31 March, 2008

My (half-assed) Football Club

Late last year myfootballclub.co.uk set out to revolutionise the relationship between fans and executives by offering the common man on the interwebz a chance to own part of their own club. Ebbsfleet United were essentially floated on the stock-market, with any old Abromovich wannabe able to buy a stake for only 35 beans a year. The most attractive part of the deal however was the level on control advertised to the owners, with democratic procedure supposedly in place to give you a say in tactics, team selection, pie fillings, and cheerleader age. If this sounds familiar that’s because it is basically a real-life version of Champ Man (or Football Manager as it’s now called) the classic PC game ideal for whiling away those weekends way back before beer and skirt were alternatives, or even today to put off revision and dissertation writing.

However, it all sounded almost too good to be true, with many industry folk (including our pals over at Soccerlens and 200 percent) suggesting that MyFC would struggle in practice once the novelty value wore off. The opportunity always sounded like those token birthday or Christmas presents you get for people you don’t know that well, such as ‘an acre of the Amazon rainforest’ or ‘your own star in our galaxy,’ and MyFC executives have already had to intercede with the owners’ requests. A memo from Liam Daish (coupled with another article from the MyFC board in general) politely tells informs all owners that they cannot actually pick the team or decide tactics just yet. This comes after only a month trial of the famous ‘team selector,’ something that has unfortunately received a very low response from the members, on average just 1 - 1.5%.

Furthermore Mr Daish rightly observes that, of that tiny percentage, probably as small a fraction again are even watching the games or know who the players are. Call me cynical, but was that not kind of immediately obvious? I don’t even know where Ebbsfleet is, or what league they’re in, let alone who their best pick at left-back is? At the end of the day, it has understandably escaped most people’s attention that the whim of us so-called owners is actually playing with real players’ lives and careers. I’d feel sorry for an Ebbsfleet striker being forced to play in goal just because a high enough percentage of online voters thought it might be ‘a laugh.’ For this reason ultimately Mr Daish went on to say, “the Web Team feel uncomfortable forcing team selection on to the club when it’s not clear whether the appetite is there.” That’s the end of that then.

Bottom line is that as an innovative and entrepreneurial exercise, this was great for the club and the profile of lower-league football, however it was always fundamentally pretty impractical. For involving football management though you’re better off sticking to computer simulations, but if you do wanna make it that bit more real, STT suggests you try dropping acid before you play.

Gameweek 32 – ‘The Shape of Things to Come’

Happy Monday loyal readership and I think you’ll all agree that God owes us an hour in bed today. Ever the professionals though, we at STT keep on trucking, whatever that means.

The title race continues to twist and turn but surely Manchester United must feel that it’s theirs to lose now with a five point lead over Chelsea and a six point lead over Arsenal. United were at their free-flowing best on Saturday, blowing a normally-decent Villa side off the park with unparalleled movement and interplay. Arsenal came from two goals behind against Bolton though to just about stay in touch with the Champions, but Gary Megson’s side must be kicking themselves after a dominating first-half performance that limited Arsenal to very little going forward. Chelsea meanwhile struggled against a resurgent Middlesbrough side that twice hit the woodwork, but an early Carvalho header was enough to keep the Blues in contention, and a point above Arsenal in the table.

Elsewhere, the Merseyside derby was a slightly flat affair unfortunately and Liverpool easily controlled the match despite the narrow one-goal win. Gerrard was excellent first half and as ever, Torres proved a huge handful for the Everton back-four. Portsmouth look set to solidify the final European spot after a confident display at home against Wigan, while fellow contenders Villa, Manchester City and Blackburn all dropped points. Spurs too look out of the hunt, but with their EUFA Cup spot already secured they have little to actually play for except pride, something which will have taken a serious hit after going down embarrassingly 4 – 1 at home to Newcastle yesterday. Down in the relegation scrap, Bolton and Fulham look doomed with Birmingham and Sunderland recording decent home wins.

Finally, say goodbye to Derby, it’s been inevitable since day one but being the first club ever relegated in March is still pretty humiliating. At least Paul Jewell should be used to that by now.

