Tag Archives: champions league

Mad times in Manchester

Sure, Barca are the best is the business. But the way I see it, Manchester is the first city of European football.

Of course, that doesn’t mean both United and City aren’t in danger of dropping out of the Champions League once the group stages conclude next month.

In this week’s Toro Magazine column, I explain why the Citizens are surely Europa League-bound, while Fergie’s lot will likely find a way through…again.

Ian Harrison

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Filed under Champions League, English Football, Premier League

World’s finest come from too few teams

First of all, congratulations to Lionel Messi for capturing his second consecutive World Player of the Year award. Though Xavi and Andres Iniesta were also worthy finalists, little Leo’s tally of 58 goals in 54 games for Barca last year was simply too outstanding for voters to ignore. Congratulations also must go out to every player named to FIFA’s world XI, all of whom were outstanding at their respective positions last year:

GK: Iker Casillas (Real Madrid)

RB: Maicon (Inter)

CB: Lucio (Inter)

CB: Gerard Pique (Barcelona)

LB: Carles Puyol (Barcelona)

MF: Xavi (Barcelona)

MF: Andres Iniesta (Barcelona)

MF: Wesley Sneijder (Inter)

FWD: Lionel Messi (Barcelona)

FWD:  David Villa (Barcelona)

FWD: Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid)

A look at the players, however, shows a disturbing pattern. All of the XI belong to just three clubs! And the way Real Madrid and Barcelona are tearing up La Liga this season, it isn’t beyond the realm of possibility that next season’s World XI will be comprised entirely of players from just those two Spanish squads.

We all love to watch soccer for various reasons, but I think everyone can agree that one of the most compelling reasons is the game’s unpredictability. If European soccer continues to be dominated by so few teams, then the game will begin to bore us all. Yawn. Wake me when Real and Barca make the Champions League final, will ya???

Hadi Zogheib

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Filed under Champions League, La Liga, Serie A

CL draw: Spurs get San Siro return

When Tottenham was drawn against Young Boys of Bern in Champions League qualifying back in August, it was a dream draw for the North London’s debutantes, the easiest opponent Spurs could have faced at the final hurdle before the group stages of the competition.

And although they nearly bolloxed things up by falling behind 3-0 in the opening 30 minutes of the first leg, Spurs recovered to sweep past the Swiss side and move on to the tournament proper, where their only slip-up in six matches was a 4-3 defeat to Inter at Milan’s San Siro. A 3-1 triumph in the return leg at White Hart Lane put Tottenham on top of Group A to stay, meaning they’d avoid some of Europe’s heaviest hitters in this morning’s draw for the Round of 16.

This time, there was no dream draw, and Tottenham must go back to their house of first-half horrors to face Inter’s crosstown rivals AC Milan in February. The best scenario this time, if it could be considered as such, was probably FC Copenhagen, the first Danish side to reach the last 16. But even as a group winner, Tottenham still faced the prospect of many problematic opponents. And in the Rossoneri, current Serie A leaders, Tottenham have drawn one of the toughest. Sure, Marseille, Lyon and Valencia wouldn’t have been cakewalks, either, but this promises to be a stern, serious test.

Spurs, who will hope to be healthier in 10 weeks time, will be coming home for the second leg, of course. And our man ’Arry isn’t afraid of the big, bad boys from Northern Italy, saying he’s happy to keep measuring his squad against the best.

Of course, as North London squads go, Tottenham’s draw looks far better than neighbourhood rivals Arsenal, who face the daunting task of a battle with Barcelona, the same team that knocked them out of the tournament last year, and beat the Gooners in the 2006 final. Good luck with that one, lads.

Rather than Spurs, it was West London’s Chelsea who got the great Dane draw against Copenhagen, while Manchester United will meet Marseille. Inter got Bayern Munich in a rematch of last year’s final. Will the embattled Rafa Benitez still be in charge by then?

Meanwhile, the scabby Europa League teams also learned their fate today, with Man. Citeh drawn against Greece’s Aris Salonika, the team that knocked title holders Atletico Madrid out of the tournament. Obi Woy’s Liverpool get Sparta Prague, and Tottenham’s old adversary Young Boys, still alive in this competition, get Zenit St. Petersburg, who were UEFA Cup winners in 2008.

Finally, speaking of Swiss men and young boys, FIFA head of corruption president Sepp Blattter has apologized for his recent remarks urging homosexual fans to refrain from gay sex in Qatar. I give old Joseph a piece of my mind in my weekly Toro Magazine column today.

Ian Harrison

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Gaffer Grant-ed Reprieve After Win

"But I am smiling..."

West Ham’s 4-0 demolition of Manchester United in the Carling Cup has bought Avram Grant a little time… but not much.

