Saturday, May 31, 2008

"Foreigners" in football clubs

FIFA has decided to set a limit on the number of foreign players in national club sides. The proposed rule is a so-called 6+5 rule, where national club sides will be obliged to line up at least 6 players eligible to play on the national team of the said country (the rule is to start by the year 2012).
With this, FIFA and Mr. Sepp Blatter have shown an extraordinary disregard of the forces of globalisation and the free movement of labour in the EU (no matter how one views the EU, the free movement of labour is one of its great achievements). But more worryingly, as a football fan, they show disregard for the quality of football which they say they are there to protect.

It is comforting that policy makers, in particular in the European Parliament, are already saying that FIFA should not expect any special treatment: citizens with the correct work permit should not be hindered from working in another member state. And this touches upon the fundamental rights of people, and football should have no exemption!
Also, the clubs are also echoing their worries to the new FIFA rule, not only in terms of its obvious illegality, but also in terms of footballing: it is obvious that many clubs, like Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United, FC Barcelona, etc. - all big teams in the Champions League (as well as many teams in countries not even participating in the CL!), will have to completely re-set their teams.
And will this be good for football quality...?
With the advent of the Champions League we have seen some of the best and most competitive football ever. It is sad indeed, often, that clubs/teams/players are dominated by the desire to make money, instead of fighting for their clubs (notable examples abound though; note Mr. John Terry, a classical example of a Chelsea player by heart), but perhaps we should consider that the good old-fashioned days are gone, and that we cannot legislate ourselves back in time.
The many foreigners (be they Europeans, outsiders with European citizenship, or African/South American/Asians) in European clubs have greatly improved the quality of the game and the teams. I also believe it has pushed local players to be better, to improve themselves, because of the improved competitiveness.
And if the youth-training in some countries has not followed on this, that is where the problem lies, and not in the number of foreigners in the big teams!

As in many other things, globalisation is here to stay, and FIFA seems set on fighting it, with the consequence that football quality will deteriorate.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

South Africa as World Cup host

I have said it before, but here I am going to underline it: am not looking forward to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, and I believe FIFA made a great mistake by giving the World Cup to South Africa in its eagerness to give it to some African country.
While I think South Africans current attitude to foreigners is a popular disgrace from a country that should know better (how about some of the neighboring countries having to play there?), I do not believe the South Africans have what it takes to organize a pleasant, world class tournament which welcomes the world, like we have seen in Germany, Japan/Corea, France, USA, etc. The country is gorgeous, yes, but suffering by violence, poverty and corruption. I am afraid that with prices of tickets and organizational issues, we will see as many empty stadiums as we saw during the African Nations Cup in Ghana in January.
And Ghana is a footballing nation, with a talent and passion for the game which is unheard of in South Africa!

It is often mentioned how important it is for a tournament that the host nation does well (that is one of the reasons the hosts don't have to qualify, as well as get an automatically easier draw by being seeded highest), but would South Africa do well...? Although it is hard if not impossible to predict, I think we may be looking at an elimination in the first round: South Africa didn't participate in the 2006 World Cup, they were plainly bad in the African Nations Cup, and talented South Africans players are notably absent from big European clubs where other African players are superstars (a notable example perhaps being the ageing Benny McCarthy in Blackburn?). And while there have been rumours about Carlos Alberto Parreira's resignation as South African coach, the new and relatively unknown Joel Santana does not bode well for the organization of the South African team...

South African sport has always been dominated by rugby (where they are great world champions) and cricket; South Africa is simply not a footballing nation. With a world cup on its door, one can already see the large commercials and promotional posters, but the "fever" which grips other countries is unexistant; it is hard even to find a pub to watch a Champions League game in Johannesburg, and when finding it, one finds that nobody watches it nor cares.

If the world cup must be held in Africa, it should be in one of the many great African footballing nations: Ghana, Nigeria, Morocco, Egypt, Senegal, Cameroun... However, as is true, these countries do not seem to have what is called the "organizational infrastructure".
Apparently South Africa does (just don't walk out at night, specially if you are from a neighboring African country).

