Scouting Network identifies young players under the age of 21 who have exceptional talent and could be one of the leading players of the future. This month GoaldenTimes profiles Emmanuel Mbola
Frankly, only a few who venture outside European football would have heard this fellow’s name but at Goalden Times, we envisage to bring you the names before they become stars. Emmanuel Mbola is set to rule the left side of a top European club for a long time to come.
Born in Kabwe, which is an important transportation and mining centre in Zambia, Mbola began his career as a 14 year old for the Zambian club, Mining Rangers. At an age when the European prodigies would probably be only playing age-group football and at best the reserve leagues, Mbola would go on to make his national debut for Zambia at the tender age of 15. In that match, Zambia would hold Egypt away at Egypt to a 1-1 draw in a qualification match for World Cup 2010. Mbola would go on to play each of the group league matches in the qualification campaign and even though Zambia would miss out qualifying from the group to Algeria and Egypt, Mbola’s marauding runs on the left and his assured tackling would be noticed.
He was snapped up by top Zambian club, Zanaco in 2008 and soon he was onto even bigger things when Armenian club, FC Pyunik came calling. He joined Pyunic in 2009, aged just 16, a fact that would become important later, and later that season became the first Zambian to play in the UEFA Champions League in 2009. Again his team was eliminated but he was noticed and scouts in England took note. A story of Tottenham having signed him emerged, but that turned out to be a media fiction. His stint with Pyunik saw him winning the double of Armenian Premier League and Armenian Cup in 2009. Meanwhile FIFA took action against Pyunik, saying Mbola was underage and could not have signed the professional contract. Mbola moved back to the reigning African Champions – TP Mazembe of Congo in 2010. With Mazembe, he would win his first African Champions Cup in 2010.
At just over 18 years old, Mbola is already a veteran of 23 first team appearances for the Zambian national team. That implies he has become the second youngest to appear in the African Cup of Nations in 2010. Hisgameplay is based on a robust physique and pace with or off the ball, which allows him to get those runs down the left. Unlike others though, he can defend and tackle but like all defenders, can only improve with age. The one area he does need to work upon is his distribution and passing but at 18, there is still time for a top European club to put their faith in him and see him develop.
His future is obviously in Europe and unlike the last time, he is over 18 and now eligible to sign a professional contract as per FIFA guidelines. A left back, who has won a domestic double in a European league, has been an African club champion, has put in 23 appearances for his nation and thus qualifies for a European work permit and is only 18 – the ingredients for an impending move to Europe, are all there. The coveted transfer though would have to be postponed at least till the next summer, as FIFA has banned Mbola from playing till February 2012, and one will have to wait a bit more to see him in full flight in Europe.
Of Champions and Also-Rans
UEFA Champions League theme song
Tuesday and Wednesday nights: waving flags, chanting anthems; a sense of pride. And in this culture, a guest coming home on either of these days is no God. Rather the guest is treated as Satan, the devil. Demolish the guest; vanquish him before he catches you. Yes, this is the culture of champions; also-rans do not have a place here.
So, who are these champions? We say they are the teams, the people and the matches that make up the league, make this game so beautiful and keep us engrossed through the year. But let’s ask ourselves, how much of that is true. Some questions keep cropping in my mind, time and again. For instance, do we consistently see good quality football throughout the year when we watch UEFA Champions League matches? Does the current format allow all the champions to participate in this competition? Can we afford to see some also-rans playing on a Wednesday night when a potential champion is sitting pretty at home?
Well, before we try to find answers, let’s first understand who we refer to as champions and also-rans. Try to figure out how the Champions League evolved from the European Cup. And finally, chart out our options to ensure that on a May evening every year, we get the best team of Europe on the podium.
This article tries to focus on the above points, and subsequently propose a format, fresh or utilised, which will hopefully be acceptable to determine the ‘champion of champions’.
But before I get into the intricacies, I would like to highlight an incident that worries me somewhat. Otelul Galati, who has failed to secure a single point so far in the competition, is playing on a Champions League match day, while Kenny Dalglish, coach of Liverpool – a club which has won the trophy five times, is sitting at home on an early winter evening, sipping coffee.
We barely get much information on clubs like Otelul Galati, BATE Borisov, Trabanzspor, Maccabi Tel-Aviv and APOEL Nicosia as their domestic leagues are not generally telecast live. A few highlights here and there and some random videos available on the internet is all we get to know of them. Some football purists and pundits dig deep to find more about them alright, but not common viewers. This, however, does not imply that they should not get a chance to play in the Champions League. Logic is sometimes blurred by emotions, and big names always eclipse the lesser fortunate ones. We sometimes live in denial and refuse to accept that a Liverpool or a Juventus can be sitting out while a relatively unknown club from Cyprus plays in Champions League.
Owing to the history and the legacy of these mighty clubs like Liverpool and Juventus, we don’t quite want them outside the League. Now, who wants to miss out on a chance to see top European clubs playing against each other?
This page enlists the country coefficients of different European countries which determine the number of participating clubs from that country in UEFA Champions League. Let’s look back at some of the previous formats that existed in European Cup. It was a complete knock-out system with two-legged ‘home and away’ ties. A so-called big club may anyday lose to a relatively smaller club. Though the two leg home-away format practically eliminates the chance factor, the knock-out scenario, I believe is not quite the most suitable way to judge who will be the best team in Europe. Stade de Reims,the runners-up club in the first edition of the competition and also in 1959, now plays in Ligue 2, second division of French League. And such examples abound.
If we look at years that followed, clubs like Eintracht Frankfurt, Nice, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Wiener Sports Club, Vasas SC, Shamrock Rovers and SK Rapid Vienna were regular visitors to the later stages of European Cup.
This brings us to the question as to whether the knock-out format was solely responsible for their progress (or lack thereof) in the European Cup; or maybe it was the age before the petro-dollar and globalisation, which is why a good Hungarian midfielder played for Vasas SC, instead of Manchester City: debatable. Guess people valued the clubs from their country to a great extent, and a lot of medium-ranked clubs had good players, and thus performed well. Nottingham Forest which won the competition in 1979 and 1980 consecutively is now languishing in the second division of English football. Malmo FC, Austria Vienna and FC Koln reached the semi-final of the 1979 edition along with Forest. Barring FC Koln, none of the other teams are even doing the rounds in major European football these days. Malmo FC, however, surface in UCL at times.
In the last few years, with the exception of Inter Milan in 2010, Barcelona and Manchester United were arguably the two best teams in Europe, and they locked horns twice in the final. But the main drawback of the current format is in the collection of teams at the group stage, and in the fact that the second round is a knock-out round.
The face of football in Europe has changed. The competitive balance has also shifted. A whopping amount of money is floating around in clubs, agencies, and transfer agents. Insurance of players are at an all-time high, players’ values are totally re-organized. Since money took over, clubs like Malmo and Vienna began to fade away. On the other hand, clubs like Manchester City and Chelsea emerged as ‘Powers that be’, with apparently not much of history and success in European football. Some talented players who used to play for Sparta Rotterdam, Shamrock Rovers or Standard Liege are now travelling to either Chelsea, or Manchester City, or some other clubs backed by wealthy owners.
Some trends that seeped in the Champions League:
1. Top-nations have become increasingly powerful; one of them being England, and its performance is particularly prominent, while Germany’s performance has remained somewhat static. With its powerful performance, England has overtaken Spain and Italy in the past few years. Similarly, the French have overcome the period of downturn in the European Champions League, and their performance has significantly improved. Check out the latest UEFA coefficient rankings for 2012 and 2013. .
2. The excellent performance is not only concentrated in a few countries, but in a few clubs too. Only 11 teams of the five top-nations can improve their performance constantly in the European Champions League.
3. The results of the European Champions League have become more predictable. After the year 2000, the top 10 nations are more-or-less constant in terms of their performance.
One consistent decline is that of Netherlands. PSV Eindhoven and Ajax Amsterdam were two clubs who were generally regular visitors at the later stages of UEFA Champions League. Ajax formed a dynasty in mid 70s, and that brand of football is now calling the shots in world football through FC Barcelona. But the club has almost sunk into oblivion. Though they returned to the Champions League in 2010 after a long hiatus, the glory is all but lost. Portuguese clubs have emerged. Portuguese clubs, I would say, always provide a good competition. They generally remain in Pot 2 and Pot 3 during the draw, and make a seemingly uninteresting group stage interesting.
Which format should UEFA adopt for Champions League?
Before moving onto the discussion on the various types of formats that have been followed by UEFA for this competition over the last couple of years, I express my disapproval of the existing system. There lies an inherentflaw in the system. UEFA calculates the coefficients two to three years in advance. For instance, they are now calculating the country coefficients for the 2013-14 season.
In a dynamic football world, where a club slips into oblivion from the pinnacle of stardom in a matter of months, such treatment is far from fair. Since the European Cup changed to UEFA Champions League in 1993, the format has remained somewhat dubious. There have been a lot of knock-out games to start with, and in the end two groups of four were formed with group leaders advancing to the finals. By far it certainly wasn’t an optimal approach adopted to identify the best team in Europe. After two seasons, UEFA made a radical change in the format from the 1994-95 season. Four groups would play in the initial stage, followed by knockout rounds from quarter-final onwards. Some sense prevailed, and Ajax Amsterdam won the title for the fourth time. Few could argue that Ajax was the best team at that time in Europe, with most of the Dutch powerhouse players playing for Ajax at that time.
Then a slightly different format surfaced, with six groups in the initial stage. Group champions directly qualified for the QF stage, and two best runners up joined them in the QF. Real Madrid won this year after 35 odd years, with a host of emerging players donning the all-white colour. That was Madrid’s first of three titles they would triumph (1998, 2000, 2002).