Premier League Team of the Week (based on OPTA stats, Fantasypremierleague.com ratings and my own expert eye):

Keeper – David James (imperious as ever)

Defence – Andre Ooijer (commanding), Martin Skrtel (superb reading of the game and marhsalling of the Yak), Ricardo Carvalho (big in defense and cracking header for his goal)

Midfield – Matty Taylor (ran the first half), Cesc Fabregas (ran the second half), Cristiano Ronaldo (*insert superlative here*), Steven Gerrard (inspirational)

Up Top – Jermain Defoe (can’t stop scoring), Mauro Zarate (class from the Argentine), Wayne Rooney (frighteningly good when playing with other good players)

Weekly Awards:

Goal of the Week – Simply has to be that man Ronaldo for a finish that was audacious and almost physics-defying. Is there another player in the league that would even attempt this:

Nutmeg of the Week – I swear one week literally every award will go Ronaldo, such is the man’s irrepressible nature, but this time around he’ll have to settle for just the big two. His deft flick round the corner to set-up Rooney’s second caught Reo-Coker napping, expertly megging the out-of-position right back.

Save of the Week – Craig Gordon saved the day once again, miraculously clawing out a Carlton Cole curler which looked bound for the top corner all the way from his boot.

Skill of the Week – Kenwyne Jones bites a bit of Ronaldinho’s style by expertly controlling a long ball on his back.

Gaffe of the WeekBolton’s defending in the build-up to Gallas’ goal was amateur to say the least; static and not man-for-man, things were made worse when Campo’s near post header actually went straight to the Arsenal captain.

Miss of the Week – It’s bad enough to miss a penalty, but to then also miss the follow-up from 5 yards in pretty unforgivable. Sorry Ryan Taylor, but that was rubbish.

Attempt of the Week – Frenchman Frank Quedrue busts some acrobatics and came seriously close with a long-range bicycle kick early on at St Andrews.

ASBO of the Week – Diaby received a straight red for a bit of a horror challenge on Saturday, but to be honest, Carsley’s early tackle on Torres yesterday was no better.

Nearest Lampard came to Contributing…er, of the Week – Frank was excellent pulling the strings for Chelsea in a competitive midfield yesterday. His vision and quick feet were the difference between the sides.

Broken Jinx of the Week – Arsenal finally overcame their ‘bogey team’ Bolton.

Sniper-on-the-roof Moment of the Week – Yakubu took one in the shoulder to shamelessly try to win a penalty late on at Anfield. Surely if it’s not a penalty then it’s a booking?

Played-for-and-got Moment of the Week Derby striker Emmanuel Villa expertly deflected a shot with his knee for their opener despite looking the opposite direction. He does it all the time in training too.

Pinball Wizard of the Week – Fabregas’ late winner at Bolton ricocheted off Campo, O’Brien and Samuel before finding he back of the net. As the saying goes, they all count.

Controversy of the Week – Two decidedly dodgy penalties given at St Andrews, first to Benjani laying down and then inexplicably to McSheffrey for trying to shoulder-barge Sun Jihai.

Banter of the Week – Everton fans hanging a banner saying:

Everton FC welcomes all Liverpool fans to Merseyside’ before kick-off. I think that’s what’s called “Scouse humour” for those unfamiliar this ancient and sporadic phenomenon.

Suck Up of the Week – Mike Ashley sporting ‘King Kev : 1’ on the back of his Newcastle shirt. You’re a billionaire mate, you can do what you want!

Quote of the Week – Wayne Rooney gets it spot on when talking about the treat that is watching United when they’re on song: “The football we play is similar to Brazil. It’s an honour to play in this team, I love it.”

Hero of the Week – He might be a walking buffet-radar, but Andy Reid can still play better than most. His 96th minute goal is probably enough to keep Sunderland up, and you know you’re doing something right when you can coax a smile out of Roy Keane.

