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"It is a game before a product, a sport before a market, a show before a business."
        - Michel Platini, UEFA President, on his view of soccer

Football is based on desperation. All clubs are desperate in one form or another — desperate to succeed, desperate to survive, desperate to stay where they are, desperate that things get no worse, desperate to arrest the slide.
        - Simon Barnes, "The Times"

Behind every footballing tough guy there lurks a mincing aesthete with a love of art for art’s sake, football for football’s sake. A win without art is somehow less than a victory; less, almost, than a beautiful defeat. In football, the romantic and the pragmatist are ever at war in the same breast. Beauty, it must be understood here, is not Barcelona’s aim but their method. And last night they were ready to use this method at every opportunity — quick-fire passing of wit and purpose in the danger areas, seeking always to produce an unlooked-for player in a position of threat.
        - Simon Barnes, "The Times"

Once we accept all the implications of the idea of winning at all costs, then where do we go? Sport becomes a form of private warfare, like industrial espionage. If nothing matters save the result, the entire nature of the sport changes — so much so that it ceases to be sport. Sport is a pretend war. People give their all, but nobody dies. Nobody is poisoned. People suffer incredible agonies of defeat and incalculable ecstasies of victory, but nobody has to collect the corpses afterwards. That is the point of sport. It is a series of stirring events that make wonderful tales and become living mythologies. Sport brings us moments of delight and beauty, horror and disappointment, misery and joy. Sport matters because it doesn’t matter.
        - Simon Barnes, "The Times", writing after Spurs team struck down by mystery illness

The UEFA Champions League is an excellent competition with obviously the best quality of football on display. That is because it is driven by money. The World Cup is driven by glory and it is the pinnacle of the game because it is glory and not money that gets any child interested in the game of football in the first place.
        - Ewarwoowar, on "Football 365"

"The great fallacy is that the game is first and last about winning. It is nothing of the kind... Football is not really about winning, or goals, or saves or supporters — it’s about glory. It’s about doing things in style, doing them with a flourish; it’s about going out to beat the other lot, not waiting for them to die of boredom; it’s about dreaming of the glory that the Double brought."
        - Danny Blanchflower, captain of Spurs' double winning team of 1961

"Winning isn't everything, but wanting to win is."
        - Danny Blanchflower

I think that in any argument about right or wrong in football, a reference to Don Revie’s Leeds United is the nuclear option. There is, quite simply, nowhere to go after that. There has never been a more horrible football team. The Leeds of the Seventies were found guilty, week in, week out, of crimes against humanity.
        - Giles Smith, "The Times"

It’s not the case that the past is automatically a better place. Let the tightness of the shorts on those Malmö players the other night be a dire warning to us all about what happens when fashion runs unchecked by taste or common sense. And certainly the past was not automatically a better place for goalkeepers. True, they could pick up a back-pass, which took the pressure off a bit. At the same time, though, to judge from some of the penalty-area clashes, a goalkeeper could get a free kick out of a referee in 1979 only if he could demonstrate loss of limb. Even then, nine times out of ten the referee would wave away the claim, often using the lost limb to do so. What is automatically the case is that the past was a better place for Forest. Then they bestrode Europe like a colossus. Now it’s away trips to Cheltenham Town.
        - Giles Smith, rewatching the 1979 European Cup Final, "The Times"

"Why not abolish offside? This falls into exactly the same trap as the administrators who opted for golden goal. The assumption they made was that play would continue as it does at present, ignoring the fact that tactics change to reflect the rules.
With offside, if you abolish it then midfield players almost vanish as teams leave three up front and four at the back to counter the opposition's three. The remaining outfield trio chase up and down the 80 yards in between and inevitably just hoof it. All this became clear when a trial was conducted in youth tournaments.
With the golden goal, teams become more afraid of losing a goal than they are motivated to try and score one. And we've had to watch this experiment fail in the most important games in the world of football, rather than something that matters to hardly anyone."
        - Philip Cornwall, "Football365.Com"

Sepp Blatter sits in Zurich having mad ideas that he is powerless to implement until FIFA buys out the EU, and the doesn't bother dealing with a farce within his control: the nonsense that sees a player who would be flagged offside if he touched the ball allowed to challenge for it.
        - from "Football365"

Bringing on substitutes is always regarded as a key moment, but we don’t have any idea about their impact and how well managers do. For the past few weeks, therefore, the Fink Tank has been conducting an ambitious study into substitutions. Manchester United are aggressive when behind, making attacking substitutions 70 per cent of the time, while Arsenal do that only 40 per cent of the time. Manchester City under Kevin Keegan were conservative, making a defensive substitution 50 per cent of the time when ahead (compared with Fulham’s 25 per cent). José Mourinho has never made an attacking substitution when a goal behind and neither has Rafael Benítez, while Chris Coleman does it 70 per cent of the time.
        - Daniel Finkelstein, "The Times"

Iain Dowie famously coined the phrase 'bouncebackability' to describe Crystal Palace’s ability to come from behind. But this is a typical manager’s idea, so optimistic. What fans are interested in is 'throwawayability': which teams toss away hard-earned leads? Now we know that 'throwawayability' exists because we proved last season that 'bouncebackability' exists (although, hilariously, Palace don’t have it) and 'throw-awayability' is the flip side of it.
        - Daniel Finkelstein, "Snatching Defeat from the Jaws of Victory" in "The Times"

This is the time of year when I am worried about my character. I am worried that I’m soft, not a real man, that sort of thing. The relegation battle always makes me feel like that. You see, a real football fan’s football fan would be licking his lips at the prospect of three hated Premiership rivals heading to financial ruin. But my problem is that I don’t hate anyone enough. In fact, it’s worse than that. During the final stages of the relegation battle, I actually start to care about teams such as West Bromwich Albion and Birmingham City and I find that I want them both to stay up. And Portsmouth. And those nice Sunderland people...
        - Daniel Finkelstein, "The Times"

The first rule of relegation is that everyone the club need to keep will leave and vice versa. In the summer after relegation in 2003, West Ham lost Joe Cole to Chelsea. Jermain Defoe went to Tottenham midway through the next season and Michael Carrick followed him in August. In the meantime, there were no takers for Don Hutchison, Tomas Repka or Christian Dailly. That is the way the market works. Managers do not descend hungrily on the squads of relegated clubs looking for players who were particularly feeble or fainthearted when the heat was on... West Ham’s players have done English football a huge disservice this season. The critics who harp on about the foreign invasion and imported stars not feeling for a club as local lads do may have to change the record. It is not outsiders who have let down West Ham. No player has been more committed than Carlos Tévez, while Yossi Benayoun is said to be one of the few to have a future under Alan Curbishley (so he is certain to leave because he is too good for the Coca-Cola Championship). The problems stem from the ability of the average English footballer to do a fair day’s work for a fair year’s money while remaining attuned to his responsibilities.
        - Martin Samuel, "The Times" (March'07)

With Sol Campbell injured, Ashley Cole was the only English player on view at Arsenal, and Bayern Munich named only three Germans. Had Paddington Bear replaced Oliver Kahn in goal, Bayern would have had more Peruvians on the pitch than Germans, which tells you everything you need to know about modern trends in European football.
        - Paul Wilson, commenting on Champion's League Second Round, "The Guardian"

FIFA has agreed with the EU on a formula that allows the Spanish soccer federation to regard players from Africa, the Caribbean and Pacific regions to be included in the allotted European Union places for each Spanish league club roster. In effect, the so-called Cotonou Accord now entitles Barcelona to field Samuel Eto'o and Yaya Toure and Real Madrid to field Mamadou Diarra in addition to three non-EU players. Yet Blatter, having signed up to this and all the while telling politicians to respect the autonomy of sports, also advocates a new charter that imposes on clubs what he calls the six-five principle. By that, he wants club sides to field six players who are eligible for the national team of the league in which the clubs play.
        - Rob Hughes, on the hypocrisy of Sepp Blatter, "Herald Tribune"

Sophisticated and dashing bullshit.
        - Dion Fanning, on Michel Platini's "foreigner" proposals, "The Irish Ind."

It may be that English football cannot sustain a strong league and a strong national side. Between 1974 and 1984, England failed to qualify for three tournaments. In those years, English clubs won the European Cup seven times. In 1990, England reached the semi-final of the World Cup when their clubs were banned from Europe.
        - Dion Fanning, "The Irish Independent" (Nov'07)

It is not that there is no correlation between the strength of the domestic league and that of the national side; there appears to be an inverse correlation. Between 1970-71 and 1984-85, England failed to qualify for two World Cups and three European Championships. In the same period English sides won the European Cup on seven occasions... In the modern age this is commonly explained as the influence of foreign players. About 35 per cent of those playing in the Premier League are English-qualified... Yet in the 1970s there were hardly any foreign players. The concern was the opposite: that British players were being exported, to Italy, Germany and even the US. Even now, about 75 English players are on show every weekend – more than enough, surely, from which to construct a squad, particularly given the level of the football they are playing... The quality of football in the Premier League has probably never been so good. The English will to win has been married to continental technique, and the result is beguiling. Arsenal and Manchester United shimmer with attacking intent.
        - Jonathan Wilson, "FT" (Dec'07)

Sven-Göran Eriksson, confronted with arguably Europe’s weakest qualifying group, has a problem; it is the same one that afflicted Jacques Santini, the France coach at the time, before Euro 2004. Not that there are no easy matches at international level; rather, there are no hard ones. In qualifying for the 2004 European Championship finals, France faced a group not of death, but of sun-block, comprising Slovenia, Israel, Cyprus and Malta, which they duly won by ten points, averaging 3.6 goals per game. We all know what happened next.
       - Martin Samuel, "Trivial Pursuits" in "The Times"

Greece won the 2004 European Championship with the oldest trick in the book: man-for-man marking. Why? Because nobody expected it — and by the time they knew what Otto Rehhagel’s team were about, it was too late. Great football is like great comedy in that way. It is all in the timing.
        - Martin Samuel, "The Times"

There is no formation that is better than the others if you don't have the right players.
        - Ruggiero Palombo, "Gazzetta dello Sport"

Essentially it was a philosophical debate dressed up as football talk. Eamonn Dunphy was blaming Alex Ferguson's system for Man Utd's failure on the night. ("A tactical miscalculation of epic proportions.") Liam Brady argued it was the players who should take responsibility. ("They didn't perform.") In other words, is society to blame — or the individual? It couldn't last but oh, it was beautiful while it did.
        - Tommy Conlon, in the aftermath of Man Utd 0-1 AC Milan, "The Irish Independent"

"The one great thing about football is that whatever happens it will manifest itself on the pitch. If it's right, you'll see it on the pitch, if it's wrong, it will be on the pitch. In business you can get fellas who are doing crooked deals and nobody knows anything about it. There is an ultimate honesty about football. Politics is part of the lying game, I wouldn't trust any of them. In football you can hide for a while, but ultimately the truth comes out. I always loved that."
        - John Giles, interviewed in Ireland's "Sunday Independent"

John Giles is the conscience and intellect of Irish football while Eamon Dunphy is the erratic brilliance.
        - Dion Fanning, in Ireland's "Sunday Independent"

Manchester United's success from 1993 onwards was achieved on a knife edge. Improbability was their rallying cry and as the feats became more outlandish, their self-belief became impregnable: there was nothing Man Utd could not do. From the day they scored twice in injury-time against Sheffield Wednesday in 1991, they set themselves up as enemies of order. It was the school playground and United utilised chaos on their behalf. There was a crazed conviction about everything they did, prompted by Ferguson's fury, rage and belief in the way football should be played. In 1999, they lived on their wits. From the fourth round tie against Liverpool at Old Trafford to the Cup semi-final against Arsenal and on, most magically, to the European Cup final in Barcelona, they loaded the odds against themselves and then recovered to make an historic mark on English football.
        - Dion Fanning, in Ireland's "Sunday Independent"

Liverpool, the wise said, could not win against Juventus. They were top of the Italian League, mean in defence and schooled in the ways of European football. Benitez knew better, he knew that Liverpool could bring ferocity, the best of the English game, to Juventus. When Manchester United were in their prime they did the same, but in recent years, Ferguson has taken a more cerebral approach and United have failed. They spent their Champions League game against Milan in effect apologising for not being better footballers when they should have been ferocious.
        - Dion Fanning, after Liverpool reach the Champions League Semis, "The Irish Independent"

Football. Bloody hell, the printable expletives are utterly inadequate for the task of summing up a night of football mayhem. Bring out the asterisks: it was a night when football brought us the utterly impossible on a night of perfect insanity as Liverpool won the European Cup final on penalties after doing their best to lose it. Liverpool produced one of the greatest comebacks in the history of football. They created for themselves an utter disaster and somehow rose to find hope, and with it, power and effectiveness and purpose and direction. They turned a lost match around in six impossible minutes: one of those periods of total enchantment that happen in football, but very rarely. The tide turned in a manner that defied logical and even tactical sense. It was simply as if God had changed sides. The force, long absent, was suddenly with Liverpool. Three goals within six minutes: rout had become fightback and fightback had become epic.
        - Simon Barnes, commenting on the 2005 Champion's League Final for "The Times"

