Some supporters sound oh so confident on Louis Van Gaal's excellence. Plus thoughts on shirt sales, best signings, football sevens and a good deal more besides...
Are pre-season tours really a problem? Liverpool went to Australia last summer and it didn't prevent them from having a good season. Plus, thoughts on LvG and keepers...
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Can I be one of many to just say: IT'S THE WORLD CUP! IT STARTS TODAY - REJOICE, PEOPLE!.
Thank you, got that off my chest.
Paul Murphy (agreeing with Conor) Manchester
Is It Just Us?
I've been in Spain the last week and was surprised to see that not one of the papers I looked at even mentioned the potential Qatar World Cup corruption. In fact, when I mentioned it to a couple of Spanish mates, they shrugged and pointed out that is always the British who propose these problems, and that "we should just let things be".
My questions are very simple - is it, as they insinuated, only here that these things are seen as a problem? Why is it always a British newspaper doing the undercover reporting? Why is it always an ex-FA employee who calls for a recount? Are we the only country who talk about Qatar's human rights records? Is it only us who think Sepp Blatter is a right twunt?
I would be very interested to hear what your overseas readers think about all these issues, and whether they are actually even reported in other countries.
Reading the e-mail from Jon, Southampton I find myself nodding in agreement. Most people it seems have almost surrendered to the fact that Sterling is going to start as no.10 with Rooney out wide on the left. But I find myself asking why?
To me it makes more sense to have Rooney as a centre-forward with (right to left) Milner, Lallana and Sterling behind him. Barkley and Lambert can come off the bench late on in the game if we need a goal.
Of course this would mean dropping Sturridge who has had a fantastic season (just as I knew he would) but when he puts on an England shirt he almost becomes a different player, starts snatches at chances, gets his timing wrong or he over-complicates moves with too many feints and turns.
Ibrahim (Sturridge is the Andy Cole of this era) Ali Khalid
England: The Hipster's Choice
I've been seeing all this talk about the "hipster's" choice - Belgium, Chile, Bosnia, Colombia, Switzerland. But the real hipster's choice is the one on the doorstep: England!
Most of the reasons being given are that they have decent players that slip under the radar of the casual fan or teams who seem cool beyond the extreme.
If you look at the squad we have and take away the stuff the media force feed us on a minute-by-minute basis, we've got all the ingredients for the ultimate hipster choice team.
Players who will produce moments of brilliance - check. Busker-looking type player who's cool without even knowing it - check. Not really given a hope, but could actually do quite well - check. No superstars - check. Most of the squad not really well known in the outside world unless you're a footballing aficionado - check.
I know most folk in this country have gotten sick of the bulldog, blood & thunder, "Cry God for Harry, England, and St .George" persona we put upon the team. But those days are long gone, there's no hoolie element and no more "two World Wars" jingoistic chanting. No longer do we portray ourselves as plucky England...we're just England and that's what makes us cool. Heck, even the Wonderful Woy, with his dad abroad impression is cool. We are what we are!
Martyn (time to blow our own vuvuzela), England!
A World Cup Plea
As much as anything, I simply want to see a World Cup that we can look back upon & say, well that was a pretty damn good watch.
Not since Mexico 86 has there been what I'd call a great World Cup. Italia 90 was drab & very cynical. Baggio was immense in 94 & Bulgaria shone but it wasn't that memorable. Same with 98, it had its moments, Zidane had a rather good final but on the whole nothing special.
Since then, the football at the more recent World Cups has been pretty average. Obviously Spain's recent success & style might've blurred the lines somewhat but they haven't been great spectacles overall. We won't recall the last few World Cups with great fondness will we?
Some will perhaps say I'm being overly critical and looking for something that simply won't always happen but the great showpiece hasn't lived up to it's billing for a while.
Hopefully being back in Brazil after so long this will be one to remember. With everything that's going on around it, it will be in someway but please, deliver on the pitch!
Ray On A Roll
Dave, Dublin brought a tear to my eye as he took us all on a stroll down green glory lane with his memories of Ireland in the World Cup.
However, how did he manage to miss out the gambol by Ray Houghton? This was the period of razamatazz, backflips going on for 30 seconds, loud goalkeeper shirts, big hair etc and Houghton stuck it to them all with a perfect forward roll.
What a sight!
Sean, Cov (SISU Out)
Those Were The Days
As I watch the sunrise over Cape Town stadium from my office and Shakira's Waka Waka playing on the radio, it makes me realise how special a World Cup is and how lucky Brazil are at this moment. All the political, economic and FIFA crap aside, the World Cup is the greatest event on earth.
