Tuesday, 21 December 2010

A win for Reading at last, but the same problems still exis

So after 5 straight draws Reading finally managed to pick up 3 points against a Derby team that started the day 3 points ahead of the Royals but from all accounts it was a closely fought contest.

Sadly for me it was another away game I couldn’t get to but from what I’ve seen and heard it was a close game with Adam Federici yet again proving a big difference with several fine saves and keeping Reading in the game. Although many people are saying Madejski needs to back McDermott with a new striker and giving him money to spend I think the best bit of business Reading can do is to get Federici to sign a new contract – if he gets sold in January it would be a disaster and if his contract was allowed to run down and he left for free in the summer it would be an even bigger disaster. Keepers like Federici are a rare breed, yes his distribution isn’t the best and occasionally he makes mistakes (i.e. kicking the ball against Karacan against Nottingham Forest) but the number of top class saves he makes every game is vital to the team, a good defence is built on knowing they have a quality keeper behind them and bringing in McCarthy or Anderson would doubtlessly unsettle the defence.

It was a game that could have gone either way and ironically enough it was Shane Long, a player I frequently slate for not scoring enough goals, that proved the difference at the other end of the pitch. He won and scored a penalty, although it was a soft penalty, and then scored the winning goal with a nice header 2 mins from the end from a lovely McAnuff cross. Immediately people went on to the Radio joining Tim Della in saying that ‘Long has proved his critics wrong’ what a load of rubbish. He managed to scored his 2nd goal from open play all season – that is still not good enough for our supposed no 9 that leads the front line. Long is an incredibly hard working striker who will run himself in to the ground and put his body on the line but he still doesn’t score enough goals. If he carries this on and scores more and more goals from open play then fine but he won’t, he’ll go another 4 or 5 games without scoring and yet again the calls for a goal scoring striker will be heard from the fans once more. 6 goals in 20 appearances isn’t exactly what you’d call deadly – especially when 4 of those 6 have been scored from the penalty spot. Is Long Reading’s own Alan Smith? Only time can tell but I get the feeling his finishing isn’t going to dramatically improve over night but I do hope he proves me wrong and bangs the goals in for the rest of the season.

One thing to remember though is that the people praising Shane Long are more than likely the same fans who slag of Sir John Madejski who recently completed 20 years of service as Reading chairman. When Sir John took over in 1990 Reading were losing £20k a week and were languishing in the old division 2 (division 3 now) and now the club is pretty much breaking even and is established as a Championship side – but this doesn’t seem enough for some fans. Apparently helping the club being on a sound financial footing and being self sustaining isn’t good enough for some fans, they’d rather see the club throwing stupid amounts of money at players and trying to ‘chase the dream’. As clubs like Leeds, Portsmouth, Plymouth, Ipswich, Sheff Wed and Sheff Utd show the idea of throwing stupid amounts of money around and crippling your club doesn’t always work – I don’t want to see my club going through the same struggles these teams are going through. There is talk that Peter Ridsdale will become involved with Plymouth to try and help them, if Ridsdale ever got involved with Reading I would stop going, I wouldn’t want my money lining that mans pockets. Cardiff are another example and people forget how close they went to going bust (again partly due to Ridsdale) before Asian backers came in to save them and bankroll there adventure up the league. Over the years Madejski has dipped into his own pocket to help Reading and it amazes me how quickly fans forget all this. Right now with all the instability that a lot of football teams find themselves in I’m happy we have a responsible and sensible owner that isn’t prepared to toy with the future of the club – who knows where the club would be if it wasn’t for him, we could be in the 4th division still playing at Elm Park instead of being in the Championship and playing in a 24,000 modern stadium.

Right now Reading fans just need to accept that we aren’t in a position to throw around shed loads of money and we have to make do with what we have and maybe one or two loan/cheap signings. The long term future of the club is far more important than any ‘dream’ the fans think we should be chasing and keeping the club on a steady financial level is the most important thing right now, if we can keep sneaking wins against the teams around us like Derby than maybe a playoff place isn’t out of reach but draws at home to teams like Leeds and Coventry could end up being costly. I don’t think we will make the play offs this season but we are building towards a good future and this could pay off in the next few seasons.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Why are we surprised at World Cup voting results?

Most people (in England at least) have been up in arms since the World Cup hosting results were announced but the question that baffles me is why are we surprised by what happened?

When you look at it, Russia winning the 2018 bid isn’t exactly a huge surprise – FIFA have made it known that they want to take the World Cup to new countries and it’s also not a secret that Sepp Blatter wants to win a Nobel peace prize at some point in his life for doing just this. Russia’s bid wasn’t that terrible, they have a good football history winning European Championships in 1960 & making the final again in ’64, ’72 & ’88 as well as finishing 4th in the ’66 World Cup (all as the Soviet Union). They have many players playing around the world and also have recent European pedigree with domestic clubs winning the UEFA Cup in 2005 (CSKA Moscow) and 2008 (Zenit St. Petersburg). People say it’s a tragedy that so many generations have missed out on seeing a World Cup in England but the Russian football fans have never seen a World Cup in their country?

However my point in this blog is to look at the fact that everyone is convinced there is something sinister going on in the background (brown envelops, oil soaked currency being passed around etc) – why is this such a surprise? Since the very early days of football controversy and murky goings on have been normal in football. Arsenal’s promotion to the first division in 1919 was marred in controversy with the club only finishing 5th in 1914-1915 (last season before WWI) in the 2nd division yet somehow being promoted to the newly expanded 1st division (from 20 teams to 22) over teams like Tottenham, who had finished 20th in 1st division the season before (Chelsea finished 19th but were given one of the 2 new places despite technically being relegated) or Barnsley or Wolves who had both finished above Arsenal in the 1914-1915 season. Allegations (unproven) were levelled against the Chairman Sir Henry Norris that he had arranged dodgy backroom deals or out and out bribery to get Arsenal promoted but nothing was ever proven (although Norris left in 1929 under a cloud having been found guilty by the FA of ‘financial irregularities’). I’m not using this to pick on Arsenal, just an example of how even in the early days football started on dodgy dealings and shadowy happenings.

Of course it’s unfair to just pick on Arsenal here especially as nothing was ever proven but nothing will ever be proven regarding this World Cup (FIFA & Blatter to clever/experience for that) but when you look at football today it’s constantly filled with allegations and stories about managers, players and officials being corrupt or dodgy – Sam Allerdyce and the media’s favourite Harry Redknapp are two names that jump to the front when you’re talking about manager that have a grey cloud above them, George Graham of course was found guilty of taking bungs in the transfer of John Jensen . In 2006 then Luton Manager Mike Newell & then QPR manager Ian Holloway both said bungs were rife in football, Jaap Stam famously said that he was ‘tapped up’ by Sir Alex Ferguson in his auto biography and was subsequently moved on from the club. Yet the English media and fans were up in arms saying that clearly there was something fishy with the whole FIFA bidding process and that people had lied to them – no shit?! This happens every day in football, players and managers lie to the media, perform illegal tapping up by talking about other players/clubs in press conference. It’s not just in England either – Italy is a prime example with the Totonero scandals in 1980 & 1984-1986 as well as the recent Calciopoli scandal in 2006, Spain as well has its fair share of controversy with Real Madrid being perceived as having favourable treatment during the Franco regime as they were perceived as the ‘Royal Club’. Barcelona & Real Madrid recently have both been guilty of tapping up with their approaches for Cristiano Ronaldo & Cesc Fabregas (Fabregas of course joining Arsenal in controversial circumstances as well) both being made very public through the Spanish media. In Germany in 2005 there was a refereeing scandal with referee Robert Hoyzer admitting to fixing matches in the 2nd division and DFB-Pokal games. Prior to that there was a scandal in 1971 when several games were ‘fixed’ and a fair number of players and officials were handed long term bans from football as a result.

This is just a few of the examples of scandal and problems in football, if you took a look at FIFA, the so called governors of football the list of allegations against them dates back a lot further than just the Sepp Blatter regime, Sir Stanley Rous (from England) was the leader of FIFA when the Soviet Union had to play Chile in a World Cup play off in 1973 just weeks after the Pinochet led military coup in Chile. Unsurprisingly the Soviet Union didn’t want to play the return leg (they drew 0-0 in the first leg in Russia) in the Estadio Nacional in Santiago which, days before the game, had been used as a prison camp where hundreds of objectors to the military takeover were tortured and executed – the walls were scrubbed clean of the blood of Pinochet’s victims literally hours before the game was due to be played. Protest not just from the Chileans and Soviets but from FIFA members worldwide fell on deaf ears and Rous ordered the game to go ahead, unsurprisingly the Soviets didn’t turn up and Chile were awarded the game. Rous lost the election in 1974 to João Havelange which ushered in a new era away from the ‘pro western’ stance that previous FIFA presidents had taken (as the previous 6 presidents were either English or French bar Rodolphe Seeldrayers from Belgium who was in charge for less than a year) because part of the problem with Rous (and previous presidents) was he just ignored African football – and they ended up voting him out of office.

Whilst it is right for the media to question the ethics of FIFA, something the ‘FIFA Ethics committee’ seem unable to do, perhaps they should take a look closer to home before criticising FIFA – how can we criticise corruption and shady deals in football when it runs rampant through this country anyway? And how can we criticise FIFA when we have helped create the monster to start with? Blatter isn’t the first dodgy president, the ExCo panel aren’t the first dodgy voting board interested in lining their own pockets and telling fibs to delegates and won’t be the last either – until we can clean up our game closer to home we can’t criticise.

Sadly the system will not change, FIFA are just too powerful for that, which means we can do 1 of 2 things – clean up our attitude and the way we conduct ourselves in football or just not bother running for the World Cup vote again. It’s not an ideal situation but it’s a situation we are partly responsible for creating and after enjoying all the power before we now have to deal with the consequences.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Arsenal’s finance’s – a cleverly run club or doomed to not win?

So Arsenal fans finally have something to celebrate, they have again announced a healthy pre tax profit and, rightfully so, are beaming with pride at this announcement. In this modern era of reckless spending, debt fuelled take over’s and buy now pay later climate it’s good to see a top premiership club still running smoothly and living within their means.

