Friday, July 30, 2010

A League Season Six Preview

The A League Series Six begins this Thursday and for the first time since the A League began I have low expectations for this year. No I’m not playing that game were you lower your expectations, were by magic appears and all your expectations are surpassed due to you lowering them. I’m no fool; I always lose at the psychological games I play with myself anyway. Like George Bush almost said: “ Fool me — you can't get fooled again.”

So why the long face you ask? Just like your favourite TV show that has been going for five seasons and about to start it’s sixth I reckon the A League has lost its narrative. Or the narrative is just not that exciting anymore. For example Sydney FC and Melbourne Victory two of the biggest teams have no Marquee player.

Actually only one club has signed a Marque player this season and that is Perth Glory, who have taken ex Liverpool legend Robbie Fowler off broke North Queensland Fury’s hands. While I am not totally enamoured with his royal divineness plodding along at least the Glory are making some attempt to bring in the crowds. They have even made an advertisement featuring a tough looking Fowler with arms crossed looking into the camera and saying: I’m Robbie Fowler and I’ve joined Perth Glory ‘ave you?

The FFA has implemented a new structure this year that almost all clubs have ignored. The new initiative will enable clubs to have an International Marquee, an Australian Marque and an Under 23 Australian Marquee to be able to be paid outside of the salary cap. I was listening to the 442 Insider podcast last night and they went through all the clubs to see who has taken advantage of these new innovations. As I mentioned before only one club has an International Marquee.
Here is a rundown of clubs and their Marquee choices:

No Marquee’s

No Marquee’s

Oliver Bozanic (Under 23 Australian Marquee)

Jason Culina (Australian Marquee)
Tahj Minniecon (Under 23 Australian Marquee)

Josip Skoko (Australian Marquee)

Archie Thomson (Australian Marquee)

Adam Dapuzzo (Under 23 Australian Marquee)

No Marquee’s

Mile Sterjovski (Australian Marquee)
Robbie Fowler (International Marquee)
Tando Velaphi (Under 23 Australian Marquee)

Nick Carle (Australian Marquee)
Terry Antonis (Under 23 Australian Marquee)

No Marquee’s

So that makes for some rather bland reading. One of the main points of the 442 podcast discussion was that the A League should adopt a similar system like the one that is operating in Major League Soccer in the USA. Where the player’s contracts are owned by the administration of the league and they have a draft system. 442’s argument was it would give the A League some razzle dazzle during the offseason and the league would then spend the money on marquee players something which as you can see the clubs are not doing.

While I don’t agree with the draft system I do like the idea of Marquee players coming into the A League. Sure the clubs may whinge and whine that they don’t have the money. That they are losing money every year and it’s a risk spending a million bucks plus on a players that could be injured or does not perform. But these are all too familiar excuses, sure you don’t want clubs to live outside their means but this is football we are talking about here. Most clubs live in a creative accounting fantasy land anyway. It’s time the A League clubs went even more in the red I say! The clubs are too conservative in my opinion. Recently former Barcelona and Arsenal striker Thierry Henry went to New York Red Bull. The A League should have been going after these type of players. Imagine Henry running around in the Gold Coast United colours during season six? At least 60000 fans would have turned up.

Football’s main narratives are the exciting players that lift fans off their seats when they have the ball. The first season of the A League the ads were all about the players. In season six the ads have been about fans who steal bed sheets from suburban clothes lines so they can make banners. My head shakes every time I see that ad. It’s trying to be too clever if you ask me. And the delicious irony of that ad was the FFA proposing to ban large banners due to fans letting off flares underneath them. I took a break from pontificating and I did some actual journalism work. I asked the FFA a question in regards to their controversial stance on fan made tifo. To my surprise Rod Allen from the FFA replied in the next two days:

Afootballstory: Can you confirm that large pullover banners that you have included in your recent A League advertisement will be banned from high risk games including the Grand final re-match?

FFA: Con, Thanks for the inquiry. Large pullover banners will remain part of the Hyundai A-League.
As with all large fan based initiatives they are the result of cooperation between the fan groups, the club and security professionals.

Each request is treated individually and is judged on a range of security criteria and the track records of the fan groups involved.

Obviously large banners can hide fans from CCT cameras and there have been instances of flares being lit and other anti-social behaviour.