Zero of the Week – For the dignity-stripping form that seen them already relegated, the finger has to be pointed at the majority of Derby’s staff and players. You wonder whether they even have enough to do well in the Championship next year…

Personal Highlight of the Week – Paul Ince tasting his first success as a manager with MK Dons as they won the Johnsons Paint Trophy 2 – 0 against Grimsby. I give it two years before he’s doing well with a Premier League club.

There’s no Black in the Union Jack

Of the 92 League clubs in this country, who would like to guess how many have black managers? Given the ethnically diverse world we now live in, and the almost even split of white and black players throughout clubs these days, you’d expect 40 or 50 right? Er, there are two; Paul Ince at the MK Dons and Keith Alexander at Macclesfield.

It’s a fact that I think everyone is kind of struggling to explain. Casting the net wider to include those involved in football behind the scenes at administrative and executive level, we find just as few black faces. The Voice, Britain’s leading newspaper for the black community, published last week their annual ‘Black List,’ which counted down the most influential Afro-Caribbean people in football in this country. The rundown featured a couple of senior administrators, such as Millwall's executive deputy chairman Heather Rabbatts, assistant chief executive of the PFA Bobby Barnes, and also finally, Jason Rockett at Sheffield United who is the only black chief executive currently in professional English football. Other notables included in this ‘Black List’ were a few obvious broadcasters, such as Chris Kamara and Garth Crooks, along with England women’s coach Hope Powell, up-and-coming sports agent Chris Nathaniel (clients include Micah Richards, Obafemi Martins and Ryan Babel) and the only current player on the list; this week’s England captain, Rio Ferdinand.

However, it seems that the shift from player to manager is the one that often black players seem reluctant to make. During, for example, Paul Ince’s career, there were perhaps not as many black stars as there are now, yet many successful and respected players still jump out…Ian Wright, John Barnes, Paul Parker, Michael Thomas, Robbie Earle…to name just a few. So while the likes of Roy Keane and Gareth Southgate strolled into top flight management upon ending their playing careers, why is it that retiring black footballers seem to bolt from the game and instead often head into the media? Speaking to BBC Sport this week ahead of his side’s FA Trophy Final at Wembley this weekend, Ince addressed the issue: “A lot of fantastic black footballers that have been in the game have all of a sudden disappeared and gone out of it. Maybe they feel they're not really cut out to be a manager, I don't know.” Like I said, it’s a fact that I’m at a loss to explain as well, because it isn’t even like the horrendous racial abuse of football’s yesteryear is still prevalent around the country.

With Ince building on his previous success with Macclesfield, many in the game believe it is only a matter of time before England’s first black captain becomes the Premier League’s first black British manager, but given that it’s taken more than 15 years to happen, there’s clearly something wrong somewhere. Don’t misunderstand this article as an accusation of inherent racism within the game or the creation of some kind of ethnic conspiracy though, it’s just fascinating how the fact of two black managers out of 92 can co-exist with a 20-man England squad this week which included 12 black players. Ince continued: “If I can be the yardstick then I've done something good. I hope I can say to people like (Andy) Cole, (Sol) Campbell and (Ledley) King that once they've finished playing football, why go out of it?”

Former England international and Spurs striker Les Ferdinand is keen to follow in Ince’s footsteps, but having taken his UEFA B coaching licence and a certificate in applied management at Warwick University, says that “the opportunities are not quite there for black managers at the moment.” He continued: “There seems to be the same thinking about black coaches as there was about black players in the 1970s. It used to be the case that a manager would look at a black player and think ‘he's quick, we'll play him up front or on the wing’... I think black coaches are being stereotyped in the same way at the moment. You see black people behind the scenes at football clubs, but not at the helm.”

You get the feeling that the tide might be about to turn though, with the FA under the microscope at the moment following the somewhat outspoken comment from Garth Crooks (current football adviser to the Commission for Racial Equality) that English football should be “ashamed of itself” because of the lack of black coaches. As ever though, the danger is of over-compensation and so-called ‘positive discrimination,’ a fact that Ferdinand is all too aware of: “I don't want a job because it's the politically correct thing to do. I want it because I'm the best person available.”

