Category Archives: Up in the stands

Fans won’t find it as easy to follow Rodgers’ urge to forget

For a football tournament played in the good spirit and togetherness of the Olympic games, there was something sinister about the taste left in the mouth following Luis Suarez’ appearance against Team GB on Wednesday night that was played to a soundtrack of boos and barracking. Suarez is a controversial figure with an 18 month spell in the Premier League blighted by an array of incidents, most notably his sanction for a racial offence against Manchester United’s Patrice Evra, but it would take the most unforgiving of moral judgement to argue that Suarez deserves to be subjected to the kind of abuse that trivialises the setting the Uruguayan found himself in.

As well as being controversial, Suarez is also very talented of fine balance and poise, yet in the face of tribalism, it is not the skill that he is renowned for, but a misguided use of the tongue against Evra that occurred almost a year ago; words have been said, too many of them according to Liverpool’s new boss Brendan Rodgers who has urged Suarez to drop his own personal vendetta against the affair, and Suarez served his eight-game punishment. It should be all over and consigned to the history books, after all the attacker has to focus on a pivotal year for his club in an attempt to finally reward the potential he shows on a consistent basis, yet he finds himself at the mercy of a baying mob who simply refuse to move on from what is now a dull subject.

Suarez was no playing for Liverpool against Team GB at the Millennium Stadium on Wednesday, nor was he playing against Evra, but the stands were still awash with the buckets of vitriol that supporters seem desperate to submerge Suarez in, it’s like a constant strife to remind Suarez of his failings and sadly, it shows no sign of stopping. It has been a long-standing hangover that will inevitably flow into the new season to provide Suarez with the nastiest of welcomes to the Premier League stadiums he visits with Liverpool. Manchester United travel to Merseyside as early as September, so, if the immature diplomatic mess at Old Trafford back in February can be used as an indicator to the new level of bitterness that the two rival clubs have now reached, expect the furore of the incident to rear its ugly head again.

As Suarez doggedly persisted against Team GB and tried in vain to beat Jack Butland, he did it to a disheartening chorus of angry words and abusive noises as the crowd won’t let him forget about an incident that should be forgotten. Rodgers wants him to abandon his pursuit of innocence through the power of mouth and focus instead on the future whe the opportunity of redemption will present itself on the pitch. But the question remains that can’t be ignored; this is surely idealistic thinking from Rodgers for how can Suarez move on from the Evra scenario if 60,000 spectators choose not to do the same?

That the Uruguayan is now attracting the same level of flak that follows him around for Liverpool when representing his country, is a sad enough reality that his team-mate for club and country Sebastian Coates pleaded with the fans after the game in Cardiff to stop the abuse in a correct opinion that they had gone too far. The feel-good factor that these Olympics have created amongst visiting fans and the public was suspended for just one night for the pleasure of just one man, and it seemed so easy for the mood to change. It is now the default reception Suarez receives, to be booed and pilloried as spectators repeatedly like to cast the South American playmaker as the villain.

But this could present another problem for Rodgers that will become more pertinent than simply forgetting the whole episode. How long will it be before Suarez moves to happier climbs where his reputation can be forged on a less hostile setting? English football loves its villains and the intimate arenas where the public is exposed to the ins and outs of the sport on a daily basis, there will be no respite for Suarez, but how long before, and there were signs of his anger on Wednesday, that it all becomes too much for the Uruguayan, forcing him to start to look for an escape route out of England in order to finally put his tainted experience behind him.

With this case, it is suggestive that partisanship and tribalism in a sport marked by territory and following can be ignorant of the wider picture. The Premier League does not want to lose a player of Suarez’ quality but that particular turn of events could be very much on the cards if it continues like this. Rodgers may get his wish in stifling Suarez’ run of verbatim about the whole situation that continues to stem, but the fans are unlikely to keep their mouths closed as well with the potential to drive a very talented player out of the league ever-burgeoning. It is illogical, and sad, that supporters now seem to subscribe to the notion of a misguided mob-mentality ahead of the appreciation of pure talent.

Can Bradford use this year to finally climb out of the basement?

