Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Edu, Saha, Malbranque and Cudicini for England

If any further proof is needed to show how utterly ridiculous international football has become, look no further than today's claims that Sven Goran Eriksson wanted to call-up Edu, Louis Saha, Steed Malbranque and Carlo Cudicini.

Four decent enough players - but none of them English! However, at the time, none of them had been capped by their countries and were eligible to play under FIFA's residency rule. The serialisation of former FA executive director David Davies's book in the Daily Mail suggests Sven gave the idea serious consideration.

Davies wrote: "'I like Carlo Cudicini', Sven told me - an opinion which led to a very serious consideration being given within Soho Square to recruiting Chelsea's Italian goalkeeper. However, our goalkeeping coach Ray Clemence was particularly concerned, insisting to Sven it would destroy our keepers.

"'Can you also find out about Malbranque, Edu and Saha?' Sven asked me. I wasn't sure what the public reaction would be to an Italian, a Brazilian and two Frenchmen coming into the squad but I did Sven's bidding.

"However, all my discreet enquiries to clubs and agents led to nothing. Miraculously, the moment our interest became known Saha and Edu were called up by their own nations, making them ineligible."

As I have posted before, I used to enjoy international football. The best players would put aside their club rivalries and the sheer pride on their faces when they pulled on their national jersey was a joy to behold. I've yet to see such pride on an England player's face since Italia '90.

But...and there has to be a but...I do appreciate many others still enjoy the national game. Some seem to think getting stonked on lager and shouting at the television is the definition of patriotism (urgh!), and the thought of those fans (let's just say somewhere to the right of centre-right, cough) cheering on four foreign players wearing the Three Lions is amusing, although it shouldn't be.

Would Sven really have picked the likes of Edu and Malbranque? Who knows, but if he did I would hope even the most loyal England fan would stop watching the game. It would be like a fan admitting they would happily sell-out their history and tradition to the highest bidder if that meant winning some silverware...as some Newcastle fans appear to be doing right now!

Venables slams "poisonous" Berbatov

Football needs characters like Terry Venables - proper people who can be relied on to speak their mind. Of course, they usually end up screwed over by people who don't like the "cut of their gib," or the like, but that's life.

One such character is Terry Venables. He may not have been anywhere near as good an England manager as the myth that has grown in the past 12 years, but he does have a very respectable record as a boss, both at home and in Europe.

Former Spurs boss Venables has made the headlines today (including the back page of The Sun, which is no mean feat!) by labelling Dimitar Berbatov as a "poisonous presence" who should shoulder a lot of the blame for the White Hart Lane club's terrible start to the season following his £30million summer move to Manchester United.

An extract of the article read: "Berbatov kept telling us he had 'a dream'. Well, good for you Dimi. You had a dream with a few extra noughts added to your bank balance. But did Spurs have a dream too? You got your way but your poisonous presence at the start of the season, the brooding and the reluctance to play, has cost the club that believed in you."

Venables also praised Tottenham supremo Daniel Levy, writing how he has "got to know him (Levy) over the years and got to like the way he thinks - and the dreams he had for Tottenham, too".

Three cheers for Venables for speaking out. As he rightly says, it is easy to always blame the men-in-suits but the mercenary players in today's game, who can't be satified with earning more than the average UK wage each week, really have a lot to answer for.

On a positive note, for Spurs fans at least, Berbatov has looked terrible since moving to Old Trafford. Perhaps he can't play without smoking a packet or two of cigarettes every day...?!?

Ashley slashes Newcastle price tag

Following yesterday's claim that an anonymous Nigerian consortium had submitted a bid for Newcastle United, it is now being reported that current owner Mike Ashley has slashed his asking from price from £450million to £280-300million.

According to an article on the BBC Sport website, Ashley would still make a profit of £50million if the club was sold for £300million - not bad business given the current state of the global economy! As Newcastle is a private company, Ashley has no shareholders to consult before accepting or refusing a bid.

As I recently commented on the NUFC Blog, £300million still seems like a lot of money, although it is hard to determine how much an individual club is worth. For example, Aston Villa were bought by Randy Lerner for closer to £60million - and it's hard to find a difference of £240million between the Midlands outfit and Newcastle.

The BBC article does go some way towards explaining where Newcastle's value comes from. The article reads: "Despite the club's current plight, being second-bottom of the Premier League, Newcastle could still be an attractive investment opportunity. St James' Park holds 52,000 fans, with 35,000 of them season-ticket holders, and is currently valued at around £150m.The playing squad is worth around £100m and has a wage bill of £70m, which is by no means the largest in the Premier League."