The 1999-2000 season saw another change in format, with eight groups being introduced for the first time in the first round. The top two teams from each group qualified to the second round, and those 16 teams were divided into four groups. This format provided very interesting match-ups in the second round, and became a real test of character and continuity for the participating clubs. The finalists of the competition would play 17 matches altogether in the competition.
Sadly, this format lasted till 2002-2003 season, as a lot of top clubs in Europe complained of being burdened with too many matches. Clubs like Manchester United, Real Madrid, Barcelona, AC Milan and Juventus ended up playing more than 65 matches in the season depending on their success in domestic cup competitions. So this format was scrapped from 2003-04 season, and instead of four groups, a knockout round started with 16 teams from the second round onwards. This format is common to the FIFA World Cup, adopted since 1998.
Let’s discuss the best possible format to adopt in the UEFA Champions League and find the leading European team in a season.
Comparing some of the match-ups from the last season’s 16 team knock-out phase – Chelsea vs. FC Copenhagen, Manchester United vs. Marseille, Inter Milan vs. Bayern Munich, and Arsenal vs. Barcelona – two of these match-ups were final line-ups in the last five years. Bayern Munich and Inter Milan were finalists in the 2010 season. Both Barcelona-Arsenal and Inter-Bayern match ups were intriguing, and to be fair to other clubs, they all deserved to be there at later stages of the tournament. Instead, we saw Schalke 04 and Shakhtar Donetsk playing in the quarter-final stages. If we had a 4×4 format, we might have seen a second round grouping like this:
In all likelihood, our last eight would have been Barcelona, Spurs, Bayern Munich, Manchester United, Chelsea, Inter Milan, AC Milan and Real Madrid.
If you go through the line-ups of the last 16 teams in the last few years of UEFA Champions League, you will come across many of them. So, how effective is this format really? To begin with, some teams have to play at least four games less every season.
Instead of playing six matches in the 4×4 second-round format, a team is playing just two home-away matches. Four matches mean four weeks to be squeezed into an already-tight calendar. With all the international matches, Euro and World Cup qualifiers and domestic competitions, this is surely a challenging task. The clubs from countries of smaller quotients might even argue that this approach lessens their chance of reaching the QF of Champions League. Considering the prize money for each round in UCL, this can be a big issue for teams that depend a lot on UCL qualification for purchasing players and sponsorships.
Whether we want to see the big guns all the time in the last eight, or do we leave the door open for the comparatively smaller teams and rely on ‘chance’ is a matter of endless debate. My personal take is always to get back to the 4×4 second-round format.
Here’s a revised structure I have worked out. The following format can not only accommodate more teams but also leave room for big guns to lock horns at the later stages of the competition.
First round: Knock-out home-and-away. (48 teams; Total matches 48; each team plays two matches).
Second round: 24 teams divided into eight groups, three teams in each group, round-robin home-and-away (Total matches 8X6 =48; each team plays four matches).
Third round: Eight group champions divided in two groups of four teams. Round-robin home-and-away (Total matches 12X2 =24; each team plays six matches)
Semi-final: Knock-out home-and-away (four teams; four matches; each team plays two matches)
Final: One match.
According to this format, the total number of matches in UCL will remain the same (125); the finalists will play 15 matches instead of 13 in the earlier format.
The main advantage of this format will be (depending on which side of the spectrum you are in) that the big teams can be a part of the round-robin format in the last eight. This format will also rule out the possibility of the same two teams meeting each other more than once during the course of the competition, before the final. Most importantly, if the initial number of teams is increased to 48, UEFA can think of including more teams from countries like England, Italy, Spain, Germany, France, Netherlands and Portugal into the main draw. Countries with higher coefficients will get more berths, and can have five to six slots. Liverpool, Juventus and clubs alike will not have to sit home for a comparatively poor season.
Although I find this to be an enhanced system, there is a catch to it. I do not claim it to be ‘flawless’. I realised there are a few drawbacks in this format as well. The so-called smaller teams get only two matches to record an upset in the first round. Consider this year’s scenario. Manchester United was defeated by Basel in the last match in the first round group stage and thus failed to qualify for the round of 16. This was possible because United failed to win few other matches, and Basel managed to win some matches against weaker opponents. Had this been a two-legged tie head-to-head between Manchester United and Basel, United probably would have been more cautious and would have won the tie. So this again raises the question, which teams do we want to see in the later stages of the UCL.
Two groups of the last-eight stage, according to the suggested format, can look like this-
Group A: Barcelona, AC Milan, Manchester United, Bayern Munich
Group B: Real Madrid, Arsenal, Inter Milan, Chelsea.
This is just a random choice; Liverpool, Juventus, Manchester City, Benfica, Ajax, Lyon, Tottenham, Leverkusen and many other clubs can feature in that list. But the take-home point is, instead of just two Barcelona-Bayern Munich match-ups, we would see all these teams play with each other twice. Chances of APOEL Nicosia vs Otelul Galati match-ups are eliminated in this format. At least I feel this re-constructed structure will give the so-called smaller teams a chance to achieve ultimate glory, theoretically. Only factor is, their margin of error will get even shorter.
But this is a competition, which can easily be termed the toughest in football, and it deserves to be so. The group stage provides all the clubs a chance to compete and cause an upset. But when the going gets tough, opportunities and a proper stage should be provided for the tough ones to get going. It all depends on who you want to see fighting for the Champions League trophy, come mid-May. If you want Marinos Satsias of APOEL Nicosia to lift the trophy at Allianz Arena, then the current format would suit just fine. But if you want to see Wayne Rooney trying to slide past Iker Casillas, or Robin Van Persie slot home a header past Victor Valdes or Lionel Messi’s sublime touch and Manuel Neuer’s helpless look, then vote for the 4×4 second-round format; or alternately consider the new suggested format. It’s your ‘choice’!
Subhashis Biswas is a professor of chemistry and a student of football genetics. Likes to travel to historical places, loves reading and creative writing in Bengali. Subhashis can be reached at email@example.com. Subhashis maintains a blog at www.subhashis-mindcafe.blogspot.com
Paradise Lost in the Blue Side of Mersey
Nine League titles, five FA Cup wins, nine Charity Shields and one European Cup Winners’ Cup
Records that can stand alongside those of the top English football clubs like Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal. So which club is the proud proclaimer of these grand victories? Well, none other than Everton! To some recent observers of the Premier League, Everton might seem like a hard-working team from Merseyside who finish between sixth and twelfth consistently and has the capability to beat the ‘Big Boys’ on their day. Everton too has been quite a big club, and still is, if you ask me; and to understand what I am saying here, we would need to delve into history. So, let’s flip through the pages of English football history and find out, what stories Everton has to tell us and learn more about its contribution to English football.
A Religious Foundation
Everton began its journey as St. Domingo’s, named after a local Baptist church which encouraged the youngsters in its parish to play football, once the cricket season got over, so that they could remain fit and healthy. A year later, they adopted the name Everton Football Club, as Everton was the name of the district in Liverpool, where they played their football.
A decade later, with football growing ever popular, they joined forces with other football clubs, like Preston North End, Aston Villa, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Blackburn Rovers, Bolton Wanderers, West Bromwich Albion, Accrington (no relation to Accrington Stanley of today), Burnley, Derby County, Notts County and Stoke City to form a football league. The first ever league winners in 1888/89 were Preston North End, though Everton were soon in on the act, winning their first title two years later.
The club originally played at Stanley Park but with increasing interest in the game and more and more supporters thronging in to watch the Blues play, it was decided in 1882 that the club will move to a new home to accommodate more fans to watch the game. They did so, by moving to a piece of land in Priory Road. Today, Liverpool’s Anfield stadium stands in that patch of land.
They continued to ply their trade at Anfield till 1892, when a dispute with the land owner, John Houlding over increased rent, forced them to move out of Anfield and set up another stadium on the other side of Stanley Park. This was to be called Goodison Park, the ground the club continues to play in today.
The remaining players and Houlding decided to form their own club – Liverpool FC. A city-wide rivalry was born and both the clubs continue to play their home games with just a small stretch of green park land separating them.
Dixie Dean: The Greatest Evertonian?
Dixie Dean moved to Everton from city rivals, Tranmere Rovers in 1925. In the 1927-28 season, he helped Everton secure the League title with an amazing goal-scoring record of 60 goals in 39 matches – a record that still stands today. Surprisingly, Everton were relegated two seasons later but Dixie was back to his best and scored 39 times in 37 games to propel them into the top division again.
The Dire 50’s and the Swinging 60’s
Post-war, Everton had some years in the doldrums due to some players leaving. Theo Kelly, the manager was unable to match the standards the club had set before the war and left the club in 1948. Cliff Britton took charge and oversaw a distinctly dire period in Everton’s footballing history. The club was undeniably flirting with relegation for a number of seasons, before the inevitable happened in the 1950/51 season, and the Toffees slipped into the second tier of English football. After spending two seasons in the tier two of English Football, Everton was back among the ‘big boys’ for the 1953-54 season. In 1956, Britton left Everton and Ian Buchan and Johnny Carey temporarily came to the clubs for short stints as managers. Neither of them was unable to turn around the fortunes of the club, and Everton went through a barren patch.
Fortunes of the club changed with the appointment of Harry Catterick as the manager in 1961. Catterick is regarded as one of the best managers in Everton’s history. Everton were crowned League Champions in the 1962-1963 season, with Roy Vernon having considerable impact on the pitch. This led to Everton competing in the European Cup for the first time, during the 1963/64 campaign. Everton also won their third FA Cup in 1966, after defeating Sheffield Wednesday. This win was all the more special, as they had come back from two goals down, to win 3-2. The Toffees (Everton’s nickname) were aiming to win their fourth FA Cup after reaching the final in 1968. However, they faced a strong West Bromwich Albion team, who eventually came away victorious.