28 March, 2008

The Fans Speak with their Feet

Remember Loaded magazine? Back in the day it was a prime cover for just looking at norks while also offering mild amusement in the form of pornalikes. Well apparently it’s still running, and the good folks there have conducted a football fans survey this season, with the somewhat shocking results being previewed in today’s press. Over the past few years there has definitely been an unspoken level of disillusionment rising in this country, fuelled by so many factors ranging from over-priced tickets to the embarrassment that is the national team to the greedy WAG culture, but today in this published poll it appears that things are worse than anyone thought. To be blunt, we are all fed up of the extortionate prices we’re forced to pay to watch our club at any professional level (not just in the Premier League), and sick of the ridiculous wages earned by mediocre players going through the motions.

The survey found that nearly eight in 10 of the thousands polled throughout the country said players’ multi-million pound wages were “offensive,” and were generally appalled that their hard-earned cash just ended up “being wasted on WAGs”. Put simply, an staggering two-thirds believe following football is a complete waste of money, which truly is a sad state of affairs, but one that’s hard to argue with.

A top-heavy Premier League appeared to be many people’s biggest complaint, with an almost uniform opinion that the so-called big 4 have become too money-obsessed and have forgotten the fans. One would imagine that plans unveiled earlier this year to play an extra Premier League game per season abroad fuelled this fire no end. A terrifying 67% further said they would love to see the big 4 clubs quit English football altogether because they are just bored of seeing the same teams win the league. Even down at the bottom of the Premier League it appears that neutrals are similarly fed up with the same 6 or so teams circulating between top flight relegation and Championship superiority, however this season’s unpredictable Real League has surely appeased many of these complaints with the potential for 3 promoted teams to be playing in their first ever Premier League next season.

Talking to the Daily Star today the deputy chairman of the Football Supporters Federation Jon Keen also warned that fans across Britain are deserting big leagues to support teams in the lower divisions because it is cheaper. “Fans want to go back to the roots of football,” he said. “That’s why we’re seeing such success with smaller teams such as AFC Wimbledon. They still care about the fans.” Furthermore, the poll also found that the majority of fans still attending games regularly would like standing terraces back to improve the atmosphere at grounds. 40% of people feel that many stadiums (not just the Emirates apparently) are like libraries because of corporate seating, and 42% said they would prefer their team to be relegated rather than continue to deal with the corporate face of the game. While these people clearly don’t appreciate what life in the Real League is actually like, the sentiment is clear.

So will the clubs or the FA pay any notice to us, the fans? These statistics are worse than I think even the most cynical among us at STT headquarters would’ve predicted, so are we really reaching a state of emergency within the English game? Certainly if these escalating trends continue, we could be genuinely looking at a real drop-off in attendances and interest in the next decade or so, with a fresh generation of fans simply unable to get involved in supporting a club at a young age due to prohibitive cost and corporate monopoly. To add further fear to the approaching abyss, this statistic is the most disturbing of all: two-thirds of the fans surveyed said they were considering switching from football to watch (the often cheaper) rugby instead. I know things are bad at the moment guys, but egg-chasing??? Nooooooooooo!

27 March, 2008

Vinnie Jones vs. Stone Cold Steve Austen

Once upon a time Vinnie Jones played football, now he is a full-time actor flogging what’s left of his ‘hardman’ persona in straight-to-DVD abortions Stateside. Without wanting to over-simplify his body of work to date and do him a disservice by summing it up in one sweeping statement, everything he’s done has been uniformly appalling. Guy Ritchie has a lot to answer for, but at least he seems to have taken the hint and stopped making films.

Not our Vinnie though, who today caught my eye co-staring in yet another terrible American remake of an old actually-quite-good Asian movie, The Condemned. Playing second fiddle to someone who used to be in the WWF (wrestlers not pandas) is normally a pretty big red flag, but since it’s ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin, we’ll make a slight exception because he’s actually pretty cool. Other acting luminaries that show up though include the girl who used to Dee in Neighbours (she died after marrying Toady, remember) and the guy who was AK in the two dire Matrix sequels…exciting no?

