Sunday, 28 June 2009

Sporting public ambivalent to USA's improving soccer team

Heartbreak for the USA; the Confederations Cup trophy was dangled enticingly before them like a popstar's baby. They surrendered a two-goal half-time lead to mighty Brazil, who successfully retained the title by winning 3-2 inside normal time. Fitting that the five-times World Cup winners should become the first nation to win this tournament three-times, but America coulda shoulda!

Having seen off European Champions, Spain in the semis, the US got stronger during the tournament despite their unlikely path to the final. Let's not forget Brazil took them apart earlier in the tournament, three-nil.

I watched the final in a Miami Beach bar. There was scant cheering; certainly insufficient to warrant the magnitude of their progression to, and performance in the final. Baseball and the other American sports are just too established. Their culture stands firm.

For the Americans can take tremendous credit from their first-half show. They simply ran out of steam and lacked depth against the Brazilians, who punched the wind out of their sails with an early second-half goal. At 2-1, the tide turned South America's way.

The US are perennial qualifiers for the World Cup Finals, and many of their big players star in Europe's top leagues. They've a reputation for professionalism and discipline, and deservedly so.

But put a couple of quid on Brazil to win the World Cup next year. They're the only nation to win the tournament outside their continent, and they've done that thrice. As an Englishman, I daren't tempt fate by commenting on our chances (carpe diem, Fabio!)

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Thursday, 25 June 2009

Victory over Spain wasted on the Yanks

It's arguably the greatest victory for the USA since the 1950 World Cup.

Goals from Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey gave the US a 2-0 victory over Spain in the Confederations Cup.

Back in the day, the Yanks recorded a famous 1-0 win over England, starring Billy Wright, Tom Finney and Stan Mortensen.

Putting this into context, the Spaniards are European champions having won 15 straight matches and undefeated since November 2006. Both are world records.

And they were at close to full strength: Fernando Torres partnered David Villa up front together with a star-spangled lineup featuring the cream of the Premier League and Barcelona.

The US, who reached the semis thanks to a dramatic six-goal swing in the last round of the group stage, seemingly used that as a confidence fillip.

Imagine if England had just beaten Spain; not just in the scoreline, but in the manner of the Americans win. Their discipline, organisation, workrate and belief has echoes of the Greeks sensational victory at Euro 2004.
This morning's tabloids would be larging it. The Sun'ld dig up eighties nearly-men and get ten-word quotes from each like, "We can definitely end 44 years of hurt in South Africa!", then pop 'em in a highlighted box in the middle of the page.
Do you remember when we beat Argentina 3-2 in Geneva ahead of the last World Cup? Two late Michael Owen goals turned the game on its head. The press talked of our Golden Generation: Terry, Ferdinand, Rooney, Lampard and Gerrard; not forgetting the blend of more senior players like Owen and Beckham. The hacks were hysterical!

They're not doing that in the Miami Herald or the Archbold Buckeye this morning, I can tell you!

The magnitude of the American victory is totally wasted on their sporting public.
The USA are perennial World Cup qualifiers - but not even their Latino emigres can trigger a football culture, with baseball, basketball and football so embedded in their collective consciences.
The Americans truly arrived on the world football stage with this win. And though the scoreline in raw print is an eye-raiser, they utterly deserved it.
Shame it won't move them, like it's moved me.

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Monday, 22 June 2009

United should have closed Tevez deal when they could

Manchester United rarely lose any player unless they want to, let alone two, but Carlos Tevez has now decided to join Cristiano Ronaldo in quitting the Premier League champions

A souring in the relationship between club and player appears to have proved the main reason for Tevez leaving. Not even the offer of a five-year deal which would have made the Argentine striker one of the highest paid earners at Old Trafford was enough to mend the broken bridges.

The club's fans recognised the value of Tevez to the team, especially after his two goals in the last four games helped clinch a third successive Premier League title and fend off the challenge of arch rivals Liverpool. They chanted at the board as they urged the club to sign him up on a permanent basis for the £25.5m agreed when he joined in 2007.

But in the opinion of United chief executive David Gill, despite the agreed figure, they found that fee "toppy" and the delay in securing Tevez did them no favours.

"From the moment I came here I wanted to sign a longer contract," Tevez said back in September 2008.

"It would be wonderful if the chairman put a long term contract on the table for me. I would sign it without doubt."

Instead, United signed striker Dimitar Berbatov for £30.75m last summer and postponed securing Tevez as they appeared to try to bring down the pricetag. Tevez felt he deserved more for his relentless industry on the pitch and 34 goals - 15 coming last season - in two campaigns.

He talked of being disrespected by the club and the belief that he was not getting as much first-team football as he wanted added to his unhappiness. Ultimately, he chose not to stay and, with Manchester City and Chelsea being linked as his next port of call, he may be accused of making a money-motivated move.