Such was Catterick’s ambition, he continued to add to his side with the then British record £110,000 signing of Alan Ball – who became the corner stone in one of the greatest ever Everton teams.
After assembling a glittering squad consisting of Howard Kendall and Allan Ball, Everton won the league title for the seventh time in 1969-70 season. However, after winning the league, Catterick saw his team stuttering down the table, and with his health deteriorating, Catterick resigned as the manager in 1973.
The Glorious 80’s
Billy Bingham took over for a few years, but fourth place was the highest that Everton ever finished in the league under him. Gordon Lee took charge in 1977, and the Toffees performed well, with the team finishing third and fourth in consecutive seasons. The season that followed, almost saw Everton relegated and Lee left Everton in 1981.
Former player, Howard Kendall was appointed after Gordon Lee left Everton. Little did the Blue side of Merseyside know that Kendall will oversee the best period in the club’s history. Kendall had a rocky start at Everton. In fact some supporters were calling for his head when the club made a poor start to the 1983/84 season with the lowest point being a 0-0 draw with Coventry City in December, in front of close to 14,000 fans at Goodison, the majority of whom booed the players from the field. Kendall was on the brink.
A League Cup away tie at Oxford United was the day things turned around for Kendall and Everton. Oxford were a goal up and their defender, Kevin Brock decided to play a back-pass to the goal-keeper, unaware that Adrian Heath was lurking behind him. Heath duly obliged and equalized, saving Kendall’s blushes.
The club never looked back since, and lost only three of the last 21 games and finished seventh in the league and reached both the FA and League Cup finals. The League Cup final finished 0-0 against Mersey rivals Liverpool, though the Reds had the last laugh in the replay.
Thankfully, Everton had another chance for Wembley glory in the May against Graham Taylor’s side, Watford. Graeme Sharp and Andy Gray grabbed a goal in each half to give Everton their fourth FA Cup.
Everton began the season with the confidence of a FA Cup win and defeated Liverpool in the charity shield. However, they lost their first two games, which dampened the spirit but with a win away at Chelsea, started a run that saw only one defeat in the next 20 games.
Everton were on a rampage in both the domestic and European front. Three separate consecutive-winning runs of 10, 9 and 7 games – including a win over Liverpool at Anfield and a 5-0 thumping of Manchester United in consecutive weeks – kept an amazing trophy treble well on course.
The first title since 1970 was secured with a 2-0 win over Queens Park Rangers and with a late winner by Derek Mountfield, at Villa Park against Luton Town, sent Everton to the FA Cup final in Wembley.
The real drama was happening on the European Front…
Goodison’s Greatest Night
Everton had reached the semi-final of the European Cup Winners’ Cup by overcoming University College Dublin, Inter Bratislava and Fortuna Sittard. They faced Bayern Munich in the last four and after a goalless first leg in Germany, they fell 1-0 down at home.
Such was the noise that day at Goodison that Kendall believed the ball will get sucked in by the sheer noise of the Gwladys Street end. He was not off the mark.
Andy Gray scored a brace to put Everton ahead and Trevor Steven sealed the win to send the Goodison faithful into a delirium. The match is still considered to be the greatest game ever played at the famous old ground.
Everton faced Rapid Vienna in the final and duly dispatched them 3-1 to win their first European trophy. The FA Cup final against Manchester United was a step too far and after a goalless 90 minutes, Norman Whiteside scored in extra-time to win it for the Red Devils.
Then and Now
After the Heysel stadium disaster and subsequent ban of English clubs from European competitions, Kendall left Everton as he wanted to test himself in Europe. The subsequent managers failed to inspire any confidence and Everton slumped down the table. Howard Kendall then came back to the club to manage for a second time. He failed to inspire the players, or get the results required to succeed. Realising that he was not the man to take Everton forward, Kendall resigned at the end of 1993.
In 2002, David Moyes was appointed as Everton’s manager and with a meagre budget, he has repeatedly built teams that punch above its weight and has done a great job in keeping Everton in the top flight. Everton is in dire need of investment and the current chairman, Bill Kenwright has failed to attract investors. With such a history, Everton should be attracting significant investments to either improve the old stadium or build a new one, although the latter might prove to be a hindrance.
Everton is a great club and needs revival. It deserves to be among the top clubs in England. With such a passionate support base and such history, Everton should attract investors and revive the club and bring back its glory days. Although, one thing Everton will never lack, is PASSION.
This Month in Football History – December
We look back at the most memorable happenings in the month of December in world of Football
December 3, 1906 – The Rise and Fall of an Italian Super Club
On December 3, 1906, a contingency that included a group of former Juventus players and future Italian manager, Vittorio Pozzo founded AC Torino. It became one of the most successful and tragic clubs in Italian Football history.
Torino won their first league title in 1928, but became Italy’s dominant team in the 1940s with a team known as Il Grande Torino. They won five Scudettos in the decade, including four straight from 1946 to 1949. Their run of incredible success ended in tragedy, as a plane crash in May 1949 killed 18 players and several club officials, journalists and members of the crew.
The crash sent Torino into a decline and they have spent the majority of the intervening years moving between Serie A and Serie B, though they did win another league title in 1976. In 2005, the Italian football association expelled Torino from the league for financial reasons, but they returned later that year as Torino FC.
December 4, 1933 – Arsenal beats the The Wunderteam
On this day, Herbert Chapman’s Arsenal did, what at that time was close to unthinkable – beat the Austrian Wunderteam with a scoreline reading 4-2.
Guided by manager Hugo Meisl and Captain Matthias Sindelar (pictured), Austria were one of Europe’s most dominant teams of the 1930s, earning the nickname “Wunderteam.” They rattled off a 14-game unbeaten streak in 1931-32, including Scotland (5-0), Germany (6-0, 5-0), and Hungary (8-2). They also won the 1932 Central European International Cup with a 4-2 victory over Italy in the final.
Meanwhile, Arsenal was enjoying a good spell in the English domestic scene, having recently won the 1930 FA Cup and the 1931 and 1933 league titles.
Chapman was friends with Meisl, prompting the ‘friendly’. But the Football Association rules prohibited English clubs from playing international sides, so Austria arrived at Highbury for the match, thinly disguised as FC Vienna. The Times called it a “thrilling match,” with Arsenal taking a 3-1 lead before the teams swapped late goals to finish the day 4-2.
December 6, 1930 – Something was wrong at Thames
On December 6, 1930, Thames AFC set a Football League record when only 469 people showed up for their Third Division South match against visiting Luton Town.
Thames had been founded just 2 years back and had a big ground, The West Ham Stadium with a capacity of 120,000. The problem with the club was that it had to compete for a fan-base against more established London clubs like including West Ham United, Millwall, Charlton, and Orient.
Despite poor support, Thames fared well, finishing in third place in the Southern League Eastern Division in 1930 to earn election to the Third Division South. There however, they struggled, winning only three matches and drawing two out of their first 16 to sit dead last in the table when Luton came to town.
Although only 469 people attended, they witnessed a rare sight as Thames eked out a 1-0 victory.
December 10, 1997 – Pauper in the League of Champions
On December 10, 1997, MFK Košice lost 0-1 to Feyenoord, thus becoming the first ever team to bow out of the Champions League with zero points.
sReigning champions of Slovakia’s top flight, Košice reached the group stage by beating Icelandic club ÍA 4-0 on aggregate in the first qualifying round, then defeating Spartak Moscow 2-1 on aggregate in the second qualifying round. In doing so, they were the first Slovakian club to make it to the group stage.
That is where the fairytale ends. They failed to even score in the first legs opening the tournament with a 3-goal loss to Manchester United, followed by a 2-0 loss to Feyenoord, then a 1-goal loss to eventual finalists, Juventus. They improved in the rematch with Juve, but still fell 3-2, then lost again to Manchester United 3-0. They were already guaranteed to finish at the bottom of the group regardless of the results in their last match against Feyenoord, who were also mathematically eliminated from the competition.
December 16, 1989 – Impact Sub
On December 16, 1989, Barnsley substitute Ian Banks received a red card. Problem was he was just getting ready to get on the pitch, when he received the card.
As the midfielder warmed up on the touchline waiting to be waved on, he berated the nearby linesman for not raising his flag on the Bournemouth goal. No one actually knows what he uttered, but they were strong enough to earn him a straight red card. It was the quickest ejection for a substitute in Football League history.
December 19, 2009 – Barcelona on cloud number 6
On December 19, 2009, Barcelona won a record sixth trophy for the calendar year, using an extra-time goal to beat Estudiantes in the FIFA Club World Cup.
That year, Barcelona had already won La Liga, the Copa del Rey, the Supercopa de España, the UEFA Super Cup and the UEFA Champions League, matching Liverpool’s haul of 5 trophies in 2001. The Champions League victory qualified them for the Club World Cup, which included the champions of 5 other confederations and UAE’s Al-Ahli, who qualified as hosts.
December 27, 1915 – Manchester United and Liverpool unite
On December 27, 1915, the FA issued lifetime bans against seven Manchester United and Liverpool players for participating in a match-fixing scheme the previous season.
The match in question was played on April 2, 1915, near the end of the season. United were in 18th place, only one point clear of relegation, while Liverpool were sitting comfortably in 13th, not in danger of relegation but out of contention for any silverware. United won 2-0, thanks in part to a missed Liverpool penalty.
Rumours started immediately about a fix, prompting the FA to investigate. They determined that seven players – Sandy Turnbull, Arthur Whalley and Enoch West from United; Jackie Sheldon, Tom Miller, Bob Pursell and Thomas Fairfoul from Liverpool – had combined to determine the outcome. The motivation was financial, with all seven players placing bets on United to win. But the two points helped United’s survival, as they finished 1 point above the relegation zone. West vehemently denied any involvement, even suing the FA, unsuccessfully, for libel.