"Amazing, astounding, awe-inspiring, breathtaking, extraordinary, hair-raising, heart-stirring, magnificent, marvellous, miraculous, moving, overwhelming, spectacular, spine-tingling, striking, stunning, stupefying, stupendous, wonderful."
        - Liverpool FC's official website after their Champion's League fightback

Liverpool’s European performances suggest that they have improved technically and tactically under Benítez, but that makes no difference in the Premiership, where mental and physical qualities are the most important prerequisites. It is hard to recall a team hoping to challenge for the Premiership title with such a lack of pace, strength and stamina in their squad (several of his Spanish imports being unable to tick any of those three boxes) or with so many players lacking the basic aggression to make the most of what qualities they do possess. Timid, fragile and sluggish, they are the antithesis of the Chelsea model, aggressive, assertive and athletic. Can it be possible that Benítez, one of the brightest coaching minds in Europe, does not understand English football?
        - Oliver Kay, "The Times"

It is a favourite chant in English football: “Attack, attack. Attack, attack, attack.” Yet rarely is the mantra of “De-fence, de-fence” given an airing. Americans love it, particularly devotees of basketball, yet all that British fans want to see is superb strikers and glorious goalscorers. They do not understand — and are not interested in understanding — the noble art of defence. Well, that is what they got last night... Feisty and, at times, crude fare, with Carragher and Hyypia cancelling out Drogba and also Carlton Cole, after his late introduction, and Terry and Carvalho snuffing out Peter Crouch, García and, later, Fernando Morientes. De-fence, de-fence. The Americans would have loved it.
        - Russell Kempson, on a no score CL draw between Chelsea and Liverpool, "The Times"

The mathematical minefield which the Arsenal and Liverpool players face this week (to qualify fron their Champions' League Groups) is a sterner test of their IQs than anything Carol Vorderman could throw at them (on Britain's Brainiest Footballers). Jamie Carragher may not know the President of Pakistan, but his brain will be working overtime on Tuesday as he deals with the permutations of Liverpool's group at the same time as he tries to stop himself being nutmegged for maybe the 50th time this season. Footballers have enough to be doing without having to prove their intelligence aswell.
        - Dion Fanning, "The Irish Independent"

This column cares deeply about Newcastle United. Newcastle's next manager should not be Martin O'Neill, he's too good. Instead a shortlist of Sven, Gerard Houllier and Kevin Keegan appeals.
        - Dion Fanning, "The Irish Independent" (April'06)

Those Newscastle fans harbour serious doubts about Allardyce. It is not just the three-goal defeats to Portsmouth and Liverpool that have had the boos ringing round St James’ Park. It is the way Newcastle have played. Long-ball, functional 4-3-3 may be all right at Bolton, where expectations are limited, but at Newcastle sights are set higher. Having been a mid-table side playing attractive football, their fans see little point in playing unattractive football if it, too, merely ends in mid-table. Without a domestic trophy since 1955, style is all Newcastle have left. There is, anyway, a problem in that his squad was not built for direct football.
        - Jonathan Wilson, "FT" (Dec'07)

It's not often you find yourself writing about a game that you haven't seen one kick of. But it's not often that the favourites lose 5-0 in one of their most important matches of the season. But all things considered — the difference between expectations of success and margin of victory, the fact of Strachan's debut, the injury to Chris Sutton, the joy it will bring Rangers fans, and the potential financial loss of going out of Europe completely in the first week in August — it is hard to remember the last defeat this bad for any team.
        - Philip Cornwall, "Football 365", after Celtic lose ECL qualifier 5-0 to Artmedia Bratislava

One only has to see how Liam Miller, whom Celtic were preparing to build a team around, has coped with English football to understand the distance in class Keane is now to experience in reverse. Miller may be getting his career on track with a championship side, but, just as he was not prepared for the enormity of a move to Manchester United, there must be fears that Keane is not ready for the pettiness of life in Scotland. On Thursday night in Glasgow an Irish journalist met two Celtic fans who insisted, with all the certainty of the ignorant, that Keane wore the No 16 jersey to commemmorate the 1916 Rising.
        - Dion Fanning, on Roy Keane's transfer to Celtic, "The Irish Independent"

It was the five seasons with Celtic showed Martin O'Neill could thrive on a greater stage. The period in Glasgow accounts for the deep interest from Newcastle and the FA. He had to leave England to develop the extra prestige that is yet to be achieved by, say, Sam Allardyce or Alan Curbishley. Whatever the causes, there is a lack of British managers heading to the Continent in search of adventure. O'Neill had to go north in search of his breakthrough. Glasgow can offer an escape from the stagnation of football at a middling level. Should the Frenchman Paul Le Guen turn down the city's other great club, Rangers, people such as Iain Dowie or even Curbishley may wonder if the vacancy at Ibrox could be the opportunity to mimic O'Neill and renew themselves.
        - Kevin McCarra, "The Guardian"

It was when Barry Ferguson revealed he had just written his last will and testament and its chief stipulation was that he be cremated in a Rangers shirt, that you feared for Paul Le Guen's future as Rangers' manager.
        - Dion Fanning, in a week when Rangers chose Ferguson over Le Guen, "Irish Independent"

Most United fans have had enough. They have had enough of 4-3-2-1; of an abuse of the heritage of the club that has not occurred since the Sexton years; of the moronic twitter of the man they lovelessly call Carlos Queirozzzz; of the fact that only a Scouser, a sub-standard Leeds fan and a Portuguese pretty boy show the requisite desire; of a gaping chasm where once there was the best midfield in Europe; of the apathy of Lord Chav Rio Ferdinand; of Sir Alex Ferguson. Ferguson, of course, has always been sensitive to criticism. The BBC are currently being ignored, and if he had his way he wouldn't do any press conferences. He has even taken to saying "Well done" at the end of pre- and post-match TV interviews to the startled interviewer, presumably for not asking any difficult questions. Why did you sell Jaap Stam, Sir Alex? No, really, Sir Alex - why did you sell Jaap Stam?
        - Rob Smyth, after a bleak October for Manchester United, "The Guardian"

He has a team that struggle to score both in the Champions League (three goals in six games) and at home in the Barclays Premiership (eight goals in six games this season) and who ended up against Benfica with Ferdinand (no goals in 138 appearances for United) as an emergency striker while Smith, a £7 million centre forward, lumped aimless balls forward from the back. If ever there was a sign of a desperate team with no idea, that was it.
        - Oliver Key, after an even worse December for Alex Ferguson and Man Utd, "The Times"

In comparison to the emotionally-charged axing of a striker, Ruud van Nistelrooy, who averaged 30 goals a season, even the sale of David Beckham for, in Real Madrid's opinion, "peanuts", and the never-explained departure of Jaap Stam appear to be the rational acts of a sage and far-sighted manger. To offload a player because he could not be reconciled with a role within the squad is a failing of management.
        - Pete Gill, "Who Will Score Man Utd's Goals Now", "Football365"

Chelsea’s key player in winning the Premiership last year? Frank Lampard. Liverpool’s inspiration in winning the Champions League? Steven Gerrard. Arsenal’s driving force in their unbeaten season? Patrick Vieira. Manchester United’s iconic player since the retirement of Eric Cantona? Roy Keane. This is the age of the central midfielder.
        - Jonathon Wilson, "Financial Times"

There are those who condemn five in midfield as a negative tactic, but when a side's centre-backs are as hapless as Chris Perry and Hermann Hreidarsson were on Sunday, it is not nearly negative enough.
        - Matthew Engel, reviewing a Charlton performance in "The Financial Times"

Against France and Portugal last summer, a promising start was quickly undermined because England’s midfield spent all its time looking sideways and asking: should I stay or should I go? We all believed that Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard were the perfect midfield partnership going into Euro 2004; coming out we were not so sure. You want a quick holding midfield masterclass? Here it is: pick one man to do it and don’t get in front of the ball. Obviously, there are other bits and pieces, nuances, subtleties that need honing to be the full Makelele, but bottom line and keeping it simple, one man staying behind the ball is about it. That way, if a forward move breaks down, he is in place to break up the counter-attack and screen the defence. Surely Erikkson can choose whether Gerrard or Lampard is to sacrifice his best attacking instincts to play the role or whether, more sensibly, Joe Cole makes way for Michael Carrick, a classy holding player now coming into his own, leaving Gerrard, Lampard and David Beckham free to exercise their creativity (not necessarily in a diamond shape, which eats up Wayne Rooney’s space, 4-1-3-2 is a perfectly legitimate pattern for the team, too).
        - Martin Samuel, "The Times"

Graham Taylor speculated afterwards that McClaren was keeping Peter Crouch in reserve for Wednesday and that he will start in Russia. That may well be the case - but why did England play at times as if he or Emile Heskey was on the pitch? A free-kick in the England half was taken long and high by Robinson, leading to a jump from Rooney that was never going to win the ball and, not unexpectedly, brought a foul the other way. If you have Heskey it's a 50-50 ball; Crouch will win fewer but will be more accurate in his distributon with those he does win; with Little and Little up front it's a 95-05 to the opposition ball, or worse. The same applies to long throws into the box. Yet England persisted with that kind of delivery.
        - Philip Cornwall, after a flattering England victory over Estonia, "Football 365"

International friendly games are not worth the lives of the silk worms who perish to make the pennants. They do not even have the philanthropic excuse that softens the otherwise unendurable tedium of testimonial matches. Quite simply, they are rotten games staged to pick the public’s pocket, tiresome red tape left over from an era when nations and players were still insular and therefore curious about each other’s potential.
        - Danny Baker, after Denmark beat England 4-1, "The Times"

For the first time in Germany, FIFA has arranged an insurance fund to compensate clubs if their players are injured during the World Cup. For the highest paid players - the likes of Germany midfielder Michael Ballack - available compensation would fall well short of covering their entire weekly wage bill... The governing body argued that the marketing power of top stars such as Ballack and David Beckham, the England captain, is such that clubs can derive commercial benefits by employing them even when they are not fit to play. This means, in effect, that clubs can cover a big part of salaries even when players are sidelined.
        - David Owen, "FT"

What actually makes a team play better at home is impossible to determine, but it is a fair assumption that familiarity with surroundings is one of the three main factors, along with the support of a partisan crowd and the deleterious effect on the away team of having to travel... Logically, anyway, Arsenal should prosper at the Emirates. No side in the Premiership is so reliant for success on passing and movement, on the creation of space, and there is, quite simply, more space at the new ground than there was at Highbury. The pitch there was notoriously small, measuring just 101m by 67m – Wenger once even used the lack of space to explain why his sides picked up so many bookings. At the new ground the pitch measures 113m by 76m, an additional 1821 square metres.
        - Jonathan Wilson, on Arsenal's stadium move, "FT"

For those fed up with the lack of mystery at the top of the Premiership, could I refer you to the commanding heights of the Conference. The wide points gap between first and second says we are about to witness the return to the football league of Accrington Stanley. So legendary have they become that everyone across the generations knows them, yet even those of the certain age required (you’d be pushing 60) can scarcely believe they were ever there. What proof do we have that this most Garcia Marquez of football teams was, is and yet may truly be?
        - Peter Chapman, "The Financial Times" (Mar'06)

Arsenal's never-improving injury list increasingly attracts curiosity rather than sympathy.
        - Pete Gill, "Football 365" (Mar'06)

Spurs Scattergun Transfer Policy: Buy every young player (preferably English) who's not ridiculously over-priced and hope that roughly half of them will be ready now, while the rest are shipped out on loan. So for every Aaron Lennon, there's a Wayne Routledge, and for every Michael Dawson there's a Tom Huddlestone. Mix in some serious experience in the form of Edgar Davids and Danny Murphy, and you have a recipe for a possible top-four finish.
        - Sarah Winterburn, "Football 365" (Mar'06)

This was football played at the speed of ice hockey and the ball was in play for only 53 minutes of the 90. The Premiership at its highest level is enthralling, edge-of-the-seat stuff, but sometimes it is too fast and frenetic for its own good.
        - Daniel Taylor, after Chelsea v Man Utd (Nov'06), "The Guardian"

Speed is what makes the Premiership exciting. The millions who would have watched Manchester United and Chelsea would have seen a non-stop game in which the pace was electric even though the first half was a non-event. You could see a better technical game in Spain but for sheer frenetic movement there is nothing that comes close... Pace is more critical in the Premiership than in any other major league and if you don't have pace, you have to compensate with power or ability in the air and since Shevchenko has no power and is not particularly good in the air, he is in trouble.
        - Alan Hansen, "The Telegraph"

This was one of those enchanted evenings that Manchester United supporters fantasise about, when the self-styled Theatre of Dreams lived up to its name, when one of Europe's most vaunted opponents were brutally put to the sword as Alex Ferguson's pacy passion-players racked up their biggest win in the Champions League. The Italians drowned in a cauldron of English adrenalin.
        - Henry Winter, after Man Utd's 7-1 defeat of Roma, "The Telegraph" (Apr'07)

United have spent all season commemorating the 50th anniversary of Busby's decision to defy the Football League and take the club on a tragic and triumphant journey into Europe, but no orchestrated event could conjure the celebrations ignited by last night's outstanding obliteration of Roma or deliver a more fitting tribute.
        - Andy Hunter, "The Belfast Telegraph"

