Wednesday, July 28, 2010

2010/11: Pessimism

Time to turn attention to the impending season; I will start as I mean to go on... Doom-mongering!!!

It was plainly obvious at the end of last season that things needed to change.

But it was plainly obvious throughout the season before that, too.

I've learned not to expect changes.

I know little about Chamakh and less about the boy at the back whose name I will never be able to spell. The fact their names don't "ring out" tells you all you need to know, really. The team needed experience, Wenger even admitted it. He's allowed Gallas, Campbell and (snigger) Silvestre to leave- experienced players all- and the only signings so far are unknown quantities.

It's not so much that any of the three experienced players should have stayed- Gallas is disruptive, Campbell threatens to be a liability, and Silvestre is... Silvestre, but an already inexperienced squad can hardly afford to lose experience and not replace it?

More important than experience is character. I said last year that most of the players lack it and there's been only sporadic and debatable evidence to the contrary since. Campbell, despite his loss of pace, put a lot of them to shame with his attitude.

The last few transfer windows suggest little reason to expect any great change before September. Total inactivity would be nothing short of a disgrace, with the goalkeeping situation the way it has been for so long. There is also a desperate need for cover for Alex Song, and for at least one more centre back.

Ideally, new players would be experienced, and ready to make a difference.

Ideally, we'd be talking about the trophies we can win in May.

Realistically, we're looking to scrape 4th place again.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

WC 2010 a look back

The World Cup 2010 echoed the European Championships of 2004.

Big-name players failed to play to their potential, and negative football was prevalent for much of the tournament. But this time, at least, negativity did not win out.

Spain's commitment to their uniquely-honed style of football proved fruitful. However, they always looked a slightly inhibited team. Disappointing therefore that they never came up against a very strong team.

One could argue that Germany were strong, but one could also say that they emerged by default, one semi-positive team standing out in a sea of negativity- and were predictably shown up by Spain.

Brazil-Spain would have been a fascinating final. Instead the Dutch knocked out Brazil in a bizarre quarter final practically bereft of constructive football- especially from Holland.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Spain Suffer For Their Own Superiority/ SPAIN 1-0 GERMANY

It was supposed to be the game of the tournament, but became a microcosm of it- high anticipation followed by disappointment.

For that, Spain should not be blamed. They have struggled in this tournament to reach their full, devastating potential, but this largely results from the inferiority of all other teams. The opposition know that if they open up, they play into the hands of a hugely talented side. So they sit back, play for scraps. Spain's greatness is defined as much by the TEMPO as by the TIPPY-TAPPY, and when the tempo is lacking, as it mostly has been during this World Cup, it does not make for much of a spectacle. One team laboriously builds measured moves from inside their own half, while the other waits to strike on the break. There were hopes, after their recent counter-attacking successes, that Germany could cause Spain some serious problems. Instead, the suspicion that they'd been flattered by the weakness of their earlier opponents was confirmed.

At a time of recession in international football, Spain boast filthy riches.

Casillas is among the best goalkeepers in the world (and so are his understudies, for that matter).
Iniesta, Xavi and Fabregas, who barely gets a game, are the outstanding creative midfielders in the world.
Villa and Torres, despite the latter's struggle for form, are two of the finest strikers in the world.
In other words, Spain have a virtual monopoly on the best attacking talent, and their possession play is so adept that the relative deficiencies in their defence are practically rendered irrelevant.

No wonder teams seem to exhibit an inferiority complex against them.

Negative opposition notwithstanding, they have some tired looking players. The main man in midfield, Xavi, looks a little jaded. But a jaded Xavi is still good enough to teach "flavour of the month" Schweinsteiger a thing or two about running a game. While they havn't scored many or hit close to top gear, they've won their games fairly comfortably. A Brazil-Spain final would have been a fascinating contest, a Nadal-Federeresque clash of styles; instead, it will be Spain- Holland.

The clash of styles may be even more pronounced, with Holland's midfield adhering to the questionable principle of kicking everything that moves, spherical or otherwise. But if Holland have Brazil's dash of panache, they havn't really shown it yet, and I expect class to win out.

Uruguay 2-3 Holland in the 2nd/4th Place Play-Off

After that, you'd have to assume that the winner is coming from Spain-Germany.

What's been the most depressing image of the World Cup so far?

A talented France team, so uninterested that they sabotaged their own chances?

Or Uruguay and Holland, in a SEMI-FINAL, by contrast with France, trying their damnedest, but struggling to find a single moment of cohesive play to grace the stage?

The five goals are misleading. A speculative effort from Van Bronckhorst flew almost surreally into the top corner. Twenty minutes or so later, and Stekelenburg failed to deal with a Forlan pot shot. Nothing much happened in-between.

Second half, Holland failed miserably to rise above their workmanlike opposition, until a Sneijder effort dribbled past the keeper and nestled almost apologetically in the corner. The goal was not ruled out despite the ball coming through an offside Van Persie.

Holland followed that up with the only decent bit of team play in the match, and Kuyt's cross was nodded in clinically by Arjen Robben.

Uruguay's late goal sparked a brief period of pressure on the Dutch before the final whistle, but extra-time would have been torture for neutrals. After such a poor showing, it is hard to escape the notion that international football is again locked in a slide. Hopefully a thriller between Germany and Spain tonight can partially redeem the tournament.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

World Cup 2010: It's Up For Grabs Now

Before this tournament started, one would assume that a Spanish victory would confirm the current side's greatness, after their stylish success in Euro 2008. As we reach the semi-final stage, it seems that if Spain do win it, it will be greeted by everyone except the Spanish with a shrug of the shoulders. It would be their first World Cup win, but you'd be tempted to surmise that it just isn't as hard as it used to be to win the thing.

I'd been tipping Brazil all along, but they fell to pieces against a Dutch team who hardly even earned the victory. When Robinho scored early, it seemed that Brazil were breezing into the semi-finals. The Netherlands, who've been struggling for coherence but winning nonetheless, never looked much like making a chance, but elements of complacency crept into Brazil's play. Then, after the fluke equaliser, Brazil got dragged more and more into an ugly war of attrition with Holland's thuggish midfield duo of Van Bommel and De Jong. Sneijder nodded in from a Robben corner that Kuyt touched on, and before Brazil could gather themselves, the unstable Melo got himself sent off for a needless stamp on Robben.

Before the game, there had been talk by the two managers, Dunga and Bert Van Marwijk, about how football has changed, in response to barbs from Johan Cruyff about Brazil's dull style of play. They're right. Football today is rougher, uglier, more cynical. It's all about the result. Two teams with proud histories of elevating a sport to the level of art sullied those histories with an atrocity exhibition. But what do we expect with four limited holding midfielders battling it out? Brazil, while playing a cautious game, had produced the best moments of attacking play so far in the tournament, but largely on the break, and when they were left chasing an equaliser, they looked clueless. If they had emerged victorious in this disappointing tournament, Dunga's pragmatism would have been grudgingly praised. But sometimes there's an effect to be found in allowing flair and creativity its free expression. Brazil's impotence late on betrayed his failure to do that.