Anyway, Stone Cold plays Jack Conrad, who is awaiting the death penalty in a corrupt Central American prison when he is bought by a wealthy television producer and taken to a desolate island. Predictably here he must fight to the death against nine other condemned killers from all corners of the world, with freedom going to the sole survivor. Vinnie plays the token Brit with aplomb, bouncing off the A-list cast with snappy dialogue such as:

Stone Cold
: Sounds like you've had a hard life.

Vinnie: Yeah.

Stone Cold: Good thing it's over.

Apparently however, Stone Cold and Vinnie became quite the double-act on set, often riffing when the cameras weren’t rolling. Vinnie referred to Stone Cold as Number 1, while Stone Cold called Vinnie Number 2, as a reference to their advertised billing, but the real fun came when an impromptu prank war started. Highlights of this included Stone Cold constantly putting inflatable sex dolls in Vinnie's trailer (presumably from his own private collection), and also wall-papering the ex-Wimbledon man’s trailer with signed pictures of himself.

Anyway, I guess the point of this is basically just to urge everyone to search out this cracking WWF Films Production (hot on the heels of the equally genre-defining See No Evil - http://imdb.com/title/tt0437179/) and luxuriate in what is Vinnie’s finest on-screen moment to date. Stone Cold steals the show (what else would you expect from someone who has previously acted in more than five episodes of Nash Bridges?) and without spoiling the ‘ride,’ here then are a couple more choice excerpts to further whet your appetite:

The guy from the shit Matrix sequels: What were you doing in El Salvador?

Stone Cold: Working on my tan.

The guy from the shit Matrix sequels: Why did you blow that building up?

Stone Cold: It was blocking my sun.

The guy from the shit Matrix sequels: Where do you live?

Stone Cold: Alaska.

The guy from the shit Matrix sequels: Whereabouts in Alaska?

Stone Cold: In a little fishing town…you probably heard of it, its called FUCK YO MAMA.


The Centurians

Ok so David Beckham was pretty much playing right-back last night because he doesn’t really have the legs to get up and down the pitch at full pace anymore, but this shouldn’t detract from the magnitude of his international achievement. Swelling with pride after the game, he rightly extolled the virtues of the 100 Cap Club he has now joined; namely Billy Wright, Sir Bobby Charlton, Bobby Moore and Peter Shilton. Now most of these guys were staring for club and country well before I was born, so this seemed like as good a time as any for a quick history lesson. No talking at the back!

Billy Wright was the first player in the world to reach the landmark of 100 appearances when he led out England against Scotland at Wembley in April 1959, and he held this record for more than a decade. An old-fashioned bruising centre-half, he was the epitome of English spirit and pride, also playing his entire club career of 20 years at Wolves where he finished with 541 appearances. Not only was he playing football during this period though, he was also in the army at the same time, serving from 1943 as a Physical Training Instructor and amazingly making more than 100 appearances in wartime football alone. In virtually every way he was the perfect footballing role model; captained his country a record 90 times, was never booked or sent off, and even married a pop star (Joy Beverley of the Beverley Sisters, whoever they are). He died in 1994 from stomach cancer aged 70 but his spirit lives on in an honorary stand and bronze statue at Molineux.

Next up is World Cup winner Sir Bobby Charlton, finishing with 106 caps, just one more than Wright managed. So much about Charlton was miraculous that it seems a bit insulting to just list a load of stats, but having survived national service and the Munich Air Disaster, he went on to become England’s leading ever goal-scorer with 49 international goals. During his 19 years with Manchester United, having been initially signed as a 15-year-old, he made a staggering 759 appearances and averaged a goal every three games in a variety of exemplary Busby Babes teams. With United he won the FA Cup, European Cup and several league titles, while also taking the honour of European Footballer of the Year in 1966 during the World Cup build-up. Obviously his World Cup win is the jewel in the crown, finally defeating West Germany in the final alongside his older brother Jack while hat-trick hero Geoff Hurst took most of the plaudits.

