All entries for July 2006

July 31, 2006

Carrick: The £18.6m peg for a Roy Keane shaped hole?

So has Fergie finally lost it? He spends months moaning about a lack of cash and then blows the best part of £20m on a player who has virtually no track record. Okay, so maybe that is a bit harsh. Carrick is a very good player. He was a consistent performer for Tottenham last season, however for £20m surely you want more than 'very good'? Before last season Carrick had hardly been a star performer. Indeed two years ago Tottenham were the only side willing to risk £2.75m on him.

Obviously he has improved immeasurably since joining Spurs, however it has to be said that nobody really seems to know what sort of player he is. Fergie has seemingly bought Carrick to fill the void left by Roy Keane and as such must surely view him as a defensive midfielder. However I've seen him described as a playermaker, a midfield anchor, an attacking midfielder, a sitter and more besides. And the reason for this is relatively simple – he does all these things, which is why he is a good player. But does he do anyone of these roles well enough to help United?

Fergie is constantly harping on about a lack of midfield balance in his side. After all Park and Giggs (as he used on some occasions last season) is hardly ideal an ideal centre mid combo. However with Carrick he may have bought himself a £20m headache. How will he play him?

In my opinion to get the best out of their investment United will have to buy another defensive midfielder (like Davids at Spurs) to play alongside Carrick and encourage him to be generally more offensive. Certainly not the most direct way to replace the great Irishman, but then Fergie is the man who built the legendary Beckham/Keane/Scholes/Giggs midfield of the late 1990s so he, of anyone, should know what he is doing.

I hope it works out, I'm just not too sure it will.

July 29, 2006

World Cup Predictions

For those of you who were doing the Sheffield's World Cup predictions competition here is the final table. Remember it was 3 points for every correct team in each round (predicted before the tournament started) and then 3 points for a correct scoreline, or 1 point for a correct outcome.

For more info check out Dave's blog at link

Pos Name Pts
1 Paul W 128
2 Dave S 123
3 Paul F 121
4 Alex Cass 121
5 Pete S 115
6 Monkey 114
7 BBC 111
8 Dave L 110
9 Mike 110
10 John D 109
11 Joff 109
12 Mark 109
13 Martin 108
14 Pete C 107
15 Martyn 106
16 Adair 104
17 Jon B 104
18 Dave H 102
19 Pete L 99
20 Alex SH 97
21 Pete T 97
22 Dave J 96
23 Phill 96
24 Alex Chase 96
25 Darren 93
26 Rob S 92
27 Damon 91
28 Phil R 80

July 21, 2006

O'Leary leaves Aston Villa

David O'Leary has left our local Midlands team Aston Villa following a statement by senior players published last Friday criticising the chariman, which he had some part in organising.

In my opinion, the exit of O'Leary is great for Villa and all of its fans. He is a man who only ever created excuses for the team's poor performances (not enough money, young team, threadbare squad – the list goes on.)

as a kid i supported Aston Villa until they sold all my favourite players – Dwight Yorke, Gareth Southgate and Ugo Ehiogu to name but a few, but i still took an interest in the club. I never thought O'Leary was the right man for Villa. Some of his lavish acquisitions such as Martin Laurson (plagued with injuries), Milan Baros (misfiring) and Eric Djemba–Djemba (just crap) prove he is nothing but a chequebook manager, and he has hardly inspired the team in his 3 years in charge as the club dropped to its lowest finish and points total in the Premiership era.

Many have criticised Doug Ellis throughout his time as chairman, but the club are financially sound, with their own (magnificent) ground, and a strong fanbase. However one feels the club can only truly progress once he goes.
I have always regarded Villa as sleeping giants and i hope that with a new manager and a new chairman to (eventually) come, then things can be turned around, and the glory days can return to Villa Park.

