plowing about €300m into rebuilding Anzhi. He hopes to build Dagestan into a football power by setting up football academies across the region and spend another €600m or more on building another stadium for 45,000 people.
Samuel Eto'o is already there with the added distinction as the world's best compensated player with €20m after tax per season for the next three years joining Roberto Carlos, Jucilei, and Yuri Zhirkov. Arsenal winger and Russia's captain Andrey Arshavin is also rumoured to be on the wishlist.
Capello might be tempted into managing a club away from the public eye after living almost five years of pressure cooker football in England, a country besotted with finding their next Alf Ramsey. The bonus points coaching for Anzhi. Moscow, next door with its world class opera and ballet for the culturally clued Capello. A fat paycheck to boot in a country looking to embarrass the self righteous English is surely tempting as well.
The Russian league will be the richest league in five years and will prove to be tempting to players less invested in history and more interested in lining their pockets. They will also find a way to thumb their noses at UEFA financial fair play rules. It's all part of FIFA's plan to send football eastwards where lies all the new money and the fans.
Full credit to Osasuna who played like they had nothing to fear against their vaunted opposition. Pep Guardiola resting Xavi, Iniesta, and Fabregas on the bench for the Bayer Leverkusen CL first leg sent in Thiago Alcantara, Pedro, and Sergi Roberto. The latter breaking into the first squad, all of four games old, completed the rejiggered midfield. Javier Mascherano as insurance for the injured Sergio Busquets recovering from a knee injury occupied the deeper role.
It was Dejan Lekic who got the ball rolling for Osasuna with two quick strikes "poonching the lungs of Barcelona." Lekic's first goal came from a sublime touch by Raul Garcia.
Barca's defense was notably missing with Gerard Pique the culprit in both instances. Pep sent in young guns Isaac Cuenca and Cristian Tello after the half to get something going and in the 51st minute, El Conejo delivered from Cuenca's cross as Barca asserted themselves. But Osasuna refused to wilt keeping up the pressure as assist man Garcia turned into goalscorer. Fabregas was sent on to salvage the situation and he turned provider for Tello's goal to bring Barca to sniffing distance of the equalizer.
Sanchez was distinctly unlucky as he had a goal declared offside after Sergi Roberto was found to have nicked the ball as Barca ran out of answers. They are now 7 points adrift of Real which could extend to 10 points after the Merengues meet Levante. Not looking good for Barca.
Btw, something tells me Manuel Pellegrini would have been equally effective as Jose Mourinho minus the crap if he had been allowed to stay on at Real for his second season.
Novara, at the very bottom of the Serie won yet again in a clean sweep of Inter with Andre Caracciolo scoring a flamboyant winner. Massimo Moratti dismissed Gian Piero Gasperini after Inter's 1-3 flame out against Novara in their first encounter. Will he do the same with Claudio Ranieri?
They have lost to Lecce another relegation zone club, drew Palermo, were trounced by Roma, and now this dispiriting loss to Novara. Ranieri urged his team to keep the faith. "The important thing is not to give up."
Inter were also distinctly unlucky as they hit the woodwork for the 13th time this season.
Sunderland has always been a tough side to crack and yesterday was no different on a horrible pitch at the Stadium of Blight. The first half was marked by the usual spectacle of Arsenal bossing the ball with little to show. Sunderland known for its strong defending did just that but their counterattacking was laboured.
The first half was marked with one bit of controversy as Per Mertesacker's stumbled after his clumsy attempt to chest the ball and then appeared to have handled it trying to recover. Neil Swarbrick, the referee deemed it accidental but Martin O' Neill felt it should have been a penalty.
The big German's ungainly control again proved to be his literal downfall as he crumpled to the ground conceding the ball to James McClean to accelerate down the left and angle the ball past Szczesny. Merts seems to have injured his ankle ligaments which rules him out of the Champions League game next week against AC Milan. It was Sunderland on the board after a busy spell which saw Szczesny make some great saves off Craig Gardner. To be fair, one couldn't see Arsenal coming back from the McClean goal. Wenger went for Ramsey replacing Merts as Song dropped back to pair Kos. Thierry Henry had preceded Ramsey's entry minutes before replacing Ox after Phil Bardsley had done a job on the teenager.
The usual down the middle stuff would not work as Sunderland were ready to park the bus. Tomas Rosicky is great at protecting the ball, he wheels around, changes pace, but his passing touch is woeful. Arteta is much better but he sits a bit too deep. Song tried a few times but what worked against Blackburn did not here as RVP and Walcott were well covered by one of the better Premiership defenses. But in one those never say never moments, Ramsey's first significant touch after Arteta's shot was blocked, was a rasping grounder that eluded Mignolet, pinged off both uprights and then settled in the back of the net. Sighs of relief all around from the traveling fans.
Wenger then took off Walcott and introduced Arshavin, the captain of the Russian team (TM) and the winger sporting a new haircut looked much more inventive trying to prise open the defense with some neat dinks into the box. In added time with the match heading for a stalemate, Arshavin held up on the left with two defenders fronting him spotting a lurking Henry in the box, scooped the ball, setting the stage for the Red Bulls man to end his Premiership return with panache.
This was a shot in the arm, much more so than the Blackburn victory. RVP did not score but others did. It came on the road, in tough conditions (that pitch should be decertified), against a tough team who will be our FA Cup opponents next weekend. Two players who receive much grief turned this match around. The weekend also provided some favourable results propelling us to fourth place. It sends us to Milan with a sense of momentum for that CL first leg.
Wenger commenting on the match:
" We had a lot of the ball but we couldn't create a lot because our passing was good but it was very difficult to get into their defence. On top of that we were 1-0 down so it was a question of a spirited performance and that is what happened in the end. I felt we were intelligent, patient and resilient. "
Liverpool's management had seen and heard enough. Kenny Dalglish's head in the sand post match interview coming on the heels of Luis Suarez's dastardly snub of Patrice Evra's handshake were considered damaging enough for their MD, Ian Ayre, to come out condemning their striker.
In particular, Suarez's promise to shake hands with Evra made earlier in the week and then reneging caused much anger.
" We are extremely disappointed Luis Súarez did not shake hands with Patrice Evra before yesterday's game. The player had told us beforehand that he would, but then chose not to do so. He was wrong to mislead us and wrong not to offer his hand to Patrice Evra. He has not only let himself down, but also Kenny Dalglish, his team-mates and the Club. It has been made absolutely clear to Luis Súarez that his behaviour was not acceptable."
Today, Suarez had his apology posted on the LFC website:
" I have spoken with the manager since the game at Old Trafford and I realise I got things wrong. I've not only let him down, but also the Club and what it stands for and I'm sorry. I made a mistake and I regret what happened. I should have shaken Patrice Evra's hand before the game and I want to apologise for my actions. I would like to put this whole issue behind me and concentrate on playing football."
King Kenny followed with his statement of contrition:
"When I went on TV after yesterday's game I hadn't seen what had happened, but I did not conduct myself in a way befitting of a Liverpool manager during that interview and I'd like to apologise for that."
A little late but nevertheless welcome. We're all passionate supporters of one club or another and in the heat we bring out our tribal qualities to the fore but we need to step back when clearly something like the Suarez affair proves damaging to the club, the sport and society at large. LFC's history is unique, they've known some of the darkest days in English football. Their statement of support to Al Ahly in the recent Egyptian tragedy which took the lives of so many fans carries weight. One would like to think, "You'll Never Walk Alone" has a broader message.