As for the whispers among Newcastle fans suggesting the Nigerian bid only exists in Ashley's mind, and is merely a method of flushing out other bidders...well, it's possible, but surely not?

Day of the Big Money (or Champions) League!

Until the top clubs in Europe get together and form a continent-wide super league (shudder!), the closest they can get to performing competitively on a global scale is with the Champions League. The four English, and one Scottish, clubs in this year's tournament are all in action either today or tomorrow.

Given the domination of the English clubs in recent years, and not to mention the money involved, they are all expected to win. By me, anyway. Man Utd should dispatch Aalborg in Denmark without too much hassle, though Arsenal may have to grind out a result against Porto the Emirates Stadium. Liverpool should beat PSV Eindhoven at Anfield, while Chelsea should have a productive time in Romania against CFR Cluj.

Of the five teams, only Celtic start as a the clear underdogs. Villarreal are currently top of the Spanish league and Celtic have had an indifferent start to the season. Gordon Strachan has done well to lead the side to the last-16 of the Champions League for two successive seasons (something never achieved by Martin O'Neill, incidentally), but the opening 0-0 draw against Aalborg at Parkhead means Celtic will have to do the unexpected and actually win some points away from hom!

All of the money is in the Champions League, to an extent, and there is a massive audience for nearly all of the games. Although some, shall we say, mercenary players probably trot out the "I moved to Club X as they offered Champions League football" instead of admitting it was for the cash - something CL clubs generally have more of! The great gap in England has also been created by the same four clubs qualifying for a few years - reaching the CL means cash, cash means reaching the CL, and the cycle continues.

What is interesting, in this meandering and possibly fairly pointless post, is the comparison between the old European Cup format and the current Champions League format. One criticism often levied is "but they aren't all champions" and "in a league system teams can lose and still go through". Well, that's quite correct, and the name should be changed. But it's still a far, far stronger tournament than it was in the days of two-legged knock-outs.

For if only domestic champions were allowed in the Champions League, it would be far less competitive. Liverpool, for instance, may have been well off the pace in the Premier League but are arguably better than any other domestic champions outside of Spain and Italy. That three English teams reached last season's semi-finals, and two contested the final, suggests that.

And does anyone really want a tournament where, in one group, are the champions of England, France, Iceland and Georgia? The English and French clubs would progress, and the only vaguely interesting matches would be two between the top two, which would determine which club would finish first and second.

However, I should stress that I don't think the Champions League is ideal and the amount of money involved is ruining the game. But it's not worth trying to fight the inevitable. Because of the cash involved, the only teams who can compete domestically are the ones in the Champions League and it would take oil rich multi-billionaires throwing cash around to disrupt the current top-four in England.

Oh, wait a minute...!

Spurs a crisis club - who next?

Of the 20 clubs in the Premier League, it seemed unlikely not too long ago that Spurs would be the next one to be handed the moniker "crisis club" - but that tag is now appearing in headlines with increasing frequency.

According to an article in today's Mirror, striker Roman Pavlyuchenko is just one of a number of players to have become dissatisfied with Juande Ramos's management at White Hart Lane. The article goes as far as claiming Spurs are "in danger of losing" the player as Ramos's "chaotic reign lurches into crisis".

Pavlyuchenko was quoted as saying: "I talked to our coach about it and I even visited him at his house. I asked him what I had done wrong, why I had been substituted. He said it wasn’t because I hadn’t been playing well enough, it was just a decision to change tactics. He told me not to bother my head with stuff like that."

Spurs are no strangers to managerial mistakes, though. The nine-month spell Christian Gross had in the hot-seat 10-or-so years ago still brings a wry grin to the lips of those who remember its farcical nature. Even so, the situation Spurs are now in is far more serious.

For no team is too good to be relegated. It's hard to imagine Spurs going down - they are one of only a few ever-present Premier League teams - and even harder to imagine Ramos will be allowed to stay beyond Christmas if things don't improve soon.

However, as with Newcastle there is no doubt Spurs have the infrastructure to shoot up the table - let's not forget, it was only a few seasons ago where they went into the last game as the favourites to finish fourth and claim a Champions League place, then literally sh*t themselves.

What is clear, though, is the problems at Spurs need to be looked at closely. For if a team who look so strong can suddenly collapse to the bottom of the table for no real reason, then "weaker" teams with more shaky foundations are in even more danger.

And the longer Spurs spend floundering around the lower reaches, the harder it will be for them to catch up with teams they should be outperforming - such as Portsmouth and Aston Villa. They can also forget trying to reach the level of Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and, sooner or later, Man City, too...