Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Beautiful Game Is Back!!

Hello everyone, no need to sit down because this is going to be pretty quick. So I wrote so much about the World Cup before it started but did not write anything here once it kicked off. I did not write a word about the World Cup on this blog for one reason only: there was no need to. The event surrounded us all. Even in places like the USA and India where football is as popular as a Colposcope, every man and their dog were Facebooking or Tweeting about the World Cup.

Today I just want to share my excitement at the imminent start of the European footie season. At 11:30 GMT on Saturday, Spurs vs City kicks off the Premier League and with it the life comes back into me. And into you, my friends. I’m not ashamed to admit it, the big three European leagues (Premier League, La Liga and Serie A) + The Champions’ League provide us the best of club football across the world. You also know it so why shouldn’t we celebrate the start of these competitions? This season promises a lot so I think we have much to look forward to.

If you’re in Accra on Saturday 14 August 2010, then join me and a group of friends to “officially’ welcome the season. And don’t forget to bring the wives/girlfriends to see what’s going to relegate them to second place for the next nine months.

What: 2010 / 2011 Footie Season Welcome Mixer

Where: Table Bay Jazz Bar @ Alisa Hotel, North Ridge, Accra

When: 14 August 2010 @ 11:00 GMT

Monday, May 3, 2010

world cup scouting 101

So we are almost there. Seasons are winding up towards thrilling ends and managers are releasing (leaking, if you’re Ghana) provisional squads. The 2010 FIFA World Cup is truly upon us now. I dunno where I will be for the period but I know I don’t want to be doing work that will prevent me from taking in this special feast and sharing it with you here. If you know of any firm in the South Africa area offering internships to MBA students for June-July, with flexible schedules, let me in on it!

Today I’m looking at those players who are likely to build their reputations from relative unkowns to stardom at this tournament. Every tournament produces such players. I remember Landon Donovan, Park Ji Sung, Joaquin Sanchez, El Hadji Diouf and Kleberson from Japan/Korea and Antonio Valencia, Philip Lahm, John Mensah, Fabio Grosso, Franck Ribery from Germany four years later. Depending on the depth of your knowledge about the game, you may know these players on my list. If you don’t know much about them, remember their names and the fact that you heard about them here first.

15. Guilermo Ochoa, Goalkeeper, Mexico

14. Nader Belhadj, Defender, Algeria

13. Neven Subotic, Defender, Serbia

12. Davide Santon, Defender, Italy

11. Jerome Boateng, Defender, Germany

10. Nicolas Otamendi, Defender, Argentina

09. Ibrahim Afellay, Midfielder, Netherlands

08. Kwadwo Asamoah, Midfielder, Ghana

07. Nicolas Lodeiro, Midfielder, Uruguay

06. Alexis Sanchez, Attacker, Chile

05. Miralem Sulejmani, Attacker, Serbia

04. Charlie Davis, Attacker, USA

03. Gervinho, Attacker, Cote d’Ivoire

02. Jesus Navas, Attacker, Spain

01. Lee Chung Yong, Attacker, South Korea

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Humble Hounds

One of the most famous expressions in discussions about the beautiful game is “unsung hero”. This refers to the player who turns up, puts in a shift every day, can be relied upon all the time but somehow fails to get the recognition his abilities deserve. If this lack of credit was among only lay followers of football, it wouldn't be so disturbing. Often, some of these unsung heroes are not given the appropriate credit by experts and even coaches. Today, about 50 days from the opening match of the World Cup, The Beautiful Game is presenting to you a top ten list of such players going to the World Cup. We believe this is important as we expect that per usual, these players will largely go unnoticed. We however want you to remember their names when the event starts and closely follow their geniuses. Making a top ten list of anything is a difficult task so we would appreciate it if you can let us know about other players whose names have not been mentioned on this list:

    10. Branislav Ivanovic, Defender, Serbia. He's strong as an ox, pacy going forward and is a threat from set plays. Strangely, it took him almost a year to get a game for Chelsea. Although a centre back by trade, he has deputised brilliantly for Jose Bosingwa as right back at Chelsea and we expect him to play in that position for Serbia in South Africa. Such has been his competence as a full back that we think he is now among the top 5 right backs in the world.