This should prove beyond a shadow Luis Suarez meant what he said to Patrice Evra. Every racist word. This does not mean he is a paid member of the KKK. He's just a prick with a very low threshold for frustration. Many fans in some blind reflexive way believed Suarez was the victim of a smear job and their misguided support probably emboldened him today. But his actions should prove to be an eye-opener for many Liverpool supporters with fewer ulterior motives who would have liked nothing better than a handshake to vindicate that support. Many are waking up to their credit.
The reaction by Rio Ferdinand is a classic. He feels for Evra as he does for his brother.
The more conscientious will surely question the damage Suarez is doing to their club and its storied name. The time will come when the club's American owners will have to deal with this controversy because here in the USA, this behaviour would have met with zero tolerance.
The horrible thing is what happened to King Kenny? He's tied himself into knots with his indefensible Suarez is a Nell in the woods tack even laying his reputation on the line that the Uruguayan would shake hands. Well, he did not. And you know why? Because the larger issue is you have spent £ 150m on players and only one of them is delivering. Suarez knows it, the Liverpool fans know it, and by gum, King Kenny knows it. In short, Suarez can do what he wants, sleep with your wife, f**k an armadillo, and attend CPAC as a paid panelist on the Hispanics hate blacks forum or some such thing.
Sir Alex is not waiting around. He is spot on with his declaration that Suarez is poison for Liverpool. And before anyone jumps in with he's playing mind games as usual, it's not mind games if you have not won the top domestic prize for 22 years and are equally unlikely to do so with Suarez. You've faced reality with uncommon dignity for those many years, why throw it away over one player?
Who's betting Suarez will leave at the end of the season to the chants of "You'll always walk alone."
You couldn't write a better script for Thierry Henry to end his England return. An added time goal for the winner against Sunderland. A bookend to the bookend he installed with his instant winner against Leeds. Both Wenger's subs made massive contributions to the victory as Aaron Ramsey scored the equalizer and Andrey Arshavin sent in a pinpoint cross to Henry lurking in front of goal to elevate his leg and guide the ball past Simon Mignolet. Both Ramsey and Arshavin have come in for some protracted stick but they proved game changers.
Ramsey came late in the second half as Per Mertesacker crumpled to the ground his ankle giving out allowing James McClean to taking advantage acres of space down the left to run past a nonplussed Arsenal defense and angle the ball past Szczney.
All the goalscoring action took place in the second half. But it ended in an upbeat note at the Stadium of Light for Arsenal against a tough, tough Sunderland side. King Henry will be sent off England shores in a heroes farewell. What a cameo!
Arsenal go up to fourth as Everton beat Chelsea, 2-0 and Utd ran through Liverpool, 2-1. Newcastle take on Spurs in the late game.
Video to be posted up soon with the extended match report.
The scoreline does not reflect how good Man Utd were or the dire Liverpool performance especially in the second half. That was on the pitch as the rest of the world tuned into the Luis Suarez vs Patrice Evra telenovela.
The Manchester side came to play football while the Reds came to do, well, whatever Luis Suarez wanted to do. And right away the Uruguayan proceeded to make a miserable ass of himself, refusing to shake Patrice Evra's hand, prompting Rio Ferdinand next in line to retaliate by withdrawing his hand This was set up from the get go. Ferdinand as Evra's wingman. This really did not go down well at the Stretford End as Suarez was followed by boos and chants
Man Utd looked crisp from the get go except for their finish. Danny Welbeck suffered a rare loss of confidence when he passed up a clear scoring opportunity to centre the ball into a thicket of Liverpool defenders and then Ryan Giggs motoring down the left presented the Ginger Assassin with a golden look at goal but his header was directed tamely to Pepe Reina. Meanwhile Antonio Valencia down the right made Luis Enrique look and play like a 300 lb sumo wrestler. For Liverpool Glen Johnson had a nice go at goal but that was about it. Suarez looked like he was out on an island by himself with no one to abuse except the ball which he did by booting it out at half time. Totally crass. He's the pied piper leading Liverpool down the path to "You'll Never Sulk Alone."
The half time began after reported handbags in the tunnel between Evra, Suarez, and Martin Skrtel which led to the French, the Uruguayan, and the Slovakian emissaries to exert damage control in the now historic Montevideo peace treaty.
Utd came out and in about five minutes smoked Liverpool with Wayne Rooney turning in a corner smartly off his boot as it came to him courtesy Jordan Henderson. Two minutes later, Valencia charging down with Enrique backpedaling slipped in a pass to Rooney and the striker was on point. Liverpool looked like Kristen Stewart with the life forces sucked out of them. Their shambolic passing continued. Rooney could have had a third when his toe poke went wide left after another bout of sublime service involving Valencia and Scholes.
Kenny Dalglish took of the ineffective Stuart Downing, now officially in a Torres like quagmire and Jay Spearing whose mistake led to the second goal. Andy Carroll and Craig Bellamy would have to come up with an extra effort to get Liverpool into the game. Just when Utd looked like this would be a stroll in the park a free kick into the box struck an unsighted Ferdinand and the ball sprang free to Suarez who poked it into goal. The next 10 + minutes were a cagey affair with both sides having a hard time holding onto the ball. David De Gea managed to tip over Johnson's fiercely struck shot for a magnificent save. The match ended with Evra going a bit mad with his celebrations rubbing it in front of Suarez as a whole bunch of match officials and stewards tried to head off another potential conflagration.
All the focus will be on the handshake that never happened but Liverpool have a far more pressing problem. They have invested £150m in attack minded players but only one seems to delivering and he has other issues.
A recent post by Jamie Trecker poses the question will the USA ever win the World Cup? And when will the USA ever produce its own Pele, if ever?
Trecker goes on to say that the USA has always produced top quality goalkeepers, the country's most visible export to overseas leagues in this sport. In contrast, they have lacked quality in the outfield with some notable exceptions like Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan. Not so goalkeepers as Kasey Keller, Brad Friedel, Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, Marcus Hahnemann, have all been amongst their peers.
Why are US goalkeepers so good? Trecker doesn't quite address that as his focus obviously lies elsewhere. But it is worthy of examination and debate. What gives goalkeepers here the qualities to compete with the best in the world?
The answer probably lies in the ethos of specialization that are an overt characteristic of almost every American sport. Simply put, sports over here offer a spectrum of specialist positions unmatched in the world. The analogy would be going to music school to learn the clarinet, the oboe, the violin. You are characterized as a musician but you are skilled at playing a particular instrument. In the NFL, you have your pick of teams, offensive, defensive, special, kicking, punting. There are plays built around these specialist positions involving tight ends, running backs, full backs, three receiver sets, quarterback sneaks, etc. Baseball is no less intricate where the basemen and the outfielders are clearly delineated. A designated hitter can bat but he can't take part in anything else. A pitcher has about 6 types of pitches he can throw and spends a lifetime mastering some of them. In this environment inculcated at an early age, a youngster interested in sports already has a reverence and appreciation for these qualities.
