Tag Archives: gerrard

Whither withering Albion…

As if on cue, the English handwringing has begun. Once more, The Three Lions have failed to reach the final of a major tournament… and once more, the finger-pointing and navel-gazing has started in earnest.  Football analysts will speculate for the rest of the summer on why this “golden generation” failed to make it past the second round, after failing to qualify for Euro 2008 altogether.

Was it fatigue? Don Fabio claims his players were tired from an overlong Premier League season.  Most of his players were selected from teams playing in cup runs or in European leagues.  Some pundits argue the team which qualified so easily by the autumn of 2009 was a shadow of itself, come summer of 2010.

Was it the ball? John Terry was caught out on the first goal yesterday when the ball sailed over his head, allowing Miroslav Klose to score the first tally.  Terry may have been out of position, but the Jabulani seems to have taken some players by surprise. Some observers say it is more favourable for the quick short-pass game of the South Americans… who have seen great success in this tournament so far.

Was it the manager?  Little Englanders say an Italian manager can never understand an English player. Of course, Schteve McClaren was English… and he was pants. Also it’s a little suspect that some of those calling for an English manager are looking for the job themselves.

Was it the selection? When Capello was hired, he said he would pick players based on form. But it soon became clear that the usual cast of characters would be appearing. A brittle Ferdinand was selected, along with players like Carrick, Upson, Heskey, James, Green, Walcott, SWP and Joe Cole… players who didn’t have the best seasons but seemed to have been chosen simply because they had all been capped before.  In-form players like Birmingham’s Roger Johnson, Stoke City’s Etherington and even Wolves’ Jody Craddock weren’t even given a glance.  They may not have international experience… but after this dismal World Cup, would it have mattered?

Was it age? England’s oldest-ever World Cup squad looked slow and random against a positively juvenile German team who looked more organized and experienced yesterday.  Was too much faith put into a group of players who — despite all their club success — have never achieved at the international level?

Is it English football itself? The Premier League has become a sporting Tower of Babel, a marketplace for the world’s players to make their fortunes on the global stage. But with big clubs buying — rather than developing — their players, England’s national team seems to have suffered. Witness the thin pool of talent available to Capello in goal and across the back four.

Many of the current players will likely call time on their international career, come Brazil in 2014.  Gerrard, Lampard, Terry, Ferdinand; they will join the ranks of Lineker, Gascoigne, Shearer, Owen and Beckham before them.  All of them were great players who will never know what it feels like to win the greatest tournament on the planet.

For England fans, there is still 2012… and 2014… and so on. The faithful will wring their hands, hold their breath, and whisper, “Please don’t let us down again.”

Brent Lanthier

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Best of the Prem: Starting XI

Brent Lanthier

After one of the closest seasons in years, the EPL produced some breakout superstars, as well as some familiar faces who are almost guaranteed to perform.  Here is my dream team for 2009-10.


Brent’s choice for Player of the Year. Sorry, Wayne…

GK: Joe Hart (Birmingham City)
Despite facing the third most shots in the League, Hart still had the second best save percentage, and starting every game in his loan to Birmingham. At 23, he is simply a better keeper than Shay Given, which says a lot. Look for Man City to tighten up at the back as Hart returns to Lancashire.

On the bench: Brad Friedel (Aston Villa), Petr Cech (Chelsea)

LB: Patrice Evra (Manchester United)
France’s newly crowned capitaine, Evra is a left-back who is a pure defender. Fierce and fiery, the Senegalese-born defender has disrupted the attack of many a right winger this season, and turned play around quickly on the counter-attack.

On the bench: Leighton Baines (Everton)

CB: Richard Dunne (Aston Villa)
One of Martin O’Neill’s most important pieces of business last year was the purchase of Manchester City’s former captain, Richard Dunne. The mighty Irishman is simply scary, but he’s also a leader on the pitch and proved invaluable in Villa’s drive for European football.

CB: John Terry (Chelsea)
Despite all of Captain Schtupping’s off-field problems, Terry eventually regained his composure to captain Chelsea to the rare double. Despite the unfortunate game against Everton, despite the sending off against Tottenham, and despite the poor showing against Inter Milan, Terry is still the bedrock of one of the best defences in the Premier League.

On the bench: Thomas Vermaelen (Arsenal), Jody Craddock (Wolverhampton)

RB: Carlos Cuellar (Aston Villa)
The Spanish defender is a centre-half-cum-right-back, a common occurance in a league that seems to have little regard for the position. Picked up by Villa from Glasgow Rangers, Cuellar is the only member of Martin O’Neill’s preferred starting XI to not have been capped by his country. Villa will likely buy a natural RB after South Africa, but Cuellar has done an admirable job out of position.

On the bench: Bacary Sagna (Arsenal)

LW: Florent Malouda (Chelsea)
This Frenchman experienced a rebirth under Carlo Ancelotti. He was utilized as defensive midfielder — and even a left back — under Avram Grant and Big Phil Scolari. But this season, he had 14 goals and 10 assists, and was an important part of Chelsea’s double-winning season.

