Then Saturday Comes… the half decent football blog


TEAM OF THE SEASON, GOODBYE GUUS + PARTING WITH PAOLO

THEN SATURDAY COMES’ TEAM OF THE SEASON 2008-2009

The votes have been cast, counted and verified.  There was hot competition for places this season, with over 500 people making first team appearances in the Premiership.  However, there could only be room for 11 starters and 7 subs, and here is the all-important final squad.

TEAMOFSEAS

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GK: Mark Schwarzer (Fulham)

Already controversy from the off.  However, Schwarzer’s move and the ridiculous changes in fortune between Fulham and Middlesbrough have not been a coincidence.  The Australian has had a ridiculously good season, and that’s why he’s the TSC Goalkeeper of the Year.


RB: Glenn Johnson (Portsmouth)

It’s not often you have a defender who battled against relegation to be in the team of the season, but Johnson has been great all year and is likely to move to a top-four club in the summer.  His vast improvement is testament to the value of first-team football, and he must be commended for leaving Chelsea two years ago to find it at unglamorous Pompey.


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CB: Brede Hangeland (Fulham)

Three players in and we’ve still not had a top six team!  But then again, Hangeland is the main reason why Fulham are a top seven team.  Thoroughly excellent all season after joining Woy’s Wevolution at Craven Cottage.  That he was deemed not good enough after a trial at Newcastle is flabbergasting.  A move to Arsenal seems likely.

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CB: Nemanja Vidic (Manchester United)

Normal service has resumed.  Vidic had a fantastic season apart from two games; sadly for the Serbian, they were the two highest profile matches of the season.  Despite his limitations (as shown against Liverpool and Barca) it’s impossible to discredit the 50+ games he commanded from the back in a campaign in which he helped keep about 400 hours of clean sheets and was ultimately pipped for the Player Of The Season award by an old man.

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LB: Patrice Evra (Manchester United)

He may have moaned when the Arsenal ‘babies’ kicked like men, but Evra has been by far and away the best left back in the country.  Although Ashley Cole finished the season well, Evra played to a supreme standard throughout the year and has comfortably cemented himself as the best LB in the world.  Also seems to be crazy, as this video proves.

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CM: Steven Gerrard (Liverpool)

The driving force behind Liverpool’s strongest title push in almost two decades.  He scored 24 goals in 41 games, and that’s playing in a team with duffers like Lucas and Arbeloa.  Has been playing in a more forward role this season, but I’ve put him in central midfield because I’m crazy like that.  Sadly, Stevie G is the second and last English player to make the team.

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CM: Michael Essien (Chelsea)

Ironically most memorable for absolutely destroying TSC Team Of The Year teammate Steven Gerrard in the Champion’s League Quarter Final.  Endless energy and the capability of scoring outrageous goals, the Ghanaian is the world’s finest central midfielder (outside of the Nou Camp).

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CM: Stephen Ireland (Manchester City)

Perhaps the most controversial player to pick.  Ireland has scored less goals and won less trophies than Frank Lampard, and the chances are I’m overlooking Fat Frank for off-field indiscretions.  However, that’s saying something when it’s Daddy Dick who is prospering.  What really sets him apart from Lamps is that Ireland has been surrounded by cloggers and prima-donners, yet has still had a wonderful season (far outshining Robinho most weeks).

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FW: Andrei Arshavin (Arsenal)

Arsenal’s sole representative, and probably the reason they will be playing Champion’s League football next season instead of Everton.  Arshavin’s entrance since January has been explosive and proved all the doubters wrong (myself included).  The little Russian is getting to the territory of Juninho/Zola/Bergkamp where he’s just so good that everyone loves him.


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FW: Fernando Torres (Liverpool)

Despite being ravaged by injury, showed no signs of suffering from second season syndrome.  For my money the best centre forward in the world, and it’s scary to think Manchester United could have bought him.  50 goals in 84 starts in England so far.  The only negative thing that has come from his stay in England is this atrocity;

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FW: Christiano Ronaldo (Manchester United)

Not as good a season as 2007-08, but how could he be?  Ronaldo has dominated Old Trafford this season, to a point where he might be approaching on Thierry Henry levels of holding other players back.  Still, props where they’re due and Chrissy Ron is ridiculously prop-worthy.

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hiddink horseGUUS HIDDINK: THE NEW MAX CLIFFORD?

Chelsea clinched their first silverwear in two years after beating Everton 2-1 at Wembley yesterday.

Nobody will begrudge boss Guus Hiddink’s suitcase being be a little heavier on his trip back to Russia, where he will return after a fabulous brief relationship with the West Londoners.

Although Everton were the neutrals favourites yesterday, there was no outpour of anger when Chelsea eventually won.  The reason for that lies at their (now former) manager Hiddink.  And that is the truly remarkable feat he attained; under Guus the same players who were lambasted as cocky, thuggish mercaneries turned into a likeable bunch of rapscallions.

That is the biggest PR turnaround since Max Clifford turned Jade Goody into ‘The People’s Princess From The Wrong Side Of The Tracks’.

Having a likeable manager is like the antithsesis of bad apples; having one good one makes all the rest better.  Much like Kieron Dyer, Craig Bellamy and Alan Shearer were all more likeable under Sir Bobby Robson, Guus has made us forget about his players’ personal misgivings.  Strange as it seems, Chelsea are actually quite likeable these days.

Since Jose Mourinho left in 2007, Chelsea have always felt like they are a team of teenagers acting out without any parental figure.  Personalities such as Terry, Lampard, Malouda, Ballack, Mikel, Drogba and Cole ran riot at Stamford Bridge.

The side went through the motions in between various ill-disciplined temper tantrums.  They were still talented, but they were mechanical; there was no joy to the way they played.  In turn, Chelsea became despised again.

Their moaning players and methadoligical tactics belied the fantasy football you would expect from a multi-billionaire owner.  Also, with the Sheikhs rocking up all over the place, it seemed like Chelsea’s time had passed.

