With Real Madrid playing at the Club World Cup, all eyes in La Liga turn to Atletico Madrid's trip to Athletic Bilbao this weekend. It could be brutal...
Plus Cristiano Ronaldo, who looks 'heart-breakingly well-suited to a Real Madrid shirt' according to one United fan. Plus, words from the good doctor and plenty more...
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An idea I had that would potentially ensure that matches of last night's calibre did not happen again would be to change the rule on who can take part in penalty shoot-outs.
In short the first five penalties for each side are taken by their manager. The manager also acts as the goalkeeper for the first five penalties of the opposing team.
Who would settle for penalties then? Also would no doubt provide a lot more comic entertainment.
Remember When Football Was A Sport?
Paul Sibanda reckons 'ultimately football is just entertainment and Robin van Persie's job description is no different to that of Bruce Springsteen or Stephen Colbert'.
As this seems to be something of a growing perception, I'd like to offer an alternative view.
Football is a sport. An athletic contest in which there are winners and losers. A team's responsibility is to overcome their opponents - TO WIN in fact.
Whether that's over 90 mins, a knock-out tournament or an entire league season the aim is to WIN or get as close to it as possible.
Entertainment is incidental and an enjoyable by product at that but it is a by product of the athletic contest. Football isn't the cinema, the theatre or a concert, where we pay money to see a pre-arranged performance that we can then criticize based on aesthetics "ah no way, he didn't do Born To Run" (I know, as if)
Robin Van Persie's job isn't to entertain you - if it was he'd get a goal bonus and then a separate wonder-volley bonus and those wonder volleys would count double - his job is to score goals for Manchester Utd or the Netherlands.
The repackaging of football as an entertainment industry has been ongoing for a while now - but it's still a sport. That's why Klose is a record breaker who's written his name into World Cup history. He's a goal machine. He doesn't care about entertaining you, he just wants to score.
I loved watching Zidane, I loved watching Ronaldo, Henry, Ronaldinho, Del Piero, Bergkamp and when artistry and effectiveness intertwine in a performance it can be mezmerizing.
But the entertainment is a by product of the contest, not the aim.
The difference between a player who plays to entertain and a player who entertains by winning is the difference between Jay-Jay Okocha and Zinedine Zidane. Both blessed with the control and ability to do outrageous things with the ball, both capable of embarrassing their fellow pros for fun but only one truly focused on the end game.
Ultimately football is about winning that match, not artistic merit.
Doug, AFC, Belfast
Penalties Not About Confidence
Watching the last two Dutch matches and the subsequent penalty shoot-outs, it struck me how the subject of confidence dominated the discussion. While it undoubtedly plays a big part in shoot-outs of that magnitude, it seems an oversight to me to not consider the relative abilities of the teams taking part. The likes of Shearer suggesting that a penalty shoot-out is a 'lottery' that comes down to confidence (possibly to protect his misfiring mates), belies the fact that the superior team usually progresses through the shootout, and the players that miss penalties are usually the players you expect to miss them. Because they aren't as good at it as their opponents. Confidence is generated by preparation, experience and belief in your own ability to complete a task, after all.
Reading the mailbox this morning, there was a lot of speculation that the Krul decision vs. Costa Rica had mentally affected Cillesen. It's possible, but he hardly looked bothered both during the CR shoot-out, and during the match vs Germany. His nerves and inability to save the penalties should perhaps be put down to the fact that he's not a great penalty saver, rather than any mental dilemma Van Gaal had inadvertently cast upon him.
Argentina likely scored their penalties for the simple reason that they have better, more experienced, and of course more confident penalty takers than Holland. Certainly Costa Rica. Holland were always more likely to win that shooto-ut, and bringing on Krul gave them the edge, took the focus off of their own penalty takers. The same trick again vs. Argentina would unlikely have the same effect.
We also heard from the commentators how Ron Vlaar did not take a confident penalty, but I can't say I agree. He wouldn't have volunteered to take the first penalty if he didn't think he could score it (unlike those bottling teammates that've been cryptically referred to, grr....) He didn't appear nervous before taking it, and was likely buzzing from the MOTM performance he put in. It reminded me of an interview I once read with David Batty. He mentioned how he volunteered straight away to take a penalty vs. Argentina in '98, that he was confident he could do it, he just shouldn't have been allowed to take one, as he had no experience at it and wasn't a very good taker. I think the Vlaar situation was pretty similar. Confidence can give you a boost, but it can't carry you over the line.
