Monday, June 29, 2009

Confederations Cup tells us nothing

So, what exactly is the point of the Confederations Cup? As far as I can tell, it is the footballing equivalent of homeopathy - people keep saying it's valid, but it really doesn't do anyone any good and, in some cases can do a bit of harm. The only benefits I can see are that it earns FIFA a bit of cash, and keeps them in with the Asian and Oceanic federations by giving their (woefully inadequate) champions the chance to get hammered by good sides.

Anyway, here are some important lessons that we have NOT learned from the 2009 tournament...

1) European sides are not as good as we think - Spain crashed out in the semis and Italy, well, the less said the better

Italy are an interesting case - were they poor because the team is too old and slow, or because of a lack of motivation? I think it's a bit of both. Certainly too many players are old and slow. The one big thing Marcello Lippi will have taken away from the whole shebang is that Fabio Cannavaro's days at the highest level are numbered. At 5' 9", the man who was World Player of the Year in 2006 was always dependent on pace to get him out of trouble; now that he is two months short of 36, he is increasingly exposed. Luis Fabiano in particular destroyed him with his movement. Apart from that, the main problem for the Azzurri is a lack of depth, especially in midfield - Gattuso was half fit and Pirlo looked tired. But they look in good shape to qualify comfortably for the World Cup and still have one or two aces (particularly Mario Balotelli) up their sleeves. So the jury is very much still out.

Spain, on the other hand, looked to me like a team who saw the competition as an unnecessary distraction, a delay to a summer break which Torres, Xavi et al have earned. They did not look in the slightest bit bothered against the US in the semi. We know, however, that this team is good, and now that Gerard Pique and Raul Albiol have come through as genuine centre-backs of quality, there is now a spine to go with the style. Anyone who thinks Spain are not the favourites for the World Cup at this moment in time is a fool.

2) Brazil are back to their amazing best

Nah. They impressed me with their comeback in the final, but there are still doubts to be harboured. Midfield is still a big issue, where Gilberto Silva looks well past his best, and though Felipe Melo was outstanding, he needs a partner. Dunga still has to solve the conundrum of how to fit Robinho and Kaka' together; they seem to both keep drifting to the same side of the pitch. Considering the problems at left back and right midfield, it seems only a matter of time until Dani Alves, still kept out of the lineup by (the admittedly brilliant) Maicon, ends up in one of these positions. But Brazil simply do not have the depth in their squad to put them up there with Spain, though if Luis Fabiano keeps scoring goals they are still proper contenders.

3) The World Cup in South Africa will be a failure/success (substitute whichever is applicable)

You can't tell anything much yet, a whole year in advance. There will be far more fans next summer to deal with, yet the infrastructure may have been improved by then. On the other hand, there are two burning issues left; one is security, and the other is those bloody vuvuzuela horns, which are like listening to a traffic jam in the USA for 90 minutes. And we thought rattles were bad! What we do know, despite their run to the semis, is that South Africa's team will be the weakest host nation ever.

That's about it - a rant about team USA's run would take too long and just be too annoying. So now it's just a case of looking forward to the joys of the new season. Only one month to go.


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

So much for record SPL profits

I've slagged off the SPL for spinning the truth before, and I'll quite happily do it again - note that this record profit includes the combined transfer fees for Craig Gordon and Alan Hutton from a couple of seasons back, plus St. Mirren's sale of their Love Street ground to Tesco. Heck, according to this BBC article, the combination of these three events is 27 million quid, which means that, taking those away, the SPL actually made a loss. Consider that these figures were during a season with a half decent TV deal, and that there will not be many seasons in the near future where one player is sold for so much money (let alone two), it all looks dodgier than an MP's expenses claim.

Compare with today's Times, which suggests that the Setanta money made up possibly up to a third of, for example, St. Mirren's annual income, and, well, I wouldn't like to be a beancounter at one of these clubs. (Trust me, today's paper does say that, but I can't find a link online to the story!)

At least Caley are well out of it, and with no TV cash at all, are not going to budget for cash that might or might not be there.

The more you read, the more you think that one or two SPL clubs are going to end up back down the administration road sooner or later. It's not very rosy at all.


Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Cold Turkey

Over the last few days, I have been getting increasingly twitchy and shaky, feeling tired, finding it difficult to function, while always on the verge of wanting to shout at someone. My mouth is dry, however much fluid I drink. My eyes are strained, however long I keep them closed or in a darkened room. My stomach feels hungry when I don't eat and then nauseous when I do. I am taking very little pleasure from life at the moment.

Yes folks, I am suffering from full-on football withdrawal.

The Confederations cup is like methadone to me - it's just about keeping me going as a person, but there is barely any buzz to be had from it. I miss my Caley games on a Saturday, my English League football on the box on a Sunday, my Champions League during the week. I'm watching other sports at the moment - the Lions tour, Wimbledon, the Tour De France (when it starts), but nothing truly fills the void. Last year I could cope because of Euro two thousand-and-great, but I don't have that luxury this summer.