Surely no-one needs to be told that the successful 1966 team was captained by the iconic Bobby Moore, and that leads us nicely onto the next of our centurains. With 108 appearances (90 as captain), Moore is the most highly decorated outfield player in English history, so it seems appropriate that it was he who lifted our sole major international trophy 42 years ago now. An iconic gentleman and professional, he too achieved more than 500 club appearances for his home team, West Ham United, where he played for 16 years before ending his career in the newly set-up North American Soccer League in the 1970s. Unsurprisingly, a statue of the great man stands outside Wembley, and upon his death in 1993, a mass outpouring of emotion followed from the nation. A couple of quotes from perhaps his two greatest peers sum him up better than I ever can:

He was my friend as well as the greatest defender I ever played against. The world has lost one of its greatest football players and an honourable gentleman.” - Pelé

“Bobby Moore was a real gentleman and a true friend.” - Franz Beckenbauer

Long-serving goalkeeper Peter Shilton completes the century club with a phenomenal 125 caps to his name, along with more than 1000 professional club appearances in a career that spanned three decades. Admirably ambitious from a young age, he had perhaps the greatest keeper of all time in Gordon Banks as a friend and rival from the start of his professional career, and along with similar competition from Ray Clemence in the years that followed, it was this that kept him sharp at the highest level for so long. Undoubtedly the crowning glory in Shilton’s career came under Brian Clough at Nottingham Forest, winning the League championship once, and both the League Cup and European Cup twice in the late 1970s. In terms of individual honours, he received the MBE, and later the OBE, as well as being awarded the prestigious Order of Merit by the PFA on his retirement from international football in 1990.

Between the four of them, they won 444 caps and incredibly represented England at every World Cup finals we reached between 1950 and 1990.

So there you have it. Wright, Charlton, Moore, Shilton and now Beckham: the England Centurians (insert your own embarrassing pun about lions and roaring here). RESPECT.

France vs England – Behind the Scenes

With the Bosman ruling more than a decade old now, we’ve come to take freedom of movement within football for granted, but it got me thinking the other day when I saw Athletico Madrid were keen to sign David Bentley. With such an unbelievably high ratio of foreign players to English in the Premier League these days, you would expect a similar proportion of our national stars applying their trade on the continent, right? I cannot think of a single one. Even throwing the net wider, in recent memory the only ones that can be described as achieving anything approaching success abroad are David Beckham and Owen Hargreaves. Sure Michael Owen and Steve McManaman adequately kept the Madrid bench warm for brief spells, but do you think the likes of Figo and ZZ were pestering the ex-Scousers for tips and tricks in training? Similarly, Inter Milan splashed out ridiculous money on a young Robbie Keane, only for the Irishman to return with his tail between his legs a couple of years later for a cut-price fee, and two years of his career essentially just wasted.

The BBC yesterday ran a very interesting piece along these same lines, trying to work how precisely France built such an imposing football empire towards the end of the 1990s, winning back-to-back major International tournaments with relative ease, while England languished in mediocrity at best. Speaking to the Beeb, ex-Arsenal and France star Gilles Grimandi interestingly spoke about the French mentality to the Bosman ruling: It opened up borders for our players and enabled them to play abroad. More importantly it opened players' minds and gave them greater experience. When you go abroad it can be very challenging and that makes you stronger as a player and a person.” Describing this mature and ambitious way France’s up-and-comers embraced the newfound freedom, former FA technical director and successful Premier League manager Howard Wilkinson wisely agreed with Grimandi’s assessment:“France was the prep school. The rest of Europe became a finishing school for their top players.” Sure the likes of ZZ, Petit, Djorkaeff and Deschamps could naturally all play a bit, but undoubtedly experience with top-class European sides helped them make the jump from ‘good’ to ‘truly great.’ Now it is rare for France’s elite to remain in their national Ligue 1, with English, Spanish, Italian and German clubs clambering over themselves to snap up the prodigious new breed including Ribery, Diarra, Malouda, Benzema and Ben Arfa.

