Studs Up

Spreading The Wings….
September 2, 2009, 5:23 pm
Filed under: Football


Much has been said about Arsenal striker Eduardo da Silva’s dive against Celtic during last Wednesday’s 2nd leg of the Champions League pre-qualifier, including an article I’ve written on the subject for my friends over at EPL Talk.

Check it out:


Monday Night Link-Up
August 31, 2009, 2:26 pm
Filed under: Football, Liverpool FC

This video might be a little bit close to the bone for Liverpool fans, but you have to be able to laugh in the face of adversity. Hats off to Jaimie Kanwar at Liverpool Kop for this one, as long as you don’t speak German, it is utterly superb:

PS The actual film is pretty good too.

Violence And Football
August 31, 2009, 2:18 pm
Filed under: Football


In the early hours of the Saturday before last, West Ham Utd defender Calum Davenport was attacked in an incident related to his private life. During what was a vicious and brutal assault on both the player and his mother, Davenport’s legs were stabbed repeatedly in what is thought to have been a deliberate attempt to end his career. In the aftermath of the incident, there were fears that Davenport’s leg might have to be amputated, an indication of the severity of his injuries that does not bode well for his future as a footballer. Such an awful event puts football as a whole into perspective, and as last week began, I’m sure few could have imagined that another off-field calamity of similar magnitude was about to befall West Ham. However, the clues were in the draw for the 2nd round of the Carling Cup. Three days after Davenport’s stabbing, violent clashes between fans of West Ham and Millwall produced tremors that shook the foundations of the game in England. And as a man lies in hospital recovering from a knife wound to the chest sustained during the violent clashes, the football community are obliged to identify those responsible and bring them to account.

But who exactly ought to be held responsible? Obviously it would be nice to charge all of the “fans” that were involved in the violence with whatever their respective offences merited. But as well as being impossible given the huge numbers involved and vagueness around what would actually constitute involvement, this seems to me to be a measure that contributes little to the process of preventing a reoccurrence of such an incident. With the FA launching an investigation, West Ham and Millwall are set to be hit with some sort of punishment, with West Ham particularly in the firing line since their stewards were unable to prevent numerous pitch invasions (on three separate occasions West Ham fans were able to invade the pitch, and could even be seen confronting and verbally abusing players). While expulsion from the competition remains a possibility, as do games played behind closed doors, the very least West Ham can expect is a fine. The club has already vowed to accept whatever punishment they are given, although it’s probably worth pointing out that they have little choice given how unwise it would be to appear to condone the actions of the perpetrators.

But either way, the usual routine that follows bad behaviour from supporters, namely a club-fine and a clearly voiced intention on the part of said club to root out the ring-leaders and prevent them from attending future games, still seems to me to be wide of the mark in terms of a step towards preventing further incidents of this kind. In all probability, the deplorable individuals who were responsible for the coordination of the violent clashes last Tuesday have already been banned from attending West Ham and Millwall games. This doesn’t really matter to them because amongst their circle of friends this probably represents some sort of badge of honour. Moreover, they’re much more interested in a fight than they are in football anyway. I’m not saying that West Ham and Millwall should not be punished for what happened, nor am I saying that any individuals involved should be allowed to attend future games, but this should not be all that happens.


Having the pictures and videos of obese, shaven-headed, heavily tattooed middle-aged white males goading each other, I found myself tempted into a knee-jerk reaction of: “oh let them at each other, they all deserve whatever comes of it, save police time and taxpayers’ money”. However, this is not really acceptable. Firstly, I take the liberal view that these violent criminals are actually mentally unwell, and therefore are entitled to protection from themselves. But less controversial is the fact that innocent individuals could and do become caught in the middle of such things, and that alone is reason to do everything possible to stop the violence. It is well-known that football-related violence and rioting has never ceased, but has in fact merely relocated from match-venues to areas under less police scrutiny. However, last week’s scenes prove that as long as the culture exists, the public are still at risk. Therefore, the challenge facing football’s governing bodies and the police is to take steps that might genuinely prevent such a thing happening ever again.