December 30, 2009 – No country for Englishmen
On December 30, 2009, Arsenal won at Portsmouth 1-4, in a match where neither side’s starting XI included an Englishman. It was the first time that had happened in the English top flight.
While not necessarily uncommon for Arsenal at the time, it was an unusual development for Pompey, who were forced by injury to start Bosnian keeper Asmir Begović in place of their regular keeper, England’s David James. The most represented nation on the pitch that day was France, with a total of 7 (5 for Arsenal and 2 for Portsmouth). Two more players – Portsmouth’s Hassan Yebda and Nadir Belhadj – were born in France, though both play internationally for Algeria. The remaining players were from Bosnia, Iceland, the Republic of Ireland, Israel, South Africa, Scotland, Ghana, Spain, Belgium, Wales, Cameroon, Russia and Croatia.
Maximus Tacticus – Arsenal
Arsenal is the most talked about team in EPL this year along with Manchester City. The Fabregas fiasco started last year, reached its peak during the pre-season, eventually culminating in an I-shall-pay-from-my-pocket-to-leave Arsenal transfer to his boyhood club Barcelona. Results on the pitch have been equally interesting. Weeks within being the source of KFC’s I 8-2 much last night joke, they stunned Chelsea 5-3. As the season unfolds, the Arsene Wenger is beginning to get his strategy working and let us now see how.
New Season New Approach
Defence has been Arsenal’s problem for quite some time now. Wojciech Szczęsny has been strictly ok and have been on the receiving end of some brutal thrashing. He has not made any blunders, to be fair, but will need time (he is only 21) to stamp his authority on this young Arsenal side. Since Gael Clichy left for Manchester City this summer, Arsene Wenger has not been able to find a replacement for him. The new recruit, Brazilian Andre Santos has made a mockery of himself so far this season. He is easily the weakest link until now in the fragile back four. Per Mertesacker’s game reading is not as impressive as his height. He can be a good stopper but lacks the organizing skills which once made William Gallas a stalwart in defence. This is where the presence of Thomas Vermaelen becomes very crucial. Injuries aside, he is a class act at the heart of the Gunners defence. His leadership qualities bring a much needed calmness to this otherwise error-prone backline. But the third centre back is another major concern. Going by the injury crisis at Arsenal in the recent years, Laurent Koscielny or Sebastien Squillaci may be called upon quite often this season. Their nervous displays suggest that Arsene Wenger might have to think of a stop-gap defensive line with the likes of Johan Djourou being deployed there. The right back seems the most stable position thus far. There are plenty of choices available in the form of Bacary Sagna, Johan Djourou or the youthful Carl Jenkinson. Even Koscielny has been playing regulary there.
Arsenal have a new look midfield this season. According to Wenger, they have brought in a like for like replacement in Mikel Arteta and Yossi Benayoun to compensate for the loss of Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri. Not really, if you have been following Arsenal even remotely this season. Arteta has not been able to take the game by the scruff of the neck like the little Spaniard used to. Benayoun could not even break into the first team. In an injury free ideal scenario, Jack Wilshere seems the more natural descendant to Fabregas. He is an old school box-to-box midfielder, so rare these days. Young Welsh captain, Aaron Ramsey will keep Arteta on his toes. He is the kind of player around whom the whole team tends to revolve. Not surprisingly, Arsenal looked lethal in the game against Bolton where Ramsey gave his best performance so far. Besides scoring an own goal, Ramsey was awful against Liverpool. So was Arsenal. The young Arsenal duo of Wilshere and Ramsay can bring the best out of Tomáš Rosický by allowing him to a play in a deeper role. This suits the Czech well as he gets more time on the ball. It will still be a fluid midfield with the three central midfielders taking turns to move forward. But injury woes have haunted the Emirates faithful for some time now. They would then certainly look less creative and take more workaholic approach with the likes of Alex Song or Emmanuel Frimpong operating as a proper defensive screen.
Arsenal have always been a treat to watch even for their opponents. This time round more so, because of a fluid 4-3-3 system where the front three interchange position constantly. Wenger has come up with a more direct, cohesive fast pace approach rather than the leisurely, trying-to-create-a-perfect-move tactics. This obviously suits Arsenal’s pacy young line-up. Robin van Persie is the man up front with a fantastic return this year. He can also be deployed in a false 9 role, pushing central midfielders and wide poachers up to create goal scoring opportunities for them. He is ably supported by the pace of Theo Walcott and Gervinho. They are not natural wingers, rather poachers, who sit on the shoulder of the last man but start wide on the pitch. There is a disadvantage to this approach –the wing play is minimized, the fullbacks are exposed. But as a football lover, we get to see an open attacking game of football.
Narrow 4-3-3 with RVP playing a false 9
What Else in Store
Arsenal traditionally has a great counter attacking pace and threat. As demonstrated against Chelsea, they excel against teams who play high up the pitch (a certain Spanish team apart). But the problem comes against less ambitious teams who would like to pack the defensive third and invite the opposition to attack. Arsenal has been poor in threading the ball through a packed defence and more often than not ends up in hurling a wayward cross from the wide areas. It is now well known that the fullbacks are not good crossers and the opposition thus can afford to congest the middle of the pitch, leaving the wide area relatively free. They just gamble on the fact that the chances of having to defend a decent cross are quite less. And even if it does come, they can outnumber the sole troublesome figure of Robin Van Persie. To address this issue, Arsene Wenger may introduce Marouane Chamakh who can add a bit of aerial threat. But this solution comes with a pinch of salt.
More Attacking Options (?)
Arsenal has to reshuffle their pack now to a 4-4-2. The removal of a front man from the attack may seem strange in trying to make the formation more attacking, but it is more to do with the approach. The more men there are in the midfield, the better they have control of the ball and better ball possession leads to greater number of chances of scoring. Tactically, it gives the two wide midfielders a target man, a perfect No. 9, who can stay up distracting the centre backs. His striking partner can operate from the hole linking up with the other attacking players. But, this hampers Arsenal’s short passing game in the midfield – the central midfielders are visibly more comfortable playing in a 3-man CM formation rather than a flat or diamond 2-man CM. Further, the wide forwards have to be more involved in defensive duties as they are playing now as wingers or wide midfielders. But neither Walcott nor Andrey Arshavin would fancy tracking back the opponent fullback too much. So, it is not likely that Wenger will adopt this style unless they want to throw a man forward for a goal in the dying minutes of a match.
Man to Watch (1) – Aaron Ramsey
Aaron Ramsey is not yet 21 and already proudly wears the armband of the Wales national football team. Now, that is some achievement. At Arsenal, Ramsey has had the opportunity to play competitive football at a very young age and that has helped in his development immensely. The departure of Cesc and Nasri this season proved to be a blessing in disguise, paving the way for more gaming time for Ramsey. He has made 11 appearances for Arsenal so far in the League and has caught the eyes of the experts and fans alike. Ramsey possesses vision; like his predecessor Fabregas, he can run from the deep with the ball and set up an exciting attacking option. His fluidity has been an asset to the team and the young Wales captain has dictated the play more often than not with his classy and impeccable passing. Another feature that makes Ramsey an even exciting prospect is his personal rapport with Jack Wilshere, another Arsenal academy product. The duo look to set for a long run at the heart of Gunner’s midfield. Ramsey is a better dribbler than Cesc, and he might lift the mood at Emirates and emulate the mastery of the latter in times to come. His display against Bolton (below) proves a point – he prefers to rule the centre of the pitch. He rarely drifts wide, keeps a close watch on the “mid”-field and lashes a range of passes, that too with an accuracy of 85% – a superb feat considering his tender age.
Ramsey covering the ground
Man to Watch (2) – Robin van Persie
Scored 38 goals in 41 games (as on 23 November 2011). Sometimes statistics do lie, but not this time. RVP is striking gold every time he is on the field these days. He is leading by example, he is the reason Arsenal are quickly moving in a new direction following the heart-breaking transfer window. He’s got the skill, he’s got the pace. This year he has been fortunate to remain injury-free and that is surely a bit of luck this injury-prone footballer always deserved. Also, Wenger has clearly gone back to his 1-man-up-front formation which has helped van Persie to know his role better. He is currently playing in a false 9 position – his stature makes him a natural target for crosses (as for Song against Dortmund in Matchday 5 of Champions League), but he often drops deep and draws his marker along with him to create space for others. Not bothering with criticism for his weaker foot, he has made the most of his lethal left foot and lanky figure. Just see (below) how he tormented Chelsea at their backyard.
36 Min: Open Play => Left Foot 85 Min: Quick break => Right Foot
Football is much more than a game – it is a way of life. It is passion beyond race, creed and colour, religion and nationality. In 2001, it even featured on the list of nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize; although I must say, I was quite disappointed upon seeing it not win.
My first memory of international football was Paolo Rossi leading Italy to victory over West Germany in the 1982 World Cup. I recall watching the 1985 European Cup final at the then Heysel Stadium, Brussels on television. All of us remember the tragic day which shaped club football in England for the next decade. Then the 1986 World Cup took place and the group stage matches started being telecast in India from the Brazil and Algeria encounter. I remember the performance of the Algerian goalkeeper, Naceredine Drid in that game which was outstanding. I also recall Careca scoring the Brazilian goal. Above all, I remember the Brazilian skipper – a bearded, tall figure, who was always noticeable. My first tryst with English club football was during a visit to London in the summer of 1989 when I saw a televised match between Oldham and Leeds United in the second division. I remember a player coming on as a substitute in the second half. A young, fresh faced Welsh kid, as the commentator described him, with a wild lock of hair. I have since watched many football matches and players, but the tall bearded Brazilian captain and the wild haired young Welsh kid have forever remained etched in my memory.
