Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Manchester United - Not bad at all for the worst team under Sir Alex Ferguson

I don’t think Manchester United fans should be too worried right now.

Sir Alex Ferguson saw his Champions League gamble backfire, but talk of his team being the worst he has had in his 25 years is well wide of the mark.

Manchester United have come in for a lot of criticism this week.

Rightly so, after their exit from the group stages of the Champions League.

However, talk of the demise of this team, because of the lack of a genuine world class creative midfielder is a tad premature.

Sure, they haven’t found a replacement for Paul Scholes yet.

Nor did they ever find one for Roy Keane.

And Ryan Giggs will not be replaced too easily either.

Because these players are genuine world class superstars of the game.

They don’t get replaced.

There just aren’t enough of them to go round.

This made it a tough summer for Sir Alex Ferguson.

The loss of key senior figures such as Edwin Van Der Sar, Paul Scholes and Gary Neville to retirement was coupled with the sale of John O’Shea and Wes Brown.

Four of those players had come through the ranks at Old Trafford and between them had amassed 68 seasons under Sir Alex.

A rebuilding process was under way even if it was Father Time who had dictated it.

So Sir Alex went out and spent big.

He had also timed the emergence of another crop of youngsters to coincide with the departure of such a senior element of his squad.

Assembling a squad of some of the best young players around.

David DeGea is widely regarded to have the potential to become the goalkeeper of his generation.

Numerous managers have predicted Phil Jones to be the England Captain for many years to come.

Add to that Chris Smalling, Tom Cleverly and Danny Welbeck - you’ve got three stars of the England U21 Championship side.

Then Javier Hernández, Nani, the Brazilian twins are all still quite young.

Mix in the established stars such as Rooney, Vidic and Evra and this team could be around for years to come.

But these young players will take time to adapt.

Some of them need time to adjust to the Premier League.

All of them need time to adjust to the pressures of playing for Manchester United.

Like the pressure they would have experienced against Basel.

There’s no doubting Sir Alex took a gamble on the Champions League group this season.

He felt he could have progressed without having to use his first team in every game.

But when he realised he would need his strongest team going into the last game, most of them were in the treatment room.

Going into a game of the significance of Basel with so many injuries would have handicapped any team.

Hernández, Berbatov, Owen missing from the front line along with a half fit Welbeck.

Carrick suspended, Fletcher, Cleverly, Anderson out and Valencia not yet match fit.

Then Vidic limped off in the first half.

To lose the game with that many players out did not scream of a team in demise but rather a team unable to cope with so many injuries.

Wesley Sneijder would not have made that much of a difference to this team.

A team, who should be judged when they aren’t decimated through injury.

The Champions League campaign can be judged as a disaster alright.

But their defence of the title has just gained a lot more focus.

Sir Alex has always approached the first half of the season as the time to get your injuries sorted.

If you need an operation to get rid of a niggle, you sort it our before Christmas.

His team always start sluggish but comes strong the second half.

All he’ll want is to be within touching distance of Man City when his team hits top gear.

The bad news for City is that United have had their second best start to the season in the Premier League.


This without a world class creative midfieler.

From a team in demise.

For all their supposed troubles and loss of form - coupled with City lighting up the Premier League, there is only 2 points between the Manchester rivals after 15 games.

Not bad for a team who starts slowly.

Who’ve played a lot of their tougher fixtures already and have done this through quite a bad spate of injuries.

For supposedly the weakest team under Sir Alex’s reign as manager - making their second best ever start is not bad at all.

The only reason they’re not top is because City have the best start of ‘any’ team to a season.

As for finishing top come the end of this campaign, Sir Alex will be feeling quietly confident right about now - whether he finds another midfielder or not.

Even if it is perceived as the worst team he has ever had...

Monday, 5 December 2011

Irish fans should be delighted with the draw for Euro 2012 - Even if we are the worst team in the group

Being in a group like that is what it’s all about.

Every fan should embrace this opportunity our heroic team has landed.

On paper we are in the bottom seeds.

So we were going to be the worst team, no matter what group we were drawn in.

Which is great news.

We will be second favourites in every game.

A tag that sits a lot more comfortably with Ireland then the dreaded pressure that comes with being favourites.

Being the worst team also takes all the pressure off hoping to secure a ‘nice’ group.

No matter what other three teams ended up in Ireland’s group, they were all going to be better than us.

Croatia to start with - is one such team.

This opening game will be crucial and a win here will really set us up.

The Croats are quite similar to ourselves, albeit having had the better of things more recently.

But Ireland have played Croatia on numerous occasions over the last ten years in friendlies.

There has never been much between the sides.

And there won’t be again this time round.

Whoever wins this one, will certainly fancy their chances in what could effectively be a straight knock out game against the Italians.

Spain are the stand-out team in the world right now.

They are far superior to every team, let alone the worst team in the group.

Every player and every team should have the ambition of playing against the best team in the world.

A side aiming to be the first ever team to win three major tournaments in a row is the stuff of dreams.

The Spanish will be clear favourites to win the group.

1 defeat in their last 41 competitive games is a startling statistic.

Let’s hope they get two victories against Italy and Croatia.

If we can sneak a draw, with the sort of luck that England had against them in their recent victory, it will be a massive result.