    09. John Paintsil, Defender, Ghana. Here is another right back who will be playing in Group D. He became infamous throughout the world for waving an Israeli flag after Ghana scored against the Czech Republic in the last tournament. For that and his stop start introduction to the Black Stars team, he has never really been very popular among the extremely demanding football public in Ghana. He is however a very strong full back who rarely puts a foot wrong for either Ghana or his club side, Fulham.

    08. Tim Cahill, Attacker, Australia. He was one of the good performers at the last World Cup. Perhaps the tiniest player among the giants of Australia, he defies logic by being its most dangerous player from set pieces. His last 13 goals or so have been headers. He is also hard working, technically brilliant, possesses a powerful shot and has a good eye for goal.

    07. Jean Makoun, Midfielder, Cameroun. Everything good in the Cameroun team passes through Makoun. Only about 5'7” tall, he has got tremendous stability, craft with either feet, great vision and a thunderous shot. If Cameroun is to do well at this tournament, they need him to link up effectively with Samuel Eto'o. If they do, it is a terrifying prospect for the other teams in Group E.

    06. Park Ji Sung, Midfielder, South Korea. He is so good that his club manager, Alex Ferguson, plays him in only the important matches. Perhaps his lack of plaudits is due to the fact that he is Korean and fans generally underestimate Asian teams and players. Park Ji Sung is however the true unsung hero - all about the performance on the pitch and little about the publicity off it. It surprises me that people forget that he was one of the standout performers at the Japan/Korea fiesta; his brilliance typified by this sumptuous goal against Portugal.

    05. Daniel De Rossi, Midfielder, Italy. Now this is a truly world class player. It took us a long time to appreciate De Rossi's play but in a changing world of football where the anchorman is perhaps evern more important than the playmaker, De Rossi is one of the best of the generation. He breaks up play brilliantly, can spot a pass from 40 yards out and is deadly from set pieces too. So long as De Rossi and others like Adrea Pirlo are grossly underrated, Italy will continue to shock the world at major events.

    04. Steven Pienaar, Attacker, South Africa. One could make a top ten list of underrated players from Everton FC alone. Tim Cahill's team mate is one who took longer than usual to live up to his talents. When he played for Ajax with other youngsters like Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Rafael van der Vaart and Mido, it seemed Pienaar was going to be the world's best player two years from then. A series of injuries and accompanying loss of form slowed his progress. He has however been completely reinvented at Everton. He is so skilful that even Cristiano Ronaldo has confessed to watching him for some moves. He should definitely be playing for a team with bigger ambitions, especially as we see the likes of Nani and Salomon Kalou playing Champions League football every year. Maybe with the tournament in his home country, this is the time for him to prove his ability to the entire football world. Expect some outrageous tricks, breathtaking runs, a goal or two and innovative celebrations from this little South African.

    03. Javier Zanetti, Defender, Argentina. I am lost for words when it comes to Zanetti. It seems impossible that a player can be so good for so long without being known outside of hardcore footie followers. The Inter Milan captain should be there for his third World Cup, bombing up and down either flank as he always does, even at age 36. If he is required in central defence or midfield, he will also boldly step up and do a job. A true legend of the game and one who deserves a World Cup medal before the sun sets on his career. I am fervently hoping Diego Maradona selects him for the World Cup, unlike Jose Pekerman who dropped Zanetti for the 2006 showdown

    02. Miroslav Klose, Attacker, Germany. He will come, he will see, he will conquer. Klose seems to be someone who is just cut for the big time. Top scorer at the last world cup and second top scorer in the one before, Klose is the one player who poses a genuine threat to Ronaldo's record as the highest world cup goal scorer of all time. With the likes of Michael Ballack and Philip Lahm sweeping crosses on to his head, I expect him to bang a few more goals at this tournament. His talents may not be celebrated today, but posterity will rightfully view him as one of the all time goal scoring greats.

    01. Esteban Cambiasso, Midfielder, Argentina. Maybe not so anymore due to Inter's performance in the Champions' League this year. Cambiasso has been consistently good since he broke on to the scene as a 17 year old at Malaysia '97. He spent so many years in the shadows of other good players from that phenomenal Argentine youth team: Juan Riquelme, Pablo Aimar and even to an extent, Walter Samuel. He is however one of the greatest defensive midfielders in the modern game and he will be extremely crucial to Argentina's play. With all the attacking riches Argentina has, it will need Cambiasso at his best to break up play when teams counter attack against them. Fortunately if anybody can do that, then Cambiasso can. Here's to hoping that he will indeed step up and step out of the shade into the limelight for a change.