Who knew, that one day, I’d be penning a tribute to these two greats who left a lasting impression on my mind — Sócrates Brasileiro Sampaio de Souza Vieira de Oliveira or Sócrates as he is popularly known, and Gary Andrew Speed. But this isn’t about them as footballers, their qualities and talents as players on the pitch, because I believe everyone knows that side of their lives, including Saint Peter at the Pearly Gates in heaven who’ll probably include them in his all time best XI team. Mine is an attempt to reveal their humane side – the wonderful human beings they have been.
I am not a big fan of obituaries. I would rather remember a player in his full glory than after his demise. Two words that best describe them – – ‘passion’ and ‘leadership’. Both Sócrates and Gary Speed played the game with a passion that was unparalleled. As players they were very different on the field. Sócrates was a natural with the quintessential Brazilian fluidity somewhat enhanced by his physique. Gary Speed on the other hand wasn’t – he worked very hard for his game and played with passion. It was this hard work and passion which made him the first player to appear in 500 Premiership games. On the field, they were both natural leaders who commanded respect, thanks to their game. But on and off the field, they were admired for their helpful nature.
Sócrates played most of his club football for Corinthians, where he founded the Corinthians democracy movement. This was his way of protesting against the military dictatorship in Brazil at the time. He persuaded the club chairman to allow certain team matters to be decided by players’ votes. Simple factors like what to eat and which hotels to put up in. These may seem very trivial now, but in those days, there weren’t many players’ associations or team hospitality managers around. In 1982, Corinthian players led by Sócrates sported the message ‘Vote on 15th’ on their jerseys urging their supporters to participate in the first multi-party election in Brazil since 1964. The team also played a lot of their games with ‘Democracia’ written on them in support of their beliefs and ideologies. Academically, Socrates was a doctor of medicine, a brilliant achievement since he completed his degree while playing. His childhood idols were Fidel Castro, Che Guevara and John Lennon, which is evident in his socialistic ideology. However, he considered himself a social democrat as opposed to a socialist. He practised medicine in his hometown of Ribeirão Preto, often treating poor patients for free. A heavy smoker and drinker even during his playing days, he was considered a hippie rebel by many but he was a serious intellectual person who liked to live and enjoy life on his own terms. He was also a very accomplished writer who regularly contributed columns in newspapers and journals, not only on football but also on politics and economics. Instead of going on about him, here are excerpts from an interview he gave just before the 2010 World Cup. It practically sums up the Doctor as he was, in his words.
Q) What are you up to these days?
Sócrates: So much stuff I can hardly remember. I give lots of seminars about leadership, human relationships, that sort of thing. I have a consultancy for social projects, cultural projects and I will be moving into sports projects. I write for newspapers and magazines about sport and general subjects such as politics and economics. I appear on TV and I’m starting another book. It’s fiction and it’s about the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. It will come out in two years, God willing. The idea is to show Brazil to the rest of the world.
Q) What is the book about?
Sócrates: The idea is to create several characters who are foreigners coming to the World Cup. The book will be a compilation of their stories and how they get to know Brazil – the good things of this country and also its problems.
The championship will be pure fiction and the final will be Brazil versus Argentina, with Argentina winning 2-0, both goals scored by Messi. Heh heh. If you have an idea for an English character, tell me, then we’ll come up with various scenarios and then we’ll put them all together. Everyone has different experiences in Brazil and we want to put in the best.
Can you imagine, say, a Chinese man watching a game in Manaus on a Sunday and then having to get to Salvador for a game on Wednesday? Not a chance he would make it! He’ll get lost in the Pantanal [the world’s largest wetland], then fall in love with, say, a Korean. Everyone who comes to Brazil falls in love with someone. Obviously! We’re the most sexualised people in the world.
Oh, I forgot to mention that I’m still playing music and I’ve got a theatre project on the go, too. It is a play that uses football as a backdrop. It’s by Oduvaldo Vianna Filho and its called Chapetuba Futebol Clube and I’ll be on stage, acting. We are raising money for that at the moment.
Q) Do you like the Brazil squad? (Pre-2010 World Cup)
Sócrates: It is a very bureaucratic team, very conservative… they’ll have problems. There’s a new kid at Santos, Paulo Henrique, who is exceptional. He is already the best player in Brazil. He is playing amazingly well and Dunga [the coach] didn’t want to take him. He didn’t take Ronaldinho; he only chose defensive midfielders, players who mark, players who run. If Kaká isn’t playing well, the team will be badly out of kilter.
Q) But isn’t Dunga simply being sensible?
Sócrates: Being sensible isn’t always the best thing. Who says that being sensible is a sign of quality? I don’t think so.
The last answer aptly sums up the man Socrates was.
Gary Speed studied at Deeside Primary School which also had Ian Rush, Barry Horne and Michael Owen as pupils in different times. He later attended Hawarden High School in north Wales. He was a fanatical Everton supporter and lived on the same street as the former club captain, Kevin Ratcliffe. He was a paperboy for the locality. Ratcliffe later recalled that his papers were always late as he subscribed to a lot of sports journals which Speed used to read before delivering. Even in street football kick-abouts, Ratcliffe noticed his sublime left foot. He was also a district school cricket player – a medium fast bowler who was also a clean hitting lower order batsman. He was signed up by Leeds United in 1988 and was noticed by the manager while playing for the youth side. He made his debut against Oldham, the match which I was lucky to watch on television in May 1989. Gary Speed played in nine out of the ten outfield positions for Leeds United the following two seasons – a testament to his versatility and dedication as a total team man. A far cry from today when some players refuse to play when put on the substitute’s bench and not in the starting XI. In the 1991-92 season, when Leeds won the old English First Division title, he was outstanding in the mid-field with Gordon Strachan, Gary McAllister and David Batty.
Gary Speed was not a very vocal or outspoken person off the field. He was very helpful to teammates, always trying to solve their problems and disputes which made him a natural leader and captain. He was known as Mr. ‘Nice Guy’. He was very particular about his fitness and diet which was not very common for other players of his times. This enabled him to play till the age of 41.
Away from football, he was a keen quizzer who loved questions on History and Geography more than Football or Sports. He had not pursued higher education while concentrating on his playing career but he had a sharp intellect and memory. According to his former teammate Alan Shearer, Speed would have made a very fine lawyer. Speed, like many of his Welsh counterparts, could never showcase his talents on an international stage. As the Welsh manager he was highly respected by his players and was responsible for Robbie Savage’s transformation from a ‘bad boy’ to a team player. Again I would not like to keep on writing about Speed but use his own words to show the person he was. After he was sold from Everton, the club he supported all his life, to Newcastle United, owing to problems with the manager, this is what he had to say – “You know why I’m leaving, but I can’t explain myself publicly because it would damage the good name of Everton Football Club and I’m not prepared to do that.” The words reflect: a real team man and the true human being that Gary Speed was.
People like Sócrates and Gary Speed can never die. They will live within our hearts and memories forever with their football, their passion, their brilliant smiles and above all their humanity. They lived their lives according to their own choices and died in a manner of their own choosing too. Long live the legends!
Leadership Lessons-The Football Way
Simplistically speaking, ‘Leadership’ is defined as a process where an individual influences a group of individuals to achieve a common goal. Of the several theories that have been propounded on leadership, trait and behavioural theories are majorly applicable directly from a footballing perspective. The trait theory stresses on the characteristics of leaders – both successful and unsuccessful – and is used to predict leadership effectiveness. The resulting lists of traits are then compared to those of potential leaders to assess their likelihood of success or failure. Behavioural theories of leadership focus on specific behaviours of a leader as that is considered to be the best predictor of his leadership influences and as a result, is the best determinant of his leadership success.
As the legendary Bill Shankly had famously quoted, “Some people believe football is a matter of life and death…it is much, much more important than that”. This shows that the world’s most followed game requires strong leadership to sustain its quality and intensity. And this is precisely what the essay tries to unearth.
It’s much, much more important than that!
Leadership and Football – The Universal Bonding
The celebrated South African legend Nelson Mandela once famously said, “It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership”. In the world of football, Mandela’s views are so very apt because a true leader, be he a captain or a coach, always has to put his team before him, and if at any point of time matters deteriorate, must intervene to infuse inspiration for the team. In a team game like football, where there is very little time to think and act; leadership is generally attributed to the skills of a coach who watches the proceedings from the sidelines. This is because he has the time to execute his plans and the resources to implement them.
Leadership concepts and their applicability in football
There are many theories of leadership explained by various experts over a period of time. Here’s analyzing some of them with examples from the world of football, to help acquire a clearer picture.
Leader-Member Relations (LMR)theory
This refers to the degree of mutual trust, respect and confidence between the leader and the followers. LMR is directly proportional to the behavioural relationships that exist in a group between the leaders and the followers. It has been proven through research that perceived communication satisfaction is crucial to employee productivity, job satisfaction job performance, and organizational effectiveness. As a manager, it is imperative that you convey your vision to your players which is why most foreign coaches have a translator who can communicate with the players in languages they comprehend.
Right communication is the key
For instance, Jose Mourinho was Bobby Robson’s interpreter at Barcelona and he has reiterated many times that Sir Bobby wanted his players to understand the impact of his coaching which is why an interpreter was always essential.
‘Concentrating on the Basics’ approach
Successful organizations evolve with better implementation of fundamental attributes. Not always will you have a team that is full of supremely talented individuals. A successful team depends on how strong a co-ordination exists among its members. Even an ordinary team can pull off extraordinary results if it is guided by a strong leader who understands his team’s limitations and can leverage the strengths.