However once the dust has settled and certain sections of the Gunners faithful have stopped sneering at other clubs who operate with stupid levels of debt and lose money each year the simple fact is that there is no trophy for a well run club. Whilst Arsenal should be commended for their approach to financial management the fact is they haven’t won a trophy since 2005 and, despite their good start to the season, probably won’t see this drought end any time soon. Don’t get me wrong, I would like to see Arsenal holding the title aloft so other clubs realise that maybe playing Russian roulette with the future of your club isn’t the way to do things, but it doesn’t really seem like it’s going to happen any time soon. Ivan Gazidis sad when the figures were released that ‘standing still is not an option for this club’ but isn’t that what they are doing? Moving forward would be winning a trophy even if it is something like the Carling Cup and it seems like Wenger might have started to realise this by playing a much stronger team against Spurs than people were anticipating, although as this is a local derby that might be a motivation behind it, but come the end of the season when one of Man Utd or Chelsea are lifting the title will the comfort of ‘we’ve got money’ really be enough for Arsenal fans?

There has been much debate over Arsenal’s transfer policy, is Wenger just refusing to spend money or is there no money available? Has the Highbury flats project handcuffed what the club can spend? Clearly these questions have been answered today, not only does Wenger have funds to spend but the flats have effectively paid themselves off, the debt now being wiped from the clubs books (I believe the outstanding debt is linked to building the stadium) but this begs the question – why oh why hasn’t Wenger spent? It’s been clear for the last few years were Arsenal need strengthening and yet nothing is done to improve this, a new keeper for example should be a priority as well as a ball winning midfielder and a striker to reinforce the often injured front line, and come the end of the season these are the same questions Arsenal fans will be asking.

Whilst the clued up fans that understand these issues will happily say they are content with the overall running of the club the majority of fans who aren’t so clued up will point to these figures as being further proof that Wenger’s policy clearly isn’t working because they aren’t winning. Whilst Hill-Wood, Gazidis & Wenger can sit on their piles of cash laughing at other clubs in demise (Liverpool spring to mind) your average fan that shells out money every week to watch the club live, or even the arm chair fans, will be pointing to Man Utd & Chelsea asking why they aren’t winning trophies. Whilst it’s all well and good to point to Liverpool & Man Utd and laugh at their debts and financial problems the fact is that these clubs will be bought by a rich backer and they won’t go in to total melt down. Liverpool’s problems stem from the fact that the current owners want far too much for the club and the moment RBS take control and sell it at a knockdown price multi millionaires and billionaires will be queuing at the door to buy the club. The same can be said for Man Utd, whilst they aren’t at breaking point at the moment if (or when) the day comes that the Glazers have to sell up there won’t be a shortage of buyers for them because, If run properly, Man Utd & Liverpool could make a profit every year like Arsenal do and that is what will attract people to them.

The Fabregas saga this summer is another interesting conundrum, two clubs at opposite ends of the financial spectrum – Arsenal with well run finances but winning nothing and Barcelona winning trophies but having to take out a £160m loan to sort out their finances this summer. Which is going to appeal to Fabregas more? If Barca win the league and European cup this season as I think they will and Arsenal finish with a positive balance sheet but in 3rd is that going to be enough to convince him to stay? And if Fabregas does go what will happen, will Wenger spend the money buying another world class replacement or will he rely on youngsters as he has done before when players have left? And if he does end up going back to his youth first policy will that not put Arsenal back to square one again?

Now would have seemed like the right time for Wenger to splash the cash a bit, clearly with the club having this much money he could have gone out and bought a top player in one of the positions that needs strengthening and the club still would have made a profit but instead he chose to stick with players that don’t seem to be up to the level that is required. With Stan Kroenke & Alisher Usmanov waiting in the wings it’s not like Arsenal will be short of financial backers and people worth a lot of money ready to buy the club and whilst fans can say ‘we don’t want a sugar daddy, we want to support ourselves’ wouldn’t you rather have an owner that can dip in to his pockets and fund that little extra than miss out on a player because you get out bid by a club like Man City? People can moan all they want about City having all this money but the fact is the majority of fans would love their club to have that kind of owner. If Chelsea manages to become self sustaining as they plan on doing then the years they spent loads of money and effectively bought the titles will be worth it as they have silverware and don’t end up in serious trouble.

Arsenal should be commended for being a well organised and well run club in this time of financial chaos but is it enough to keep players and fans happy? Only time will tell but I worry the answer will be no, and that in turn will present the eventual question – is being a well run club enough when silverware seems to be what counts most these days?

Friday, 24 September 2010

Ignorance is bliss – for Shearer and Co anyway

Saturday evening bought to the forefront a discussion that has been ongoing for a while, do football pundits have a responsibility to be better informed than the average fan? Alan Shearer displayed an incredible level of ignorance on Saturday when he asked Alan Hansen & Gary Lineker if either of them ‘knew anything about this guy’ with the player in question being Hatem Ben Arfa who had just scored the winning goal in a tricky 1-0 away win at Everton.

Ignoring the fact that as a fan and ex-player Shearer should probably be a bit more clued up on his teams latest signing, which in my opinion was something of a coup, who isn’t exactly an unknown in football. In his role as a paid pundit Shearer has a duty to the fans watching to know a bit more or at least pretend he knows a bit more even if he’s only learnt it minutes before hand from doing a bit of research. It’s not like Ben Arfa is a player who’s come from nowhere, he’s won league titles with Lyon, played in the Champions League and represented France at international level. I’m sure that Shearer, as a supposed Newcastle fan, knew the result of the game and the scorer before he set foot in the beeb office’s to record the show so he must have thought to himself ‘who is this guy?’ it only takes a few moments out of his schedule to look up some information online about him and find out that actually, as a supposed top football pundit you should be aware of him.

Obviously it’s not fair to say that these guys should be as clued up on tactical analysis and understanding of the game as people like the insightful Jonathan Wilson or the fantastic Zonal Marking are because that late on a Saturday night it would go above most of the viewing publics heads and really it would probably go above most average football fans heads at any point during the day/week if we’re honest, but that’s no excuse for not knowing basic information about a clubs top signing when the internet is a source of information that is easy to access. On top of that the BBC have researchers that will have happily handed the pundits information on the goal scorers and key players before the show even began (apparently the BBC’s world cup guide was incredibly detailed and informative but clearly wasn’t read by the people that needed it most). For the privilege of holding a place on the MOTD sofa is it too much to expect these guys to flick through some information handed to them before the show starts? If any of us was handed an information pack for an important meeting in our respective jobs and we went in without a clue doubtlessly some sort of disciplinary action would soon follow but week in week out these guys underwhelm us with their lack of knowledge on what is supposedly their specialist subject.

I remember watching the World Cup and Alan Hansen displayed his attitude to research and knowledge when he sneered at Lee Dixon ‘someone told you about him’, Dixon had just picked out Marek Hamsik as a key player to watch for Slovakia, when Hamsik is one of the most sort after midfielders in Europe! Mark Lawrenson is another one who displays ignorance at a shocking frequency, during a Brazil game he asked if Kaka had played much last season, even the most ill informed of football fans knew that Kaka had been suffering with injury problems most of the season. These are people who are in jobs that most football fans would kill for, I’d have loved for the BBC to have not only provided me with plane tickets & accommodation for the world cup and then pay me to commentate and provide my thoughts to millions of viewers on the game, but instead I had to work my usual job and then have to put up with their ill informed punditry. This is just further proof that Shearer’s Ben Arfa gaffe isn’t a ‘one off’ but a serious underlying problem that has been all too common on what is supposed to be the BBC’s flagship football program.

If anyone else displayed this lack of ignorance in their chosen profession they would be sacked – take for example any of the Top Gear presenters, if they went on T.V and said they didn’t know anything about the latest Ferrari they’d been asked to test drive then they would be out the door. If Gary Rhodes said ‘does anyone know what this Salami stuff is?’ he would have been gone out the door. Even Soccer AM, its self a bit of a joke amongst football fans, decided to ditch the hapless Andy Goldstein after Ray Winston took him apart for being from London and supporting Man Utd, this following on from an awful showing throughout his time on the show. Yet the BBC continues to chuck licence payer money at a group of people that don’t really seem to have a clue about the subject they are employed to discuss.

As the general public have to pay a T.V licence fee maybe it’s about time the BBC showed the common viewer a little bit of decency and made MOTD the show it should be, a program that concentrates on highlights of the show and tells us things we didn’t know before instead of increasing the general ignorance of people and assuming that the Premier League is the only league worth watching and paying any interest in or that English players are the only players worth keeping tabs on. The average football fan should watch MOTD and feel enlightened and enriched from the program, not coming away thinking ‘even I know more than Shearer does’ or even worse thinking something like ‘poor Alan Hansen, it’s his birthday so why should he have to watch Algeria v Slovakia?’ because it’s his job, it’s what he’s paid to do and if he’s not happy doing it then there are literally millions of people out there that will happily do it for a lower wage and with more enthusiasm and knowledge. You have to take the rough with the smooth, not every game will be a big name clash of the titan’s type game.

Maybe it’s time for someone at the BBC to point out to these pundits that for the money they get and the jobs they’ve got its time they pulled their fingers out and made sure that their knowledge was at least level with, if not slightly better than, the average fan that tunes in. At the end of the day the so called ‘experts’ should know more than the audience they are being presented to – and right now that doesn’t seem to be the case.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

FIFA – one of the most corrupt organization’s in the world?

A massive revelation was made on Sunday 5th September and, contrary to what the English media might have you believe, it wasn’t Wayne Rooney fooling around with hookers but the latest revelations in to the murky pool that is the football governing body FIFA.

