All posts by Aaron Sharp

The FA Cup -The Millenium Stadium Years

It was hard being a young football fan in the early 2000s. Yes, we still lived in the glossy façade of pre- Iraq war New Labour, but football for many old timers was a degenerating tradition. There I was, a seven year old struggling to profess my love for the game in a climate where pundits, the media and my parents were complaining ‘well, it’s not like it was’.

One of the main gripes for many football fans of that period was the demolition of the old Wembley stadium. Wembley was THE football venue. Structurally impressive, a retainer of so many memories and an old friend, its plan for demolition sent many traditionalists into breakdown. This was also in a period where it was uncertain whether Wembley would actually return to Wembley, or be transferred to another part of the country. Some of the suggestions being talked about including Manchester and….Coventry.  Thus, when the FA Cup final venue was moved to the Millenium Stadium in Cardiff temporarily, fans were bemused and angry. This is the story of those 5 years in Cardiff, a time which hopefully proved more fruitful than the doubters originally suspected and added to the legacy of the FA Cup rather than destroying it.

The first final pitted two giants of English football. Liverpool vs. Arsenal was a huge deal to me back then; Liverpool had Michael Owen in their squad who was essentially a god to someone of my generation. He was young, successful and had his own video games. What more could a seven year old want from life? Arsenal just scared me, but in the way that I garnered a deep respect for them, especially Henry and strangely Slyvain Wiltord and Ray Parlour. Freddie Ljungberg, with his bright, yet incredibly tacky red hair opened the scoring after a bit of defensive hesitation from Westerveld. The abiding memory I have from that goal is the way Ljungberg’s shirt caught in the wind when he celebrated, capturing his utter hysteria. But, the day was only ever going to belong to one man really and that was Mr Owen.  The way he poached his first goal gave me the idea that I would lazily attempt to poach a few myself with a snapped half volley for my village team, only Owen’s shots would go in. His second was pure power, fending off those Arsenal stalwarts Dixon and Adam’s to create his FA Cup final moment and one of my favourites for its sheer drama factor. The first final had proved the doubters wrong, Cardiff was more than suitable to sustain the final as the inevitable blue print and structural delays on the new Wembley (To be built at Wembley and not Coventry) set in.

The 2002 final was personally harrowing for me. I always knew Chelsea were going to lose, but at the same time the game had given me some hope that I might actually witness my team win something (Yes, this seems ridiculous now). I was actually a very pessimistic young fan, I thought Arsenal were the superior outfit despite being a Chelsea supporter and thought Henry, Wiltord and Parlour would rip us to shreds (I was a third right). However, half chances from Lampard and Le Saux had given me hope at half time. One of the funniest memories I have from that day was when  Eidur Gudjohnsen took a typically innovative shot sending Seaman sprawling to knock the ball over the crossbar. Subsequently, I found it hilarious the way both Seaman and his ridiculous pony tail fell to the floor. My laughter stopped. Parlour and Ljungberg’s near identical curling wonder goals (and equally debateable hairstyles) had dashed my young dreams. The only thing I could hold onto at the time was how we had matched the best team of their generation for 45 minutes and also Seaman’s embarrassing, yet brilliant save.

The next cup final angered the traditionalists more. The roof was closed and the FA were once again in the firing line for destroying tradition not helped by the fact the building of the new Wembley did not seem to be anywhere near beginning. The final itself was a pretty dull and plodding affair with Arsenal happy to sit back on a fairly simple Robert Pires goal. Credit must go out to the Southampton team of the period that included Wayne Bridge, James Beattie and a young Chris Baird for keeping the soon-to-be ‘Invincibles’ of Arsenal to a 1-0 score line. However, their performance does not mask the fact this was one of the weaker Millenium Stadium finals, not helped by the continuing questioning of the roof closure and the delays on the New Wembley project.

Ronaldo was the star of the 2004 final. He was elevated to the young starlet of Alex Ferguson’s eye through his now trademark trickery and dramatics which lit up the bulk of this very one sided and predictable final. Millwall served as the archetype for many underdogs in modern football where luck seems to only take you so far. In fact, the Millenium Stadium years could be seen as the death of the ‘Giant Killing’. With football gravitating towards the corporate and money driven landscape which we inhabit today, the chances of a team defeating a big club let alone reaching and winning a major final grew smaller and smaller. ‘Where were the Ronnie Radford’s?’ the older fans cried. Alex Ferguson did not care. United destroyed the dreams of Millwall with the sort of certainty and professionalism you might only expect them to display when at Old Trafford. This was enough of a reward for Ferguson in a year where anyone other than Arsenal could only hope for a domestic cup victory.

