Liverpool, Arsenal, Spurs and Everton - every potential top four challenger seems to be dealing in one step forward, two more back. Can anyone rise above these false dawns?
The boys try and take a look at Alan Irvine's appearances on TV but keep dropping off. Never before has a man been too dull to even use cliches. It's not good...
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The New England
The current Belgium team reminds me an awful lot of England's 2006 World Cup team. A team that is touted as their nation's 'golden generation' but seemingly unable to find true potential on the world stage. Heck, we even played similar warm up games too, I vaguely remember us hammering Jamaica or Trinidad and Tobago before 2006.
Sorry Belgium it's going to be a quarter final exit for you, but make sure you treasure it because by the time 2022 comes around you will be struggling to get out of the group stage by my logic.
Barca Gone Bad
Should Barcelona go through with the expected signing of Luis Suarez, they will fully complete their transformation of ultimate good guy to ultimate heel.
Let's examine the evidence:
1. Up until 2006 they did not allow any shirt sponsor on their famous maroon and blue kit. They then allowed Unicef to be displayed on the front of the shirt. Then......
2. In 2011 they signed up with Qatar Sports Investments allowing the Qatar Foundation on their kit, relegating Unicef to the back. Then...
3. In 2013 they went full corporate whore with Qatar Airlines, Intel and Unicef still on the back. Then...
4. Yesterday they announced Beko would be on their shirt sleeves.
5. In the midst of all this, they have been implicated in fraud in relation to Neymar's transfer in which Sandro Rossell had to resign, acted appallingly in their tapping up of other teams' players, had an 18-month transfer ban put in place by FIFA due to their violation of rules regarding signing players under 18, and now topping it off by finally signing arch villain Suarez.
So, the old Barcelona we knew and respected as 'more than a club' under Guardiola is gone. It's like when Hulk Hogan became Hollywood Hogan and started N.W.O.
How Tiki-Taka Began
Hope I'm not too late to add my tuppence, here's my schoolyard story. I was fortunate to grow up in Spain and we had no direct equivalent to Wembley or headers and volleys. There were no 'competetive' games as it were.
As the bell rang for lunch the male half of the school would spill out onto the concrete pitch in the middle of campus. Shouts of 'mismo equipos (same teams) would ring out and the same teams that had been playing before the morning bell would reorganise. We played full on, 20 on 20 full-pitch futbol. Think of that what you will.
Towards the end of lunch, with about ten mins to go the dreaded, exciting, slightly doom laden shout of 'PIÑOS!' Would sweep the playground. This involved, much like John Barkers 'bummies', but with a bit more mobility, the older lads picking the ball up and thwacking it as hard as they could at the smaller, frailer lil kiddies (myself included). As far as I know no one ended up with a broken neck, not even a concussion while I was there. It was terrifying, but bloody good fun. Probably explains why I've always been crap at football.
Skinny Cook (Pineapples) THFC/Mallorca
I can't imagine that in among the World Cup fever, Suarez debates and reminiscing over games of the innocent time of youth that this will get much notice, but I wanted to drop in a note about Ryan Gauld's transfer to Sporting Lisbon.
He could have taken the easy route and moved down to a mid-table English club in the way so many of our prospects do. However he chose a much braver option. How many young British talents (or in their peak British talents) have challenged themselves with a move abroad? Not many. So well done Ryan for taking the risk. I hope it offers much reward. Who knows, maybe it's something we could start to see happening more and more. That can only be good for our national teams surely?
Mike, (Praying that we might end up with one good Scottish player), London
Box Office Barca
Interesting point raised by B. Nolan, LFC regarding where Suarez will fit in the Barcelona system. However given recent events, the most interesting element of this is the potential reaction of the man himself. Given that Suarez's default response to frustration at his opponents keeping him off the ball is to bite them, who knows what he'll do to Messi and Neymar when the red mist descends?!
If he does head off to Catalunya this summer, crack open the popcorn and buckle in, it's going to be one hell of a ride.
Terry Hall, Switzerland (more likely to be bitten by Suarez than to get a mail published)
Are You Shaw?
This is just raging against the dying of the light, I realise, but still I have to get it off my chest, this time regarding the approx. £30million fee for Luke Shaw to United. THIS. DOES. NOT. WORK.
It's not just that it's a moronic amount of money to pay - it's counter-productive, it buys you a worse player than it would have otherwise if you'd paid a sane amount. Andy Carroll concisely demonstrated what happens when the line of sanity is not just crossed, but sprinted past Usain Bolt-style - a player who was previously a fierce, free-flowing centre forward capable of dominating Prem defences, becomes a shambling, angst-ridden goon whose brain is melting under the strain of trying to be a '£35million player.' And now Luke Shaw, he of 18 assists last year, those two unforgettable strikes from forty yards and about 19 tackles a game . . no wait, I mean one season where he ran fast and whipped in a decent amount of good balls, looked okayish tracking back, a bit positionally naive - now has to take his psychological place at Old Trafford among the transfer pantheon of Thiago Silva and Ezequiel Garay. Aged 18.