Such a great event belongs to real footballing nations and although I have been wrong before, I have very low expectations to a World Cup in South Africa.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

and one more thing - more subjective...

I ended up supporting Manchester United....
(I am not proud...)
But I want history to be repeated: Manchester United won their third trophy, 50 years after the plane accident in Munich. And well, history is on their side, and sorry to say to Chelsea, it is not on their side: Manchester United will continue to be a great team in 100 years, but will Chelsea...?
I doubt it.

Sweat, blood and tears

1-1, and Manchester United winning after a nail-biting drama which Turgenjev could not have described better.
It was a dramatic final in Moscow between Manchester United and Chelsea. We saw beautiful details, great defending, tactical choices, and each team had one half: Manchester was completely dominating first half while Chelsea was the best in the second.
(and may I add one comment here: was the linesman blind!?)
At the same time, in this epic final, we saw players sweat and fight until cramps started biting their expensive legs; they all wanted to win the trophy!
And as in many dramas, there was blood: Paul Scholes' nose as well as an almost war-like intensity between the players, such as the duel between Vidic and Drogba, in the end leading to the headless send-off of the Ivorian (no doubt he deserved it - he lost his head, and that is it).
And in the end, there were tears as well: John Terry's missed penalty, when all Chelsea fans and players could almost touch the trophy, is sure to be remembered as one of the moments of the final: Mr. Chelsea, a great player, the captain, missing the penalty. At the same time, the best player in the world, Cristiano Ronaldo missed a penalty before that (and he shot pathetically: I am certain every football fan thought "He'll miss", when he stopped shortly before kicking), which led him to cry of relief when Van der Saar made the winning save against Anelka.

Tears of joy and of grief were lost amid the heavy rain in Moscow.
Manchester United deserved to win, but Chelsea didn't deserve to lose.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Cristiano Ronaldo to Real Madrid

Manchester United's concentration for tonight's Champions League final cannot be the best as the rumours of Cristiano Ronaldo's exit for Real Madrid are getting out of hand: Alex Ferguson called a Spanish journalist "idiot" for asking about it, and apparently, Manchester United are adamant about letting their super-star (who has a 5 year contract) go.
But Cristiano Ronaldo apparently wants to go - will he want to leave the possible Champions League champions?
In any case, the rumours cannot be good for Manchester United, as Chelsea gets its time to fully concentrate on the match.

Monday, May 19, 2008

EURO 2008

The European Championship for national teams is starting soon, on June 7th. As all leagues have pretty much finished, and thus, the EURO 2008 in Switzerland/Austria will be a good afterthought/hangover, full of exciting matches for all football fans.
I must admit that I have far higher expectations to the EURO 2008 by now than I would have to the World Cup, where too many teams mean too many boring matches between lousy teams. But with more of the better teams and a more compact format, the EURO 2008 should not suffer from this (nevertheless, I do predict some incredibly boring matches between some of the more tactically-minded teams).
Although some people say that the EURO 2004 in Portugal was a bore with the wrong winner, I do not agree: Greece was not an exciting team, but were deserved winners. In fact, another beauty of the European championships is that you actually have the realistic possibility of seeing surprises by "small" teams winning: Greece is only one example, but Denmark in 1992 is another (This also makes it very difficult to predict the tournament!)

Greece will undboubtfully have a hard time defending their title, although their group D does not look impossible; they have been paired with Spain, Sweden and Russia.
Sweden is as always unpredictable, and could both win and lose, while Spain again goes to a big tournament with a super-team, but without winning it. Russia is another interesting team: they qualified at the last moment because of England's exit, but were otherwise not overly impressive in the qualifiers.

What I would call the "group of Death" is group C, where the world champions and number two, France and Italy, face each other in a repeat of the 2006 World Cup final. The other teams in the group are the ever-talented Dutch, and a young talented Romanian side, who actually qualified ahead of the Netherlands in their group. Watch out for them!