Howard Wilkinson further attributes much of England’s embarrassing international record to the contrast here: “culturally we've always suffered in that English players and coaches have not had any experience playing abroad that some of our competitors have had during their careers.” So why exactly is it that almost exclusively in England players want to stringently stay in their home country? Often it is here that people point to the Premier League top-4’s success in the Champions League, and question why any of the top players would ever want to take a pay-cut and enjoy less success abroad, all for the sake of an ‘education.’ As we’ve said time and time again though, the top-4’s European success is almost in spite of English involvement these days rather than propelled by it, with only 10 out of 44 regular starters for Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool in total hailing from these fine shores.

Given the money in our league these days, club success is virtually guaranteed, but it’s hard to look at parallel timelines of both national and international performances without seeing an inverse correlation over the last 15 years. In no way do foreign players ruin our league, far from it, but they clearly do affect the production of homegrown talent, and more specifically, their advancement to the very top levels of the game. It’s interesting that in addition to David Bentley finally another English player, Frank Lampard, is also apparently in consideration for a summer move to Europe, and to Barcelona in particular. Obviously STT have their own opinion of Mr Lampard, but even his biggest fan must realize that there’s no way he will ever keep Iniesta and Xavi out of the Barce side if they’re both fit. Are we left then with the depressing realization that no English players are abroad because they are simply not good enough? Perhaps; but it’s as much due to certain players’ desire to stay close to family and keep making the big bucks. If available, you can guarantee that many European heavyweights would want a fair few of our goalkeepers, JT, Rio, Hargreaves, Joe Cole, Stevie G and Wayne Rooney, but it’s very unlikely that these would ever risk the move to La Liga or Serie A.

Grimandi also spoke at length however about the approach to everyday training at the major club sides his compatriots played with during the 1990s: “I remember talking to Lilian Thuram, who I played with at Monaco, telling me about his time at Parma and the amount of time in Italy that was spent on tactical work. In France the emphasis was on technique and physical development, so when Lilian came to the national team he brought that experience back with him.” This melting pot of composite styles and innovative approaches is what gave France the edge to win their World Cup and subsequent European Championships. You get the impression though that the weekly Premier League grind dulls the tactical variety and application of even the sharpest coaches, Rafa Benitez and Jose Mourinho being obviously prime examples.

But at grass-roots level too the French seem to value different approaches to us, in fact favouring that suggested here last week, with the French Football Federation (FFF) concentrating on club-neutral technical academies. When a player who has been to a regional academy then signs for a professional club, that team pays compensation to the FFF for the two years spent at the academy, to keep the youngsters fresh and competitive, and also to keep plenty of money in the system. Grimandi continued, talking about the FFF’s flagship Clairefountaine academy: “It's a fantastic school for a young player and is an environment that prepares them for a life as a professional footballer - 75%-80% of players who attend these academies would join a professional club.”

So will the FA direct their planned £200mill towards this kind of set-up? Trevor Brooking, the current FA direct of development, cites his primary aim over the next 5 years to make sure our youngsters are simply more comfortable on ball by the age of 11, but what do the FFF have in the pipeline for next year’s academy influx at that age? Biomechanical training and computerized player simulation, as part of an individual-specific program of developing flexibility, balance and movement. Sounds like science-fiction in comparison to us right? So how do we consistently manage to be about ten steps behind everyone else? Surely that should be the FA’s primary concern now, because as is, this state of affairs is just baffling.

26 March, 2008

Make Euro 2008 Interesting…

By doing what we at STT have done today! To clarify, that’s putting all 16 teams into a hat and then drawing a name out to not only support, but also to have a sly 20 squid flutter on. Despite being quite a major international tournament, it’s just hard to really care that much without even one home nation involved, although not having the inevitable choke in the final-8 to look forward to is a blessing in disguise. Like many people, I can’t even trace my nationality back through the generations to any of the involved teams, so the choice the simple; accept that it would probably all just pass me by, or simply make it matter more by staking some wonga on it.