Mark, Braziiil, Braziiiill
Scousers Already Terrified Of Van Gaal
Re. Will O'Doherty. Van Gaal did last night what he has done all tournament, he got the best out of the players available. Argentina have a much better group of players than the Dutch, including the World's most gifted player who up to that point had been having a good tournament, if he set the Dutch up to attack Argentina with abandon they'd have been well beaten, he set them up to defend well and make the most of what chances they got. Messi is a player of such calibre that any top coach does make a plan to deal with him, it pleases me greatly as a United fan that van Gaal was able to muzzle him so well, Fergie tried twice to do the same and failed miserably.
Unfortunately van Persie has been Moysed so his confidence and finishing weren't at their best, if not things may well have been different, the Dutch may have won and you'd be emailing in to say how disappointed that a team containing Messi, Higuain, Lavezzi and later Aguero couldn't get past a central defence from Aston Villa and Feyenoord. The Dutch far from parked the bus, when they had the opportunity they did attack and I don't recall any clear-cut chances for Argentina either. Dirk Kuyt isn't coming to United so it's hardly a stick to beat van Gaal with, he can only pick Dutch players to play for the Dutch team, at United he can choose from a deeper pool, in any case we have Welbeck who can do everything Kuyt does.
Van Gaal comes back from this World Cup with his reputation enhances, only ABUs would say otherwise, his tactics have been head and shoulders over any other coach at the tournament, he took this group of Dutch players further than any other coach could take them Definitely an upgrade on Moyes, in every aspect, I can't wait to see what he does at United, the scousers are already terrified, it'll be a blast.
Why are many of us so bloody bipolar in our opinions. It's always build them up, knock them down. Van Gaal is a genius, no he's a donkey. This lad is great, no he's pants.
Not everyone or everything needs to be classified as praise and criticism.
It's all so ruddy well predictable and downright extreme too. Is there little balance to be had at all lads/lassies? How about reading Zeddington's mail a few times, it's the most reasoned mail this morning. I get that people are miffed about Van Gaal having some intelligence and tactical nous but it's almost like you're lurking in the dark corners waiting for things to not pan out well so that you can jump up and down and cry foul, claiming Van Gaal to not be a genius. Quite childlike in fairness. I'm not claiming he is the second coming of Thor but he's a brilliant manager who got the best out of the players he has at his disposal. Trying to shoehorn an argument about Van Gaal's tactics into a conversation about Man United, is also a bit mental although it seems Van Gaal won't have long at United before people start trying to take him down a peg. Van Gaal at United is going to be a lot different than Van Gaal with Holland though.
In the grand scheme of things Holland have done extremely well with a limited bunch of players peppered with a few stars. They reached a high nobody expected and turned out to be the only true underdogs or dark horses of the tournament. They came within a penalty shootout of the final yet there were few congratulations in the mailbox, so well done Holland, take a bow sons.
In other news Klose has now topped the scoring charts of the WC and he did it against Brazil, in Brazil while the former holder of the record, a Brazilian himself, was sitting in the stands. His achievement is made all the greater considering he was never regarded as one of the best strikers around and hasn't really achieved a significant amount of success at club level. Perhaps a special tribute can be penned by the mighty F365 scribblers??
Anthony Kane, Milan
...Neville reckons that perhaps van Gaal's decision to replace Krul was 'actually proved to be a mistake in the long run'. Absolute bollocks. If Cillessen stayed on and the Dutch lost then there is no long run, the Dutch go out and that's that. My theory is that the substitution was more than just faith in Krul and the lack thereof in Cillessen. It was more psychological than anything else. Krul and Cillessen's penalty saving records really aren't that different for their clubs (Krul has only saved two of 20 he's faced, Cillessen hasn't saved one yet but he hasn't faced half the amount Krul has, so it's still statistically insignificant). The Costa Ricans would've prepared for a shoot-out on the basis of Cillessen being in goal, then to see him replaced with one minute to go really threw a spanner into the works. It got to them psychologically and they lost. Having lost the element of surprise, with the Argentinians having prepared on the basis of both keepers (if anything, they would've concentrated on Krul more) he was unfazed and left Cillessen on (it's the goalkeeping equivalent of a penalty taker often not taking the second one awarded in the match). His mistake was to then come out in the media and say he would've subbed Krul on if given the chance (it was the easy out, he can just blame a lack of subs and not a decision that didn't pay off), rather than to admit his plan all along.