Honourable mentions: Jonas Gutierrez (Argentina), Dejan Stankovic (Serbia), Patrice Evra (France), Diego Forlan (Uruguay), Lukas Podolski (Germany), Joseph Yobo (Nigeria)

In our next article, we will be reviewing the unknown players who are likely to take the World Cup by storm. Every tournament we get a few players who go from relative obscurity at the start to stardom at the end. If you have any such player in mind, let us know about him by sending us an email:

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Don't believe the hype

It was absolutely thrilling for me to be back in Ghana for my 2010 Spring break. I got the opportunity to watch football at Epo spot and drink several bottles of Guinness all over again. One of the things that make our country such an exciting place is the group of local language radio stations. Most of the comments, especially on the sports programs, border on the ludicrous. It is not uncommon to hear comments from these stations that make you go like "What! Did he actually say that?" So it turned out that as I listened to the morning sports show on one of these stations, a serious argument broke out between the co-hosts. The cause? One of them stated emphatically that “Sergio Aguero is better than both Kaka and Cristiano Ronaldo combined”. Wow! And before you ask, these sports hosts are very, very up to date with what's happening in the football world. They watch almost all the important matches live on T.V and even travel to cover some of them at the stadiums. So why will a football expert make a pronouncement of such idiotic proportions? Hype. Football is one of the industries that is able to hype up its stars to the skies and unfortunately, it's easy to buy into the hype.

With my fury at the argument on the radio as a backdrop, I've made a list of the top ten most overrated players going to the world cup. This is also officially my first world cup countdown article. (I think I've let Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Marouane Chamack & David Beckham escape by limiting this article to only the players going to the world cup).

10. Steven Gerrard (England): He's one of two good players in a very mediocre Liverpool team. He has salvaged the team on many occasions and is a legend in Merseyside. One can however count on his fingertips the number of good games Gerrard has had in the last two years. I think the Gerrard vs Lampard (statistically the best Premier League Player of the last 10 years) debate was settled when Capello decided that the former better leaves the latter alone in the middle of the park. Stevie G will therefore be playing in left midfield in SA, but expect him to be drifting into central midfield on many occasions, to detrimental effect on England's performance.

09. Deco (Portugal): He's finished - simple as that. He was a fabulous player at Porto, played brilliantly for the first two seasons at Barca and has been pants since. Why he gets anywhere near the Chelsea team is hard for me to understand. Even harder for me to understand is why he's one of the highest paid players in the world, even above the likes of Didier Drogba and Fernando Torres.

08. Franck Ribery (France): He was the discovery of the last world cup, no doubt. However I think his pace and some trickery make way too many people think he's a Messi of a sort. If he was just regarded as a good player, I'd have no qualms but the fact that connoisseurs of the game rate him at the same level as Ronaldo and Messi leaves me flummoxed. If Ribery is worth the 100 million Euros that Bayern is quoting, then Tarek Djibril should be worth at least 50 million.

07. Kolo Toure / Joleon Lescott (Cote d'Ivoire/England): The worst footballing decision made by management may be Real Madrid selling Clause Makelele to make way for David Beckham. In the future I hope Man City's sale of Richard Dunne for Lescott and Kolo Toure is mentioned in the same category. To put it in perspective, Aston Villa, with Richard Dunne in defence has the third best defensive record in the EPL this season, much better than what City has achieved with the tragic combo. So long as Cote d'Ivoire continues to play the wrong Toure in central defence, their talented squad will never fulfill its potential.

06. Glen Johnson (England): Liverpool finished the whole of the 2008/2009 Premier League with 27 goals conceded. With five matches still to go in the 2009/2010 season, they have already conceded 33. The only difference in the back four for those two seasons is Mr. Johnson. Liverpool have basically paid 18 million pounds so they could concede more goals?

05. Eric Abidal (France): Patrice Evra is three times the player he is. Can't tackle, can't run, can't dribble, overly clumsy.