Martin O'Neil would be a dream appointment as the next manager and would prove something of a coup as many top clubs seem to be drooling over the thought of him in charge.
However even someone like Brian Little, who has thrown his name into the hat or youth team coach and Villa legend Gordan Cowans could be a good bet to revive the clubs fortunes.
I would not want one man in charge of Villa – Sven Goran Eriksson. He is one who would continue the rot which O'Leary seems to have started. Another chequebook manager, i only see Sven spending even more of Villa's money, as Sven has said he will only go to a club in European competition, with good established players, and money to strengthen the squad.

This started out as a rant at O'Leary (the money–grabber), yet the Villa job will be a tough task, but a challenge which the right manager will be able to sort out.

July 10, 2006

RaW Sport World Cup Choke Team

You have seen the RaW Sport Dream Team (below) – now it is time for the under–performers and underachievers. Many of these men came to Germany with lofty reputations, but in a tournament remarkable for few genuine stars, the world would fall apart for some. But who was the greatest choker on the world’s biggest stage? The team takes an attacking 3–4–3 formation.

Petr Cech – the Chelsea keeper had a chance to show the world how solid he really was. He crumbled.

Sammy Kuffour – picture the scene. You are an established centre back, in your country’s first ever world cup appearance, doing well against one of the pre tournament favourites with ten minutes to go, pushing for an equaliser, and then you masterfully play in Vincenzo Iaquinta to make it 2–0 Italy. Surprisingly, you don’t appear again.

Roberto Carlos – reputation and ego built on one free kick against France at Le Tornoi in 1997. Pretty shit ever since. (OK lets be fair – he has scored another free kick since. Against China) What did he actually add to the Brazil team?

Jamie Carragher – harsh on the lad, but he looked out of his depth at right–back against Sweden, and big Sol came on at centre back instead of the Liverpool man moving inside. That first penalty against Portugal was brilliant, but the second was disastrous. A choker under pressure.

Michael Ballack – World Cup in Germany’s back yard, and where was Ballack? Literally dominated in the semi by Pirlo and Gattuso. Brilliant in Japan four years ago and unlikely to be around again – Did the team depend on him too much?

Frank Lampard – disappointing throughout. And what the hell was that penalty against Portugal?

Ronaldinho – World’s greatest player? Pah! slips into midfield cos that’s where he was playing, dropping deep to be the playmaker despite being deadly in and around the box. Pity he was never there.

Zinedine Zidane (captain) – Zizou had a chance to make history with the world watching. Poor in the first two group games and banned for the third, Zidane pulled the French team kicking and screaming to the final. It was there he opened the scoring, and a second world title seemed to be his destiny; but a quite magnificent headbutt on Marco Materazzi means that his career ends in disgrace par excellence.

Ruud Van Nistelrooy – Speaks volumes that he was left on the bench in the Dutch team’s second round tie against Portugal. Why the long face?

Zlatan Ibrahimovic – Martin O’Neill described Ibrahimovic as ‘the most overrated player in the world’. On his displays in Germany, you have to agree. Admittedly he struggled with injury, but the Juve striker was utter bollocks. Wouldn’t surprise me if he was left to rot in Serie C with the Old Lady.

Thierry Henry – no choke team is complete without the world’s greatest big stage choker, Thierry Henry. Was doing okay in the final, but could not produce in the biggest game of his career. If I was him I’d blame it on Domenech. Or Zidane.

Coach – Only one man could do justice to this team. They would get so far – the quarters or the semis, have a chance of a lifetime, and then choke. Take a bow, Sven. Tactical ineptitude the world has never seen before. I’m surprised David James never came on up front.

July 09, 2006

RaW Sport World Cup Dream Team

It has been an absorbing four weeks of football in Germany, and now you all want to know who has made the RaW Sport World Cup dream team.
It takes the shape of 4–5–1, which so many coaches seem to favour. (and I’m still puzzled as to why they favour it). This team would definitely bludgeon their way to a negative 1–0 victory.

Jens Lehmann – imperious at the back, thoroughly deserved his selection over Oliver Kahn. Narrowly beats Buffon to the number 1 slot.

