Comment & analysis round-up
Quote of the day: “I think we got caught up in all the hype. We became celebrities in terms of the WAG situation. There was a big show around the England squad. It was like a theatre unfolding, and football became a secondary element to the main event. People were worrying more about what people were wearing and where we were going, rather than the England football team. We were caught in the bubble ourselves. In Baden-Baden, walking around, there were paparazzi everywhere, our families were there. When you step back it was like a circus. As a squad we were a bit too open, going out in and around Baden-Baden, and probably had too much contact with families.” - Rio Ferdinand.
Runner-up: “I started to drown all my problems in alcohol. I was drinking heavily and couldn’t not go out. When things were going badly, I really thought about giving up soccer. There was a time when my mother said to me, ‘Come home, son.’ But I said, ‘No, I’m going to beat this and come out on top again,’ and that’s what I’ve been doing. Thank God I’m stronger than all this.” - Adriano.
Today’s overview: It feels like a slow news day this Wednesday morning, with no consistent thread followed throughout the papers.
On England’s World Cup qualifier in Belarus, Martin Samuel calls on Capello to pick Gerrard, but also insists that the Liverpool captain needs to become more flexible for the national team. On tactics, Kevin McCarra thinks Capello will plump for five in the midfield, with Rooney playing closer to Heskey up top.
Reacting to Ferdinand’s comments on the WAG culture during the 2006 World Cup, Richard Williams applauds a more mature attitude from England’s senior players (”England are indeed emerging from the cocoon of self-esteem that insulated them from reality in the last years of the Eriksson regime”). And in a two-faced attack on the WAGs, The Sun’s Steven Howard barkes: “England football fans who had scrimped and saved to follow the team all over Germany were not impressed. The difference between the sacrifices they had to make and the nightly sight of the WAGs painting the town red can never be overstated.”
The Independent run a feature on a plan to improve standards in British football. Ian Herbert reveals a scheme designed to fast-track the next generation of English managerial talent. “Bevan wants to recruit an advisory board of six people who will identify players, three to five years away from retirement, who look like serious management prospects and… fast-track them into the profession.”
Aletico’s Madrid’s punishment handed out for racism is also picked up for discussion. Henry Winter rejoices in the decision, claiming “the strong stances of the leading men at Uefa and the FA, respectively, have really hit the racists where it hurts.” On the same subject, Archie Bland explores whether racism is rife in European football, and what is being done to stop it.
Ahead of the next round of international matches, the Irish Independent report on a bust-up between Giovanni Trapattoni and Andy Reid, and the resurgence of Slovenian football is reported on by Jonathan Wilson.
Other interesting articles include Rob Bagchi’s criticism of the BBC for failing to use their archive to produce high quality entertainment, arguing that they are losing out to the Internet, Rob Hughes’ investigation into the spread of ALS, a rare crippling disease, which has affected a large number of former Serie A footballers, and Rob Smyth’s “Joy of Six: great sporting losers.”
The Times’ Martin Samuel believes that Capello needs to find room in his team for Steven Gerrard, but Gerrard has a responsibility to be more flexible. “Capello needs to find a way of creating a secure role for Gerrard that will make him as influential as he is for Liverpool. This may not be what would conventionally be regarded as his best position, but if it takes an age to consider, then that is the way it has to be. The one advantage that an international manager has over his club equivalent is thinking time. It would help if Gerrard, and English football, could be persuaded to think beyond straight lines. His statement that he has played only a handful of times for England in his best position - central midfield with a dedicated holding midfield player covering - is the root of the problem. Gerrard is a better footballer than that. He is a bigger talent than this one-dimensional harum-scarum playground player, who cannot function unless he is given the freedom to chase the ball like an overexcited nine-year-old.”
On England’s tactics, Kevin McCarra (Guardian) thinks Capello will plump for five in the midfield, with Rooney playing closer to Heskey up top. “It would be surprising if Capello did not, by some means or other, station five men in midfield. As required, that number of high-level footballers could add solidity or constitute a force to keep Stange’s line-up under pressure. The out-of-sorts Steven Gerrard might well have to show that he can operate towards the left of an attacking trio in such a midfield. The structure would put Wayne Rooney in a central role, within easy reach of Heskey. Considering his three goals in the last two appearances for England when stationed in that area it would be tantamount to perversity to leave the Manchester United player stranded in some other part of the pitch. England, on this night especially, would benefit from an approach that denied Belarus possession and made them work very hard to reach attacking areas.”