It is an irregular sight to see a stadium of Valley Parade’s size and heritage play host to the likes of Barnet and Fleetwood on a weekly basis but that is the fate that has belied the Bantams since their ITV Digital induced capitulation through the football league that began at the turn of the millennium. Since then, they have experienced two administrations and fifteen managers in succession of Paul Jewell, the manager who oversaw their miraculous stay in the Premier League of the final day in 2000 with a win over Liverpool. From that pulsating day, Bradford’s journey has only been in one direction, a twisty, winding road down.

Now, under the guide of young, yet relatively well-experienced Phil Parkinson, the club could be about to leave years of false optimism behind them and turn their intended direction upwards after 12 years of constant pain and frustration which has reached a nadir with two consecutive 18th placed finishes in the bottom tier. That a club who were dining with the likes of Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea just 12 years ago with an inhabitation of a 25,000-seater stadium that still stands should be reduced to the ignominy of the barren lands of England’s football league pyramid with such immediacy is the clearest warning of how badly it can go if finances are miscalculated; it is a long fall from the top of which no club, as Portsmouth and Rangers of Scotland have been recently discovering, are immune.

The days of Peter Taylor that still hang over Valley Parade to a degree, are just about eroded from the memory with the club having been directed to the dullest of slumps by way of the ugliest of long-ball systems and it is indicative of the negating factor Taylor had that Bradford fans still exhume with the disillusionment and bitterness that was ripe when he eventually quit the club when placed in the dark depths of 21st in League Two. Peter Jackson lasted just 6 months after him and now Parkinson, who saw a significant improvement in results and performances at the turn of the calendar year, has breathed fresh air into the Bantams and some of the optimism that usually surrounds those parts on the dawn of a new season may contain a significant degree of validity.

Bradford beat Shrewsbury Town, Crewe Alexandra and Southend, clubs who were all involved in the promotion hunt at the end of the season, last December in a run that landed Parkinson a manager of the month award. It was also suggestive of the potential that this team have, furthered by their run to the semi-finals of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy competition, but an unsettled squad in tandem with a manager still newly-introduced to its players fell away to another disappointing finish just 6 places away from what would have been a ground-breaking relegation. That the club bought in a total of 31 players over the course of last season is a fascinating tally that put a stringent blockade on any attempt to forge a settled squad.

That figure has been trimmed down to a modest 24 players so far this summer with Barnsley’s versatile midfielder Nathan Doyle the latest player signed up to Parkinson’s optimistic new era, following Alan Connell, scorer of 13 League Two goals for champions Swindon last term, as well as former Stoke defender Andrew Davies through the arrival doors in west Yorkshire. Liverpool’s young right-back Stephen Darby has also been brought in, plus Rochdale’s experienced midfielder Gary Jones who was the driving force behind Dale’s promotion from the bottom league two years ago. These arrivals will supplement the current youthful talent of Kyel Reid and Nakhi Wells who showed sporadic glimpses of their ability last time out as well as striker James Hanson who has so far struggled with having the sole responsibility of goal-scoring locked onto his shoulders.

It is already a far more rounded, calculated squad put in place by Parkinson who has previously shown no qualms in mentioning the word promotion when asked about his sides’ chances in the forthcoming season. They have had this optimism previously and it has betrayed them with the most unforgiving of drudgery. Bradford fans have suffered long enough and this could be the year that ends it.

Financial problems engulf those at the top

Ever since the creation of Europe’s ground-breaking Premier League that saw football announce its name on a global stage with record-smashing television deals being the order of the day, the sport has undergone a kind of unravelling megalomania that has seen it swell, in some cases, beyond its means and often beyond accessibility to the type of working-man supporter that were regularly found on the terraces before the commercial revolution set in.

As football has evolved into a sport that embraces all corners of the globe through the mass appeal of clubs like Manchester United that pioneered the movement by dominating the early years of the cash-cow Premier League, so have revenue streams with oil billionaires, media tycoons and even processed chicken groups all involved to the extent that a multi-million pound takeover is now part of everyday news. That Manchester United, a club riddled with masses of debt following the takeover of the Glazer family, can demand a sponsorship deal with car company Chevrolet to the tune of £27 million to smash any previous shirt deal is indicative enough of the commercial appeal that top level football now commands.