In soccer, the one position above and beyond any other position that requires such specialization is that of goalkeeper. The rest are more or less built around spatial requirements with certain physical and technical attributes that make them attractive in that position. Gravitating towards goalkeeping if interested in soccer is a self selecting process and probably attracts better athletic talent given its degree of specialization. A characteristic of most goalies is that were also good enough at basketball to consider a future in that sport. Which brings us to why the NCAA driven process of developing sport talent is considered so detrimental to soccer but has not done anything to slow down the influx of good goalkeeping talent. An academic set up facilitates imbibing the more technical aspects of such specialization in a compressed amount of time after the nuts and bolts learned in high school.
Such latencies are detrimental to any other position where the early advent of specialized coaching makes all the difference as pointed out by Trecker in the same post. Goalkeepers in general develop much later in life. Strikers and midfielders slowed down by wear and tear hang up their boots by the early to mid 30s, which is when a goalkeeper is at the top of his game. Friedel is turning 41 this year, which means Brad Guzan at 27 years of age can look forward to another decade in the top rungs if all goes well. In short, the US produces good goalkeepers because it attracts better talent and the university set up provides an advantage in honing those skills.
The players are all coming out of the woodwork. After keeping miserably silent and not offering an ounce of support for their former manager. Man, those must have been the toughest five years of their lives? But they're now tweeting their approval of Harry Redknapp as favourite to lead the Three Lions. Rio Ferdinand who has a bone in this whole sorry episode led off, followed by Wayne Rooney who mercifully put down his imaginary red cards for a minute or so, to say he could work with 'Arry.
In the meanwhile, the FA has to go through the motions of managing a national team which they have delegated to Stuart "Mad Eyes" Pearce aka the stunt double for Daniel Craig. They also have to pretend to look for alternatives to Redknapp and one will be sure to bandy about a few other English names, including Alan Pardew, Sam Allardyce, and the obligatory reference to Guus Hiddink, as the non-English candidate.
But it is Redknapp's job to turn down. The media have willed, the players have willed it, the FA internally have already cut the contract, and unless Redknapp discovers he has a boil on his arse that prevents him sitting down or thinking straight, he's going to sign on. But meantime he too has to play the coy, "I haven't even thought about it" game. The one where the Oscar winner says, "I'm honoured to be in the midst of such geniuses like Jack Black, Eric Roberts, Richard Greico, and Seth Rogen, as my fellow nominees" while chuckling like a banshee inside.
Meanwhile, in Italy, the reaction is an unsuspecting Capello was mowed down by a ruthless FA. His interview on RAI, a turning point, is being portrayed in the media as words twisted by bad Google translation or worse, a convenient excuse handed out to fire him.
La Repubblica stormed:
"The English could not stand him any longer and he could not stand the English any more," stated La Repubblica on its front page. "A politically correct excuse was required to terminate a marriage which has never been consummated, and the Terry case, with its racist undertone, was perfect."
Which of course brings us to John Terry, the central figure in this King Lear tragedy. The body count is high. His best friend, his partner on the pitch, and now the manager of the national team, all wrecked. That is an impressive track record and more than the tackles he put in the World Cup.
So what lies in store for Capello? The Inter job could be his as Claudio Ranieri struggles. The resurgent Russian league with its wads of cash and players like Nicholas Anelka, Roberto Carlos, Samuel Eto'o could be his next stop. Or it could be Juve to take up a desk job.
The winning goal for the Taranga Lions was all Gervinho in the 44th minute. The Arsenal winger robbed the ball well behind the half line, and then turned on the burners to blow past the Malian defense down the left channel, cutting in for a superb finish.
Arsenal cannot wait to have him back. The Ox and the Forehead churning up the flanks. The Ivory Coast now face Zambia this Sunday in the finals.
The amazing Chipolopolos scored the winning goal in the 77th minute as substitute Emmanuel Mayuka found space and on the turn curled a right footed shot past Adam Kwarsey in goal. It was probably the second chance for the Zambians and very much against the run of play.
The Black Stars should have gone ahead early as Asamoah Gyan missed out on a golden chance when his penalty was stopped by Kennedy Mweene (bringing back painful memories of his World Cup PK miss against Uruguay). The Zambian goalie brought off a number of fine saves as the Ayew brothers, Andrew and Jordan carved up the flanks. The Ghanians can count profligacy and a sense of self entitlement as factors in their downfall.
This is the third final for the Zambians, runners up in their previous two entries in 1974 and 1994. The host country Gabon was also the site for the darkest hour in Zambian sporting history when a plane carrying their national team went down just offshore of Libreville, killing all 30 passengers and crew members including 18 players. That was in 1993 and a year later they entered the ACN finals, their team revived by their most famous player Kalusha Bwalya, miraculously not on that plane; in a testimony to human resilience.
A final victory in this ACN would go a long way to assuage that tremendous loss. But first they have to get past heavy favourites Didier Drogba and the Ivory Coast. This team might surprise again. Then again does it still count as a surprise if we said the same a number of matches ago?
The Anfield tabby who made an appearance in the Liverpool vs Spurs match has become a major sensation like Susan Boyle, out of nowhere. Probably the most exciting event in that match other than Luis Suarez's kick to Scotty Parker's stomach that sent the Spurs midfielder to the ground grovelling in pain.
A day ago, Harry Redknapp was in the dock on tax evasion charges. If proven guilty, it would end his chances to be England manager, a post that he has long coveted. Worse, as a convicted felon, the punishment could mean jail time and a leave of absence from football for a long, long time.
Today, less than 12 hours after being exonerated, his ascent to England manager become red hot reality as Fabio Capello resigned. You could not screw your tin foil hat any tighter.
It almost sounds like the FA played this right from the start. Setting up John Terry as bait, Capello bites, they then cut the line loose by axing Terry without Capello's knowledge, enraging the Italian enough to go on the air and publicly chastise them. Meanwhile the FA puts pressure on the court to get Redknapp a favourable verdict by promising the judge and his family luxury seats to every FA Cup final.
Outside the court, everyone and anyone in the FA or connected to them jumps down Capello's throat accusing him from breach of contract to moral hazard for his ill spoken words. Cut to Southwark exterior, Redknapp vindicated walks out blinking and twitching into the cold winter morning, bemoaning his three weeks spent trying to explain Rosie 47. In a corner room, the England manager demoralized and isolated, resigns in less than an hour after a meeting with the FA's David Bernstein.
In fact, we could even dig deeper, the FA set up the court case so that Redknapp would be cleared in time to coincide with Capello's resignation after running a parallel Machiavellian scheme to undo him.
But we know human nature is actually far more frail. It's more like this Redknapp dumb, FA dumber, and Capello dumbest.
Good old Harry was naive thinking HM Customs would not try to bring him to book with a red flag like a Monaco overseas account that was getting pumped by someone as dubious as Milan Mandaric, who cooked the books while at Pompey. The FA was caught with their pants down thinking John Terry's racial abuse did not merit an investigation with commensurate punitive measures while doing the same with Luis Suarez. The deferment of Terry's legal case till after the Euro championship only helped the controversy metastasize. And Capello was in a spider hole thinking his tone deaf Terry advocacy would have no backlash as a desperate FA sought a scapegoat. It all coalesced together in one single day, confirming that indeed the most blindingly happy coincidences are the result of stochastic forces. Yeah, fractals and chaos theory.