This is the Champions League and this is the price you pay on nights in which beauty knows how to make itself ruthless.
        - Luca Valdiserri, after Man Utd v Roma, "Corriere dello Sport"

Europe is in English hands.
        - Italy's Corriere dello Sport, after Man Utd v Roma

Kaka beat Fletcher to the ball, and headed it past Heinze as the Argentine sought to close him down. Heinze could still have dealt with the problem, but, inexplicably, Patrice Evra came flying in like a runaway TGV. Heinze was flattened, Fletcher was so shocked that he stopped to rubber-neck, and Kaka strolled on and rolled the ball past Van der Sar. Evra’s nightmare of a half continued when he crazily got himself cautioned for dissent, so removing Ferguson’s one remaining first-choice defender from the away leg. Madness.
        - Henry Winter, as Man Utd concede a comedy goal to Milan, "The Telegraph"

In the first leg at Old Trafford, Kaka scored two fine goals, but the Reds’ rearguard, shorn of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, parted more like the Red Sea.
        - Joe Lovejoy, describing Man Utd 3-2 Milan, "The Times"

Whatever happens in the remainder of this season's Champions League there can be no doubting their current status as the most exciting team in Europe. "Fantastique Manchester United" was one headline in France yesterday as the world's press salivated over another exhilarating demonstration of attacking, one-touch, stylishly penetrative football. The accolades are richly deserved given the way Ferguson's players seem intent on obliterating the reputation of Italian defending but, amid the euphoria of Wayne Rooney's late and dramatic winner in Tuesday's 3-2 win over Milan, it should not be overlooked that the Rossoneri's players were also claiming a victory as they left Old Trafford. With two away goals, nothing can be taken for granted in the second leg.
        - Daniel Taylor, "The Guardian" (Apr'07)

There is the possibility of a unique series of matches between 9 May and 23 May: one at Stamford Bridge that could settle the Premiership; one at Wembley to settle the world's oldest cup competition; and one in Athens for the right to sit at the pinnacle of the European (and arguably world) game.
        - F365, as Man Utd and Chelsea chase the Treble (Apr'07)

Great sporting rivalries often involve a clash of opposites. This year's most compelling head to head, the Chelsea-Manchester United war on three fronts, has all the more resonance because the teams seem to embody almost diametrically opposite attitudes to the game of football. Never was that clearer than last week. On the one hand, you had United's riotous shoot-out with AC Milan. On the other, Chelsea's clinical extraction of a single goal lead against Liverpool. These differing approaches might explain why the PFA Premiership team of the year contained eight United players and only one from Chelsea. In reality, there is very little between the teams, but United seem to command the admiration of their peers whereas Chelsea elicit merely grudging respect. It is presumably more palatable to be undone by a moment of flair than ground down over the course of 90 uncompromising minutes. Put simply, United are all about flair and Chelsea about efficiency. Alex Ferguson's side don't mind making mistakes because they have confidence that their brilliance will redress the balance.
        - Eamon Sweeney, "The Irish Independent" (Apr'07)

Torres made it 2-0 in the 11th, slaloming through the home defense on the left of the area and finishing with a low left-foot shot...
        - AP report on Marseille 0-4 Liverpool (Dec'07)

When Pepe Reina saved Geremi's penalty at Anfield last Tuesday night, Rafa Benitez, already sitting in the lotus position signifying utmost serenity, glanced at his watch. What could the penalty kicks be keeping him from?
        - Dion Fanning, after Benitez's Liverpool KO Chelsea on penalties

Liverpool's grand opera also gave us some light comedy — on hearing the news that the house of goalkeeper Pepe Reina was burgled, and his Porsche stolen, while he was heroically saving penalties at Anfield, fans took a typically witty line: police were said to be interviewing a man from the West London area, a certain Frank Lampard, whose whereabouts on Tuesday between 7.45pm and 10.15pm are unknown. Indeed.
        - Declan Lynch, "The Irish Independent"

"Chelsea and Liverpool are the clearest, most exaggerated example of the way football is going: very intense, very collective, very tactical, very physical, and very direct... The extreme control and seriousness with which both teams played the semi-final neutralised any creative licence, any moments of exquisite skill... Neither Mourinho nor Benitez made it as a player. That has made them channel all their vanity into coaching. Those who did not have the talent to make it as players do not believe in the talent of players, they do not believe in the ability to improvise in order to win football matches. In short, Benitez and Mourinho are exactly the kind of coaches that Benitez and Mourinho would have needed to have made it as players."
        - Jorge Valdano

There have been three United goalkeepers active in the Barclays Premiership this season – and only one of them for Manchester United. As well as Edwin van der Sar, the first-choice, Ben Foster plays for Watford and Howard for Everton. So in four of 38 matches, United have guaranteed facing an understudy in goal. They are not alone in farming out talent but they are the system’s greatest beneficiaries this season... In three matches against United this season (including an FA Cup semi-final), Watford have fielded Richard Lee, the second choice to Foster, and he has conceded ten goals. While obsessing over the role of foreign agents, which is negligible, the Premier League has given the green light to a far more dangerous loan and transfer system that allows third parties (who are also rivals) to dictate team selection and frequently compromises the competition through complex financial arrangements. If United win the treble this season, Everton will be £1.7 million better off as part of bonus clauses included in the Wayne Rooney transfer. Is that healthy?
        - Martin Samuel, "The Times"

The rapid interchanges of passes, the youthful zest, the invention and imagination: these are a purist’s fantasy. This is the football of 50 years ago played at the pace of today, and it is quite breathtaking. The only question is whether they can maintain such a standard against the best sides... Football at present seems to be relishing the counter-intuitive. Buy stars, as Chelsea did before the start of last season or Liverpool did this summer, and they either unbalance a winning side or present a manager with too many choices. Sell them, and lesser players come out of their shells to take responsibility... Wenger has proved in the past that he is adept at selling players at the right moment... The sale of Thierry Henry to Barcelona last summer, though, now appears to have been his masterstroke. Even Henry has admitted that he probably held the team back... That is not to deny Henry’s greatness, merely to acknowledge that such greatness can be inhibiting.
        - Jonathan Wilson, after Arsenal beat Slavia Prague 7-0, "FT" (Oct'07)

A lot is made of bravery in football. The iconic image of the blood-spattered centre half; the goalkeeper putting his body on the line. The less obvious valour of Alexander Hleb is harder to recognise. As Arsenal probed for a way past the Manchester City defence, expertly marshalled as ever by Richard Dunne, Hleb searched repeatedly for the pass. Not a pass. Not any old pass. Not a pass that might set up another inexpert flurry around the goalmouth and present a teammate with a half-grasped opportunity. Each time Hleb was on the ball his aim was to deliver a moment of creative purity: the eye-of-the-needle pass, the one that takes, not an opponent, but a team, out of the picture. That he emerged victorious is partly to the credit of Arsène Wenger, who ignored the frustrated howls of the crowd and let Hleb try and try again. Watching him strive, and ultimately succeed after so many disappointments, was vindication of the of the most underrated form of courage in football. The courage to fail... There are teams who play good football and there are Arsenal, where the pursuit of excellence is almost reckless.
        - Martin samuel, "The Times"

There were four different formations used by the Big Four this weekend — a 4-2-3-1 for ManYoo, a 4-3-3 for Chelski, a 4-1-4-1 for Arsenal, and a 4-2-1-3 by Liverpool — and not one of them was the traditional formation of choice in English football.
        - Football 365, on the decline of 4-4-2 (Oct'07)

On Saturday morning, one of the two teams still unbeaten in the Premiership occupied a modest seventh place. It is an illustration of the relentless pace being set at the top of the league in which every stumble is a serious fall and draws usually constitute two dropped points.
        - Pete Gill, as the Premier League becomes one long sprint, "Football 365" (Nov'07)

Imagine a pantomime directed by Quentin Tarantino, where villains are booed, heroes are blood-stained, the body-count is high, the entertainment pulsating, the language filthy and the audience screamed "behind you'' as tackles hurtled in like boulders crashing down a mountain-side. Such was the epic drama that gripped the Emirates yesterday. A derby crammed with sound, fury and significance ended with everyone grasping for breath, with Arsenal regaining the high ground of the Premier League... This was the Premier League at its raw, mistake-filled, mesmerising best. Utterly compelling.
        - Henry Winter, reporting on Arsenal 1-0 Chelsea, "The Telegraph" (Dec'07)

Grand Slam Sunday can only ever live up to its hype if both matches generate six goals apiece, two mass brawls, and a naked pitch invasion by Girls Aloud. What it does generate every time, however, is millions of pounds through its worldwide appeal. There is no league in the world that can offer up four heavyweights in two fights on a single afternoon. The Premiership's most marketable attraction is unique. Italy can only offer three heavyweights - Juventus, AC Milan and Inter Milan - and the Primera Liga just two - Barcelona and Real Madrid. Bayern Munich stand alone in Germany. Grand Slam matches never live up to the occasion, but the league's capacity to put Liverpool, Chelski, Arsenal and Manchester United on the same bill on the same afternoon is an integral factor in its status as the richest in the world and its claim to be the best.
        - Football 365, after Grand Slam Sunday (Dec'07)

The old British custom of cramming three games into the seven days between Christmas and New Year's Day now embraces many a foreign star. The message is that if you accept the monumental salaries lavished by the biggest English clubs, you become part and parcel of the spell that often casts order aside. So many games and so little time to prepare the defense sometimes makes for a glut of goals. On Boxing Day, it was Chelsea trading goals like gifts and ending up 4-4 against Aston Villa. On Saturday, it was Tottenham Hotspur 6, Reading 4... The score line was magical, like a contest from a Christmas past.
        - Rob Hughes, "International Herald Tribune" (Dec'07)

The whole idea of resting players in the FA Cup is a strange one. How much effect will missing that 90 minutes have on the legs of players over the course of a season? Enough to justify missing out on the possibility of a cup run which would lend some excitement to an otherwise quotidian season of relegation six-pointers and mid-table struggles. Your Boltons, Blackburns and Birminghams shouldn't be turning up their noses at the FA Cup because it might be their one chance of silverware... The Premiership big boys have done their best to insulate themselves from the realities of the game at the lower levels. But FA Cup time is when they get their comeuppance... a reminder that soccer remains a democratic game.
        - Eamonn Sweeney, "The Irish Independent" (Jan'08)

Both the FA and the League Cup have drifted into irrelevance, and the survival disease has even spread to the UEFA Cup, which is meant to be an end-of-season incentive for mid-table battlers. It too has become an irritant to teams like Bolton who should have revelled in the opportunity it provides, but who instead chose to slink away from the romance of the cup so that they could focus on a league match against Wigan. Wow. There may well be excitement at the end of the season, but it does not come wrapped in genuine sporting entertainment: it is excitement fed by the possibility of disaster or triumph... Money does go to the heart of the problem, but it does not provide all the answers. Arsene Wenger has been exceptionally frugal over the past three years and has delivered success, if not trophies. Some clubs have spent tens of millions with nothing to show for it except mid-table mediocrity... Harry Redknapp reckons you need to spend up to 200 million euros to mount a challenge to the top four, and even then they will simply raise the bar even higher... Boring? Not all the time, but predictable? Certainly.
        - Alan Ruddock, "The Irish Independent" (May'08)

The poor Geordies are in the process of being rebuffed by every sentient human being whose ambition in life is more than simply to pocket six million quid for having been a failure and run for the hills. They want beautiful, flowing football and tangible success, at St James’ Park. Fine. I, meanwhile, want Jessica Alba and the Nobel prize for literature. I make my prospects slightly more realistic.
        - Rod Liddle, after another Newcastle manager is sacked, "The Times" (Jan'08)

It is a certainty that Keegan would not have agreed to return unless Mike Ashley had committed to sanctioning a mammoth spending spree. The downside, which Keegan will soon discover, is the law of diminishing returns in a league that is now the richest in the world. The type of multi-million-pound investment that bankrolled the first Newcastle revival under Keegan is now two-a-penny. Buying success just isn't as easy as it used to be. The Premiership's paradox is that the more money there is, the more the art of management gains in value.
        - Pete Gill, on Keegan's return to Newcastle, "F365" (Jan'08)

Mini-Leaguers: The elite of Manchester United (54 points), Arsenal (54 pts) and Chelski (50 pts) are followed by Champions League aspirants Everton (42 pts), Man City (40 pts), Liverpool (39 pts), Aston Villa (39 pts), Portsmouth (37 pts) and Blackburn (37 pts). Only three clubs - West Ham (33 pts), Tottenham (27 pts) and Newcastle (27 pts) - appear destined for mid-table irrelevancy, with the next mini-league comprised of six teams - Middlesbrough (22 pts), Reading (22 pts), Bolton (21 pts), Birmingham (20 pts), Wigan (20 pts) and Sunderland (20 pts) - all desperately trying to avoid demotion into the three-club league at the bottom of the table in which Fulham (15 pts) and Derby (7 pts) are currently the only residents.
        - Pete Gill, on the 5 mini-leagues of the Premier League, "F365" (Jan'08)