Chelsea players were forced to grow up fast under Hiddink
Chelsea players were forced to grow up fast under Hiddink

Guus Hiddink was appointed with the task of retaining Champions League football, something which proved a doddle.  Since taking over from the woeful Scolari, his troops have turned from boys to men (as Patrice Evra might say).

True, there were the histrionics against Barcelona, but other than that the team are playing great football with a smile on their face.

Particularly Lampard and Malouda have excelled under the Dutch gaffer, and gone from being a pair of the most ridiculed players in the league to two of its most consistent performers.

So what is the secret of Hiddink’s success?  Apparently, and supporting everything I suspect about the realities of football management, it is simply that he is ‘normal’.  He treats the players with respect, and they reciprocate.

Travelling back from his first away game as boss, he walked along the aisle of the bus chatting to his players and getting to know them.  In one hand he drank from a glass of wine, and with the other he offered each player a beer.


It seems a tiny thing but those players had been craving communication since Jose Mourinho’s 2007 exit.

One lovely man surrounded by scumbags, yet they all seem much more likeable for being associated with old Guus
One lovely man surrounded by scumbags, yet they all seem much more likeable for being associated with old Guus

He also organised a meeting with the notoriously sulky Nicolas Anelka and Florent Malouda, and explained that he felt they could become what Rooney/Ronaldo are to Manchester United.  Such a meeting seems like an obvious thing to do, but anyone who saw the interview with Malouda before the FA Cup will notice how much a simple personal touch like that means to footballers.  Anyone who has seen the pair play in their new roles will also tell you Hiddink was completely correct.

So there you have it.  In his brief stay, Guus Hiddink has been the first manager to emulate Bobby Robson’s idea of management.  Keep things simple, act with some class and pick the best team available.

It’s really not rocket science.

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maldiniMALDINI RETIRES TO BIZARRE CRITICISM

As one constant in football disappeared, another proved itself to be alive and well.  After Paolo Maldini finally called time on a glorious 24-year career at AC Milan, the Italian ‘ultra’ fans proved they were still as moronic as ever by choosing to boo him during a lap of honour.

As he ran past the hardcore fans in the San Siro’s south stand, a banner was unfurled reading “There is only one captain – Franco Baresi.  From those you branded mercenaries and mangy.”  Maldini’s reaction was to grab a microphone and say: “I am proud of not being one of those fans”.

To put it into context, it’s like Ryan Giggs playing for Manchester United for another seven seasons then being heckled b the Stretford End because he is not Roy Keane.  Farcical  behaviour.

All in all it’s a horribly shady way for a legend to drop out of football.  However, you can’t imagine Maldini leaving with the same bitterness to his finale as Zinedine Zidane in 2006.  Although the words clearly rattled him enough to distance himself from the Milanese people who supported him for over 1,000 games, this will become a footnote in a great career.  Just look at this ludicrous amount of honours he amassed during his career.


Milan
* Serie A: 1987-88, 1991-92, 1992-93, 1993-94, 1995-96, 1998-99, 2003-04, Runner-up 1989-90, 1990-91
* Coppa Italia: 2002-03, Runner-up 1984-85, 1989-90, 1997-98
* Supercoppa Italiana: 1988, 1992, 1993, 1994, 2004, Runner-up 1996, 1999, 2003
* UEFA Champions League: 1988-89, 1989-90, 1993-94, 2002-03, 2006-07, Runner-up1992-93, 1994-95, 2004-05
* UEFA Super Cup: 1989, 1990, 1994, 2003, 2007 Runner-up 1993
* Intercontinental Cup: 1989, 1990, Runner-up 1993, 1994, 2003
* FIFA Club World Cup: 2007, Dubai Challenge Cup: 2009

National team

* FIFA World Cup: 3rd (1990), Runner-up (1994)
* European Championships: 3rd (1988), Runner-Up (2000)

Individual
* Under-21 European Footballer of the Year: 1989
* Team of the Tournament: World Cup 1994, European Championships 1996, 2000
* UEFA Champions League Final Man of the Match: 2003

* UEFA Team of the Year: 2003, 2005
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Serie A Defender of the Year: 2004, UEFA Champions League Best Defender: 2007
* Italy captain: 1994-2002, all-time caps: 126

But statistics are not enough to appreciate Maldini’s brilliance; check out this video tribute.

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matface

Barack congratulating me as I put the blog to pasture over summer

And with that comes the end of Then Saturday Comes for the 2008-09. season  The UK’s leading football blog will be taking a much needed over the summer months, as I refuse to spend the nicest days of the year pontificating on which millionaire playboys will be switching clubs.

But don’t worry, you will still get your regular Reville fix.  A brand new, non-football blog will be launching later this week.  Although it will undoubtedly be bigger and better than Then Saturday Comes, but I fully expect to bring this blog back closer to the start of next season.

One final piece of admin – sadly my much anticipated Season Review is still on hold.  Microsoft Media Player has defeated me and I’ve been unable to upload the masterpiece.  Undeterred, I plan to go into university tomorrow and use one of their special (i.e. not crippled by virus) computers and should have it up by this time tomorrow… fingers crossed.

1985–2009 Milan 647 (29)
National team3
1986–1988 Italy U-21 012 0(5)
1988–2002 Italy 126 0(7)
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Relative successes for Barcelona and Burnley

BARCA

Barcelona beat Manchester United 2-0 to confirm, as many have been claiming all season, that they are the best team in the world.

The Catalan giants swept the English champions away with the longest bout of one-touch passing I’ve ever seen.  To be honest, it could easily have been 4 or 5.  Although that would have been extremely harsh on a Man United team which didn’t play badly, it would have been a fair reflection of how far Barcelona are easily Europe’s best side (apart from Leicester City).


