Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Ronaldo/Messi: Two sides of the same (Gold) coin

With a new showdown of the famous 'El Clasico' coming our way on 29th November, I dare to give yet another view on the doings of arguably the best players in the world at the moment.

I found a photo of the awards ceremony of the FIFA Best Player of the Year in 2007, and there they were, accompanying the winner that year, Kaka. Since then, both Ronaldo and Messi have won it (2008 and 2009 respectively). It made me think: was Kaka THAT much better then than Cristiano and Lio? Or are there more considerations to the award than just “the skills”? The Brazilian was never to Milan what Messi is for Barcelona or Ronaldo was to Manchester United and gradually becoming to Real Madrid. Their names are almost synonyms of their clubs. They have won every competition available to their teams. Although they also share the stigma of not performing for their own countries – however, last week’s friendly matches might have silenced some of their critics.

And like a coin has two faces, footballing genius comes in two packages: the Good and the Bad. When poised with the question ‘who is the greatest footballer of all time: Pele or Maradona’, some people will not hesitate to choose the Brazilian, mainly because of Maradona’s on and off-field antics. Today, some fans would prefer Messi because of Ronaldo’s arrogant personality.

Pele and Messi seemed to have come in the “Good” package, Maradona and Ronaldo in the “Bad” one. The former were/are part of formidable teams that are highly, and almost heavenly, regarded by the majority (Brazil ’70, Barcelona ’08-’10). The latter were/are the main figure in their teams. Many can recall the starting 11 of that Brazilian team, but not even remember another player from Argentina ’86 apart from El Diego.

An individualistic player receives more pressure from the press, public, other teams, etc., which might explain that necessity to rise above it all and become like a rock, pretend that you are unbeatable. As part of a big team, there is no such pressure or necessity. People will love you no matter what happens to the team. It is not a scientific fact, but just a pattern that has repeatedly appeared in modern football. Pele and Messi are loved, Maradona and Ronaldo are hated.

I tend to believe that Pele’s perfect image was enhanced by Maradona’s bad one, and vice versa. But they were both brilliant players that marked generations of future footballers.

And so are Messi and Ronaldo. With their talent they are influencing the game in general and those who follow it. But with their personalities and personal histories, they are inadvertently feeding each other’s legendary status. Just don’t ask them who’s better!

El Clasico is not supposed to be a match between Messi and Ronaldo. It tends to be more about politics, religion, money… anything but football. But kids won’t care about those things. Their only worry is whose shirt they’re going to wear after: That number 7 or that number 10. Would that mean a lifestyle choice: Good or Bad package? Only time will tell…

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Big Teams, Big Favours

Following yet another decision that seemed to favour Manchester United, as a fan you can only wonder if it is worth fighting and protesting against the injustice or just accept that this is the way will always be.

Sports fans have been frustrated by fouls and refereeing decisions that allegedly helped the "bigger" team. Brazil's National Team not only charms people watching but also the authorities of the game, for example. It doesn't matter you're the most impressive Turkish team ever, you're not passing through the 5-time World Champions. Or team orders and spying are minor faults by Ferrari, but heavily-punished moves if another team in Formula One does it. Some people might argue that for the eyes of the world - hence the umpires - there's no other team in Major League Baseball but the New York Yankees. Alberto Contador's dopping saga after the Tour de France this year has written DODGY all over it. You can only wonder what is being protected: the athlete, the event, the sport? Result: All affected. And so on...

But apart from the respectability they have rightfully earned through years of success, is there really more at stake than glory? No one can deny that the advent of TV deals have made big teams bigger. Sponsors want to be associated with winners, not "teams-that-play-well-but-never-win". And it is understandable that after investing millions in that team that you'll do your best to make that team win. But while the majority of sports fanatics have to limit themselves to praying for a miraculous victory, you might want to argue that if you could do more, you would. So, why wouldn't these multi-billion conglomerates?

Are there any economic, or other, interests behind suspicious discplinary decisions? Who's got the power: the sponsors? the team owners? the managers? the players? It seems that anyone but the sporting authorities. Unless they have their own interests as well... Korea-Japan 2002, anyone?

Thursday, 30 September 2010

The Contador Conundrum

After more than two months that the Tour de France finished with Alberto Contador as a 3-time winner of the event, comes the news that he tested positive in an antidoping test. The banned substance clenbuterol was found in his sample.

Now, my question is: why after all this time? I'm not a big follower of cycling but I can sense that there's something wrong here. The system is slow and unjust and the players cheat as they please. But even if this was all true, why come out with this now? Are they gonna take his triumph away because of this?

I'm thinking hard if any other sport would have it that way. Can we go back to the World Cup final and give De Jong that red card he deserved for the karate kick, or shall we take away Italy's title in 2006 because of that shady penalty against Australia, or Argentina be stripped of their second star because of the Hand of God? Or what about taking Michael Schumacher's title in 1994 because we later decided he DID crash into Damon Hill? Again, I haven't been a big follower of cycling but this is not going to help to its cause either.