But defeat should not harm our chances too much, on the premise that Spain will be looking to win all three of their games.

Then we finish with Italy.

We have played the Italians 3 times under Trap.

2 draws in the qualifying group for World Cup 2010.

And a 2-0 victory in Liege at the start of a summer.

Of all the big teams to get, Italy were certainly not the worst.

Trap will know them inside out and the fact he will play against his country of birth will add spice to the occasion as well as deflect some of the attention off the players.

This will hopefully be a straight shoot-out to qualify for the knock-out stages.

And if we are to have ambitions to win the tournament, which I think we do, then getting Spain in our group is also a massive advantage.

It of course means that we can’t play them again until the final.

And with the two teams from our group set to meet two teams from the England France group, the quarter final looks as mouth watering as it could be for an Irish fan.

Yet not a lot of pundits seem to believe Ireland have a chance of getting out of the group let alone winning the tournament.

I wonder what Roy Keane would think.

If ever anyone needed proof that the underdog can triumph, they need look no further than the European Championships.

Greece were the worst team on paper in 2004.

Denmark weren’t even in Euro ‘92 until a few weeks before the tournament started.

They too were the worse team on paper.

Both handed tough group draws as is the case with most groups throughout the history of the European Championships.

Greece were given Russia, Spain and hosts Portugal in 2004.

Denmark given England, France and hosts Sweden in 1992.

But being in the European Championships is all about playing against the best teams.

This gives us a great opportunity to play against the winners of the last two World Cups.

The current holders of the European Championships as well.

Ireland are most definitely sitting at the top table now.

It’s great being back.

Everyone in my generation remembers Houghton sticking the ball in the English net.

Bonner against the Romanians.

Houghton again in Giants stadium.

Getting Spain and Italy in our group has just handed us 2 huge opportunities to create similar historic occasions.

And all of these occasions came when we given a tough group.

‘88 and ‘90 saw us paired with England and Holland.

Throw USSR into our European Championship group and we had the two eventual finalists.

‘94 had us paired with eventual runners-up Italy along with Mexico and a Norwegian team that had lit up European qualification by finishing top of a group with the English and the Dutch.

‘02 again had us with the runners-up in the form of Germany and reigning African Nations champions Cameroon.

What this current group has done is hand us an opportunity to play against the best teams in the world and to create history again.

It took a long time for this Irish team to get back to the top table.

The players will be relishing this group.

So should we.

Even if we are the worst team in it...

Monday, 28 November 2011

Do fans really want success or are they just happy to be entertained?

For me, the sport I love has always been about winning.

Whether it’s Ireland in a World Cup or a kick about in the park, winning was all that mattered.

Even if we didn’t play well - winning made the sport entertaining.

I always felt that while the match may not have been an entertaining spectacle, it felt great to play so bad and still win.

Qualification for the European Championships this month was a massive success.

All the hard work, combined with this perceived lack of entertainment, surmounted to winning qualification to a major tournament for the first time in ten years.

The criticism of Giovanni Trapattoni’s reign over the Irish team should have grinded to a halt after his victory over Estonia.

Instead, critics have now turned their attention to telling the public how bad Ireland are going to do at the Championships next summer.

Even if Ireland were to lose every game 5-0, the campaign would still go down as the furthest Ireland have gone in 10 years.

The furthest in the European Championships in 22 years.

Yet now some journalists are saying we will be found out by the likes of Spain, Germany and Holland when we get there.

Found out?

As in the best three teams in the world will prove that they are better than a team made up from the bottom half of the Premier League?

Surely success came in the qualification and anything beyond is even more of a bonus for this Irish team?

Yet a large portion of Irish supporters want Giovanni out.

Sick of the style of football, no matter how successful.

Compare this to the situation at Arsenal right now.

Arsene Wenger, one of the greatest managers in the world, has led his team to play some of the best football the Premier League has ever seen.

Yet he is nowhere near as successful as Giovanni.

Arsene will hope to some day be mentioned in the same breath as Giovanni when it comes to the amount of major honours he’s won.

But right now, he is not even close to adding to his tally.

He is currently overseeing his seventh season since he won a trophy.

But by playing such entertaining football during this barren spell, he was able to keep the terraces happy.

Gordon Strachan and Martin O’Neill is another interesting example at Celtic.

Gordon had the better record as manager.

Yet the supporters never really took to him despite twice taking the Glasgow team to the last 16 of the Champions League and winning the same number of league titles as Martin but in fewer seasons.

Gordon didn’t have nearly as much money as Martin and was forced to work with a weaker squad.

Yet most Celtic supporters will tell you they’d prefer to see Martin back in the hot seat.

Martin and his entertaining ways.

Finally, you have the situation at Chelsea.

There’s no chance Arsene would have been allowed 6 seasons in charge of Chelsea with such a lack of success.

Giovanni would no doubt have had success at the helm but the feeling is that Roman Abramovich demands entertainment and success.

And even when they had that in the shape of Jose Mourinho or Carlo Ancelotti, it only lasted as long as the success was there.

Hefty prices have been paid in trying to obtain both.

And he still can’t win the Champions League no matter how much money he spends.

The aim in football has always been to have an entertaining and successful side.

This is not always possible with the resources some sides have.