An apt example will be the Greek team of 2004that won the Euro under the charismatic manager Otto Rehhagel, who was later made an honorary Greek citizen. Such were his leadership traits that he managed to mobilize an ordinary Greek team to beat the Giants of Europe at their own game. Discipline coupled with self-belief was all that was required for Rehhagel to come up with the hitherto unthinkable. A leader instils the belief in his men that they can win – and this is what separates them from ordinary men.
The Greek team of 2004 with the spoils of a meticulously planned victory
To beat the defending champions, the best team in the tournament and the hosts in three successive rounds, all by identical scores, simply don’t happen by accident. It can only take place through immense tactical wisdom and methodical implementation of tactics to suit each game. Rehhagel was a master visionary who took a relatively unknown outfit to global fame owing to his “fundamentally correct” approach.
Leader-Member Exchange theory
LMX (Leader-Member Exchange) theory analyses leadership on the basis of interactions and establishment of a two-way relationship between the leaders and the followers. The concept of reciprocal relationship maintenance by the leaders is stressed on by this theory. Some teams function on a smooth flow of communication from the leader to the rest of the team, which is why the foundation of team unity is extremely strong. For example, the world’s indisputably best team, Barcelona has a young Pep Guardiola as its coach who understands team dynamics and provides his team with the kind of freedom which very few coaches can actually afford to.
Does the best team require a different managerial approach to hold the highest rank in the world?
The Barcelona coaching system is an amazing lesson in leadership management where they groom players from their academy and they automatically get inducted in the primary team. One such prodigy is Lionel Messi and the rest as they say is history.
The Manager is everything
Perhaps in no other sport is the role of a coach as important as in a game of football. A manager has to undergo constant stressful and turbulent situations. They are always on the “hot seat”, putting in their maximum efforts to ensure the best achievable results as they are publicly held responsible for a team’s performance. As a team becomes more and more popular, the ‘Sword of Damocles’ tend to hang precariously over a manager’s head. This explains why we have frequent sackings of coaches in both club as well as international football. However, that does not hold true for one and all; there have been legendary managers who have been inspirational figures and are constantly studied for their leadership traits. Legends such as Vittorio Pozzo, Rinus Michels, Matt Busby and Franz Beckenbaur among a host of other geniuses have masterminded teams and inspired generations by their tactics. Perhaps the greatest modern day icon in this category is Manchester United’s Sir Alex Ferguson who just completed 25 years at one of the world’s most famous clubs, as its patron leader. Sir Ferguson is worshipped by United, and as David Beckham had realized during his exit from the team – there can only be one Don at United: Sir Alex Ferguson.
Rule of the Red Monarch: Iron Fist Management
He has built a team from scratch and his youthful exuberance at an age of close-to-70 is what wins him universal respect. There are reasons why people idolize Sir Ferguson – he will leave a legacy of leadership and vision that will be hard to emulate for generations.
You do not necessarily need an official tag to be a leader
Normally all great leaders have at some point of time held official positions like a captain or a coach. Yet there are some who by sheer ability and calmness of mind can garner respect from their team-mates because they do not get weighed down by the occasion and continue to inspire their team-mates. For example, consider the case of the victorious French team of the 1998 World Cup and the 2000 European Cup. Whenever the team was in disarray and was unable to penetrate into the opponent’s half, they simply passed on the ball to their talismanic mid-fielder, Zinedine Zidane who has this uncanny ability to create an opportunity out of any situation. Zidane made the ball talk and his team-mates worshipped him. Although Didier Deschamps was the captain of the French Team, Zidane was always their leader and remained so throughout his career, the latter half being officially a captain.
The Alpha-Male takes charge
The reason Zidane was revered all through his playing career both at the international and club level was that he understood his role in the team and never disrespected his “post”. Some critics say that he should not have head-butted Marco Materazzi, which is cited by many experts as the prime reason for France’s loss to Italy in the 2006 FIFA World Cup final. But with evidences showing signs of racism in the Italian player’s abuse which led to the incident in the first place, this one-off case can well be excused. Zidane’s influence on his team was so high that during his absence due to injury in the 2002 World Cup Group Stages, France looked incapable of scoring even a single goal. They were badly in need of inspiration which they always found in the form of Zidane whenever things became tight. Without him, the defending champions ignominiously exited in the first round. Once back in charge, the maestro single-handedly inspired an average French team to the final in the 2006 World Cup. A leader’s significance is sometimes realised when he is not around. This has been the case with the French National Team post Zidane – they simply look just another team playing football with talented individuals looking for some divine inspiration. If that inspiration is not the captain, it has to be the coach. France has been looking for either since Zidane’s exit and still hasn’t found one matching up to him.
How do you earn that ‘respect’?
If somebody wants to be respected as a leader, then it is imperative he concentrate on:
What he is
What he knows
What he does
What makes a person want to follow a leader?
People want to be guided by those they respect and who have a clear sense of direction. To gain respect, the “been there, done that” aura has to be prevalent. A sense of direction is achieved by conveying a strong vision of the future.
It is extremely important for a leader to understand his limitations. Reason being, not all individuals can be charismatic geniuses and single-handedly lead teams to victories. Not all can be like Diego Maradona – a man who almost single-handedly inspired Argentina to World Cup Glory. An even greater achievement of Maradona lies for his club side Napoli who he led to two Scudettas and a UEFA Cup. The only reason we remember Napoli is because of Maradona. Such was his charisma that the Neapolitan fans in the famous semi-final of the 1990 World Cup partially supported Argentina against Italy as Maradona was playing the match.
The genius leads the way
This photograph so beautifully conveys the Maradona effect on opposing teams. In a crucial World Cup match, instead of blocking him, his opponents were in awe of his magic, the charisma of an incomparable leader. Such leaders are not found in plentitude. You would probably come across only one in your lifetime.
We cannot try and become a Maradona but we can definitely try and become an Otto Rehhagel because the latter shows that discipline and vision can create leaders in us and lead us to glory.
As the saying goes, “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration”. So is leadership.
Deepanjan Deb is currently pursuing his MBA from XLRI Jamshedpur. He has previously worked as a Marketing Analyst of TCS. He has covered the 2010 FIFA World Cup, T-20 World Cup and IPL 2009 as an analyst for the Ananda Bazar Patrika group venture –
‘Glory’ – We, the Hunters
‘I can’t believe it. I can’t believe it. Football. Bloody hell.’
~ Sir Alex Ferguson
Most of us in India would remember 1999 for an event far from being closely associated to the beautiful game we call football – the Cricket World Cup: Sachin Tendulkar’s injury which could have prevented him from playing the Cup or Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid’s record partnership at Taunton. I was no different. While counting down to the days, I read every article that came on the sports pages of newspapers with immense interest, making fantastical permutations and combinations as the likes of a nine-year-old would be akin to carrying out.
In a country where zealous fan(atic)s worship cricket as a religion, it is hard to stay away from its lure. However, that May 27, 1999 newspaper carried another snippet that almost went unnoticed, except to this nine-year-old’s keen eye. A team called Manchester United had won the Champions League, from being one goal down and without their first-choice midfielders. Although my memory serves as an impediment here, I can very well recall a grainy black and white picture of the players and an aged fellow, who looked like my grandpa, lifting a Cup. And to this nine-year old underdog, that is me, it was a tale of gut and gumption; this come-from-behind story of a team called Manchester United held my admiration. I did not know of them earlier, all my knowledge was limited only to FIFA World Cup matches and Golden Boot winners – Davor Šuker being the latest of them. All things considered, it was shallow and shallow still on the day of May 27, 1999. But, a team called Manchester United etched itself in my memory, firmly. That was the beginning of my becoming a Red Devil, possibly a glory-hunter.
A glory-hunter is a euphemism for foreign supporters of a particular football club who are spread world over. It is particularly acute amongst fans of Manchester United. These foreign fans have been the target of jibes by rival supporters and locals alike. What exactly defines a glory-hunter? For one, a glory-hunter is not a local fan, a person from the same place of origin as the club, a “big club”. Even a Cockney-speaking Londoner supporting Liverpool is at risk of being called one. Accusations range from having no connections with the club and choosing it only because the club will safely be amongst the best for years to overusing the club mottos (‘Glory Glory Man United’ or GGMU in the case of Manchester United). They are also criticised for their lack of knowledge regarding the club’s history, culture or chants. They are always the ones susceptible to switching allegiances when their club is going through a torrid time, might even switch back and forth. A glory-hunter’s attack on a rival club or a player is more vitriolic (using names such as Chelsh*t for Chelsea etc.) than a local. These and so many more points make the workings of a glory-hunter.
Ever since the English Premier League hit the Indian television screens, there has been a surge in its viewership. Needless to say, Indian fans make a sizeable chunk of the global fan support of Premier League clubs. True, there is the domestic I-League with matches happening all year round but what makes an Indian football viewer, irrespective of the glory-hunter status, watch EPL, and openly support a foreign club having no prior attachment to it?
A majority of the football fans in India only know of ‘The Big Four’ of England — Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United. Only recently Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur and the likes of those who are constantly pushing for a place in the ‘Big Four’ bracket are winning some favour, too.
Moving over to southern Europe, there exist only Barcelona, Real Madrid, A.C. Milan and Inter Milan. Names like Juventus, A.S. Roma, Atletico Madrid, Bayern Munich, Bayer Leverkusen and Valencia have been only heard of. Juventus for Alessandro del Piero and Gianluigi Buffon, Roma for Francesco Totti, Atletico Madrid as the club who previously had Fernando Torres and Sergio Aguero before they were stars, Bayern Munich for the (Arjen) Robben-(Franck) Ribéry duo, Bayer Leverkusen for Michael Ballack and Valencia having been home to two Davids – Villa and Silva.