Much of the pre-match talk was about “who is better, Messi or Ronaldo?” . In the end, that debate proved irrelevant, as the true measure was “who is being fed by Andrés Iniesta!”.  The balding Spaniard’s breathtaking performance at the heart of Barca’s midfield with (the equally underrated) Xavi is surely the best midfield partnership since Lennon and Izzet during Leicester’s late-90’s pomp.

lionel messi

Although outshone by Iniesta in Rome, the boy is still rather good

Still, in the inevitable ‘Messi vs Ronaldo’ discussion, the Argentine clearly had the better game.  While the Portugeezer relied on howling piledriving efforts (all bar one off target) at the Barca goal, Little Lionel showed a far more pragmatic, cerebral approach.  He was happier buzzing around the outside of the box before deciding whether to pass, shoot or dribble.  Almost every time he made the correct choice.

Manchester United played with little of the verve or rhythm you would expect due to Barca’s excellent possession football.  I dare say it was a lesson that has been coming for a long time.  Although still the best team in England (by some way), they are increasingly over-reliant on individual brilliance helping them to squeak narrow wins.  They got away with recent scares against Aston Villa, Wigan and Spurs thanks not to Ferguson’s tactics, but moments of personal brilliance.  There was no way that was going to dig them out of a hole against a team as good as Barca.

Although it’s ridiculous to criticise Fergie due to them ‘only’ winning the two trophies, he really should reconsider that baldy Phelan as an assistant manager.  Quieroz has not been replaced, and this reliance on individual brilliance could prove their downfall even on the domestic front if Chelsea and/or Liverpool get their act together.

The best Manchester United player for me was John O’Shea.  Some might blame him for Messi’s goal, but for me that was Ferdinand’s territory.  I thought O’Shea put in a great performance that undermines all those people who say he’s just a squad player to make up the numbers, myself included.  If it was Puyol who was shadowing Ronaldo off the ball in the way O’Shea repeatedly did to Henry he would be praised to the high moon.  Inevitably though, he will still get a 6/10 and ‘weak link of the team’ tag in tomorrow’s red-top rags.

All in all it was a lovely match. Although I was happy Barcelona won, I’m embarrassed to be ideologically alligned to the ABUs who will inevitably updating their facebook status to show how bitter they are towards Manchester United.  There’s no shame in being the second best team in Europe.


Graham Alexander and Clarke Carlisle are all smiles after helping Burnley gain promotion to the Premier League following the memorable 1-0 victory over Sheffield United at Wembley

Burnley's Clarke Carlisle and Graham Alexander celebrate their 1-0 Wembley victory over Sheffield United

BERTIE BEE BUZZES INTO THE PREMIER

After the Championship Play Off Final, Burnley have been confirmed as Newcastle’s replacement in the Premiership next season.

About time, too, for one of the Football League’s most likeable clubs.

The Clarets finally gained promotion after beating Sheffield United 1-0 at Wembley thanks to a Wade Elliott wonderstrike (and some rather strange penalty decisions against their Yorkshire opponents).

Hopefully the Blades’ over-zealous lawyers weren’t watching…

Anyway, I was delighted because for many years I have championed Burnley and Preston as deserving of promotion (and after all, they are essentially the same team).  They have both finished between 3rd-8th every season for as long as I can remember, and never seem to spend a sizable amount of money on players with any name value.

They both remind me of Brian Little-era Leicester City, Joe Royle’s Ipswich or Steve Coppell’s Reading: not quite good enough to get promoted but always there or thereabouts.  Those sort of teams develop a strong ‘winning mentality’ that usually kicks onto the next season and gives them a decent chance of survival.

Burnley’s biggest name signing last summer was Martin Paterson, who is hardly world famous but a very good player at this level.  Although he more than justified his £1.2m transfer fee by scoring the rocket against Reading that sent the Clarets to Wembley, rather than individual brilliance it has been team spirit and intelligent management that brought promotion to the promised land.

First under (the criminally underrated) Steve Cotterill and now Owen Coyle, Burnley seem to do a good job of finding good young managers who are hungry for success.  If you don’t believe me about Coyle check out this video of him scoring a scorcher of a goal last month!


Fantastic stuff.  Sadly, Burnley may well turn into the Premiership whipping boys.  If so, Coyle might become the latest Iain Dowie/Aidy Boothroyd – lauded for innovation in the Championship, exposed as a ‘Del Boy Trotter’ in the Premiership.

Hopefully they keep him away from the clutches of Celtic and we get to see what he’s all about with Burnley in the top flight next season.

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unfairplay

The Unfair Play (Off) League

Sticking with the Play Offs, and despite a pun that doesn’t quite work, it’s time to return to a regular complaint at this time of the year.

Every season the same arguments come forward that the Play Offs don’t gauge who truly deserves promotion.  And keeping with the annual tradition, the highest placed team outside of  the automatic spots have failed to get promoted in any division.

Indeed, the best league finish for any of this season’s Play Off winners was tth (see below).   League One winners Scunthorpe finishing 11 points and four places lower than the MK Dons.  In a true meritocracy it could be argued that Sheffield United, Franchise FC and Bury should all be promoted, but any true fan of lower league football will tell you why that’s wrong.

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Do the Blades, Franchisers and Shakers have a valid complaint?

Do the Blades, Franchisers and Shakers have a valid complaint?

The Play Offs give hope to teams with nothing left to play for, and a route to promotion for those who can’t afford to keep up with the big boys.  As previously mentioned, Burnley have no superstar players and little with Premiership experience, compared to Sheffield United who can call on a spine of Paddy Kenny, Chris Morgan, Neil Montgomery and (for much of the season) James Beattie.

The Play Offs evens the field somewhat and allows for extra upward mobility in the football pyramid, rather than just tying things up for the usual suspects.

Most importantly, it keeps the season going beyond March for approximately 80% of teams.  If you’re not involved in automatic promotion or relegation, you still have something to aspire to.  If a team is in the top 12 of a division, they will probably still be aiming on getting to 6th until it is truly impossible.  If you are 16th or lower, you are worried about relegation.

That means that only four teams per division have a boring end of season.  That is great, and far more desirable than a situation in the Premiership, where Wigan have taken over from Charlton in the top flight’s ‘Athletics Who Give Up Once We Are Safe As There Is No Chance We Will Get Into Eutope’.