Especially in the international arena.

Roman has the right idea about this.

And the resources.

He is just living proof of how hard it is to have both.
At the end of the day though - Roman shares the same belief as myself.

Football is all about winning.

Yet some supporters of this beautiful game, just don’t find joy in being successful...

Monday, 14 November 2011

Do us all a favour Robbie - Retire from international football, effective immediately.

Thanks for everything Robbie.

You’ve done your best.

You really have.

But being honest - it just wasn’t quite good enough.

Now don’t you think it’s time you did us Irish a favour and retired from international football?

Preferably before the European Championships.

Preferably before Tuesday’s return leg against Estonia.

Let’s just say your performance in the first leg was the final straw.

Quite simply, you were muck.

I know you got 2 goals in an important match.


But 1 was a peno in fairness...

I know you set up Jon Walters with a brilliant cross.

As well as playing Stephen Hunt through to win the peno.

And you were also the player who drew the 2 fouls which saw 2 Estonians sent off.

But to be honest Robbie, I’m looking for more from an Irish striker these days than 2 goals, 1 and a half assists and getting 2 players sent off through your quickness of thought and speed of movement.

I want to see more to strikers in general than just goals and assists actually.

People will argue that you have 53 international goals.

More than Shearer, Owen, Lineker, Keegan or Charlton.

More than Rush, Hughes, Dalglish, Law or Best.

In fact, more than any British player.


Even though most of them were playing for far superior teams than you at the time.

But I always just felt your goals came against lesser nations.

And while Ireland never had a player good enough to score against the lesser nations until you came along, it’s the big games that count.

Like a Play-Off for a major tournament.

People will say you played in 4 Play-Offs and scored in 4 Play-Offs.

But I see the fact that you only scored 5 goals from those 6 games as being the reason we didn’t qualify from more of them.

I’m sure you’re thinking to yourself that you scored 3 goals (plus 1 more in the shoot-out) in the World Cup in 2002 and they were big games.

But one of those was against Saudi Arabia.

I don’t even know where that is Robbie.

I’ll give you the goals against Germany and Spain.

You deserve some credit.

But that still doesn’t change the fact that you are only really capable of scoring at home.

Away games against Holland, Italy and France excluded of course.

Or that cracker you got against Holland when we won 1-0.

Cause that was only a friendly.

But now it’s time for change.

Kevin Doyle is a much better player anyway.

He is 28 now and although Mick McCarthy is the only manager to spend proper money on him, it was €7.5m well spent.

Unlike yourself, who has had Gordon Strachan, Marcello Lippi, Dave O’Leary, Glenn Hoddle, Rafa Benitez and Harry Redknapp spend over €90m on you.

Kevin could get a move to someone like Internazionale, it’s just Wolves won’t sell him, that’s all.

Then there’s Shane Long as well.

23 goals in the Championship and West Bromwich Albion immediately threw €5.2m at Reading for him.

Yes Robbie, West Bromwich Albion.

And now we also have Leon Best.

He’s scored in 2 separate games in the Premier League this season.

He must start.

Along with Jon Walters.

He is also 28 and despite the fact that when you were 28 you had 33 internationals to your name, this guy has scored 3 goals in the Premier League this season.

3 goals Robbie.

He has to start ahead of you.

So, I appreciate your commitment and loyalty to the Irish side over the past 14 seasons but really, we’re not looking for someone who will turn up for every game and give 100% commitment no matter what.

You have given more to this country on the football pitch than anyone could ever ask of a player and have never once complained - but it’s time to move on now Robbie.

So all the Irish supporters who aren’t ‘fans’ of yours can experience what it’s going to be like when we’re well and truly fucked without you...

Friday, 11 November 2011

Go Giovanni Go. (In the supportive way of course)

If you want entertaining football and want success with your national team these days, then you’re going to have to hail from Spain, Germany or Uruguay I’m afraid.

Cause if you’re born in any of the other 205 nations, it’s a choice of wanting one or the other.

I for one, want success.

Success like the Holland side that won every qualifier for the World Cup in South Africa and every game all the way up to the final in 2010 - yet were absolutely slated in the press for their brand of football.

I want success over the entertainment that is the Armenian side who banged in a whopping 22 goals in Ireland’s group this campaign, making them the 5th highest scorers out of the 51 nations involved.

They won’t play a competitive game for almost a year.

I won’t lie - given a choice, I want to replicate Greece rather than go all Kevin Keegan on it and enjoy our summers off.

Kevin entertained the socks off my generation in the mid-nineties with his attack minded Newcastle side.

Countless 4-3 thrillers mixed with 3 goal comebacks almost every second week.

Entertaining - So entertaining.

But at the end of it all the only thing he won was the guarantee of being the extended highlights match every week on Match of the Day.

No Champions Leagues.

No league titles.

No FA cups.

Not even a mickey mouse cup.

Unlike Giovanni Trapattoni.

The third most successful manager in the history of the sport.

He is to winning what Kevin is to entertainment.

The perfect man to be in charge of the Irish national team right now.

In a period were we have no world class players for the first time in almost 50 years.

Giovanni has his team brilliantly organised, completely disciplined and making the absolute most of what they have at their disposal.