Gianluca Zambrotta – magnificent performances form the Juventus full back underlined his importance to the team

Fabio Cannavaro – immense

Rafael Marquez – was outstanding for Mexico, a pity that he had to go home so early

Philip Lahm – dangerous going forward on marauding runs, and pitched in with some brilliant defensive cover, especially in the semi final

Maniche – showed quality and vision on the ball, chipping in with the odd goal. Pity the rest of his team–mates were so average. The hard working midfielder showed Chelsea fans and the world what he was really capable of.

Gennaro Gattuso – some magnificent performances from the pitbull.

Juan Roman Riquelme – touched the ball more often than any other player in the competition. Influential for Argentina, who had nothing against Germany after he was substituted.

Tim Cahill – turned the Socceroos group game against Japan, and turned in some typical industrious performances

Andrea Pirlo – ran the show for the Italians.

Miroslav Klose – Golden boot winner – you cannot argue with the number of goals he has scored. Actually managed to score some with his feet this time.

Coach – Only Marcelo Lippi could coach this team.

*Zinedine Zidane was in the team until a quite magnificent headbutt on Marco Materazzi. He certainly retired in style.

World Cup Final – Italy v France

Question: Who would have thought right back at the start of the tournament that this would be the final? Answer: No–one. I have to admit I did tip Italy to make the final, but only really given the relative simplicity of the path they had to get to it. Ironically this was made even more straight forward by the virtual self destruction of Argentina and the fact that France slipped up getting out of there group. Indeed the reason hardly anyone would have predicted an Italy v France final was that it relied on one of the sides coming second in their group. Logically if you were predicting either team, but especially France, to come second in their group you weren’t going to have them reaching the final.

So now they are both there, who is going to win? I would argue that it is almost too close to call. Italy are solid, well organised, but have a chronic lack pace, especially up front. France are experienced and perhaps have more individually talented players – in Zidane and Henry they have two of players who are potentially unstoppable – however they have one or two weak links in the side and an enormous average age which could cost them. A lot will rest on the shoulders of Zidane. When he has performed France have beaten the likes of Spain and Brazil, but when he has failed to turn up they have struggled against relative minnows.

The entire French tactical set up is based around Zidane, which is a massive danger. Domenech appears to have no plan B and certainly I will be hugely surprised if Gattuso is not detailed to keep Zidane out of the game. Usually the risk in this sort of overt man marking is that it opens up space for other players to exploit, however given that the Italians (and the French for that matter) will be playing with two anchors in midfield I cannot see too many problems. Indeed if the French do the same and stick Vieira on Totti we could be in for one of the all time most boring cup finals. With their supply routes cut off, Toni and Henry will be totally isolated from the rest of their sides.

Interestingly even though both teams are lining up with 4–5–1 style formations they will subtly differ in lay out. Whereas Italy will operate more as a 4–4–1–1, with Totti behind Toni and Camoranesi and Perrota on either flank, France have a sort of 4–2–3–1 with Malouda, Ribery and Zidane at times making a front four with Henry. The weakness in the Italian side is up front where Toni has proved himself to be definitive evidence that his club Florientina are guilty of match fixing. He looks nothing like a 30+ goals striker and should be easy for Thuram and Gallas to handle. For the French, the major weakness is down the left hand side where Malouda and Abidal have looked pretty average throughout the tournament. Given that Camornesi, and especially Zambrotta are tricky players, this could be a key area in the match.

July 05, 2006

Can Zidane make history?

Every game he plays in this World Cup could possibly be his last, but I for one hope Zidane can go all the way and end his career on the biggest high possible. Without doubt Zidane is one of the greats of the modern game, but it looked like his genuis had faded. At Real Madrid (and in France's opening games) he looked laboured, static and disinterested.

Suddenly, however, the old genuis had returned and his performances against Brazil and Spain have been extrodinary. I thought it was a massive mistake for Domenech to build his team around Zidane, but it has all come good just at the right time.