But United had ample opportunity to stop Tevez's head from being swayed into a move elsewhere and manager Sir Alex Ferguson has now been left to secure replacements for two prize players in a competitive market."He did feel a little bit unloved," said Kia Joorabchian, who is adviser to Tevez.

"He made that clear through the process and I think that has forced him to move on."

By Mandeep Sanghera (BBC Sport)

Other Tevez stories

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Sunday, 21 June 2009

Ronaldo exit paves way for Rooney ascension to World Player Of The Year

Soccermongery: spot on again! This was written in June 2009 as Cristiano Ronaldo waved adios (or adeus) heading for Madrid.

For all of Wayne Rooney's industry and goals since joining Manchester United in 2004, Cristiano Ronaldo's been Old Trafford's outstanding star of the last five years.

His flicks, tricks, tantrums, car crashes and .... oh yeah, great goals have secured him every major gong, both personally and for United.

And now he's gone - to partner Kaka in midfield at the Bernabeu. Not a bad partnership in the centre of the park. Adeus Ronaldo!

Now step upto the plate, Wayne Rooney.

He's just scored a record ten goals in a season for England - and with 24 goals for his country, aged just 23, he's on course to break Bobby Charlton's all-time England scoring record of 49.

All this in the year that Rooney scored the winner in the World Club Cup Final - having claimed a third successive Premier League title.

Some say United will be weakened without Ronaldo in their line-up, but those voices don't take into account the depth of their squad, the determination of Fergie and Rooney's workrate.

In the shootout to be World Player Of The Year, the subtext to this year's Champions League Final, Messi beat Ronaldo with a goal and a winner's medal. The Argentine will replace Ronnie as the planet's finest player when they announce it in six months time.

But even if United don't reclaim Europe's top prize next season, Rooney has the chance to stake claim to the ultimate individual prize the following season. With Ronaldo's departure and Rooney coming into his prime, few will be able to compete with him.

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Saturday, 6 June 2009

Time for Mowbray to leave WBA

Now you don't have to be a Villa fan to know Albion are rubbish. Just observe the Premier League table for the season just finished!

The Baggies continued their history of yo-yoing between English football's elite and the also-rans division where Wolves and Birmingham ply their trades every other season.

So why is Tony Mowbray's stock as a manager at an unprecedented high?

He seems to have convinced the West Bromwich and Birmingham public that their stylish passing game was somehow a more than adequate substitute for being absolutely hopeless.

So much so, the Albion board issued a hands-off warning to Celtic, looking to replace Gordon Strachan as the boss at Parkhead.

Albion finished rock-bottom with the largest negative goal difference in the league. Let’s not forget they started the season as the promoted side most likely to survive the rigours of the top flight. As it turned out, they were the only club to go down, as Stoke and Hull made quite an impression in their first Premier League seasons.

Mowbray insisted on sticking to his principles of playing the game in the right way, even though they shipped goals like the Titanic shipped sea water.

This doggedness seems to have earned him the chance to win promotion from the Championship (again).

And yet if he does that, and he’s done it before, what will Albion do after that? They won’t be able to sack him. Maybe his reputation will grow even more that someone will poach him.

But what good will that do to Albion? A new manager will change many things, risking the gameplan and progress of the departing Mowbray.

Albion should encourage Mowbray out of the Hawthorns now, earn some reasonable compensation for what’s left on his contract and start again with a new boss, a new plan and parachute money earned from relegation.

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Friday, 5 June 2009

Gareth Barry's sale a win win win situation

It's rare when all three parties (I exclude pesky agents) are equal partners in benefiting from a transfer.

Sometimes the selling club are forced into it, sometimes the player reluctantly moves on, sometimes the buying club pays too much (and to his agent.)

But Gareth Barry's £12million switch from Aston Villa to Manchester City is a win-win-win for all concerned.

He was a year away from leaving on a Bosman, so Villa sold at more than his market value. The threat of renewed interest from Liverpool and Arsenal inflated the price - and City didn't hang around. His was the first transfer of the close-season.

Villa need to freshen things up. Although Barry was among Villa's best players (for a decade), Martin O'Neill needs a different kind of team built around the qualities of Young, Agbonlahor, Milner and Petrov. Sixth place for a second successive season suggests that.

It's also a great signing for City as they continue their evolution. Okay, Abu Dhabi Babby might shed loadsamoney in pursuit of a hurried rise up the table, but Barry will give them a range of passing and midfield fluency they didn't have last season. £12million's a lot - but Barry is a fine player.

And it's great for Gareth. He gets the payday he deserves and a new challenge. He doesn't get the Champions League berth he hoped for because if City ever qualified for it, Barry would be a squad member as quick as you can say "Eto'o, Puyol and Tevez sign!"

But he gets a regular high-profile role in World Cup year. A player of his quality deserves England recognition at the highest level.

As a Villa fan, I thank Gareth Barry for his twelve years at Villa Park and wish him luck at Eastlands.

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