I have to agree with Contador here (the alleged cheat) that if it was a straight-forward case of doping then he would have been suspended then and there and would not have finished the tour. But it seems that is a bit too complicated for that. How long does it take to determine if it is "OK dopping" or not? More than two months, it seems.

Whatever it is, sort it out UCI!

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Champions League 2010-2011

Did you see the draw??
Group A and Group G the ones to look out.
Any bets on who will be crowned Champions in Wembley in 2011?

Monday, 19 July 2010

10 World Cup Moments in South Africa 2010

After all that waiting we finally got what we wanted: a full month of football! Other sports happened in the meantime but don’t think many people can tell me who John Isner and Nicolas Mahut are, unfortunately for them!

The first tournament ever to be hosted in African soil was surrounded by expectations and a bit of apprehension from football fans all over the World. Infrastructure wasn’t as perfect as Germany or Japan, and will it be a repetition of disastrous refereeing decisions that normally happen outside of Europe and America? (Well… they were only blatantly obvious in 2002 and they seemed to be favouring the locals). We could only wait until June 11th to find out.

So many things we want to remember and forget from this World Cup, as it is in any other of its previous editions, but I have made my best effort to collect a few in a Top 10 format:

10.- The Bad Stuff:
Yes, let’s get that out of the way first. So, we thought refereeing couldn’t get worse than in Japan-Korea 2002. Well, guess again, because it was!! But if we thought they’ll at least favour the locals, they just made mistake after mistake as if they were hit by a massive jet-lag or vuvuzelas didn’t let them sleep. Whoever they “favoured” in one match, were again affected by them in the following game… Insane!! Referees giving cards like it was Christmas!! Just look at the Final tally: 14 cards!! More than double than any other Final. Crazy.
Vuvuzelas, love them or hate them, they were there. I’m quite glad I wasn’t there sitting next to one. And I could have done that, seeing the amount of empty seats in the stadia. What was that all about?? Weren’t the tickets 98% sold?? And here I was thinking I missed out on a ticket a year ago… terrible.

9.- Jong Tae-Se’s Tears:
His parents were of South and North Korean ascendance and he was born and raised in Japan, but he chose to wear the North Korean colours. He received a lot of criticism from people of these 3 countries because he should not have chosen to play for North Korea. Whatever reason they had to claim that, it became obsolete when during the National Anthem before the match against Brazil, Tae-Se burst into tears like a small child, so much was the pride and the pain caused by this criticism that he could not hold that inside him. He reminded us that in this world of overpaid and prima-donna football stars, there’s plenty that are still interested in the football… and play for their country with such passion and love.

8.- New Zealand 1-1 Italy
Even though some people dislike this fact, Italy is 4-times World Champions and the current holders at the time of this match. They are of course favourites to beat a team that includes non-professional footballers. However, the All-Whites scored first. The champions were losing against a “small team on paper”. One thing we got reminded again: Not everything is written in football. Italy got to draw with a penalty, but by that time, New Zealand had already attracted a bunch of new fans and sounded the first alarm that this wasn’t going to be an ordinary World Cup where the Usual Suspects will always get their way.

7.- South Africa’s first goal
For the Bafana Bafana and the people of South Africa, and the African continent, this World Cup was a dream come true. And what a better way to start your way in the tournament with an amazing shot with a solo run from outside the area included and completing the achievement with a choreographed celebratory dance. Yes, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to South Africa :D

6.- Robert Green and the Jabulani
Buffon said it, Julio Cesar said it, Casillas said it… but we didn’t believe it. Apparently the Jabulani is very difficult to control for goalkeepers, but when we thought it was just a bunch of excuses for probably a lot of goals, we saw how the ball escapes the hands of a hopeless Robert Green to give the USA a draw against England. Neither the keepers, nor the players managed to control it at least in the first round of matches. But that didn’t stop Fabio Capello from sitting Green on the bench for the rest of the tournament. He probably thought they were excuses as well…

5.- Le Meltdown
Some people said it was Karma, some that it was a time-bomb expected to blow any minute, but whatever it was, we were still proper shocked when that newspaper report about Anelka and Domenech came out. And with everything that happened after we didn’t know what to feel: sad, ashamed, amused… The French National Team went back home in disgrace. They would have probably been well received in Ireland.

4.- Iniesta’s Goal
TV pundits were saying before the Final that whatever happened in the Spain – Holland match they hoped everyone will be satisfied with the result (comments regarding the last World Cup Final maybe?). And even though it started rough and we could almost say a little boring, the teams finally decided to play good football in the last few minutes of the first 90 and then in Extra time. And when we were getting ready for yet another Final with penalties, along came little Iniesta and scored. Arguably the best player on the pitch that night, he took the team on his shoulders and brought it home… together with the Cup. I’d like to take the pundits’ remark and say that we, apart from Dutch fans of course, were satisfied with the result.