Group B will see some interesting clashes, where Germany will try to wash away their huge disappointments from the EURO 2004 and the EURO 2000, where they didn't qualify from the initial stages. But it won't be easy, as they will be facing teams who are sure to want to defeat the Germans: Poland has qualified strongly (ahead of Portugal), and after a dramatic match in Berlin at the 2006 World Cup, will be sure to want to upset their big neighbor.
For Croatia any game against Germany is special: in the EURO 1996 they lost in the quarterfinals, but in the 1998 World Cup quarterfinals they destroyed Germany 3-0 in a legendary match which brought Croatia to the forefront of world football. Croatia-Germany is a match I would never want to miss!
The last team in the group are the Austrian hosts; a team that has not showed great results in the last years, their possibilities as hosts are difficult to estimate.

Group A will see the Swiss co-hosts in some interesting matches, although the group otherwise doesn't personally excite me very much: the Swiss are good, but in the 2006 World Cup were very defensive and boring. The group could see a tense match between Turkey and Switzerland, who played last time for the 2006 World Cup play-offs, when Turkey proved disgraceful. Nevertheless, Turkey is still an interesting team, that anyone should watch out for.
The other two teams in the group, Portugal and the Czech Republic, are powerful outsiders: the Czech had a good EURO 2004, but a lousy 2008 World Cup. They still have a powerful team, and won their qualifying group ahead of Germany.
Finally, Portugal still has a super team, and with the world's currently best player, Cristiano Ronaldo. However, it remains to be seen whether they can go all the way after their disappointing loss at home to Greece in the EURO 2004. But I would certainly call them the favourites in group A!

I shall soon make my predictions for the tournament, but be sure that it will be fun, as European nations again face each other for the title of the best team of the continent!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

End of season

Today Brøndby defeated FC Copenhagen 2-1 in Brøndby stadium. There isn't much to play for: AaB already won the league, and Brøndby is trailing in 9th place in the league. But FC Copenhagen are Brøndby´s arch-rivals, and a victory at least puts a bit of sweet taste into an otherwise bitter season.
I am back - and I have a good influence on these teams ;-)

Friday, May 16, 2008

Facebook and football

Facebook is probably the most time-wasting shit on the internet, although I have found and stayed in touch with many friends through the social network. Nevertheless, there are tons of useless features on facebook, and with more time and a favourable internet connection, I went into check out some of them related to football:
  • news: This brings you the latest news from UEFA, and is ok, but I think I may as well add an RSS feed on my webpage, as I don't have the habit of consulting football news on Facebook.
  • What football player are you: six basic questions about some footballing habits told me I was Robinho, from Real Madrid: "Pelé's descendant, overrated, very bad teamwork, a typical Brazilian". Slam!
  • English football: strange application for support of the English national team which you couldn´t get me to install by paying me for it.
  • Football grounds: An application similar to the many useless "Where I've been applications", but to show which stadiums you have visited. But it wasn´t working
  • Love football (soccer): I would never add an application that writes soccer in parenthesis (There is only ONE football!), and this application is a useless feature to add the badges of your favourite team on your facebook profile. Sad...
  • UEFA Cup picks/Champions League/EURO 2008 picks: A game-prediciton game for the UEFA Cup and champions league. There is also a new one for the EURO 2008 and I immediately joined it and made my first round predictions (which I should publish here up to the tournament starts!)
  • Premier football: a social networking game, I guess, where you can make a team made up of your facebook friends, which then play against other teams. For people with too much time...
  • Fantasy football: There are so many of these on the internet, I guess Facebook had to have one; it is with Premier League football only though, but I may be tempted to make a team. (And yes, spot my self-irony: I have no life!).
  • Are you a real football fan?: This is a football quiz, and is fine, although it is clearly aimed at fans of English football, with an overwhelming amount of questions on English football. But it is addicting! And just for the record: I am a superfan...