A Norwegian newspaper, Dagbladet, ran an article in early August claiming that 60,000 names had been sold on the black market from a FIFA list of ticket holders from the 2006 World Cup finals, including such information as full names, dates of birth and passport numbers. A week later they then ran another story saying as many as 350,000 names were on list’s sold on the black market and 250,000 of these names contain full names and sensitive identity information and some of the people included were the Head of the Norwegian national bank, Olympic gold medal ski star Anja Parson and former Swedish PM Ingvar Carlsson, so clearly the people responsible for selling these tickets had access to a full range of names. The paper goes on to claim that a ‘respected black market dealer’ told them several countries refuse to send personal information to FIFA as they worry it will end up in the wrong hands.

This is nothing new in the world of FIFA, in 2006 before the world cup it was revealed that FIFA vice president and head of CONCACAF Jack Warner was acquiring tickets through his FIFA contacts and then selling them at massive increases in prices to travel companies. He was also responsible for all the Trinidad & Tobago 2006 group tickets being sold through one Travel Company called Simpaul, a company that he and his son ran and owned. When FIFA found out about his interest on the side he was called before a hearing but by the time a judgement was made he had officially left the board of this company but his son still stayed on as managing director and, despite being told they couldn’t sell any more World Cup tickets, they still carried on. Although FIFA’s punishment was supposed to be kept confidential and in house the stories leaked through the media and its alleged that Warner was fined a paltry $50,000 (nothing to a man in his position and with his wealth) and told to pay it when he could – a fine that allegedly is still outstanding. Considering that Warner allegedly made $54,000 just from selling tickets personally to an agency called Kick Sports. Despite the fact that Warner was found guilty of the accusations against him FIFA could not remove him from the executive committee as only his confederation can remove him, a federation that Warner effectively controls.

‘I am deputy chairman of the finance committee of FIFA. I oversee a budget of US$2 billion and I have never seen one iota of corruption.’
Jack Warner, Trinidad Express 12 December 2004

On the 15th of August this year some of the most dramatic revelations in FIFA history were made by Sepp Blatter, with the current president admitting that some FIFA executive committee members took massive kickbacks from the ISL marketing company. This date backs to allegations bought against the executive committee in May 2006 when Andrew Jennings released a book called Foul! The Secret World of FIFA: Bribes, Vote-Rigging and Ticket Scandals (a book Sepp Blatter tried to get banned worldwide using FIFA funds) claiming that ‘cash for contract’ deals were rife between FIFA and its marketing partner ISL which collapsed with debts of over $300m. Blatter & Warner had both said they had never seen any corruption or evidence of corruption in football previously but Blatter quickly changed his tune when he was questioned by Thomas Hildbrand, an investigating magistrate from Zug in Switzerland, FIFA’s base of operations. Nearly 10 years after first facing questioning about the fact that FIFA officials took kicks backs for Blatter to suddenly change his tune is quite amazing considering that he has always claimed bribery and corruption are not rife in FIFA. Andrew Jennings excellent Panorama investigation into this turned up some exceptional information with insiders at ISL admitting they received and paid bribes in various off shore accounts to top ranking FIFA officials. The official liquidator of ISL, Thomas Bower, was asked by Jennings if he’d uncovered any evidence of bribes and his answer was ‘I have found football related payments from ISL, some are very large, in excess of one million francs. I have written to the recipients asking them to return the money’ it seems that this money still hasn’t been returned. Originally suspicion was aroused after a payment of 1m francs (around £400,000) was meant to be sent to a ‘very senior FIFA official’s personal bank account turned up in FIFA’s official accounts! It’s also alleged after this payment arrived Blatter asked for the money to be moved to the named official’s account – when this was put to FIFA this is the reaction Panorama got

BBC Panorama Reporter Andy Davies:
‘A one million franc bribe … is it not correct that Mr Blatter asked that it be moved to the FIFA official who was named on the payment slip?’
FIFA Director of Communications Markus Siegler:
‘If you do not stop now, then we call the security and we put you out.’
FIFA Press conference, Zurich, Tuesday, 11 April 2006

If you take time to read the reports, court room statements and reactions to this case it is clear that FIFA & ISL had a very ‘cosy’ relationship and that despite denials by Blatter for nearly 10 years his recent admission that kickbacks and bribes were taken should be looked in to as a matter of urgency.

In 2007 a judge in the U.S Court of appeal described Blatter as ‘a wolf in sheep’s clothing’ after it was ruled that FIFA had to pay $90m to Mastercard after breaking an agreement and instead of offering Mastercard first rights to sponsor the World Cup offered the deal to Visa. Once the court case was settled Mastercard declared they didn’t want to work with FIFA (or more specifically Blatter & his team) any longer. Although no irregularities with regards to payments have been suggested the simple fact that Blatter and his FIFA team ignored a contract stating Mastercard should be offered first refusal for sponsoring the World Cup is bad enough, but Blatter claim’s the deal is for $170m, $10m lower than the previous deal, suggests to me that this isn’t as straight forward a deal as it seems, but it’s just another story that will doubtlessly be forgotten and buried. This is what Mastercard had to say after the court case

‘Lying and deception and bad faith are standard operating procedure at FIFA.’
Adam C. Silverstein, a lawyer for MasterCard in their successful action against FIFA, New York, December 1, 2006

FIFA will be holding presidential elections in 2011 and at the moment it seems that neither Platini nor Bin Hammam are unwilling to challenge Blatter for this term, the complicated corridors of power at FIFA it seems restricting both as the South American vote will already be behind Blatter, he has an arrangement with Ricardo Teixeira (current CBF president) who is the son in law of former FIFA president Joao Havelange with Teixeira backing Blatter in 2011 & in return Blatter will back Teixeira in 2015 when Blatter is expected to step down, and it is rumoured that Brazil hosting the 2014 world cup is partly to do with this deal as well, just as South Africa hosting it in 2010 was designed to help Blatter secure the African vote in previous elections. Both Bin Hamman & Platini have publicly said they are looking to secure terms as heads of their respective confederations when elections take place in 2011.

Whilst there is very little hard evidence of any corruption at the top level with FIFA it is clear that something isn’t right in the top level of FIFA and that Blatter use’s his connections and position to broker shady deals and run things as he wants be it inside or outside the law. The snippets into these recent scandals should help enlighten anyone that had doubts over FIFA and there ‘transparent approach to football’ as well as their attitudes to anyone who tries to dig deeper or dares to ask questions.

‘FIFA is a healthy, clean and transparent organisation with nothing to hide. There is huge public interest in FIFA, therefore we have to be as transparent as possible. We will try to communicate in a more open way so the world can believe us and be proud of their federation.’
FIFA General Secretary Urs Linsi, January 2003, on fifa.com

Friday, 10 September 2010

England & Mediocre Managers

So today 3 managers have said they would be interested in the England job with Harry Redknapp, Steve Bruce and Sam Allardyce all declaring that they would be interested in taking the job – a job that, at the moment, is going to have a manager in place until 2012 anyway.

So why are these managers putting themselves forward now? Well this is, as usual, mainly the fault of the media and there not so secret campaign to oust Capello in favour of an English manager – you don’t hear managers in other countries asked if they’d be interested in a national team job that is becoming available in 2 years time so why do we do it? If a young, incredibly talented manager is around and asked ‘would you be interested in the England job at some point in your career?’ like the Portuguese media ask Mourinho who obviously has a long list of trophies so young is understandable but not boot the England job in 2012 around with these managers is just pointless.

Yes none of them have had a crack at a big title winning team but there’s a reason for that – because they aren’t on that level when it comes to management. The media, and it seems the F.A, have become so blindingly obsessed with having an English manager it seems that the whole question of whether they have the ability and skill to take England to the next level now doesn’t matter – and isn’t that how England ended up with a foreign manager in the first place?

If the job became available in 2012 and Jose Mourinho said he wouldn’t mind having a go at it does anyone think that the media would say thanks but no thanks, you’re not English? Of course they wouldn’t, they’d all fall over themselves to have him appointed because he’s a media darling and also happens to be a half decent manager. The FA couldn’t even decide on whether the next manager should be English or British, the only difference being Martin O’Neill would be eligible under the latter, with Club Wembley and F.A chiefs arguing over this technicality. Nationality should not matter, no one knows what the situation will be in 2 years and if Jose wants the job it would look very foolish if he couldn’t get it because of the F.A’s silly statement. It would be as foolish as trying to appoint Luiz Felipe Scolari the new manager only for him to turn it down because of the media pressure and watch the media squirm as they try to blame everything else but them.

When you look at the likely candidates none of them are likely to reveal themselves to be tactically astute motivational geniuses, Harry has got a chance at Spurs to test his hand in the Champions League however I think he will struggle to get his players to adapt to this level, he was incredibly naive with his formation and team selection for the first leg against Young Boys Bern. His record is not really one that justifies a manager of a national team that is still highly thought of in the footballing world, he also enjoyed his wheeler dealer reputation until recently, and it won’t go away no matter how much he swears at interviewers because he encouraged it in the past, but now his name is mentioned with England he wants to be taken seriously and not seen as a wheeler dealer character – enhancing this image with a well past the deadline day £8m deal for Van Der Vaart only hours after saying he wasn’t bringing anyone in. The incident with Robbie Keane and several of the Spurs players that went away for Christmas in 2009 also shows that maybe he doesn’t have the discipline and respect that he needs over the England players.

The only other English manager of note is Roy Hodgson who is facing a torrid time at Liverpool with recent stories about RBS taking a more aggressive stance with Liverpool’s debts and the owners, if Hodgson can perform some sort of miracle and get Liverpool in to the top 4 then that will seriously reinforce his claims to be given a chance and he does have experience in both European football and International football as well however in 2 years time he might not want the job because he feels a duty to Liverpool, or they get some mega rich investor that will give Hodgson a chance to be the man to take the league back to Liverpool, or it could also go downhill and see him not really take the club anywhere but just slide into mid table level but we shall see what happens, although this further proves the point that talking about a manager now for 2012 is a pointless as many things could change.

Until Sam Allardyce or Steve Bruce do something like win a cup or develop a good team then their names shouldn’t even be mentioned with the England job, have they really done anything between them to be considered? Fabio Capello has won 5 Serie A titles, 2 La Liga titles and of course the Champions League but Bruce or Allardyce are more qualified to do the job because they are English. Sounds a bit stupid really put like that, there is no way either of those 2 are more qualified for the job so why should it make a difference?