A snappy title and one that I hope will catch on.

In summary; the Play Offs are great.  They give the lower leagues a much-needed marquee game, they allow for a greater variety of teams to get a crack at a higher division and, most importantly, they prolongue interest in the season past Easter.

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We'll bounce back with the final update on Sunday

We'll bounce back with the 2008-2009 season's final update on Sunday

One last aside – I had previously promised the season review Youtube video today but completely forgot that the FA Cup final was taking place on Saturday.  With that in mind, the season review video and Team Of The Year will be hitting your computer screens on Sunday.

Betcha can’t wait!

My prediction for the final?  Sadly I think Chelsea will walk out as comfortable 2-0 winners.

Everton have the aura of bottlers about them.  Any time they have been in Europe proves that.  I hope I’m wrong, but my local bet house is definitely going to receive £2 on Hiddink leaving town with a winner’s medal.



RIP Newcastle United 1993-2009

kevin keeganJust two games after Steven Taylor was tipping Newcastle United for a top-six finish next season, the Magpies have dropped out of the top flight.

Although still a Geordie hero, you can imagine King Kev had a wry smile after being proven right in his objections to the direction fat cockney Mike Ashley was taking the club.

A meek 1-0 loss against Aston Villa confirmed their drop to the Championship, where they will play such luminaries as Blackpool and Doncaster Rovers.  It’s no less than the barcodes deserve, after some ludicrously atrocious mismanagement off the field was replicated for months on it.

At this juncture big congratulations have to go to Sam Allardyce, Harry Redknapp and Paul Hart, who all showed how easy it was to drift away from the relegation zone with an ounce of footballing nous.  Ricky Sbragia and Phil Brown should be thankful that in Middlesbrough and Newcastle there were two teams even less interested in survival than themselves.

Still, the Hull City and Sunderland fans are right to celebrate their achievement of survival, irrespective of it being attained in spite of rather than due to their players.

So where next for Newcastle?  A huge clear-out is needed, not only because the current squad is terrible but also for financial reasons.  In a move that sums up Ashley’s complete lack of foresight, they neglected to include relegation wage cut clauses, something of real concern when you remember 15 players are earning over £50,000 per week.

Yep, you read that right. Collocini, Butt, Geremi, Duff, Barton, Owen, Viduka, Cacapa, Martins, Nolan, Smith, S.Taylor, Gutierrez, Beye and Jose Enrique all earned in excess of £2.6m for their ‘efforts’ this season.

But Newcastle’s most important decision this summer will not be to do with the players, it will come in the dugout.  Newcastle United can be a force to be reckoned with if you have the right manager (Keegan I, Robson and to an extent Dalglish).  Here are five potential candidates and my esteemed analysis of their credentials.


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Joe Kinnear

Joe Kinnear


PROS: Already on the pay roll, his name is a pun

CONS: Doesn’t know the players’ names, cockney mafia

LIKELY FINISHING PLACE: 6th

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Alan Shearer

Alan Shearer

PROS: ‘Geordie Messiah’, enthusiastic, hard working

CONS: Tactically inept, shifty eyes, no experience

LIKELY FINISH: 8th

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Steve McLaren

Steve McLaren

PROS: Competent manager, jolly, water resistant

CONS: Potential nervous break-down, ginger

LIKELY FINISH: 2nd

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Timour Ketsbaia

Timour Ketsbaia

PROS: Bright young manager, fans could sing ‘Timouri Ketsbaiiiia’ to the tune of ‘Sex on Fire’

CONS: Untested in England, crazy, Uncle Fester

LIKELY FINISH: 4th

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Steve Coppell

Steve Coppell

PROS: Extremely competent, intelligent, very experienced

CONS: Too uncharismatic for the ‘Geordie Nation’?

LIKELY FINISH: 1st

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There you have it, Toon fans.  The most obvious appointment would be Steve Coppell, and he would easily walk the division. Steve McLaren would get promoted as well.  But in reality that doesn’t matter.  Far more important for the Newcastle fans is to bring in someone who is geographically compatible with the club.

Therefore your next Newcastle manager will be…

Peter Quasimodo

Peter Quasimodo

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ALLEZ IRON, ALLEZ

scunthpOne of the teams Newcastle will join in the Championship is Scunthorpe United.  However, the Iron are infinitely more happy about their new dwellings than their deluded North-Eastern peers.

A frankly ridiculously entertaining 3-2 play-off final win was just rewards for a Scunthorpe team that plays fantastic football.  Even more ridiculous was the performance of Martin Woolford, who I previously thought was employed simply because he had pace; little did I know, but he’s actually better than Maradonna.

It was really no surprise that the highest profile League One game of the season should serve up such a feast of football.  I’ve been saying all year that League One is actually a far more entertaining spectacle than matches played at higher ends of the football pyramid.

If you don’t believe me check out this goal, and remember it was scored by the losing team.  A rocket!


After the season Millwall have had, it’s a shame that they couldn’t go up too.  Same goes for Leeds and MK Dons, all of whom will surely challenge for League One honours again next season.  If Norwich, Charlton and Southampton think they are going to walk that division they have another thing coming.

Still, the last word has to be a congratulations to Scunthorpe.  Hopefully this time they can keep hold of their best players and have a proper crack at the Championship next season.

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GUESS WHO’S BACK?

garynevill

Manchester United defender Gary Neville is the surprise inclusion in England coach Fabio Capello’s squad for the World Cup qualifiers in June.

Despite his only memorable contribution to the season being manhandled by John Carew at Old Trafford this season, Fab has gone against his ‘how many games has he played recently’ obsession and called up Red Nev,

Still, it’s not that bad.  I’m sure he won’t start, and he has lots of experience he can pass on.  What is worse is that there is still no place for Manchester City’s Nedum Onouha, one of the unsung revelations of the season.  In 2009, he and Fulham’s Brede Hangeland have been the best defenders in the country.