This team is full of passion, guts and a determination to punch above it’s weight.

There are more ways to play than the British style of frenetic pace and hard man defending.

There’s the successful way of playing too.

Like the Italian way which has yielded 4 World Cups for the national side.

That’s the Giovanni way.

Which has seen him manage some of the biggest teams in the world - AC Milan, Inter Milan twice, Juventus twice, Bayern Munich, Benfica, Fiorentina and Italy.

Having success at them all.

No manager in the history of Irish managers has ever won a major honour with the exception of the 1955 FA Cup.

Yet ‘fans’ are calling for his head?

Mick McCarthy got us to one major Championship in 3 attempts - He had Roy Keane in all of them.

Brian Kerr couldn’t even manage a play-off in 2 attempts - Even he had Roy Keane for a campaign.



Giovanni takes over - And from 3rd seed gets us to within extra time of a World Cup in his first attempt.

That group had Italy, Montenegro and Bulgaria in it.

And from 3rd seeds this time round, he has split Russia and World Cup last 16ists Slovakia.

Just 2 games away from only our second major tournament in 18 years.

Doing it the Italian way.

Yet an increasing amount of Irish fans are calling for his head.

I’m not sure exactly who they think will take over if Giovanni were to leave?

Martin O’Neill, Sven Goran Eriksson, Carlo Ancelotti - Good Luck.

Dave O’Leary, Paul Jewell, Chris Hughton - More likely.

In reality, if we lose Giovanni, we will get a manager who will be out of work, in the Championship or an ex-player who has never managed before.

And fans want this over the 3rd most successful manager of all time?

Cause they want to be entertained!

Do me a favour - get behind the greatest manager we have ever had and enjoy the success that will come with it.

I don’t want 7 goal thrillers like we had against Cyprus.

I want 4 draws to set-up a World Cup quarter final against Italy.

And no, we can’t have both.

We don’t have the players to give us both.

Not even England do.

Our players play for Stoke and Wigan.

Wolves and teams from the Championship.

And L.A. Galaxy!

But they are showing the sort of heart and character that should make every Irish supporter stand up brimming with pride.

These heros haven’t got all the ability in the world.

But they have got all the courage.

The sort of thing this country used to admire and respect.

We made heros of these players under Jack.

Now let’s do the same for Giovanni...

Monday, 7 November 2011

A look back on the glorious international career of Kevin Prince Boateng (2010-2011)

Alan Shearer.


Retires from International football.

Jamie Carragher.

29 the first time he retired.

Paul Scholes.

29 as well.

Each a great loss to their country.

Each bowing out just a little too early.

However, if any country can cope with the loss of one player, then a country with a pool the size of Englands to choose from can.

I’ve never really had a problem with players retiring from the larger nations, even if the above bowed out prematurely.

There is usually a couple of great young players just behind them bursting to take their place.

Think Michael Owen after Alan with Wayne Rooney not too far behind.

Or else quality established stars that are keeping them out of the first team anyway.

Think John Terry and Rio Ferdinand when Jamie went.

But when a player is retiring from a smaller nation such as Ireland, South Korea or Ghana, it is invariably going to leave a massive hole.

The depth of talent that these lesser nations produce, means they could easily go 10 years without producing a left back that’s better than Championship level.

We have seen such countries produce 4 great strikers and not a centre midfielder in sight.

3 left wingers and no right.

That is why it is paramount that when they do produce a player of quality, the player makes it his prerogative to play as long as he can for his country.

When Paul left England, they brought in Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard.

When Roy Keane left Ireland, it was Steven Reid with Kevin Kilbane.

Cut to this weekends news of Kevin Prince Boateng.

A player who had represented Germany 41 times as a youth team player.

Yet never quite good enough for the senior squad.

And in 2009, things weren’t going well for him at club level either.

He was heading for the Championship with Portsmouth.

However, he also qualified to play for Ghana.

A Ghana side that had reached the upcoming World Cup.

One switch of allegiance later and despite not playing a single World Cup qualifier, he was on the plane to South Africa in 2010.

Making his debut less than a week before the tournament started.

He used Ghana to get into the World Cup shop window and thus secured a move to AC Milan.

Fast forward one year - and only three games outside that month of June - Kevin announces his retirement from international football.

At the age of 24.

Alan had at least amassed 63 caps before he left England prematurely.

Paul had 66.

Ji-Sung Park had 100 caps when he retired from South Korea at the age of 29.

Yet here was Kevin Prince Boateng, not good enough for Germany, giving the chance to play in a World Cup by Ghana, repaying them by retiring after a whole 9 appearances.

A small nation loses one of their stars just short of their participation in the African Nations Cup.

A 6 week disruption he can do without in his Serie ‘A’ career with AC Milan no doubt.

But no hint of loyalty to the country that helped get him to Serie ‘A’ in the first place.

Had done so much for a young 23 year old struggling in a relegation battle to make sure he could represent their country.

And without the depth of pool that an England has to choose from.

Has it really gone so far that players can now ‘use’ countries as well as clubs.

Kevin used an entire nation as a stepping stone.

And didn’t even hang around long enough to say thanks.

Whatever else Alan ‘might’ have achieved on the international stage was unfortunately lost to his early retirement.

