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It’s grim up north

sam allardyce

Sam Allardyce recently claimed he could coach the likes of Inter Milan and Real Madrid successfully, and that in essence the jobs there are much easier than his present one at Blackburn Rovers. He even went as far to declare himself the perfect candidate as the next England boss. Well Sam, you’ve got one thing right, you’re perfect for England. That’s because they’re woeful.

Week in, week out, we football fans are subjected to the brute force and “get up ‘em” attitude that certain clubs in the North of England hand out to free-flowing teams. You know what I mean here; think Arsenal’s troubles almost every time they play Bolton and Blackburn.

And herein lies the problem. The Northwest is typical of what the game once was. Brash, unashamed, fiercely proud, and accepting only of the highest commitment. Teams such as Leeds in the 70’s would kick if it moved, or kick until it did. The strategy worked for decades.

But then came the 1990’s and the influx of foreigners and their attractive new style of play. They were quicker, smarter and an awful lot more talented.

The likes of Allardyce are perfect for England. Let’s face it, England were awful at the World Cup because they clung to the belief that if you try hard enough, you will always succeed. Sorry kids, but here’s a sobering lesson. Talent always prevails. No matter how hard you try, if you’re not good enough you’ll lore far more often than you win.

Teams such as Bolton and Blackburn (them again) have supporters who fall in line with the English mentality of football. I’ve been to games at Ewood Park and heard them chant “Get into them!” In short they mean, “Yes, we might not win, but at least we can give them a damn good hiding.” Well I’m sorry, but that really only applies to war.

So while Chelsea prevail with foreigners in the Premier League, and the Spanish win the World Cup by not retaliating to Dutch brutality, the likes of Rovers and England will never grasp what it means to win with satisfaction.

Aaron Ramsey injury

It’s no coincidence that all of Arsenal’s major injuries in recent years have occurred north of the Watford Gap: Eduardo (Birmingham), Diaby (Sunderland) and Ramsey (Stoke). It happens because of the continued aggression faced and, dare I say it, the violence dished out. Every one one of those injuries was avoidable. Sadly, each guilty culprit was an Englishman.

So while Allardyce may think he’s a great candidate for any top-flight job, the footballing elite will just smirk and overlook him. He’s stuck in a time warp. Go back to the 1970’s Sam, and take your boxing gloves with you.

Sam Saunders

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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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Luck of the draw? Yids learn CL fate

Welcome to the Champions League, Tottenham. And just in case you weren’t sure who the best team in the tournament was, it became painfully evident as teammate after teammate from reigning title holders Inter Milan sauntered up to the stage during today’s draw in Monaco (a painfully long event but one surprisingly well photographed by audience members) to receive player of the tournament awards. Goalkeeper Julio Cesar, defender Maicon, midfielder Wesley Sneijder and striker Diego Milito (who also won player of the year) were each honoured with a small trophy and the opportunity to pick little balls out of a cup and reveal the teams within. And when all was said and done, Spurs found themselves in Group A alongside Inter’s star-studded cast. Will the Italian treble winners still be the same team with Rafa Benitez at the helm? We’ll find out when the Serie A gets rolling this weekend.

Of course, it’s a better draw for Spurs than they would have faced in Group G, whose teams have won a combined 20 Champions League crowns and finished runner-up nine times. At least, with Germany’s Werder Bremen and Holland’s FC Twente rounding out Group A, the last three teams are fairly evenly balanced, meaning second place and passage to the knockout round should be up for grabs. Despite their lofty UEFA coefficient, I’d rather face Bremen (third in the Bundesliga last year) from Pot 2 than any of Real Madrid, Roma, Valencia, Marseille, Panathinaikos or Benfica. Twente, who won their first Eredivisie title last season but saw Schteve leave for Germany over the summer, were one of the highest ranked teams in Pot 4. It’s also a kind geographical draw for Spurs, with no lengthy excursions to Kazan, Donetsk or Tel Aviv required.

Whoever the opponent, health of key players is a big issue for Spurs with the first matchday just over two weeks away. I’ll be happy as long as Welsh winger Gareth Bale, who set up all four goals in Wednesday’s famous 4-0 win over Young Boys, is healthy and ready to run. He’s been become  simply brilliant since Arry told him to stop messing with his barnet.

Fans of Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United, all Pot 1 teams, are undoubtedly feeling pretty comfortable about their team’s chances of progression to the round of 16, with all three London clubs dreaming of a berth at the Wem-ber-lee final. In Manchester, the police force is already bracing for trouble when Rangers visit, based on their experience from the UEFA Cup Final in 2008, while the tie gives Sir Alex gets a chance to face his former team.