3.- England’s Non-Goal
Talking about bad refereeing and crazy Jabulanis brings us to a pivotal moment in FIFA’s history. They finally considered using technology in football. But why? A clear goal by Frank Lampard was wrongly denied (well, ignored) in their match against Germany. I still don’t know whether that might have changed the outcome of the game (that goal would’ve made it a draw, but England didn’t look superior at any moment) but a goal that was a goal here in Venezuela, in South Africa, in England and even in Germany, was not for Larrionda and his team of liniers that day in Bloemfontein. Germans take revenge on that 1966 Phantom Goal and we are left hoping that never happens to our team.

2.- Suarez’s Saves
119th minute of extra time, both teams got a goal each, and you’re about to score the goal that will take your team to a Semifinal of the World Cup for the first time in any African country’s history. And then a little Uruguayan who is not the goalkeeper saves the goal. You guys get a penalty, he gets sent off. Nothing unusual here so far, right? Your star player and leading scorer is about to take the penalty… and he fails. You go on to lose on penalties. Read this story again. If the star player had scored, Ghana would’ve been thru and the little Uruguayan would’ve remained little, but no... the Greatest Hero and the Greatest Villain of this World Cup manifested himself here, and his name was Luis Suarez.

1.- At the mercy of Pulpo Paul
We knew Germany had a kind of mascot back home who was predicting the outcomes of their matches. A little Octopus from England called Paul told the Germans how they’ll beat Australia, Ghana and lose to Serbia. A funny anecdote became a media frenzy when Paul correctly guessed the outcomes of the England and Argentina’s matches, especially the second one, when most people were already saying goodbye to Germany before they fell abruptly against Maradona’s men. But, oh, that didn’t happen. And Paul knew it! Surely he’ll be supporting Germany all the way to the final? No. Germany will lose to Spain. And they did. And of course he couldn’t predict the outcomes of 64 matches, he was sticking to the Germany ones only… until the final. He predicted the result, got it right, and became a sensation in Spain and the favourite dish in Germany, Uruguay, Holland, Argentina, England…

*Honorary Mention: Anything about Maradona
The best player in history was back… as a coach. How will he do? Well… he had the best player at the moment in his team, a team that is always dangerous and has two stars in their shirts (he got one of those stars). But from the beginning we knew it was not to be Messi’s show. It was Maradona’s. He shouted, he jumped, he ran, he even dived a couple of times, did a couple of tricks with the ball that deserved the applause of the whole stadium… but not even his trash talk could take away his lack of knowledge as a tactician. Too bad for Argentina, but El Diego kept us entertained while they lasted.

Friday, 25 June 2010

CONMEBOL's World Cup

So... The first round of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa is now complete, and all the teams that qualified from South America are through to the next round!!!This is only to prove the rise of football level from our vast lands.

But is it really a surprise?? South American teams have a history of being very strong football nations (9 World Cups in total, anyone??) and even though Brazil and Argentina are the most recent -and more famous- successes from this area, you can only be fooled by believing that the other National teams are all but finished. 2 of those World Cups belong to Uruguay, a team that, yes, they won it back in the 30s and 50s, but it's one of those nice 'surprises' in this tournament. And it shouldn't be... they have the same amount of Cups as Argentina!!

Surely with the next World Cup being in Brazil, it is almost guaranteed that they'll win it... they have the team, and now finally the home advantage... But someone else can give them another Maracanazo... and I could bet it won't come from a European country...

Coming to South Africa, it was rumoured that FIFA were considering taking away a qualifying spot to the South American group, CONMEBOL, because of the World Cup being celebrated there and had already one team automatically qualified -Brazil. But I ask... did they do that to Africa??? No, they didn't. They have 5 spots PLUS the host, in this case South Africa... so I wonder, why not South America? Haven't we shown enough to prove we deserve that place? How many Europeans made it to the second round? How many Africans, with their extra spot??? And playing beautiful football!!!!

All I can say is that I asked for a great tournament full of excitement and sublime football... and I think we can agree that has been provided by the South Americans... the ones you usually follow, and the ones you're quite surprised how they got there.

Thank you Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay for putting our race up there where it belongs!!!

Thursday, 10 June 2010

World Cup's here!!

Have you done your bets yet?
Here are my last 4: In no particular order: England, Holland, Spain and Argentina.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

They thought it was all over...