If you like your soccer cerebral, and the triumph ultimately to be wrung out of staying power, Milan was the place to be. If you love the uncertainty of teams that cannot defend yet have the courage to attack, attack, attack, then Seville was heaven... The common denominator between the victories of Arsenal and Fenerbache? The strength of mind, the courage to dare in another team's domain, the inner belief that is as much a part of sporting success as the skill a fellow may be born with.
        - Rob Hughes, after Arsenal and Fenerbache advance with away results, "IHT" (Mar'08)

Walking away from Anfield last night, the feeling of exhilaration you can only get after watching football of the classic variety was still pumping through the veins... Two teams committed to winning in a game full of good things; passing, goals, skills and surprises... Wenger should never have found himself in the position where he had to go into battle in a titanic game working with two, maybe three players who would struggle to find a place at the other three top four clubs... He should be concerned and perhaps a bit sheepish that he has to rely on a player like Philippe Senderos. We debate the merits of Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool but it is rare enough that any player among those three squads is judged to be below the required standard. We might argue about whether Ronaldo is a great player or simply a very good young player on the road to greatness. We wonder why Mascherano doesn't score more goals or ponder Gerrard's best position but quality is a given... Big games rarely live up to billing, but this one did.
        - John Giles, after Liverpool KO Arsenal 5-3 in Europe, "The Evening Herald" (Apr'08)

Shocks are a double-edged sword. Without them, football becomes accountancy, predictable and dominated by the bottom line. With them, the danger is you get a situation such as the 2002 World Cup, which Brazil won by extending themselves for about 45 minutes. As France, Argentina, Portugal and Italy were knocked out, only England stood in Brazil’s way. They beat them in the quarter-finals, after which it all became tediously easy. United’s FA Cup final victory of 2004 was similar, as Millwall, having reached the final without facing a top-flight club, seemed mentally to have given up by the time they got to Cardiff, and were brushed aside like a piece of dandruff from a collar. No danger of that this year. The shocks have claimed everybody.
        - Jonathan Wilson, on the 2008 FA Cup, "FT"

[Season 2008-09]
Every year, I pick over all 20 teams pre-season. I look at how they did last term, who've they've bought and sold, the manager and the boardroom, to try to offer a balanced view of a team's chances. The details of the forthcoming season — who exactly will win the league, who will go down, who will finish fifth — are often elusive. Our predictions about top scorers and flops always produce as much inaccuracy as success. But which band teams will fit into has become easier and easier to call. This year, I want more and more of my expectations to be proved wrong. These days, too few clubs have dreams in the first place - and if you don't have dreams then they can't come true.
        - Philip Cornwall, previewing 2008-09, "Football 365"

Chelsea have won 10 league games this season, but only one of them – the 1-0 win over Wigan on the second weekend of the season – has been by a single goal... If teams sit deep – as Manchester United did at Stamford Bridge, and as Tottenham, Newcastle, Liverpool, Roma, CFR Cluj and even as Burnley did – Chelsea struggle to break them down. That is not necessarily to criticise Anelka; rather it is to highlight that he is not necessarily best served by the 4-3-3 system that Scolari has adopted. If Didier Drogba were there as a central totem, he would intimidate with his physicality and aerial power, and teams would be reluctant to defend too deep for fear of his presence in the penalty area. Drogba, though, has spent much of the season nursing a knee injury.
        - Jonathan Wilson, "FT" (Nov'08)

Earlier in the season, the Blackburn manager Sam Allardyce suggested that Chelsea are over-focused on building patiently through midfield. That means that sides who are primarily concerned with not getting beaten can set out to defend deep and frustrate Chelsea. Teams are less willing to do that at home, which is why Chelsea’s away record is so superior to their form at Stamford Bridge. On the break, when there is space to exploit, they remain extremely dangerous.
        - Jonathan Wilson, "FT" (Jan'09)

Where Were Rafa's Ball-Boys: I was watching the Merseyside derby yesterday on Setanta and then listened to the half time analysis on the radio. They mentioned that Jamie Carragher was booked for complaining to the referee that Everton were time wasting on every set-piece and I also hear that after the game Rafa made the same accusation. What I did notice during the game is that there weren't any ball boys spread around the periphery of the pitch.  Now I don't know if this is the same for most teams in the Premiership but I'm a Tottenham fan living in Norwich and I know that both these teams use ball boys and I assumed that all other teams did the same. If Liverpool were to use ball boys then this would stop (for example in the 45th minute of the first half) Tim Howard jogging over to the corner flag to pick the ball up and casually jogging back which took at least 2 minutes.  That means that 5 goal kicks would equal another 10 minutes of football in which Liverpool could look for the winning goal. Now, I'm not accusing Everton of time wasting - they were the away team and had every right to do this, but with accusations constantly being thrown at Liverpool that they draw too many games at home this would at least give them more time to kill off 'lesser' teams (ie. Stoke and Fulham off the top of my head).
        - Ross Branigan, with an email to F365 Mailbox

While there is no denying that Keane under-performed at Liverpool, it remains questionable whether he was over-played - as Benitez's comments infer. It was only after Dimi Berbatov made his 23rd start for Manchester United this week that Sir Alex Ferguson observed his new team-mates were beginning to understand the Bulgarian. Fulfilment is a two-way street in football and if Keane is to be consigned as a flop then the blame should not be exclusive... And selling Keane without bringing in a replacement before the transfer window closed, thus ensuring that Liverpool's title and Champions League hopes now effectively rest on Fernando Torres' hamstrings not failing for a fourth time this season, is very much a risk
        - Pete Gill, after Robbie Keane returns to Spurs, "F365"

This season's high number of 'disappointing' low-scoring matches involving Manchester United can be easily explained by any well-informed student of the game by acknowledging the legions of opposing teams who - upon playing Manchester United, suddenly contract the deadly virus 'Parkthebusitis'.
This is a painfully deteriorating condition that redefines how a team may play football in public. Symptoms include shamelessly plonking 11 men behind the ball at all times, in the process removing all embarrassment at such a blatant refusal to either embrace the game of football in the spirit it is intended to be played, or to engage United in a meaningful contest. Sufferers are often rendered so frightened of Manchester United that they are reduced to only a couple of feeble efforts at goal throughout an entire match. Yep, it can be that bad.
The sole objective of any team that contracts partkthebusitis is to avoid defeat to United, in the process stealing a single point from the game, regardless of the damage this may do the either the spectacle of the match in question or the wider image of football as a game and the Premier League as a form of public entertainment. Another sign of this illness is that a side will often claim a 'moral victory' by only losing 1-0 to the English, European and World champions. Such a dearth of ambition is indeed truly tragic.
        - CheshireRed, on the F365 Mailbox

Sir Alex Ferguson's team are in the quarter-finals of the Champions League, having scored the goals last night that they should have scored at San Siro two weeks' previously. In Milan, United produced a performance of brilliance without the goals; last night they had the goals but barely any of the flair and imagination. Winning in those circumstances, we are told, is the work of all great teams.
        - Sam Wallace, after Man Utd overcome Inter, "The Independent" (Mar'09)

In a bygone era, penalty-takers would put their laces through the ball and threaten to put a permanent bulge in the netting. For reasons that remain a mystery, the modern preference is for side-footed placement and so the dilemma of goalkeepers has changed from whether to take a guess at dive right or left to if they should dive at all. Or at least that ought to have been their reappraisal. Almunia was feted as the hero in Rome but had he and Doni stayed in the centre of their goal then the number of saves they made in the shoot-out would have been doubled.
        - Pete Gill, after Arsenal beat Roma 7-6 on penos, "F365" (Mar'09)

In the yellow corner: power. In the blue and purple one: art. These were the stereotypes assigned to the protagonists in Catalonia as Chelsea turned to their strong men to negate Barcelona's sky-lighting brilliance. John Terry, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba would dispute this narrow designation, but there was honour in strength and stubbornness. Call it larceny, if you will, but all Chelsea will say is that they stopped the Barcelona goal machine to take a 0–0 draw back to Stamford Bridge... Some thought Barcelona's creativity was an inextinguishable light that would blind Guus Hiddink's men. Now they must transport that radiance to London to complete a much tougher job... Chelsea's tactic was the midfield swarm and the frantic defensive block. Had they seen any less of the ball in the first half they might have bought a packet of nuts and joined us in the stands to spectate.
        - Paul Hayward, "The Guardian" (Apr'09)

Never mind the debate about whether 0-0 counts as a good result in an away first leg. As a general rule it doesn't, a score draw is better or even a narrow defeat with an away goal or two. Yet Hiddink achieved his primary objective in the first leg of a semi-final against the perceived favourites Barcelona. Chelsea are still in the tie. They may not have won many friends but they did not lose the match, nor did they fly home with any damage to their confidence or team unity. They have shown they know more than one way to play, and while the second leg remains delicately poised on account of Barcelona's obvious potential to score away goals, the pressure is now on the relatively inexperienced Pep Guardiola to come up with a system to break down Chelsea.
        - Paul Wilson, "The Guardian"

Barcelona represent everything that is good about the game. They play beautiful football...  The club are owned by their supporters, another Utopian vision, and, having historically renounced shirt sponsorship, they now bear the name of Unicef on their shirts... It is not difficult to portray them as the good guys as they head to Stamford Bridge to face Chelsea, a club built on the wealth and whims of Roman Abramovich... A colour-blind spectator would not have much difficulty in distinguishing the teams tonight... It is a clash of cultures, one that has been more heavily pronounced by the flurry of complaints from the Barcelona camp since the first leg, a frustrating 0-0 draw at the Nou Camp eight days ago. According to Xavi, the Barcelona captain on the night: “We played football. They did not play anything at all. In England they talk about fair play so much. It's a shame that they don't put that into practice on the pitch. There was no fair play from Chelsea at all.”
Yet what is fair play? If it is playing with the kind of reckless abandon that Real Madrid showed as they were subjected to a stunning 6-2 defeat by Barcelona at the Bernabéu on Saturday evening, Guus Hiddink and his Chelsea players will make no apologies for giving it a miss once more tonight...
Perish the thought that Chelsea's roundheads should prevail against the cavaliers from Catalonia. If they do, we will hear the usual complaints about negative and rough-house tactics or, to borrow a favourite phrase of the Spanish press, “anti- football”. This is the antithesis of Total Football, as espoused by Michels and Cruyff and modified by Frank Rijkaard and Guardiola, Barcelona's previous and present coaches, under whom the phrase has come simply to mean football played with a liberal sprinkling of fantasy. The whining is the one aspect that rankles when it comes to Barcelona's devotion to the beautiful game. As with Arsène Wenger, the Arsenal manager, there is an assumption that they have a divine right to play their football and that opponents should not be allowed to stop them, even if they do so within the laws of the game... A great football man once opined that the perfect team is the one that “finds the balance between creative players and those with destructive powers, and between defence, construction and attack”. Barcelona's players may be surprised to hear this, but the man in question was Rinus Michels.
        - Oliver Kay, "The Times" (May'09)

With Chelsea's recriminations, it wasn't so much that there was a single penalty claim that stands out, it's that it's rare to get so many in a single match and have all of them go in the same direction... Chelsea had a strong case when Abidal pulled Drogba down in the area. Drogba did very little to stay on his feet (not for the first time), but it was the kind of incident you generally expect to see punished with a penalty. The most obvious claim, to me, came in the second half, when the ball clearly struck Gerard Piqué's hand. The Spanish defender didn't move his arm toward the ball, but the fact that it was outstretched pretty much trumps any argument. UEFA's directives to referees indicate that when your limbs are in an "uncoordinated" or "unnatural" position, you're responsible for them. That should have been a penalty for the same reason that you can't wander around the penalty area with your arms in the air and expect not to be punished if the ball strikes them.
        - Gabrielle Marcotti, ""

Utterly irresistible in the first half when they hit Arsenal with a perfect storm, the European champions would have one foot in the Eternal City already but for the shot-stopping feats of Manuel Almunia... Wenger has done all he can. The onus is on the players now. Can they match United’s passion? Can they cope with the counter-attacking breaks that United will rely on at the Emirates? Can they overcome the odds? In the history of the Champions League knockout stages, 15 teams have won the first leg at home 1-0 and 10 have gone through... O’Shea’s goal was the very least the champions deserved. United’s mood and tempo had been terrific from the off. Ferguson’s 4-3-3 tactics were designed to squeeze the space around Arsenal and give United numbers going forward on all fronts. An all-action three-man midfield of Darren Fletcher, Carrick and the excellent Anderson hounded Fabregas, who was trying to pull the strings for Arsenal behind an unresponsive Adebayor. Ferguson’s three-man attack stretched Arsenal constantly. Bursts of Portuguese lightning in the form of Ronaldo gave Kieran Gibbs, a promising but inexperienced left-back, real nightmares. To the delight of the Stretford End, Carlos Tevez had started, his hair soon glistening with sweat as he ran and ran, chased and chased.
        - Henry Winter, after Man Utd 1-0 Arsenal (ECL-SF), "The Telegraph" (Apr'09)

The home crowd at the Emirates looked like Edvard Munch's The Scream, repeated over and over again.
        - Sam Wallace, after Arsenal 1-3 Man Utd, "The Independent"