Sheikh Mansour and the Eithad group are the most transient example of an outside investment with one aim to deliver quick success by way of expenditure that borders on the obscene, and clubs in Paris, Getafe, Makhachkala, Nottingham and Malaga have all yearned to follow in the footsteps of the “invest a lot of money to sign top class players and watch the trophies flood in” mantra that is proving to have the deepest of dark-sides when it is miscalculated. Manchester City have got their self-serving crack at the big-time spot on in ensuring the piles of cash are outlaid before UEFAs sanctions of Financial Fair Play come in and at the other end of the scale, to warn of the dangers of the ideology that may accompany such lavish spending, are Malaga.

Outside investments can be very dangerous things regardless of any optimism that may awash the supporters when their club possess the power to shell £30 million on a talented striker, for they are essentially a billionaire’s play-thing until he can prove, like Chelsea’s Roman Abramovich has done to his unique extent that his heart is behind the bank-notes. Sheikh Abdullah Bin Nassar Al-Thani, a member of the Qatar Royal family, bought Malaga, then a humdrum La Liga club, in 2010 for a modest (to Al-Thani) sum of 36 million euros. Two years later and he has decided that the overhanging cloud of the Financial Fair Play ruling is a hamstring too much and has withdrawn his interest in the club. After being transformed from relegation candidates to Champions League qualifiers within two years by way of large fees and bumper contracts for the likes of Jaoquin, Jeremy Toulalan and Ruud Van Nistelrooy, they are now haemorrhaging money with an uncertain future in store as Al-Thani jumped at the chance to put the club up for sale.

Such a fate has long been billed for Chelsea, but Abramovich has reaffirmed his commitment to the future by shelling out £65 million on improving his Champions League winning squad this summer. This won’t please Michel Platini and his regulations, but it is a model that Malaga, and to a degree PSG, can only dream of replicating. The Premier League’s pioneering legacy has bought all of its successful clubs to the fore of global exposure, providing them with unmatched revenue streams similar to the world-wide appeal that Manchester United enjoy that allow them to operate on £690 million worth of debts. Malaga, a club in the backwaters of European football, marginalised by the Barcelona and Madrid shaped shadow of La Liga before Qatar noticed a potential do not have that and Al Thani has quickly realised.

Arsene Wenger, whose time at Arsenal has been accompanied by a renowned commitment to frugality and a cautious transfer budget, has been adamant that football operates in its own financial bubble in that as a business, it remains unparalleled in terms of cash-flow figures and it’s his team that such regulation will put at an advantage. His stubborn refusal to outlay some of the cash that Malaga and the like have enjoyed over the past years may be a blessing and a prominent reminder that if you get the spending wrong when at the top level, it can back-fire dramatically.

Wenger reacts quicker to player discontent

As with every summer of Arsenal transfer activity, pre-season has been marred by rumbling of a contract dispute involving a major player. Following on from the lead of Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas before him in voicing their displeasure with a perceived lack of ambition in Arsene Wenger’s choice to use the Emirates coffers with frugality, this time round it is Robin Van Persie, scorer of 37 goals in his most recent season, to deny the Gunners his commitment to the cause as the Dutchman sees trophies and medals as a more attractive proposition.

It is from the example of Nasri and Fabregas that Van Persie will take the most heart, in that Nasri has claimed a Premier League winner’s medal while Fabregas has racked up four trophies with Barcelona in a single year while Van Persie’s most fertile goal-scoring season failed to end the wait for trophies at Arsenal that has spread seven years and counting. Some of the striker’s disillusion will come with the fact that Wenger is unwilling to match the financial muscle that Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea find easy to flex with ease, while Arsenal have landed Olivier Giroud and Lukas Podolski for a combined fee of £21 million, over double that has been spent at Stamford Bridge in landing Eden Hazard, Marko Marin and Brazilian talent Oscar to build on their Champions League triumph, a feat that remains a mere pipe dream on the red side of North London.

That Manchester City have plucked four players from Wenger’s side since the arrival of Shiekh Mansour and his entourage is a great indication of the President to the Pauper like balance between the two teams who were separated by 19 points last season. Such a gap in competition understandably does not appeal to the pragmatist in Van Persie who wants to join the more affluent surroundings of a club like Manchester City who can afford to be without £25 million worth of Argentinean striking talent for half a season before calling upon him at the eleventh hour to help deliver a breakthrough Premier League trophy. Arsenal and Van Persie beat City in April of last season in a result suggestive enough of their potential, but the infuriation lies in the fact that Wenger remains stubborn against constant cries of investment to ensure it happens on a more consistent level.

