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...