All posts by Ntokozo1

Celebrating the slide tackle (Video)

Whilst we marvel at the wonderful goals and pieces of skill performed each week by the finest attacking players, we rarely give praise to the defenders at the other end of the pitch who are also doing their job. Defending is not a glamorous art filled with moments of brilliance and excitement, but it is a necessity for any team that has aspirations to win trophies. Defenders don’t normally have a lot of time in the limelight, nor do they require the attention of the cameras to do their job. They just get on with it without any fuss, so here is a chance to celebrate the most spectacular part of their game; the slide tackle.

 

Contact within the game is becoming frowned upon more and more, with referees often brandishing yellow cards for offences that in the past would have been deemed as perfectly acceptable. Older fans reminisce about the days when the crowd would cheer when a player dived into a full bloodied tackle and took the ball from an opponent. Whilst the contact was strong and would generally leave the opponent on the turf, it was allowed because the ball had been played first and it was only the momentum of the defending player that would knock the attacker to the floor.

 

Today’s game is very different and these sorts of tackles are now considered as putting an opponent in danger, because the defender is not in full control of his body once his feet have left the ground. However, players such as Vincent Kompany have claimed that as long as the ball is the only thing that the defender’s feet make contact with, then these sorts of tackles should be allowed. Hopefully we aren’t witnessing the end of the slide tackle and the law makers will see sense in a good, fair challenge being a necessary part of the game.

Where will Mourinho go?

The evidence is starting to build that Real Madrid might need to look for a new coach come the end of the season. Jose Mourinho has been fairly evasive when questioned on the subject and as yet has not given a definitive answer as to whether he will be remaining in Madrid next season. Whilst his side convincingly won La Liga last year, they have very much played second fiddle to Barcelona this campaign, who have all but wrapped up the title. However, both sides are through to face German opposition in the semi-finals of the Champions League and could potentially meet in a mouth-watering final at Wembley in May. If the Portuguese coach could guide Los Merengues to glory in this competition would he then consider his work done, as he did after achieving a historic treble with Inter in 2010?

 

Although there is still plenty left to do before Real Madrid can begin celebrating their tenth Champions Cup title, what would be the repercussions if the ‘Special One’ does decide to leave? He has often declared his love for England and the Premier League, but with his pedigree and ambition surely only a handful of clubs would be of interest to him. Manchester United and Arsenal are certain to stick with Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger, which leaves only two possibilities; Manchester City and Chelsea.

 

The reigning league champions have again underperformed in Europe and look like they are about to hand over the Premier League trophy to their neighbours. Normally a second placed finish would not be an underachievement, but after the drama and celebrations of last season’s astonishing conclusion the bar was set very high for Roberto Mancini’s players. Inconsistency has been their downfall, although the owners have not mentioned any changes to the management. Perhaps they are waiting until the season has ended before making some important decisions and certainly their current playing squad and financial clout could attract Mourinho to Manchester.

 

Chelsea have already stated that Rafa Benitez will not remain at the club once the season has reached its conclusion and rumours have begun about a possible return to Stamford Bridge for the man that led them to so much silverware upon arriving in London in 2004. His departure from the club was linked to apparent disagreements with owner Roman Abramovich, which would make it very interesting if he was to once again sit in the hot seat for the Blues.

 

If neither of those options presents itself then could we see a return to Inter, themselves struggling in both domestic and European competition this year? Or could he try and become the first ever coach to win league titles in five different European leagues by heading to PSG, who are now serious contenders due to impressive financial backing by their owners. Whatever his decision, it will definitely have the football world eagerly watching in anticipation.

The top scorer you’ve never heard of (Video)

Hands up if you remember Dario Hubner? No? Most people don’t and unless you were an Italian football fan around the start of the new millenium then you probably have no idea who I’m talking about. 
However, whilst Arsenal were winning the newly sponsored Barclaycard Premiership by going on a 13 game winning streak at the end of the season, Serie A minnows Piacenza were struggling to avoid relegation and ended the campaign in 12th place, just three points off the drop zone. Unremarkable you might say, but there was one incredible part of their team that season; a 35 year old striker who single handedly led them to safety.

 

Older footballers who are entering their twilight years tend to perform a certain function within their team. They are often used as substitutes, rarely complete a full 90 minutes and generally serve to provide some experience to the younger members of a team and to add a calming influence to proceedings. Not many players of this age can perform on a regular basis week in, week out and lead the attack for their team. Dario Hubner was required to perform exactly this role and he did it better than anyone could ever have expected.

