Arsenal were fortunate to survive a second-half onslaught against Napoli to progress to the Champions League last 16. They cannot afford a repeat against Man City...
Jose Mourinho might be unhappy with the low numbe of goals from his strikers, but Nick Miller argues that he doesn't have to worry, because the goals are still coming...
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Tom-MUFC (Cheshire) asked the question this morning as to whether luxury players are a dying breed. Yes, I think they are, Tom and I'm not too sure anyone will miss them. Luxury players here were defined as often fairly lazy and contributing nothing without the ball but got away with it due to the devastating impact they could have when the ball was at their feet. Of contemporary players, at least in the Premiership, Berbatov would be at or near the top of most Mailboxers' list of current players that qualify as a 'luxury player' but there's not many of them left.
My first, almost instantaneous thought on reading Tom's mail, was Hristo Stoichkov, a Bulgarian who played for Barcelona in the early 1990's. For those who never saw him play, he was much like Sergio Aguero in stature and the way he held off opposition players through skilful use of his body and quite surprising strength. He could go from rest to out-and-out full speed as quickly as any player I can think of. But what I've said above wouldn't be worthy of consideration in the Mailbox on its own and is by way of background only.
The thing is, Stoichkov was the definitive luxury player. He was one of the laziest players I've ever seen, strolling around the pitch and many times looking completely disinterested in proceedings. If a ball intended for him was marginally out of his reach or if he had to sprint to get it, he was just as inclined to watch it pass him by as to chase it. Sometimes though he would just explode into action and do something extraordinary and he scored many wonderful, memorable goals. I loved him even though he was a surly, belligerent player that distracted the rest of the team both on and off the pitch. (When I say I loved him, I'm talking about his goal scoring, not the sulky bits).
The thing that prompted this mail is that I read somewhere that Stoichkov had it written into his Barcelona contract that he did not have to defend at all, ever, even to the extent that he was not obliged to ever step into Barcelona's defensive half. He could swan around in the attacking half watching his own team take a battering if he wanted to. Assuming this is correct - and don't shoot the messenger if it's not - it shows how good this man was at scoring goals for Barca to accept that condition. In my own view, and without giving it too much thought, I can only think of Gerd Muller that could similarly go from rest to full-out top speed almost without pause, with similar net bulging results.
Stoichkov was a truly great striker but hopelessly flawed. What sort of personality has that sort of clause inserted into his contract? And for those who never saw him, how good do you think he must have been to get the mighty Barcelona to accept his terms? Didn't have to go back across the half way line to help out his teammates indeed. Outrageous!
Dear Beefcake (USA would have had a shot at GK a few years back). Two hours and you come up with Andre Santos??? Really?? Really?? Santos???
Rafinha would get the call up any day. I'd even recall Cafu from retirement (how old is he anyway?) over Santos any time
Abdalla, so shocked over Santos that I can't even type in brackets
The Day Job
Do the Society of Black Lawyers do anything normal---like review leases and apply for planning permissions. They seem to only do the boutique work as far as I can see.
Diarm (Society of Bored Lawyers) Dublin
The Real Victim
Has everyone overlooked the real victim of this whole hoopla? Only Chris bloody Smalling.
Clearly we as audience were not the only ones to recognise the rather flimsy nature of his performance, and Roy decided to degrade him further by relating him to a useless astronaut whose only job is to feed the particular primate in question. One job - just give the ball to Townsend. Nothing else can be entrusted to you.
Although a useless astronaut is still an astronaut. I'd rather be a useless astronaut as opposed to a mildly useful production assistant.
Woe is me.
Malin, ("yo, your mumma so dumb she's a useless astronaut" "sick bantz lolz") Stourbridge
...Regarding the Roy Hodgson furore, what I want to know is, why has nobody stood up for the poor NASA astronaut?, I mean, astronauts have to undergo 2 years of training in order to prepare for spaceflight, including rigorous medical tests, physical training, anti-gravity acclimatisation etc., and yet he ends up being an understudy for a primate, a distant relative from whom the human race has evolved? Wouldn't evolution lead you to believe that we are more advanced as a species?