Think, for a moment, of how you'd feel at that age, turning up at work knowing that £30million of value was expected from you. And it's easy to imagine that they know that this all is all just a self-lacerating bubble, where monopoly money is just blowing in the wind. Tosh, I would argue. Carroll certainly didn't look that way. The £30million put down for his services wasn't delivered by fairies, and he better be worth it. Except of course, he isn't, and now will just soil himself trying to prove something that he is both incapable of and shouldn't have to be proved anyway, depreciating the integral value of an asset that at £12million might have ended up skyrocketing. Sigh. Rant over, until the next one.
Very interesting and well-reasoned letter from Andy, London on why number 9s have been failing at this World Cup. But I'd like to offer a small correction. He argues that many of the teams with number 9s don't cross the ball much into the box, and includes Brazil in that group. But in fact Brazil have averaged 25 crosses per game at the tournament, substantially more than the average of 19. In every game they've played, they've crossed as much or more than their opponents. He's spot on with Higuain, Diego Costa, and Balotelli (Lukaku isn't really that strong in the air), but I suspect the main reason Fred has struggled isn't tactics, it's that he's not very good.
PeterG, Pennsylvania, USA (We gave it a go vs. Belgium)
Death Of Crossing
Andy, London, has finally highlighted a particular bugbear of mine over the last few years. No, it's not goal line technology and no it's not diving, it's a more basic principle of the game - crossing.
Watching United blaze over 349 or so crosses in a match against Fulham last season me and my mates started lamenting the loss of Ronaldo and Giggs, the last of our true flying wingers who would race past their man leaving them for dead before cutting into the box and lashing one into the top corner before turning to pose bare chested for the cameras. Young, Nani, Valencia and poor, poor Kagawa have all tried their best but I think we're missing a pretty important fact.
The best teams in the world barely cross the ball any more. The top club teams in the last few years have been Real, Bayern, Barcelona and before that United. Ronaldo, Di Maria, Ribery, Robben, Sanchez, Iniesta, Ronaldo again...none of them put in many hopeful punts from the by line do they? Yet week after week in 'Best League in the World' we are 'treated' to cross after cross after cross sailing into the stands while even Crouchy struggles to reach them. Now I'm not saying there isn't a place for it but it does seem like the top teams have certainly moved away from it and unless you have Becks Mk II (Brooklyn?) pinging them in you're gonna struggle against giant defenders even when the cross is good. Meanwhile for the punters it's great to see the above mentioned stars dribbling at their full-backs once again.
For United please, please let Januzaj flourish, get Mata coming inside with the ball and let Valencia go now before we completely forget his good season. As a football fan please, please let Liverpool continue with their development of Sterling and the exciting prospect of seeing Alexis Sanchez in the Premiership and if Chelski and City could continue to flourish the chequebooks in the way of exciting attacking young talent we're on for an exciting season. Oh and Arsenal. Fourth place, as you were lads.
Bryn 'Chew on that Luis' Sturgeon
Feed The World
When is it acceptable to consider Arsenal as a feeder club?
It never seems to be mentioned because they but they have sold their best players season after season for the last 14 years or so to bigger clubs. Maybe it's a great testament to Wenger that despite this regular loss of quality he can consistently acquire fourth spot and win a few trophies to boot. Let's take a butchers...
In season 99/00 - Anelka, 00/01 - Petit, Overmars, 01/02 - Sylvinho, 03/04 - Giovanni Van Bronckhorst, 05/06 - Vieira, 06/07 - Henry, Ashley Cole, 07/08 Reyes, 08/09 - Flamini, Hleb, 09/10 - Adebayor, Kolo Toure, 11/12 - Fabregas, Nasri, Clichy, 12/13 - Van Persie, Alex Song, 14/15 - Sagna, Vermalen???
I've limited it to players that had a key role and/or were regular starters the season before they left, but have a look at the talent that has left for the trophies of course and not the money.
My question to you lot is, what other team is there that does similar and still competes on all four fronts? Liverpool, Man Utd, Chelsea, City, rarely sell their best players to rivals and certainly not as consistently as Arsenal do. The closest match I can come up with is teams like Porto, Benfica and Atletico Madrid, who sell young wonderkids they have nurtured for big money and still remain competitive in Europe and domestically.
I'm not a fan of Wenger at all. But I do like Arsenal as a club. Modern, forward thinking off the pitch, lovely stadium and their fans are incredibly passionate with some of the best games I've ever experienced being at the Emirates. However, I wonder if their fans have every quietly thought about this, the big media stations barely even mention them as a feeder club but they are one aren't they?
TJ WHUFC (Barcelona took eight of the above, Man City have taken five)
Don't know if this point has ever been mentioned, but your first instinct when genuinely falling over is to put your arms down to break your fall. That's the easiest way to spot whether they're diving or not, do their arms go down immediately or do they go up with a pretty little back arch and a scream? I think even if there's contact, the latter should be booked regardless.