What’s also shocking is the number of big names  who’ll be watching from the wings this Champions League season, including Liverpool, Sevilla, Atletico Madrid, Juventus, Porto, Sporting Lisbon, Olympiacos, Villareal, Zenit St. Petersburg, Galatasaray and Fenerbahçe.

In today’s Europa League playoffs, a reeling Aston Villa met their match in Rapid Vienna for the second successive year, with a Stiliyan Petrov penalty miss proving fatal, while Celtic’s European misery continued with a 4-0 defeat at Utrecht. Liverpool and Manchester City, however, both booked passage to the group stages, with the Reds reversing an early 1-0 deficit at Trabzonspor and Citeh easing to a 2-0 win over Timisoara.

On this side of the Atlantic, current MLS champions Real Salt Lake watched a 3-1 lead turn into a 5-4 defeat at Mexico City’s Cruz Azul in CONCACAF Champions League play Wednesday night, meaning all four teams in Group A, including Toronto FC, have a win and a loss through two matches. As for TFC, they were busy today announcing Doneil Henry as the first academy player to sign a pro contract.

Ian Harrison

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Kicking and Screaming

If you want blood, you got it.

There was certainly no shortage of blood-letting again in the Premier League this weekend, as some teams scored at will:

– Chelsea has run rampant over the dregs of the division, following their 6-0 drubbing of West Brom with the same scoreline against sorry Wigan, who lost 4-0 to Blackpool in Week 1.

– Blackpool came crashing down to earth when they had their arses handed to them by Arsenal, 6-0.

– After doing a number on West Ham in the first week, a James Milner-less Villa was sent to the showers by new boys Newcastle… again, 6-0.

– Once-mighty Liverpool (well, not lately, I admit) were sent crawling back to Merseyside after losing to New Chelsea, er, Manchester City, 3-0.

For Liverpool and Aston Villa, success has been fleeting of late. The parallels are too hard to ignore. Both are massive clubs that are now in the hands of American owners, unwilling — or unable — to spend Big Four money (and make no mistake, yesterday’s loss is a clear sign that Liverpool are no longer a top-four club). Both have had their managers leave in the off-season, unhappy with the economic restraints on their team. And both have had to deal with wantaway players whose contracts aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on.

Milner suits up for City

I can’t help thinking that Villa’s humiliation is the end result of Milner’s long, drawn-out transfer saga with Premier League poachers Man City. The Blue Side of Manchester have been kit disturbers since Sheikh money started to roll in. Martin O’Neill was furious last year after Citeh-slickers started to whisper in the ears of Gareth Barry, tempting him away from the Midlands.

Or just ask Everton’s David Moyes. Joleon Lescott made it clear that his one-off fluke season was good enough to earn him a spot at a “bigger club.” Contract? Schmontract. Away he goes, and it took until after Christmas for the Toffees to get over the loss and settle into a new groove.

But it’s one thing to bitch and moan about where you work, it’s another not to show up at all. Yesterday, perpetual cry-baby Javier Mascherano decided he would not play for Liverpool, in light of the club’s refusal to accept an offer from Barcelona.

How ironic is it that one of the players offered up for the Argentine is Alexander Hleb. You’ll recall the Belarusian went to the Nou Camp two years ago, after pouting his way out of Arsenal. He failed to find a spot and is now transfer bait. Clap. Clap. Clap.

The Reds won’t be bullied into the deal. Good for them.  But this trend of leaving teams when things aren’t going your way is disturbing. Barcelona and Real have been the biggest offenders lately, trying to tempt players to switch shirts: think Mascherano and Fabregas this year, as well as Ronaldo and Alonso in seasons past. But Manchester United have also been known to upset the football cart, as did Chelsea when Russian mob oil money started to flow in.

The Bosman rule was created so that players could have a say in where they went… either by leaving on a free, or by nixing a deal to another team if they didn’t like it.

But stomping your feet and refusing to play when you’ve signed on the dotted line is bad for your teammates, it’s bad for the fans and it’s bad for the game. It isn’t just bad business…

It’s a bloody disgrace.

Brent Lanthier

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Man. City pick out another

So, after spending a million pounds a day in the summertime and still failing to win their opening match of the season (rescued by the true England’s number one, Joe Hart, in a first-half barrage at White Hart Lane), Man Citeh’s wealthy owners have reporedly dipped into their pockets once again and inked Villa’s James Milner for 26 million pounds, sending Stephen Ireland back the other way. You’ve got to love these guys. It hasn’t even been a week since they threw 22.5 million quid down on Mario Balotelli, and they’re back at the buffet table. This is now the most expensive lineup in Premier League history.