The fact of the matter is that for the next 2 years, finishing with Euro 2012, Fabio Capello will be the England manager and the whole country, media and fans alike, need to get behind what we currently have and stop being too extreme with reactions of ‘oh we could win the thing’ or ‘our national team is so rubbish’ and other responses that get trotted out because at the end of the day it makes it sound like were paying Capello £6m for 2 years to just baby sit the team until he goes and an English manager comes in, is that really what the England job as been reduced to? Any English manager that will be linked to this job wouldn’t be able to compare their club record to Capello’s and the only reason they’d be considered is because they are English.

These 3 managers have been pushed now, by both the media and themselves, because they understand that now an ‘English manager of England’ is the hot topic and if they can force the issue now then it they can keep it going, imagine if Capello masterminded a Euro 2012 victory (and I’m not saying for 2 seconds he will), would the press care then about the fact that he’s Italian? Would anyone care? Of course not, the FA would probably make a last ditch attempt to keep him on because when it comes down to it nationality doesn’t really matter.

Steve McClaren was English and look how that went......

Thursday, 9 September 2010

England results & thoughts

England recorded a comfortable 4-0 against Bulgaria last Friday in what ended up being a good opening qualifying game and exactly the sort of response England needed after the calamity that was the World Cup.

When the team was announced I thought they’d line up in a standard 4-4-2 as Capello gave his critics two fingers and showing that he’s still in charge and within 3 minutes England took the lead after a beautiful through ball from Rooney to Cole on the left hand side of the box Cole cut in and, 2nd time round, got a cross from just outside the 6 yard box to Defoe who volleyed home and set Wembley rocking. The first half was a display from England of what they can do but the Bulgarians were especially poor, they had no natural shape when England had the ball and there were frequently huge gaps between the defence, midfield and attack which the England players found themselves knocking the ball around in big spaces with no one really pressing them or rushing them. The gaps left Wayne Rooney lots of space to help him come deep to get the ball when he needed to and it gave him time to run at the Bulgarians or give him time to pick out a pass but the main thing was he was given time and he started to look dangerous again for England.

As the first half wore on it became clear that England were playing a mix of 4-2-3-1/4-4-1-1, Milner probably wasn’t forward enough to be called a full on 4-2-3-1 but Rooney was dropping deeper this game, like he was in a controlled free role, and he linked up well with Ashley Cole down the left hand side. The first half wasn’t all England knocking the ball about like Spain though with Bojinov having a great chance but Jagielka managed to catch him before he pulled the trigger and put in an excellent tackle. Glen Johnson also tried his hardest to bring Bulgaria back on level terms, nearly side footing a Bulgarian cross into his own net but Joe Hart was alert to it and managed to save it. England looked more solid at the back, Dawson & Jagielka settled well although Dawson did make a slight slip that let the Bulgarians through but they shot wide, however moments later Dawson’s game ended when he twisted his knee and ankle but fortunately he’s only out for weeks and not months. This gave Gary Cahill a chance to come on and it was good to see a younger, more mobile player being given a chance over the usual players like Matthew Upson who, in my opinion, is lucky to still be anywhere near the England team and Cahill justified his call with a terrific block less than 10 minutes later. On the hour mark England sealed a second and it was reminiscent of the counter attacking football Germany used to devastating effect on England, Joe Hart blocked a powerful shot blasted straight at him and in 14 seconds Rooney had the ball, slipped it through to Defoe who rifled the shot home and sealed the game for England. It was excellent link up play between Rooney & Defoe and showed just why Capello picked these two players, but they weren’t done there and Capello decided to make a change bringing on Johnson for Walcott who failed to hit top gear again for England but still looks a threat with his pace.

Johnson had a chance not long after coming on but a weak shot was saved well however the next time he found himself in the same situation he unleashed another shot and this time the ball found the back of the net for his first England goal, but England weren’t finished yet and Defoe managed to seal his hat-trick after a Rooney run ended with him sliding the ball into Defoe’s feet for a great finish, although he injured himself in the process and was taken off to be replaced by Ashley Young for the last few minutes.

It was a very solid performance from England who managed to keep the ball well, create a fair few chances as well as looking a livelier unit than they have done for a while, although this was a very poor Bulgaria team they were facing. The centre of defence looked a little shaky as you would expect with 3 inexperienced players at this level not having anyone with real experience alongside them but the few times Bulgaria did sneak through Joe Hart looked more than up for the task, at one point putting on his own little juggling show with the ball. It’s great to see an English keeper with so much confidence and belief and getting an established run in a team however I hope the media don’t build him up to silly heights so we can just knock him down, I read an article saying that Peter Shilton established himself around the same time so Hart could break his appearance record, we should just be worrying about him on a game by game basis, a keeper’s confidence can be shattered with 1 mistake and its stupid to be talking about him setting any records yet.

Capello has been criticised for not moving the team on and sticking with the same old names, but with a defence that has a structure of Hart, Jagielka, Dawson & Cahill this is moving on from the usual line up of James, Terry, Rio & Upson even if the 2 centre backs have missed out due to injury but the fact is they aren’t getting any younger, injuries are making them less mobile which is becoming a massive problem for them. Remember Terry’s heroic diving header at the World Cup, the only reason he had to launch himself was because he dived in for a tackle that he got wrong, scuffed the clearance which fell to a Slovakian player and couldn’t recover in time so had to launch himself to try and stop the shot that came in as a result of his mistake. This isn’t heroic defending, this is suicidal last ditch defending that you don’t need at international level least of all during a must win World Cup game. Maybe it’s time to look at younger more mobile defenders as an established pair and not rely so much on our over 30’s defenders who can’t get around as much anymore and I’m sure part of the reason Terry won’t get dropped is because of the fear of reaction from Chelsea fans if there brave hero gets dropped.

Of course there was still the much trickier game to face in Switzerland, the team that beat eventual World Cup winners Spain in the first game of the World Cup. First shock was to hear Lescott playing alongside Jagielka however they did play well together when they were at Everton and Lescott has a bit more experience which Capello clearly felt was needed in this area. Jagielka’s display was assured and confident, he defended well and kept it simple when he had the ball which was good to see and Lescott didn’t make a mistake either also defending well and although it was against a weak attack the confidence boost will do both defenders well.

The first goal was very well constructed, 10 simple passes that unlocked the Swiss defence with a lovely ball down the wing by Walcott for Johnson to run on to who hit an inch perfect cross across the 6 yard box for Rooney to slot home, understandably his celebrations were muted to say the least, leaving England 1-0 up and looking good in the game although it came at a price with Theo Walcott being stretchered off after being injured as he collided with a Swiss player as he was running into the 6 yard area although this meant the early introduction of Adam Johnson in to the game. Just like in the Bulgaria game England waited about an hour to score their 2nd goal, a lovely through ball by Gerrard splitting the Swiss defence and leaving Johnson to run round the oncoming keeper and slot the ball home, although as with the 1st goal this was tainted by a player being stretchered off injured with Defoe leaving via a stretcher and Darren Bent coming on to replace him. Moments later however the Swiss player Xherdan Shaqiri, who was linked with quite a few top clubs over the summer, scoring a lovely 25 yard shot he cut in from the right and was given a little too much space and tucked the ball away in the top left corner with his left foot leaving Hart with no chance. England still had enough time to bring a smile to Capello’s face when they scored a third goal, Cole with a lovely through ball for Bent to smash home with his left foot from about 15 yards leaving the score at 3-1 and England leaving all there doubters and critics disappointed as they took 6 points from 6.

Again England looked comfortable in what was perceived to be there toughest test, away at the team that’s expected to come 2nd in the group, although I think Montenegro away could be a pretty tricky match and there is certainly no room to become complacent and Capello will know this but after such a terrific start to the campaign with 2 comfortable wins he must be wondering to himself if maybe the absence of Lampard & Terry has anything to do with this. Terry especially over the last 12 months or so has not looked like the player he once was, and with Rio’s injury problems there is no guarantee that either of them will be around for the Euro’s, so why not try and build a central defence on younger more mobile players? We all saw Terry’s press conference and whilst you can never doubt his loyalty to the shirt or his fierce pride in playing for England you can doubt if his ability is what it once was and you can certainly doubt if he is a positive influence on the dressing room or behind the scenes.

Frank Lampard is another interesting one, for years all we’ve heard is ‘How do we get Gerrard & Lampard to play together’ and it seems the answer is we don’t. Gerrard again excelled without Lampard alongside him and below are some stat’s from @OptaJoe on how England play when only one of the 2 are playing -

1 - England have lost just one of their 17 competitive games with Gerrard starting without Lampard, winning 13.

Played 9, Won 7, Drawn 1 & Lost 1 in competitive games with just Lampard starting.
7 - S.Gerrard has assisted the most England goals (7) under Fabio Capello, followed by W.Rooney and G.Johnson (5 each).

So it seems both have good records for England when they play just on their own however it also appears that Gerrard is the more productive of the two so far, so the inevitable question is with England playing so well in the last 2 games, as well as looking better in the 2nd half against Hungary when Lampard was taken off, is it time for Lampard to take a role as a ‘squad player’ instead of a ‘nailed on to start’ player?

Lampard had one of his best ever seasons last season for Chelsea and certainly excels for his club but year after year he has failed to turn this into international performances, especially in Germany 2006 & South Africa this year and by the time its Euro 2012 he will be 34 and one important lesson we learnt at the World Cup is that you need to have mobile midfielders that can get up and down the pitch easily which is something that Gerrard does a lot better than Lampard. Gerrard is in possession of the shirt and has a better all round game than Lampard I feel so why disrupt things? Why try and fit Lampard in to the team and move Gerrard around? Surely a better performing Gerrard is better than an underperforming Gerrard/Lampard partnership? Gerrard has put up with being shunted around the midfield to try and accommodate the inflexible Lampard and maybe now it’s time for Gerrard to have an uninterrupted role in the middle alongside a player that doesn’t hold him back. Let’s not forget that part of the reason Paul Scholes retired from England because he was sick of being out on the left whilst Lampard played in the role he preferred so rather than carrying on putting in sub slandered performances he moved aside, Gerrard has stuck at it but we’ve never really seen the best of him for England so maybe now it’s worth a chance in 2012 he’ll be 32 and it will probably be his last chance to put in a good shift in an England shirt.