The Caley season kicks off on 25 July. I can't wait.

(Actually, the symptoms from the first paragraph are almost entirely due to sleep deprivation as I struggle to switch my body clock round after a week of night shifts. But that's besides the point).


Thursday, June 18, 2009

Thoughts on the last week

No big issues I feel the need to blog about today, but plenty of wee things worth mentioning...

1) A rare pang of sympathy from me towards referees this week - Howard Webb clearly made the right decision to award Brazil a penalty for handball on the goal-line against Egypt, but because he took some time and (maybe) the fourth official was involved, a massive stink has been kicked up. It's hard enough to find refs who get the big decisions right, if we now slag them off because of the way they get it right they really are screwed.

Of course, the whole issue would be less cloudy if TV evidence was allowed; replays were shown on the big screen of the incident anyway, so everyone else in the stadium knew it was a handball!

2) Thank goodness for Egypt, who have been the only team at the Confed cup not European or South American who look like they can put two passes together. New Zealand, South Africa and Iraq, quite frankly, do not belong on the same pitch as their classier opponents. It tells you how far Asian football in particular has fallen that North Korea have qualified for the World Cup. There will be a lot of much better footballing nations who will not even get remotely close to reaching South Africa.

3) Tony Mowbray appears to be about as good a pick for Celtic manager as the fans could hope for. And of course the fact he is a "Celtic man" has nothing to do with it...but there is just the teensiest sniff of John Barnes about the whole thing (though Mowbray has, of course, more experience and managerial pedigree); Barnes was hailed as a man who would provide beautiful football, and look what happened to him.


Thursday, June 11, 2009

80 million? Okay, now it's obscene

I wish I was Real Madrid's accountant. For then I would be the most ridiculously optimistic person in the world. Or I would be smoking rather too much of a certain noxious substance, while drinking rather too much of another certain noxious substance, while injecting rather too much of yet another obnoxious substance.

Either way, life would be a lot more fun.

I certainly don't wish I was Real Madrid's bank manager, because then I would also be smoking, drinking and injecting too much, and I would also clearly be a teensy bit of a prat.

80 million squids. For Cristiano Ronaldo. Flipping nora.

I guess this is the football equivalent of an arms race - Barcelona have Messi, Xavi and Iniesta as WMDs (which take less than 45 minutes to be ready!). Real Madrid have, erm, Arjen Robben. Ronaldo and Kaka' even things up a bit (assuming the Ronaldo deal goes through).

I can't help feeling this will go the same way as the Cold War arms race of the 80s - Barcelona, like the USA, can sustain it (in this case because Barca's galacticos cost nothing) but I can't see for the life of me how Real Madrid can avoid going the same way as the USSR.

Just think how many twirl bars you can buy with 80 million quid...


Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The fifty-six million pound man

Fifty-six million quid is a lot of money. I could buy a lot of Twirl bars with that. In fact, when you consider you get two fingers in a Twirl bar, well, that is a lot of twirl fingers indeed.

Real Madrid have turned the clock right back to the galactico era. Kaka' (I'm being pedantic about the apostrophe again) is now, in sterling terms, the most expensive player ever - note that Zidane cost more pounds but less euros (this fact is the easiest way to explain the economic crisis to a football fan!)

When the subject was brought up at work today, the sort of words used were "obscene", "disgraceful", "disgusting" and the like. And fair enough, you might say - the man is going to be earning 200 grand a week just for kicking a football. Considering the economic situation, that seems just a teeny bit off.

But I dare you to look at it from the other side. Football is business. And it is a very wealthy business indeed. And prices in the business world go up when demand is high for a product in short supply - just look at the cost of petrol.

Players of Kaka's quality, even players deserving of being mentioned in the same sentence, are thinner on the ground than pregnancies in a nunnery. And when you consider how little it took to transform Barcelona from last season's also-rans to this year's Dream Team was a new manager and two new defenders (Pique and Alves) then I guess Real Madrid are entitled to think that the outlay on the Brazilian will be a sound acquisition, both on the pitch in terms of titles and prizes, and off the pitch in terms of merchandise. Certainly David Beckham made Real a profit, and it's probable that Zidane did as well.

In fact, the main reason I'm horrified about the Kaka' move is not out of some moral outrage, but simply because, at the moment, I would say Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Xavi and Iniesta are all worth more cash than he is. While clearly a top drawer schemer, I just wonder whether, considering the decline of Serie A, he looks better than he is, a quick player in a league where the pace of the game is so much slower, where teams are willing to sit back in defence and give him time to play. Remember how ordinary he looked at the last World Cup?

It's just a thought.


Sunday, June 7, 2009

World Cup hopes a little brighter

It might have slipped under the radar, but, assuming we had all given up hope of catching the Dutch, results went very much our way in Group 9 at the weekend. Everyone else keeps taking points off each other, and the Netherlands keep beating everyone. Let's hope that the fact Holland have already qualified doesn't lead to them taking the foot off the gas against Norway on Wednesday.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again; as long as we get in the playoffs then expectations are met.