Of course, this time next year when Man City have bought half-a-dozen superstars and are celebrating their first top 4 finish, Onouha will be in the England set-up.  Not simply because he is worthy, but because you are only seemingly worthy if you play with other good players.

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joker clappingEND OF AN ERA

Thursday will see the final update of the 2008-09 season.  As well as a glorious report of the Champ’s League final, I will be unveiling a much anticipated season review.

My broadcast media training is being busted out and a fantastic youtube review is being put together by my team of researchers.

Until Thursday, farewell my friends.



Analysing the bid + play offs fever

Should England host the World Cup?

Should England host the World Cup?

WORLD CUP BID IN CHAOS ALREADY?

And here we go again.

England have made a bid to host the 2018 World Cup, and in all honesty we probably deserve it.  In terms of stadia, resources, transport and interest, 52 years is long enough for us to host another World Cup.

Essentially the bid is there for us to lose, and surprise surprise that’s what we seem to be doing.

The last time we lost out on a World Cup bid, it was because of two things; firstly, politicians jumping on the bandwagon and policising the process.  FIFA are a dodgy enough body without liasing with politicians.  The 2006 German bid was made by Beckenbauer and Becker, France 1998 was Platini’s rise to prominence and USA ’94 was one on the back of a Bruce Springsteen concert.

True, the South Africans sent Mandela but he’s more of a faux saint than a politician.

The obvious delegates are the ones to go for, and a tasty combo of Boris Johnson, Simon Cowell and Melinda Messenger would have been more than enough to bag the bid.  So what do we do?  Why, make it a New Labour project, of course;

The other reason was the typically patronising English assertion that ‘Football’s Coming Home Again!’.   Such words worked to galvanise the unwashed masses on the terraces in Euro 96, but they don’t help to sway the decision of FIFA bigwigs.  It suggests England is above the other countries, not ideal implication seeing as the only pre-requisite is that you can welcome 32 countries.

2018 bid organiser and FA chairman Lord Triesman said: “It probably wasn’t the brightest slogan ever invented.  There was a bit of a suggestion that this was the only real home of football, and it was somehow in the natural order of things that it would come to us.  It’s not a phrase that will cross my lips in public.”

Step forward Gordon Brown once again.

“It’s fitting that we are launching the bid in England, the home of football, and at Wembley – the greatest stadium in the world.”

Oh Gordon, you’re making it too easy for political cynics these days.

Also a special mention must go out to the FA bid team, and it’s spectacular efforts to step away from tokenism and obvious positive discrimination.  What do you do if you want to look like a tolerant country ready to accept people of all creed and colours…

teambehindbid

This photo opportunity is also known as…

tokenblack

Fantastic stuff.  And not to mention there was actually invited a BNP councillor to sit in the crowd at the bid too.

http://www.mirror.co.uk/sport/football/2009/05/20/fury-over-bnp-racist-at-cup-bid-115875-21373435/

One day in and we’ve already lost it haven’t we?  What with this and Eurovision I’m starting to wonder if we should even bother interacting with other nations, it always gets embarrassing.  I’m reminded of this poem I just wrote;

“I hoped the FA would get it right,
But they’ve already lost the fight”

Sure, it’s only a two-line stanza but you know they’re going to be quoting it in the playgrounds in the morning.  If Carol Anne Duffy can be poet laureate that rhyme is worth a knighthood.

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playoffPLAY OFF FEVER FEVER FEVER

Ah yes, it’s the best weekend in football.  No, not the culmination of the Premiership (we all know Hull are going down), but the Play-Off Finals.  As regular readers will know, I’m throwing my hat behind Scunthorpe (I’m all about Liam Trotter, me).  But what of the other ties?


  • LEAGUE 2: Gillingham vs Shrewsbury


Shrewsbury fell at this stage two years ago when they lost to Bristol Rovers.  More interesting than that, I was in the crowd that day!

These teams have the lowest league point accumulation ever for a play-off final, with 5th placed Gills on 75 and 7th-placed Shrews on 69.

That last fact was made up but I bet you believed me.

My prediction: 3-1 Gills, Paul Scally’s barmy army!


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  • League 1: Scunthorpe vs Millwall


Millwall have lost both times they have played Scunny this season, 2-1 at the New Den in January and 3-2 in a pulsating game at Glanford Park in October.

Scunthorpe’s talismanic striker Gary Hooper will be back to lead the line for Sunday’s final.  He will hope to emulate his goalscoring form from this season’s JP Trophy at Wembley.

If Millwall win this, only 1 relegated team per division will have bounced back for promotion Championship (Birmingham/Leicester/Gillingham)

PS that fact only works if Gillingham win, geeks.

My prediction: 2-0 Scunthorpe, what a Wembley!

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  • Championship: Sheffield United vs Burnley

If Burnley win on Monday they will return to the top flight for the first time since 1976.

FAO supporters at Wembley: don’t sneeze when Sheffield United are taking corners.  If they lose they may sue you for lost earnings.

Burnley have done the double over the Blades, although the 3-2 win at Bramall Lane in January was admittedly before Sheff U realised they were actually pretty good..

My prediction: Sheffield United 2-1 Burnley AET



PWAISING woy, A RELEGATION FIESTA AND WONKEY LEDLEY
May 15, 2009, 4:42 pm
Filed under: Mat Reville's Football Blog
"If you can believe you can achieve innit"

The coolest man alive

ABOUT A ROY


Roy ‘Woy’ Hodgson has been out of the spotlight on this blog for far too long.  Due to the natural desire to gravitate towards criticising idiots it is all too easy for a nice and competent person like Woy to become a peripheral figure.

This blog entry will serve to redress this oversight and give the big man the props he deserves.

The difference between Woy’s Fulham and the Fulham he inherited from Lawrie Sanchez is outrageous.  What’s more, he reads Dostoyevsky before bed and looks like a 1960’s gangster.  Apparently when he met his wife he pretended he was Italian, and felt he had to carry on the charade for weeks.