04. Karim Benzema (France): He can't hit a ten feet thick wall from two yards out. Ok, this may not be an accurate description of the French galactico but still he's got to be one of the most overrated players in the 21st century. He's no better than Huntelaar yet Real released the Dutchman to make way for him. He's not as good as Higuain, yet the Argentine was benched for long periods so Benzema would adapt to the Madrid side. As Mauel Pellegrini found out at last, the problem has nothing to do with adaptation and everything to do with Benzema's abilities. He is just not that good.

03. Robinho (Brazil): I have a question: If you are overrated and eventually found out, are you still overrated? If the answer is no, then I'd say I have put Robinho here unfairly. I however think some people (read Dunga) still believe he's a good player so his place on this list is merited. The truth is Robinho is a decent player with fancy footworks, nothing more. He can't be in the Brazil team on merit, but as we all know, he'll be there playing behind Luis Fabiano. They may as well be playing with 10 men.

02. Sergio Aguero (Argentina): The instigator of this article. One queer thing with Argentine football is the “Maradona syndrome”. Ever since the legendary Diego took the world by storm, Argentina has been obsessed with diminutive, tiny players with outrageous skill. If you fit the bill, you are labelled “the next Maradona”. I can think of Pablo Aimar, Javier Saviola, Lionel Messi, just to name three. Sergio Aguero is one of such players who have profited unduly from the “Maradona syndrome”. Sure he can turn on the style sometimes, he's got a powerful shot and he's engaged to the daughter of the man himself, but these don't make him a 100 million pound player. He's not as prolific as even team mate Diego Forlan, provides fewer assists than Dirk Kuyt, doesn't have the pace of a Salomon Kalou and gets injured often. How on earth such a player gets so much hype is still beyond me.

01. Dani Alves (Brazil): One of the best right backs of the modern era. I have been a huge fan of Dani's since he lightened up UAE 2003. I however don't understand why Barcelona would pay over 30 million pounds for him and why most people still rate him higher than Maicon. He can't defend, has got to have one of the worst crossing success rates in the game (by the way, the worst crosser of the ball still playing the game has to be Gael Clichy of Arsenal) and has atrocious free kick technique. He's firmly behind Maicon in the fight for the Brazil right back slot and rightly so. He will still come to the World Cup with more publicity than the Inter star for some reasons that need explaining.

Monday, March 1, 2010

What is a "one man" team like?

After watching Chelsea struggle against both Inter Milan and Man City, two games Didier Drogba didn’t have a look in, I have been asking myself if there’s truth in the accusations that The Blues are a one man team. I like to see quality defending and as John Terry’s off-field problems are preventing him from putting in half decent performances lately, I couldn’t help but admire the masterful display by Lucio on Wednesday. He didn’t let Drogba have as much as a sniff on the Inter goal and Jose Mourinho who built an empire at Chelsea based on solid defending would have been thoroughly satisfied with what he saw.

The Drog was again shut out by Man City in that infamous no-handshake encounter at the Bridge and again Chelsea lost. Martin Tyler runs some interesting analysis on the importance of Drogba’s goals to Chelsea in his SkySport column. I find it curious that even Man Utd would fare better without Rooney than Chelsea without Drogba. Strange that United only seems to win when Rooney is on the field and scoring, as he did yesterday against Aston Villa in the cup final.

My questions today are:

  1. Is there anything like a one man team?
  2. If there is, what makes the one man so important? Is it that he is so good or the team is built around him?
  3. Are there any modern examples of one man teams?

3. My answer to 3. would be yes, the Barcelona side of 2005-2007. They only seemed to play with one philosophy: “if you don’t know what to do with the ball, give it to Ronaldinho”.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

When The Saints Go Marching In......

A week is a long time in football indeed. I mean in either proper football or American football. With the deluge of high profile events since I last posted here, it’d seem like eternity but it’s only been just over a week. John Terry has lost his England captaincy and generally been treated like a pariah by the British media, Arsenal’s kids have received the second part of their annual sodomy by Didier Drogba, Wayne Rooney has made firm claims to the ‘best player in the world’ title and the New Orleans Saints have gone from outsiders to win the Superbowl by a comprehensive beating of the Indianapolis Colts. If the last part sounds gibberish to you, your brain is working fine – it’s American football after all.