It was only untapped 17 year old prospect Alex Oxlade Chamberlain, Lille winger Gervinho and Monaco striker Park Chu-Young, hardly marquee signings to rival the £30 million shelled on Sergio Aguero, that Wenger bought in to the Emirates last summer before a transfer rush at the end of August, sparked by a demolition at Old Trafford, spared the French manager’s blushes somewhat. Mikel Arteta, Per Mertesacker, Andre Santos and Yossi Benayoun were all shrewd pieces of business but they reeked of desperation, an admittance that Wenger had again got his summer of trade wrong, a fact more peculiar when it is considered that he lost two of his more integral talents before he was launched into a humble foray into the dregs of the transfer market.

Now with Van Persie staking his claim to head in the same direction as Nasri and Fabregas did last year, Wenger is taking drastic action to prevent a repeat of last August by launching into the market with early vigour to attract some of La Liga’s more available, yet more gifted talent in Malaga’s Santi Cazorla and Real Madrid’s almost forgotten Nuri Sahin in order to bolster a squad that is beginning to take shape with attacking versatility regardless of Van Persie’s eventual fate, should he decide to follow through on his desire to leave or be swayed by a new found optimism and renege on his contract wrangling. Jack Wilshere’s scheduled return for October, the premature emergence of Oxlade-Chamberlain and news of a tightened defence with the help of new assistant Steve Bould should be enough to sway even the most disillusioned Arsenal fan, or even Stan Kreonke after his vociferous boardroom discontent upon news of Van Persie’s choice, that Arsenal can claw back the gaping chasm that had developed between them and the two Manchester clubs.

If Wenger can enter the opening weekend with Spain’s skilful Cazorla on board alongside the cultured Sahin, joining with Podolski and Giroud who both bring vital top-level experience to the fore, then he will have proved that he is no longer the ponderous coach that had threatened to station Arsenal behind the progression of the English clubs who are exposed to more resources and he is now the reactionary manager. The Gunners and Wenger should be commended for their cautious approach to transfer business but a due paucity should not be synonymous to the most careful of bargaining and it is Wenger’s turn to show that he can indeed compete on the continent by signing clever and, unlike before, with time to spare.

Napoli’s loss is Napoli’s gain

Many hearts were broken when the new super-powers of European football flexed their financial muscle to kick-start their transfer assault on Serie A with the signing of Ezequiel Lavezzi, preceding AC Milan’s Thiago Silva and Zlatan Ibrahimovic through the arrivals section of the newly mega-rich Parc Des Princes, 30 million euros the price to land one third of the “Holy Trinity” and threaten to disrupt Walter Mazarri’s talented side that reached the second round of the Champions League and won the Coppa Italia.

Lavezzi, so destructive as the middle-man of the trio which included Edinson Cavani and Marek Hamsik, saw the promise of Champions League football, a luxury that avoided Napoli by the margin of a single point, as incentive enough to leave the exotic streets of Naples behind and join the exciting times with Carlo Ancelotti in the French capital. Even Milan could not withhold the financial strength that PSG now possess so little old Napoli, only freshly re-familiarised with European competition after their fabled past of Maradona and co. was betrayed by financial disruption at the turn of the millennium, had no option but to turn back to the drawing board for life without El Pocho.

There was no doubting Lavezzi’s importance to Napoli’s successful re-emergence as a reasonable force, his lightening quick presence in a three-pronged attack was integral to Mazzari’s devotion to the counter-attack, yet one argument that will facilitate his exit comes in the accusation that this often led to predictable, often laborious attacking movement in increasing over-reliance on the Argentine winger. To lose him however, was an undeniable blow for the Partenopei with the Sao Paulo now facing a void of 11 goals and 11 assists that he managed last year, or the 9 and 15 he managed the year before which help fired Mazzari’s men back to the top table of European football.

As with every aspect of the volatile world of football however, life must go on for Napoli and Mazzarri, who has set about replacing Lavezzi with the arrivals of Fiorentina’s midfield talent Valon Behrami and more prominently, the highly gifted 22 year old Chilean winger Eduardo Vargas from South America for a combined total of £18 million. This is without mentioning Lorenzo Insigne, a 21 year old striker whose record of 19 goals from 33 games at Foggia, partnered with his 18 goals from 37 games at Pescara in a succession of loan spells is suggestive of his hugely exciting talent.