The win is a nice result that brings the East Enders closer to some long-absent silverware. West Ham haven’t won a trophy since they beat Arsenal 1-0 in the FA Cup final thirty years ago (the last non-top flight team to do so), and they haven’t been this far since their FA Cup final loss to Liverpool in 2006. The Hammers have also ended the Red Devils’ 29-game unbeaten streak… and they did it by shutting them out, while putting four past the hapless Kuszczak.

But it was a fluke, a night where a rare blizzard blanketed London. Anyone who watches the NFL will know that snow and wind are great equalizers that can turn any superstar into a penguin.

Since their takeover, WHU owners Gold and Sullivan (Gullivan?) have talked about a new era at Upton Park. But Grant is not the man to do it. After being plucked from the obscurity of the Israeli leagues and national team by Roman Abramovich, Grant has failed to impress. Supporters say he is Moses when it comes to guiding his sides to cup finals… but like Moses, he isn’t the actual man to lead them out of the desert.

Grant did take Chelsea to a Champions League final (which they lost to Man U), two points away from a Premier League title (which they also lost Man U), and a League Cup final (loo-hoo-ser). But that squad could have coached themselves… and from all accounts, it did.  Last season, Portsmouth fans cheered as Grant steered their destitute club to the FA Cup final (again, a loss) but then had to watch as Pompey dropped back down to the Championship.

In fact, since he was shuffled out of Stamford Bridge, his teams have only won 16 games: about 30%.  It’s simply not good enough. Hammer fans are unforgiving, even if they are a bit forgetful. Tonight they were singing “on the march with Avram’s Army” after Victor Obinna’s three-assist performance. Yet two weeks ago, an incredibly errant kick from the Nigerian left the fans chanting, “That’s why we’re going down”.  And let’s face it: last weekend’s 3-1 win over Wigan wasn’t really the match that will  “save” West Ham’s season.

Despite the lopsided victory over Man U, I doubt that Grant will be around to see The Irons play their Carling semi-final in January.  They are at bottom of the table and now have to travel to Sunderland — who have yet to lose at the Stadium of Light this season — and then face superstar Man City at home, before heading all the way back to Blackburn… and then the holiday run of games begin.  That means West Ham could still be on the bottom by Christmas… a bad portent in the Prem.  Grant can’t hack it in the big league… and the owners know it. 

The bookies list Grant as having the best odds of all Premier League managers to get the sack.  The team is in London for over a week during the Christmas break.  Look for the owners to pull the plug then.

Brent Lanthier

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Touching down in Toronto?

The Vancouver Whitecaps have former Tottenham exec Paul Barber leading them into MLS. Now Toronto FC is looking to a Yid legend, tabbing former Spurs hero Juergen Klinsmann to try and right it’s ship. So says Stephen Brunt in The Globe & Mail. Not as coach or GM but as a consultant/technical adviser, something he did for the LA Galaxy in 2004. A nice bit of news on a Friday afternoon for the local lads whose just-concluded season, as Len outlined earlier, was pretty dismal.

Speaking of Spurs, I’m jetting off to Europe tonight, rather looking forward to attending the epic THFC-Inter tilt at White Hart Lane next Tuesday night. To say stoked would be something of an understatement. Will post some thoughts late next week. You’re in Brent’s hands until then.

Ian Harrison

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Filed under Bundesliga, Champions League, MLS, Premier League, Serie A, World Cup

Oh, give me a home!

For a club that dreams as big as Tottenham Hotspur, whose long-lived fantasy of Champions League football has finally become a reality, there’s no doubt a new stadium is required to remain competitive with the Premier League’s highest rollers. Tottenham has long exhibited fiscal prudence with its wage bill – no Manchester City-style spending sprees leaving mega-millions in debt at Spurs, thank you very much.

Tottenham’s annual outlay on salary is said to be some 50 million pounds, about half that of local rivals Arsenal and less than a third of Chelsea’s. That’s thanks in large part to the limitations of a home ground where capacity is just over 36,000, far below the likes of Manchester United and Arsenal. Almost as many supporters, 32,000 by one count, are on a waiting list for season tickets.

That’s why I didn’t consider Tottenham’s biggest victory last week to be their Champions League home debut, an entertaining, penalty-strewn 4-1 victory over Steve McClaren’s old outfit, reigning Dutch champions FC Twente (a mosht shatishfying night for Shpursh, the former gaffer might have said, was the sly joke in The Telegraph). It wasn’t even the brilliant display that night (red card notwithstanding) of deadline day signing Rafael Van Der Vaart, surely the steal of the transfer window, or his equally efficient display in Saturday’s 2-1 defeat of Aston Villa.