Flares can set banners alight and cause extreme danger to fans.

However, such requests are regularly approved like the farewell banner for Steve Corica at a Sydney game last year as used in the advertisement.

I can confirm that there are requests for pullover banners before clubs as we speak and some are likely to be approved.
Cheers, Rod.

Take from that what you will but the whole episode is highly amusing. Anyway now that I have lowered your expectations and shat on the A League below (to quote a famous football chant). I will still be watching every game, perusing websites for news and information and taking my usual position at the stadium. Standing proud while yelling insults and all manner of profanities and take part in my all time favourite things to do at a football match: instructing professional athletes on how to do their job.

A League season six, your audience waits and shoot farken!

Pim and Purge

After two International tournaments were the Olyroos and Socceroos failed to get out of the group stage at the Olympics and at the World Cup it’s time to Purge Australian football of this safety first nonsense that has infected Australian football.

While the Olympics debacle has long been forgotten the World Cup campaign is still fresh in the mind. On both of these occasions the men in charge Graham Arnold and Pim Verbeek both got the same tattoo. In show of fraternity the words “ Erring on the side of caution” can be seen on both their upper arms.

It can be seen in the players they chose in their squads, it can be seen in their tactics on the field, it can be seen in their fashion sense, the way they speak and finally the way they walk. And the walk away from the National team of both men can only embolden football to take that caution and throw it to the wind.

Pim Verbeek’s Socceroos coaching story can be easily written with his first and last game that he coached.. His first game as coach of the the Socceroos was against Qatar and the score was 3-0. Pim played a 4 4 2 formation with a diamond midfield. In attack we had Scott Mc Donald, Josh Kennedy, Mark Bresciano and Tim Cahill as our main attacking weapons. Never again would we see that formation again. It was not till the last game against Serbia with the score 0-0 that Pim threw caution to the wind. The beginning and the end were positive, aggressive and undeniably Australian. While the middle had a gooey runny centre that Mat Preston from Masterchef (you gotta know it to mock it) would call his coaching style: bland, flavourless, lacking in texture and born from a lack of technique.

After the 2006 World Cup exploits the Socceroos got cautious. Guus Hiddink by nature was a risk taker. Verbeek and Arnold were not. The memory of the Olympics still burns me. Of course I should let it go but I have Greek heritage and besides food I love holding grudges even more. You can see it in the bulge in my back and the weird expression in my face when it’s set to neutral.

I bring up the Olympics because I have been watching Nathan Burns with his AEK Athens teammates play in the Sydney Festival of football. No player has suffered more from this cautions Australia than Nathan Burns. The next big thing in Australian football was left out of the Olympics squad because Graham Arnold though that the kid born in the NSW town of Orange could not run in the heat. Ahhh...... that cautions coaching kicking in again, even the excuses were cautious. It was great to see Nathan in action in the flesh. It gives me hope for the future.

So who will be the next man in the Socceroos hot seat? I don’t care as long as the balance swings away from the dull pragmatic tactics that hid the best qualities that Australian sport has to offer. Having an Aussie go!!!

(The term UN-Australian was hoping to be used in this article but due to the rampant over use of the term during and after the World Cup it has taken a break due to the National Election being announced. It hopes it can be seen and heard during the Asian Cup regardless of the nationality of the coach)

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Football’s 10 Commandments

1) Thou shalt have no other codes before me. (AFL, Rugby League, Union I’m talking to you)

2) Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or take any likeness of any footballer that is on the playing field or that is on the television, or that is in the training pitch to make Castrol or Nike ads that will be played ad nauseum. Thou shall risk looking stupid when knocked out  of the World Cup early. (I did like the History ads from the Germany World Cup though, bring those back)

 3) Thou shalt not bow down thyself to other teams, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, when visiting the opposition look upon the children to make tifo and sing chants;

4) Thou shalt not take the name of the football God’s in vain; especially when using a handball to score or stop goals. ( that one really pisses God off!)

5) Remember the sabbath day (and keep midweek for cup ties) to keep it holy for football games.