“My wife always claims that when I met her, I told her was Italian.  There was obviously something that attracted me to the country.”

On the pitch, the Cottagers’ 3-1 mauling of Aston Villa last weekend pushed them up to 7th, which would be their highest ever finish in the top flight.  They are the overwhelming people’s favourites in the battle for the last European spot.

jredFulham have been in Europe before, but you get the impression if they got there with Woy they would really push on and it would make a huge difference to the club.  Spurs and Man City would just field reserves and get knocked out in the quarter finals.  Woy knows his European apples and it would be good to see him managing on that stage again.

However, rather than just continuing this banal lauding of the big man, I’ll refer you to a quote he made after Jamie Redknapp’s top, top opinion that Norwegian referees shouldn’t officiate Champions League matches after blaming Tom Henning Ovrebo for Chelsea falling out of Europe.


“Do you want to go down the Redknapp route – only England, Italy and Spain count?

“There’s 60 countries in Europe. Do we say to the other 57: ‘Sorry pal, you’re not Premier League’.

“Norway is good enough. The average crowd in Norway is 15,000 and that’s in a country of 4m. We can only average 25,000 in a country of 60m people.

“What are we going to do in future? Are we going to make certain because the Premier League has Sky Sports behind them and loads and loads of money if you are not in England then forget all about it?

“Are we going to say ‘You’re from Spain, you might be just about okay but the rest of you, Switzerland, France, Poland, Russia, Austria, Ukraine, Slovenia, Serbia, you don’t count?’ It’s nonsense.”

Woy is verging on Sir Bobby Robson levels of being a person it is impossible not to love.  Next England manager perhaps?

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I'll be joining Uncle Mike in the Newcastle boxes on Saturday

I'll be joining Uncle Mike in the Newcastle boxes on Saturday

RELEGATION REVIEW


But old Woy faces a tough game this weekend, when he will take his troops on the long trip up to St James’ Park where Fulham will face a buoyed up Newcastle United.

Newcastle’s 3-1 win over relegation rivals Middlesborough has meant they are back on course for the ‘7 points from 3 winnable home games’ to keep them up.

I’ll be in St James’ Park on Saturday, making my first ever appearance in a box.  There is a macarbe part of me that hopes to see a Fulham win and then have to fight my way out of the ground as thousands of furious Geordies attack the prawn sandwich brigade they blame for their predicament.

I will endeavour to introduce myself as Mat Ashley to anyone who has at least two tattoos and is preferrably shirtless.

Anyway, Boro and Hull are both a shambles and will probably win the race to play Leicester City next season.

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Keane's assistant was barking instructions from the touchline

Keane's assistant was barking instructions from the touchline

TRIGGS IS BACK IN FOOTBALL!

And this prawn sandwich / Championship talk leads us onto another Roy.  Isn’t this smooth!

Big Roy Keane and his assistant Triggs have taken over at Ipswich Town, automatically making them one of the promotion favourites for next season.

An interesting summer will ensue at Portman Road, although I doubt Roy will implement the same rotation door  policy that imploded at Sunderland.

roy keaneApparently 19 players were summoned to face-to-face meetings with Keane and Triggs, hopefully being asked to audition for Ipswich Got Talent.  I hear David Norris does a cracking version of ‘Locked Up’ by Akon that would be right up Keano’s alley.

With loads of money and a good (if crazy) manager, Ipswich could become  a proper team again after years of mid-table finishes.

They have the basis of a good team and with a 3-4 quality additions they could be promotion contenders, and then finally Danny ‘aynes could grace the Premiership.

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cheeriorMARTIN NO MORE SON

There was some sad news today, after Aston Villa captain Martin Laursen announced his retirement from football.  Laursen’s five years in England have been blighted by injury, and I wouldn’t have been able to pick him out of a line-up before last season.

But his form over the past two years has been fantastic, and he is one of the most criminally underrated players in the league.  Villa have struggled since he got injured, despite having good players such as Curtis Davies and Zat Knight as replacements.

According to rumours, Laursen’s retirement at 31 could be outdone by Michael Owen’s at 29.  That would be a disgrace.  Owen is going through an admittedly long bump in the road of his career, but if he worked with a decent management team he could easily become a great player.  Going back to Woy, a team like Fulham would be perfect for Owen, although you would imagine his ego would prefer a move to moneybags Manchester City.

Anyway, it’s always a shame to see any player retire for anything but age.  As a lower-league afectionado, I love seeing players drifting down the divisions as they age.  I’m sure Merson/Beardsley/Anderton get more closure from the end of their career than someone who bows out at the top level.

Sadly, Laursen wasn’t afforded the opportunity to choose his exit from football.  He was a criminally under-rated as a footballer, and this may be the last time you ever read about him – sad times!

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ledley king (MLK)DEADLY LEDLEY

Right I think you’ve read more than enough for this week and I want to go and eat some bangers and mash.  But I do want to touch on Ledley King’s drunken antics, after he was arrested for engaging in a 3am fight on a night out.

I shaln’t write about it too much out of fear of defamation, and I would hate to expose Ledley to ridicule, hatred or contempt, cause him to be lowered in the estimation of right minded members of the public or disparrage him in his trade, office, employment.

However, I believe the following photograph could receive the fair comment defence, as it is only comment that is based on proven or priviliged fact, published in the public interest without malice, is not invective and does not impute an improper motive.

spurs of rage ledley



knee jerk reactions from a non witness
May 7, 2009, 3:48 pm
Filed under: Mat Reville's Football Blog
MONEYBAGS CHELSEA OUTBRIBED BY BARCELONA!
Drogba points the finger of suspicion

Drogba points the finger of suspicion

First I must confess that I didn’t watch any Champions League football this week.  Still, it seems the only things I missed were off-pitch histrionics by Chelsea players after what by all accounts was an atrocious refereeing performance.