Secondly, a lot of jibes about LVG taking the credit for Romero's performance - erm, he didn't. He did the opposite. His exact words were "I didn't teach Romero to stop penalties. We were the club that brought him to Europe because he was a big talent. He is the one who has the merits for that". Not exactly taking credit is it, more like magnanimously giving all the credit to Romero when asked a question. On the other hand Romero DID come out and thank van Gaal for the part van Gaal played in his development, ("he is a person who teaches a lot to the players about how to grow. He helped me grow"). Just thought I'd clear you lot up on that.
I thought van Gaal has been immense this tournament. He took a team many/most expected to go out in the group stages to an unlikely semi-final. Along the way he displayed an ability to set a team up to win games with good tactics from the outset (2-0 win over Chile was a tactical masterclass), the ability to inspire his team at half-time to unlikely wins (1-1 at half-time against Spain, who were blown away in the second half), as well as the ability to make full use of his squad (everyone except Vorm made at least one appearance, and there were 16 different starters) - an invaluable skill in club football, and the ability to make ballsy, astute substitutions in game (Krul springs to mind, but Huntelaar for van Persie won Netherlands the Round of 16 match, and Depay and Fer came on to score both goals late on against Chile). I'm dreading United climbing the table under his charge, but he'll be very refreshing for the Premier League - I hope his perceived arrogance doesn't lead people to feel as if they have to cut him down to size.
...I am amused with the kind of hate Van Gaal has generated after losing to Argentina on penalties.
Here is the question you need to ask yourself, Which team had the superior players?, Which team had the best player in the world? And Which team overachieved.
The Dutch are rated 15th in the world and not even their own countrymen believed they would make it this far. Yet somehow not winning it all is Van Gaal's fault?
Sir Alex Ferguson is probably the greatest coach of our time and even he didn't win every tournament. What he did was get a team of decent players to play to their maximum potential. Didn't Van Gaal do the same with the average Dutch players?
Was he supposed to play total football and go all-out on attack against superior teams with those players? If he tried, he would have been home faster than Hodgson and his boys.
Ahad and Neville says he probably undermined the confidence of the keeper and hence cost them the penatly shootout in the semis. However given how poor Cillessen was against penalties, they probably wouldn't be a semi finals without Kruls heroics. So I wonder what was better winning the quarters or maintaining Cillessen confidence for the plane ride home.
Ultimately such decisions have a bit of luck involved, sometimes they come off, sometimes they don't. What is important however is the guts to make the hard and controversial decisions and Van Gaal seems capable of taking the hard decisions.
Absolutely bring on Van Gaal, anyone who can turn Ron Vlaar into a defensive juggernaut should be able to do wonders with the more talented Jones, Evans and Smalling.
Dutch Kicking Themselves?
So Germany vs Argentina it is then... but I can't help thinking that the Dutch will be kicking themselves for playing it too cagey last night. I think they had the talent to contain Messi AND attack Argentina but failed to do so by being so conservative early-on.
But, the result provides some interesting points:
1. Germany are clearly the best TEAM in the competition (although this is no guarantee that they'll win the thing) but then, there's a significant drop-off. This isn't based on their 7-1 drubbing of Brazil - which was obviously a bit of a freak result - but the fact that the other semi-finalists are all very limited teams enhanced by a single world-class star (Neymar, Messi and Robben). Germany themselves don't really have that one outstanding individual - just a collection of very fine players currently performing to the best of their capabilities. This also includes their bench, which is also very strong.
2. Behind Robben, the Dutch have very little. Sneijder and Van Persie were both very disappointing in all the knock-out games and the fact that Van Gaal took RVP off in a World Cup semi-final for perennial nearly-man Huntelaar, is a strong indication that he's either way below his best fitness-wise, or he's no longer the player who single-handedly won Man Utd the EPL little more than a year ago.
3. I've often jumped to Dirk Kuyt's defence in the past. He's the ultimate 'marmite' player; loved by his own team-mates and supporters but the focus of derision from opponents' fans. But last night he was really poor and I couldn't shake the feeling that any team who starts with Kuyt on the wing is basically short of options. Like James Milner, he won't let you down and will track back and help out in defence but - when you really need a goal - they're very unlikely to be the one who 'unlocks the door'. His place in the team is a clear indication that a team lacks attacking verve and are taking a more conservative approach. Interestingly, he didn't play in the 5-1 defeat of Spain...
4. I'm not sure what to think of LVG after this tournament. He's clearly a very good coach and also a bit bonkers - which is good news for all of us - but Holland's failure to reach the final is as much his fault as their progress to the semi-final was too. IMO he's a bit of a mad genius, but the problem with mad geniuses is that they obsess over certain things and can be very inflexible when they don't go to plan. His decision to keep a substitution spare so that he could bring on Krul for the penalty shootout against Costa Rica is an example of how this kind of obsessive thinking can go right. His plan to sit-back and try and counter-attack Argentina last night is the opposite. Both decisions could have gone the other way of course. I still think he has the talent to get Man Utd back in the top four though - maybe even challenging if enough of these gambles pay off. I can imagine him playing Giggs during the Manchester derby - just to throw the opposition a curve-ball.