The great thing about Zidane at his peak was that he would always exceed your expectations. The hype was never too great. Think, for example, of the 2001 Champions League Final where he scored one of the most spectacular goals in the history of the competition. Zidane would never let you down, and it seems that for his final matches he has regained that magic.

If Zidane stays on form I am in no doubt that France will be lifting the Jule Rimet trophy on Sunday night. As one of my all–time favourite players I really am hoping he can.

July 03, 2006

England Squad Review

As the dust settles on another World Cup campaign here are my ratings of the England squad.

1 – Paul Robinson (App 5, Goals 0)

Maintained his reputation as one of the game’s top keepers. Overall he had little to do, but with the exception of a couple of nervy moments in the Ecuador game, he was solid throughout. Unfortunately goalies don’t win tournaments. 7/10

2 – Gary Neville (App 2, Goals 0)

Again unlucky with injury. Looked good against Paraguay, and a bit rusty against Portugal – notably when dealing with Ronaldo – but did amazing well to last the full 120 minutes. 6/10

3 – Ashley Cole (App 5, Goals 0)

A stella tournament for Ashley Cole who looked nothing like a player who had been out all season. A class act. Saving tackle against Ecuador showed his commitment. 8/10

4 –Steven Gerrard (App 5, Goals 2)

Had to stand up and be counted, especially after the loss of Owen. Struggled a little alongside Lampard in the earlier games, but flourished with Hargreaves against Portugal. Did not deserve to miss his penalty. 7/10

5 – Rio Ferdinand (App 5, Goals 0)

Recaptured the form that prompted Man Utd to shell out £33m after the last World Cup. His talent showed as the defense collapsed when he had to go off against Sweden. His languid style is still a bit odd to watch, but he gets the job done and his partnership with Terry was among the best in the tournament. 8/10

6 – John Terry (App 5, Goals 0)

After a good start the dodgy performance against Sweden seemed to play on his mind a bit. Came good in the Portugal game though – didn't allow Pauleta a kick and almost scoring the winner. 7/10

7 – David Beckham (App 5, Goals 1)

Solid display from the Captain. Led from the front and generally played some decent stuff. Lost his favourite outlets in Owen and Neville, but crossing and dead ball play was best since 2002. 7/10

8 – Frank Lampard (App 5, Goals 0)

Leaves the World Cup with his reputation severely dented. Looked desperately short of confidence throughout and wasted countless decent attacking opportunities. Sven’s decision to stand by him backfired as he failed to hit his stride and missed the critical first penalty against Portugal. 4/10

9 – Wayne Rooney (App, 4, Goals 0)

Like Gerrard, he had to play his very best for England to do well. Almost never made the tournament at all, however his performance against Ecuador suggested he could still be the difference. Then after 62 minutes of the Portugal game he did what we all feared he might. Game over. 6/10

10 – Michael Owen (App 3, Goals 0)

To win this World Cup England needed Owen and Rooney fit together. It never happened. Owen is still absolutely vital to the England set up, as he showed once he was subbed against Paraguay, but he must get fit. 6/10

11 – Joe Cole (App 5, Goals 1)

Played a blinder in the first three games, then faded a little. However given he was playing in one of his less favoured positions, and the goal he scored against Sweden, he did extremely well. 7/10

12 – Sol Campbell (App 1, Goals 0)

More of a hindrance than a help – on the pitch at least. But then Sol was only ever really in the squad as a wise old head. In his one appearance against Sweden he looked slow and unfit. 4/10

15 – Jamie Carragher (App 4, Goals 0)

Ultimate utility man. Gives you a game in any position, although still only really excels at centre back. Got done in the shoot out (or did himself?) by having to retake his penalty. 6/10

13 – Owen Hargreaves (App 4, Goals 0)