Now, onto the next play in this tempest. John Terry seeing his biggest supporter leave with a cloud over his head, will not only be happy to give up his captaincy, he will retire from international competition. Because Redknapp probably has his own selections in mind and he will be keen to set a tone that will consciously separate him from his predecessor and that ugly World Cup blight. Getting rid of Terry would be the fastest and easiest way to score him some brownie points with the FA and most of the players.
Did Capello deserve this? In sum, he wasn't the smartest manager. There was too much of his Milan imprint in going for older, more experienced players, and little faith in youth. He was also remote and somewhat condescending which never went down well with his players. And of course, the World Cup stinker will always be laid at his feet. But he was tough, disciplined, and principled. England achieved qualification to the Euro in some style with a welcome cohesion that was missing in South Africa. Someone with his pride was never going to have it easy in one of the toughest footballing job in the world.
Slowly some of those long standing absences are working their way back into the Arsenal squad and not a moment too soon. The latest update has Kieran Gibbs ready and available for next week's Arsenal Champions League first leg against AC Milan if Wenger so desires. Thomas Vermaelen stuck at left back might finally get some relief and relocate to his more familiar centre back role with Laurent Koscielny.
Bakary Sagna also came back last week and it was good to see his strong, active self introduced against Bolton although against Blackburn last weekend it was Francis Coquelin doing the honours on the right channel. Carl Jenkinson should also be available next week and Abou Diaby (remember him?) is expected back by the end of the month. Andre Dos Santos is slated for a mid March comeback.
Jack Wilshere's rehab seems to be going smoothly and the midfielder is hoping he can get to see a good part of the remainder of the season. He will be a refreshing addition to the midfield with Aaron Ramsey looking burned out. Which brings us to the always vexatious question of whether like Theo Walcott before, now Wilshere, and possibly Alex Oxlade Chamberlain in the future, of injuries through overexposure stymieing their full potential.
Wenger talked about putting the brakes on the Ox's appearances capping it at 25 appearances. But with his performance against Blackburn, the teenage phenom appears to be fast tracked to the national team which could potentially overload his participation by an extra 20 games. There is another reason for bringing him on slowly and Arseblog talks a lot about potential nipped in the bud by swollen head syndrome. Think David Bentley.
With a name like Bentley, it was always going to be downhill, from the cusp of regular national appearances, to Blackburn and White Hart wasteland (that was a waste of £15 million good ones), and now on loan to West Ham and cheese with Sam Allardyce. Bentley like Tim Treadwell thought he was indestructible after one Bergkampesque goal inducing Treadwellian like delusions.
There is a reason to bring Ox on slowly, through a mentoring process, and to shut down the media hype that has them comparing him to Rooney, to Bergkamp, and to the man on the silver mountain. It is the David Bentley parable.
On the downside, Emmanuel Frimpong, whose Wolves loan has been an injury disaster is lost for the rest of the season with a torn ACL that will keep him out most likely till September. Nicklas Bendtner is out till the end of February with a repetitive facepalm injury (snark) after missing his twelfth goal opportunity for Stoke.
Harry Redknapp's been found to be as clean as a whistle. The three week trial which took place at Southwark crown courts came to an end as both Redknapp and his former Pompey boss, Milan Mandaric were cleared of tax evasion charges with the prosecution building their case around the Peter Crouch sale which involved two transfer amounts totaling £189,000. Redknapp and Mandaric were charged with not disclosing bonuses related to the sale which would have been subject to taxation.
The conclusion was that the money given by Mandaric was not job related and the first amount given was "seed money" to help his former manager capitalize from profitable investments. The second amount transferred to Redknapp's Monaco account reflected Mandaric's embarrassment at his friend losing money on his bad advice in the stock market.
Redknapp might rue that this case ever came to trial but at least in his case, he's been proven innocent and can now go forward with his ambitions to be England manager without a cloud over his head. In fact, it might happen sooner than later depending on whether the FA can arrest the growing rift between them and Fabio Capello over John Terry, whose racial abuse case should have gone to trial.
Roland Martin, CNN's most vocal homophobic bigot gets all frothy and excited over the David Beckham undie ad that aired on Super Bowl. With friends like these, does Obama need any enemies?
He probably thought seeing the ad would turn half of America's menfolk gay. He let loose on Twitter, "If a dude at your Super Bowl party is hyped about David Beckham's H&M underwear ad, smack the ish out of him!" was followed by "Ain't no real bruhs going to H&M to buy some damn David Beckham underwear!" His political analysis is equally inciteful (sic). Would be right at home at Fox News.
This did not go down well with a number of his followers who criticized him but Martin stuck to his two bit script claiming he was mocking soccer as he routinely does. But really the issue was his homophobia and it got him into trouble with GLAAD, one of USA's largest gay rights group who took him to task.
Martin finally backtracked but he covered himself with his soccer = gay sport defense. Not his own I hate gays bigotry. Here it is:
" It was meant to be a deliberately over the top and sarcastic crack about soccer; I do not advocate violence of any kind against anyone gay, or not. As anyone who follows me on Twitter knows, anytime soccer comes up during football season it's another chance for me to take a playful shot at soccer, nothing more."
Martin who is about 100 lbs overweight but with a decidedly undernourished brain should get a scissor kick in his gonads. When he spits them out of his mouth and has a voice resembling a frog on helium, he can go and play pat a cake. But hey, maybe this is all a deflection from what he really is.
Update: CNN has suspended Martin. Their statement:
"Roland Martin's tweets were regrettable and offensive. Language that demeans is inconsistent with the values and culture of our organization, and is not tolerated. We have been giving careful consideration to this matter, and Roland will not be appearing on our air for the time being."
Mirandes, the giant killing third division Liga club bowed out beaten by Athletic Bilbao, 6-2, in the second leg of the Copa Del Rey (8-3 aggregate). Fernando Llorente showed why he's on the wishlist of some of the world's biggest clubs by scoring a brace. Athletic also got goals from Iker Muniain, Markel Susaeta and defender Jon Aurtenetxe. The last goal was an own goal by Fernandez Cesar Caneda.
Mirandes managed to claim a couple through Aitor Blanco. The third division club beat Villarreal, Racing Santander and Espanyol to make it to the semi-finals but were no match for Athletic who find the Copa Del Rey happy hunting grounds entering their 36th final of which they have won 23, second only to Barca's 25 titles.
Barca will meet Valencia in the second leg tomorrow having tied the first edition, 1-1 at the Mestalla.
The world's most over rated striker receives a three match ban for slapping Napoli's Salvatore Aronica. To be fair Aronica also indulged in some extra-curricular activities against Antonio Nocerino but Ibra's was a reputation call. He will miss crucial matches against Udinese and Juventus.
The FA and Fabio Capello are increasingly at odds with each other over John Terry's captaincy. The Italian was vocal in his support of the Chelsea defender using the cover of the deferred legal case as a presumption of innocence till proven guilty. The FA increasingly under pressure for botching the whole racial abuse case from the get go sought a more moral imperative. Terry's continuation as a captain would prove divisive and distracting to the team.
The FA rode over Capello's objections and axed Terry. The England manager unsurprisingly did not take it well. He went on Italian TV and vented his frustration. Very unwisely, one might add.
"I told (the chairman) that I don't think someone can be punished until it becomes official," Capello told RAI. "The court will decide. It's going to be civil justice, not sports justice, to decide if John Terry committed that crime that he is accused of. And I thought it fair that John Terry keeps the captain's armband."