Justice for the NASA 1, that's what I say.
Keith, Dublin (long suffering LFC supporter)
I know I'm a bit late, but since they haven't been mentioned yet, as a Finn I feel it is my duty to direct your attention to Jari Litmanen and Sami Hyypiä as two great players who missed out on the World Cup.
Actually in the turn of the millenium, we had a bit of a golden generation with players like the aforementioned plus Forssell, Niemi, Riihilahti, Kolkka, Tainio, Johansson etc. It's too bad that for Japan/Korea 2002 we got drawn with you guys and the Germans, and thus had to settle for 3rd place in the qualifying group.
Ville, Helsinki, Finland
Ossie Idealess, following on from Aaron Maguire, appears to have missed the point of a World Cup. It's to find the country whose team is the best on the planet. It doesn't matter if Spain are better than a team of World Superstars, it matters if they are better than Brazil or Germany.
Beyond that it divides loyalties. Will Bale do his utmost to get Wales to a World Cup if he knows that he'll have a much better chance of lifting the trophy if they go out in the qualifiers?
Word Of Advice
Good to see Jack, 19, London (foreeeever young, i want to be, foreeeever young) writing in again. Just to alleviate your concerns, reading Mediawatch, whilst being extra careful by hovering your left thumb and index finger over Alt-Tab, will in no way shape or form categorise you as being old. Far from it, prudence, in the evolutionary sense of the word, could be considered quite a youthful attribute to have and one that should hold you in good stead for a future of forming healthy business partnerships and the like.
However, writing in to twice daily internet based communication forum such as the mailbox detailing a desire to engage in carnal activity with it does very little to dispel the notion for me that are still quite barking. Personally, if I had such a suspicion and was aware you perused a daily webpage that regularly features details of dismembered members I would afford you the luxury of time and space to allow you to be 'forever young' and 'hip' to your heart's content and focus on being extra-careful myself, maybe by hiding your scissors and stapler.
Why make a fuss! Like whoever blew Roy up to media, making such things public can always have the uncanny knack of coming back and biting you on the... well.
Chris ITFC, Liverpool
I'm not writing to piss on anyone's chips, because I like the idea of the Rest of the World XXIII (not XI) competing in the WC. As mentioned in various letters this morning, it would generate extra interest and business, and give worthy players a shot at a big prize that their compatriots might otherwise hold them back from. However, we need to address a few major issues.
Who selects the squad? If FIFA or some other body decides the players, you may find that no top-level coach would wish to take the job on (lack of control and all that). If the coach himself selects the players, what is to stop him just bringing in his mates and/or those also represented by his agent in return for a hefty slice of the increased marketing revenues or something?
How do we prevent this from basically becoming a wildcard entry for a top class team that might fail in qualification? Let's imagine France and Portugal meeting each other in the playoffs, and Ronaldo sees off the French. First of all you might suddenly get a top French coach interested in the job. And he might want to build his squad around Lloris, Varane, Pogba, Ribery, Benzema et al. Or if the mercurial Belgians don't manage it in four years due to being in Spain's group? Restrict it to only three from each nationality you say? But we were devising this plan to ensure that the best players get to feature in the first place.
What's more, you might see the likes of Adnan Januzaj decide that Albania is his true nationality based on a belief that they'll probably never qualify for the WC, whereas he'd probably never win the WC if he chose to represent Belgium, Turkey or England (see what I did there), all of whom perhaps will qualify, ruling him out of the ROW squad.
Also on the agenda; Which qualifying spot is taken away to allow them to compete? How do we work the seeding? Can't make them top seeds, eight teams have worked hard to be in pot one. Can't make them bottom seeds, as they'll surely be miles better than at least the bottom ten or 12 teams. Who keeps the trophy if they win? Do we rule out players who represent countries who have qualified but have not been selected in their national squads, and are otherwise plenty good enough to play at a WC? Take the Spanish midfield, with Busquets, Ineista, Xavi, Alonso, Martinez, Fabregas and Silva selected (for the sake of argument); do we allow Thiagio Alcantara, Koke and Santi Cazorla to join the ROW? How do we stop every single national backup goalkeeper from wanting to be the ROW no. 1? And the big question on everyone's lips; who manufactures the kit?