Mazzari however, has refused to follow the same blasé set-up that he subscribed too in the “holy-trinity” era, the 3-4-2-1 tactic that often saw them susceptible to naivety when attempting to hit teams on the counter-attack. Behrami’s arrival has allowed Mazzari to bolster his midfield to a 3-5-2 with the highly combative Gokhan Inler and Walter Gargano, with Blerim Dzemailli operating as cover, holding things firm in the engine room. Such conservatism has seen them overcome Bayern Munich and Bayer Leverkusen in their first pre-season post Lavezzi and life without Pocho, with Cavani being partnered by Insigne, Vargas or the newly permanently tied-down Goran Pandev in a more solid attacking two, rather than the inter-changing disorganisation of a mobile inter-changing front three.

No one will benefit more from Lavezzi’s departure than Marek Hamsik, the creative force who was often found on the withdrawn periphery as a sacrifice for his attacking counterpart. Now given the opportunity to shine where he belongs, in the centre, expect Slovakia’s captain to discover his true potential as he relishes the additional responsibility of being the main conduit through which Napoli’s attack will flow, regardless of whether as a trequartista or in a deeper midfield role.

Lavezzi’s enduring parting shot to the Napoli fans will not be the superb Coppa Italia triumph over Serie A unbeatables Juventus, but his achievement to earn the club five times the transfer fee received than what was paid for him five years ago; if reinvested in reported transfer targets Ezequiel Schelotto and Federico Balzaretti, the Argentine can boast a further legacy in the future of Mazzari’s era as life without the 27 year old bag of energy seems to be very bright indeed.

As the centre of the media’s attention rests on the traditional powerhouses that reside in Italy’s north, the silent revolution underway in the shadow of Vesuvius continues below the radar, ready to spark the quiet surprise that has become a characteristic of Mazarri’s reign so far. It will be in a different fashion of course, as they become more tactically-savvy in the face of their loveable winger’s regretful exit, but evolution is part of football and if it ensures a further upward curve in the rebuilt majesty of Naples, there will be nobody more attributive to that success than PSG’s Lavezzi.

Team GB women make case for spotlight

As a sort of footnote to the men’s experiment on the Olympic stage during the 2012 games, the female equivalent have had to settle for the typical marginalising it usually faces when competing for headlines in the default-male orientated sport of football. Hope Powell’s squad qualified at the top of group E having conceded 0 goals and winning all three matches to set up a quarter-final date with Canada.

Yet, it comes with a degree of sadness that while the males were attributed with a significant amount of column inches as the debate rages over whether a mixed team of Welsh and English representatives should join together in the singing of the national anthem, it is just the Daily Mail from the UK’s mainstream media that have handed prime back-page coverage to the promising send off to the group-stages for Powell’s girls.

They wrapped things up in group E by beating Brazil, becoming only the second national side from any home nation to beat the South American country in a competitive fixture across both genders, in a result that will put the women on a crest of a wave as they approach the knockout stages and the ever-growing prospect of a medal. There seems to be a great injustice that the girls’ superb achievement will be demoted to the ignominy of the sport’s supplements in the national papers in what is the pinnacle of their sport, while the men’s side of Team GB enjoy the main spotlight for what is a curious foray into an alien competition.

It is not just with results however that the females are pushing back stigma-inducing boundaries about the women’s game in the UK, for the popularity of the game is growing in partnership with success. Buoyed by the 1-0 win over New Zealand and an impressive 3-0 defeat of Cameroon that saw last-eight qualification with a game to spare, Tuesday’s unexpected win over 5thin the World Brazil was watched in person by 70,000 fans including FIFA president Sepp Blatter in what was a British record-breaking number for a women’s match in Britain. Narrowly missing the Olympic record of 76,000 set in Atlanta of 1996, that such a massive number should come in an Olympiad marred by attendance problems is a superb effort regardless of the current context of the female game.

In tandem with the construction of the Women’s Super League in England, women’s football has seen participation numbers swell to what the FA believe to be 1.38 million back home, and now there is a clear feeling, although coach Hope Powell has been quick to urge caution as her team approach Friday’s date with Canada, that this brave Olympic journey that has attracted David Beckham and the Royal family to attendance over the group stages will boost numbers further as the female game attempts to step out of the dominant shadow of its male counterpart.