A public denouncement which did not go down well with the FA. They are in short very incensed.
"It is being taken very seriously by the FA because it may be that Fabio Capello has breached his contract," former FA executive director David Davies told the BBC on Monday. "You have to ask what his motive is. You have to suspect he wants to prevent John Terry retiring as a player before Euro 2012, but there are wider issues. You could have what some of the media are calling a morality circus while England are trying to win the second major tournament in football."
Today, Gordon Taylor, the CEO of the Professional Footballers' Association, called Capello's stance "bizarre and disappointing". Taylor also said that Capello should have held his counsel because the new captain would know he was not his manager's choice, creating a situation not conducive to locker room unity.
This is not the first ill conceived move made by Capello. His Capello index set up prior to the World Cup gave his own England players some very unflattering ratings which set off a firestorm of criticism and caused it to be yanked off forcing Capello onto the defensive. The current situation is far worse because he finds himself increasingly isolated and viewed with suspicion by many in the FA hierarchy. There is a familiar feel to these run of events just before one of the world's most prestigious competitions bringing back a reminder of why Capello's continuation was secured amongst uniform public disapproval.
It's quite telling that some of the more outspoken footballers have not come to his defense. But that would mean implicitly supporting a John Terry captaincy which one suspects is the last thing anyone wants.
A corollary to that would be if Terry would like to continue in the national team, which is possibly the reason why Capello made him captain heading off a potential retirement. Terry has not indicated he feels any differently, but a voluntary retirement would mean the FA and Capello get to save face. Otherwise, indications are Capello might have to re-consider his future as manager. The biggest thing in his favour is Harry Redknapp, the prohibitive favourite to take over as England manager could be a convicted felon by the time his court case gets over. Tomorrow, David Bernstein and Capello are set for a very important meeting to repair this breech.
Who let the cat out? A tabby provided the most excitement in the Liverpool vs Spurs match, a cagey affair. Luis Suarez came on in the 66th minute after his nine match ban and promptly plonked Scott Parker on the abdomen with a scything foot, an accident more than anything else, but with Suarez the line is finely drawn. The Uruguayan was booked but escaped more severe punishment.
Wayne Rooney, now an expert on red cards promptly tweeted his instant verdict.
"If ref sees that kick from suarez and books him for it it should be red," tweeted the Manchester United striker.
He got a reaction from Kenny Dalglish, the same as he did with Roberto Mancini. May not be the wisest move before that big Liverpool vs Man Utd game this weekend. For his part, Dalglish stuck to his guns reiterating the wrongness of Suarez's ban. In the mishandling of the John Terry racial abuse case, he may just have a point.
Spurs for all that attacking talent could not get much. Maybe they were missing Harry Redknapp who's preoccupied with fighting his tax evasion charges and missed his flight to the match after his plane developed engine trouble. It was their defense providing the biggest moment as Michael Dawson (how about an England spot in place of John Terry?) made a great tackle to take the ball away from Andy Carroll with the striker set to shoot. Liverpool's scoring drought has seen them score 14 goals in their last 12 matches with Carroll unable to take up the scoring slack in Suarez's absence.
Co-hosts Gabon looked like it was going to be headed to their best showing in any ACN when Eric Mouloungui shot them into the lead in the 55th minute. But Mali had other ideas as Cheick Diabate equalized in the 84th minute. At the end of extra time, with the two teams deadlocked, the fate of the match was decided on PK shootout.
The Panthers were found wanting when St Etienne's Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, missed his PK as Mali proved flawless in finding the back of the net with Barca's Seydou Keita scoring the winning spot kick.
The semi-finals line up: Ivory Coast, the overwhelming favourites face off against Mali, while Ghana are pitted against the overachieving Zambians. The smart money is on an Ivory Coast vs Ghana final, which would be a repeat of the 1992 ACN final with the Taranga Lions emerging victorious after a marathon PK shootout 11-10, over the Black Stars. But this is football, upsets are part of the sport's fabric.
Captain John Mensah puts Ghana ahead through his third international goal. Saber Khelifa equalized after beating Samuel Inkoom to a lofted ball. The match headed to extra time and in the 110th minute, Abedi Pele's son, Andre Ayew scored the winner after Tunisia's goalie, Aymen Mathlouthi coughed up Inkoom's cross right into his path. The 2-1 win puts Ghana in the semi-finals pitting them against the surprising Zambians.
Ghana last won the Africa Cup of Nations in1982. Andrew Ayew's father, the legendary Abedi Pele was part of that victorious team.
Inter's wheels are coming off. After such a strong push to within sniffing distance of Milan and Juve, they have lost to lowly Lecce, drew Palermo and yesterday, Roma took the lumber to them. Juan gets the Giallorossi on the board, Fabio Borini's lovely brace follows, and the Bojan Krkic finishes emphatically to give Roma a thumping 4-0 victory. Where was that steel trap defense that reached its heights in that victory over Barca in the CL semi-finals two years ago?
The Nerrazzuri lie in fifth but are adrift by nine points from top club Juve. They trail Milan, who lost to Lazio this weekend, by eight points. Udinese and Lazio are ahead of them. Roma follows closely behind for that crucial fourth spot. And Claudio Ranieri is under pressure again.
Today, owner Massimo Moratti warned the players, "they have to give their soul" and "some of the players must understand that the Serie is not over yet, there is a very long way to go."
This was one of the most gripping matches in the season. United improved immeasurably when Paul Scholes was introduced in the 64th minute, one of the key moments of the match. On the other hand, Andre Villas- Boas went negative when he took Daniel Sturridge off for Oriol Romeu in the 71st minute playing it safe protecting a 3-2 lead. A bad mistake in hindsight.
With three holding midfielders the Chelsea side gave up the middle ground as Scholes precise organization in central midfield provided the vital link up with Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck.
Chelsea went one up with Jonny Evans conceding an own goal before the first half all created through Daniel Sturridge's endeavours. Immediately at resumption, in an all Spaniard telenovela, Fernando Torres doing little of note as a striker provided a sublime on the dime cross for Juan Mata to slam the ball on the volley past David De Gea. The other David, Chelsea's loose cannon, taking advantage of a porous defense provided a third as his header took a nice little deflection off Rio Ferdinand. The Utd central defender was the target of a parochial Stamford Bridge crowd which booed him throughout the match.
This is Utd. It may be trite to say this. But they never give up. Daniel Sturridge, one of the bright sparks in the Chelsea attack showed defensive naivety bringing down Patrice Evra in the box. There was no hesitation from Howard Webb. Rooney making no mistake wrong footed Petr Cech completely. Sir Alex sensing a rabbit out of a hat moment sent on Scholes. A few minutes later Welback in an artful piece of trickery stuck his leg out at Ivanovic and went down. From Webb's angle the Chelsea defender had deliberately fouled the Utd striker. A second PK and once again it was Rooney on the spot sending Cech the wrong way.
With Utd rampant, the midfield their turf, and a Chelsea defense proving to be as generous as Utd's, all signs pointed to a result displeasing to the home crowd. They did not have long to wait as Antonio Valencia using his speed fled by Essien, feeding Rooney churning down the middle, who unleashed a shot parried by Cech to the flanks. Ryan Giggs collected the ball, looked up, found an unmarked Javier Hernandez, and the Mexican whose head and neck are homing devices made no mistake.
