Tag Archives: michael owen

Carroll: Bad Bargain, Good Buy

The Geordie and the General

Alright, now that the dust has settled — and the incredulity has been reduced to simple head-shaking — let’s get this out of the way: Andy Carroll is not worth £35 million right now.  He’s 22 years old, he has only ever scored 34 goals at the senior level, and is carrying a thigh injury.  He has one England cap.  One.  And he has already been in the papers several times for the wrong reasons.

That doesn’t make him a bad buy.

The long-and-short of it was that Liverpool’s situation was dire.  Last year’s mediocre campaign became the millstone for this year’s disaster.  The Reds are down 10 points from this time last year, a season that saw Liverpool plummet 23 points from their almost-title winning finish in 2009. (This is the point where you can hear the collective snorts from the crimson side of Manchester).  It’s because they couldn’t score. For all intents and purposes, Liverpool had no strikers.

Over the last 10 seasons, Liverpool averaged about 62 goals a season in the Prem. In the early part of the decade, a peaking Michael Owen shouldered much of the load. When he started to get hurt, Liverpool’s goal totals slumped and so did their form.  After he left for sunny Spain, other players managed to fill in the gaps, and Rafael Benitez’ stingy formations meant Liverpool were always contenders.

Then Fernando Torres arrived and the goals started to come again.  In the 2008-09 EPL season, Liverpool scored 77 goals… their highest total since they were winning the League. (In fact, they came two goals away from doing it that season. If Liverpool had scored a goal in two of their drawn games, they would have tied United on points, but pipped them to the title on superior goal difference).

Torres brought the goals — and so did mighty midfielder Steven Gerrard.  But the team began to rely too much on the pair.  An infuriating tinkerman early on, Benitez eventually built his formation around Torres and Gerrard, neglecting the development of other forwards.

Both players wanted to play all the time: Premier League, Champions League, cup ties.  The result was that Torres and Gerrard got hurt… a lot.  Combine that with the departure of defensive keystones Xavi Alonso and Javier Mascherano, and the team fell into shambles.

Fast forward to this month.  The team is trending to top out at 50 goals this season.  Top that with an atrocious goals-against and they are looking at a paltry +3 goal difference.  That would almost certainly rule them out of the lucrative Champions League again… and maybe even the Europa League.

Unhappy Torres

So when the transfer window was closing, an unhappy  Torres handed in his transfer request. He wanted to play in Europe. He wants to win titles (which he never did on Merseyside.  Not one piece of silverware.).  The team’s shiny new owners realized they had both an opportunity and a dilemma. Free-wheeling Chelski was willing to pay top dollar for the Spaniard… but that would have left the Reds without a paddle, in the popular parlance.  If Torres goes, there is no one.  The cupboard is bare.

Enter Newcastle United.  The perfidious Mike Ashley had to have known what Liverpool were doing with Torres. He is simply desperate for cash so he pounced, jacking up Carroll’s price.  The overlords of Anfield paid and made the young Geordie the most expensive British player ever.

He ain't pretty, he just looks that way...

The reality is it would have been foolish not to take him.  Liverpool are replacing Torres with England’s best striker this season. Who has more goals? Not Wayne Rooney, the man who was considered to be among the best in the world.  Not Peter Crouch or Jermaine Defoe or Emile Heskey.  In fact, no England player has found the back of the net this season as much as Carroll — and he hasn’t played since Christmas.

Carroll is not a pretty goal scorer.  He doesn’t have Rooney’s skill on the ball.  But he’s tall like Crouch, big and strong like Heskey and heads the ball like Tim Cahill… only he doesn’t have to jump.

Instead of Joey Barton or Kevin Nolan to feed him the ball, he now has Steven Gerrard, Dirk Kuyt, Maxi Rodriguez (don’t laugh, he’s come along this season!) and Luis Suarez.  That last one could be telling.  There are big hopes that Suarez and Carroll could be the new Owen and Heskey (except a Heskey that actually scores).