Henry Winter (Telegraph) rejoices in the decision to punish Atletico Madrid for racism. “Well done Michel Platini. Well done Lord Triesman. The strong stances of the leading men at Uefa and the FA, respectively, have really hit the racists where it hurts. Fining their clubs or associations is irrelevant. Preventing them watching their idols has a greater impact, although the next step, as Rio Ferdinand suggested recently over Croatia’s racists, is docking points. Maybe next time the fans sitting around the racists will intervene, warning that they are ruining the party for everyone. This is a stride, a large stride, in the right direction. No wonder Paul Elliott, ambassador for Football Against Racism in Europe, hailed Atletico’s exile as “a momentous decision”. The example set by Uefa and the FA must now be followed by Fifa, surprisingly tardy in dealing with racism - as the recent pathetic £15,000 fine for Croatia showed.”
The Independent’s Archie Bland explores whether racism is rife in European football, and what is being done to stop it. “What would the right punishment be? It’s widely agreed that a points deduction would be a far more powerful disincentive for abusive supporters, who might then see their teams lose out in competition. But many say that it has no chance of getting off the ground because of the minefield of potential legal challenges to such a decision. If that fear – and the inertia of member nations where racism is not high on the agenda – stops Fifa taking stronger action, it’s hard to see how the organisation’s actions can have much impact on racist behaviour.”
The Independent’s Ian Herbert reveals a groundbreaking scheme designed to fast-track the next generation of English managerial talent. “Bevan wants to recruit an advisory board of six people who will identify players, three to five years away from retirement, who look like serious management prospects and, drawing on systems commoner in France, the Netherlands and Italy, fast-track them into the profession. Exposing these prospective managers to other sports is a major part of the LMA’s plans. Roy Keane discovered the benefits of this when he spent a week with the All Blacks this summer and addressed them before Ireland’s Test in Auckland – “I was intrigued by how they work, and I have to say I wasn’t disappointed,” the Sunderland manager revealed afterwards – and the LMA has already established contact with the Wallabies, the Aussie Rules side North Melbourne Kangaroos and basketball’s NFL Players’ Association.”
On the lack of blossoming young English talent, Glenn Moore (Independent) reports on an FA initiative aimed at encouraging players to express themselves. “The idea is to develop players capable of taking decisions under pressure, and who possess the courage and imagination to try things. The fear of failure which Capello said has afflicted England players at Wembley starts with coaches and parents hammering the errors of children. Thus the old-fashioned “command” style is out of fashion. In its place is “guided discovery”. In short this means instead of telling a player what they should be doing the coach leads them into working it out for themselves. Coaches are being taught how to coach rather than what to coach.”
The Irish Independent report on a bust-up between Giovanni Trapattoni and Andy Reid. “Some have Trapattoni scolding the enigmatic guitar-playing Dubliner with a copy of Gazzeta Della Sport, perhaps seething at Reid’s denial of a request to belt out a medley of Louis Primo ditties. Others have recounted breathless accounts of how Reid, miffed by Trapattoni’s stern insistence that the player would yet again be marked absent from the team to play Montenegro, responded with the default setting required of the jilted professional by storming off to pack his bags and, in the vernacular, ’storm out’… What is clear is that Reid is currently superfluous within Trapattoni’s rigid system.”
The resurgence of Slovenian football is reported on by Jonathan Wilson (Guardian). “Kek has managed to conjure up the old spirit while at the same time renewing the squad - the most experienced player, Tonci Zlogar, has only 35 caps – and that means that, as in the early days under Katanec, the egos are pulling in the same direction. The downside of that could be a lack of the sort of streetwiseness in which Zahovic specialised. Just how ruthless they will be in tough games is one of the things that will be tested in Teplice. For now though, even the Alice-banded contrarian himself, now sporting director at Maribor, is starting to have faith. “I believe in fairy-tales,” Zahovic said. “And I believe that another one will be written with the new boys.” If Teplice goes well, there could be many others joining him.”