I’m not saying Lampard should be dropped from the England team completely, he’d certainly be a good player to have around the squad as he always seems to get on with the players and has a lot of experience he could pass on to the younger players but more importantly he would be an excellent ‘Plan B’ if he was needed. I do however think John Terry should be kept away from the England squad until he’s back to his best and he has his ego under control. One thing England has never been short of is good quality centre backs and with people like Phil Jagielka (28), Gary Cahill (24) and Michael Dawson (26) in the squad we seem to have another generation coming through and peaking so to speak at the right time and they are certainly more mobile than Rio & Terry and the perfect time for them to get experience at this level is through playing more games so it might well be time for them to be given a chance as well. This would of course mean no room for Rio and I think after his recent injury problems this will be the right decision, the few games he’s played over the last few seasons he hasn’t looked the same and certainly has lost a bit of pace as a result of these injury’s but I think that like Lampard he should be kept around the squad because of his experience.

The next match against Montenegro should show what Fabio’s mindset is, if Rio, Terry & Lampard are all fit and picked for the next squad and start it will show that either Capello is very stubborn or hasn’t learnt anything and although I think the latter isn’t the case at all I do worry that maybe part of Fabio wants to prove he can get Lampard & Gerrard to play together but I hope I’m wrong.

Saturday, 28 August 2010

The great Arteta debate

It’s come to light today that Fabio Capello has held face to face talks with Everton’s Mikel Arteta about playing for the England team. The first reaction I’ve read online is Henry Winter and his usual Capello bashing saying ‘Capello’s ludicrous damaging pursuit of Arteta reveals total naivety about England fans reaction...or maybe he's goading FA into a red card’ followed by ‘Capello’s wooing of Arteta is an affront to his FA employers' vital attempt to develop English youth. Does Fabio simply not care anymore?’

A few thoughts spring to mind reading this, the first being that Capello doesn’t have a ‘total’ naivety about England fans reaction – I’m an England fan and I for one wouldn’t mind seeing Arteta in and England shirt, a recent poll on Goal.com showed 89.77% of voters backing an Arteta call up so clearly i'm not alone. Second of all the FA have been banging on about developing English youth for years yet nothing has actually been done by them, Trevor Brooking frequently champions more investment at grass roots and improving conditions etc for kids yet they do very little, the St George’s centre in Burton is still not completed and that was started in 2001 whilst in contrast the French centre Clairefontaine was completed in just over 3 years and is widely considered to be a major factor in them winning a World Cup. Why should it be Capello’s responsibility to bring through young players, some of whom aren’t even regular starters for their club (Rodwell & Wilshere spring to mind) and risk his job on unproven players? Of course Winter is one of many journalists who think that an English manager will fix everything, just like Steve McClaren did in 2006/2007 and the current list of English managers currently in the Premier League - Roy Hodgson, Harry Redknapp, Steve Bruce, Ian Holloway and Sam Allardyce are so over whelming good. No need to panic though, the walking tango man Phil Brown recently said he would be interested in the England job, phew that’s that problem solved then.

I digress though because this isn’t an attack at Henry Winter or the other moronic journalist’s that think they have all the answers (think The Sun on Wednesday) to England’s problems, but a case for why England should call up Arteta. It’s the pig headed attitude of ‘were English, we invented this game, we have morals blah blah blah’ that is the mentality that has lead to so many disappointing campaigns recently. England lacks a creative spark as such in the midfield trio – Gerrard and Lampard, other than not working when they play alongside each other, do not possess the ability to unlock a defence with a key pass or a 60 yard pin point ball on a consistent basis, and if they do they’ve hidden it well from England duty, and Gareth Barry....well I’m not quite sure what he does for England anymore. In fact the last player that was able to do this is Paul Scholes, Capello realised this when he asked Scholes to play at the World Cup and clearly the media realise this with their campaign to get him out of international retirement (after ridiculing Capello for trying to do the same in the World Cup). So why is it any different getting a 35 year old (clearly not looking to the future) to play instead of a person who wasn’t born in this county? Because of his place of birth? Funny how the England cricket team is made of none English players yet people celebrate like Christmas has come when 2 South Africans (KP 2005 & Trott 2009) save England against the Australia and they are hailed as heroes.

If Arteta does play for England it’s not like he’s the first player to represent a country he has no link to, Deco did it for Portugal (as well as the more recently Liedson) and Cacau also did it for Germany and neither of those players had any link to the country except living there long enough to qualify. However if this isn’t enough to justify things then look at the Spain team in Euro 2008, one of the key players was a guy that goes by the name of Marcos Senna. That’s right, a Brazilian by birth who has no link to Spain at all other than living there for long enough to qualify so if it’s good enough for the reigning European and World Champions then why oh why are we so pig headed that this is still a problem for England? Owen Hargreaves has spent more time outside of this country than he has in it and only qualifies because of his English father, but that means more than actually living in the country does it? There are plenty of other recent examples, Eduardo who play’s for Croatia despite being born in Brazil or Amauri playing for Italy despite being Brazilian as well are two more examples that spring to mind.

Of course two of the most famous names in world football both switched nations when they needed to, the great Ferenc Puskas was Hungarian and played for Hungary 85 times before representing Spain and another all time great, Alfredo Di Stefano played for 3 countries! He represented his home nation Argentina 6 times, 4 times with Columbia (although they weren’t a FIFA recognised team at the time) and finally Spain. I appreciate that nationality rules were slightly different at the time, and in the case of Puskas it was off the field reason’s that he stopped playing for Hungary and if it was in recent years he would never have been allowed to play for Spain, but if these players and nations can do it there is no reason why England can’t do it.

Before anyone starts with the ‘we don’t want other country’s castoff’s’ argument, let’s be honest here the only reason Arteta doesn’t make that Spain squad is because they currently have some of the best midfielders, if not players, in the world in Xavi & Iniesta, and the backup player is just some guy called Fabregas so it’s not like he has a huge amount of competition in front of him is it? Arteta’s only flaw is peaking at a time Spain have an overwhelming choice of midfielders that are considered great and that isn’t his fault and if an English player had anywhere near the same level of creativity and passing Arteta posses we’d fall over ourselves to demand he’s called up to the national team. He’s not blocking English development, if anything he’s a short term solution to a long term problem (just like Scholes at World Cup would have been) that might well help people like Wilshere develop, if they were both in the national team Wilshere would have a quality player and a role model to learn from, not someone like John Terry who can’t stay out of the papers for the wrong reasons. If we had youngsters bursting to get in the squad and Arteta was taking one of their places then maybe they should get the nod over him, but the fact is the same players have been trotted out time and time again and failed time and time again to deliver, Arteta would certainly offer something different to Frank Lampard and in a good way because Lampard criminally under performs at international level, yet there is no young player right now that could honestly say they deserve a shot over Lampard because none of them perform at the same level as he does week in week out, they aren’t as key to their club team as Lampard is, but Arteta is.

Arsene Wenger says he was ‘surprised’ that Wilshere was in the U-21’s squad instead of the full squad, why? Against Liverpool he started in a much deeper role than he is used to and lasted an hour before coming off, not really having a good game as he isn’t a defensive player and its far too young for him to try and develop into a multi positional player, let him excel at his natural game of attacking like he did against Blackpool and let him develop. Clearly the U-21’s need good players to progress from the European Championship qualifying stages and Wilshere will be more useful there than he will be warming the bench for the full team and will probably gain more from being in the U-21’s than the full team.

Fabio Capello’s job isn’t to protect the future of English football or to try and develop players for a future manager; his job is win matches using the best players available to him during his time as manager. Did Jose Mourinho worry about Chelsea’s future? Of course not, he simply worried about winning trophies and at the other end of the scale you can look at Arsene Wenger, since he started concentrating on youth development he hasn’t won anything. The job for protecting English youngsters is the job of the F.A, and all they seem to do is get in the way of Trevor Brooking who desperately wants to try and do this, so maybe calling up Arteta would wake a few of them up and realise they need to do something and do it now.

If Arteta is called up it should be considered a ‘one off’ instead of a blue print for the future, when Almunia was discussed as a possible call up I was against this because he was no better than what England had available at the time, but in the case of Arteta I think he can offer something that we lack, a truly creative player that can make something from nothing and offer different options to what we have normally in the squad. In giving Arteta a chance what is the worst that could happen? We defy our beliefs? This is a very extreme reaction, like I said it should be looked as a 1 off because a player of this quality is hardly available all the time and isn’t a blue print for the future, we have an excellent U-21 team developing and given time they will be able to make the full squad, but whilst we are waiting for them Arteta really could solve a problem

Friday, 27 August 2010

Champions League Groups

Group A

Inter Milan
Werder Bremen
Tottenham Hotspurs
F.C Twente

A tough group with defending champions Inter favourite to go through leaving second place up for grabs and, although Spurs fans might disagree, I think Werder will sneak through in second place. Spurs biggest problem will probably be Harry Redknapp, who has a lack of top level European experience and showed this by going to Young Boys and playing a rigged 4-4-2 which he won’t be able to do in these games otherwise Spurs will get over run. Werder have good attackers in Almeida & Arnautović and with Wesley coming in to shore up the midfield as well they look an ominous threat, I don’t expect Spurs to be able to go to the Weserstadion and get a result either. Twente could also provide a threat to 3rd place but in their case a lot depends on whether or not the keep hold of star striker Bryan Ruiz.