Finally — and this is important — he is only 22-years-old.  He will learn the game — and learn discipline — from Dalglish, one of the finest strikers to ever play the English game.

The club paid far, far too much for him.  I admit that, even with my red-tinted glasses on.  But Andy Carroll could end up being the finest money that Liverpool ever threw away.

Brent Lanthier

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Fergie’s Fantasy – Et Tu Rooney?

We're bloody sick of him, anyway...

First, as a fellow Ferguson, I’d like to declare my bias towards football’s greatest manager Sir Alex Ferguson (Ed. Note: For the love of Pete, give it a rest!)  Bias now declared, I would to say to Wayne Rooney… why? Why must you correct Sir Alex about your ankle injury? You know you are injured… you have been since late last season. Remember when you came back too early and ended one of your best seasons with a whimper? Remember when you were basically useless during the World Cup? Remember when you had ice on your ankle in a photo recently and were carted off the training ground this week on a stretcher? Yet, when Sir Alex tries to defend you by saying you aren’t scoring because you are injured, you say you are fine and you now say you want out.

So where does this leave me? I’m now the owner of an embarrassing Man United jersey with AIG on the front (you remember they planned to give employees millions in bonuses while getting billions from a government bailout) and Rooney on the back… who may end up at — of all places — Manchester City (can we have Carlos Tevez back then? Pretty please?).

Not since Wayne Gretzky left Canada for Los Angeles has a man named Wayne disappointed me so much. If this was a hand-written note, the words would be smudged with a few of my unsuccessfully repressed tears…

But back to my fantasy column. I think it goes without saying that, as a fantasy owner,  you need to get rid of Rooney now and never start him again. No player performs well under these kind of off-field distractions. You need only look at how average Cesc Fabregas has been this year for the Gunners as an example of what happens when a great footballer no longer wants to play for his team.

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N'Zogbia: Hard to pronounce, hard to predict

The three big point getters from last week were Wigan’s Charles N’Zogbia with a pair of goals, Manchester City’s Carlos Tevez — also with two goals — and Arsenal’s Marouane Chamakh, who had a brilliant goal along with an assist.

The best long-term bet of the bunch is Carlos Tevez. On a team filled with talent, he has carried the offence and is a huge reason why Man City are currently second in the table. That said, he may not be the best choice for this week. His manager is musing aloud that Tevez needs a rest. I suspect he doesn’t play in the Europa League game and is in this weekend… but you never know.

You also never know what you’ll get from Charles N’Zogbia. He is wildly inconsistent but has the skills to be on a much better team than Wigan (sorry Latic fans). His price is low enough that he is worth taking a chance on.

The best bet may actually be Chamakh. He is exactly what Arsenal has needed this year in the striker role: a talented player who will bury it, given the chance. Even when he isn’t scoring, he always looks dangerous.

Scott’s Subs:

I’ve been making these recommendations every week but I feel the need to somehow track whether the players I’m telling you to pick up are actually serving you well. From this week on, I’ll offer three subs a week and track them for five games versus a) the league average, and b) the players I suggest you take out. If I do very badly, I will pretend I never promised to do this.

IN

Shrek's Loss... Dimmi's Gain

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Hello, I must be going…

News in the football world is dominated today by the international retirement of two, er, giants.

Just a day after the New York Red Bulls signed him (on Bastille Day no less), all-time French scoring leader Thierry Henry announced he would no longer play for Les Bleus. After France’s World Cup performance, saying you’re quitting is like crashing your car, and then saying you don’t want to drive it anymore. Henry will likely make his debut for New York against Tottenham Hotspur on July 22nd.  Look for our own Yid Army member — Ian Harrison — to file as he heads to the Big Apple for the second half of the Red Bulls challenge…NY vs. Man. City and Spurs vs. Sporting Lisbon.