But at least he gave a massive amount to his country in the 9 years he did play.

Sadly though, that’s 1 year for every game Kevin had...

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Watch out Barcelona. Manchester City are coming...

For exactly 100 games now, Manchester City have been going about things the right way.

The constant criticisms of negative defensive football are steadily dissipating.

For the last season and a half, Roberto Mancini has spent his time building from the back, focusing on defensive duties first.

Teaching his ‘team’ how to play as a team.

Slowly but surely he has started to let his team off their leash.

And on Sunday - they exploded.

Against the second best team in the world - Manchester United.

Who’ve reached 3 of the last 4 Champions League finals.

Won 4 of the last 5 Premier League titles.

Yet Manchester City managed to beat them 6-1 in their own backyard.

The 6 goals were not actually the impressive part.

In reality, they were 3-1 up against ten men in the 90th minute.

It was the fact that United had dropped only 2 points at home in the whole of last season.

And suddenly City had taken 3 points off them.

By starting to produce some of the best football seen in the Premier League since it began.

City are on course to overtake Arsenal as the critics favourite footballing side.

For years now Critics have labelled the talented North London side as the best in England.

But while Arsenal were thrilling us with their attacking flair, United and Chelsea were busy lifting trophies.

Beautiful on the eye yet ultimately no substance.

However, Man City are not trying to emulate Arsenal.

They’re aiming much higher than that.

Roberto is building a team full of style and substance.

A team that has just managed to topple the Champions in their own back yard after all.

And when you beat the second best team in the world - there’s only one team you can go after.


A team they are fast becoming like, but - whisper it - more attacking.

The City formation may well go on to become as synonymous as the Ajax formation the way things are building.

The Barcelona way is to have 4 defensive players, 3 link players and 3 attackers.

City have gone with 4 attackers.

The 4 defenders defend, get the ball to the 2 link players in midfield and in turn they just look for an attacker.

Any attacker.

They all play the same.

Silva, Balotelli, Aguero, Tevez, Dzeko, Nasri, Milner, Johnson.

All can play anywhere across the front four.

All do.

Barcelona use 3 attackers that can play anywhere - Messi, Pedro and Villa.

Roberto has gone with 1 more.

Neutrals should be licking their lips all over the world.

Here is a team, with ambitions of being the best in the world, going about this ambition in the right way.

Humility at management level.

Great handling of a parasite like Tevez.

Even the fans - so long telling us they are the real fans in Manchester - have invented their own unique celebration.

They’re loving every minute of it.

So should we.

And now they are going after Barcelona.

With 1 more attacker in hand.

So good luck City.

We’re all behind you.

Except for Barcelona...

Monday, 17 October 2011

Nothing about FIFA says ‘fair play’ right now. Especially not the play-offs.

The draw for the Euro 2012 play-offs took place a few days ago.

Unsurprisingly, nothing about it screamed fair play.

It just showed what a crooked organisation FIFA really is right now.

Everything they do demonstrates them favouring the bigger nations.

Especially when it comes to play-offs for major tournaments.

All this came about two years ago when it became apparent there was a chance Germany might not get automatic qualification.

If they hadn’t qualified for the World Cup in South Africa it would have been a disaster.

Not just for FIFA, the financial department and South Africa - but for everyone involved.

And whilst we all wanted Germany to qualify, we all wanted them to earn it - albeit if they had to knock out another top nation in a play-off.

But they were now faced with a situation were they had to go to Russia and get a result.

Not an easy task.

Cue FIFA to the rescue.

How about we seed the play-off teams so that Germany get a weaker nation if they fail to qualify straight off, they thought?

And let’s make sure they play the second leg at home cause that’s another advantage.

Oh and we can decide all this 2 weeks before the end of a 14 month qualifying campaign.

Finally, let’s seed it on the coefficients as well - instead of seeding it on what has just taken place in the current qualifying campaign.

That way - ‘big’ nations like Germany can go through a bad patch in a qualifying campaign and still have an advantage because of what they did four years ago.

Afterall, most big nations will be able to produce a good team over a 4 year period.

Unlike a small country such as Estonia.

Or Ireland.

Or Slovakia.

They don’t have the resources of the superpowers, relying instead on golden generations to qualify.

Golden generations that lead to the game developing in the smaller nations.

But FIFA want the bigger nations there instead.

They’ll make more money off them so they’ll give them every advantage they can.

No matter the ‘cost’.

And yet FIFA continuously try to promote fair play.

So why not lead by example?

They already give the bigger nations an advantage by seeding them in the draw for the initial groups.

If a nation hasn’t done enough to qualify by winning this group then they don’t deserve the right to any more benefits.

Every team who finishes second should be seeded according to what they did - just in that group.

Whether it be Germany or Estonia.

Of course being an Irish supporter, I’m delighted we got Estonia.

But Ireland and Portugal did no more this time than Estonia or Montenegro.

Why should they have any right to avoid each other?

I much rather we got Estonia over Portugal - but in an open draw.

At least that would have been fair.

It would have been right.

And people would be saying ‘fair play’ to FIFA for a change.

But that’s something nobody’s said about them for a long time...

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

All I ask is that no fans go to the Armenian game tonight. Just supporters.

And believe me, there is a difference.