As a Liverpool fan, I have never taken any notice of the draw for the 2nd round of the Carling Cup, because my team only become involved at the 3rd round stage. However, if I had noticed that West Ham had drawn bitter local rivals Millwall, I would have expected there to be a bit of bother. You’d have thought that relevant authorities might have had the same thought. But if they did, their reaction was clearly inadequate. Upton Park tube station and the streets surrounding the ground ought to have been swarming with riot police during the afternoon and evening of the game, Millwall fans ought to have been completely isolated during the build up to the game, and the number of stewards and police inside the ground ought to have been increased by a much greater margin than they were (if indeed they were at all). To me, the apparent surprise felt by those responsible for protecting the public during football matches seems naïve to the point of embarrassment. Ken Chapman, Millwall FC’s Security and Operations Adviser admitted on BBC’s Football Focus that he felt “shocked”. But it was West Ham versus Millwall, surely anybody who knows anything about football understands the significance of that match-up. Even if Tuesday night’s violence did come as a surprise to those responsible for keeping the peace, it would not require a particularly elaborate system of intelligence-gathering to work out which clubs’ “firms” have particularly keen rivalries, and to therefore considerably increase whatever anti-violence measures would usually be in place as standard whenever two such clubs were drawn together. The FA have responded to the media pressure following last week’s events with plenty of rhetoric, but I’m hoping (perhaps showing similar naivety myself) that their response will run much deeper. Otherwise, next time the consequences for those who merely wish to enjoy the beautiful game might be even worse.


August 26, 2009, 8:05 pm
Filed under: Off-Topic


Here’s a tip for fellow bloggers, don’t let anyone who bears you a grudge get access to your blog! On behalf of my bitter friend, I apologise for the profanities and nonsense that were temporarily posted up, they were of course a load of old rubbish. To be continued…

It’s Here!
August 15, 2009, 10:22 am
Filed under: Football


Not much more than an hour to go. So, time for a quick “season-preview”? Well, not in my case.

Anyone who cares about football and is on top of their online game will already have read at least half a dozen season-previews already. From the BBC to the broadsheets, the nation’s best football writers and most respected former professionals have been busy compiling extensive analyses of each club’s summer transfer market activities, with a view to predicting who will finish where. The upshot? Lots of conflicting opinions that would appear to show that for all the collective wisdom the country’s media has to fire at football, nobody has much of a clue at this stage. For example, the BBC‘s Chief Football Writer Phil McNulty reckons Liverpool will win the league… whilst The Times‘ Chief Football Commentator (I’m not sure exactly what the difference between a writer and a commentator is in this context, but I’m sure it’s crucial) Patrick Barclay reckons they have no chance at all.

So all I’ll say is “we’ll see”, and leave you with this outstanding offering from newly-discovered (on my part) blog Sport is a TV Show. I reckon it’s the most worthwhile season preview I’ve seen:

Monday Night Link-Up (ok it’s Tuesday afternoon, so what?)
August 11, 2009, 3:41 pm
Filed under: Football


The new season is nearly here. In just 4 days time, the new Premier League season will begin, and we’ll all have actual matches to talk about instead of meaningless pre-season friendlies and transfer rumours.

The subject of formations is one which I’ve wanted to explore in depth myself on this blog for a long time, but I’m waiting until I get round to reading Jonathan Wilson‘s book titled “Inverting The Pyramid“. In the meantime, Wilson has written an excellent piece for The Guardian on how ahead of this season, Michael Owen’s transfer to Man Utd brings the issue of formations back into focus. So please read and enjoy as we count down the final days:

Alonso Finally Goes.
August 6, 2009, 12:29 pm
Filed under: Football, Liverpool FC


It’s been a ridiculously long time coming, but Alonso has finally signed for Real Madrid. Rafa Benitez himself confessed yesterday day that Alonso had voiced his desire to leave way back in May, so the fact that it has taken 3 m0nths for the transfer to finally conclude must be frustrating for all concerned. Certainly from a Liverpool fan’s perspective, the fact that the whole thing has become a public saga chronicled daily on the back pages of every newspaper suggests that the trend of poor administration which saw Owen leave and Gerrard nearly follow him a few seasons back has not ended with the departure of Rick Parry. 

Reports in the media suggest that Liverpool have already agreed a fee with Roma for their midfielder Alberto Aquilani. However, since Liverpool have been in contact regarding the player’s availability for weeks, this is not really significant news. Aquilani’s medical is the next major hurdle in that particular transfer. Either way, Alonso was widely regarded as a key player at Anfield, and Aquilani does not represent an exact replacement. So as many Liverpool fans make their voices heard in protest at what they perceive to be a voluntary and thus misguided sale on the part of Benitez, it’s interesting to ask the question, how badly will Alonso be missed by Liverpool this season?