Group B

Schalke 04
Hapoel Tel Aviv

Lyon will be favourites to go through in this group, they have a great keeper in Hugo Lloris and a very strong midfield with Michel Bastos, Jeremy Toulalan (although he’s recently been converted to a centre half), Jean II Makoun and the recently bought Yoann Gourcuff and striker Lisandro Lopez Lyon look a very strong team. The 2nd place will be decided between Benfica & Schalke, the later having recently bought Real Madrid legend Raul to the club and strongly being linked with Rafael van der Vaart as well as bringing in Christoph Metzelder to shore up the defence however they have also lost a lot of key players in Ze Roberto, Kevin Kuranyi & Rafinha and could find themselves struggling if Benfica can get a result against them. Benfica have a strong South American contingent in Luisao, David Luiz, Pablo Aimar, Maxi Pereira, Eduardo Salvio and Javier Saviola as well as Portugese star Fabio Coentrao and Nuno Gomes and the key games in this group will be when Schalke play Benfica. I don’t know a huge amount Hapoel Tel-Aviv other than they have Nigerian goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama who scored one of the goal’s that saw the team through against Red Bull Salzburg in the qualifying stages but I don’t think they have the squad to challenge the other teams.

Group C

Manchester United

Manchester United will be favourites in this group and although being drawn alongside Valencia does sound a bit daunting they are severally weakened by the fact they’ve sold David Villa and David Silva in the summer, however they still have players such as Ever Banega, Juan Mata and newly bought Sofiane Feghouli in midfield that can control games if they are allowed. Obviously Rangers will be trying to get 2nd place but 3rd and a place in the Europa League is a more likely target. Again I don’t know a huge amount about Bursaspor but it would take a lot for them to threaten the top 2 although 3rd won’t be ruled out as Rangers do seem to struggle in Europe over recent years. Also look out for the horrible ‘Valencia helps United beat Valencia in Valencia ‘ type puns that the tabloids will doubtlessly already be planning.

Group D

F.C. København
Rubin Kazan

Barcelona will be favourites to go through this group, although they probably won’t look forward to playing Rubin Kazan after losing to them at the Nou Camp and drawing away in Russia, however the team will certainly be out for revenge. Rubin Kazan are my tips for 2nd place, they proved last season that they are a well organised team and have a daunting home ground which can prove a problem for some teams – last season they drew at home with Inter Milan & Barcelona, I can’t see either Panathinaikos or F.C. København causing any upsets in this group.

Group E

Bayern Munich
CFR Cluj

Again the top seeds in this group, Bayern Munich, will be expected to go through with out to much trouble and Roma should comfortably go through in second as well especially with the newly acquired Adriano providing some welcome fire power up front. I can’t see Basel or Cluj providing too much trouble for either of the top 2 teams and this group should be a formality but you never know what could happen especially as Bayern nearly failed to qualify from their group last season before reaching the final.

Group F

Spartak Moscow
FC Zilina

Didier Drogba’s eye’s must have lit up when he saw this draw, a return to his old club Marseille must be very appealing and I think he can expect a good reception. Likewise Didier Deschamps must have been pleased as well as the ex Chelsea player and current Marseille coach will see it as a chance to test his team against one of the best and enjoy a return to Stanford Bridge. I can’t see Chelsea finishing anywhere other than 1st and with the new striker force of Gignac & Remy Marseille will be expected to finish a comfortable 2nd as well.

Group G

AC Milan
Real Madrid

The team that all the top seeds would have liked to avoid, Real Madrid where drawn in the most prestigious group with 20 European Cups between them. This group has history and excitement built in to it, last year’s games with Real & Milan were exciting and I think they will be pretty similar this season, and although Milan & Real will be favourites to go through you can’t rule Ajax or Auxerre out of the running and this will be the most exciting group I think out of all the groups this year. Can Jose finally break Real’s European jinx? Klass Jan Huntelaar must be looking forward to a return to his former clubs if he’s still at Milan when the games come around.

Group H

Shakhtar Donetsk
FC Braga
Partizan Belgrade

Although on paper Arsenal look favourites and should go through they have some very tricky away ties and have never won in the Ukraine, Portugal or Serbia and I’m sure Arsene Wenger won’t be happy with the amount of travelling his team will have to do. Shakhtar have a strong squad with a few Brazilians in there adding them some creative flair. Arsenal should go through but it wouldn’t surprise me if they struggle in some of the away games but there home form should be impeccable and see them through the groups. Braga must also be considered a threat after knocking Sevilla out of the qualifying stages and Partizan have the ‘unknown’ element to them as well, there home games will be a very intimidating atmosphere for any visiting team

So there is my quick round up, I expect most of the big teams to get through although Group’s B, D and H could through up a few surprise’s.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

City & Liverpool - wishing they were each other

So on Monday night Man City trounced Liverpool 3-0 and it got me thinking, it’s ironically funny how right now these two teams wished they were the other one. Liverpool, a team with an endless history, trophies bursting out the cabinet (even if it hasn’t been opened for a while) and set in football tradition and Man City, with a stupidly rich owner, no debts & some of the most expensive players on the planet. Liverpool wish Shake Mansour had bought them and was sorting out their financial woes whilst Man City wish they had Liverpool’s history and standing in the football world so they could attract some of the truly great players (i.e. Torres) rather than a bunch of very over paid mercenaries (Yaya Toure isn’t worth £200k a week). However right now both teams stand on the brink of massive problems and, sadly typical of this day and age, it all involves money.

Liverpool are in dire straits and anyone can see that, it’s been reported in the press that Kenny Huang pulled out of the deal to buy the club because he felt they were wasting time and being unnecessarily slow with the things they needed to do because, as far as he was aware, he was the only viable bidder. If he really had billions and billions of pounds to his name, and looking at the history of his involvement with sports in China and the U.S it’s hard to think he didn’t have the cash needed then why did Liverpool mess him around? Despite Martin Broughton being bought in to help speeding through the sale of the club ultimately Hicks & Gillette are still the owners and apparently tried everything they could to stop the Chinese buying there club from them. Now not only do Liverpool look on the verge of missing out on a transfer window they sorely need to strengthen with quality player’s but there is a very real chance they will either be stuck with the two Americans for another 6 months, the debts pilling up and interest continuing to accrue on these debts. The other major worry for Liverpool fans must be the figure of RBS in the background, who apparently Huang went to first to try and buy the clubs debt and force his way in through the back door so to speak.

When Hicks & Gillette refinanced the £237m loan in April RBS were in a strong position because no one else wanted to take the debt on given the club had failed to repay £100m of the debt by an agreed date (it was June but it had to be repaid before the date or refinancing the loan). This meant they forced Hicks & Gillette out as chairmen and also told them they had no choice but to sell the club, RBS aren’t exactly in a strong position themselves and would rather get their money back and wash their hands of the situation. The overall point is that Liverpool are in dire financial trouble and if no buyer is found buy 6th October there is a very real chance that RBS will step in to find a buyer and take control of the club, putting it in administration to remove Hicks & Gillette as an obstacle in the sale of the club and Liverpool fans will be crying out for a Man City type sheik owner willing to through the cash around.

Man City on the other hand are the envy of fans worldwide with their bottomless pit of money, although so far they haven’t signed ‘World’ names they’ve really pushed on this summer signing Yaya Toure & David Silva, two leading lights from La Liga but they fall short of tempting people like Torres or Kaka because they are still seen as a smaller club with no history. Before City fans go mad trying to claim they are a big club now, the fact is they aren’t. They are not in the Champions League this season, have not won a title since 1967-68 and aren’t a well known name around world football except for the fact they now have lots of money. The other problem of course is the fact they don’t seem to have any structure at the club, the way they dealt with Mark Hughes was just a total farce and Garry Cook is a total clown who clearly isn’t a football man. The way he dropped the ball with the Kaka deal was just hilarious to fans outside of City and proved that he isn’t capable of dealing at the kind of level City now want to operate.

Whilst on the pitch Liverpool will continue to struggle with average players except for Torres (who won’t stick around forever) & Gerrard as well as a manager who’s been brought in to bring stability and a clear head to the club. I like Hodgson and he seems a very nice level headed guy, but he wasn’t bought in for his tactical nous or his ‘big name’ to keep players at the club and attract others, he was bought in to steady the ship & maybe sneak a good cup run but he is not a top 4 manager and he isn’t a tactician that can see things on the pitch and change them with a sneaky substitution or half time tactical change – this was clearly obvious in the City game.

City on the other hand need to realise you can’t just go out and buy a team and expect success over night, yes they did well beating Liverpool but they aren’t the force they once were and you need to measure yourselves against the clubs you want to be competing with which brings me to the Spurs game. For those with short memories Spurs also went to City playing a 4-4-2 formation and if it hadn’t been for Joe Hart having an excellent game they would have lost, and this season it will be Spurs & City chasing 4th place. Mancini is a man under pressure, with nearly £130m spent this summer on new players he will be expected to deliver and if come Christmas time City aren’t in 4th or close to it he can expect to receive his P45 just like Hughes did, and I personally think this would be a step forward for City because I think Mancini is to set in the ‘Italian style’ to break the top 4. When Spurs went to City last season in the game that basically decided 4th he played a defensive 4-5-1 when an attacking formation was the order of the day, City needed the win and didn’t get it. City need a manager that will take risk’s and get results that are needed not adopt a safety first approach and Mancini isn’t that man I don’t think. However if City do get rid of him a manager they might be interested in would be Martin O’Neill who might well be able to do a job there, but that’s a long way off.

Monday, 23 August 2010

A Look At Reading F.C And The Season Ahead

After watching Reading v Nottingham Forest on Saturday I came away from the Madejski stadium relatively happy with the performance and happy that, bar from one unfortunate incident, Reading might have been able to snatch all 3 points. However by the time I got home it appeared that not all Reading fans were as optimistic as I was, some saying that McDermott’s 4-2-3-1 system was to negative and that with Rasiak leaving the club they lacked a ‘different option’ up front as the remaining main strikers (Long, Church & Hunt) were to similar.


I don’t think the 4-2-3-1 system is to negative at all, with the 3 players behind the strikers McAnuff, Kebe & Sigurðsson posing an incredibly strong attacking threat. However the main worry is the lone striker, Simon Church previously struggled when he was played on his own and the current first choice, Shane Long, also seems to be struggling. Long does have excellent work rate and chase’s the ball down however all too often he ends up floating out wide and leaves a gap in the middle of the pitch which means if ever a cross comes in there isn’t anyone in the box to aim for. Noel Hunt seems to be able to do this well, he has excellent positional sense, however he is returning off from a near 1 year injury lay off and isn’t an option at the moment.