 

By the end of the season he had scored a hugely impressive 24 goals, almost half of Piacenza’s goal tally for the season, and ended up as Capocannoniere, the title awarded to the highest goal scorer. What was so amazing about Hubner’s scoring exploits was that not only was he playing for a small team but that he was entering the twilight years of his career. He didn’t have electrifying pace or significant physical strength, but instead relied upon a poacher’s instinct and the habit of popping up in the right place at the right time. There is no doubt that without his goals Piacenza would not have survived in Serie A and begs the question why he never managed to play for a bigger team throughout his long career. 

A look back to Euro 96 – Mixed emotions for England (Video)

Euro 96 was a tournament that almost went the way that every England fan had dreamed of. Instead they ended up living the nightmare that  was the Germans and those dreaded penalties once again. 
En route to that eventful semi-final, Terry Venables team participated in two fabulous matches that rightly had the press declaring that Baddiel & Skinner’s prediction of 30 years of hurt coming to an end perhaps had some truth to it.

 The first of these matches was the ‘Battle of Britain’ against Scotland in a packed Wembley stadium. Alan Shearer gave the three lions a 1-0 lead with a 52nd minute header, before David Seaman did his part to protect the advantage by superbly saving Gary McAllister’s penalty. A moment of sheer class was then provided by Paul Gascoigne as he flicked the ball over Colin Hendry’s head with his left foot and then superbly volleyed in with his right foot past Andy Goram in the Scotland goal. The celebrations were intense both on and off the field after witnessing such a quality goal, but the team were about to play even better in their next group game.


The Netherlands possessed a very strong side and were one of the pre-tournament favourites. A line up including the likes of Van der Sar, Bergkamp, Ronald de Boer, Seedorf and Kluivert was expected to strongly test England, so it was a huge surprise when Shearer and Sheringham got two goals each to give the hosts a 4-0 lead. The Dutch did manage a consolation goal to qualify for the knockout round but the team in form was looking better than ever and fans across the country were starting to believe that they could go all the way.

England often used a 3-5-2 formation throughout the competition, which relied upon the versatility of players such as Darren Anderton, Steve McManaman, Stuart Pearce and Gary Neville. These four were the wide players in midfield and defence and needed to quickly develop an excellent understanding of positioning and teamwork so as not to be exposed down the wings. They played well defensively in the quarter final against Spain and the tight affair required penalties to separate the teams; Stuart Pearce showed both his courage and his passion by belting in his effort and then emotionally celebrating. They won the shootout 4-2 and were presented with a semi-final clash against Germany, who had not been troubled up to this point. 

The semi-final was full of chances and by the end of extra time it was deadlocked at 1-1. This time however the kicks from the spot were not quite so kind; Gareth Southgate’s effort was saved and that was the end of the road for England. The Germans lifted the trophy after beating Czech Republic with a golden goal from Oliver Bierhoff and it was a bitter sight to see the old enemy celebrating at Wembley. 

A great tournament with some lasting memories, although 30 years of hurt has now become 47 and we are still waiting to lift a trophy.

Player power – has it gone too far?

Earlier this season, Theo Walcott declared that signing a new contract was dependent upon whether Arsenal would play him as a striker. He initially turned down a lucrative 5 year contract extension and claimed that the issue was not the money but whether he would be used in his preferred position.
Although his case may have been legitimate, how many other players are likely to use this reason as an excuse to force a transfer from their current club or as a bargaining tool to negotiate a pay rise?

We are used to players moaning about not playing, or being paid too little, and the standard response is normally a transfer or loan to another club, or a significant wage rise if they are deemed important to the future of their team.

Not much sympathy is felt for a sportsman who earns more in a couple of days than most people earn in a year. Talented individuals they may be, but the manager is in charge of the team and he is the one who selects the players and decides on their positions. Ideally he will put players where they are most comfortable and effective, to maximise their potential, but it may be necessary to play someone out of position for tactical reasons or to cover injuries.

In Walcott’s case, he has regularly been used as a right sided winger or attacking midfielder, mainly due to the electrifying pace which Arsene Wenger believes can be put to use in 1 v 1 situations against opposing left backs. Another reason for his position was due to the fact that Robin van Persie was the main striker at the club, and his goal scoring record over the last few seasons made it impossible to drop the Dutchman from the side. Only now that he has been sold to Manchester United has Walcott sensed his chance to make a point, especially since new signings Podolski and Giroud are not finding the back of the net with any consistency.

Should players speak up about their happiness at their clubs? What does a public announcement regarding such an issue say about the respect and loyalty to the club and manager?