As much as I’m trying to suggest that the Millenium stadium both adapted and withheld the traditions of the FA Cup in its tenure as the finals venue, I have to admit that 2005 was turgid. The season of the final had been hit by the arrival of Jose Mourinho into football whose style was both impossible to reproduce  and for the most part almost impossible to defeat. The 2005 final reflected how the two former leading managers of the Premier League had failed to replicate Mourinho’s ethic of sound defensive work, professionalism whilst also managing to score a goal or two to pinch the points. Strangely, Chelsea were defeated 1-0 in a rather non-descript 5th Round tie in which Patrick Kluivert destroyed Mourinho’s ambitious quadruple plans. This left Arsenal and Manchester United to slog out a 0-0 draw in normal and extra time with only Paul Scholes’s penalty miss separating the two teams at the end of a long and turgid battle which left question marks over Ferguson’s and Wenger’s approach to the next season. Ferguson recovered, Wenger never really has done.

2006 more than made up for it. It’s as if the chaos surrounding the future of Wembley and the FA Cup locked up inside the Millenium stadium was fit to burst once the new Wembley stadium was almost up and running and ready for the final the following year. The match included an own goal, a last minute screamer and a dramatic penalty shootout as the Millenium Stadium put on a swansong which would have given any Cup final beforehand a run for its money. Jamie Carragher’s own goal probably was not befitting of the loyalty and passion he has displayed for Liverpool, but was no less comical because of this. Luckily, his friend and equally passionate midfield behemoth Steven Gerrard scored two cracking goals epitomising his commitment to the Liverpool cause. The last one is particularly memorable to me for the John Motson over-the-top commentary quickly undercut by the Mark Lawrenson deadpan analysis. Liverpool being the kings of penalties in English football unsurprisingly won the shoot- out in what was an otherwise unpredictable and classic cup final clash.

The Millenium Stadium defied the doubters. It was a short period in FA Cup history which served both as a microcosm and a continuation of its rich legacy rather than destroying a competition more hampered by the emphasis on European competitions in recent years than its short change in location. The finals were at times unbelievable, boring and just strange (Or is that just the processes within my memory) and created a unique atmosphere for which the New Wembley could do well to look back upon. Yes, it wasn’t Stanley Matthews, Ricky Villa and the White Horse but it was still highly entertaining.

Nathan Packman

Aston Villa intend to keep their “Monster” Christian Benteke

Aston Villa hero Christian Benteke stole the headlines again this past week after yet another monstrous performance during Villa’s 6-1 victory against Paolo Di Canio’s Sunderland. The Belgian striker sealed a lightning quick hat-trick within the space of 18 minutes during the second half, before receiving the due adulation of the Villa fans after being substituted off for the injury-ridden Darren Bent.

 The 22-year-old hitman has had one of the greatest debut seasons in recent Premier League history. He also became the first ever Aston Villa player to reach the landmark of 18 goals in the Premier League after Monday’s astounding performance, whilst also surpassing Dwight Yorke’s previous record of 17 goals at the same time. Benteke’s hat-trick lifted Villa five points clear of the relegation zone, whilst improving his goal scoring record to 13 goals in 15 appearances during 2013. (A statistic bettered only by Ronaldo and Messi)

 Unsurprisingly, Aston Villa are determined to retain the services of their prize asset, as his dominant performances have garnered the attention of Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City. Despite Villa’s 16th placed league position, Benteke still holds a debt of gratitude towards Paul Lambert, who fervently pushed to finalize the £7m deal with Genk, whilst Arsenal hesitated at the potential gamble. A gamble who has been virtually unplayable at times for Villa, who now sits just one goal behind Spurs talisman Gareth Bale, whom he finished second to in the poll for the PFA Young Player of the Year award.