The Utd faithful loving every minute of this amazing turnaround were in full vocal throttle. The rest of Stamford Bridge fell silent as they chewed various body parts in distress. Would Chelsea fall, keep the status quo, or desirably get a face saving goal. There had been opportunities before that would come back to haunt them.
A few minutes before the equalizer, Torres wasted a golden chance to become an instant hero, when he had the Utd defense exposed with De Gea completely at his mercy, and he dawdled on the ball too long. His Chelsea career has been one similar such frustrations. Michael Essien's piledriver was tipped over by De Gea, who had a very good game. He was even better just before the end as he launched himself at Juan Mata's precisely driven free kick heading for the upper right corner of goal to deny Chelsea a last minute winner.
Lovely game. The comeback was ferocious. The defenses were exposed on both teams. AVB playing it safe understandably subbed off Sturridge for Romeu which took off the attacking edge. Chelsea could have also done with Terry's leadership qualities. Sir Alex brought on Scholes, a key change that improved Utd considerably. Rooney was immense and De Gea should quieten his critics. All in all very tasty build up to the Super Bowl which also proved to be equally compelling.
"This John Terry saga, has turned into one of the most hideously managed spectacles I have ever known. WTF is going on...... We all know what was said. Its there on TV for all to see. Do I think hes a racist? No. I think hes said something really stupid in the heat of battle/argument. This should of been dealt with instantly (Like Suarez or more games) and put to bed. The longer it goes on, the worse it is for the game. Racism needs to be stamped out. We all agree on that. This is now affecting England as well as those involved."
" Once the issue went out of the FA's control, it was always going to get messy. They should have dealt with it instantly. Now its a farce.."
After Barton got wind of the AG's investigation of his tweets, he said he welcomed being a martyr for free speech.
" What is the point of living, if you cannot express your opinion. Not having an opinion is not living, its surviving. "
We dismiss Barton because he really is a tiresome individual who devotes his energies to 140 word soundbytes as if they matter rather than focusing on QPR's chances of remaining promoted. But on this he is absolutely right. And it his team mate who's in the eye of the storm waiting another five months for closure. There are definitely double standards being applied here.
The FA dropped the ball in the first place by failing to investigate John Terry when they should have done the same as they did with Suarez which allowed Terry to escape similar punitive measures. When Fabio Capello announced Terry as England's captain, they kicked the can down by deferring the case till after the Euro 2012 on the convenient presumption of innocent until proven guilty. This is legalese which did not sit well in the locker room if Rio Ferdinand's furious reaction is anything to go by. The FA did some retroactive damage control by nixing Terry's captaincy but it is now in a collision course with the England manager who is unhappy with all the second guessing. More salient is Terry's form. At this point does he really deserve a spot in the English side with his dastardly displays?
Demba Cisse the most expensive player in the January transfer and the other half of the Senegalese strike force alongside Demba Ba, provided an instant impact as he scored a majestic goal on his debut. Majestic.
Ba and Cisse were away on ACN duty and how they were missed, especially Ba, who gave Newcastle the lead in the 30th minute for his 16th Premiership goal. Villa looking good in spells managed to go into half time with the equalizer through Robbie Keane, whose Premiership loan return has been quite spectacular too.
The magical moment belonged to Demba Cisse (Papiss Demba Cisse) if you must in the 71st minute who latched onto a cross by Jonas Gutierrez after Villa failed to clear and the Senegalese striker chested the ball down and slammed it on the half volley giving Shay Given no chance at all. Automatic. No hesitation. No second guessing.
In Jonas Gutierrez, Newcastle have an immense, unflagging motor, who never gives up. A force of nature. Yoann Cabaye's place was taken by Danny Guthrie, a very underrated player who kept the midfield metronome going through his nice through balls and chips into the box, creating scoring opportunities for Ba and Cisse. The Geordies paid a price through ugly injuries to Leon Best and Ryan Taylor, the latter's looked far worse as he was stretchered off.
Villa did no favours to Arsenal, as Newcastle climb to fifth with Chelsea making ground over Spurs, looking good for the win against Man Utd. Tomorrow Liverpool take on Spurs, in another defining match for the race at the top.
Alex McLeish looked like broiled lobster on the sidelines screaming his head off.
Zambia cruised past Sudan, 3-0 to the semi-finals of the ACN, the first time since 1996. Sudan made things difficult for themselves after Ali Saif Eldin was sent off for his second violation when he brought down Rainford Kalaba in the 63rd minute. By that time the Chipolopolos (The Copper Miners) were already a goal up from Sunzu Stoppila.
Christopher Katonga's initial PK effort was parried by Akram but he followed up successfully with the rebound. Substitute James Chamanga sealed the victory adding a third.
Zambia's manager, Herve Renard on his team's win:
"Our target was to reach the semi final for the first time since 1996. We learnt a lot in 2010 where we were not efficient. I think we were better this time."
The Chipolopolos await the winner of the Ghana vs Tunisia match. The Ivory Coast will take on either Gabon or Mali in the other quarterfinal.
Didier Drogba could not be denied as he made up for a missed penalty by pouring in a brace. Ivory Coast added another through Yaya Toure as they send Equatorial Guinea, the co-hosts, out of the ACN. The Taranga Lions are through to the semi-finals.
Drogba will be missing today's huge showdown with Man Utd, and in his absence, Chelsea is hoping that misfiring Fernando Torres and Daniel Sturridge, take up the goalscoring slack.
In which RVP scores a sublime hat trick. In which the Ox is unleashed. In which Song continues to find his passing groove. In which Thierry Henry scores his first Premiership goal on his return. In which Theo Walcott made the right choices. In which Frances Coquelin showed why the flanks are so important. In which Kos outsprinted Junior Hoillet in a foot race.
The sub headers were many. But they all pointed to a day when Arsenal played like the side they are capable of. The passing was crisp, incisive, and most tellingly the finishes were lethal. Arsenal were also able to slice the Blackburn open because of the meaningful movement down the channels. In one match, Arsenal solved their eternal conundrum of passing the ball to death without anything to show for it. The greatest feeling was to get the Emirates crowd back into it and by the end of the match on one of the coldest days, there was plenty of warm feelings going around. Not a moment too soon, a look around the stadium revealed many empty seats and whether it was the weather, the spotty train service, or a general malaise towards the club over their recent performances, the fact was Arsenal needed a giant size boost.
The margin also goes a long way in erasing an adverse goal differential which if the race continues to tighten up will be key in deciding who lands that coveted fourth spot. Arsenal are back in fifth awaiting Chelsea, Liverpool, and Newcastle. But the nuts and bolts can wait.
Today, RVP got things started in the first minute and a half flicking in Frances Coquelin's finely placed cross.
Morton Gamst Pedersen's very nicely struck free kick broke the one way flow. Wojciech Szczesny was able to get his fingertips on the ball but not enough to push out of the way. Just when Blackburn looked like getting a toehold on the match, Gael Givet was red carded as he clattered into RVP with a mindless two footed lunge clipped RVP, a deserved sending off. To his credit, the French defender made amends by signaling his contrition to Wenger as he walked off the field.