Jan Molby was one of the finest central-midfield playmakers to play the game. His control and awareness were 2nd to none to the extent that he achieved a reputation as a truly top-class footballer whilst carrying an extra couple of stones in weight for his entire career. Indeed, since Alonso delivered his first passing masterclass on English shores on his home debut (Norwich gave him space and didn’t know what had hit them), he’s often been described as “at least the best passer of the ball since Molby”. So the fact that the rotund Dane regards Alonso as at least Liverpool’s 3rd most influential player is significant. And while I wouldn’t like to say that Alonso is necessarily more influential than the likes of Pepe Reina, Dirk Kuyt, Jamie Carragher and Javier Mascherano, I do feel that Alonso had an outstanding 2008/2009 season. At his best, he shows a wonderful ability to make maintaining possession significantly easier for his team mates by offering for the simple pass and then moving the ball on to another teammate who is in a decent amount of space. In terms of the process pundits refer to as “recycling possession”, there are none better than Xabi.


On the other hand, you could argue that during a season in which Liverpool scored more league goals than any of their domestic rivals, Alonso’s relatively meagre contribution of 3 goals and 4 assists suggests another view. Moreover, arguably Liverpool’s best result of last season (their 4-1 win at Old Trafford) was achieved with Lucas Leiva in central midfield, not Alonso. Dave Prentice, the Liverpool Echo’s Deputy Head of Sport, recently put forward his views on the matter in an interesting v-log. Although I’m not sure about the accuracy of his statistics, I think his argument that Alonso represents something of a luxury in midfield is worth considering. Prentice suggests that having 2 deep-lying central midfielders places too much responsibility of wide players to create and score goals, and argues that the money from Alonso’s sale could be used to strengthen those wide areas whilst bringing in a more attack-minded central midfielder. And the fact that recent successes of teams such as Man Utd, Barcelona and Chelsea have been achieved with only 1 holding midfielder supports this. So perhaps Liverpool will have a better balance next season if they replace Alonso with Aquilani (or a similarly attacking central midfield player) and use the surplus money from Alonso’s sale plus anything extra raised from selling remaining fringe players to reinforce the wide areas. It’s an interesting argument, but not one I actually buy into. Last season, Liverpool scored more league goals than any other team, and Alonso was voted the fans’ player of the season. As far as I’m concerned, any debate about his contribution and how he affects the balance of the team ends with those two simple facts. He was a key player, and not one who ought to have been sold voluntarily.

Which brings me to the next issue in the Alonso saga. Did Rafa Benitez decide to sell him? Could he have kept him? As I said above, Rafa Benitez admitted yesterday that Alonso had made his desire to leave clear right back in May, and Alonso confirmed this when speaking to the Spanish press following the completion of his transfer. Last summer, Gareth Barry and Cristiano Ronaldo were examples of clubs managing to withstand the rise of “player-power”, but those are the exceptions to the rule. These days, when a player wants to leave, he leaves, and a contract only gives the club who hold the player’s registration a little bit of extra bargaining clout in terms of the transfer fee. So in defence of Benitez, he might have had no choice. But actually, whether or not it would have been possible to deny Alonso his wish this summer, I think Benitez himself has contributed significantly to that the player having that wish in the first place. Firstly, it was clear to everyone last summer that Benitez wanted to sell Alonso and buy Gareth Barry, only financial constraints prevented him from doing so (and if he’d succeeded, then bearing in mind that he also signed Robbie Keane and Andrea Dossena, it would have been a summer of business on a par with Houllier’s infamous Diouf-Diao-Cheyrou fiasco). Ever since then, Alonso must have felt less wanted and valued on Merseyside. Secondly, even if he was wanted after last season’s vast improvement, since Benitez is notoriously aloof with his players, he may never have felt properly appreciated. Finally, although agents and journalists ensure that there can actually be plenty of smoke without an actual fire during the transfer window, I think Javier Mascherano has flirted with the idea of a move abroad this summer. Benitez’s response has been to completely deny him that option, so it can be done if the manager really wants it. Therefore, in my opinion Rafa Benitez will stand or fall by what I regard as his decision to allow Alonso to leave. If we slump back into a race for 4th place next season, with a midfield that lacks the balance of last season, then he’ll definitely have reason to feel hot under the collar. On the other hand, if our squad is stronger overall, then it will go down as a wonderful judgement. For now, all we can say is, “we’ll see”.

Don't shake his hand Xabi!

Don't shake his hand Xabi!

In the meantime, Liverpool fans will remember Alonso as one of the finest passers of the ball to wear the red shirt. His penalty in Istanbul, both his goals from inside his own half, his tremendous display during the 10-men demolition of Everton and his constant and total level of professionalism and dignity will not be forgotten. He travels to Madrid with the best wishes of every proper Liverpool fan.

Oh the man is a midfield maestro
And his passing is so delightful
Everyone wants to know
Alonso, Alonso, Alonso.

Good luck Xabi (I’ll miss that song).