I’m sick of Irish fans going to Ireland games.

I really am.

I looked on at the Montenegrin celebrations the other night against England and couldn’t help but feel envious.

They were dead and buried at one stage.

2-0 down.

But their support was immense.

And these supporters were rewarded when they got to storm the pitch at the full time whistle.

Back to 2-2 and into the play-offs they go.

I would love to see scenes like this tonight at the Aviva.

But too many fans will be there from Ireland.

Ready to criticise, boo and create this feeling of unrest synonymous to the Aviva these days.

How many of them will storm the pitch if we draw 0-0 and secure a play-off place?

Not many I’d say.

Instead I sit beside fans who criticise Robbie every time he touches the ball.

Except when he scores of course.

Something he’s done quite a lot.

51 times for this small nation yet still he has critics amongst the stands.

I sit in front of fans who boo the team off at the end of a 0-0 draw with Slovakia.

A team seeded higher than us.

A team that played better than us.

They knock Italy out while reaching the last 16 of the World Cup in 2010 yet our fans boo our team off for nicking a point.

I sit behind fans who demand we beat countries like Armenia.

“I don’t even know where that is” a typical response.

Most of them demand we beat a team that isn’t laden with Premier League stars.

Most of them demand our team made up of Stoke, Wolves and Fulham players dismantle a team like Armenia by "a good few goals".

They should talk to their Slovakian counterparts.

Thankfully though, in between all of these fans, you’ll find supporters.

Lots of them.

Real ones.

We understand how difficult it will be to secure a play-off place tonight against a team that just hammered Slovakia 4-0 away.

We understand that we can influence the referee.

The Armenian players.

But most importantly we understand we can influence the team we support.

We can inspire them to just one more run.

One more chance.

One more goal.

We understand we can inspire them to one more result.

So let’s support our team tonight.

No matter what happens.

Because they need us.

And we need a result.

Just one more...

Monday, 3 October 2011

Only intelligent football supporters will have seen how good Rovers were against Tottenham.

‘If Harry hates the Europa League he’s really going to hate playing against these plodders’.

‘C’mon you Spurs. Beat this pub team from Ireland today’.

‘Shambolic Rovers’.

Just some of the comments I saw on Twitter last Thursday.

Pretty much summed up how Tottenham fans were feeling.

And who could blame them.

It took Real Madrid to knock them out of Europe last season.

They are used to judging their team against the best in the world.

But now they were only facing the best in Ireland.

Not in the same league at all.

Except the Europa League of course.

Because that’s where Shamrock Rovers find themselves these days.

A place were most Irish ‘fans’ felt they would be disgraced on Thursday.

But it was far from it.

Tottenham Hotspur got to the last 8 of the Champions League last season.

They topped a group including Internazionale and knocked out AC Milan.

Only two weeks ago, they smashed four past Liverpool.

Yet after 59 minutes at White Hart Lane - Shamrock were winning.

Sorry, Shamrock ‘Rovers’ were winning.

The pub team from Ireland were beating one of the best teams in the world.

Sure they were lucky at times.

Sure Tottenham were a bit wasteful.

But it was no different to Ireland vs. Russia last month.

Or any team against Barcelona really.

Rovers defended heroically.

Got bodies back.

Gave everything they had.

Exactly what you need to do when playing against a superior team.

We see it every week in the Premier League when the big four play at home.

Yet leading after an hour wasn’t enough for most to see how far the standard in the League of Ireland has come in the last 10 years.

They just see Tottenham’s ‘reserves’ going on to score 3 goals to secure victory.

But take the reserves of any of the teams from this seasons Champions League Quarter Finals and you’ll see quality everywhere.

They had Defoe and Pavlyuchenko up front.

Their 2 fullbacks represented England in the European U21 championship this summer.

Aaron Lennon and Giovani Dos Santos have played in World Cups.

Yet some Irish people will remember it as the night Tottenham’s reserves beat Rovers 3-1.

They’ll judge the League of Ireland against the Premier League as always.

Instead of comparing it to the Swedish, Norwegian or Scottish leagues.

We should be measuring Shamrock Rovers not on how far they have to go.

But rather on how far they’ve come.

A long way during this generation.

But a distance only intelligent football supporters will have seen this week...

Monday, 26 September 2011

Michael Owen - The best player in the world in his position.

Manchester United 3 Leeds United 0.

Michael Owen scores two goals.


A reminder to us all he’s never lost it.

Michael knows this.

Leeds United know this.

But a certain Fabio Capello remains unconvinced.

Thankfully for Michael, Sir Alex Ferguson is a believer.

Rescuing him from his nightmare at Newcastle, most people raised an eyebrow or two when Alex signed him 2 years ago.

But he knew well what he was doing.

Having opted not to re-sign Carlos Tevez, his options up front were looking a little thin.

Wayne Rooney was the crown jewel.

But Dimitar Berbatov hadn’t set the world alight since joining.

And there was a youngster or two coming through that were not quite ready for the first team.

They soon would be.

So when the opportunity to sign a 29 year old England striker with 89 caps and 40 goals came up, it was an easy decision.

Especially as he was free.

Easy decision for Michael too.

A chance to join a team that had just reached 2 Champions League Finals in a row and were winning the Premier league most seasons.