Emile Heskey

As well, the much-maligned Emile Heskey has announced he’s retiring from the English team. The debate rages over Heskey’s value to the Three Lions. The hulking forward didn’t score a lot of goals.  But teammates like Michael Owen said they wouldn’t want to play off anyone else.

German prosecutors have expanded their probe into match-fixing.  The thing now covers more than 270 games in nine countries.  It’s reminds me of my oh-so-clever scheme to try and fix the International Rock-Paper-Scissors Tournament.  Good ol’ rock. Nothing beats rock.

If you’re Michael Ballack’s agent, you’re probably blaming gay people for the crime.

The Premier League kicks off in a month… and with Roy Hodgson up on Merseyside trying to convince his big players to stay, Fulham is looking for his replacement.  There are rumours that U.S. coach Bob Bradley will take over. I hope not. He scares me

The English FA is thinking about eliminating FA Cup replays in order to make room for a winter break.  It seems the poor poppets in England are tired.  Rich and tired.  So very, very tired…

Apparently, Manchester United’s gaffer — Sir Alex Ferguson — is sitting pretty after the World Cup.   The Red Devils are in Toronto tonight and we’ll bring you details from the presser with SAF and Man U midfielder Darren Fletcher later.

Finally one more reason to love Steve Gerrard-Gerrard.  Wow.

Brent Lanthier

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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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England’s Whimper: Japan/Korea ’02

Kevin Hoggard

What’s that coming over the hill? Is it a monster?  Is it a monster? Yes it’s Godzilla.  Welcome to Japan 2002, oh and Korea.

I find it hard to get emotive over Japorea 2002.  To be an England fan you have to suffer… and in Japan we didn’t really suffer.  In ’86, we had the “Hand of God”. In ’90, we had Gazza’s tears and losing on penalties. In ’94 we weren’t invited to the party, and in ’98 we had Beckham’s red card and a penalty loss to the Argentineans.  But in 2002, we just surrendered meekly.

I remember that year for the blazing Toronto summer and sweating my bag off in the upstairs of Scallywags.  Even at midnight, the heat was oppressive and I endeavoured to replace fluids with as much lager as I could drink.

Sven had led us to the Promised Land.  England’s first foreign coach had taken over from the madness of King Kev’s reign and steered us through qualification.  He had already served us two marvellous memories when we triumphed 5-1 in Munich, and then we were treated to Beckham’s glorious last minute free-kick against Greece to qualify us for the World Cup proper.

Beckham-mania swept Japan.  He was at the height of his stardom and he was the face of the World Cup.  We were in the dreaded “Group of Death”.  Sweden, Argentina and Nigeria were our opponents.

But the group games were pretty flat.  A draw with Sweden was always on the cards as we hadn’t beaten them since 1968.  The result: 1-1.  Then we got sweet revenge against the Argentineans with Beckham and Owen playing well.  We beat them 1-0 but I still didn’t get too excited about proceedings.  Our final game was against Nigeria who was already on the plane home so we played a listless goalless draw.

So without much fuss or drama, we were in the Round of 16.  But even this lacked passion.  Denmark provided little opposition, and by half-time it was 3-0 and that’s how it would remain.

Here lied our destiny: Brazil’s Samba Boys.  With so many big teams having gone home, I could see the path to glory.  Win this and we would face Turkey or Senegal in the semi-finals:  we could beat either of those teams easily.  The World Cup Final beckoned with one decent performance.

The game was a 2:30am kick-off EST.  That meant we’d all have to drink up before the game started and watch the game without a beer in our hand.  Sacrilege.

Scallywags had been getting increasingly packed throughout the tournament so I turned up around 10:30pm thinking that would be fine.  Uh-uh. There were hundreds of England fans trailing from the door down to the corner of Yonge and St. Clair.  I stood there for 20 minutes not knowing what to do.  Then a siren sent from another bar (empty as it wasn’t an England pub) enticed us all to follow her to drown us in beer and big screen TVs.  I followed. 