When it comes to the practice of rotating players, Ferguson's policy should be vindicated by the team's league position without ­having to resort to the computer data that tells him after every game how far each player has run, how many sprints they have made and how the figures relate to ­previous performances... Tonight, when Ferguson's team play at Wigan Athletic, it will be their 63rd game of the season, and by the time an already epic campaign reaches its conclusion in Rome in a fortnight's time they will have played more games (66 in 290 days) than any other season in their 131-year history. Not since 1983-84, when Liverpool got through 67 games, featuring 13 League Cup ties, has an English top-flight team shoehorned more matches into a single season. On the cusp of retaining the Premier League title and the European Cup, as well as winning the World Club Cup and the Carling Cup and reaching the FA Cup semi-final, it is already shaping up as a remarkable feat of longevity but it is also a demonstration of how the oldest manager in the business has mastered the art of rotation and the importance of keeping his team "fresh" for the business end of the season. To put it into context, Ferguson has not named the same team for successive matches once this season.
        - Daniel Taylor, "The Guardian" (May'09)

Apart from all the other differences, the deciding difference between Manchester United and Liverpool is their record against bottom-half teams. Whereas Pool have lost at Middlesbrough and took just two points from two matches with Stoke, United's draw against Newcastle on the opening weekend is the only occasion this season that the champions have dropped points against a side in the lower half of the league either home or away... It's been an astonishing demonstration of the proper application of superiority made awesome by its consistency. It's how titles are won (and lost).
        - Pete Gill, "F365" (May'09)

No doubt to the indignation of United supporters, the interminable uncertainty over Tevez's future and the feisty response of his agent to Sir Alex Ferguson's comments are dominating the coverage of their victory at Wigan. Indeed, that's precisely how The Independent has framed it this morning: 'If United draw against Arsenal on Saturday at Old Trafford they will win the title for the third successive year. However, it will be Joorabchian's attack on United that dominates'. Two points: 1) That's a self-fulfilling statement because by putting 'Joorabchian's attack' as the lead item on their back page the Indy have ensured that the 'row' is dominating their post-game coverage. 2) 'Match reacting' now invariably holds greater sway on Fleet Street to match reporting because if a game has been televised then an account of a match is essentially redundant. Only by providing an alternative talking point can reporters justify their attendance or provide reason for their newspaper's football coverage. As well as the way we watch it, Sky has completely changed the way we read about football.
        - Pete Gill, "F365" (May'09)

The FA Cup final should be brought forward to February or March... The point is not that Ferguson should have been forced to send out his strongest team at Wembley, or that top four teams should somehow be persuaded to value the FA Cup more highly. The point is that a popular competition is being obliterated by the Champions League. Maybe that is just a fact of modern life, but it is becoming quite an uncomfortable fact now that English clubs are routinely well-represented in Europe's later stages. Arsenal, Chelsea and United reached the last four in both knockouts this season, which can never be anything other than awkward when the two competitions practically run concurrently. In a situation where the FA Cup is going head to head with the Champions League, with the same English teams having to prioritise between the two competitions, there is only ever going to be one loser. It might be a while before anyone sends out a second-string team in a Champions League semi-final, so as to give themselves a better chance of winning the FA Cup. So it is up to English football, if not the FA itself, to recognise that things have changed a bit since 1872.
        - Paul Wilson, after Man Utd "reserves" lose an FA Cup semi to Everton, "The Guardian"

The 36 titles shared by the two clubs, going back to 1901, have come in an order that suggests a sort of football version of the Fibonacci sequence. First Liverpool won two, then United won two. Then Liverpool won three, after which United won three. Liverpool's sixth was followed by United's sixth, and their seventh by United's seventh. Then Liverpool won 11, followed by 11 for United. To maintain an elegant symmetry that has lasted more than a century, Liverpool must be the next to win the title, a thought that will not impress Ferguson.
        - Richard Williams, "The Guardian"

[Managers or Coaches]
Alan Curbishley, it seems, could no longer tolerate the creeping redefinition of what it means to be a Premier League manager. English gaffers have long been much more than head coaches, dictating everything from travel arrangements to tactics to transfers. While some bosses still exert that role — Arsène Wenger, for instance, even helped design Arsenal's Emirates Stadium — others have been increasingly sidelined by superiors eager to take greater control over how their money is spent. There appears to be a clash of personalities at St James' Park, but most of all Newcastle and West ham have been rocked by a clash of ideologies.
        - Paul Doyle, as English managers become 'coaches', "The Guardian"

"It's my opinion that a manager must have the right to manage and that clubs should not impose upon any manager any player that he does not want. I have been left with no choice other than to leave."
        - Kevin Keegan, resigning as Newcastle manager (Sept'08)

"The club continued to make significant player decisions without involving me. In the end, such a breach of trust and confidence meant that I had no option but to leave."
        - Alan Curbishly, resigning as West Ham manager (Sept'08)

In the week when big-name managers like Kevin Keegan and Alan Curbishley became classic victims of the decline of independence, even basic pride, in the trade which once boasted men like Busby and Stein, Shankly and Clough -- huge characters who shaped everything around them -- just one of the breed stood alone, defiant and about as vulnerable as a gunman in a debating society. Alex Ferguson, who has won everything and never seems to tire of pursuing fresh triumph, was naturally the man.
        - James Lawton, "The Independent" (Sep'08)

[Stoke & Rory Delap]
Sometimes irrational blood sacrifice is all that is necessary to alter the mood of a squad. That the players who imploded at Stoke a fortnight ago, conceding two penalties, collecting two red cards and losing 2-1, were the same ones who staged Wednesday’s fightback is hard to credit.
        - Jonathan Wilson, after new manager Harry Redknapp revitalises Spurs, "FT" (Nov'08)

"When I throw the perfect ball, it's impossible to defend".
        - Rory Delap, whose long throws have led to 50% of Stoke's Premier League goals

The greatest innovation in the Premier League this season has not been technological - it is hardly even tactical. It's a throw-in. A chuck! And suddenly every team in the top flight is scared of newly promoted Stoke City. Scared of Rory Delap, and his catapult arms... he delivers the ball at a flatter angle than most throwers, increasing its speed, and with more backspin, straightening the flight. 'I've always been able to do it,' says Delap, who has been lucratively long-throwing for a decade during stints at Derby, Southampton and Sunderland. Yet this season is different: Stoke manager Tony Pulis has harnessed this strange, mutant hurl for maximum benefit, and Delap is responsible for more than half of Stoke's top-flight goals. 'He's like a human sling,' said David Moyes, after his Everton side conceded two Delap-assisted goals in September. But the gags mask a nervousness: 'People are worried to death before he even throws it,' says Pulis; 'Probably because it's been hyped up so much,' Delap responds. Teams are scrambling to compensate. Wigan and Manchester City had fewer defenders in the penalty area, to give the goalkeeper more room to manoeuvre. Liverpool simply stopped kicking the ball out in their half. And this marks Delap's throw as a great innovation - it demands further innovation in reply. There is the Cruyff Turn - in future, could we be talking of the Delap Throw? 'That'd be nice,' says The Sling himself. 'Might be the only chance I get to hear my name in a few years.'
        - The Guardian, picking its 'Best Tactical Innovation' for 2008

"I hope Stoke stay up this season, and stay up for long enough so that they can get enough money and buy some footballers."
        - Mick Dennis, with a sly dig at Stoke's grafters

[Keane Quits Sunderland]
Keane could have stayed, and could have steered Sunderland to safety once again. That, for Sunderland, would have represented triumph but it requires a particular mindset to view survival as a rewarding goal. Is is not a mindset that Roy Keane possesses... He cannot see the point in devoting his life to the pursuit of mediocrity... Sunderland, and every other club in the botton two-thirds of the EPL needs a manager wh will ooze blood for mediocrity, who believes passionately that survival in the top flight is, in itself, a goal worth huge sacrifice, and who will cling tenaciously to the job until he is fired by his chairman. Sam Allardyce fits the bill perfectly. He could do for Sunderland what he did for Bolton, securing survival each season and threatening, each decade or so, to push for a top six finish. This is not to deride Allardyce, he is a decent manager and a straightforward pragmatist; it is just that life in the nether refions of the EPL requires a skill set Keane does not possess.
        - Alan Ruddock, "Life at the Bottom is not for Keano", "The Irish Independent" (Dec'08)

The Keane groupies who agreed with his prognosis on Man Utd have never explained why a club apparently mired in self-indulgence and decadence could rebound and win two Premierships and a Champions League in the following seasons. Alex Ferguson gave notice about what he thought about Keane's critcisms by giving the player the door. Rio Ferdinand didn't turn out to be such a bad player after all. And Keane's fellow veterans Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs, who concentrated on putting things right on the pitch rather than in interviews, are still doing the business for the club.
        - Eamonn Sweeney, "The Irish Independent"

Keane brought players like Chimbonda and Malbranque to the club and expected them to be transformed. But they didn't know what was going on in his hdead and they played as they always had, unaware that they were now expected to fill a role, to be remodelled as Brian Clough had remodelled men like Kenny Burns and John Robertson in another era. But Chimbonda is quite happy the way he is and Keane couldn't comprehend that. Keane is never happy, a man in pursuit of excellence, convinced that it is the only thing that matters.
        - Dion Fanning, "The Irish Independent"

"Everyone gets there at some point in your life, when things get too much for you. You don't know where the levers for control are and he's making some really silly decisions. He paid all that money for Anton Ferdinand and dropped him... If you look at the remarkable, staggering number of players he has brought in and out, he has wasted a lot of money. Maybe Roy needed to start, like [Brian] Clough, down in the lower divisions and learn the business of management and all its aspects. I think it takes two or three years to learn how to deal with directors, how to operate in the transfer market and how to set up scouting systems."
        - Eamon Dunphy, as things get tough at Sunderland boss Roy Keane


England, nonetheless, is confronted by one intimidating nation. La Liga is a near equal to the Premiership in economic terms and its style of play is suited to European competition. The Champions League will be the arena in which England and Spain battle for mastery.
        - Kevin McCarra, comparing European leagues in "The Guardian" (Nov'06)

Even before 2007, this half of a small island was the richest football country on earth. In 2005-2006 the Premiership’s total revenue was about £1.4bn, 40 per cent more than its nearest rival, Italy’s Serie A. That was before take-off. Now foreign television channels are sending so much cash that the Premiership is expected to take in nearly £1.8bn this season. Even the team that finishes bottom of the table (Wigan might be a good bet) will get £26.8m from TV. That’s more than all of Argentine or Belgian football put together.
        - Simon Kuper, "Financial Times"

In the past four seasons, the Premier League has provided nine of the 16 Champions League semi-finalists, five of the finalists and two of the winners. Spain, in the same period, has yielded three semi-finalists, Italy two and the Netherlands one. The Premier League has become, fairly incontrovertibly, the dominant force in Europe at the moment. But these last four years are unprecedented, and with all four Premier League sides well-placed to progress to the quarter-finals, there is little reason to believe the hegemony will not continue. Which begs the question of, why?
The obvious answer, of course, is money. The various television deals, huge attendance figures and marketing potential combine to make the Premier League the richest in the world. The most recent Deloitte figures for the league as a whole covers 2005-06, and places the Premier League top with an average revenue of $700m, Serie A second with $490m, the Bundesliga third on $389m and La Liga fourth on $275m, with Mexico's Primera Division fifth. So the correlation is not direct – those figures show how far ahead the Premier League is, but do not explain the relative underperformance of the Bundesliga or the overperformance of La Liga. Part of the issue, of course, is that the money is not distributed evenly. Spain may be fourth overall, but Real Madrid and Barcelona, according to the figures for 2007-08, are the first and third richest clubs in the world. Manchester United are second, Bayern Munich fourth, with Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool fifth, sixth and seventh. Milan, in eighth, are the highest ranked Italian club...
The three rough eras of the Champions League – Italian (until 1988-89 to 1998), Spanish (1999-2004) and English dominance (2005-) – correspond with the ability of clubs in those countries to outstrip the others in transfer spending. Between 1984 and 2000, the world football transfer record was broken nine times by Italian clubs. Only twice in that period – when Alan Shearer moved to Newcastle and Denilson joined Real Betis, was the record held by non-Italian clubs. The moves to Real Madrid of Luis Figo in 2000 and Zinedine Zidane in 2001 took the record to Spain, and ushered in their period of dominance. Transfer fees as a whole have dropped since then, but the four biggest moves since 2004 have all been to English clubs. The great difference between English clubs and Italian or Spanish clubs now is not the native players, but the quality of the imports. Against Real Madrid almost a fortnight ago, to take just one snapshot of England's pulling power, Liverpool had four members of the Spain squad that had won Euro 2008; Madrid had two...
Perhaps the biggest advantage English clubs have, though, is that for the past five seasons, the same four clubs have qualified for the Champions League, with the addition of Everton in 2004-05. Spain in the same time has produced nine different Champions League qualifiers, Italy eight, and even Germany, restricted to three qualifying places per season, six. That gives English sides greater financial clout, a greater sense of security, and greater experience of European competition... It may be that the Premier League has hit upon a middle ground conducive to success in the Champions League. There is a sufficient gulf between top and bottom that key players can be rested, or certain games taken at half pace, but equally sufficient good sides to provide the tough encounter that ensure players do not lose their edge.
        - Jonathan Wilson, "The Guardian" (Mar'09)