He knew he wouldn’t start every game but with his history of injuries, he knew he wouldn’t start every game for any team.

And Alex didn’t need a striker for 60 games.

He had them already.

What he needed was a back-up striker for games they were injured for.

Or suspended.

Or in need of a rest.

And what better man to come on then someone who has played on the biggest stage for so many years.

There was no need to worry about pressure or if he was good enough - this was Michael Owen.

So why isn’t Fabio a believer then?

Michael’s the last world class striker England has produced.

Loads of good strikers of course.

Jermain Defoe, Peter Crouch, Emile Heskey.

But no-one in the same league as Wayne is, as a centre forward.

Yet Michael hasn’t been called up in 3 years.

Kevin Davies has.

So too Jay Bothroyd.

But Fabio seems to be thinking of starting eleven’s only.

Playing every game.

Unlike Alex, who knows what a weapon Michael is to have on your bench.

Michael’s best position is not first choice striker needed for 60 games.

But back-up striker when needed in those 60 games.

He’s 5th choice striker at United.

The best 5th choice striker any club has in the world.

Good enough to be 5th choice striker for England?

That’s something England should really start believing in...

Monday, 19 September 2011

Go see Shamrock Rovers play? Sure they can’t even beat a team like Rubex Kazan at home...

This is what I overheard in a bar the other day.

It was from a football fan having a chat with his mate who supports Shamrock Rovers.

He had a jersey of a ‘foreign’ football team on.

So the conversation started about how well Rovers had played the night before.

A sentiment I agreed with entirely.

But they lost 3-0.

At home.

To a team called Rubin Kazan.

Not Rubex Kazan.

A top Russian side.

Winning the league in ‘08, ‘09 and coming 3rd in ‘10.

But they don’t play in the English Premier League.

Or Scotland.

So this Irish fan had never heard of them.

Thus he felt Shamrock Rovers should be beating them as they are only a “mickey mouse side”.

A bit like the Irish fans who booed of the national team against Slovakia two weeks ago.

If they don’t play or have played in or around England, they can’t possibly be good.

But this Rubin Kazan side are.

In 2010 they drew with Inter Milan in the Champions League group stages.

Inter went on to win the trophy that May.

They also drew with Barcelona the same season.

And again in 2011 they drew with the Spanish giants in the group stages.

Barcelona went on to not only win the Champions League last season but also get labelled with being one of the greatest sides of all time.

Not bad results for a “mickey mouse side”.

Even if they are not as glamorous a name as some European sides this season like Birmingham City or Stoke City.

I actually said well done to Shamrock Rovers for their performance.

They may have lost, but the defeat was not an embarrassing self-destruction through a bad performance full of schoolboy errors.

They were beaten by a better team.

Who scored some really well crafted goals.

They were technically superb.

But Shamrock Rovers played as well as I’ve seen them all season.

They just showed first hand the difference between qualifying for the group stages and competing against teams who can hold their own against the likes of Barcelona and Inter Milan on a regular basis.

A tough stepping stone for Rovers.

But one they are trying to get over.

And are going the right way about it.

Bringing up the standard of the Irish league along the way.

As for our friend in the bar.

He was wearing a Celtic jersey...

Monday, 12 September 2011

Liverpool didn’t deserve to rule Britannia.

Stoke City 1.

Liverpool 0.

Any Liverpool supporter watching their side at the Britannia will feel they deserved something out of the game.

The bad news for them is - they didn’t.

Absolutely nothing.

Another cracking result for Tony Pulis and his boys.

I’m a big fan of Tony.

A really big fan.

Tony set his team out to win the game 1-0 and that’s exactly what he got.

He couldn’t do much else to be honest - if he really wanted three points.

Liverpool are far superior in almost every department.

But this Stoke side are made of something special.

Not the sort of thing you can buy in the transfer window.

The sort of thing you must grow on the training ground.

Through hard work, dedication and most importantly - time.

Stoke will never be able to attract the type of player that Liverpool can.

But what they do get in, are players who never say die.

An attitude of guts, determination and a fighting spirit that brings 1-0 victories over better teams.

They are used to being told they are not good enough so when it comes to getting the chance to test themselves against the players who are, they have some serious issues to prove.

Tony has drilled this into them.

He has been doing it for 6 seasons since his return to Stoke as manager.

And he should know how to drill it into them.

He’s the managers equivalent.

Not quite good enough for the top.

But don’t let that stop him doing everything in his power to still get there.

Tony knew Liverpool would have chances.

Lots of chances.

And they did.

11 shots on target.

20 attempts at goal.

12 corners.

But if these Stoke players defend for their lives, fight for every ball and throw everything they have in the way of Liverpool, they know they can keep a clean sheet.

It’s up to great teams to break this resolve down and grind out a result.

But Liverpool aren’t a great team - yet.

Tony knows this.

He also knew he’d get one chance.

He always does.

Turns out he only got 1 shot on target.

But with the spirit his team has - sometimes that’s all he needs...

Monday, 5 September 2011

It’s embarrassing being an Ireland supporter sometimes.

Ireland nil.

Slovakia nil.

Full time whistle sounds.

Followed by boos.

A loud chorus of boos.

I stood in the Aviva stadium applauding the Irish team off the pitch.