I'm going to stop writing now before this turns into a two hour job.
Chris, SAF Stand
Koma á Islandi
Louie, Hornchurch. Portugal and/or France miss out? Absolutely. Both.
Enough same old, same old, let's have variety and new teams. I'm looking at (praying for) you Iceland.
Mike 'and even though Suarez would miss out, come on, do the unlikely, Jordan' Woolrich, LFC
Players To Miss Out On The World Cup
Nobody's mentioned Neville yet. Southall, that is. Not Phil.
Richard (also a dishevelled genius) Pike
Sad, Pathetic Lives
I admire the vision of the greatest players not playing for the greatest countries playing in the World Cup. But ask yourself, what would it mean if they won? Would the rest of the world come together and celebrate? As long as the World Cup is about nationality over individuals (it is obviously no longer about sport over consumerism with sponsorship trumping an authentic experience), I can't see this idea happening however much we wish to see the best players from the best leagues playing in the best tournament, and great games happening every single day of every single year of our sad, pathetic lives.
Niall, Washington DC
As many people are lamenting the loss of the "luxury player" and "fox in the box" etc, I would like to give my love to my favorite position - the libero, and luckily for me, it is a position that seems to becoming more and more influential in the Premier league.
Tough tackling, brutish defenders used to be synonymous with the English game. Chaps who would get a club bonus for kicking a striker in to the car park from the six yard box and should the ball, heaven forbid, ever land at their feet they had one instruction screamed at them - "GET RID OF IT!". Neil Ruddock was a prime example - a professional footballer with the football skills and grace of a maternally outraged baboon.
Not any more tho. Now the quick thinking. silky skilled central defender with an eye for a killer pass has become a integral part of top teams in the Premier league. Reading the game expertly, winning possession bravely and launching an attack with class and invention. This, for the most part, I would put down to the much higher emphasis on ball possession and retention as well as the need for swift, accurate counter attacks.
The libero trail blazers in the EPL were players like Rio Ferdinand, Philipe Albert, and Ricardo Carvalho, paving the way for the likes of David Luiz, Daniel Agger and Younès Kaboul to no longer be seen as defenders "lacking steel" or who "dwell on the ball", but as a necessity to compete in the modern environment.
Of course in other European leagues the Libero has been thriving for years. Great liberos of the past include Franz Beckenbauer, Franco Baresi and Claudio Gentile where as the modern day epitome of the position has to be Gerard Pique. In fact Barcelona have also turned both Mascherano and Sergio Busquets into excellent liberos, irrespective of their height or strength.
To summarize this "libero love in", with the compartmentalization of central midfield positions (players are now either defensive midfield, attacking midfield or "recyclers of possession"), for me the libero truly is the complete footballer. A blend of defensive and attacking skills, coupled with excellent technique and the ability to read the game expertly in all phases of play.
Now to bring the wing backs in to fashion once more......
Conor (on the WorldXI, exactly who would buy the 40% ticket allocation for each game?) O'Rourke, Dublin
In the great words of Danny Blanchflower..."Hoddle a luxury? No, it's the bad players who are a luxury".
Martyn - The greatest Luxury player around
In response to Richard, in praise of the slide-rule, London's missive, it seems that maybe we're not always the luddite lumpen brained footballing mouth breathers that we're sometimes portrayed as in this country. I think we could all appreciate the video of Laudrup time and time again playing exquisite passes and it reminds of an interview that I read with the wonderful wonderful Robbie Di Matteo a few years after he'd been forced to give up. He said that the majority of the times that a Chelsea fan would come up to him to chat about his tenure there, it was never the cup final goals that they would go on about but always the pass he made to Wise in the San Siro. Us Chelsea fans aren't known for being football aesthetes but it seems that a perfectly weighted pass can stir the loins as much as a ripper from 30 yards.
Not often you see Maldini floundering and being caught out from such a peach.