Posts tagged: champions league

Who Really Cares About International Football?

By , September 6, 2011 1:04 pm

The three month long wait over the summer for the Premier League to begin sometimes felt excruciating. Weekend mornings were dulled and it became difficult to fill the empty space. And as much as I enjoyed a very entertaining final few games in the women’s World Cup, as well as the Copa America (despite the commentary being in a language I couldn’t understand), it just wasn’t the same. It was only on August 13 that everything felt right with the world. As the season began with as many plot lines as there are super stars now at Man City, it was once again put on hold for a few international qualifiers coupled with a handful of friendlies. Seriously, is this really necessary?

I love the World Cup and the Euros as much as the next crazed football fan, but I could certainly live a happy life never having to watch the national teams play otherwise. I used to enjoy international football, even friendlies, because it was exciting to see how each country was shaping up, and when Liverpool’s players were playing, it provided even more incentive for interest.

Now I really don’t care. Whenever one of these ridiculous international breaks come up, I pray to the football Gods that none of Liverpool’s players get injured (and perhaps a cheeky prayer that some of the opposition players do). All we ever seem to see after an international break is players limping off the field after the manager promised not to play them too long, accompanied by poor results in the league that following weekend.

I just can’t seem to wrap my head around the placement of these international breaks. Although due to unfortunate circumstances, many English players dodged a bullet not having to play a friendly THREE days before the Premier League began. Who on earth decided that was a good time to send these players away to play international friendlies? And I’d love to know the genius who decided that not only would it be great to have internationals a few days before the season kicks off, but again in three weeks time.

You see, momentum is a strange thing. Games can change in an instant and certain events occur in a split second that swing momentum in a positive direction. I think most Liverpool fans, as well as Manchester United, Manchester City, and even Wolves fans would agree that momentum was building for their clubs after the first three games of the season. To halt that momentum with a two week break where club managers have to entrust national team ones with the health of their best players is far from ideal.

I can’t even count how many times Benitez reluctantly handed over Steven Gerrard and Daniel Agger to England and Denmark respectively, and was in turn handed back a broken midfielder and center back. It’s gotten to the point that managers have started to beg and plead with their players not to play in these games unless it is absolutely crucial.

Steven Gerrard Has Been Injured Countless Times Playing For England

And friendlies? Give me a break (no pun intended). Friendlies need to be played with younger or second string international players, or at least with the first choice players not playing the full ninety minutes.

And more to the point, who exactly is watching these international games? Unless it’s a major tournament, who really cares how well San Marino play against Uzbekistan in a friendly?

That’s not to say there aren’t big national team followings, and there are a lot of football fans who only follow international games. I am in no way discrediting their passion or nationalistic pride.

But at the end of the day, these players are not paid by England, or Argentina, or Denmark. They are paid by and extremely important to their club teams and it has become a shambles how distraught the relationship between club and country has become. Club managers no longer have any faith in the respective national team setups and are constantly forced to make changes when players come back injured.

I have two suggestions to rectify the pestilence that is the international break.

Number One: Qualifying for major tournaments happens over ONE period of a few weeks each season. Qualifying becomes almost a mini-tournament in itself and teams are seeded to allow the teams to play as few games as possible.

Number Two: The qualifying games are to be played during the summer, or during a winter break. Now it’s true that at this moment in time, England does not have a winter break, but perhaps they should. This would give players a much needed rest during the year, and give the opportunity for international games to be played without disrupting the leagues when the season is in full swing. Players and managers in the UK have long advocated for a winter break as it seems pretty successful in other European leagues.

Even if both suggestions were combined and some qualifiers were played during the summer, and the other ones played during the winter, it would help the leagues, help the players, and perhaps even attract more fans to the international games.

I think more than anything that club fans have started to despise these breaks because they come at such awkward times in the year. Maybe the love for international football would return if it wasn’t thrust upon fans at the worst possible times in the football calendar.

And even more to the point, what do fans and players alike value more, international level football or the Champions League? The Champions League has become such a massive tournament every year that many value its importance and difficulty to win as the holy grail as opposed to winning the World Cup. Playing in the Champions League has become the pinnacle for footballers as so many made abundantly clear upon their transfers in the last couple of years. If you’re not in the Champions League, you don’t have a hope in hell of signing top class players. Liverpool have certainly had to learn this lesson the hard way.

Even so, a lot of players still take a lot of pride in playing for their national team, and that’s great to see. Spaniards, Uruguayans, Brazilians, and the Dutch all take enormous pride playing for their national team, whereas English players see it as more of a hinderance. This is evident in how these countries perform on the world stage and the attitude the players bring to the team.

So what is the solution? For better or worse, international football is one side of the game as a whole and the club vs. country row will continue forever. The only way forward is for FIFA and each country’s domestic league to come up with a better system in which to balance both sides of the footballing coin. And no matter what they come up with, it has to be better than what there is now.

Chelsea Football Club: The Next Fallen Giant?