5. Did anyone else think that Patrick Kluivert looked like a schoolboy doing a particularly tricky maths test, as he sat in the dug-out next to LVG? There he was, note-pad and pen in hand, staring into the distance like he's mulling over a geometry equation, as the game passed him by...
Bob Stokes (Bantams)
Van Gaal missed a trick last night. Van Persie was out on his feet and was rightly brought off, but the wrong player came on. Huntelaar did nothing of note except pick up a booking, and both teams seemed to be happy enough to go to penalties at that stage anyway.
He should have taken Van Persie off, and brought on Tim Krul!
Would he have been any worse than Huntelaar?
Why Not Play Krul From Start?
Anyone else wonder why van Gaal didn't play Tim Krul in goal for the Netherlands, last night? Neither De Jong nor Robin van Persie were fully fit, so van Gaal must have planned with a sub for each of them, leaving him one flexible change. So, in these circumstances, it's a bit of a gamble, hoping you can go 119 minutes against Argentina, if necessary, and still be left the option to change your keeper for the shoot-out.
Irrespective of the psychological arguments, or Cillessen's apparent anger at being substituted before the last penalty shoot-out, if it's true he's never saved a penalty in his professional career, it would take a brave man to bet his house on the fella reversing the trend in the pressure cooker of a World Cup semi-final. Besides, Krul is a decent 'keeper, so it wouldn't have been a heart-stopping risk to play him.
Of course, if everyone had been fit, it would have been a different matter. But, if there's a high probability two of your starters won't last the distance, and you're playing in a match which could be decided on penalty kicks where you could have to rely on a goalkeeper who's never saved one, it might have made more sense to start with a keeper, who could, and minimise one risk.
...Given that Cillessen had never saved a penalty his entire professional career (please do read that back to yourselves - it really is staggering when you think about it. Even a blind squirrel finds the occasional nut...) it stands to reason that he would have been nervous whatever happened.
To say that 'the keeper isn't expected to save penalties' is a similar kind of argument to the old-school English view (not attributed to anyone in the morning Mailbox, but that attitude annoyingly does exist!) that 'you can't practise penalties'. It's demonstrably not true - in any sport that has penalties there is a technique to saving them. It doesn't matter if it's through researching your opponent, great reflexes, watching the ball/body position or simple gambling, you can still work on it as a skill. Many keepers are excellent at it, so to say that Cillessen shouldn't have been expected to save any of them (especially the one right at him that his weak wrists let in...) would be letting him off very lightly. I'm not saying he should have saved all four last night, but to not have saved ANY in his entire career is a dreadful record.
The real error Van Gaal made was picking a poor shot-stopper with no bottle in the first place. This seems to me to be a pretty massive error on his part. Krul and Vorm must have been mystified - Cillessen's distribution is good, but he's not exactly commanding (either vocally or physically), and as mentioned, he isn't much of a shot-stopper either. At least LvG won't have any difficult choices to make around his keeper at United I suppose...
Jonny. MUFC. And I'm not just saying it because of that, honestly
As good as the football has been in this world cup, emotion-wise it's hard to feel anything good about it (from an English perspective anyway): an embarrassing, pathetic showing from England (out with a game to spare?!), Brazil turning into Chelsea, Holland producing two of the worst games I've ever seen, and a final which will end with either Argentina or Germany as world champions. Hurry up Premier League!
Someone I do have sympathy for by the bucketload is Ron Vlaar. Speaking as a Villa fan, he's a massive reason we won't have the joy of trips to Reading and Millwall next season; he's just been the best defender at the world cup - The World Cup! - and has been let down by his teammates in a semi-final after two hours keeping Lionel Messi quiet.
After going through all that, you'd be feeling bad enough, right? Now think about what you've got ahead of you: Ten months playing next to a mixture of Nathan Baker (og), Ciaran Clark, and the mighty Philippe Senderos, as well has having to listen to Nicklas Bendtner every day (probably), and working under Roy Keane. I feel your pain Ron.
Messi No Leader
Does anyone know what Messi does as captain of his national team? Watching the semi-final game against the Netherlands, he just didn't try to lift his team in any way. Even during breaks, he was heads down and slouched like he didn't want to be there or just plain uninterested.