I moved to CapeTown in 2003 and since the day it was announced that the tournament was coming here in 2010, I was literally counting down the days. You know how when you build something up for so long, it inevitably is a disappointment, World Cup 2010 was the opposite. It was the best month of my life. There is nothing like living in a host country, living within walking distance of the city stadium and experiencing this unique event as "a local". The colour, the fans, the atmosphere, it was something special and unique.
I loved every moment of it. Bafana's 2-2 draw against Mexico in the opening game; getting a last-minute ticket to England vs Algeria (and falling asleep at half-time....although that was as much to do with the beer consumption as the terrible football), the epic fan walk in Cape Town; meeting Bill Clinton; and my highlight of attending Germany (the nation of my parents birth) v Argentina in the quarter-finals. I was lucky enough to sit right across from the Argentinian dugout and watching Maradona jump around in his over-sized suit like a hobbit on speed was classic.
Most of all however was the atmosphere in the country as whole. There were so many concerns in the build up (much like Brazil) around stadia, crime, funding etc. South Africa didn't just pull it off, they nailed it! The country came together as one and made this global show piece amazing. Political and socio-economic issues where forgotten for that month and it truly felt like Mandela's dream of a rainbow nation. Rich and poor, black and white, we all where together as one to enjoy this spectacle which is the biggest and greatest event in the world.
Thank you South Africa and thank you World Cup for giving me the best month of my life, it will never be forgotten and it was a privilege to be a part of it. I wish Brazil all the best in hosting this event and I hope you enjoy it and cherish it as much over the next month as I did in 2010.
Hans (Irish Gooner in Cape Town)
You Gotta Have Faith
As Andy Dufresne once said so memorably: "Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies."
And as the World Cup kicks off today, I hope all England fans and media get behind their team. No back biting, singling out players, looking for scapegoats, turning the manager into a vegetable, hanging effigies from lampposts etc. Just get behind them.
Managable group, exciting players, sensible manager, some depth in the squad - you never know.
Hope. It never dies,
Reasons For Optimism. And Pessimism.
I've had some time to dwell on the England team and we have had a sneak peak of what we can expect, based on the three friendlies prior to England's opening World Cup fixture on Saturday, and I've drawn up a list of five talking points (because in the rules of journalism and indeed Mailbox-ism, all lists must come in groups of five). These have had limited exposure, perhaps some more than others, so far in the media and Mailbox:
- What left-sided problem? It seems like a distant memory when the English game was crying out for left-sided and/or footed players capable of playing at an International level. We have seen a wealth of talent come through on the left side of the pitch, and an increased number of players able to fulfill the role of a left-sided attacker. Currently in the team, we have Welbeck, Sterling, Lallana, Sturridge, Barkley, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Rooney who have proven adept at being deployed on the left over the course of this season, and indeed, Wilshere is a left footer, although more effective in a central role. If only all areas of the squad were as strong..
- The defence: We just didn't appreciate what we had until we didn't have it any more. In recent seasons, we have seen the declines of John Terry, Joleon Lescott & Rio Ferdinand and the retirements of Ledley King and Jamie Carragher, and it seems we haven't really been able to replace them. Gary Cahill and Phil Jagielka are head and shoulders the best central defenders and defensive partnership available to us, and that is fine, based on encouraging performances over the last two years for England. It's just a shame we don't seem to have any adequate cover. England were once synonymous with accomplished centre-backs. Now we are left with the worryingly regressing Phil Jones and *shudder* Chris Smalling, who I hope and pray is never called upon. Looking at the Premier League, Steven Caulker has shown enough improvement over the last season to be a potential candidate and John Stones has looked impressive so far, but only time will tell if his class is permanent. Though perhaps the World Cup has come a season too soon for them. But yet, three of our five guaranteed starters reside in the back four, despite it being arguably our weakest link.
- Tactical flexibility: Interestingly, a point's been made that if you were to look at the current England squad, only five players are guaranteed without doubt to be starting all the games, barring any injuries or suspensions. Hart, Johnson, Cahill, Jagielka and Gerrard. Across the field we have the options and ability to change formations, line-ups and approach. I've lost count of the number of tournaments that we have seen England deploy a depressingly turgid 4-4-2, although not a criticism of the tactic, it just appears that we are unable to grasp the concept at International level of using it as a high-pressing, fast-moving, fluid and attacking structure and we are end up resigned to watching two static banks of four torn apart with simple movement. Now, however, we face an intriguing situation of approaching a tournament with a choice of two shiny new formations up for use: the recently favoured 4-2-3-1 or the sexy and attacking 4-3-3. We only need to look at the effectiveness of the Liverpool set up using 4-3-3 to see how beneficial it could be.