...but Rafa has done it again!
Rafael Nadal has confirmed today that he is indeed the King of Clay. After such a terrible year with injuries and personal problems, he came back to the clay season with a vengeance, and what a vengeance for that matter! He just never looked like losing at any moment. He made Federer look 'average' in Madrid, and today against Robin Soderling, I bet most of us wondered more than once "Is he really the guy that beat him flat last year???".
He's back to be Number 1, taking Federer's crown once more. All I can say is that this is a reborn Rafa. The people that wrote him off last year after all the injuries and started hinting at an early retirement I'm pretty sure were glued to the TV today thinking how silly they were.
Can't wait for Wimbledon now!!!


Thursday, 3 June 2010

Thank you Rafa!

For all the happiness you brought us, and the players that followed you, and because I really enjoyed the brief "spanishation" of Liverpool FC.
I thank you Rafael Benitez.
Wish you the best in future endeavours. Too bad it had to end this way :(

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

World Cup... The name says it all

Every football fan in the world has a date every four years. It doesn't matter what country they are from, what ideology they profess or language they speak. Nothing can separate a passionate football fan from their greatest love.
There are people who quantify their lives depending on how many World Cups have they lived through, either watching matches live or via radio and TV.
It's a WORLD cup, not only because the best teams on the planet are going to fight for the title, but because those who weren't as lucky to see their own country qualify for the finals are able to 'adopt' a new country not to miss out on the party. There are not only 32 countries fighting for the Cup, it's the whole world, that remains behind them and makes part of their armies.
There's nothing more exciting and show-stopping than the World Cup Final. I dare say that there are 3 things that divide the world at that time: The Greenwich Meridian, the Equator... and the World Cup Final.
For football there's nospecific time and place since its birth in England in the 19th Century. To the true fan, no exterior factor will stop them, they'll only follow their heart. And in that way, as we wait for a lover to come back from a long trip, we count the days, hours and minutes for the World Cup to come back into our lives and show it how we have prepared for it in the past 4 years.
But that's the way it is. The best things in life come in small packages, or so they say. That's probably why our passion is still alive. The flame that was lit on 2nd July 1930 in Montevideo, Uruguay, has not burnt out and it never will!

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

20 years on...

Twenty years??? Can I really recall so many memories from when I was so young? And so I will try to remember:
Twenty years of recording and re-watching classic matches. Twenty years of filling up a sticker album and looking out for who shares a birthday with me. Twenty years of wondering what life would've been like if I were born a boy and made it as a footballer. Twenty years of the first time I prioritise football over everything else.
Twenty years of consciously feeling the pain and the joy of unexpected results. Of the making of heroes and zeroes. Of "One World Cup Wonders" that failed to succeed at club level.
Twenty years of seeing grown, hard-looking men crying like the seven-year old girl I was on my first World Cup.
Italia, 1990. How lucky I felt to witness 'the greatest world cup in history', or so it was hailed as by their local press.
I remember being very aware of Colombia's campaign, thanks to my family. I remember the names of the Italian team, because I found them funny.
I remember the lavish opening ceremony and the fantastic TV intros before every match, with the name of every host city and every nation quialified's flag.
I remember Jurgen Klinsmann and Jose Basualdo, because they were the first footballers I've ever fancied.
I remember Bobby Robson, especially because the sticker album did not write his first name down. So I was always curious about this 'Robson' with no name.
I remember when all the italian, english and spanish players all played in domestic leagues. I remember being unaware (and for a good few years) of the existence of a French national team.
I remember the legend and the dramas in my own house. Maradona was no longer the hero, but the villain, and that's how I've always remembered him. Colombia, on their second world cup going thru to second round, only to lose foolishly against Cameroon.
I remember, and still have, the Coca Cola special edition bottles and cans. I remember the song! Why haven't they been able to write another song like 'Un' estate italiana'? The winners of 2006 knew this, and that's why they sang it after the final then.
I can't remember all the names and the number of goals. But I remember how I felt during the World Cup. And after every final match my countdown for the next one begins.
And I revive those feeling every four years. The opening ceremonies, the sticker albums, the wall charts, the 'special edition' souvenirs. And over all: The matches, the heroes, the zeroes, the pain... the joy.

Monday, 1 February 2010

The John Terry Affair

All I have to say is... I wish I hadn't found out about any of that.
The best of luck for England in SA 2010!

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Did you see that serve??

As a massive Rafa Nadal fan that I am, I was gutted to see him go in such fashion against Andy Murray on Tuesday in the Australian Open. Some people have actually started to suggest he might not reach the same level as a couple of years ago, and also (horror!) that he might have to retire!!! I really hope not and that we have Rafa for much longer :)
I do have to admit, however, that Murray had a fab game and it was scary to watch!! I wouldn't want to be in the opposite side of the court to him! Did you see those serves??? The amount of aces he had?? And what a match he had today again against Cilic. Too bad he's dropped a set now since he started the tournament, but at least he recovered and won it in style.
So yes, I really wish him well and that he brings that trophy home. He really deserves a win, but well... the world of sports is not about justice, eh? Ask Patrick Battiston :P