He might be the greatest player in the game at the moment (alongside Ronaldo) but he's a terrible leader.
Tayo (Reading about LVG's balls made me grow some and send a mail in) Nigeria
Why English Shouldn't Follow Dutch
Canny long, but bare with me...
I'm sure you'll get plenty of these, but in response to Dan Cunnington, Greenwich, but thought I'd throw in my two penneth. We've seen a lot of this type of argument in the red tops and in the mailbox recently; X country is doing better than England, so England should do the same. Except that's not how it works.
Bergkamp and Kluivert have completed coaching badges and did their time in the Dutch coaching apprenticeship system with Overmars and Frank De Boer doing stints in youth teams. De Boer was taken on as a caretaker manager of the first team (beating Milan in his first game and winning the title in his first season). I'll give you Danny Blind, who seems to be the exception, but how many of the English ex -pros you name have badges or have shown any want to get involved in the managerial, tactical or coaching set-up and have then been successful enough to go further?
Neville got his badges and looks extremely tactically astute, as well as seeming to have a hunger for the game that isn't really seen within the English game (shuttle runs on the flight home from a European game, practicing throw-ins when the rest of the team are having lunch etc.) which has helped him to learn more and quickly.
Lineker is a nice bloke, but that isn't enough to get him into any footballing set-up. He may be good at his job, but his job is saying half-baked puns and informing us the news will be on late due to extra time. Clearly, I'm downplaying his role, which he does seamlessly, but it doesn't qualify him for anything other than media work. Alan 'What was apartheid like?' Shearer was awful at Newcastle and has consistently looked out of his depth even talking about football. Waddle has shown some perceptive analysis, but this (coupled with avoiding relegation with Burnley 16 years ago being his own experience) does not a coach make. All of the Dutch ex-pros seem to have served their time somewhere along the line whether it be in youth teams or in terms of qualifications and then been promoted after some success. English pros tend to get the top jobs first and fail (Shearer, Ince, Barnes).
An outrageous thought, but maybe ex pros from other countries are there because they have some tactical/coaching ideas and not just because they once did a football at one of them international tournament things. maybe we should start addressing the fact that there's no money in grassroots football and we have 2,769 holders of EUFA B, A and Pro licenses and Spain has 23,995, Italy 29,420 and Germany 34,790. Just a thought.
Jonny (we're not getting very far because we don't have good enough players), Hartlepool
...I would just like to pose a response to the mail regarding the presence of ex pro's in the England set-up. You mention that having players like Shearer, Sheringham and Seaman around would be invaluable to England's players. I would just like to ask though, how many of those players won anything with England? Surely all they could teach is how to get to tbe knockout rounds and the bottle it on penalties?
Andrew (I dont even want to get started on Shearer's coaching abilities)
Why Does Anybody Need New Balls?
In tennis, as far as I know, the standard ball never changes. In all other ball games, the ball is the ball. Professional footballers, however, spend a whole season playing with one type of ball, and then go to the pinnacle tournament of football with a handicap - they have a new ball to cope with. So you get cross after cross sailing out of play, shot after shot hitting row Z. (How many memorable thunderb*st**ds have there been in this World Cup?)
I know it's all about money, but each new ball unveiled is to the detriment of the quality of the football.
Simon, LFC, Portugal
Shame On Chelsea
The general opinion seems to be that David Luiz is good on the ball, has a great shot and usually times a tackle well. He's just lacks the discipline to be a great defender. I can't help feeling that if Rafa had still been in charge of Chelsea, he would now be considered one of the finest defensive midfielders in world footballer and Brazil would have been spared the humiliation. Chelsea fans, you drove Rafa out and now you've made those pretty Brazilan girls cry. Shame on you.
Bring On The Play-Off
The third-place play-off game is another game of football. I don't understand what's not to like?
Two teams coming off of defeats will want to give their fans a win to remember the tournament by, and I for one am looking forward to the match greatly.
Wenger The Genius
Now, I'm not saying Wenger has got everything right in recent times, but I will say that there is the touch of a genius in his transfer dealings in the last two summer windows.
2013 - buy Ozil, allow Real Madrid to fund the purchase of Gareth Bale, Spurs' best player. Spurs fail to challenge Arsenal for the 4th place trophy.
2014 - buy Sanchez, allow Barcelona to fund the purchase of Suarez, Liverpool's best player. Liverpool fail to challenge Arsenal for the 4th place trophy?
And if he gets a decent defensive midfielder we may even win it this season. You never know....
Chris (I love Wenger again... sorry for ever doubting), AFC, Clapham