...what happened to the fourth Champions League place the last time an English team won the thing. Plus, who would want to pay £60 to watch the current England team?
A Sunderland fan in the mailbox is surprised by Jack Colback's call up to the England squad. Plus, thoughts on Welbeck and Liverpool's Champions League draw...
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Just A Thought
Just a brief thought on Manchester United's return game with Olympiakos:
There is talk of United "fighting back" but under David Moyes, United have only once achieved a result at Old Trafford that would win the tie outright: the four-nil defeat of Norwich in the League Cup Fourth Round.
Since Moyes started, United have won only four competitive games by a three goal margin or more - Norwich at home, plus away wins against Swansea and Villa in the Premier league, and Leverkusen in the group stage of the Champions League.
When you look at it like that, it's not really all that hopeful, is it?
When I was a teenager, my local team, Gillingham, had a rotten stadium. It was rickety, terraced, and had a particularly unwelcoming and entirely exposed stand for the visiting fans to mope around and get drenched in. They were managed by Tony Pulis for a few years who, in his own pragmatic way, got the Gills promoted from Division 3 with a very effective defence but an interminable run of 1-0 wins secured largely by lumping the ball at the head of 6'8" striker Leo Fortune-West. But then, for some reason, Pulis' team went goal-crazy, and Peter Taylor's revamped team (who seemed to enjoy passing the ball to each other, for a change) stepped it up a notch.
The 1998-2000 vintage was a hell of a team, though there are no real star names to mention, with lower league legends Paul Smith and Andy Hessenthaler being the mainstays. It was up front where the magic happened, though: the rodent-like goal-sniffer Andy Thomson, the rangy Carl Asaba and a Lee Trundle-lite wizard known as Big Fat Bob Taylor. BF Bob and co scored 154 league goals over those two seasons, lost one famous play-off final on penalties to Man City, won the following year's play-off final with a last-minute winner in extra-time against Wigan, got to the Quarter-Finals of the FA Cup losing to eventual winners Chelsea, and generally spent both seasons doing bad things to the blood pressure of their supporters.
Within 5 months of leaving, Taylor was managing England, and the Gills stayed in the Championship for 5 years. But, they still haven't come close to matching the Pulis/Taylor side, which inspired my mates and I to spend many vain hours in the park trying to emulate BF Bob's 30-yard curlers (and also led to one very long and emotional, and drunk and embarrassing, monologue to veteran striker Steve Butler in a pub in Maidstone, which he accepted with good grace, a signed beer mat, and a very swift exit).
More Great Starts
Here a few debutants I can think of that got off to a famously rip snorting start. A nice mixture of heroism and villainy here, suggesting that a fiery debut really doesn't suggest a lot for the future, but they are brilliant fun. There a lot of debut goal scorers (Ravenelli scored a hat trick), but some in particular really stand out when looking back. Feel like I'm missing some, but here goes.
Amr Zaki - Had an awesome first few months, then completely fell off the map. Was always a bit of a flash in the pan. Useful for fantasy football if you hopped on the bandwagon quick enough.
Robinho - the first off City's big signings, if I'm remembering correctly, and a famous debut goal against Chelsea. Overall had a somewhat mixed career at City, but was an important part of them becoming what they are now.
Paolo Wanchope - strolled from the halfway line, right through the United backline and casually stroked the ball past Schmeichel. Probably not too many more technically brilliant debut goals scored than that. Overall inconsistent but was never far away from a moment of genius. Made the game fun to watch.
Fernando Torres - everybody knows his story. Hit the heights at Liverpool, and hopefully that is what he's remembered for. He's not as bad now as some people would like you to believe. Fun to take the p*ss of though.
Neil Mellor - Not sure if this was his debut, but close enough. Did this (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NdgKLfAYrZI). Had a decent career in the Championship with Preston, but never hit these heights again. Actually is a fat Steven Gerrard (sorry Neil! The resemblance is uncanny.) For a similar story with an Italian flavour, please refer to Federico Macheda.
...Luc Nilis signed for Villa in 2000. We were delighted when he scored on debut in the Intertoto Cup, and then again in his league debut against Chelsea.
Two weeks later he broke his leg in a collision with Richard Wright and Luc never played football again.
This still makes me sad. He was so good (ask Ronaldo and Van Nistelrooy, who both rate him as amongst the best they ever played with) and we never got to see him play even a handful of games.