Friday, June 5, 2009

End of season report - must do better

You know, I spent a decent chunk of Tuesday evening working through an in-depth analysis of every SPL club's season, much in the same way I did last season. How antisocial am I?

But then I realised that, well, it was about as interesting as doing your taxes. A lot of my summaries were just stating the obvious, and it was going to involve the slagging off of the usual suspects - Massimo Donati, Bob Malcolm et al - and I couldn't see anybody actually having the patience to read to the finish without chewing their arm off at the banality of it all.

So, here it is in a rather condensed form.

For the Old Firm the difference between success and failure is the title. Therefore Rangers' season was a success and Celtic's was a failure. What else can you say?

Hearts recovered from last year's rubbish campaign to finish third, so I would call that a success too. Ditto Aberdeen, despite everyone associated with the club clearly thinking the contrary.

At the other end, the less said about Inverness' season the better. It seems St. Mirren and Killie are now destined to be fighting the drop every season, while Falkirk's increasingly apparent cash worries look set to keep them down there. Hamilton did a smashing job to stay up and will fancy their chances of doing so next year also.

Meanwhile, Dundee United, Hibs and Motherwell are too good to get stuck in the mire down below, but were a little short on the quality and the consistency to get a European place.

Regular readers will know that I love trotting out statistics to prove points, and I thought about scouring for a few to prove that this has been one of the poorest SPL seasons ever. But I just couldn't be bothered looking. We all know that this is the weakest Celtic team since John Barnes, and the weakest Rangers one since the early days of Graeme Souness (that's a heck of a long time). We also know that the third and fourth placed sides in the league are haemorrhaging players to the likes of Leicester City (Hearts skipper Robbie Neilson) and, well, wherever Bruno Aguiar, Jamie Smith and Scott Severin turn up. So while the standards at the top are dropping, the standards everywhere else are dropping as well. And as every SPL season ticket holder in the country will know, the football itself has been utterly mind numbing. With Setanta-gate building up to a massive implosion, there is light at the end of the tunnel - because the end of the tunnel is on fire.

Part of the reason my grieving period over Caley's relegation has been so short is the increasing realization that the games themselves will be more fun next year. We should win more. We should score more goals. We should be able to play more attractive football. The big two aside, everyone else in the top division last year played cagey, safety-first, increasingly route one football (the exceptions being Hibs and Dundee Utd who proved they had the quality to succeed with this style only sporadically).

The worst indictment I can make of SPL 08/09 is that I can't remember a season where I watched so few live SPL matches. Barring Old Firm day, I chose the English Premier League every time. The quality of the play may be better, but there is no doubt the entertainment value is streets ahead.

So, Scottish Premier League, you need to spend the summer thinking carefully about what you need to do to achieve more. Because every year you just drift nearer and nearer to the bottom of the class.


Monday, June 1, 2009

Team GB - what a joke

Tears were being shed by football fans all over Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland after the decisions by their respective FAs to decline the opportunity to be involved in Team GB. And of course there was also mass mourning in England at the fact that only English players will be involved, instead of a synergising of stars from all the home nations.

Aye. Whatever.

Of course, the pressing need of the Prime Minister (and lord knows no-one else seems to care) for a British football team at the Olympics is all to do with national pride and the intention to have representatives from the hosts in all events. It is nothing to do with the fact that the football tournament was the most watched competition at the Beijing Olympics, and made the most income. Absolutely nothing. Actually, considering the complete failure of the press to notice this, you would be forgiven for not realising the cynicism behind all this.

For the love of Ryan Giggs, the Olympic football tournament is ridiculous. Every team is allowed only three members of their squad over the age of 23. Whereas in every other Olympic sport, the four-yearly event is the pinnacle (with the exception of tennis, which is also a bit of a joke at the Olympics), football has the World Cup. It also has, in the same year as the London games, Euro 2012. And by the time London comes round, the club season will have started and who the heck will be happy releasing players for this as well?

Add in the problem of actually compiling the team - how many non-English players would be amongst the best 22 available for the tourney? Maybe last year the likes of Craig Gordon and Alan Hutton might have been considered, maybe there would be a sentimental clamour for Ryan Giggs' inclusion now, but basically a team GB would, ultimately, be a team England, or a crappy combination of a few top English youngsters with greatly inferior Scottish, Welsh and Ulster ones in order to satisfy political demand.

And I haven't even mentioned the whole Sepp Blatter and the loss of a Scottish national team thing.

If it has to go ahead, then the current solution from today is the correct one. But the mugs in charge of it all had better consider again whether they really want to consider playing some matches at Hampden; just consider the reception "Team GB" might get from the locals. Talk about a PR disaster waiting to happen.

Actually, that last sentence probably describes the Prime Minister to a tee. How fitting.