Long is also a confidence player, he needs to be scoring goals to keep scoring goals and when he goes on a baron spell you can see he struggles. Whilst he started 2010 with a bang, winning the penalty to bring Reading level with Liverpool before scoring the winner in extra time, he then went on to score the winning goal against Barnsley as well as 2 more against Aston Villa in the F.A Cup quarter final, however in the previous round against W.B.A he was shown a red card, his second of the season which disrupted his season. All in all he made 22 league starts and 9 sub appearance but only managed to score 6 goals – not the record of a player that you want to be your main scoring threat. Long has failed to produce the goods for quite a few seasons and needs to start hitting the back of the net more often otherwise he won’t be able to justify his place as the lone striker.

Another major problem is the lack of depth in the centre back position, whilst Matt Mills is looking like a top Championship defender Alex Pearce still worries me somewhat, his lack of pace is targeted by opposition strikers and he is frequently caught out on the turn. His heading is pretty good, at set piece’s he seems to be the one winning the balls in to the box but his tackling could improve as he sometimes seems to not have the best reading of the game, but at 21 he can still improve. However the lack of another centre back pushing him to improve his game and fight for his place is a problem, the backup to him and Mills seems to be Gunnarsson who, at 34, seems to have very little pace and isn’t really thought of as a centre back, more a player that can fill in there when needed, and Reading must bring in a centre back even if it is just on loan to provide back up and depth in this area because I don’t think Mills and Pearce will be able to last the season without a suspension or injury.


It’s not all doom and gloom, Reading do have many strong points and the main one is the magical Gylfi Sigurðsson who, on his day, is too good for this league. Last season he was Reading’s top scorer with 16 goals in 32 starts from midfield and his footwork is sometimes amazing, he’s able to beat a man with just skill instead of putting his head down and running like a lot of players do. He’s very aware of the people around him but being young he sometimes tries to do the flashy thing instead of playing a simple pass or looking for a team mate in space. However he is a quality player and hopefully Reading will be able to hold on to him at least till the end of this season if not longer. However if he keeps playing in the role behind the striker he needs to make sure he doesn’t drop to deep and leave the striker isolated on his own up front.

Jimmy Kebe & Jobi McAnuff are two of the best wingers in this league as well, Kebe can be frustrating on some days, amazing on others. When he first came to Reading he had a lot of pace but no end product, his crosses would either be intercepted by the first man or go way over and beyond the far post however from the 2nd half of last season and so far this season he has got a lot better, whilst his final ball isn’t perfect it’s a lot better than it was. McAnuff has been around the leagues a few years and already know what’s required and he has the ability to beat his man with either pace or trickery but sadly he seems to have a problem staying in games and can float in and out of them, I think if him and Kebe switched wings during games it would make a difference.

Despite his howler on Saturday Adam Federici is a solid Championship goal keeper as proven by his fantastic saves, including an incredible diving save from Paul Anderson’s powerful header, and is the first in a long line of good keepers the club seem to be collecting. Ben Hamer is a young goal keeper who has come through the Reading youth ranks and spent the last few seasons on loan at Brentford helping them win the league last season as well as picking up the Golden Gloves award for most clean sheets in the season. Alex McCarthy is also highly thought of, he’s been called up to the England U-21’s side a few times and has 1 cap to his name and recently went out on loan to Brentford for 1 month. The last of 4 good goalkeepers is Mikkel Anderson, a giant of a keeper (6ft 5in) who has played for Denmark at U-19, U-20 & U-21 level. He spent last season on loan at Bristol Rovers playing 39 games and wining the clubs young player of the year award as well as coming 3rd in the overall player of the year awards.

I still find it incredible that some fans think the playoff’s is a minimum requirement for the season because with the lack of depth in key area’s mid table should be a sufficient target this season, when you consider the financial restraints the club has as well getting promoted just doesn’t seem very likely. Yes a miracle season could happen (like Blackpool last season) however it doesn’t look likely and if fans want to complain about the way the club is run then they should support a team like Portsmouth because that’s not how Reading will be run and whilst people claim Sir John Madejski should put more of his own money in to the club if it wasn’t for him Reading wouldn’t be where they are today and people should respect the fact that he doesn’t want to keep pouring money in to the club. With people like Rasiak and Cisse leaving the club it means the club is in a more stable position financially and right now that is the most important thing.

People expecting any last minute signings need to realise this probably won’t happen and whilst playoffs would be nice Reading fans should be ready to accept a mid table place would be a good season and a nice cup run to bring some funds in to the coffers would be a nice bonus.

Reading V Nottingham Forest

Reading 1-1 Nottingham Forest

Reading fans were optimistic around the Madjeski Stadium before the game and could have snatched a 1-0 victory had it not been for Adam Federici’s howler that gifted Robert Earnshaw a goal to snatch a point.

Reading hit problems inside 10 mins when right back Andy Griffin injured himself during a tackle and hobbled off the pitch to be replaced by Brynjar Gunnarsson however after a sustained spell of Forrest pressure in which Federici made 2 saves Reading managed to snatch a goal from a goal mouth scramble. Marcus Williams was fouled by Paul Anderson and took the resulting free kick, after a couple of blocked shots the ball fell to Alex Pearce who slammed the ball home from about 5 yards to give Reading a 1-0 lead that they managed to maintain until half time, and although he was responsible for the goal Federici was key to keeping Reading in the game, making a good save from a Robert Earnshaw shot and then producing the save of the game, leaping full stretch to his left to palm a Paul Anderson shot away from goal.

As the players came out for the 2nd half Reading fans were hopeful the team could hold on to 1-0, although Forest had more of the ball in the first half both teams had the same number of shots and, other than Federici’s super save, Forest never looked like really scoring. However within 3 minutes that all changed, Federici claimed a routine cross and lined up for one of his ‘arrow kicks’ however he didn’t notice Jem Karacan about 3 yards in front of him and the ball crashed in to his back before falling to the feet of Robert Earnshaw, who is not likely to miss a gift like that. He danced around Federici before slotting the ball into the net leaving Reading players and fans in disbelief at what they’d just seen.

Both teams pressed for a winner, although Forest looked more like getting it Reading also came close, at one point Jimmy Kebe burst forward only to be hauled back by Ryan Bertrand with the resulting free kick coming to nothing. Gylfi Sigurdsson came close with a free kick whilst Chris Cohen went over in the Reading box desperetly looking for a penalty but the referee, correctly in my opinion, waived play on.

A draw was a fair result, Reading fans should be happy at a point against a team that came 3rd last season and will be pushing for the top spots again this season and shouldn’t forget that they came very close to coming away all with all 3 points. A concern for Reading will still be the lack of firepower up front as well as a lack of pace in the defence that was exposed early on by Earnshaw & Blackstock but a mid table finish looks more than achievable if the team can continue performing like this.

Friday, 20 August 2010

Robin Friday, a look at a flawed genius

Robin Friday – The Greatest Footballer You Never Saw

I recently wrote an article for the equaliser (great website at www.equaliserfootball.com) for their ‘My favourite footballer’ blog they are running at the moment on Robin Friday, a player that most people outside of Reading or Cardiff probably haven’t heard of. As I could only write a short piece I thought I would expand on my article in my own blog providing more information and reasoning as to why a player that played nearly a decade before I was born, and sadly passed away when I was only 5, is my favourite player of all time. Whilst scouring the internet for information I’ve come across many inaccurate ‘facts’ and ‘stories’ about Friday so I wanted to set some of them straight.

Robin Friday was probably Reading’s greatest ever player, voted as player of the millennium in 2004 despite only playing 3 full seasons for the royals and was also voted as Cardiff City’s all time cult hero ahead of more well known names such as John Toshack & Rob Earnshaw even though he only made 25 appearances for the bluebirds. These two awards, voted for by fans should be enough to make people realise he made a lasting impression but when you consider that a lot of the fans that voted, like me, probably never got to see Friday play it’s even more of an achievement. Sadly there isn’t much footage of him playing as the lower leagues (4th & 3rd division for Reading & 2nd for Cardiff) weren’t really covered by T.V at the time, although there is a few seconds of footage on you tube.

Robin & his twin brother Tony were born 3 minutes apart on 27th July 1952; both grew up as Everton fans and lived in South Acton for most of their early life playing football on Acton Green with Robin playing in goal. Both played at district level after impressing in Farraday School’s junior team and started playing in local pub teams with adults from the age of 14. Robin trained with QPR on Tuesdays & Thursdays before Robin’s father Alf wrote to Chelsea to ask if Robin could have a trial at which he was successful and was soon accepted by Chelsea young, but he was only there for a year before the manager, Tommy Docherty, said he wasn’t good enough and let him go. According to Tony it was because Robin was too much of his own player and would always try something different instead of playing the simple ball.

Robin’s drug habit started at an early age, first taking speed pills when he was 15 and a bit of methadone as well, Tony saying that Robin ‘wasn’t one to do things by half’ but denying that Robin was dependent on them from an early age and saying stories of Robin doing them before a game were ‘a load of bollocks’ although Robin did spend time in borstal when he was 16 he managed to stay out of serious trouble with the police for most of his early life, and when he left borstal he moved in with his girlfriend Maxine and married her when he was 17 having a daughter called Nicola at around the same time.

A friend of the family was playing at Walthamstow Avenue and Robin used to go down to training with him, after a while they could see that he was a good player and decided to get him playing for them. It wasn’t long before the team played Hayes and after the game the Hayes manager approached Robin, offered him more money and told him it would be closer to his home and Robin joined Hayes. It was also here that Robin started working with some of his team mates in asphalting and it was then, age 20, that Robin had his near death experience on a scaffold. Apparently a hoist rope was stuck so Robin jumped on the scaffold trying to loosen the rope and fell straight through, a metal spike shooting up his backside and piercing his stomach, missing his lungs by inches according to doctors. Those at the site said Robin pulled himself off the spike and managed to get to the nearby St. Thomas Hospital where they operated and managed to save his life., however this accident was to have an impact on him for the rest of his life, being attributed to his wild ways and flamboyant lifestyle along with his ‘live for the moment’ attitude.