Arsenal got back on track as Song's beautifully measured pass that quadrisected (yes, it sliced through 4 defenders) was reeled in by Walcott to find RVP for his second goal. Song is becoming that hidden layer after peeling away the strikers, beyond the midfield supply line, lying deep to which the cover can't get to - his passes were more incisive and visionary than Arteta and Rosicky. The third goal showed the damage a rampant Ox could do as RVP with sublime trickery got the ball onto his left foot to send the ball scooting forward. The winger streaming from the left got a heavy touch and the ball squirted across goal but a burst of acceleration allowed him to recover and squeeze it past Paul Robinson.
Mikel Arteta got into the act as Blackburn could not clear their lines from a corner kick and the ball fell invitingly for the former Everton player to blast the ball on the half volley to get Arsenal's fourth after a helpful deflection. Then it was the Ox finishing off Walcott's heads up play, as the winger showed signs of cognition to match that speed. RVP collected his hat trick and Arsenal's sixth as Coquelin fed him another beautifully incisive cross. By this time a goal by the King would be the cherry on top and it duly arrived as RVP passed up a definite scoring opportunity to oblige Thierry Henry with a pass which he duly put past through Paul Robinson, a familiar victim.
The result lifts the Arsenal faithful whose mood before this match resembled something of a black hole of emotions. Next, a revitalized Sunderland under Martin O'Neill before their Champions League first leg against Milan. No rest for the weary.
One should ask the FA why they did such a thorough job investigating Luis Suarez's racial abuse of Patrice Evra and then drop the ball on John Terry doing the same against Anton Ferdinand? Suarez gets an eight match ban, while Terry gets rewarded with a deferment of his trial till after the 2012 Euro is over and retains his captaincy of the Three Lions to boot. Is there any honour in being England's captain any more?
Terry's claim to captaincy has been questioned before as recently as 2010 World Cup when his locker room trysts with Wayne Bridge's girlfriend were exposed. But unsurprisingly there was a tittering quality to that dissension and an implicit quality of approval. Yes, Terry was a dog but he was a alpha dog, and capable of whipping the rest of his team mates into shape. In the end he was most notable for leading a player revolt against Fabio Capello as England sank without a trace in an embarrassing display of ineptitude. The problem with an alpha dog is that he knows no master.
This is altogether far more serious. Innocent until proven guilty does not cut it when you have national team mates who may wonder if they could be the next in line to trigger racial epithets. Especially if your partner is potentially Rio Ferdinand, whose conflict of interest in this sordid episode is immeasurable because it was his brother Anton, allegedly targeted by Terry. Not exactly the sort of affirmation needed to further togetherness in a team that needs anything and everything to compensate for the lack of quality.
Terry is a good club captain because he possesses qualities that allow hunkering down. It came as no surprise when Terry, despised as a villain almost everywhere else, was most enthusiastically embraced by the Stamford Bridge faithful. However on a national level, these polarizing qualities have created a huge bit of baggage.
One would hope that such considerations play a part because Terry as far as anyone can tell believes he is sacrosanct. There appears to be a growing sentiment that feels he needs to step down.
The more basic question might be does Terry deserve to be selected in the first place? Whether he is captain or not, he carries the same burden. Be bold, Fabio Capello, send Terry to early international retirement. There is far more at stake than simple nationalism. He is a blot to the game. Period.
Mohamed Abou-treika whose accomplishments as a humanitarian are as luminous as his accomplishments on the soccer pitch announced his retirement from his beloved Al Ahly club. He was joined by fellow icons Emad Moteab and Mohamed Barakat, all stalwarts of the club as they made their announcement on Ahly TV.
Abou-treika was specially shaken up by the violence as he saw a fan die in front of him in locker room.
Manuel Jose, Al Ahly's Portugese coach added to the deepening gloom by reportedly terminating his contract. He returned to Portugal and gives a harrowing account of what happened to him.
"I was beaten with fists and kicks to the neck, head and feet. [In the dressing room] I saw our fans die before us and we were unable to do anything. Nothing happened to any of the players but we feel overwhelming sadness and the return flight was made in silence, full of respect for the lives of our fans who died."
The deaths of so many, the loss of their popular coach, the retirement of three talismans, will surely sadden the hearts of many Al Ahly fans. A heavy price to pay for their part in the revolution. But they and the club will survive this tragedy, as painful as it maybe. It will take time to heal the wounds inflicted on Egypt's and Africa's most iconic side. In that context, good on Liverpool to lend their support to a fellow club in distress.
In the meantime, Egypt could also face suspension from a self-righteous FIFA and their clubs banned from further international competition. Sepp Blatter is doing his best outraged blathering from his soap box.
I leave you with Abou-treika's philosophy:
"Every athlete has a humanitarian role in society. He doesn't live solely for himself, but for others too. I like to participate in charity work and try my best to help the poor and penniless. I'm also seeking to use soccer in humanitarian work."
Meanwhile, Ultras groups in Cairo will convene to protest the lack of security that left Al Ahly supporters at the mercy of the Al Masry hordes that descended on the pitch and drove them to stampede. Many fans met their traumatized soccer brethren at Ramses station in downtown Cairo.
"Police are the thugs" and "Down, down with the military rule" were among the chants repeated by the heartbroken young fans as they congregated by the platforms.
A fan who saw the violence unfold on the pitch Twittered the chilling details.
"Police opened the way for hordes of Masry fans to reach us... when Ahly fans tried to run away they found exits which are normally open at the end of the match were locked. The fans found themselves stuck in a corridor "6 x 10 metres in size" crushing many. "
Many of them voiced their suspicions that this was an orchestrated event.
"The police deliberately absented themselves from this match to increase the violence," says Mahmoud Hani, 21, who lost friends in the clashes. "It is clear that the fight was arranged and the security forces participated in this, to take the spotlight away from the revolution. The state needs people to be focused on something else."
Pro-democracy activists have seized this moment to demand that the newly elected Parliament which will hold an emergency meeting today withdraw support from the Kamal El-Ganzouri led government backed by the military. Their demands also include the ruling military council speed up holding Presidential elections to ensure a transition to civilian rule much before June.
Meanwhile, the draconian emergency laws implemented by the Interior Minister to tamp down ostensibly on "thuggery" are being challenged by the human rights committee of the Parliament who see this as a political tool to put away opponents behind bars. The laws seem to be narrowly focused on punitive measures and not protecting civil rights and economic justice.
The Egyptian Revolution celebrated its one year anniversary a week ago, as hundreds of thousands descended on Tahrir Square with renewed calls for the military to step down. They replaced their chants of " Mubarak must go" with " Down with military rule". The Al Ahly and Zamalek Ultras in a historical moment reached across their bitter divide and were instrumental in leading the charge in the 18 day standoff that brought the Mubarak regime. Ironically, just six months before Alla Mubarak manipulated the bloody Algeria Egypt World Cup playoff imbroglio that ended tragically in Khartoum to test the waters for a continuation of the Mubaraks in power.
The revolutionaries have also reached across borders in solidarity with the Syrian struggle for independence from the Basher Al Assad regime that has cracked down on activists with heavy handed brutality killing thousands. They are also forcing a rethink in Egyptian Israeli relations, always delicate with Egypt the only Arab country recognizing Israel, by voicing their support for a Palestinian state.
Valencia served a reminder of its proud heritage as a football team holding Barca and then denied Leo Messi a PK goal in the Copa Del Rey semi-finals first leg.
Jonas gave the home side the lead at the Mestalla but Carles Puyol who seems to have made a career scoring very important headers equalized for the Blaugrana.