 

Despite the fact that Real Madrid were champions of Spain last year, with Cristiano Ronaldo almost single-handedly dragging the team to glory with his incredible goal scoring exploits, he apparently wasn’t satisfied with life in the Spanish capital and claimed to be unhappy. The statement came completely out of the blue and transfer rumours began circulating that PSG and Manchester City were discussing eye-popping offers for the Portuguese star. The media reaction was unsurprisingly over the top, and Florentino Perez, Real’s chairman, immediately began discussions about an improved salary and a contract for life.

Footballers are human beings with feelings and emotions, and although to an outsider it might seem like Ronaldo has everything, he could well have issues outside of his professional life that affect his psychological state. This aspect is often overlooked by critics who say that top level players have nothing to complain about, and in financial terms they are correct. However, just because a player is successful and rich, he can still suffer from depression and similar problems to the rest of us.
The main issue with Ronaldo was that he made his feelings public, instead of discussing them internally with his manager. These matters should not be for the media to splash across the sports pages, and in Ronaldo’s case they portray the image of a greedy, attention seeking playboy. What was he trying to achieve by doing this? Surely he didn’t believe that people would feel sympathy for him, so the only conclusion is that he was hoping to spark transfer rumours, which in turn would result in an improved offer coming from Real Madrid? The end result was exactly that, therefore it is understandable why the public are sceptical when players with genuine problems come forward.

Another case of player power, or player disobedience as many would call it, was illustrated by Carlos Tevez at Manchester City. During a game against Bayern Munich he allegedly refused to come on as a substitute, much to the fury and disgust of his manager. Roberto Mancini immediately stated that he would never play Tevez again, the player was fined several weeks wages, and then placed on ‘gardening leave’, meaning that he wasn’t to appear at the training ground until further notice, despite being paid in full throughout this period.

He went back to Argentina for many months whilst City tried to find a buyer who was willing to take him in the January transfer window for an acceptable fee. Mancini would regularly give interviews stating he had no idea where the player was and that he had no permission to be in his homeland, although Tevez continued to enjoy himself in Buenos Aires, often going to support his former team Boca Juniors at their stadium.

Eventually, on 14 February 2012, Tevez returned to training with Man City, although he was considerably larger than when he left and looked like he had done very little to try and keep himself in shape. The only advantage that the club held was that his contract still had several years left, and his wage demands ruled out a transfer to all but the biggest of European teams. Plus it was highly unlikely that such a huge club would want to sign him considering his actions, and a manager’s worst nightmare can be an unruly player who upsets the atmosphere within the dressing room. These factors, combined with Mancini’s acceptance that he would consider him for selection again, meant that Tevez had no choice in the matter and so he decided to knuckle down and start applying himself properly.

At the start of this season he looked much fitter than before and seemed keen to show the fans that he really did care about the club. Perhaps the fact that he missed most of their title winning season, whilst witnessing compatriot Sergio Aguero blossom into their most effective striker, re-ignited his passion for the game.

Three different cases of how players have challenged their managers and clubs, but all highlight the general feeling that the grip of power has changed within football. Long gone are the days of Clough and Shankly, when to challenge your manager was an invitation to your own funeral. Nowadays it is the players who rule the roost, or as some might say, the lunatics are running the asylum!

A look back to World Cup 98 – A pitiful display from Spain (Video)

The World Cup of France ’98 was a hugely successful and entertaining tournament. Not only did the hosts go on to thrash Brazil in the final, with mystery and intrigue surrounding Ronaldo’s curious illness the night before the game, but there were plenty of upsets and thrilling games in the earlier rounds. One of those matches was Spain v Nigeria in Group D, with both sides facing off in their first match of the competition.

 Spain are currently at the top of their game and have created history in the process by becoming the first country to retain a European Championship. They also achieved World Cup glory in South Africa in 2010, but twelve years earlier they suffered a huge shock in their opening group game in Nantes. After taking the lead twice, through a free kick from Fernando Hierro and a classic finish from Raul, they were pegged back both times, initially by a header from Adepoju and then a goalkeeping error from Andoni Zubizarreta let a tame effort from Lawal creep in at the near post. However, the best goal was saved for last when Sunday Oliseh lashed in a 30 yard screamer in the 78th minute after a defensive header landed perfectly for him to hit early. 


Obviously affected by the opening game loss, Spain then played out a goalless draw with Paraguay before destroying Bulgaria 6-1 in their final game. Too little, too late from the Spaniards as they finished in third place and exited early. Meanwhile Nigeria managed another victory as they defeated Bulgaria in a close game, before losing to Paraguay in the last match.