Besides the "Picks" application (I always make predictions anyway, and this makes it easier),Facebook is a great waste of time, for football fans as well.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Aalborg Boldklub

With a 2-0 victory at home against Brøndby IF, Aalborg BK just became Danish champions for the third time in their history. This happens with style, as there are still two rounds left in the league, but they can not be reached by their nearest rivals, last years champions, FC Copenhagen.
I have been away, but was very surprised to see AaB (as they are usually called) be leading the league as I returned; but apparently, the team from northern Jutland has been a surprise throughout the season, showing stability and commitment, something the defending champions of money-spending Copenhagen hadn´t.

As a Brøndby fan, I am happy FC Copenhagen didn´t win the title, and well, happy to see the AaB fans party their asses off: they are great fans, a great town (Aalborg), and deserve to be champions.

I know they will celebrate it with massive amounts of beer: Cheers!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Zenit St. Petersburg UEFA Cup Champions

One can only imagine the amounts of beer and vodka being drunk today in Manchester, as thousands of fans of Glasgow Rangers and Zenit St. Petersburg decended upon the English city to see their teams clash in the 2008 UEFA Cup final.
In reality, there was only one team on the pitch: the Russians deservedly won their first European title. They were far superior in every facet of the game to the overly defensive and boring Scots, and it was a victory for football that Zenit St. Petersburg won.
I must admit that I know little of the Russian team; first time I heard about them was last year, when they won the Russian league, and after a poor start in the UEFA cup, I don't think anybody would have expected them to win. But the team under Dick Advocaat has been impressive, in particularly against Bayern Munich, which was the first time I had the pleasure to watch them play.
I am certain that this is not the last time we have heard about the Russian team, but I will also be looking forward to seeing more of their players at this summer's European Championship, and against some better teams in next season's Champions League.
Until them, congratulations to Zenit, their fans, and cheers in vodka!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Manager of the year

Alex Ferguson, the manager of Machester United, has just been made manager of the season in the Premier League after leading the Reds to their 17th Premier League title with a 2-0 win over Wigan Athletic, thus leaving Chelsea trailing with a useless tie.

Manchester United will have the chance to keep Chelsea trailing yet again at the Champions League Final in Moscow, possibly cementing an extraordinary season for Manchester United, not seen since the legendary 1998-1999 season (but this team, in my opinion is better than the team from back then).

But be sure that Chelsea will fight: they will undoubtfully not want this season to be remembered as the season where they were nothing but runner-ups to Manchester United. Everyone remembers the winners; nobody remembers the runners-up.

But my warmest congratulations to Alex Ferguson, whom I still consider to be one of the greatest coaches of all time.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Back to (football) life

I have now left the harsh football backlands of Northern Mozambique, where following football was so difficult. I have only followed (superficially) the champions league and the major European leagues. Now, I am extremely surprised to see that in the Danish league AaB (Aalborg Boldklub - Danish clubs have never been good with names...) is winning by a pretty large margin ahead of FC Midtjylland (those names...).
And my favourites, Brøndby B, remain on the lower half...

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Champions League final

I watched the semifinals of the UEFA Champions League on a long road-trip of Mozambique: the first leg matches in a boring bar in Nampula and in a kitsch old hotel in Quelimane. On the following day I crossed the mighty Zambezi river, and eventually I arrived in Maputo exactly for the second leg of the semifinals.
I was not expecting Barcelona to go through, even though my support went for them, both personally, but also football-wise, since I believe we would get a much more exciting final with them there, than the two (great) teams we had got. But without scoring at home, it was bound to happen. I am nevertheless surprised that a team with Barcelona's firepower was unable to score in the first match at home, a sure sign of the crisis the Catalonians are clearly going through. Manchester United were surely not the better team in the first match, and did look shaky even at home; but football is about scoring goals, and after Paul Scholes' blast, they are deservedly in the final.
Liverpool and Chelsea gave us some great and intense matches. The first one was a tactical and hard encounter, while the second was intense and very entertaining. While Liverpool played their game, never surrendering, it seemed to me the entire time that Chelsea was the team that wanted to be in the final the most. The players are great, and Chelsea is surely hungry for their first European title.
The final will indeed be hard to predict; I do not expect a very entertaining match. It will probably be very tactical, a bit nervous, and with few (if any) goals.