"Why do you think Argentina is such a player exporter? It's not only because of their talent pool. Their currency has been in the tank for the past few years, so their players are cheap as hell."
        - US MLS Manager interviewed by's Greg Lalas

Carlton Cole to Juventus? Jermaine Pennant with a choice of AC Milan or Real Madrid? Jermaine Jenas to Inter Milan? Has the world gone mad? Alas not. The world has simply woken up to a new economic order that has transformed the relative financial power of Premier League clubs against their European counterparts after the devaluation of the pound versus the euro. With the price of English footballers effectively falling by over 30% in the past twelve months for their European suitors, the name-tag of the Premier League should now be affixed with a 'MASSIVE SALE NOW ON' banner. As the exchange rate between the euro and sterling now stands at almost one for one, a Prem-based player valued at £10m last year will cost a Europe-based buyer around half that in today's market. All of a sudden even Carlton Cole can appear a decent player. The flip side isn't just hitting holiday-makers. The collapse of sterling means that Premier League clubs must now pay a significant premium on players currently employed in the Eurozone and explains why so few imports have been brought over the channel during the current transfer window... And now, more than ever, qualification for the Champions League has become imperative for the Premier League's major players. Why? Because all of the prize money for the Champions League is paid in Euros, of course.
        - Pete Gill, "Football 365" (Jan'09)

Rising and falling like a character in an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel, Leeds became the great emblem of the craziness that surrounded the Premiership around the turn of the millennium, a cautionary tale of the dangers of overspending.
        - Jonathan Wilson, "The Financial Times"

If football retains any decency in these days of raging commercialism and gamesmanship, it is only because the game so often acts as a morality play against the dangers of hubris.
        - Jonathan Wilson, "FT"

Manchester United have risen to the pinnacle of the English game at a time when the rewards are so high — thanks to the ticket to the Champions League — that they have resources that only a handful of other sides, through merit or the exploitation of the people of Russia, can approach.
        - Philip Cornwall, "Football365.Com"

UEFA is alarmed that the fight to become the champion from England and Scotland to Italy, Portugal, Norway and Latvia is increasingly being contested by small numbers of clubs who have used Champions League revenue to outstrip the rest.
         - The Irish Independent, after UEFA chief Lennart Johannsson labels the CL a 'monster'

On Platini's presidential watch... he has to balance all the leagues, all the dreams and needs of hundreds of clubs across his continent.
        - Rob Hughes, "FT"

Clubs wanting to participate in European competitions would need a license. And they could get that license only if they meet certain financial requirements: In particular, wages and transfer deficits could not be more than a certain percentage (to be determined, but likely somewhere between 50 and 70 percent) of revenue. Basically, this would mean spending less on transfers and far less on wages. You would think, as Jim Holden writes in this month's issue of World Soccer, this would anger the big clubs. Far from it. They would love this (which is why, incidentally, Bayern and Barcelona are leading the way).
Why? Because if you cap these expenses, a soccer club's costs basically become fixed. Player costs are far and away the single biggest expense a club can face. So if I know that I'm earning $10 and I won't be spending more than $6 on the players, I, as a club, am laughing all the way to the bank. Apart from stadium maintenance and long-term capital investment in stadiums (which in some countries is a moot point, as the grounds are publicly owned), clubs basically have no significant expense. Which, in turn, means owners will continue to profit...
But there's another far more important reason why the big clubs love this. The status quo would be preserved ad infinitum. Bayern Munich had revenues of $370 million during the 2007-08 season. Schalke 04, the Bundesliga club with the second-highest revenue, brought in $187 million. With a cap set at 60 percent, that would mean that Bayern shells out some $110 million more per season than Schalke. Sound fair? Didn't think so. The proposal would basically make it impossible for smaller clubs to compete with the big boys. Even if you had a Roman Abramovich or a Massimo Moratti or a Sheikh Mansour, it wouldn't matter... Platini calls it clubs "living within their means." But those "means" are determined by history and birthright. Never again would we see a Hoffenheim or a Verona win the title. When I put this to Platini he simply said: "Well, those smaller clubs could do it the old-fashioned way, they could invest in their academy and grow their own stars." Yeah, right. Even assuming they did that, the minute a homegrown star makes it, a Bayern or a Juventus or a Real Madrid will simply come along and offer them three times as much, knowing that there is no way a little club could match their contract.
        - Gabrielle Marcotti, on Platini's salary cap proposals, "Sports Illustrated" (Feb'09)

This week's programme, so denuded of dramatic possibilities, did nothing so much as remind us of the arguments raised when the new 'league' was rushed through for season 1992-1993. The mega-clubs, you remember, were talking noisily of a Super League studded with fixtures like Manchester United versus Real Madrid rather than against Wigan or Middlesbrough. It was a persuasive argument as television made clear its eagerness to underwrite the game. Of course Uefa panicked. They made their own Super League, they kept the mega-clubs sweet and if it meant that whole swathes of what had been the most brilliant club tournament in the game were consigned to formalities, well, too bad... This week the most lavish tears were due to the memory of what the European Cup was supposed to represent in those early days of its impossibly glamorous arrival, when the young Bobby Charlton, glumly doing his time in an army camp, imagined every plane in the sky was carrying his United colleagues to some exotic new battleground in Europe. He said: "During my national service I would look up longingly in the belief that
maybe it was the boys flying off again into the new world of European football. I imagined them joking and playing cards and all of them filled with that zest for life you feel so strongly when you are doing something new and exciting."
        - James Lawton, after the ECL descends into a host of 'dead rubbers', "The Independent"

Behold, the Underdog. Overlooked, underpaid and unloved except by his local fans who dwell in ancient backwaters on the edges of Europe, like Istanbul or Athens or Oporto... Can Olympiakos or Fenerbahçe or Celtic win the Champion's League? No. But they can make a "deep run," picking up precious euros -- and fans -- at each successive stage. They might make it through to the semifinals. Some Underdog nearly always does. Once there, they will meet a giant, perhaps Real Madrid, perhaps Manchester United, they can't beat. They will crash out, having done their Underdog job perfectly. They made things interesting.
        - Greg Lalas, "Sports Illustrated" (Feb'08)

These clubs have become combative empires and the substitutions were their own arms race.
        - The Irish Times takes a unique view on the Chelsea v Man Utd Carling Cup SemiFinal

Is this good for English football? In the short run, Chelsea's rise has broken up what was turning into an irritating Arsenal-Manchester United duopoly. But football leagues (look at Scotland, look at Spain) can get along OK with duopolies. A monopoly, however, is a disaster. Everyone else in the Premiership has to operate on some kind of business footing, and the terror stalking Highbury and Old Trafford is that Chelsea will be immune from financial discipline forever.
        - Matthew Engel, "The Financial Times"

For the past 20 years the NFL has been the world’s most lucrative sports league. The owners have achieved this by single-mindedly restructuring their game to maximise its attractiveness to their biggest customer, television. This strategy involved two main elements. First, the competitive balance pledge – “On any given Sunday any team in our league can beat any other team” – made by commissioner Pete Rozelle in the 1960s has been rigorously observed through a range of competitive restraints, from revenue sharing to salary caps. Second, at every turn the rules of the game have been altered to create the right atmosphere for broadcasters. The NFL might therefore be puzzled by what it found if looking into the success of the Premier League. For most of the Premier League’s existence there has been concern over competitive imbalance. First it was the Manchester United dynasty, which won eight out of the first 11 titles contested. More recently the Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich has bought himself two consecutive titles at Chelsea by investing upwards of $750m on players. Soccer has always been an “unequal” sport but while there is evidence of increasing imbalance, there is no sign that broadcasters are losing their appetite for the game. Even more striking is the attitude of Premier League clubs to broadcasters. Far from embracing the source of their economic power and bending to its needs, the owners have consistently demonstrated suspicion and sometimes downright hostility to the TV cameras.
        - Stefan Szymanski, "The Financial Times"

The Cold War parallels are too easy to ignore. After the acquisition of Liverpool yesterday, American businessmen own three British clubs: Malcolm Glazer at Manchester United, Randy Lerner at Aston Villa and George Gillett and Tom Hicks at Anfield. Their former Soviet counterparts also control three clubs: Roman Abramovich at Chelsea, Vladimir Romanov at Heart of Midlothian and Alexandre Gaydamak at Portsmouth. It is striking to note how distinct are the origins and approaches of the new owners. The American group are all well-versed in traditional corporate mores and, more important, each knows how to make money out of sport. Glazer and Lerner own franchises in the National Football League (NFL), while Gillett is a former minority owner. The NFL experience is bound to inform their approach. Far and away the most lucrative organisation in team sport, the NFL’s success is based on certain key principles such as revenue sharing, centralised control and, wherever possible, the promotion of parity through tools such as the draft and the salary cap. Most of all, the general ethos is about promoting the NFL brand rather than any individual club. Contrast this with the Americans’ Eastern-bloc counterparts. All three are self-made millionaires with humble beginnings... They witnessed the harshest excesses of communism and built their fortunes in the unfettered capitalist environment that followed.
        - Gabrielle Marcotti, "East Takes on West", "The Times"

The winner of this season's Champions League football competition in Europe stands to make €100m through increased sponsorship, television revenue and gate receipts and higher values for their players, research shows. The research, by Mastercard, shows Champions League winning teams gain additional revenue from TV rights in the tournament and in the following season's international cup tournaments and domestic league.
        - Roger Blitz, "The Financial Times"

England's Premier League has become the world leader in terms of high finance and global marketing. The attraction to foreign investors, from the Russian oligarchs to the deposed prime minister of Thailand, is the guaranteed television income of close to $100 million per team in the league, and the capital that the new owners can make in promoting their own brands, or their freedom. The clubs need more and more income to compete; the owners buy in for all manner of personal reasons. But do they understand what they are getting into? Do they understand the English, or the culture in which one's soccer team is very often an extension of one's pride and personality?
        - Rob Hughes, "IHT" (Jan'08)

Each of the criticisms of footballers’ wages, then, comes back to the same thing — the incorrect idea that salaries are more than prices, that they somehow reflect our values as a society. There must be something wrong with us, it is suggested, if uneducated, inarticulate young men (or even educated, articulate ones such as Frank Lampard) can rake in so much money for doing something so “mindless”. If only this error were confined to football. But a remarkable amount of public policy and political argument is guided by the same mistaken view. Nurses and teachers and even BA staff, we are told, are “underpaid” — as if there were, as with footballers, a correct amount for them to be paid. Society is being undermined by the “values of the free market” — as if markets had “values”. No one should make a profit out of providing services in health and education — as if profits were anything more than the reward for taking risk. Football is “a symptom of the sickness of our age”? In a competition, I think football’s critics do more damage.
        - Daniel Finkelstein, "The Times"

According to The Guardian, 'Boris Johnson has written to Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham, Fulham and West Ham urging them to pay all of their staff a "living wage" after a survey found Premier League clubs paying cleaners, catering staff and programme sellers at or just above the minimum of £5.52 an hour.'
Leaving aside the small matter of exactly how much the LGC pays it cleaners, the remarkable thing is that Johnson has even sent a letter directly to Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich. That's the Roman Abramovich whose wealth is funded on the sale of a Siberian oil company for a few billion pounds, with apparently no thought to the third of the population in the region who still live under the poverty line. Somehow, we doubt he's gonna feel much guilt about only paying the minimum wage.
        - Football 365 Mediawatch

It is ten years since Blackburn Rovers, the last club to shake off the burden of tradition on which English football is built, bought the Premiership title. When they did, their owner Jack Walker cried. If Roman Abramovich sheds tears it will be because he has no worlds left to conquer... and still we wonder what Abramovich wants. He cheered yesterday, a happy man watching the team he built in two seasons conquer football's oldest league. But will he be the Jay Gatsby of the Sky age with Chelsea's success no more than a chimera? Roman Abramovich grew up in an empire derided as evil. In west London, he has built a kingdom to serve his megalomania and, in football terms, it is no less pernicious.
        - Dion Fanning, as Chelsea storm to their first Premiership title, "The Irish Independent"

Chelsea's players, coaches and agents are now football's wealthiest millionaires. Surely the billions taken from the Russian people by an oligarch in questionable privatisations couldn't be better spent?
        - Simon Kuper, "The Financial Times"

It is an indication of Chelski’s warped finances that even successive titles can be regarded as failure. Spend unprecedented sums and only unprecedented success can be commensurate. Chelski won't get the credit they think they deserve because of the money they've spent. There's £300m worth of difference between a victory and an achievement.
        - Pete Gill, writing in May 2006

The Premiership is growing more international ever day, and that is one reason English managers are becoming unfashionable. Appoint a bloke with the right hinterland and your marketing department could be transformed, as well as your team.
        - Paul Wilson, "The Observer"

But before Derby go, would they mind telling the rest of the Premier League — the league which it has debased with its pathetically-inadequate presence for the past 12 months — where the money has gone? You know, the £30m or so in prize money that every team, even the one at the bottom of the table from August to May, automatically receives by being in the Premier League... So what happened to that money? Or put another way, why was such a meaningless fraction of it spent on recruiting new players? It's one thing not to compete; it's quite another not to even attempt to do so.
        - Pete Gill, after Derby are relegated, "Football 365"