...Dan (PLEASE let there be no key injuries during internationals. Except for our rivals, of course.), regarding debut heroes and villains, surely nobody can match Jimmy Greaves in the 'hit-the-ground-running' stakes - debut goalscorer at every club side he played for, as well as on his first England appearance against Peru. And, of course with my Spurs hat firmly affixed to my head, a bona fide legend at the Lane (and Stamford Bridge by all accounts), as well as still being the third most prolific international scorer this country has produced.
Indeed quite a few Spurs luminaries immediately endeared themselves to the supporters with debut goals - Jurgen the German, Martin Peters, Terry Medwin, Ricky Villa, Clive Allen & Jermain Defoe to name but a few
On the other end of the hero-villain spectrum, you have a certain Sulzeer Campbell, who scored on his debut against Chelsea, and thereon did nothing of note ever again in his career if my memory serves...
As for debutant goalscorers cursed by (relative) ineptness, Tottenham can provide many, in particular Mido (cursed by a fondness for pies), Gilberto (cursed by a failure to match up to even the most moderate expectations allied to his Brazilian heritage), Mbulelo Mabizela (cursed by apparently not existing thereafter) and Danny Rose (cursed by being one of the worst full backs I have ever seen. Decent goal, mind..)
Alex, THFC (and a certain Mr Soldado, whose legendary status will invariably arrive in the coming years..)
Not Impressed With The Math
Has anybody composed a weaker argument than Guy Adam, American Chelsea supporter and supposed King of Math, in his half-arsed attempt to use statistical inevitability in determining who will win the league? Fair enough, if Manchester City and Chelsea both continue to score and concede at the same rate throughout the remainder of the season, Manchester City will finish with a superior goal difference. However, surely such logic would also suggest that neither Manchester City or Chelsea will pick up maximum points for the remainder of the season, thereby rendering goal difference irrelevant. By my English maths (I'm a maths snob), Chelsea would finish on 85ish points whilst Manchester City would finish on 83ish points.
Obviously, this method is also flawed since it would be erroneous to assume that the quality of opposition that both sides will face for the remainder of the season will afford equal opportunity to score, concede and pick up points. It also ignores form, injuries to players, blind luck and Lawro's predictions.
For my money, Chelsea will win the league because I don't want them to and they have a great manager who I happen to hate.
Dan Whittle, Liverpool supporter, Leamington Spa.
Not Rude, Just Common Sense
There are 165 better perfoming players than Tom Cleverley in the Premier League (according to WhoScored).
There are 58 better performing English players than Tom Cleverley in the Premier League.
Tom Cleverley is the 17th best performing Manchester United player in a squad of 26.
Of the eight English players in the Manchester United squad, the only English player performing worse than Tom Cleverley is Ashley Young.
It's not bullying, Roy. It's judgment.
Tim Sutton (he's just a blunt Micheal Carrick)
By No Means A Legend
I surely cannot be the only one left with a bitter taste in my mouth. I think we have let Nemanja off too lightly with his decision to leave. Other than 'it is the right time to leave' etc., have we really been given an explanation? We made him into the player he is - surely we deserve a little more respect than that. Vidic will be remembered as a smashing defender no doubt, and a decent club captain, but will we be singing his name in 5 years' time? He is by no means a legend at our club. He'll be hard to replace though that's for sure...step right up Phil Jones.
RedArmy (Gary Pallister - 'brilliant'), Belfast
On Fouly Stoke
Could I just quickly point out that Nzonzi's comments seem to have been about Stoke's tactic of making robust tackles and not being afraid to niggle fouls - the Charlie Adam stamping incident is quite separate and obviously quite violent, and we've all noticed that he seems to keep doing it.
Taking a risk on a tackle where you might kick the player instead of the ball, or at least make the player fear being kicked, is not cheating. It might not be the way you think football should be played (I personally don't do it, and get annoyed when other amateur players play that way) but its not cheating. Its just a foul.
Adonis Stevenson and other Arsenal fans are right to ask why the difference in perception between violent tackles vs diving. But the truth probably isn't what they want to hear - the hypocrisy arises because people take too much offense to diving in England, not because people take too little offense to violent tackles. (Not saying diving is OK, but the furor is excessive.)
Oliver Dziggel, Geneva Switzerland
The MC Agrees
Can we ban "For me" as a prefix to everything f*****g opinion given these days? It started with that Irish bloke who comments on Spanish football and now it's become an epidemic with commentators, pundits and even mailboxers. It's like the way Americans say "right?" after everything. For me, it's annoying, right? ARGH!
Silvio (Watched a 2005 Messi video on youtube, he's more complete now but christ he was much more exciting back then) Dante