Hayes beat Bristol Rovers in the F.A Cup and were drawn against Reading and it was here Charley Hurley, the manager of Reading, saw the player that he first knew would become something special as well as a handful. Charley had done his research and knew very well about Robin’s off the pitch lifestyle but he said he went down a couple of times speaking to Hayes fans and they said that as long as he did it on the pitch they didn’t care what he did off it. Hurley also took this view reasoning a 4th division team couldn’t be picky over ignoring a player this good for moral reasons and eventually, after some games for the reserves he signed him for £750, although Friday was reluctant to sign at first as he was earning more money in the building industry than he would earn as a professional footballer, however Charlie Hurley went round to his flat, spoke to him and his family and persuaded him to sign. Reading historian David Downs tells the story of Robins first training session where he ran around kicking as many established players as possible before Hurley told him to calm down otherwise he wouldn’t have a team left!

In his debut for Reading he didn’t score, one shot went just inches wide however he made a lasting impression on fans and teammates alike with some moments of skill and trickery. In his second game, a 3-2 loss to Barnsley in which Friday scored his first goal the home team sent on a defender as their sub which Charley Hurley said he found a little strange, after the match Friday told him that player had been sent on to ask him if he wanted to sign for them! 3 days later however he signed professional terms with Reading and eventually, after some persuading from Hurley, used the money to buy a flat in Reading so he could travel easily to training every day. In his home debut against Exeter the game was 1-1 when Robin beat four players and the shot from 18 yards before grabbing a second with a delicate low diving header leaving fans marvelling and his skill and wondering just how long Reading would be able to hold on to this star. A few games later Reading beat Doncaster 5-0 with David Downs seeing Friday do something he’d not seen a Reading player do before or since, hitting the ball on the outside of his foot and swerving it past the goalkeeper and in off the inside of the post and that was his 16th goal in just 5 games in a Reading shirt.

It wasn’t long in to his career though before Robin started spending his spare time in the pubs around Reading, at one point he was barred from the Crown in Caversham after jumping around from table to table with the landlord shouting at him that he was barred, eventually Robin was dancing on the bar before being persuaded to leave. A few months later he tried to come in to the same pub for a pint when the landlord said to him that he was still barred which Robin argued with furiously, eventually leaving the pub when it was clear he wasn’t getting a drink. Moments later however a window next to the bar popped open and Friday leant through shouting ‘fine, I don’t want to drink in your poxy pub anyway’ to which the landlord started laughing before letting him back in to the pub.

Robin finished the end of the ‘73/’74 season by playing the last 4 games with a cracked bone in his foot however still managed to score 2 goals but even with Fridays magic Reading missed out on promotion and started for the next season with Friday scoring and setting up goals like he was the season before and by September scouts were being sent from first and second division clubs to watch this new talent, Charlie Hurley revealing that he was approached by Sheffield United to take over them in the 1st division however he stuck to his word to stay at Reading until they got promoted and it wasn’t long until they were asking after Friday but Reading refused to sell and he didn’t want to move, feeling he owed Reading for giving him his chance, Arsenal also sent scouts down but were apparently put off by rumours of his off the field antics, however this gives you an impression of just how well known this player from the 4th division was becoming and just how much talent he had. It also wasn’t long until Fridays on the pitch disciplinary problems became apparent, picking up several bookings and finding himself in front of the F.A on a few occasions resulting in fine’s & ban’s and missing several games and in 1975 he became the first Reading player to be sent off for nearly 8 years but Friday loved playing so much though he would even put himself forward to play in reserve matches when they were short on numbers.

Despite liking a drink or two Robin wasn’t as heavy drinker as some people at the club, he’d drink a beer called colt 45 or southern comfort but he wouldn’t drink two days before a game however his real weak spot was drugs and he would do things like LSD or speed and smoke marijuana again though he wouldn’t do this the night before a match. John Murray, a player who joined Reading after beating up his manager at Burnley, used to give Robin a lift home from training and on Friday mornings he would give Robin a lift to a house and wait outside for him, half an hour later Robin would be back out and his whole weeks wages would be spent.

Reading again missed out on promotion but Robin Friday stayed at Reading for the following season and scored 4 goals in the first 5 games, and he was being described as a revelation, a wizard and a magician for the things he was doing on the pitch and there was a real buzz around Elm Park that Reading could finally get promoted if Friday kept playing like he did. Come December Reading were sat in the promotion places and looking good to go up, but this didn’t mean Friday behaved any differently, during an away trip he ended up kicking down a hotel room door to see what a girl a team mate had in his room looked like before vanishing for half an hour but was soon discovered in the bar area with a swan under his arms but he was soon persuaded to return the bird after threats of police were made.

It wasn’t long after this that Robin Friday scored a goal that’s been dubbed ‘the greatest goal you never saw’ against Tranmere Rovers. The ball was played up from midfield to Friday who is on the edge of the box on the left hand side and in one motion he controls the ball on his chest where it sits up for him and he volley’s it in to the top corner, turning through 180 degrees after he’d hit the ball so he had volleyed it over his shoulder, causing the attendance of 10,961 to fall in to a stunned silence. The referee that day was Clive Thomas who had been involved in games with people like Pele & Cruyff as well as refereeing in World Cup games yet when he saw this goal his immediate reaction was to put his hands up to his face with his mouth open in shock. After the game he went up to Friday and said ‘I have to tell you that is the best goal I’ve ever seen’ Friday, in typical fashion, just looked around and said ‘Really? You should come down here more often, I do that every week.’ Reading ended the season by getting promotion to the 3rd division with Friday ending the season on 22 goals and scoring the last goal in Reading’s final day win at Elm Park.

Sadly after this season the relationship between the club and Robin Friday went a bit sour, Robin wanted pay that he felt justified his worth to the club and he was also unhappy with what he perceived as a lack of ambition by the club. He did end up signing a new contract, around the same time he got married for a second time to Liza Deimel which it was hoped would help him settle down however this wasn’t the case and by October Charley Hurley knew something was up with Robin as players he should have been beating easily he was struggling to beat, and Hurley knew it was the drugs that Robin was now using more freely but worse was the fact the players knew. He’d become a problem with the other players who kept working & training at full throttle but Robin would only turn up when it suited him and by the end of October 1976 he was on the transfer list and this time there was no coming back from it as Charley Hurley & Assistant Maurice Evans had decided they could have Friday ‘running the club’ but still he kept playing. After Hurley took him off against Mansfield he ‘relieved’ himself in their bath but it wasn’t long after that before Cardiff City offered £30,000 to Reading for him and the board as well as Hurley decided enough was enough and accepted the offer, considerably less than the £100k they were turning down just over a year before. In one of his final conversations with Hurley as a Reading player Robin said that he knew he wasn’t the same player he was before and Hurley told him that, combined with his off the field problems that were affecting his football meant he had to go.

In typical Friday style he got arrested at Cardiff station for travelling with only a platform ticket before Cardiff officials got him released. He made his debut in 1977 and scored 2 goals against a Fulham team that had George Best & Bobby Moore in it, although Best withdrew at the last minute with injury fans soon got over the disappointment when Friday got going, scoring a lovely second goal from 15 yards out and running rings around Bobby Moore. If you’ve ever seen the incident where Vinnie Jones grabbed Paul Gascoigne by the family jewels and thought it was funny, well Friday had done the same thing years before to Bobby Moore and succeeded in causing the usually calm Moore to lose his cool and utter a four letter insult in Friday’s direction. It wasn’t long though until Cardiff manager Jimmy Andrews had to fine Friday for turning up late to a home game and soon after that Friday called Charlie Hurley asking to come back saying ‘I can’t play for that little bastard, you’re the only one I can play for, can I come back?’ Hurley said they couldn’t pay for him and if he could get a free transfer then fine but that would be the only way and that was the last time they spoke.

Not long after that Friday scored two goals against Luton, his second spawning an iconic picture that was used on the cover of the Super Furry Animals single 'The Man Don't Give A F***, as just after taking the ball around stranded keeper Milija Aleksic Robin flicked him a V-sign in revenge as just moments before this goal the referee had lecture Friday for an incident with the goalkeeper who Friday claimed had kicked him on the knee. That was his last appearance for the season and by the start of the next season Robin was totally off the rails, he’d gone AWOL from pre-season training and ended up in hospital in London with a mystery virus that caused him to lose nearly 2 stone (he claimed it was hepatitis but doctors said this wasn’t the case) and then turned up at training apparently looking like the fittest player in the world. However all was not right in Robin’s world and he made one more appearance for Cardiff, in a 4-0 loss at Brighton which he ended up getting sent off after kicking a certain Mark Lawrenson in the face. The kick was in relation for some tight marking and hefty challenges from Lawro but Friday lost it and after Lawro dived in and fouled Friday he saw red, in both his actions and the colour of the card. Still not happy Friday then went to the Cardiff dressing room and defecated in Lawrenson’s kit bag. This was the last time Friday played professional football, Jimmy Andrews lost his patience with the forward, fined him £1000 and transfer listed Friday before Friday announced he was quitting the game for good and with his second wife filling for divorce he moved back to London and worked as an asphalter and decorator. In his time at Cardiff he played 25 games and scored 8 goals but it’s at Reading he is most fondly remembered by fans, scoring 46 goals in 121 appearances and setting up countless more goals for team mates.

Robin Friday tragically died on 22nd December 1990 from a suspected heart attack in his flat in south Acton at the tragically young age of 38. His skills will never be forgotten in Reading & Cardiff and just reading about him makes me remember what it is about football that I love with his care free attitude and outstanding talent willing to try anything to win. If you’ve never read the book ‘The Greatest Footballer You Never Saw’ I strongly suggest you get hold of a copy because it is one of the most interesting football books you will ever read and shows just why Robin Friday should never be forgotten even though he never made it to the same level as George Best or Stan Bowles, so called ‘bad boy’s’ of their time whom Robin could put to shame in both behaviour & football skill.