Sadly for the ‘Super Eagles’ they were taken apart in the knockout round by a ruthless Denmark side that managed to put four goals past Nigerian keeper Peter Rufai. However, their fans left Europe proud of the fact that they had managed to qualify top of their group and in the process pull off a shock against the mighty Spain.

There is only one Ronaldo, and his name is not Cristiano (Video)

Juventus and Inter were locked in a fierce battle for the Serie A title during 1997/1998. The ‘Old Lady’ of Italy were benefiting from the talents of Zidane, Del Piero and Inzaghi, whilst the ‘Nerazzurri’ where hugely dependent on a 22-year-old Brazilian called Ronaldo. Signed during the summer months from Barcelona, Ronaldo’s first season was going better than anyone expected. It seemed inevitable that he would be the player at the centre of the most controversial Derby d’Italia for many years.

 La Liga was renowned for being open and attacking, whilst Serie A was notorious for solid defences and excellent discipline. Pundits declared that although Ronaldo had scored 34 goals in 37 games for the Catalan giants the previous season, life in Italy would be far tougher and he would struggle with lack of time and space on the ball. Contrary to all negative opinion, the Brazilian adapted extremely quickly to life at Inter and soon began terrorising opposition defenders across the country.


With both Inter and Juventus racking up the victories on a regular basis, it seemed clear that the title would end up with one of the two clubs. A crucial game between them took place at the Delle Alpi stadium in Turin with only four games left of the season. Juventus took a 21st minute lead through Alessandro Del Piero before the pivotal moment in the match, and perhaps the season, took place. Ronaldo was clearly body checked in the penalty area and left in a heap on the ground but the referee waved play on. Juventus immediately attacked and won a penalty at the other end of the pitch, much to the anger of Inter’s players and coaching staff. Gianluca Pagliuca saved the penalty but the damage had already been done and the final whistle indicated a 1-0 home win and the end of Inter’s title challenge.

Whilst the Nerazzurri did manage to secure the UEFA cup trophy by beating Lazio, with Ronaldo rounding off the scoring for a convincing 3-0 win, it was to be the last time that Italian fans really saw Il Fenomeno at his peak. After his debut season he was to endure a torturous time on the side-lines after suffering two serious injuries that kept him out of action for almost three years in total. Once he finally made his comeback he was signed by Real Madrid and only returned to Serie A to play for Milan, Inter’s fiercest rivals.

Do you remember…? Taribo West (Video)

If you don’t remember the name then you will almost certainly remember the hair! The colourful Nigerian has recently been in the news with reports that he lied about his age during his career and that he is actually 12 years older than he claimed. Whether this is true or not, he was certainly not trying to remain inconspicuous with the assortment of multi-coloured hairstyles he showed off during his career, although he wasn’t a bad player, at times…

After a successful four year stint in France with Auxerre, where West won the Ligue 1 championship as well as two French cups, he was signed by Italian giants Inter. They saw past his tactical limitations and generally poor positioning on the pitch and admired his physical qualities and ability to unsettle opposition strikers. Surprisingly he became a first choice defender for the club and played 23 league games in his first season. Unfortunately he was unable to crown a debut season with a Serie A medal, due to the infamous match against Juventus when the referee failed to award Ronaldo a blatant penalty, although the Nerazzurri did go on to claim a 3-0 win against Lazio in the UEFA cup final. West started the final at Parc des Princes but did not finish it, as he was sent off in the 82nd minute. Unfortunately this was one of the risks with the Nigerian defender; despite seeming to play with an assured authority for moments of a game, he could then suddenly charge towards an opponent and commit a terrible foul, as evidenced in the video clip of his wild lunge at Andrei Kanchelskis! Often, these moments were completely unnecessary and led to the nickname of ‘Wild West’ with commentators.


It was ultimately this unpredictability that saw him leave Inter and his career tailed off dramatically after leaving the blue and black of the San Siro to join the red and black of Milan in 1999. At Milan he was not a first choice centre back and only played four games for the club. After a very disappointing and frustrating time there he moved to Derby County, but the writing was already on the wall for a player who was capped 41 times for his country, appearing at both the 1998 and 2002 World Cups. 

Several transfers later, including a mildly successful spell at Partizan Belgrade, the colourful haired West then seemed to drift out of the game despite apparently signing with several clubs. Four years, four clubs and only four appearances does not make good reading for the final chapter of his career, and surely only he knows how he managed to sign for Al Arabi of Qatar and Paykan of Iran without ever stepping onto the pitch for either.

Wild, wacky and certainly not your average defender. Taribo West was an interesting and entertaining player that brought some colour, and a smile, wherever he played.