Superbowl XLIV

You know what, the Superbowl isn’t half bad. It generates so much excitement that I got about forty emails inviting me to Superbowl parties; half from people who I genuinely know don’t like my guts much. In that sense, it’s like proper football. It unites this often racially / culturally split place. Or does it? I ended up watching the game in the house of one of my African classmates. It was his birthday as well so Superbowl XLIV provided the perfect occasion to host his African kins. Hang out with a bunch of guys speaking American slang, drinking Bud Light and eating nachos or go drink Guinness, eat grilled pork with Kelewele and crack Twi jokes? Easy decision. I was however intrigued by how my friends were deciding on which team to support for the night. One backed the Colts because he had a bet on them (fair shout), a few more went with the Colts because Indy had a black coach and the majority rooted for the Saints because New Orleans has a bigger black community than Indianapolis. Irrationality all round, but I guess sports has nothing to do with PHIL 101. In keeping with the sentimental choices around me, I offered my support to the Saints because they were the underdogs according to the experts, and I hate sports experts. Good reason? I don’t know and I don’t care. All I care about is that it worked, and the Saints defied the experts to thump the Colts 31-17, with this touchdown as the cherry on top.

How is the Superbowl not like the Champions’ League final? Many ways, but the most irritating one is the ads that run every other minute. Seriously, imagine Barcelona vs Man Utd being interrupted every now and then for ridiculous commercials like this one. For the organizers though, I don’t think it is in any way ridiculous. It is reported that each 30-second commercial costs about $3.0 mmillion. Little wonder then that the Glazers are struggling to manage Man Utd’s finances. Such extreme commercialization just can’t be achieved in proper football without destroying the soul of the beautiful game.

Arsene Wenger & Football Basics

That Didier Drogba re-played his role as the scourge of Arsenal in the latest episode of “Men vs Boys” doesn’t surprise anyone. What surprises some of us fans is the consistency of Arsene Wenger’s whingeing. Nobody likes to lose, granted, but most of the times it is best to accept defeat with good grace. That way you can work to improve areas in which you’re weak. Not with the erudite Arsene Wenger. His complaints about Chelsea not doing anything but just win are stale and dare I say, retarded. Football has a clear set of rules to distinguish losers from winners. To win, you just have to score more than the opposition – simple. The best comment about what football is all about, I found this week, was made by paulielogic, posting on on BBC’s 606 message boards: “football fans do cheer nice tricks and clever passes, but the biggest cheer is saved for the ball hitting the back of the net”. Brutally true and something for Mr. Wenger to ponder about.

Of John Terry, Men and Cheating

I think Fabio Capello made the right decision in stripping John Terry of the England captaincy but erred in passing it to Rio Ferdinand. That’s the football equivalent of saying I don’t watch pornography but don’t mind visiting strip clubs. If he wants a truly sanctimonious person to be England captain, he should look to Jesus Christ. If he can’t find him, he should hand the armband to Frank Lampard. Oh wait – he abandoned his four year old child to his wife and deserted the family home. See, every footballer (make that human being) has his faults. That’s why I believe the famously caustic British media did not treat Terry well to begin with.

My opinion on cheating is this: every man will do it, situation permitting. Does society honestly expect men not to cheat? Like really, really? I’m still very young, but have experimented with my sexuality enough to understand this: a man is hard-wired to want his genes to survive in this world. His chance of this increases with the many different women he makes babies with. How does he make babies with them? If you said sleep with them, you’re following nicely. To this end, he is always looking for sexual opportunity and seeks out sexual variety. Of course society has advanced and one now has greater control over the survival of his progeny than in times past. One therefore does not have to go round sleeping with every woman. It however doesn’t mean that a man has all of a sudden lost this desire to sleep with a woman his natures tell him will make good babies for him. Clear? I hope so. If not get a copy of Alfred Kinsey’s seminal work on sexual behavior among males. What then should a woman do for his husband not to cheat? Pray. Literally. Of course, men do have fiduciary responsibilities to their wives, not to hurt them in any way, including cheating on them. That is why it is so distasteful when a man gets caught cheating on his wife. The effects can be devastating and I agree that we should use our best judgement.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Not impressed by Angola 2010

The 27th African Cup of Nations is going to be memorable for a long time to come. A tournament that promised so much will forever be remembered for the rebel attack on the Togolese team which preceded the event. I really feel sorry for Egypt, who delivered a masterful performance on their way to winning the cup for an unprecedented 7th time. My wish is that the sheer class of this Egyptian side will not be lost on genuine footie fans. Best attack with 15 goals, 2 against for best defence, 6 out of 6 wins, best player of the tournament, best goalkeeper, top goalscorer, discovery of the tournament, 19 CAN matches unbeaten, 3 consecutive trophies. I don’t think there will be a more comprehensive dominance of an international tournament in our lifetime!!!!