Of course, there have been many other historic stories coming out of these games, Michael Phelps created his own legacy in the pool while brave Equestrian and Gymnastic efforts will have attracted a lot of deserved coverage, but with a medal looming ever-brighter on the horizon for Powell’s ladies it would be a crying shame if their story was to be ignored in favour of, for instance, Andy Carroll’s transfer wrangling with Liverpool as in the Daily Mirror the morning after such a huge result.

The sensible reservation of Powell will be happy at the reserved degree of coverage afforded them as they approach Canada, but if they were to continue with the same type of performances that have seen a clean record in group qualification, record-breaking attendances and fabled wins over Brazil, then they may attract a clamour far in excess of anything a female football team representing Britain could have ever have expected.

Japan threaten new football dawn

The men’s Olympic football competition at the London games has been surprisingly immersive so far, the samba beat of Brazil have lit up group C while entertainment has been provided throughout the groups by the likes of Morocco, Honduras, South Korea and Mexico, whilst Team GB have provided adept enough performances to maintain a jingoistic interest in a tournament that has faced questions over its value in an Olympic setting, the age-old argument where a gold medal is not the pinnacle of the sport.

It was Spain who provided the firmest answer to the seriousness of the competition, coming to London with European Championship winners Juan Mata, Jordi Alba and Javi Martinez in tow, but it was also them who provided the spectators with the entertaining factor that the Olympics will not follow the predictive script that saw them cap an unprecedented major tournament triple in the summer, and instead they were dumped out of the search for global domination at all forms of the sport that they had so seemingly mastered with wonderful passing football as early as the group stages.

They became re-acquainted with premature elimination at the hands of Honduras in their second match with a 1-0 defeat against the run of constant Spanish pressure in the match at St James’ Park, though it was the opening game loss to Japan that will linger a little longer in the memory as they were bettered tactically and physically by a nation threatening to become one of the international stages’ major players with their next generation of talent.

The growth of the sport in the far-east has coincided with the introduction of the J-League back in 1993, seeing the nation reach the World Cup for the first time in 1998 and going onto the reach the last 16 in two of the summer’s major tournaments since then. Hidetoshi Nakata and Junichi Inamoto were two of the trailblazers to a new dawn after spells in Europe in an era that saw the country crowned Asian Cup champions 4 times since the creation of their flagship professional league. 

Brazilian’s Falcao and Zico brought with them some Brazilian influence during managerial spells in the 90’s and the early 2000’s respectively, while Frenchman Phillipe Troussier imprinted his European experience during a spell in which he guided them to the 2000 Asian Cup and runners-up in the 2001 Confederations Cup. It was the youthful Takeshi Okada who oversaw what was possibly the latest watershed moment in Japan’s fruitful football development, their decent showing in the South African World Cup of 2010, that saw them past Cameroon and Denmark and onto a second round exit to Paraguay by the ever-unfortunate modicum of penalties despite an impressive showing in defeat against the Netherlands.

An official placing of ninth was a more than satisfactory showing for a squad that contained just 4 of 23 players that plied their trade in Europe; Keisuke Honda of CSKA Moscow, Makoto Hasebe of Wolfsburg, Daisuke Matsui of Grenoble and Takayuki Morimoto of Catania were flag-bearers for a new wave of Japanese footballer that has followed the impact of the nation’s modest success and taken residence in European football.

Of the under-23 side that achieved the unexpected scalp of Spain in this Olympiad, five of the 18 players play their club football in Germany and Holland, while Sevilla’s Hiroshi Ibusuki narrowly missed out on selection along with Arsenal’s Ryo Miyaichi who turned in a very impressive loan spell at Bolton towards the end of the last Premier League season.

Leading the Japanese procession into European club football is Manchester United’s new midfield signing Shinji Kagawa who earned his big money move after playing an integral part in two successive Bundesliga titles for Borussia Dortmund and he will be charged, alongside Shinji Okazaki of Stuttgart and Schalke 04 right back Astuto Uchida to lead the Samurai Blues’ bright new generation into the Brazilian World Cup of 2014. Germany’s role in the arrival of Japan’s raft of new talent cannot be understated, 6 of the 14 foreign based players in the latest Japanese squad played in the German Bundesliga.