Sometimes it takes a fresh pair of eyes to see properly what is staring you in the face, and Fernando Torres has been extremely complimentary about top-level football in England.
"The Premier League is way ahead of the Spanish League," the Liverpool striker said. "You go to a team in the relegation zone and you find yourself playing on a perfect pitch, with the stands full to bursting and opponents who are there to play football. Even if they lose, the crowd are going to cheer them on until the death. You see this only in British football. It isn't easy to adapt to but once you have you would have trouble wanting to play anywhere else."
So even if attendances have started to dip due to the dreary economic climate, the number of empty seats ought to be put into perspective. Entertainment as a form of escapism usually does well during depressions and, though more expensive than it ought to be when compared with other leagues across Europe, the basic health of English football is still measurable at the turnstiles... Outside the top four, indeed outside the Premier League, the big-match experience is still available a long way down the divisions. There was no need for Torres to stop at the Premier League relegation zone, however. Last Tuesday night, a bitterly cold one as it happens, 27,111 watched Sheffield United v Wolves in the Championship, 25,534 saw Derby v Preston and 24,032 turned up for Norwich against Crystal Palace. Those attendances were greater than half a dozen Champions League gates last week (not including the empty stadium for Atletico Madrid v PSV), and Bramall Lane even topped the crowd for Villarreal v Manchester United. In League One on the same evening, that's the Third Division in old money, 16,961 watched Leicester beat Crewe and more than 10,000 saw Huddersfield lose at home to Leyton Orient.
        - Paul Wilson, "The Observer" (Nov'08)


"The Old Man and Stan: An arranged marriage rather than one of genuine, true love."
        - Daire O'Brien, on Ireland's managerial duo of Steve Staunton & Bobby Robson, "Setanta Sport"

"Staunton has to get the boot surely. The short-term embarrassment of losing to Cyprus would have been worth it."
        - Irish Fan Billy Coughlan, after Ireland are held 1-1 by Cyprus (Oct'07)

Shame on Steve Staunton who presided over the worst performance in Irish football history. Shame on John Delaney who put a boy in to do a man's job. Shame on everyone involved with one of the worst nights in the history of Irish sport. Actually let's not mince words here. This was the most disastrous performance in the history of Irish football. It may, in fact, be the worst display by any Irish team in any sport. That jersey has been worn over the years by great players, by Giles, by Whelan, by McGrath, by Keane. It has been worn by warriors, by Martin and Mulligan, Langan and Galvin. It was sometimes worn by part-time poorly prepared players who were outclassed by teams of far greater accomplishment. But, not even in those dark and difficult times, was the white flag so conspicuously displayed. A selection drawn from the Eircom League would have done a far better job and certainly not been humiliated in this fashion. For all the wrong reasons this was one of the most memorable nights in the history of soccer in this country. It was Stuttgart in reverse.
        - Eamonn Sweeney, after Ireland lose 5-2 in Cyprus, "The Sunday Independent"

Brian Kerr, we are told by his apologists, did well to land fourth place in a qualifying group. Mick McCarthy, the same people had insisted, let us down merely by reaching the second stage of the World Cup finals. McCarthy, the man whose team beat Holland, Yugoslavia and Croatia and drew with Holland away, Portugal away, Germany and Spain can enter his house justified now. He achieved all that with Gary Breen at centre-back and Mark Kinsella in midfield. Who put Holland out of the World Cup? Jason McAteer. McCarthy could have cribbed about not having the players but he never did.
        - Eamonn Sweeney, in Ireland's "Sunday Independent"

Liam Miller deserved to play. Maybe Staunton felt that selecting the Sunderland player in his first 11 after leaving him out of the squad initially would signal a lack of logic (even if there was nothing new in that), or indicate that he had got things wrong. Or maybe he just felt it would imply Roy Keane was right. Andy Keogh's selection, it quickly became clear, was an unfair demand on a young player.
        - Dion Fanning, after Staunton's strange selection for Ireland v Germany, "Sunday Indo" (oct'07)

The frustrations centre on the lessons that have been learned far too late in this group. There are plenty but the case of Reid stands out above all the rest. But even under pressure, his range of passing was delectable and his vision unrivalled. Then think back to Bratislava, where Reid sat on the bench dormant for 90 minutes. Imagine his thoughts as first the uncapped Darron Gibson and then Jonathan Douglas were told to get stripped and enter the fray ahead of him. After the concession of a last minute equaliser, Staunton mused that the most disappointing aspect of the display was that his charges did not pass the ball well enough. Fancy that. It took a pasting in Cyprus for the manager to realise that ignoring the claims of Lee Carsley was an embarrassing oversight. Again, the damage had been done. Supporters of the Louth man, when defending the logic, will argue that he is learning all the time. There are still enough new mistakes, though, to make that assertion dubious. On Saturday, the decision to include Andy Keogh in the starting 11 on the right side of midfield was a startling one. The Wolves striker is a talented player and does not deserve such ridicule and humiliation.
        - Daniel McDonnell, commenting on Ireland v Germany, "Irish Independent" (Oct'07)

"Unfortunately, at this moment in time, Robbie Keane can't hit a barn door for us."
        - Steve Staunton, building up confidence in his captain Robbie Keane

Yesterday the FAI played cat-and mouse with the media who were desperately scratching around for clues as to where they were meeting. The biggest pointer had been provided by the two journalists who pursued a board member from the city centre to Santry by car after stumbling upon him buying a bar of chocolate not far from Merrion Square.
        - From "The Irish Times", as the FAI board meet to sack Staunton

"Professionally, it would be a logical choice, but my personal view is that he is the most insincere man I know in football"
        - Tony Cascarino, as David O'Leary emerges as favourite to replace Staunton

Since Ireland qualified for Euro 88, their first major finals, most observers would agree they have beaten only five 'middle to upper' class teams in competitive ties - England (at Euro 88), Italy (US 94) plus home wins over Spain, Croatia and Holland. Ireland have held their own in European and world football more on the back of stubborn draws.
       - Christopher Davies, "The Telegraph"

"Of all the places I have worked in my life, I have never met so many unpleasant and stupid people in the same place all at once... there was a meanness and nastiness there that I have never come across before."
        - Roy Dooney, former League of Ireland official in "Who Stole Our Game?"

"Great people, the Irish. Tremendous fans. Terrible partners in a joint bid."
        - The Scotsman, after the joint Celtic bid for Euro 2008 fails

"The Irish could really have done with some of these hurleys in Moscow last week."
        - UEFA official visiting Croke Park assessing the joint bid

"The only criticism I'd have of Sunderland would be their manager giving his weekly report about Irish football, Cork hurling and all that he does. We don't comment on the players he's bought or where they are in the league. So I think he should get on with managing Sunderland and stop commenting on a regular basis about the FAI. He looks very good on deflecting from his own issues."
        - FAI chief executive John Delaney, letting fly at Roy Keane (Feb'08)

Given that David Healy has hit 29 goals in 56 matches for Northern Ireland, a country whose opponents are nearly always ranked far higher than them, is he, in fact, the greatest striker in the history of international football? This admittedly lazy column can't think of anyone who has scored against such vastly superior opposition with such incredible consistency...
        - from The Guardian's "Rumour Mill" column

Two: Number of Northern Irish teams' players at Premiership clubs, Aaron Hughes and Steven Davis of Aston Villa.
Two: The number of years Northern Ireland had gone without scoring a goal before Lawrie Sanchez took over.
Three: The number of significant competitive victories the North have enjoyed in the last couple of years. Beat England 1-0, Spain 3-2 and Sweden 2-1. All goals scored by David Healy.
First: Position of Northern Ireland in their Europan Championship qualifying group, looking down on Spain, Denmark and Sweden.
Nineteen: The amount of years since they last occupied such a position.
Zero: The number of Northern Irish players who would, on paper, make the Republic of Ireland team.
Infinite: The amount of respect due to the team and manager.
        - Eamonn Sweeney, in "The Irish Independent" (March'07)


In the modern world of raw-knuckled competition between nations, we should be grateful for the fact that football is war by other means.
        - The Times (of London)

"Poverty is good for nothing, except perhaps for football."
        - Real Madrid's sporting manager, Argentinian Jorge Valdano

"We need to look at our nannying, mollycoddled, politically correct culture in my view, which stops kids from going out and playing competitive sport. I also think we need to look at the shear fatness of the regulations which control people who want to help kids play sport."
        - Boris Johnson, Mayor of London

Football is a thinly disguised re-enactment of hunting; we played it before we were human."
        - Carl Sagan, "The Demon Haunted World"

To think of football as merely 22 hirelings kicking a ball is merely to say that a violin is wood and cat-gut, Hamlet so much ink and paper. It is conflict and art.
        - JB Priestley

As long as the human race is able to concern itself with more than mere survival, soccer will have its place.
        - Desmond Morris, "The Soccer Tribe"

'Football is only a game.' That is the most outrageous nonsense of the lot. Football is a science, it's an art, it is war, ballet, drama, terror and joy all rolled into one.
        - Tom Utley, "The Daily Telegraph"

"When our national team plays, we feel that the identity of our country is being played out on the field."
        - Luis Eduardo Soares, Brazillian Anthropologist

"If misery loves company, then triumph demands an audience."
        - Brian Moore

"Football is the best way to get to know a people and a city."
        - Ardal O'Hanlon, "Leagues Apart"

The stories enrich us and depress us in equal measure as many things of beautiful melancholy do... Matt Busby hated the name 'Busby Babes'. To him they were the Red Devils, a name that suggested ferocity and determination, not callow youth... Munich forced a generation ot understand what it meant to be, in Michael Chabon's words, "ruined again and again by hope."
        - Dion Fanning, on the 50th anniversary of the Munich disaster, "Irish Independent"

"Sometimes, during the work on this book, I have felt like Malcolm McDowell in 'A Clockwork Orange'. I have been forced to watch things that, in the end, have made me sick. I did not think it would be possible but, by the end, I had almost fallen out of love with football."
        - John Foot, on his time spent researching "Calcio: a History of Italian football"

Football is not, in my view, a sport: it is somewhere between a business racket and a mental illness. I associate it with all the worst aspects of our society — violence, drunkenness, drugs, racism, exploitation, greed and stupidity; and that’s just for starters.
        - Simon Heffer, cricket fan, in "The Spectator"

"This is man reaching the very peak of his possibilities."
        - Mark Dowd, on football at its very best

The fine actor Bill Nighy recently said that the music he enjoys most is the Champions' League anthem
(Handel's "Zadok the Priest). At that moment, he said, he feels serene because he knows he is about to witness football as its finest. It is the feeling of authenticity, where anything can happen.
        - Dion Fanning, "The Irish Independent"

If intelligence had anything to do with such matters, I would be supporting Arsenal -- a sophisticated and urbane team managed by a gentleman... I am drawn, against all my best and noblest instincts, into praying for a double Manchester United triumph. And I loathe myself for it, because I despise the entire modern obsession with soccer, with its flash, overpaid, oafish stars, and their brainless shopaholic molls; and, worst of all, their cretinous tribes of supporters. And that's the real measure of the power of soccer in modern culture. Even the unwilling are drawn to take sides. We cannot resist experiencing powerful feelings over contests in which we logically should have no emotional or intellectual interest.
Thus tonight, I will watch the Manchester United-Barcelona game with almost the partisan witlessness of a true-born Mancunian. It is sad and silly, I know; but it is how I am. And curiously, for a couple of hours anyway, most of Ireland will be united with me in the same imbecilic, if involuntary community.
        - Kevin Myers , "The Irish Independent"

In a manner akin to the influence of Tiger Woods on the other side of the Atlantic, Thierry Henry has helped kick down a few of the remaining bigoted stereotypes. Through his undisputable class and dignity, Henry has made a deep-seated difference to race relations in this country. Racism will flounder whenever white children grow up with a black man as their hero. That so few comment on Henry's colour is a silent tribute to his impact.
        - Pete Gill, "Football 365"

"I am happy to be a role model for anybody — whether they are black, white, yellow, pink or purple."
        - Paul Ince, appointed England's first black Premier League coach

High national emotions are permissible when a soccer team is playing precisely because they are impermissible at most other times. There aren't, simply, many other places where you can sing your national anthem until you lose your voice without causing a riot. In the context of soccer, flag-waving nationalism — even chauvinistic, anti-foreigner, flag-waving nationalism — is acceptable in Britain.
        - Anne Applebaum, "The Slate"

When England fans cup their hands over their eyes to imitate early aviator goggles and hum the Dambusters theme tune at German fans, it is, primarily, for a laugh. They do not really think that a goal from Michael Owen in some way reinforces the VE Day celebrations in Trafalgar Square. Nor is this one-way traffic. It was the Scottish fans who rather wittily barracked the Brazilians over their non-existent GDP six years ago. Every country reaches for what it has to hand in order to cow or mock the opposition; England fans are far from alone in this and it is nothing to do with the English 'colonial mentality'.
        - Rod Liddle, "English Hooligans are Pussycats", "The Spectator"

In football, hate can be a beautiful thing; sustaining and nourishing, quite unlike other manifestations of an otherwise destructive emotion.
        - Nicky Campbell, "The Guardian"