The might of the Pharaohs aside, the football was not of the highest quality we have come to expect at Nations’ Cups. Too many of the star players just did not turn up. Watching Yakubu Aiyegbeni lumbering around the pitch like a replete Kung-Fu Panda, I wondered if these stars may well have been left to be with their clubs. It was definite justice that the two teams who clearly had the players enthused about the tournamnet made it to the finals. Unbelievable goalkeeping howlers, shocking misses, stray passes – you’d struggle to find any more of these at a major international tourney than was witnessed in Angola.

Let's take a look at the winners and many losers at this particularly tainted CAN:

The Player: AHMED HASSAN. Inspirational figure and the embodiment of everything good about the Egyptian national team: technique, stamina, grit, passion, level headedness. I challenge each of us to watch a replay of the time between Cameroun’s goal and Egypt’s equalizer in their quarter final clash. Those few minutes were an amazing testimony to bouncing back when you get knocked down. I hope guys like Sulley Muntari were watching.

The Team: With huge respect for the surprise success of Ghana’s kids, I’d have to hand this over to the EGYPTIANS. In the Egypt-Algeria semi final, I came to appreciate the proverb: “form is temporary, class is permanent”. Algeria lost the plot completely while Egypt simply just kept playing the football, right until the end. They went on to trounce their bitter rivals, all just for keeping their cool. Pure Class.

The Game: Angola 4 -4 Mali. Many candidates here, including the aforementioned semi-final and the Algeria-Cote d’Ivoire quarter final. I think the opening game edges them all for the shock factor and a demonstration of the unpredictability that makes our game so beautiful.

The Goal: Kader Keita vs Algeria. Seeing is believing.

The Clowns: Emmanuel Eboue vs Ghana and Nadir Belhadj vs Egypt. What were they thinking??

The farcical: Algeria 0-0 Angola. This was scandalous. The most annoying thing however is that it is perfectly legal and no action can be taken against either side. Tough luck, Mali. Next time take your destiny into your own hands!!

The bottlers: The Elephants. How this team manages to wow so much and disappoint so wildly is beyond me. I am one of those who were utterly seduced by the glamour of their stars and left clutching my face in shame. Lesson for the players among us: the hottest girl at the bar may not be the werewolf you’ve been dreaming her to be. Spare yourself.

The handsome: Renard Herve. A coach so ripped you could see his abs creating corrugations on the front of his shirt. A woman’s dream and a lazy guy’s nightmare.

The beautiful: Ana Paula dos Santos. Some men are born lucky and some men are born as Jose Eduardo dos Santos!!

The ugly: All the referees and assistants. Seriously, did anybody see a good looking referee at this tournament? Exemplified by Coffi Codjia, the referees were uglier than their outrageous calls.

The fashion sense: Alain Giresse. There is something always right about wearing a pair of hard khaki pants, a well pressed shirt and a blazer that was cut for just you. The Gabonese head coach brings business casual attire in emphatic style to a sport that is both business and casual.

The nonsensical: CAF. All of the officials. First, they fail to correctly identify the security issues inherent in Cabinda. Second, they fail to offer the Togolese team any support whatsoever. To rub salt into wounds, they ban the Hawks from the next two subsequent CANs, in a stupid show of power.

The Best XI (4-1-2-1-2) : El Hadary (Egy), Bougherra (Alg), Goma (Egy), Inkoom (Gha), Tiene (CIV), Song (Cam), Hassan (Egy), Ziani (Alg), Asamoah (Gha), Gyan (Gha), Gedo (Egy).

The coach: Hassan Shehata. Living Legend.

That’s it for CAN Angola 2010 then. Let me know what you think. In the meantime, I'll get ready for my first Super Bowl weekend experience, wondering what it has on Champions’ League final day.