6) Six days shalt thou train, and do all thy work on set pieces: But the seventh day is the game day: in it thou shalt not do any diving, nor thy defender, nor thy midfielder, thy attacker, nor thy substitute,  nor thy referee should bring red cards within thy pocket for nothing challenges. (that red card on Timmy Cahill was harsh wasn’t it, i’ll be having a word to the Mexican referee about that one)

7) Honour thy referee and thy linesman: if thy fouls may be brutal upon the opponent  Referee thy Red card giveth thee. (Kevin Muscat I’m talking to you!)

8) Thou shalt not kill or butcher a two on one chance when facing thy opposition Goalie.

9)  Thou shalt not commit hogging. (Pedro, Ramos and particularly Robben I’m talking to you!)

10) Thou shalt not steal goal celebrations and make Coke ads out of them.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Lessons to Forget about this World Cup

One Loss and We Hate You
The manic and depressive nature of being an Australian football fan. One loss and all of a sudden Australia is a laughing stock and no-one really cares about football. One win and all of a sudden the nation is bursting with pride.  Also notice that the Headline writers love using “We” and “Our” in front of the Socceroos when they win it gives us the feeling of community but lose and we will disown you like one of Pele’s or Maradonna’s kids born out of wedlock.

Courage and Pride A Cover For Losers
If your team is called courageous and the fans are filled with pride after your team gets knocked out of the World Cup then you are nothing but losers who dine on mediocrity. You should concentrate on the Commonwealth Games.

Damn You 4-2-3-1
If your team plays with this system they are afraid to lose and if both teams are playing this system then its 90 minutes of midfield mediocrity a system that shackles teams, frustrates fans and gives analysts wet dreams. All this talk about tactics and team ideology is really all about moving one guy a little forwards and another guy a little backwards.

Socceroos Don’t Cry but Craig Foster and Les Murray do!
I would say that only Harry Kewell would have been well within his right to have a cry. All those laps and stretching and groin rubbing and he only played less than 30 mins. Tim Cahill had a cry after he was sent off, and so did the whole nation. Craig Foster, Les Murray and the rest of us cried when we saw the Socceroos line up against Germany.

The A League is better than training in Europe
New Zealand showed that A League players were able to play at the World Cup. After months of well known coaches suggesting that it couldn’t be done. The Kiwi’s showed the world that they can run for 90 minutes and play effective Rugby style field position Football. Who cares if it doesn’t allow you win a game the point is that the Kiwi’s could end up being the only undefeated team at this World Cup. If it so, it will be a football quiz question for the ages.

Losing 4-0 to Germany is Un-Australian
If you don’t say someone is Un-Australian at least 100 times in your Australian life you are Un-Australian.

Winning and Diving is South American
Those South Americans with their skills and deceitful playing tactics, I’m sorry but you can’t have one without the other. Diving is a skill, feigning injury is a skill, and walking on and off the pitch next to a fair play flag with a straight face is an even bigger skill.

Australian Football Media are Mentalist Cry Babies
Watching Craig Foster lose it little by little with every game the Socceroos played was almost as enjoyable as the football. The suggestion that former captains should look at the team sheet and tactics prior to the game to make sure the team plays like Australians was a beauty. In fact it should be extended to fans and friends and wives and girlfriends of the players as well. Sort of like a leadership group in AFL get everyone in the change room prior to the game and everyone takes a vote. Should we play with one striker? Hands up if Brett Holman should play.

A Crazy Maradona is better Than Most Sane Coaches.
Maradona has shown that all you need is love. He constantly gives his players kisses and bear hugs before, during and after games. Who doesn’t want a hug from a sweaty, bearded short man with two watches? Perhaps Pim should have hugged or kissed more. I know Harry needed a hug. But what kind of hug?

Me-Hug: The hug that the Socceroos were using leading up to the World Cup. With rumours of a split in the Socceroos camp the technique of wrapping your arms around yourself could have been the reason the Socceroos were dumped out in the group stage.

Custom-tailored Hug: This is the hug that Pim failed to use during the tournament. A high-quality hug that could have saved the Socceroos. It is used whenever a taller hugger hugs a smaller huggee.

Bear Hug: Maradona has been using this technique all tournament. The full body hug places the Hugger and huggee toe-to-toe and belly-to-belly.  Feeling Mardona’s belly inspires the players. Since Maradona is god, touching belly of the gods gives the Argentine’s that divine help.

So learn and forget these lessons. You the tall Dutch guy at the back, I’m taking to you!!!