Three-and-a-half stone wall penalties were denied to Hiddink’s boys, and some people are calling the ref’s performance naughty words…


Anyway, I feel this blog should have more words on the incident. Please take the time to read guest contributor Sean Cooper discussing the situation as Sky perceived it;

“After th 2nd or 3rd penalty claim got turned down gray said he couldn’t believe a norwegian ref was chosen 4 such impotrant game, and redknapp who was practically in tears 4 cousin frank picked th point up after th game b4 quickly being steered away from it by colleagues!unbelievable! x”

To support Mr. Cooper’s summary of the referee being the game’s focal points, here are some videos of one of the most talked about events; Michael Ballack running after referee Tom Henning Ovrebo.


To a normal TV it looked like Ballack was chasing the ref like a child, but in HDTV you can see he was actually swatting a venemous bee away from his bald head

To a normal TV it looked like Ballack was chasing the ref like a child, but in HDTV you can see he was actually swatting a venemous bee away from his bald head

Actually, they were just taking time out from a stressful game to enjoy a jovial 100m race.  Tom won.

Actually, they were just taking time out from a stressful game to enjoy a jovial 100m race. Tom won.

Or maybe he was trying to stop the ref from making a mistake in the foolish attempt an bravery

Or maybe he was trying to stop the ref from making a mistake in the foolish attempt an bravery

He'll never catch him

He'll never catch him

This could infer the wrath of the Daily Mail brigade

This could infer the wrath of the Daily Mail brigade

The world is watching the Ballack and ref show
The world is watching the Ballack and ref show
And here's one for you Sun readers too!

And here's one for you Sun readers too!

But of course, we must give Didier's vengeance the last laugh.
But of course, we must give Didier’s vengeance the last laugh.

Cooper later added;

“In fact redknapp was so upset part his argument was ‘why cant we have an italian or SPANISH ref’!?!he did realise his mistake 2 b fair.”

Firstly, the obvious hope is that Redknapp and Gray’s anti-Scandinavian lament will lead to similar sanctions as those brought against Big Ron Atkinson.  A surprising amount of sane people value Andy Gray’s contribution to modern football, but the guy is the epitomy of a retired pro who contributes nothing to a broadcast.  All he does is make onamatopeic sounds and rattle off decade-old catchphrases.

The bigger issue is the impending next football conspiracy theory: that UEFA purposely appointed a ref who would be biased (or at least inept) to improve Barcelona’s chances of qualification.

If I knew any Chelsea fans I would be incredibly scared of hearing this argument repeatedly until Chelsea win the Champions League.  That could be a very long wait, so I sympathise with anyone who knows a Chelsea fan.

Such a theory of bias can be laughed off easily, as Barca’s Eric Abidal was sent off last night – not the action of a ref who set out to ensure Barcelona qualify.

The inept referee argument is implausable, but does hold some semblance of reasoning.  It is patently true that Platini and UEFA do not want another all-English final, and everyone outside of England has been routing for Barca to win the competition since the quarters.  But what good would appointing an inept referee do?  Chelsea have enough players to con inept refs (Ballack, Drogba, Terry) that they, not Barca, would most likely benefit from a foolish man in black.

drog-mirror

Drog was horrified by some of the rumours

However, what probably happened was that the referee got carried away with the situation and started refereeing pragmatically.  After watching all the appeals on YouTube, you can forgive the first one due to human error; he thought the foul was committed outside the box.

After making this decision, the ref would have been tormented by the aforementioned Chelsea bullies Drogba, Ballack and Terry, and this probably made him doubtful over the second appeal, when Drogba was fouled twice (shirt and legs) when through on goal.  Also, Drogba’s reputation for diving went before him, and the ref placed the blame on the fall on his own history of ‘simulation’.

Cue more moaning from Chelsea.  I’m sure at every stoppage ‘JT’ and the boys were questionning him, cajoling him and criticising.

drog-bt1

Drog gets a worrying phone bill

By this stage, the ref is officiating pragmatically.  He has made up his mind that Chelsea would do anything for a penalty.  The next appeal was farcical – as Anelka ran into the box a Barcelona defender scooped the ball from his path with his hand.  No penalty.

Now it’s ridiculous.  The ref must have been officiating not to what is happening on the pitch, but what happened previously.

This is 100% unprofessional, and he should be reprimanded.

However, Chelsea are not completely without blame.  Again, they have a very ungentlemanly team who try to bully refs and opponents.

The whole post-Mourinho era has lacked respect for others.  Ashley Cole turning his back on Mike Riley, John Terry instantly questions any referee decision and if Didier Drogba is offside you can guarantee an arrogant wagging finger will be thrown at the linesman. Rumour has it that they tried to influence the ref before the Liverpool Quarter-Final not to book any players approaching a suspension, and this attitude was inevitably going to rile somebody up one day.

To dive, or not to dive, that is the question

To dive, or not to dive, that is the question

So yes, Chelsea were screwed out of a place in the final, and yes it was a disgraceful refereeing performance.  But it’s a case of ‘what goes around comes around’, and the old adage of ‘an eye for an eye’.

If you treat enough referees with enough contempt you will be treated with contempt by them.  It’s completely wrong and unprofessional of Ovrebo, but his actions were wholly reflective of the Chelsea players he angered.



May 5 2009
May 5, 2009, 5:40 pm
Filed under: Mat Reville's Football Blog

To start things off, here’s a video of Alex Ferguson missing a bus;

fergie-bus

Ryan did not receive the same amount of support on the terraces as he did from his fellow pros

Ryan did not receive the same amount of support on the terraces as he did from his fellow pros

GIGGS BAGS LADS AWARD

Continuing the Manchester United theme on this, the eve of the Champion’s League Semi Final, let’s remember a personal award given to one of their longest serving (and most likeable) troops.  A couple of weeks ago, ageing veteran Ryan Giggs was awarded player of the year.  True, it’s not really news to talk about it now but it’s my blog and I’ll dictate onto you whatever I please.

Undoubtedly, the Giggler has done less this season than previous winners.  14 starts and 1 goal at the time of the award is a poor return for a player supposedly the best in the land.