By , February 18, 2011 3:50 pm

According to Frank Lampard, “It would be a disaster” if Chelsea don’t qualify for the Champions League. At this point in time, there is a fairly decent sized question mark over whether the West London club will indeed capture fourth place. With Tottenham grabbing fourth spot by securing a win last weekend while Chelsea could only manage a draw at Fulham, and Liverpool insistent on nipping at both their heels, nothing is a guarantee. Such is the shock of how far they’ve fallen that Lampard now insists it’s hugely important to reach the finals of the cup competitions they remain in, as well as keep their eye on the ball when it comes to finishing in the top four at the end of the season.

Champions No More - Frank Lampard Laments Chelsea's Downward Spiral

It is no surprise that the Chelsea and England midfielder is concerned about his team’s position. At the start of the season, Chelsea looked to run away with the title leaving the rest of the pack to chase after the remaining three spots for the Champions League. A massive shift in the last few months has seen Chelsea go from first to fifth. They have remained strong in the cup competitions, but their league form has taken a massive nosedive.

It may be a bit cheeky as a Liverpool supporter to say that Chelsea’s downward spiral began when Liverpool (with Fernando Torres) beat them 2-0 back in November. But since then, their record has been Won: 5, Drawn: 6, and Lost: 6. The dropping of 30 points in the matter of three months is enormous and has left Chelsea floundering for a Champions League place with twelve games left to play.

For all the talk this season of just how bad Liverpool have been, they are six points behind Chelsea in sixth place. Granted, Chelsea have a game in hand, but the gap is not as wide as it may seem based on Liverpool’s performance in the first half of the season.

It remains to be seen where each team will finish come May; such is the nature of this up and down season. And Chelsea may well surprise everyone and climb their way back to the top. Not to the top of the league, but at least into the top four.

Just a year ago, finishing seventh was a new low for Liverpool, and being out of the Champions League for the first time in years was a huge blow. It never occurred to most Liverpool fans that that was even a possibility until it happened. It signaled the end of a successful era, as well as the end of Rafael Benitez.

There seems to be a longstanding view from rival teams that Liverpool has an attitude of entitlement, and that the club feels its rightful place is firmly in the top four. Whether or not that’s true, that belief was shattered after finishing seventh.

But if other clubs can paint Liverpool with this entitlement brush, than surely they must be painted as well? For Frank Lampard to say it would be a disaster if Chelsea finished outside the top four, than it was undoubtedly a disaster for Liverpool when they did.

It was a tough season to endure, compounded by the following six months of negative transfer dealings, Roy Hodgson, and the worst run of games in over 50 years. That season truly set Liverpool back further than just being out the Champions League. The owners’ and manager’s relationship became untenable, the club sold one of their best players in Javier Mascherano, and they brought in players not nearly up to the level that Liverpool normally requires. All this combined with Roy Hodgson’s clueless undertaking at the helm eventually lead Fernando Torres to his Liverpool exit, under very acrimonious circumstances.

Fernando Torres Has So Far Failed To Live Up To Expectations In Chelsea Blue

The attitude toward Liverpool has remained one of “they deserve it,” “they’re not good enough,” “their players are rubbish.” In the span of a year and a half when the team barely missed out on a first placed finish, they went from hero to zero. Yet somehow you don’t get the same feeling when it comes to Chelsea. All you ever seem to hear is how Chelsea have the quality needed and shouldn’t be finishing outside the top four, it just wouldn’t be right if they did.

The press and Chelsea fans seem to think that because of having one of the most expensive and successful squads in recent years, they can do no wrong and that they too are now “entitled” to finish in at least the top four. Well Chelsea, welcome to Liverpool’s world, where nothing is a guarantee when it comes to football.

That’s not to say that Chelsea aren’t capable of finishing fourth. They are more than capable. But then, you could say, so were Liverpool.

Chelsea need to face facts just as Liverpool were forced to. They have a squad with multiple players perhaps having had their best days behind them, and this includes Fernando Torres. Whatever he’s done, £50 million was still an enormous amount for a striker about to turn 27 and with a massive history of injury problems. Chelsea were definitely looking to him to salvage their season with a cup win, but you have to say that outside the FA Cup, it’s not looking likely with the strength of teams in the Champions League this year.

Liverpool have had to endure a very difficult eighteen months, and with Fernando Torres leaving in January, things only seemed more bleak. But now there’s a new sense of renewed pride in the team that has been instilled by Kenny Dalglish. With new owners taking over in the fall, two new strikers signed in the January transfer window, and the youth team looking frighteningly good, the future seems quite bright for Liverpool and the hard times look to finally be over.

For Chelsea, the future is a little less certain. Ancelotti has the massive weight of expectations on his shoulders to deliver Chelsea back into the Champions League while he keeps one eye looking over his shoulder to see if Abramovich is ready to wield his axe. And with more financial losses announced, plus the gargantuan £70 million plus outlaid for players last month, it’s a wonder how Chelsea will cope with the Financial Fair Play rules. Without the bottomless bank account to recruit players for a team on the precipice of an immense overhaul, you wonder just how they will handle the seasons to come.