- Dr. Steve Peters: England have shown mental fragility on an alarming number of occasions; the way we are almost surprised to score goals against the better oppposition and desperately try to cling on to them with stout defending and ugly football. The meltdowns witnessed at several penalty shoot-out exits. The consternation of disallowed goals and the feel of being victimised. Dr Peters has quite the job on his hands to steady this ship, but nonetheless, it's a sage move from Hodgson to recognise the benefit from this area of expertise. Although he has had a limited amount of time to work with the majority of the team, players can take confidence from the obvious positive affect Gerrard has gained from his mentoring. As the saying goes, failing to prepare is preparing to fail, and I can only doff my cap to Roy, as the pragmatism shown in all aspects of his preparation for these finals certainly gives the team a better chance to give it some gusto. If only Dr Peters could work his magic on.
- Injuries: Oxlade-Chamblerlain? The end product of Ecudorian clumsiness and a reckless scythe. Welbeck? Unfortunate training injury, however, entirely within the realms of possibility to occur. Wilshere? Inexplicably made of glass. Perhaps I have a short memory, but I certainly cannot recall an occasion in the past where I have been so concerned about England's capacity to obtain niggles and tweaks so close to a tournament. Are our players made of glass? Overtraining? Unfit? Exhausted from long domestic seasons? Who knows, but I wish we could go a day without hearing about someone new and their injury problems/concerns.
What I do struggle to fathom is Wayne Rooney's excuse. Granted, he has had a bad run of luck with regard to injuries before tournaments, but why on Earth are we having to worry about the fitness of our Number 10? There is always talk about 'Rooney not being quite up to match fitness'. Why?! Putting aside the exorbitant amount he earns, as a professional footballer, at his peak we are told, he is surely obligated to keep himself in the best possible shape throughout the course of a season. It's, at the most basic level, the first act of professionalism within the game. At one of the biggest teams in the country, with a wealth of support, knowledge, technology, dietary and planning readily available, it is beggar's belief he just cannot keep himself in prime condition for long enough during the course of a season, to complete a match without feeling the desire to collapse in a sweaty, disheveled heap? It's not as if World Cup 2014 was kept as a surprise. Sigh.
Adam, Reading (Japan are the real hipster team this year!)
The Last Word(s) On Suarez. Please.Thanks for publishing Conor's reply. I could argue that I said 'a' standout performer not 'the'. Or that he failed to see the humour behind my 'literally single handedly' got them to the semi-final. Or just repeat that Suarez was the key to Uruguay getting to the World Cup just as Ronaldo was for Portugal and that it was his comparison to Benzema, Lewandowski and Ibrahimovic that was nonsense. But instead it has helped me conclude once and for all that the guy is indeed a troll who just enjoys expressing 'interesting' opinions in other to gain a reaction to them so he can then point and laugh at that reaction. Rather pathetic.
I'll just add it to his previously amusing emails that Coutinho was simply this year's Stewart Downing, that Jordan Henderson was another average player in an average team and my personal favourite that Liverpool fans would be casting envious glances across Stanley Park at Everton and that he wouldn't be surprised if Liverpool looked for another manager if they failed to get European football following Brendan's waffling about titles that appeared in the mailbox the very day that Liverpool battered Everton 4-0.
Maybe stick to your love of Cesc, Conor as your form on commenting about Liverpool just isn't very good.
...Conor's point that Liverpool fans will reject any criticism is just plain wrong. Criticise Johnson all you want, you won't hear a peep out of many of us.
On Suarez, his stats go both ways. You can use them to show he's absolutely world class, or you can use them to suggest most of his goals etc are against poor teams and that he hasn't had as much CL/title winning experience in big leagues as Messi, Ronaldo etc.
But either way, I think most Liverpool fans know just by watching him each week, we haven't seen a player like him for a very, very long time. And we've seen a few world class players in red shirts.
Michael D'Arcy LFC
...Hopefully this will be the last point on Conor's one man crusade/fool's errand (*delete as applicable) to denigrate Suarez so he does not embarrass himself any further
Whilst I agree stats don't tell the full story he threw out the following one presumably as an insult: "He scored 31 goals this season - a grand total of nine of them came against teams above 11th the league" which actually equates to nine goals in 15 games (banned against Man Utd, Southampton and Stoke) against the top nine teams in the division!
I would say in the stat game that this rather negates his one and only argument that Suarez does not perform against the better sides somewhat?
Andrew (use your eyes to actually watch a match, rather than throwing out stupid stats people!) S
It's A Walk-Off!
Totally agree with the comment in the Gossip that Mory Toure is now your favourite new name but did anyone else think of Maury Ballstein from Zoolander? No, just me then. Okay.
Tom S (we already know Kolo does a cracking Blue Steel from behind the shower curtain)
World Cup - F*** Yeah!!