 Aerially, Benteke is simply untouchable after winning 260 headers this season. To put this into perspective, this is more than Luis Suarez, Robin Van Persie, Michu and Gareth Bale combined. Statistically, Benteke is the deadliest forward in the Premier League with a conversion rate of 25.7%. Once again, he reigns superior over the aforementioned players which categorically render him as the most consistently played and clinical forward in the Premier League.

 Fellow Aston Villa midfielder Fabian Delph said to the Guardian: “I think he is an absolute monster.” Apparently, Delph proceeded to state that Benteke actually does no upper-body strength training in the gym, a fact which is equally as depressing for both Premier League defenders and regular gym enthusiasts.

 In conclusion, Fabian Delph is correct. The only term which seems relevant to describe Christian Benteke is that of a “monster”. Benteke still has several years ahead of him to develop both physically and competitively, starting with his personal target of becoming Belgium’s first-choice striker ahead of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil which the Belgians are destined to qualify for. In terms of Aston Villa, they are expected to offer him a vastly improved contract which consists of a lot more money than he currently earns, a factor which will certainly provide him with the additional incentive to stay at Villa Park.

By Zak Bird

David Luiz is Brazilian

After three years in the Premier League, playing in midfield, defence and sometimes what looks like a free-role, it appears David Luiz’s Brazilian-isms are finally shining through.

The defender/midfielder/free-roler rifled an absolute belter passed Fulham’s Aussie ‘keeper this week and the technique and finish really did remind viewers of a taller and right-footed Roberto Carlos.

It’s been hard to tell over the past few years whether this was all one lie, was David Luiz actually Brazilian?

Surely no one Brazilian would defend like he does? Surely no one Brazilian would take so many risks like he does?

But ignore all these questions and let the video below show you just how South American our free-roling ‘Brazilian’ really is.

Luiz’s team mate Ashley Cole obviously enjoyed it, after tweeting the following (beware for majorly funny hashtag):

 

Bayern make contact with Cavani

Bayern Munich has been sensational this season and with new manager Pep Guardiola taking over come the new season, despite no need for change, there will almost certainly will be.

As it now goes with a transfer window approaching, names are being plucked from everywhere and being thrown at different teams.

Adjectives, rumours, verbs and nouns all mixed in to create one juicy transfer story.

However, it does seem that over the past 24 hours, there has been some confirmation regarding one of the most sought after forwards in Europe right now.

Napoli’s Edison Cavani, who was said to be close to a move to Barcelona when Pep was in charge, is set to have talks with Bayern this summer, that’s according to the Italian Gazzetta.

As said previously, this time of the year is where the rumour building begins, it’s where the riddlers begin their riddling of riddled rumours.

But this rumour seemed to have some truth behind the riddling.

CNN reporter Tancredi Palmeri tweeted: 

 

It’s been well broadcasted that German striker Mario Gomez isn’t happy at being a bit part player at the Allianz arena and it seems Cavani could be a replacement for Gomez.

The problem is, Bayern plays the one man up front, usually Mario Mandzukic, with two wingers either side, usually Robben and Ribery. This being the case, Gomez has seen his first team opportunities limited, especially with Mandzukic finding such great form this season.

However, should Cavani join Pep’s Munich, he could slot in nicely. The Uruguayan is a versatile player, he’s a creator and also tends to drop deep in games.

Pep could have the luxury next season of Mandzukic, Cavani, Robben and Ribery to choose from for his front three positions – Cavani could even vacate a CAM role meaning all four could play.

Nevertheless, rumours are still rumours at this stage, but should this one come to fruition, it’d certainly strengthen an already solid Bayern Munich.

Overmars confirms Liverpool’s Eriksen interest

Ajax director of football Marc Overmars has confirmed that Liverpool has long been scouting highly-rated midfielder Christian Eriksen.

The 21-year-old has made over 100 appearances for the Amsterdam side since breaking onto the scene in 2010, subsequently attracting interest from a number of top European clubs.

And Overmars has named Liverpool as one of the sides hoping to lure the Danish playmaker away from the Eredivisie.

“We’ve seen the list of foreign scouts who visited our games and Liverpool was often present,” the former Arsenal attacker told De Telegraaf.

He added, “We want him to stay here for at least two more years, but the day he leaves us, he will be ready to play for the very best. He’s a player even the biggest clubs in the world could do with having in their squad.”