After years of abuse Hargreaves eventually got the chance to show what he can do and took his chance with both hands. He gave the performance of the tournament against Portugal where he ruled the midfield. Also filled in well at right back in earlier games. Possibly my pick of the squad given the fact I had no expectations for him. 8/10

18 – Michael Carrick (App 1, Goals 0)

Thrust into the starting line up against Ecuador he played well but Hargreaves was always a better bet in his position. One for the future, although time is running out for Carrick to stake his claim in the national side. 6/10

19 – Aaron Lennon (App 3,Goals 0)

The ultimate supersub. Provided defenders with a different sort of challenge to David Beckham. Key to getting the breakthrough against Trinidad. His time will come. 7/10

20 – Stewart Downing (App 3, Goals 0)

Was used more than I thought he would be. Steady without ever really excelling. With former boss McClaren as the new manager it will be interesting to see how his role develops. 6/10

21 – Peter Crouch (App 4, Goals 1)

Not an international standard player, but gave everything whenever he made the team and was our only striker to register a goal. Performance against Portugal was astounding. In hindsight should have started up front with Rooney. 7/10

July 02, 2006

England 0 Portugal 0 (Portugal win 3–1 on pens)

Defeat is always hard to take, but none more so than when you are the better side, yet still manage to lose. In 2002 England were outclassed by 10 man Brazil, in 2004 they just about matched Portugal and still lost, but yesterday were had the edge in every department and still went out.

Just like in 1998, ill temperament and poor penalty taking stealed our doom for another four years. But it could have been so different. Okay, so the first half performance was hardly mind blowing, but neither was it disastrous. I was always confident we could over power Scolari's side in the second half and twenty minutes in that was exactly what was happening. The Portugese were about to break – then we we go and press the self distruct button.

No complaints about the sending off. Rooney was stupid. After all the hype, fitness worries and everything else when he needed to stand up and be counted he let himself down. He'd done all the hard work – found match fitness and form – and I feel so sorry for him that he couldn't handle the pressure. Clearly he was frustrated at the role he was having to play, but he is not paid £600000 a week for no reason. He is a professional and he should have done better.

Anyway once you are down to 10 men against competent world class opposition you are in big trouble. That we almost dug ourselves out is a testiment to how good our side actually is. Obviously people are going to say that Sven royally cocked up this tournament from day one, but for me the guy is still a genius and we should be in the semis.

In hindsight maybe going 4–4–2 with Crouch in for Lamps would have been a better choice, but who could have predicted that Lampard would fail to perform to such a degree. I guess if we are going to criticise Sven for anything it is his decision to take only three recognised strikers in the squad. Why we will never know. Ashton should have gone instead of Jenas and Defoe instead of Walcott. Owen and Rooney we always going to be the preferred pair, but we needed a plan B. In the end, our lack of striking options was clearly a central factor in Rooney going off.

I always felt England would step up a gear when the opposition required it and for my money that was the way yesterdays game was heading. Portugal are a good side, but not a great one. In the end we let them off too easy. Obviously I could never prove it, but we had that game in the bag.

England: Robinson, Neville, Terry, Ferdinand, Ashley Cole, Hargreaves, Beckham (Lennon 51), Gerrard, Lampard, Joe Cole (Crouch 65), Rooney, Lennon (Carragher 118).
Subs Not Used: Campbell, James, Bridge, Jenas, Carrick, Downing, Carson, Walcott.

Sent Off: Rooney (62)

Booked: Terry, Hargreaves

Portugal: Ricardo, Miguel, Meira, Ricardo Carvalho, Nuno Valente, Figo (Postiga 86), Maniche, Petit, Tiago (Viana 74), Ronaldo, Pauleta (Simao 63)
Subs Not Used: Paulo Ferreira, Caneira, Ricardo Costa, Quim, Boa Morte, Nuno Gomes, Paulo Santos

Booked: Petit, Ricardo Carvalho

Att: 52,000

Ref: Horacio Marcelo Elizondo (Argentina)

July 2006

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