The knowledge is shallow and I won’t mince any words about it. Football has suddenly transformed from a sport in India to also a form of ‘peacocking’. The more you flaunt what you know, that is rattle off names, tactics, formations and player names, the ‘cooler’ you are. Yes, I have been a part of it too. But, if you have your national team languishing at the lower rungs of the world rankings and a domestic league which can be called mediocre on its best day, people will always look for options.
Inspiring moments in this millennium have been sporadic. The only ones worth mentioning are perhaps East Bengal’s ASEAN Club Championship win way back in 2003, Baichung Bhutia’s stint at Bury F.C. in England and Sunil Chhetri’s at Kansas City Wizards of the MLS in the USA; and to say that the country was arguably the best team in Asia from 1950 to 1962 is a matter of shame. There is no glamour in it, neither for players nor for the fans: a once thriving club culture is all but dead. This is why Jose Ramirez Baretto is not as hated in Kolkata as Carlos Tevez is in Manchester, and why Steven Dias’s #8 jersey has no takers while Steven Gerrard’s #8 sells like hot cakes. And when you have competitive football matches of the highest order, players of world repute being beamed in your television screens every weekend, why would one want to pay and go watch a local football match in a decrepit run-down stadium?
Another accusation that comes the glory-hunter way is that they don’t attend matches ever. I stand guilty as charged, myself. Yes, United takes pride in its working class roots, from its inception as Newton Heath of yore to the Manchester United it is now. But, a two-way ticket to Manchester and back will knock the stuffing out of any middle class Indian home. Add to that, a currency that depreciates considerably in comparison to the Pound-Sterling. Thus, it is not feasible for a fervent United fan to watch a match and come back without burning a hole in his or her pocket. If United rules your heart then no matter where you belong, irrespective of the colour of your skin, you will take pride in your team even from your bedroom. My ooh’s and aah’s have constantly woken my neighbours on Champions League nights as it is almost morning by the time the telecast ends in India.
But fans’ glory-hunting charges notwithstanding, here’s another side of the story. Why did Andriy Shevchenko leave A.C. Milan for Chelsea in 2006 when he was easily the first choice striker and also the second highest goal-getter for the club? Why did he, instead, choose to be a part of Roman Abramovich’s lavishly funded Jose Mourinho squad? Whiffs of glory-hunting exist in players as well, I say, sticking my neck out. There are more examples like Dimitar Berbatov who moved from Tottenham Hotspur to Manchester United for a record-breaking fee a few years ago after being the club’s top scorer. Also, add David Silva, Yaya Touré and the Manchester City bunch. Everyone, inherently, wants a share of fame and glory. Add to that, whopping salary packages and you have an offer you can barely refuse. No one really remembers John Terry’s missed penalty in the Champions League final at Moscow in 2008 except in statistics. Players are human beings as well. The lure of top-flight football and expectant silverware is too much for them to resist. Even within that, a Serie A or the Bundesliga club pales out in comparison to their Premier League or La Liga counterparts, given the more attractive pay-packets and squads that allure them.
To know United, one must first know of Newton Heath – of February 6, 1958 and The Busby Babes, of Bryan Robson, George Best, Sir Bobby Charlton, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and the Eric Cantona period. If you love a club, you fiercely support it no matter what and this is what the glory-hunters lack along with the basic knowledge of the club they “support” – its workings and history. Oh, and please, let’s not get into the clichéd million-dollar question perennially doing the rounds on social networking sites, as to who is better, Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi. I have followed United faithfully ever since that fateful day, from Roy Keane to Ruud van Nistelrooy, the departure of David Beckham to the coming of Ronaldo, from Owen Hargreaves and his injury woes to Sir Alex bringing in the new guard; the da Silva brothers (Fábio and Rafael), Phil Jones, Javier Hernandez, David de Gea and others. I sat perplexed, like every other Red Devil in the stadium when Sir Alex subbed Park Ji-Sung for Patrice Evra in the thrilling draw against Everton last year; a game we should have won. United makes my weekends and dictates my moods – it’s my love. So, I am most welcome to take that glory-hunter tag with a pinch of salt.
I fervently dream of going to Old Trafford and following the team around on their travels for an entire season. Someday, I shall. Like Arthur Miller once so rightly said, “A lot of good things have come out of dreaming.”
EURO 2012 – Group Preview
The draw for the Euro championships for the Henri Delaunay trophy was held at the Ukraine Palace of Arts, in Kiev on 2nd December 2011. The draw was important as there were two host nations of Poland and Ukraine who were seeded with the top two teams in the continent based on FIFA rankings. This meant that a lot of powerful teams like Germany, Italy, France, Portugal and England would not be seeded. There were four pots used in to draw. The first pot had the seeded teams and the other pots had teams based on their FIFA ranking and recent performances.
The rankings were based on:
40% of the average ranking points per game earned in the UEFA Euro 2012 qualifying stage.
40% of the average ranking points per game earned in the 2010 FIFA World Cup qualifying stage and final tournament.
20% of the average ranking points per game earned in the UEFA Euro 2008 qualifying stage and final tournament.
Incidentally both the hosts were the lowest ranked teams amongst the 16 qualifiers. A similar situation had occurred during Euro 2008 as well when the hosts were Austria and Switzerland. It was decided that Poland and Ukraine would be placed as team A1 and D1 in groups A and D respectively.
The draw featured four former Euro Champions drawing from the different pots – Horst Hrubesch of Germany, Marco Van Basten of Netherlands, Peter Schmeichel of Denmark and Zinadine Zidane.
Following the draw, we find some very interesting groups a lot of matches in group stages which could have been the final of the tournament. We, at Goalden Times, in the build-up to the tournament shall preview each group in detail in the following months. The preview begins with Group A.
This group has been termed by the media as the easiest group. It has none of the so-called superpowers of European football. This does not imply that qualifying to the quarter finals will be easy. In fact, with the absence of a single big team all four teams will harbour ambitions of progression from this group. Even in this not-so-strong group, we have three former European champions in Greece who won in 2004; Russia who were champions in the inaugural tournament in 1960 as Soviet Union and Czech Republic champions of 1976 as Czechoslovakia. Greece and Russia have been drawn in the same group for the third Euro in succession. In fact they played out a 1-1 draw in a friendly match last month.
Resume: Champions 1960. Runners Up – 1964, 1972 and 1988. Semi Finals – 1968 and 2008.
Road to the finals: Qualifying Group B Winner. P-10 W-7 D-2 L-1 GF-17 GA-4 GD-+13
The highest ranked team in the group, Russia will be pleased with the draw. Coached by the Dutchman Dick Advocaat, Russians will be a difficult opponent. They had a good qualifying campaign topping their group ahead of Republic of Ireland. They had a shock loss to Slovakia early in qualifying at home and struggled to score goals early in the campaign. The away match against Republic of Ireland at Dublin was the turning point as the Russians won 3-2 in a very difficult match. After that, the campaign was smooth and they qualified with an emphatic 6-0 victory against Andorra at home. Russians are playing all matches in Poland; they would have preferred to have played in Ukraine with a large Russian population for support. The first match against Czech Republic will be crucial. The Czechs will have more support as Wroclaw is nearer to their country. The last time the two sides met in a similar stage was in Euro 1996 in a memorable match where the Czechs came back from 1-3 down to force a dramatic tie 3-3 with a late goal from Vladimir Smicer, to oust Italy from the tournament.
The Russian team under Advocaat plays mainly with two formations 4-3-3 against weaker opposition or at home and 4-4-1-1 when playing stronger teams or away from home. The team has also used the 4-1-4-1 formation at times. They have a solid look to their side in all departments. Vyacheslav Malafeev, the first choice goalkeeper has been in good form playing in the Champions League for his club, Zenit. There is adequate backup in Igor Akinfeev of CSKA Moscow. In centre of defence they have the experienced CSKA Moscow pairing of Sergei Ignashevich and Vasili Berezutskiy. Aleksandr Anyukov of Zenit is the first choice left-back. Yuri Zhirkov, the former Chelsea man now at Anzhi has been used as right-back and also a right sided midfielder by Advocaat. When playing 4-4-3, Zhirkov plays in defence. Against stronger teams, Aleksei Berezutskiy, the twin brother of the defender Vasili comes in the right-back position for his defensive capabilities. Zhirkov plays as a right winger in such matches. In the centre of midfield they have the Zenit duo of Konstantin Zyryanov and Roman Shirokov who have shown good form in the Champions league. Igor Denisov is generally the defensive midfielder playing in front of the back four as he does at his club Zenit. Experienced Igor Semsov of Dynamo Moscow is used on the left wing for his pace. Andrei Arshavin was the star of the Russian team in the last Euro. This time, the player to watch out is Alan Dzagoev of CSKA Moscow. Just 21 years of age, he is an exciting attacking midfielder who is comfortable playing on the left wing as well as behind the front striker. He has the potential to be a star in this tournament. In the forward line there is Arshavin who has question marks over his fitness and lack of first team football at Arsenal. The main striker position is a toss-up between Aleksandr Kerzhakov of Zenit and Roman Pavlyuchenko of Spurs. The former may get the nod for regular first team football for his club. As a back-up they have Pavel Pogrebnyak of Stuttgart.
The Russians play very well as a counter-attack unit with the pace of their players. The problem is when they have to chase the game, they seem to lack a bit of the finesse and cutting edge. They are an enigmatic team who have qualified very well in recent international tournaments to flounder in the finals. Euro 2008 was an exception where they showed their real potential. Dick Advocaat has to prove that 2008 was not an exception but an accurate reflection of their capabilities.
Head To Head
Resume: Champions 1976. Runners Up – 1996. Semi Finals – 1960, 1980 and 2004.