Eriksen has scored seven goals and provided nine assists in 26 league outings this season.

Rodgers want to base Liverpool on Dortmund

Hipster Brendan Rodgers has said a club does not have to spend 80 million pounds in the summer to challenge Europe’s elite and cites Champions League semi finalists Borussia Dortmund as a prime example.
 

Rodgers, 40, is beginning to turn Liverpool into a footballing force once more after totally revamping their style of play. However, he admits there is not a bottomless pit of money at Anfield and that glory needs to be achieved on a budget.

“You can challenge without spending 80m pounds in one summer,” Rodgers told Liverpool‘s official website.

“Look at the example of Borussia Dortmund, a team that won the Champions League and then struggled financially. They went out and rebuilt and it took them four to five years to push on.

“Then they won the league and their European work suffered. This year you can see they have put their focus on Europe and they have lost their [domestic] title. That’s a team that has been growing over five years.”

Liverpool currently lies in seventh place in the Premier League but, since Rodgers arrived at Anfield, it’s the football and the league position that he has strived to improve within the constraints of a budget.

“Unless you have got the Manchester City or Chelsea money and just bring in 70m-80m pounds worth in one summer to add to a Champions League-winning group, you need a different way.”

Rodgers continued to explain, “I think Dortmund’s is the best way because you are not just looking after the team but also the club.

“Of course, supporters will always look at the team but for me it’s bigger than that to have success. It’s about all aspects of the club so that when you do arrive you are in a strong position. It is the hardest step of all.

“Chelsea were sixth last year and look at the reinforcements they made to get back to that level again.

“Then look at Tottenham who were fourth and did not get into the Champions League on a technicality. They spent 50m pounds just to stay in there. It’s a big ask, that’s the reality, but we can really push on next year.”

 

The Newcastle horse puncher speaks out

The mysterious horse punching masked Geordie has broken his silence.

Following Newcastle’s 3-0 loss to rivals Sunderland, violence broke out on the streets outside the stadium and 45-year-old Barry Rogerson has described the first time he saw Bud (the horse) and his terrifying ordeal that ended in him simply defending himself from the four-legged devil.

“It’s all a nightmare. I came out of the pub… then we were in the middle of all these horses and all of a sudden I was stuck in the middle of it all,” Rogerson told BBC Sport.

“Somebody set a rocket off, or a banger or something and it spooked the horses, the next thing I knew, the horse came running at me and I instantly reacted, stupidly and wrongly.

“What I think I did, because it all happened so quickly, I think I went to stop it with my left hand on its neck and I’ve punched it in the nose and I was stupid.”

Despite Mr Rogerson pleading his innocence, Bud and the Tyne and Wear Police aren’t letting this go lightly and a lifetime ban is the most likely punishment.

“I panicked and it was just an instant reaction, I wasn’t intending to hurt the horse,” Rogerson awkwardly continued.

“I know it sounds a feeble excuse, but that’s the truth, sorry. I am not a thug, I have never been involved with football hooligans, I have never been in trouble before.

“I never set out to go to the match to cause trouble.”

Bud was unwilling to talk in full to BBC but did admit it was a shock.

The video below shows the scenes that took place following the match.

Lucky to be alive, says Petrov

Aston Villa captain Stiliyan Petrov has admitted that he’s lucky to be alive, as he continues his battle with Leukaemia.

In March 2012, Petrov was told the devastating news of his condition and after his first year of treatment he spoke to BBC:

I’ve had my hard moments but I’ve had good moments as well. I’m lucky because some people with this disease will die very quickly.

I’m glad that this hard year is behind me now and I can concentrate on getting back to my life.”

 The 33-year-old has been sorely missed by a struggling Aston Villa side this season with Petrov’s leadership and experience an obvious bonus in any side.

Petrov reflected on when he was first told of his condition:

“At the start I thought it was just a cold, nothing serious.

“When I was told the diagnosis, I was a little shocked but accepted it and just wanted to start the treatment straight away.

“I have finished all of the high intensity treatment and from now on I’ll be on the softer treatment, which is two years on tablets.

“It was a very, very long year but now, after all this treatment, I can go back to a normal life.

“The support from all the fans, the club, the players, has been amazing.”