To relieve their glut, City have rid themselves of Craig Bellamy, now bound for the bright lights of Cardiff. Can’t wait for that Doncaster Rovers clash this weekend, I’ll bet. With Hart’s glittering performance, Roberto Mancini seems willing to let Shay Given leave, possibly for the capital, where two teams are interested.

There’s none of City’s financial largesse at Anfield, where Uncle Woy says Javier Mascherano will be allowed to escape Merseyside as long as someone can meet the price. If you had Liverpool’s debt problems, you’d feel the same way.

City weren’t the only team making a splashy signing today. With just under two weeks left in the transfer window, German playmaker Meszut Ozil is leaving Werder Bremen for Real Madrid.

It’s Learn your Lesson day in France, where Nicolas Anelka has been banned a whopping 18 matches for his central role in les follies du Coupe de Monde, while co-conspirators Patrice Evra, Franck Ribery and Jeremey Toulalan got five, three and one games. Maybe Eric Abidal, who walked away without punishment, ratted them out. According to the BBC, the Learn your Lesson part was lost on Chelsea’s Anelka, who “did not show up at the disciplinary hearing … his international career now appears to be all but over.” Let us not forget that Laurent Blanc has vowed to quit if he can’t reach Euro 2012 with this team, now rather weakened (or strengthened, depending on your point of view). Bonne chance, mon frere.

Ian Harrison

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Consider the Gaffer

"I'm thinking of a player between 1 and 10..."

The half-truths, the innuendo, the egos… I can’t wait.

Mad Men’s season premiere is tonight.

But there is also this nebulous time in the football world — after the World Cup, but before the league seasons start — where players, agents, managers and the media all say the most outrageous things in the hopes that they’ll come true. It’s very Geppetto-esque… like wishing that Cristiano Ronaldo will someday become a real boy.

'Arry orders another drink before speaking to the press

First of all, managers are scrambling to strengthen their squads, while hoping to outsmart their opponents. Witness ‘Arry’s backhanded compliment towards Manchester City.

The gaffers also have the task of trying to keep their stars happy and at home. Arsene Wenger has had to beat off Barcelona with a stick for Cesc Fabregas.  West Ham has had to put a ridiculous price tag on Scott Parker.  And sadly, some clubs are willing to pay absurd amounts just to pry a player away, with Manchester City assuming the role of Cheslea, circa 2004 — or Real Madrid, years 2000 to the present. More on them in a second.

Of course, some managers get by on good old-fashioned wits and salesmenship. Just ask Joe Cole.  But even though Roy Hodgson has done a little bit of transfer magic, it still might not be enough to keep Fernando Torres on Merseyside. And before you can sweet-talk a player, you have to be able to actually talk to him first.

The Special One starts his freshman season at Real Madrid, with pockets as deep as he had when he was in London’s West End.   So of course, the media has linked Jose Mourinho to everyone in the football world, on every team, ever.

Meanwhile, the man who wanted Mourinho’s new job — but got his old one instead — will have to show that he can build on last year’s treble success, and basically not f#ck things up.  Good luck, Rafa, you’ll need it.  And you thought the English press was bad… look for more rants this season.

The one manager who has remained suprisingly quiet in all of this is Sir Alex Ferguson.  True, he had to offer Dolph Lundgren-look-alike Nemanja Vidic a new contract to keep the other vultures away.  But SAF has only bought two players — Javier Hernandez and Fulham’s Chris Smalling.  Maybe Sir Alex is revelling in the fact that Manchester United only had five players away at the World Cup — six, if you count Hernandez — and none of them made it out of the second round.  Get yer rest boys, yer going to need it.

Speaking of Sir Alex, At The Rails’ own Ian Harrison wrote a lovely piece on the man for Toro Magazine on Fergie’s ties to our home and native land.

But until the leagues begin, I’ve got a bit of Mad Men to watch. And now for a gratuitous picture of Christina Hendricks.  Because I can…

Football? What football?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Brent Lanthier

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Winning Means Nothing


Real Madrid confirmed what must have been the worst kept secret in the football world today. They have sacked Manuel Pellegrini and have hired Jose Mourinho.

So Pellegrini wins a record amount of points in his first season, but he gets the hook. Mourinho wins Inter its first European Championship in almost 50 years, plus the domestic league and cups, and he isn’t happy. If there’s anything the football world can’t stand, it’s a lack of effort.

The lesson here? Never Try….

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