So I found myself at a completely new pub at midnight with 4 or 5 pints in front of me for my pre-match drink-a-thon.  I chatted to other nervous England fans.  I made friends like a child on his first day at kindergarten.  I needed somebody to hold my hand and console me if things got scary.

On 23 minutes, Heskey lumped a hopeful through ball forward.  Lucio muffed his control, Owen pounced and comfortably steered it past Marcos into the net.  The feeling was incredible.

Ronaldinho would change the game.  His goofy-toothed run in first half stoppage time would end with him sliding in Rivaldo, who made no mistake.  Early in the second half, he would swing in a free-kick from out on the right touch-line.  It had to be a cross, but somehow it sailed towards the far corner and Seaman stumbled backwards, only to be beat from all of 40 yards by a looping shot. 

This is the England I knew.  Not the one from 20 minutes ago that had Megan Fox running on with the magic sponge to administer to minor knocks.  Sexy England had left the building. 

Just 7 minutes later, Ronaldinho would be sent off for an over-the-ball challenge on Danny Mills.  Despite having half an hour left against 10 men, we failed to muster a chance of significance.  We were poor and it was a horrible way to go out of the World Cup.  We’d been magnificent in defeat against Argentina and Germany but this was us exiting with a whimper.  We went out like a cheap indoor firework.  

I didn’t say goodbye to my new friends.  Their mums were picking them up.  It was four miles to walk home.  I got lost in a posh neighbourhood, thinking I could find a short cut across the Don Valley.  I finally got back on track and stumbled across Bloor phoning home to England on my mobile to berate whoever would pick up.  As I approached my neighbourhood, people were going to work.  It was 7 a.m. and a normal day was beginning.  I had tears in my eyes and beer in my veins and I flailed my arms at every passing car.  They understood my heartbreak, didn’t they?

I slept a drunken sleep that night.  When I awoke the world was still turning.  I wasn’t sure how or why, but it was.  Brazil went on to win the tournament.  It could have been us.  It wasn’t.

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England’s Fury: France ’98

Kevin Hoggard

On June 30th 1998, David Beckham would find himself disappointing the English, due to a coming together with a Latino.  On June 28th 1998, I would come together with a Latina and ultimately disappoint her by being too English.  It took me 10 years to dissolve my union. Beckham screwed up his happy marriage to the nation in 47 minutes.

England qualified comfortably for France 98.  OK that was a joke: when have we ever qualified comfortably for a major competition? South Africa 2010, that’s when.

Needing a result in the final game to avoid the dreaded playoff, the boys battled out an impressive goalless draw with Italy.

So Glen Hoddle — mad as a hatter — accompanied the boys to France.  We weren’t seeded so we had to face one of the top sides in the group stage.  We got a little lucky in drawing Romania; Columbia and Tunisia would fill out the group.

Looking back at it, our side was actually damn good.  Here’s your childish giggle of the day: Campbell, Southgate and Adams were charged with covering Seaman.  Paul Ince, David Batty and Paul Scholes were in the middle of the park.  Graeme Le Saux and Darren Anderton charged down the wings, supplying the ammunition for Alan Shearer and Teddy Sheringham.  Not only that, but we had a good bunch of youngsters on the bench.  Amongst them were Gary Neville, David Beckham, Steve McManaman, Rio Ferdinand and Little Mickey Owen. 

One notable absence was Paul Gascoigne.  Poor Gazza was out of the squad due to loss of form on the pitch and finding too much form in the pubs.

We started the World Cup by seeing off the Tunisians comfortably. Goals from Shearer and Scholes won us the game 2-0.  The Romania game was our toughest test and it was notable for me, as Viorel Moldovan put Romania ahead in the second-half.  He was a Coventry player at the time and hardly ever scored for us.  The irony was not lost on me.  Owen replaced Sheringham late in the game, and within 10 minutes, the nippy 18-year-old scored an equaliser for us.  But in the final minute, Dan Petrescu broke English hearts and won the game for the Romanians.