For me, the biggest decision of the week for Spurs was Haringey Council’s approval of a 56,000-seat  stadium redevelopment plan, complete with new homes, hotel and supermarket, just north of White Hart Lane, the team’s home since 1899. Say what you will about its similarity to Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium, just down the road. That home, still in the same borough as Highbury and little more than a stone’s throw from the old site, seems to be working out just fine.

London Mayor Boris Johnson still needs to sign off on the new venue, to be built on a four-phase plan that would require no ground-share during construction and give Spurs fans a home where they are closer to the pitch than any other new venue in the country.

But even before Boris had a chance to pour a cup of tea and begin poring over Tottenham’s proposal, Spurs chairman Daniel Levy was muddying the waters, making a joint bid with sports & venue giant AEG to move out of the borough and down the road to Stratford, into the Olympic Stadium that will be left vacant after the 2012 Summer Games.

It might be financially prudent, saving Spurs the hefty cost of putting up an entirely new home in a time of financial insecurity that has made debt more of a dirty word than ever (Hello, Messrs. Hicks and Gillet in Liverpool! Hiya, Glazer guys of Manchster!) But the timing could hardly be worse, could it? Haringey now feels hoodwinked, as do West Ham, who had made their bid to move into the Olympic venue just one day previously. Is a ground share with the Hammers an option? No one knows for sure.

And who really wants to watch football at a converted, downsized stadium that will have a running track separating the pitch from the stands? Community use, concerts and other events (rugby and Twenty20 cricket, for example) would make keeping the pitch in pristine shape a major headache. No one wants to end up drowning in debt, and it may be prudent to keep one’s options open, not knowing how the mayor’s office will rule. But I have a feeling this will all end badly, putting  Tottenham’s much-needed move into a new home that could raise the cash for continued Champions League appearances under serious threat.

Ian Harrison

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Growing middle class on deadline day

Let’s be honest. Who really thought Sunderland, Stoke and Birmingham would be the clubs making the biggest splashes on the final day of the summer transfer window? Sure, England’s biggest teams had taken care of most of their business already. But it was still a surprise, as the final hours ticked away, to see a club-record 13 million pounds splashed out to bring Ghanian World Cup star Asamoah Gyan to Wearside from French club Rennes. Who knew the Black Cats even had that kind of cash? You’ve sure got to turn over a lot of couch cushions to come up with that kind of loose change.

Only slightly less surprising was the triple swoop made by Birmingham, who landed former Arsenal midfielder Alexander Hleb on a season-long loan from Barcelona, defender Martin Jiranek on a one-year deal from Spartak Moscow and Chilean winger Jean Beausejour from Club America in the Mexican League.

The Potters, meanwhile, added four players to a team yet to record its first league points of the season, with Icelandic striker Eidur Gudjohnsen joining on a season-long loan from Monaco and former Arsenal, Birmingham and Liverpool man Jermaine Pennant coming over on loan from Spain’s Real Zaragoza until January.

The combined effect is a serious thickening of quality for some of the Prem’s mid-table teams. There aren’t many easy weeks in the EPL, even for those at the top, and those teams should all be strengthened by their deadline day dealings. The moves also make life harder for the unlucky few clubs left scraping to stay in the top flight.

Tottenham, as usual, left it late, leaving fans to play the ‘vaiting game’ over the status of Dutch midfielder Rafael van der Vaart, whose cut-price, 8-million pound move from Real Madrid reportedly requires Premier League approval, given that Arry and co. didn’t even start  on things until two hours remained in the transfer window. Yids will be hoping the deal gets done, if only so that Sylvie van der Vaart, his lovely missus, can brighten up the scene down the Lane.

As they prepare for a debut season of Champions League football, with Inter Milan looming large in Group A, Spurs decided not to parcel anyone out of North London, holding on to Robbie Keane and Jermaine Jenas, and bolstered their goalkeeping corps by finalizing the long-awaited arrival of Croatian Stipe Pletikosa on a season-long loan from Spartak Moscow. Things didn’t pan out yet for Tottenham’s other trialist, South African defender Bongani Khumalo, but he may still join in January.

Elsewhere, Man. City said so long to Brazilian bust Robinho, who set sail for AC Milan, Everton’s Joseph Yobo was loaned out to Turkey’s Fenerbahce, Liverpool finalized the signing of Paul Konchesky from Fulham (so much for Uncle Woy’s pledge not to plunder the Londoners) while letting Emiliano Insua leave for Galatasaray.

So, no more moves until the New Year, and we now await the naming of 25-man rosters for the next four months on Wednesday. Could be some difficult decisions to make at some clubs. Stay tuned.

Ian Harrison

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