But as I looked around, I saw thousands of Irish ‘supporters’ boo the same players.

If this was a 5-0 hammering, I could understand a few angry faces.

But this was a draw against a team better than us.

In a game were they played better than us.

And the game itself was an excellent encounter.

It didn’t have bags of goals, sending offs or peno shouts.

Not like a top premier league game.

But it did have two teams really have a go at each other.

With an almost unbearable tension throughout knowing how high the stakes were.

Yet booing was the order of the day.

At an Irish team that is punching above it’s weight right now.

Irish supporters need to put our level in perspective.

We have 5 Wolves players in the squad.

Our star players play for Aston Villa, Fulham and L.A. Galaxy.

And Darron Gibson is the only Irish player playing for any of the top 6 teams in the premier league.

Yet our ‘supporters’ decide to boo them off for only drawing with Slovakia.

A team that qualified for the last world cup.

Knocking out world champions Italy to qualify for the last 16.

They have players at Napoli, Manchester City and Liverpool.

And they really turned up on Friday night.

I applauded the Wolves players for keeping up with them.

And coming oh so close to beating them.

But Irish supporters have it good when it comes to their teams.

They are spoilt by supporting the likes of Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal or Celtic.

They expect to win.

And win with style.

But the international game is much different to the premier league.

This Irish side isn’t made up of quality players like Rooney, Suarez or Fabregas.

But hard grafters who are brimming with guts and determination.

Exactly the type of players that should be loved for giving their all to get to where they are.

Applauded for their efforts against superior opposition.

They play their hearts out and get rewarded with boos.

It’s not the result that was embarrassing.

Nor the performance.

It’s was the ‘supporters’.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

It could be big time Charlie for Liverpool.

Charlie Adam is on the verge of joining Liverpool.

Great move for Adam.

Great deal for Blackpool.

But great business for Liverpool?

I’m not so sure.

Charlie Adam was a revelation last season.

Brilliant to watch.

A real talisman.

Scored 12 goals from midfield in the Premier League.

Add to that, 7 assists.

A great return for a club that ended up relegated.

However, a team in which Adam takes all the corners.

Takes all the free-kicks.

All the penalties.

He was pretty much central to everything Blackpool did.

Everything got played through Adam and it so nearly paid off.

But with relegation, came the inevitability that Adam would move on.

And if QPR, Norwich or Swansea could afford him, I think he’d be a terrific signing for them.

Or Aston Villa, Bolton, West Brom, Sunderland et al.

They could make Adam their focal point.

Build their teams around him.

But not Liverpool.

They have Steven Gerard for one.

Their own talisman.

Takes free-kicks, corners, penalties.

The central point of the team.

Everything gets played through him.

And that won’t change to Charlie Adam.

You can’t compare a man who has had success at the very top for a long time to a 25 year old who has only 11 caps for Scotland.

Liverpool can also call on midfielders like Kuyt, Meireles, Lucas, the returning Aquilani and new £20 million man Henderson.

The won’t feel the need to play through Adam.

Every one of them already has a certain quality to do it themselves.

In fairness though, good players do play better with good players around them and Adam might just excel in this Liverpool team.

He will have to adapt his game drastically though.

No longer set piece man nor the focal point means Adam will have to add something to his game that we haven’t seen from him yet.

The kind of quality that will take him to the next level.

The same quality Liverpool desire.

The same quality he should desire.

Just not sure where he’s going to get it from...

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Villa fans don’t hate Alex McLeish. They hate themselves.

Andy Cole.

Carlos Tevez.

Luis Figo.

Now Alex McLeish.

All joined a rival club at one stage or another in their career.

All hated by the club they left.

All adorned by the club they joined.

Except for McLeish.

The scenes in Birmingham were slightly disjointed this week as all the protests took place outside Villa Park and not St. Andrews as history should suggest.

Birmingham City fans were not protesting that their manager had just left them for their nearest rivals.

And Aston Villa fans were not celebrating.

Quite the opposite in fact.

Alex McLeish is a good manager.

He is.

Success at Hibs led to success at Rangers and subsequently success at Scotland.

3 jobs done well.

Then Birmingham came along with a promotion and a Carling Cup win in just 2.5 years.

Not bad for a club of their size.

But then he got Birmingham relegated again.

Only two years ago, Villa fans were watching their side riding high in the Premier league with a promising young squad under the tutorship of the highly regarded Martin O’Neill.

Fast forward to this summer and a lot has changed.

Three different managers since then for starters.

Free-fall down the Premier League table.

Plus reports of more than one manager saying thanks but no thanks when offered the job of manager this summer.

Villa fans, having so recently tasted the highs of Premier League football, don’t want to admit to how far they’ve fallen.

No longer an enticing destination for managers the calibre of Ancelotti, Benitez, Moyes or even a Martinez but rather a place of reincarnation for a manager of Alex McLeish’s stature.

A good manager.

One who’ll steady the ship.

But not seen as one who could bring Villa back to where they were two years ago.

Or beyond.

Villa fans just see a manager who got their bitter rivals relegated.

But looks like they’ve got the best manager their club could attract.

For once, they don’t hate their rivals for stealing one of their assets.

But rather hate themselves for having to steal one of theirs...