I watched the deciding group game in a small bar in San Diego.  My new wife went for a stroll whilst I pounded beers with nervous abandon.  For once, it was a fairly simple game for us.  Owen and Beckham started against the Columbians and both played a big part.  Owen set up Anderton for England’s first goal.  A moppy-haired Beckham curled in what became his trademark free kick and we were coasting.  My wife returned to help cheer on England during the second half, as I sang us heartily into the round of 16.

We returned to Toronto for the next match.  I found myself in a pub packed full of ex-pats all ready to send the Argentineans back south of the equator.  It was a vibrant atmosphere full of beer bellies and replica jerseys.  Just 6 minutes in, Seaman brought down Simeone.  Bati-goal — or Batistuta to the uninitiated — dispatched the spot kick.  It was a lead that only lasted 4 minutes.  Ayala took down Owen and Shearer leathered the ball into the net, 1-1.  Beer flew everywhere.  On 16 minutes, Beckham chipped a delightful through ball to Owen just past the halfway line.  Owen used his speed to race by the Argentine defence and dinked a beautiful finish over Roa.  It was one of the goals of the tournament and Owen had announced himself to the world.

In the first half of injury time, Campbell committed a foul on the edge of our box.  The Argies worked a nice free kick, leaving our defence flat-footed and Zanetti equalised.  Two-two at the half and the chatter in the pub was muted.  As usual, England looked capable of scoring… but looked equally capable of giving up that lead just as fast.

Two minutes into the second half, Simeone flattened Beckham.  As the Argentine untangled himself, Beckham flicked out a leg in retribution, kicking him as hard as a pre-school child kicks a balloon.  Simeone was booked for the challenge but Beckham would receive a straight red for a brief moment of youthful exuberance.

That was it.  There was no way we could hold out for a whole half with 10 men.

But the Three Lions would surprise us and Sol Campbell scored what seemed like the winner on 81 minutes.  He rose majestically at a corner and drilled the ball in with his head, 3-2.  We jumped around and celebrated but as I spun around with mouth wide-open — hoping to catch stray spillage — I looked up and saw the Argentineans attacking.  How could this be?  It was too quick.  They should be taking the kick-off! 

While we madly celebrated, the goal had been disallowed for a push or climbing or being English.  I can’t remember.  I was pretty drunk by this stage.  The referee received the vitriol pouring from drunken English mouths as we cursed our luck for the final 10 minutes of the game.  England held out for the extra 30 minutes.  It was enough time to dull my senses with another pint in preparation for penalty kicks.

We didn’t really need to watch, as we knew what was coming.  Seaman actually saved Crespo’s kick to give us false hope but Ince stepped up straight afterwards and Roa evened things up with a save.  Penalties were exchanged and then Roa would save from Batty. Our World Cup had ended for another four years.

At the end of the match, Toronto’s The Fan590 was interviewing fans, asking their take on England’s demise.  I was asked for a few words.  Unfortunately, all of them were swear words.  It wasn’t live — just sound bites — so I composed myself and let them ask again.  My response was again laced with expletives.  I’d tried to put a cap on my emotions but apparently, that’s impossible after your dreams have been shattered and eight pints of Stella consumed.  They moved on as I continued to talk to my half-empty pint.

The press would vilify Beckham and he was booed mercilessly by opposing fans the next season.  Man United fans took to singing “Argentina” repeatedly in support for their young star.  The Sun — that magnificent publication — published the referee’s email address in the paper, encouraging the knuckle-dragging public to send him their kind missives.  Luckily for Mr Nielsen, they got the address wrong. 

You can’t pin the blame of an exit on a player or a referee.  We all make mistakes (although the disallowed goal was probably the right decision) and frankly, the hatred towards them is uncalled for. 

My anger dissipated by the time someone put an arm around me and said, “Qualifier for the Euros starts in a couple of months.  Fancy another pint?”

A smile then broke across my face, with hope building that we could win the next one.

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