Many people have jumped on the bandwagon and bemoaned the decision, saying it is a lifetime merit award and suggesting it is like giving an aged thespian the Oscar for Best Actor due to a 2 minute cameo in a film.  However, although he was not the best player, he still deserved to win the award.  Don’t worry, mistake haters, that contradiction in terms was 100% on purpose.

There are two criteria that decide any election: who the electorate are and the candidates.

1. Electorate
Frankly, you do not have the right to criticise the decision unless you are a professional footballer.  This is the PFA award, meaning it is voted for by pros.  Arguing with this decision is a complete waste of time.  You would be far better served spending the time practising your footballing skills so you can vote this time next year.

2. Candidates
This is the real reason Old Man Giggs won the award.  There were undoubtedly better players this year (Lampard, Vidic, Ronaldo, Gerrard), but frankly they are all so loathesome that they split the ticket.

Any scholar of political science will tell you that if there isn’t one outstanding candidate a joke one will emerge and win.  This is the governing factor that lead to John Sergeant quitting Strictly Come Dancing, much to the loathesome groans of the unwashed masses.

The other potential winners were disqualified from the race because their names were too difficult for the professional footballers to spell.  Who really expects Joey Barton to be able to spell ‘Hangeland ‘, or Titus Bramble to spell ‘Fellaini’.  So they were disqualified due to the impractical nature of their name.

So that concludes why Ryan Giggs deserved to win the PFA Player Of The Year:

  • footballers are thick
  • his name is easy to spell
  • he isn’t a scumbag and got the ‘aww isn’t he nice’ vote

Anyway it’s a nothing medal that someone as level-headed as Giggs probably finds embarrassing to even bother with, when he’s got Champion’s League and Premiership medals on the horizon.  If you don’t agree with me you should just follow the Spice Girls’ advice and ‘spice up your life’.


And for his next trick, Alex will get Birmingham relegated by Easter... ta da

And for his next trick, Alex will get Birmingham relegated by Easter... ta da

A TRICK OF THE MIND WITH ALEX MCLEISH

Next we drift into the abyss of the lower leagues.  No, not Leicester City (this blog really has to depart from the Man United/LCFC/Newcastle routine), but instead to the ‘Promised Land’. Last weekend the season finished, and old Big ‘Eck masterminded an instant return to the Premiership.

Moronic Blue Noses whooped and hollored at the same players they furiously criticised last season.  Former public enemy #1 David Gold was given a standing ovation, whereas last year his children were attacked by a ravenous mob.

Of course, this time next year the routine will restart.  As Birmingham drift back into the Championship the players will be charlatans and the chairmen derisory scumbags. Still, their promotion did give us that picture of Alex McLeish looking like a magician, and that is the biggest contribution that football club has made to the sport since Christophe Dugarry retired.

And if you don’t agree with me you should just follow the Spice Girls’ advice and ‘spice up your life’.

scunny1UP THE IRON


In the final stop in this whistle-blow summary of the top three leagues, let’s have a little look at League One where it has turned from the business end to the BUSINESS END of the season.

The Play-Offs are in full force, and every neutral in the country is 100% behind Scunthorpe United.  And if they are not, they should be of questionable fandom.

The 4 teams that have qualified for the play-offs are hooligan scumbags Leeds United, hooligan scumbags Millwall and bastions of football heritage the Milton Keynes McDons.  Of course, the amiable Scunthorpe United are being more popular than Susan Boyle if she cured swine flu.

I’m throwing my weight behind The Iron’s promotion campaign, and would like to remind any Scunthorpe fan reading of my midas touch in League One (1 promotion desired, 1 promotion gained).  I am hopnig to get tickets to the second leg at the (admittedly lovely) McDonalds Stadium in the Scunny end, where I will be sucking Grant McCann’s free-kicks away from the touch-line and into the net.  And with their comparative experience (Championship last season and a Wembley-run in the JP Cup this year) combined with the natural boost given to the club that makes it on the last day, I have a good feeling about Scunthorpe’s chances.

I’m sure you will join me in my quest unless you were unfortunate enough to be lumbered with supporting Leeds, Millwall or Dons as a child (which is difficult in the case of Franchise FC).

And if you don’t agree with me you should just follow the Spice Girls’ advice and ‘tonight will be the night when two become one’.


IRON!

Undoubtedly, the Giggler has done less this season than previous winners.  14 starts and 1 goal at the time of the award is a poor return for a player supposedly the best in the land.

Many people have jumped on the bandwagon and bemoaned the decision, saying it is a lifetime merit award and suggesting it is like giving an aged thespian the Oscar for Best Actor due to a 2 minute cameo in a film.  However, although he was not the best player, he still deserved to win the award.  Don’t worry, mistake haters, that contradiction in terms was 100% on purpose.

There are two criteria that decide any election: who the electorate are and the candidates.

1. Electorate
Frankly, you do not have the right to criticise the decision unless you are a professional footballer.  This is the PFA award, meaning it is voted for by pros.  Arguing with this decision is a complete waste of time.  You would be far better served spending the time practising your footballing skills so you can vote this time next year.

2. Candidates
This is the real reason Old Man Giggs won the award.  There were undoubtedly better players this year (Lampard, Vidic, Ronaldo, Gerrard), but frankly they are all so loathesome that they split the ticket.

Any scholar of political science will tell you that if there isn’t one outstanding candidate a joke one will emerge and win.  This is the governing factor that lead to John Sergeant quitting Strictly Come Dancing, much to the loathesome groans of the unwashed masses.

The other potential winners were disqualified from the race because their names were too difficult for the professional footballers to spell.  Who really expects Joey Barton to be able to spell ‘Hangeland ‘, or Titus Bramble to spell ‘Fellaini’.  So they were disqualified due to the impractical nature of their name.

So that concludes why Ryan Giggs deserved to win the PFA Player Of The Year:
– footballers are thick
– his name is easy to spell
– he isn’t a scumbag and got the ‘aww isn’t he nice’ vote