Complaining about boring football is a little like complaining about the sad ending of King Lear: It misses the point somehow.
Radio football is football reduced to its lowest common denominator. Shorn of the game's aesthetic pleasures, or the comfort of a crowd that feels the same way as you, or the sense of security that you get when you see that your defenders and goalkeeper are more or less where they should be, all that is left is naked fear.
        - Nick Hornby, "Fever Pitch"

Nearly everything possible had been done to spoil the game: the heavy financial interest; the absurd transfer and player-selling system; the lack of any birth or residential qualifications; the absurd publicity given to every feature of it by the press; the monstrous partisanships of the crowds.
        - JB Priestley, writing in 1933

The Huddersfield and Arsenal coach Herbert Chapman was regarded as English football’s first great pragmatist. He pioneered counter-attacking, and was responsible for turning the centre-half into a third defender. Shortly after his death in 1934, by which time Arsenal were on their way to a hat-trick of titles, a collection of his writings was published. Surprisingly, they contained a lament for the direction the game had taken, one he had helped guide. "It is no longer necessary for a team to play well. They must get goals, no matter how, and the points. The measure of their skill is, in fact, judged by their position in the league table. Thirty years ago, men went out with the fullest licence to display their arts and crafts."
        - Jonathan Wilson, "Financial Times"

"A person beneath contempt — a vagabond who spends the whole of his time in a public house except for an hour and a half, when he is called upon to earn his wages."
        - A contemporary view of footballers in 1896

It is customary for columnists to complain about the excesses of Premiership footballers, whenever – as happens regularly – there is an incident involving some combination of sex, drugs, drink, violence and the constabulary. But modern footballers have a lot of both money and disposable time, a combination that has proved a recipe for personal disaster throughout history. And these incidents take place generally round night clubs rather than football clubs. The average Premiership player who turned up for work drunk would have a career-expectancy measurable in minutes.
        - Matthew Engel, "The Financial Times"

Avoiding any of the tenets of amateurism, after all, certainly does not make you a good professional. Perhaps it is better to see fearless flair and professional steeliness as two ideas which must always coexist. One half of sport may be about harnessing human talent, but the other half depends on setting it free.
        - Edward Smith, reviewing DJ Taylor's "On the Corinthian Spirit" in "The Telegraph"

Football is a very simple game. For 90 minutes 22 men go running after the ball and at the end the Germans win.
        - Gary Lineker

If they dive, we dive.
        - Germany's Philsophy On Diving

A combination of acting, lying, begging, and cheating.
        - Dave Eggers, on diving, "Slate Magazine"

There is nothing like being repeatedly penalised to concentrate the minds of top class footballers. Defenders know now, if they didn't already, that FIFA is coming close to outlawing the tackle, even those immaculately timed sliding swoops to the ball. It seems these days the professionals are hoping to be challenged rather than hoping to go by the player. Their thought is not to beat the player with a dribble but to choreograph a challenge from him. The dance is completed with the tumble to the floor. It is miserable to watch, but it seems too late to do anything about it now. What was once seen as cheating is now grudgingly being written off as just another of society's small illnesses. Modern football is no place for the likes of old barbarians like Terry Hurlock. Terry should be stuffed and mounted in football's equivalent of Jurassic Park. Young fans watching their first World Cup will gaze in amazement, astonished that such a species once roamed the earth.
        - Tommy Conlon, "The Irish Independent"

All I know of morality I learned from football
       - Albert Camus

It matters not who wins or loses, but who gets the blame.
        - The Times

"It is steady, reliable, tough. It never yields to panic. It is never defeated one-sidedly. It achieves everything attainable by character and tenacity."
        - Henry Kissinger describes the England football team

"You know I don't think there will ever be a time when the English player is not respected, and feared, across the world of football. The English footballer is very brave and strong and committed and there is always enough high-class players in his team to cause concern in any opponent. It is a national characteristic."
        - Johann Cruyff

"However good an English team is, they will always have an additional advantage. It is that European players know that their English opponents will come at them in the belief they will win, and they can always be guaranteed never to stop fighting. They have a natural aggression that they are born with. If it ever goes, English football will lose its most valuable dimension."
        - Johan Cruyff


A few weeks ago the Chinese national youth football team arrived in London to play some matches against the capital’s clubs as part of a historic, groundbreaking, goodwill visit ahead of the Olympic Games... I dare say you can imagine what happened, in case you haven’t already heard. Seven members of the Chinese team were sent home after a terrific, spectacular mass brawl during the, um, friendly game against QPR. It was wonderful stuff — you can watch it all on the internet. There were oriental kung-fu kicks and good old British haymakers, wrestling throws and neck-high karate chops. Fittingly, it was a very democratic brawl — everyone got involved, including the spectators and the trainers. One Chinese player, Zheng Tao, was rendered unconscious for five minutes and taken to hospital with a fractured jaw. It was, by some margin, the most entertaining football game I have ever seen. I can’t remember the score and it doesn’t really matter because the referee was forced to abandon the game (and, indeed, leg it to the changing-rooms with great rapidity). There’s not much doubt, however, that QPR won the fight. Easily. Always thought China’s martial reputation was grossly exaggerated; now we have proof. And that, it seems, is the thing which most irks the Chinese. The disgrace which shrouds the Chinese players is not so much a result of their having been involved in an unseemly brawl, but that they lost the unseemly brawl.
        - Rod Liddle, "QPR have walloped the Chinese", "The Spectator" (Mar'07)

The mandarins of sporting organisations continue to believe that mutual respect will be engendered by two sides competing nobly in a sporting arena. They do not seem to understand that sport exacerbates existing hatreds between nations, and can even, on a good day, create new ones. In a sporting contest between two countries, the fans embrace a Manichaean dichotomy between good (their side) and evil (the opponents) — no matter how otherwise innocuous bilateral relations might be. When England plays the Czech Republic or Slovakia or Belgium, Poland or France, the English fans root around for the most wounding comments they can find. It is almost always, ‘If it wasn’t for the English, you’d be Krauts.’ And the poor Belgians are afforded an extra derisory chant: ‘You’re French and you know you are.’
        - Rod Liddle, "The Spectator"

A couple of years ago, someone had the bright idea that such mutual respect might be engendered if the Iranian national football team were to play an English club. The team they chose was, yes — Millwall. Now, believe me, I love Millwall. It’s the team I’ve supported since I was seven years old and I still attend every home game, and even travel away from time to time. But the prospect of this game filled me with enormous foreboding and I rang the club and begged them not to let it take place. Already, on the supporters’ message boards, people were sorting out what songs they would be singing to engender mutual respect between Iranians and British people. There was one to be sung in the direction of Iran’s female supporters: ‘Get your face out for the lads.’ Then there was the more general, ‘You’re Shiite and you know you are.’ And the gleeful, geopolitically astute, ‘You’re next and you know you are.’ I don’t suppose it was any of my doing, but someone somewhere saw sense and the match between Iran and Millwall was mercifully cancelled.
        - Rod Liddle, "The Spectator"

An important question of etiquette. Is it ever permissible to boo, barrack or hurl abuse at an English sportsman when he is representing his country in some battle against wily and devious foreigners? This is what happened to Ashley Cole, an England defender, who was playing at Wembley for his country against the might of Kazakhstan last week... It has never occurred to me not to boo Ashley Cole, regardless of what activity he is engaged in. Even by the standards of our age, he is a magnificently horrid fellow; apparently rather dense but possessed of an extraordinarily high opinion of himself, while being some way short of truly adept at football. He felt, as an Arsenal player, grotesquely undervalued at £60,000 per week, so he moved to that whore’s paradise, Chelsea, where they agreed to pay him a few thousand more. There may have been some in the crowd booing him simply for that. Later, he cheated on his missus, Cheryl Cole, with some woman he met in a club and whom he later vomited over, as you do. There may have been some gallants in the crowd at Wembley still booing him for that. But most were booing him for what he did in that game against Kazakhstan, while maybe taking previous offences into consideration... By and large football fans do not boo players who make mistakes and last week it was Cole’s monumental arrogance which was being booed, not the ‘mistake’ per se. Like a good many of his team-mates, he had afforded the lowly opposition no respect whatsoever; he seemed to think that merely by his gilded presence on the pitch, these ghastly camel-chasing Borat people would succumb, without anybody needing to try too hard... I suppose if you pay someone 60,000 quid or more every week, then they are bound, in the end, to suffer some sort of mental delusion and believe that they are worth that sort of money. Especially if they have the IQ of a meat-and-potato pie... There is evidence, at last, that Premier League football is reaching the end of its golden tether. The wages paid to players and the sums expended to acquire them were always colloquially regarded as ‘obscene’; now, though, they may also be regarded as unsustainable... The disaffection or scepticism, call it what you will, in which the national team is regarded by its usually ultra-loyal supporters is, likewise, evidence of a bottom-up revolt against the way the game is.
Below the Premier League a succession of clubs have traipsed towards bankruptcy and administration, strangled by their ambition to join the elite when they do not remotely have the money to do so. Famous and semi-famous names have hovered before the brink: Leeds United, Coventry City, Cardiff City, Swindon Town, Bournemouth, Luton Town. Good-sized towns or cities which, in most cases, have been easily able to support a club providing it is run along the sort of economic lines that apply to the rest of the world.
        - Rod Liddle, "Ashley Cole deserves to be booed", "The Spectator" (Oct'08)


Is a fullback primarily an attacker or a defender? It's not an easy question, and there's no right or wrong answer. The word "back" might point strongly to the latter option, but soccer is a dynamic sport, and one of the reasons for its global popularity is that it's open to so many different interpretations.
Many years ago, however, there was a definitive answer: A fullback was a defender. Most sides played the "WM" formation, so called because in numbers it could be expressed as 3-2-2-3, where the distribution of the players on the field resembled the two letters, one on top of the other.
The defensive line of three was the top of the W, two fullbacks on either side of the center back. The right back marked the opposing left winger, the left back took the right winger and the center half played against the center forward.
But the extraordinary talent of Brazilian strikers forced a defensive rethink. Take Ademir da Guia, top scorer of the 1950 World Cup. He was lightning-fast, turned quickly, could shoot off either foot with deadly power and was good in the air. How on earth could a team defend against someone like that? The answer lay in dropping another player into the middle of the defense to provide extra cover, so one center back would be marking while the other one was spare to snuff out danger if the line was pierced, and so the back four was born.
As a consequence, the fullbacks now found themselves pushed wider, and began to see they had plenty of space in front of them to make forward bursts and link up with the attack. For Brazil, the legendary Nílton Santos did plenty of this from left back, and Djalma Santos also pushed forward down the right.
The England boss was watching. Alf Ramsey had been a cultured fullback in his playing days and, in the mid-1960s, he was quick to seize on to the implications of the modern back four. England won the 1966 World Cup with the new 4-4-2 formation, which has gone on to be perhaps the most successful system in the history of the game. Ramsey saw that if his fullbacks could play a prominent attacking role down the flanks, there was no need for specialist wingers. He had midfielders in Alan Ball and Martin Peters who would occasionally drift wide, but who also gave him all-around service, dropping inside to mark or ghosting into the box to shoot.
        - Tim Vickery, "Inside Soccer"

It just takes a bit of common sense and some serious thinking about how video-replay technology could work. And that means studying those sports where it has been used successfully, like the NFL and Rugby League. What follows is a modest proposal of how we could make it work.
First, you decide what calls can be reviewed. If you limit it to penalty incidents, fouls which lead to bookings or red cards and whether the ball has crossed the goal line, you're off to a good start. Those episodes tend to decide games. Offside calls are somewhat more problematic. If the ball crosses the line in a disputed offside situation, the temptation would be to use video evidence to correct the call. But that's dangerous because it raises issues of what happens when a linesman signals for offside and everyone stops, even though the attacker may be on-side. What do you do then? You can't keep playing until the play is dead in every single offside situation. So best not to use video replays at all to judge offsides. Instead, let's limit it to penalty incidents, yellow and red cards and whether a ball crosses the goal line.
Second, what do you do about Platini's big fear, constant interruptions? That one's rather easy. You borrow a page from the NFL. Each team would get a certain amount of "challenges" per match -- say, one per half. Somebody from each team would watch the game on a monitor and, when something controversial happens, could issue a "challenge" by alerting the fourth official. He would then alert the referee, who would review the replay.
Third, you have to decide on what basis the call can be overturned. Here, it's simple. Just adopt the NFL language. The video evidence has to be "clear" and "indisputable." (So, no, England's goal in the 1966 World Cup final would not be overturned)... FIFA has not only used it before, it used it in the biggest game of them all: the 2006 World Cup final. Go watch what happened immediately before and after Zinedine Zidane's headbutt on Marco Materazzi (it's all over YouTube) and you'll see it's pretty clear that the fourth official signaled to the match official. (Which, incidentally, he wasn't supposed to do).
        - Gabriele Marcotti, "Sports Illustrated"


>> Quotes from "22 Foreigners in Funny Shorts" by Pete Davies
              from "All Played Out" by Pete Davies
              from "Perfect Pitch" edited by Simon Kuper
              from "The Miracle of Castel di Sangro" by Joe McGinnis
              from "Footballing Against The Enemy" by Simon Kuper

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