Reacting to Ferdinand’s comments on the WAG culture during the 2006 World Cup, the Guardian’s Richard Williams applauds a more mature attitude from England’s senior players. “If this were just the expression of one man’s opinion, it would be no more than mildly interesting. The impression, however, is that under their new coach, a disciplinarian from the north-east of Italy, where characters are hewn from granite, England are indeed emerging from the cocoon of self-esteem that insulated them from reality in the last years of the Eriksson regime, and that Ferdinand’s seemingly impromptu statement - delivered in response to questions at the formal pre-match press conference - does indeed represent a sentiment shared by the squad’s senior members.”
The Sun’s chief hack Steven Howard, who works for the organisation principally responsible for the WAG culture and its glorification, today comes out with a vicious attack on the WAGS following Rio Ferdinand’s comments. “England football fans who had scrimped and saved to follow the team all over Germany were not impressed. The difference between the sacrifices they had to make and the nightly sight of the WAGs painting the town red can never be overstated. It was said at the time — and increasingly so afterwards — that it should never happen again. That the players and, even more so, their respective entourages had got their priorities totally wrong. Sure, Sven Goran Eriksson’s squad may have become unwittingly caught up in the publicity surrounding the WAGs’ full-frontal assault on not only Baden Baden but their limitless credit cards. But by spending so much time with them, the players found themselves accused of taking their eye off the ball. Full marks to Ferdinand for bringing it out into the open. I have criticised the Manchester United defender a number of times over a variety of issues but yesterday he got it absolutely right.”
On football coverage in England, Rob Bagchi (Guardian) criticises the BBC for failing to use their archive to produce high quality entertainment, arguing that they are losing out to the Internet. “Where once the BBC exploited the unique advantage of its archive, it now disperses it in butchered chunks on ESPN Classic and YouTube. We are better placed than we have ever been if all we want is action. But, if it chose to, the corporation could put together something as magisterial as Ken Burns’s Baseball history. No one else has its resources, yet it seems to have abandoned the concept of the authored, in-depth sports film. Its staple now is shoving a narrow cast of talking heads on the screen and praying they’ll be waspish about Coventry City’s 70s brown kit. Where once there was analysis we now have clips and quips. The strand of nostalgia that was previously so successful seems as outmoded as the VCR itself. At a time when it is constantly looking for new revenue, however, the BBC is missing a trick.”
Rob Hughes (IHT) investigates the spread of ALS, a rare crippling disease, which has affected a large number of former Serie A footballers. “A prosecutor in Turin, Raffaele Guariniello, began to compile evidence of the abnormally high incidence of ALS in soccer when he investigated doping in Serie A clubs. He attributes motor neurone disease to the premature deaths of 51 former players and says neither he, nor a team of scientists on the case, have been able to find one professional cyclist, basketball or volleyball player with the same affliction. The prosecutor is working, still, on the drug issue; but he does not rule out the chemicals used on the grass, or the possibility that heading the ball, or even being constantly kicked on the legs makes players susceptible to this cruelest of disabilities.”
The Guardian’s Rob Smyth creates the “Joy of Six: great sporting losers,” and he kicks off with the 1982 Brazil team. “This was jogo bonito in excelsis. The visionary bequiffed balladeer Nick Berry may have been wrong when he said that every loser wins, but he was certainly right about this Brazil side, who are justly more celebrated than the World Cup winners of 1994 and maybe 2002. The manager Telê Santana produced a side whose offensive movements were as smooth as Telly Savalas’s pate. Personal favourites are that Socrates long-ranger in the 2-1 win over the USSR, aptly described as a “heatseeker” in Cris Freddi’s wonderful World Cup history, and Junior’s 50-yard one-two with Zico that helped utterly humiliate Argentina. They also mutilated Scotland 4-1 and New Zealand 4-0, before paying the price for a hideous defence (the goalkeeper, Waldir Peres, was a particularly unfunny joke; watch the way he ushers in the USSR goal like someone letting another person off a tube) in that legendary 3-2 defeat to Italy.”