As Liverpool have had to put up with the disappointment that came with not being in the Champions League, so too will Chelsea if they don’t manage to finish fourth. Perhaps it is what they need to be reminded that no club is entitled to anything in football.

Let The Silly Season End And The Real Season Begin

By , August 12, 2010 1:31 pm

The Premier League Can't Start Soon Enough

In the four weeks since the World Cup ended, there’s not been much to note in the world of football. The summer suddenly became what it usually is between seasons: long and dull with no football in sight.

For any real fan, summertime is depressing. There’s no action to speak of for three months, which leaves you no choice but to grasp onto the ridiculousness of the silly season. Thank heavens there was a World Cup this summer because the post season has been one of the most uneventful in years.

The “word of the day” this particular summer transfer window has been one many clubs haven’t used for a while: value. Long gone are the days of the open checkbook and the ludicrously overpriced sales tags attached to the world’s top stars. No longer will clubs be willing to fork out £30 million for a player without batting an eyelid. In these hard economic times, even multi-millionaires need to pinch some pennies here and there.

Perhaps the Premier League is now finally catching up with the rest of the footballing world with its newfound thriftiness. They are being forced to look for players who provide value for money, rather than offer the biggest amount they can think of knowing the other team can’t say no (£80 million for Ronaldo to Real Madrid anyone?).

Bye Bye: Chelsea Gets Rid Of Some Dead Wood At Stamford Bridge

Chelsea, so often the big spenders in the transfer market, have barely made a peep this summer. They are doing themselves some favors by getting rid of the, shall we say, ‘old’ dead wood around the club. Michael Ballack, Juliano Belletti, Ricardo Carvalho, and Deco will all be playing their club football elsewhere next season.

So far, they’ve only brought in Yossi Benayoun, who, while a talented player doesn’t have the same ability to change games and unlock defenses as his predecessor Joe Cole. The squad they have will be strengthened more by players returning from long injury spells, including Drogba, Mikel, and most importantly, Essien, than it will from new signings.

Manchester United's Season Hinges On The Form Of Wayne Rooney

Still, the fact that Chelsea has done so little in the way of transfer dealings is definitely a sign of the times. And despite the big money Manchester United made off the Ronaldo deal last summer, they have yet to spend much money either. Their only summer signing of note is the Mexican World Cup sensation Javier Hernández, who, to be honest, doesn’t fill me with dread when I look at him on the pitch. With very few new recruits in key positions, Manchester United have every opportunity to go backward this season after their failure last year to pip Chelsea to the title.

United’s starting 11 is aging rapidly in the form of Giggs, Scholes, a 31-year-old Rio Ferdinand, and a 40-year-old Edwin van der Sar. But it’s the enormous chasm that Wayne Rooney left when he was injured last year that should be United’s chief cause for concern. There’s no way Michael Owen and Dimitar Berbatov can get the job done, and it will be the young Hernández’s first season, all too soon to carry the team himself. Without a fit Wayne Rooney, Ferguson’s team is in danger of falling way off the mark.

Can Mancini Deliver The Goods To Man City This Season?

Manchester City has been the only team willing to splash out the absurd amounts of cash on new players. They are believed to have spent around £77 million already, and with the arrivals of James Milner and Mario Balotelli imminent, their spending will reach the heights of around £130 million by the end of the transfer window. Despite having this grand notion that they’re doing something radical in bolstering their squad in such a manner, they are only doing what Chelsea did a few years ago, and it won’t last.

It can’t last, as Chelsea can now attest too. Even billionaire owners have to work with what they’ve got and shelve the spending after a while. This is really the season where Man City will have to prove that all this money is going to good use. They finished a very decent fifth place last season, just missing out on the Champions League, and look to be one of the most frightening prospects for the new campaign. But if things don’t change by May 2011, Mancini will be looking for a new job and the oil rich Abu Dhabi Group will cut off City’s supply of endless funds.

Christian Poulson, Another Shrewd Summer Signing For Liverpool

Then there’s Liverpool. After a devastating previous season in which they finished seventh and only through a fortunate turn of events squeaked into the Europa League, this season will be looked at as one for improvement. For the first time in a long time, Liverpool fans, players, and staff are realistically focused on rebuilding the team and looking for progress rather than trophies. That’s not to say they aren’t in with a shout. The league title might be a bridge too far for new manager Roy Hodgson, but with a fit Torres, Gerrard, and Aquilani, there’s no reason this team can’t finish in the top four and even go on to win the Europa League and a domestic cup.

This season for Liverpool is all about starting over, and due to their current lack of new ownership on the eve of the first premier league weekend, ‘value’ has been on the lips of everyone involved with the club this summer. So far, Liverpool have done a pretty decent job of finding players who are a value for money. Joe Cole, Milan Jovanovic, and Fabio Aurelio came on a free, while Danny Wilson, Jonjo Shelvey, and latest signing Christian Poulsen all came for less than £10 million combined. While the strength in depth to actually challenge for the title can’t be there until a much needed injection of funds comes from a new owner, this Liverpool squad has definitely used the word value to their advantage, more so than any other team in the league so far.

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