On the bench: Ashley Young (Aston Villa)

CM: Frank Lampard (Chelsea)
Twenty-two goals and 14 assists, Lampard is the complete player, year in and year out. He’s the engine of HMS Chelsea.

CM: Cesc Fabregas (Arsenal)
Arsenal’s captain and best player at only 23 years old, the Gunners suffered when he got injured. Arsene Wenger needs to hang on to the Catalan in order to maintain his club’s Champions League spot.

On the bench: James Milner (Aston Villa), Steven Gerrard (Liverpool)

RW: Antonio Valencia (Manchester United)
This Ecuadorian had a bit of a slow start, but he came round once the season began to pick up.  The mirror image of Ryan Giggs on the right side, Valencia is a playmaker, spraying the ball with lethal accuracy, while picking up a smattering of goals along the way.  Wayne Rooney has said that Valencia is the reason why he scored so many goals this year. Shades of a posh former United player….

On the bench: Dirk Kuyt (Liverpool)

F: Wayne Rooney (Manchester United)
What else can be said about the Scouser in Manc clothing? He runs at defenders, he never gives up, he finds ways to score. One of the best players in the world.

F: Didier Drogba (Chelsea)
His World Cup-ending injury is a loss to football fans everywhere. This year’s Golden Boot winner simply wills his way into the box. His humanitarian efforts alone would make him easy to cheer for, if he didn’t pout so much, or engage in so many false theatrics.

On the bench: Darren Bent (Sunderland), Carlos Tevez (Manchester City)

That’s it for the Prem until next month. We’ll see how the trades play out over the summer. Enjoy the World Cup!

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Liverpool FC Walk Through The Storm

“Once decline becomes precipitous, even money may not prevent the decline spiralling into permanency.”
 – David Bick, Square 1 Consulting
The consultant-speak belies how bad the situation is for Liverpool. The season has been nothing short of disasterous. In a campaign that started with a loss to Spurs — and basically ended with a dreadful performance at home against Chelsea — last year’s would-be champions fell from grace with alacrity.
The players simply weren’t good enough. With the exception of workhorse Dirk Kuyt, every squad member can shoulder part of the blame:
– Gerrard’s season was summed up in his “conspiracy” pass to Drogba,  
– Midfield bulldog Mascherano played with a heady mix of anger and stupidity, while his partner Lucas was a pale replacement for the sorely missed Xavi Alonso,
– Jamie Carragher showed signs of rapid decline,  while the man he was protecting — Pepe Reina — made simple saves look tricky at the beginning of the season,
– Rieira and Babel — for all of their chirping — didn’t come close to earning their wages,
– Defensive backs  Johnston and Insua looked like strokes of brilliance by the manager, until injury felled both at inopportune times.
And nothing further needs to be written about the absence of Fernando Torres — who seems to be afraid of what the Premier League is doing to his body.
Regardless of individual performances, Rafael Benitez remains the lightning rod for the team’s troubles. Many will forever asterisk the Champions League win as a squad assembled by Gerard Houllier and dragged to victory by Stevie G. 
The doubters will point to Benitez’ endless tinkering in his first seasons and the revolving door on the training ground. Keane, Pennant, Voronin, Arbeloa, Bellamy, Crouch and countless others — all players who came and went. That’s not to mention the 20 million pound purchase of Alberto Aquilani — known in Italy as “The Crystal Kid”. But the punters are missing the pattern of waste and wandering ambitions that have guided the team for two decades.
Rafa inherited a team that was still revelling in its former glories: a club that could boast to being England’s all-time best, both at home and abroad. Like a fat, aging Lothario — LFC could count on its fans to point to past conquests. The faithful beat their chests as they sing the club’s famous theme, along with odes to Rome and Wembley and Paris and Istanbul.
But the fat and the decline were there for all to see. The Souness/Spice Boy years in the Nineties. The neglect of the youth system in favour of the latest fad player from abroad (Diouf/Diao/Diarra anyone?).  The self-righteous talk of the “Liverpool Way”, even as board members plotted against each other.
And then came the Americans.  George Gillett and Tom Hicks arrived in Merseyside promising a yellow brick road to the title, while secretly planning how to flip the club like a renovated townhouse. The problem was that neither counted on a U.S.-made global recession — or a slowly developing hatred for each other.
Now the club sits mire in unprecedented debt. Its plans to build a bigger stadium still sit on an architect’s table — and much-needed revenue from the expanded capacity sits unrealized. As Man U, Arsenal and Chelsea build their global brands — along with their counterparts in Spain and Italy — Liverpool has failed to adjust to the new reality. LFC  is still trying figure out what it is.
But time is running out. The Reds will not see Champions League football next season. Thanks to Gillett and Hicks, the team now owes 10 million pounds more in annual debt payments then it makes in operating profit. The manager realizes what this means for the transfer window and is likely to looking for greener (and warmer) pastures. So are key players like Gerrard and Torres and Mascherano, who all see the writing on the wall.
The decline has begun. The spiral is forming.  And time is ticking.
It’s time to be afraid of the dark.

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