With a fair few bait teams having reached the finals though either by default as hosts or having squeezed through their comparatively easy (of course) qualifying groups, the fear of wasting your hard-earned pounds on the likes of Austria is a very real one, but isn’t that what betting is all about anyway? That’s the rush that leaves thousands of people around the country penniless and kicked onto the streets by their wives every year! Here then for your review is a handy table stolen off the internet to show comparative odds currently being offered by a range of high street and online bookmakers (click to enlarge):

Who then did we draw you might ask…well, to be honest we got lucky and plucked Portugal out of the hat. As the tournament’s fourth favourites, odds of 8/1 look pretty tasty to be honest, and with a score riding on it, we stand to make a life-changing 160 nicker should Portugal finally succeed in not flopping miserably yet again. As ever, the safe money will be on Germany, with Italy and France more than likely to be there or thereabouts too. My outside tip though would be the Dutch, who’s new generation under Marco van Basten will be looking to peak in this tournament with an impressively attack-minded 4-2-3-1 formation. Who’s to say though? With more than two months to go until kick off, anything can happen… injuries, bans, bizarre squad decisions…so that’s why it’s best to act sooner rather than later if you want to get any odds worth actually betting on. Anyway, just want to say what a huge Portugal fan I’ve always been, but if someone cripples Ronaldo before the tournament begins I reserve the right to blame some kind of book-making conspiracy and move my bet over to ze Germans.

Vindo em Portugal!

I Want to Take his Face…Off

When STT was first brought into conception way back in 2007, one of the pre-requisites was that we would never lower ourselves to ‘amusing’ football look-a-likes (wow, Harry Redknapp looks kind of like Droopy, isn’t that amazing?!) but we’ve had to almost break those rules for the following post. Props as ever go out to our pals over at The Spoiler and Who Ate All the Pies for this heads up, their sites really are much better than ours.

Anyway…our attention was drawn to the somewhat disturbing world of professional celebrity look-a-likes. Quite what actual purpose these people serve is baffling, but should you ever find yourself in that common position of falsely promising everyone that Sir Alex Ferguson will be at your house-warming party, then I guess help is finally at hand. While everyone from movie stars to soap characters are available from Fake Faces, it was the footballers who unsurprisingly caught our eye -

They are just SO bad it’s actually a little bit insulting. For example, should you be planning a backstreet gang-bang, but unfortunately lacking someone famous and mixed race to be sick during the proceedings, rather than Ashley Cole you can hire any of these three cheeky chappies instead:

Maybe my eyesight isn’t what it used to be, but do either of these clowns look anything like the actual Chelsea star? Unfortunately preliminary reports that all coloured people look the same have been recently debunked, so I’m afraid young Alan, Leon and Terry might be out of a job soon.

Some of the more bizarre football ones available include Fabian Barthez (why?), Gerald Houllier (again, why?) and this frankly terrifying Juan Sebastien Veron. Do not spill his pint:

What we have learnt though is that, much like in the Mission: Impossible movies, it’s possible to completely alter your appearance by a mere change of hair style. Their Ruud van Nistelrooys for example have had the trademark curtains cut, and instantly are transformed into spitting images of the Real Madrid forward. It’s incredible! Unfortunately the site owners are yet to respond to a question about whether any of their Britney Spears can be delivered comatose, so at this stage we’re unable to confirm or deny whether the female look-a-likes are also available for sex acts as well shop openings, but don’t worry we’ll keep you posted.

Our personal favourite from Fake Faces though has to be this guy, Cristiano…sorry, Jaime Wright. He modestly describes himself as having “the looks and the physique to match the Manchester United and Portugal football star” and apparently “it is not surprising that (he) has his fair share of admirers and fans coming up to him to have their photo taken with him when he is out and about.” That is clearly just a lie, I would find that very surprising indeed. Sorry to burst your bubble mate but just because you have a United shirt on, a shit fake-tan and wank haircut does not make you look anything like Ronaldo. In fact you’re quite obviously just a complete tool.