Road to the finals: Qualifying Group I Runner Up. P-8 W-4 D-1 L-3 GF-12 GA-8 GD-+4
Playoff vs Macedonia 3-0 aggregate (2-0,1-0)
Czech Republic had a stuttering campaign to the Euro 2012 finals. They lost their first match to Lithuania and two other matches to Spain; managed a last minute penalty equaliser against Scotland to stay in the hunt for qualification; went into the last match against Lithuania hoping that Spain would beat Scotland to allow them to sneak into a play-off spot. In the play-off, they were much better winning 2-0 at home and 1-0 away against Montenegro. Czech Republic has always performed well in the Euro, winning as Czechoslovakia in 1976 and losing to an Olivier Bierhoff golden goal in 1996. They were arguably the best team in 2004 tournament before losing to a defensive and tactically astute Greek side in the semi finals. Managed by Michal Bilek, they will aspire to play well in their group matches.
Bilek favours a 4-2-3-1 formation. In Petr Cech they have one of the best goalkeepers in the world. Although after his injury and subsequent donning of protective headgear, he has been less confident than before. The defence is led by the Bayer Leverkusen centre back, Michal Kadlec. Tomas Sivok of Besiktas is his partner in centre of defence. The left-back, Theodor Gebre Selassie of Slovan Liberec, the first player of African origin to play for Czech Republic, was very impressive during the playoffs. Daniel Pudil of Genk will be the first choice right-back having made it to the team with some good performances in Champions League. The defence has a tendency of lacking pace in the centre which was exposed by Spain in both the qualifying matches. The midfield has a lot of experience with Tomas Rosicky having a re-emergence of form for Arsenal and the national team. Jaroslav Plasil of Bordeaux will anchor the midfield with Jan Polak of Wolfsburg. Vaclav Pilar of Viktoria Plzen will be the left sided midfielder who will push forward. The right side of midfield has seen Jan Rezek of the Cypriot club, Famagusta. This team generally plays with a lone striker with Tomas Pekhart of Nuremberg being the first choice. Pekhart is a huge talent and has all the makings of a star but has not lived up to his potential for the national team. There is the former Liverpool and Euro 2004 hero, Milan Baros now plying his trade at Galatasaray of Turkey, who is the back-up.
Playing all their matches in Wroclaw will help them as the town is close to their country and they will be backed by partisan support with the exception of the match against the hosts, Poland. The Czech Republic team seems competent and good in their defence and midfield areas. The problem is that with the system they play, they need sharp finishing skills of a player like Jan Koller who they miss after his retirement. They create chances but struggle to score goals. It will be difficult for them to get beyond the group stages. However, they have a lot of big tournament pedigree and always lift their game for this tournament. They can always be the big surprise of the tournament.
Head To Head
Resume: Champions 2004.
Road to the finals: Qualifying Group F Winner. P-10 W-7 D-3 L-0 GF-14 GA-5 GD-+9
Greece was always considered one of the weaker footballing nations in Europe. All that changed in 2004 when under the astute German manager Otto Rehhagel, they pulled off the greatest upset win ever in a national tournament. After this grand success, the Greek national team failed to qualify for the World Cup in 2006. They qualified for Euro 2008 and World Cup 2010. The team failed to perform in the finals of both tournaments, not progressing beyond the group stages. This Euro qualifying campaign was very impressive with Greece being unbeaten and defeating Croatia, a higher ranked team to win the group. The manager of the Greek team, Fernando Santos is a Portuguese national who has a lot of experience managing Greek club sides. Greeks who are known for their very defensive style of play have been refreshingly attack minded under Santos. Generally the Greeks play with the 4-3-3 system. This attacking system is built on the belief that their defence is very strong.
In goal, they have Kostas Chalkias of PAOK, the last club managed by Santos who has immense faith in him. The centre of defence is marshalled by Avram Papadopoulos of Olympiakos and Sokratis Papastathopoulos of Werder Bremen. Both have been in good form in both their respective clubs. In the left-back position there are two players who are vying for a position in the starting line-up – Vasilis Torosidis of Olympiakos and Loukas Vyntra of Panathanaikos. In the right-back position again there are two possible candidates in Nikos Spiropoulos of Olympiakos and Giannis Zaradoukas of Panathanaikos. The three man midfield has a lot of experience in the Panathanaikos duo of Giorgos Karagounis on the left and Kostas Katsouranis on the right. The centre of midfield will be marshalled by Alexandros Tziolis of Racing Santander. The forward line has Theofanis Gekas of Eintracht Frankfurt through the centre, Dimitris Salpigidis of PAOK on the right and Giorgos Samaras of Celtic on the right. Angelos Charisteas, the star of Euro 2004 presently playing at Panetelikos is used as an effective substitute in the frontline.
The main advantage of Greece is that a lot of their players play together for the same teams in defence and midfield ensuring good understanding and organisation. In current form they should be one of the teams to qualify for the quarter-finals. The Greeks however do not have a good record in the finals of international tournaments. If they can overcome this jinx, they can very well mount a serious challenge akin to Euro 2004. The first match against the hosts, however, will be crucial and a draw or win will set them on their way.
Head To Head
Resume: Group Stage 2008
Road to the finals: Automatic qualifier as co-host.
Poland has never been successful in the Euro championships. Even in their hey-days of the 70s and 80s when they finished third twice in the World Cup and won an Olympic gold, they failed to qualify for the Euro tournaments. They managed to qualify for the first time in 2008. They did not progress beyond the group stages following defeats to Germany and Croatia. Being the co-hosts, they qualified automatically for the finals. Poland will start the tournament as the lowest ranked team in the competition. They have not had a competitive match since October 2009. This can be an advantage as the team will be fresher, or a disadvantage as the team will not be really match fit, as friendly matches are not the same thing as competitive. Franciszek Smuda, the head coach has the difficult job of meeting the expectations of the home fans.
Poland in the majority of their friendly matches has used the 4-2-3-1 formation. They have Wojciech Szczęsny of Arsenal as first choice keeper. Interestingly, Łukasz Fabiański, the number two goalkeeper of Arsenal is also the second choice in the national team. The defence has a solid look in Marcin Wasilewski of Anderlecht and Kamil Glik of Torino. Dariusz Dudka of Auxerre should start as rightback and Łukasz Piszczek of Borussia Dortmund as left-back. Rafał Murawski of Lech Poznan and Eugen Polański of Mainz will anchor the midfield. Ludovic Obraniak of Lille will add the creative spark in the centre of midfield. Jakub Błaszczykowski of Dortmund will play on the right wing. Sławomir Peszko of FC Koln will be on the left side of midfield. In the forward line, Robert Lewandowski of Dortmund is the first choice striker. Paweł Brożek of Trabzonspor will be used as a substitute.
The Polish team should give a good account of themselves at home. They will have huge support to back their team which should help their morale. The problem is that they don’t have the quality throughout the team to mount a sustained challenge for the other teams. If they ride on the wave of home support and manage to qualify for the quarter finals, they will be deemed as a huge success.
Head To Head
The final verdict has four categories of teams:
1) Sure-shot – means that the team is the favourite to progress from the group.
2) Likely – the team is not the total favourite but is the second favourite to qualify.
3) Dark Horse – a team which can reach the quarter finals but has to overcome similar teams or favourites to do so.
4) Upset – means that the team reaching the quarterfinals will be a major surprise. In groups there maybe more than a single team in each category or there may not be a single team in particular category also.
Dark Horse: Czech Republic and Greece
[i]The co-efficient is a value arrived at by FIFA, by dividing a particular number of points awarded for a tournament (that includes qualifying for participating, winning, drawings and scoring goals) by the number of matches played
Kinshuk Biswasis an architect by education, a consultant by profession, a quizzer, writer and an absolute football fanatic by choice. Follow him at http://confessionsofastonedmind.blogspot.com
First Whistle – December 2011
We’ve all played out a rather eventful year – personally, professionally, on the field and off it. But the only constant was the ‘soccer syndrome’ that consumed us, irrespective of our other commitments. So much so, that we decided to manifest our passion and fanaticism a tad productively through Goalden Times, backin August. Little did we know the fruits of labour would be so rewarding. Four editions and a few trials on, we’re proud to see our baby find its footing, albeit virtually. Minor hurdles and challenges can never ebb the passion that drives us to present an improved GT for you every month – just like one loss can’t dampen the spirits of a football team. We take our management lessons from football, afterall.
Here’s presenting the football news for the last time this year, in the same fever pitch. The Euro 2012 draws were held a couple of weeks back. What ensues between the participating groups can only be a delectable conjecture for us all. The top European leagues, on the other hand, are gearing up for holiday matches; it’s testing times for the squads and their might. For now, Manchester City and Real Madrid are holding on to their top positions in Premier League and La Liga respectively. AC Milan, Udinese, Juventus and Lazio keenly contest for the pole position in Serie A. Indian football is also on a rare high after winning the SAFF Cup. We eagerly await our new Ballon d’Or, to be announced early next year. While we hunt for glory, don’t miss all the speculations on the impending winter transfers.
In other stories, while Carlos Tevez refuses to play for Manchester City as he ‘doesn’t feel up to it’, Doncaster captain Billy Sharp – a minnow compared to Tevez, in terms of stature and salary – was on the pitch just two days after the tragic loss of his two-day old son and scored a ‘goal from heaven’ as a tribute to his late son. As Bill Shankly famously said, football is more important than life and death. We pay our tribute to two legendary captains: Socrates – the Brazilian with languid skills and handsome grace and Gary Speed – the Leeds attacking midfielder. More than footballers, they were both great ‘football men’.
Come join us in celebrating our little personal victories as the teams rejoice theirs on the field. As 2011 draws to a close, we would like to greet all our well-wishers a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. May you achieve your goals!