Valencia's goalie, Diego Alves became a hero after he guessed right and stopped Messi's PK awarded after Thiago Alcantara had been brought down.
At least 74 soccer fans died as deadly riots broke out in Port Said after a soccer match between Al Masry and visiting Al Ahly. Fans from Al Masry invaded the pitch after their team beat Al Ahly, 3-1 and clashed with their rivals. Most of the deaths were attributed to the ensuing stampede as supporters desperately tried to make for the exits.
Al Ahly players were chased into their locker rooms as the security forces stood by doing nothing.
"The security forces left us, they did not protect us. One fan has just died in the dressing room in front of me," veteran playmaker Mohamed Abou-Treika screamed during a phone call with the club's channel.
The army had to fly in two military aircraft to Port Said to airlift Al Ahly fans and players.
The violence led Zamalek and Al-Ismaily to suspend their match in mourning for the dead, which caused aggrieved fans to set some of the stands in Cairo Stadium on fire.
Egyptian Football Association (EFA) chairman Samir Zaher announced the league had been postponed for an indefinite period in the wake of the deadly clashes.
Clashes between Al Ahly and Al Masry, traditional soccer rivals, is nothing new but this scale is completely different. In the wake of the post Mubarak era, such rivalries have taken on a powerfully poisonous subtext. The security of Egypt has increasingly been taken over by the army and the powerful interior ministry with its draconian emergency laws. The police have been removed and replaced by the military thus causing a vacuum in law and order.
There appears to be a feeling amongst many Al Ahly Ultras that this violence was orchestrated against them in retaliation for being instrumental in organizing the Tahrir Square demonstrations that finally brought down the Hosni Mubarak regime. However, millions of Egyptians believe that the chief of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, Field Marshal Hussain Tantawi, the de facto head of the government, a right hand man of Mubarak is continuing his policies.
Liverpool, a club haunted by the Hillsborough and Heysel stadium tragedies, issued a statement:
"Following the sad news from Port Said we'd like to send our condolences to all in Egypt affected by this tragic event. You are in our thoughts tonight," the Reds said on their official Facebook page.
For those singling out Egypt, those tragedies remind us it can happen anywhere. What is important is the response by the Egyptian government to ensure that this does not happen again.
What does it take for any other player other than RVP to score goals? It is now official, he's not pretending any more - Theo Walcott has a mind made of mush in front of goal. Always. Aaron Ramsey is another. The Ox too for all his brightness was presented with a clear chance. He missed.
We have all the supply in the world, in and around, over and beyond, back and forth, to and fro, creating multitudes of opportunities to score. Once again there was that familiar lack of composure in front of goal. Why does Arsenal always pick the worst options?
There will be fingers pointed to the inactivity in the January transfer but surely, that has little bearing on Walcott one on one with Adam Bogdan and no one breathing down his neck for miles prematurely ejaculating 6 yards out straight to the goalie when he could have done practically everything else. A goldfish with two broken fins, flapping on the grass, with its dying breath would have scored. How does one deal with players who seem to be stuck in a developmental cul de sac? This match was ours to win with the squad we had on the pitch.
RVP looked flabbergasted at those misses because he practically spoonfed those passes to Ramsey and the Ox. He also had to deal with a familiar nemesis, the woodwork denying him. Twice. The second a Bergkampesque chip that struck the crossbar.
Nice, bright start as predicted. But the more Arsenal go further where they don't score, triggers a neuroses. Bolton got back into it nicely in the end. David Ngog muffed a simple chance and then there was the heart in the mouth bit where Per Mertesacker pulled Mark Davies outside the box and Wojciech Szczesny dove at his feet but clipped the ball away. A sigh of relief as Chris Foy made the right decision not to give a penalty.
The upshot is we are now in seventh spot with Liverpool and Newcastle overtaking us. This is square in Europa territory as a 4th place finish fades away from us. Blackburn is next and thereafter a good Sunderland side before our attention turns to the Champions League and Milan. Time is running out. March is even harder.
Oh, well we picked our first point in the new year and Wenger avoided his fourth defeat, which would have been a new low for him. Always look on the bright side of life. So which will be your choice? Gun? Rope? A bottle of codeine?
Arsenal can confirm that Jack Wilshere has suffered a small stress fracture to the right foot which is in a different location to his original injury. He will be reassessed in two weeks by Arsenal's medical team. If all goes well (keeping fingers crossed), Wilshere might be back in time for Arsenal's Ides of March schedule.
Meanwhile, today we have a match against Bolton, who are coming in with some real momentum including a shot in the arm performance against Liverpool. The Thierry Henry - Tim Ream match up we were looking for might not materialize because of Ream's work permit issues. He was summoned by Owen Coyle to plug the gap left by Gary Cahill.
The FA Cup gave a snapshot of all of Arsenal's vulnerabilities which Bolton will try and exploit at the Reebok. A set piece goal and a counterattack that left Arsenal exposed at the back. The positive is Bakary Sagna, sorely missed on the right could make his first start. Wenger also has Arteta and Henry to fall back on.
The most we can say off this midfield is Song's emergence as creator du jour. Something that Rosicky, Ramsey, and Arshavin should be doing in their sleep is being taken over by the crab legged Cameroonian who is also our main disruptor. Actually the spine of the team so far has been RVP- Song- Kos- Szcz with the Verminator getting back from injuries to stake his claim. And we have the Ox who is probably the reason why Walcott had a improved game against Villa. Something about competition and comparison that can light a fire under you, eh??!!
A win is an imperative. In fact, all of February's fixtures are before we move to Milan for the Champions League second round. Yesterday, Wolves did not do us any favours as Liverpool went ahead, Chelsea in danger of slipping up were able to salvage a draw against Premiership darlings Swansea.
Arsenal will also be keeping any eye on the Toons as they face Blackburn away. Newcastle is further weakened in midfield after Yoann Cabaye was suspended with a three match ban for violent conduct. Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse will not be back in time from their ACN duty.
Come on ye Gunners!! Make Owen Recoyle!!
Gunners, waiting for Götze? No longer, Thomas Eisfeld, 19 years old, who's supposed to be even more Götze than Mario Götze and comes from the same club arrives at the Emirates for a princely sum of £420,000. Which means dear Gunners, if you're waiting for the real thing, you're doing it at your own hazard. And he's not coming too.
Eisfeld's childhood idol is Tomas Rosicky, also a Dortmund protege which should give an inkling of what to expect on the pitch. He has already started training with the Arsenal reserves.
Arsene Wenger has been tracking Eisfeld at Dortmund's youth team where he has been in impressive form. Six goals and six assists in 12 matches or some eye popping stat like that. He was supposed to have come at the end of the season but his contract was over, necessitating a preemptive move. Wenger on him:
"He is young but has proven to us that he can play, that he has the attitude and technical ability to be a valuable addition to our squad."
Eisfeld is listed as a attacking midfielder but can "can play in a variety of positions" which is nice because of the number of injuries Arsenal suffer.
Did we say injuries? Because he also comes with an Arsenal prerequisite: Injuries. A cruciate ligament injury almost brought his short career to an end in 2009. Arsenal have certified he's healthy and disease free which in retrospect is a poor prognosticator at a club that has had 11 players out this season with injuries. You get the word bubble.
Here is a short clip. Make what you can >>