Another 1-0 win over Morocco in Group D has put Japan into the quarter finals of the London Olympics as the prospect of a medal becomes a clearer reality to a highly physical and technical Japanese side which have continuously evolved in recent years. The defeat of Spain that could have yearned 3 or 4 goals, not just the one that sufficed in the end may have been a surprise but Japan are working hard to prove that it is not just a shocking anomaly.

Pearce finds perfect answer with excelling experience

Team GB’s unique odyssey into the football competition of the home 2012 Olympic Games rolls into Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium on Wednesday as Stuart Pearce’s men need just a point from an appointment with Uruguay to progress into the quarter-finals. It is fitting for Team GB that the group decider should come in the country that has hailed the two catalysts for the side’s promising position in these games, the aging excellence of Craig Bellamy and Ryan Giggs.

That Pearce should be exhuming about the professional qualities of his lynchpin duo, two of the three overage picks in the ex-England defender’s squad together with Micah Richards, on the eve of such an important match is no surprise in that with two superb performances from each evergreen international, they have spearheaded to a promising position a squad which resides mostly on the youthful side of 23 years of age.

Like the strategic floor-organisers of the play, pulling the strings for the more significant parts of the drama to seize the stage, there has been somewhat of a contradiction in 38 year old Giggs and 33 year old Bellamy’s performances in that it has stolen some of the limelight from those who were billed to shine brightest in a competition catered for under-23s. Joe Allen and Tom Cleverley were adept in ball retention against the UAE while Daniel Sturridge has performed well in both games, Scott Sinclair emerged from the bench to break a nervous re-deadlock in the second match, but it has all been against the backdrop of the contributions made by the two elder-statesmen who have played a part in 3 of the 4 goals scored so far.

It was Giggs’ free-kick which caused ultra-confusion in the box for Bellamy to sweep home against Senegal, while Bellamy returned the favour for the Manchester United midfielder’s header to open the deadlock against UAE at Wembley. Giggs was withdraw for Swansea’s promising Sinclair later on Sunday night, but Bellamy’s continuous influence allowed the winger to immediately make an impact by sweeping home the Liverpool man’s cross. An audacious lob by Sturridge later and Team GB sit pretty at the top of group A, a decent feat for Pearce when it is considered Spain’s passing masters quest for global domination has already stalled with elimination from group D.

It is in group C where the most obvious threat to the gold medal lies of course with a rejuvenated Brazil relying on two twenty year olds the grotesquely talented Neymar and new £25 million Chelsea signing Oscar. Contributions from Hulk and Lucas Moura should not be overlooked in what is a hugely talented squad at the disposal of Mano Menezes, but it comes in a tournament in which the undeniable talent of the likes of Iker Munian, Jordi Alba, Juan Mata and Javi Martinez have failed to stamp their mark in successive 1-0 defeats to Japan and Honduras. Even Liverpool’s twinkle-footed Luis Suarez has looked a diminished force for tomorrow’s opposition of Uruguay, while Team GB find a kind of typifying solace in the never-ending class of two attacking midfielders in the late Autumn of their careers.

At one year Giggs’ junior, it would be wrong not to mention the presence of David Beckham around the periphery of the squad, stubbornly denied a place in the squad despite the fanfare and support that threatened to engulf Pearce’s preparations. Beckham’s decision to take a place in the obscure back-waters of the MLS in America as well as an unfortunate history with injuries has seen his importance diminish in a sporting realm, settling instead for his ambassadorial role that hit an underwhelming crescendo by contributing to the opening ceremony via way of speedboat. Giggs, his former wing-partner at Manchester United, has instead remained a disciple of professionalism and has seen a steady flow of medals and trophies as a result. That Giggs is still proving his class, in admittedly new waters of a major international stage that has eluded such a fine career, is testament to the sporting excellence he has subscribed too. Beckham meanwhile, can only dream of having the same impact in competition.

Stuart Pearce, who will understand better than most the vitality of keeping a committal to professionalism having been available to England until the ripe old age of 37, is fully within his rights to indulge in the sensational example being set by Giggs and Bellamy in their mid-30s to a generation that operates at a decade their junior. The journey that this Team GB side has embarked on, from the controversy of its initial entry to the vociferous disappointment of the Beckham exclusion, if Giggs and Bellamy can prove their unshakeable class to be infectious to the younger members of the squad and help, for instance, the rehabilitation of the formerly injured Aaron Ramsey, it will be a journey thoroughly proven in worth.