Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Off-colour Rio doing a Jaap...

On Sunday I was at Anfield to witness a below-bar Manchester United performance.  It was a game I knew we wouldn't win if Torres played.  Unfortunately he did, and inspired Liverpool to a 2-0 over their fiercest rivals.  For me, the Reds needed the win much more than their Mancunian counterparts, because a loss for Liverpool would surely have prolonged their 19 year wait for the title... and sent Rafa Benitez packing. 

So, broken arm and all (long story), I sat myself in the hallowed surroundings of the Bill Shankly Suite pre-match praying that Jamie Carragher continues his poor start to the season and lets his Scouse compatriot Wayne Rooney in for a few strikes on goal.  I was also praying I wouldn't be sniffed out as an undercover Manc, but I think I pulled it off with the odd dodgy "Showned La'd" at the end of every sentence. Then, after bumping into the literally larger than life Eamon Holmes, I realised I was not the only plastic Manc in the home end today.  And with my nerves put at ease I made my way to my seat based in the classy Centenary Stand, padded seats and everything.

Minutes into the game and I soon realised it wasn't Carragher I should be expecting the mistakes from, it was the world's most expensive defender Rio Ferdinand.  In fairness, he wasn't alone in having a stinker of a game, his partner in crime Nemanja Vidic made Dirk Kuyt actually look like a decent centre forward for once.  In the end the Serbian quite rightly put himself out of his own misery and took an early bath five minutes from time for the third game with Liverpool in a row (has to be a record!).

But whilst I am certain Vidic will bounce back from his annual stinker against Liverpool, I am much more concerned about Rio.  His loss of form this season has been surprising to say the least and is serious cause for concern.  The way in which Fernando Torres out-sprinted him to put Liverpool ahead was unlike Ferdinand, a defender whose high acclaim stems from that very attribute.  When Torres struck, I couldn't help but think back to 2001 when Jaap Stam was showing similar nervous signs at the back for United.  In the end Fergie had seen enough and offloaded his most experienced defender, citing the reason as Stam having 'lost a yard in pace'.

Time will only tell if my theory is proved right.  But with young Northern Ireland startlet Jonny Evans waiting in the wings, Ferdinand's place at the heart of the United defence isn't as secure as some might have believed. 

Watch this space...

PS: I never did get my hands on an LFC beachball.  It was probably a good thing seeing as the joke of the day arrived in the 94th minute when that great player called 'Egg-Nog' scrambled any plans Manchester United had to poach a late equaliser at Anfield... and leave Sir Alex with egg on his face!

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Derry City to return to the Irish League...

Arguably the biggest team in the North-West of Ulster, it seems the famous/infamous Derry City are being touted for a return to the Irish League. 

The call is being made by former Derry City legend Liam Coyle.  In his statement he claimed "Moving to the Irish League is the only way forward for Derry City if they want to survive.  If the Irish League was to take them back in it would mean less travelling."

He added:  "It makes sense to go back and play in the country they are in."

It has been 37 years since the farcical situation emerged where-by the Candystripes opted out of IFA football and fell into the loving arms of FAI football.  But this is 2009, we are in the longest recession in Irish history and suddenly those loving arms arn't quite as tightly wrapped around County Londonderry's finest - and I don't mean Coleraine.

Yes, Derry City have revelled in the good times, and there were many since their conversion to League of Ireland soccer. They are a team that have proven they can more than hold their own amongst the elite of the South's football.  Two LOI titles, four FAI cups and a few fantastic runs in Europe are testament to their list of endevours over the years.

But now the bad times are on their way.  The recession isn't just limited to those pesky 'bankers', it has effected everyone.  Derry City are no different.  So the suggestion is that maybe a return to the Irish League could put an end to their financial crisis.  And from a footballing perspective I'd be very much in favour.  Apologies to any Institute fans out there but Derry City are a much more attractive proposal for the Sky Sports cameras, not to mention the expansive fan-base that only the Red and White Army offer.  It's a no-brainer.

However, the real issue here has nothing to do with what happens on the pitch.  It's political.  Returning to Irish League football would be like admitting that yes Derry City are in fact a football club from Northern Ireland.  The mask would finally slip.  A decision like that certainly won't go down well among those Ultras in the Brandywell at Halloween.

In hindsight it's easy to point fingers as to who was responsible for Derry's withdrawal from the Irish League. The IFA would be a popular choice in many quarters.  My choice though would be the Troubles.  They impacted strongly on IFA decision-making during the turbulent years of the 70's and 80's.  But why shouldn't they switch the venue of games on safety grounds?  Was one Bloody Sunday not enough?

As a devout Glenman I've heard all the conspiracy theories first-hand from fellow supporters about how the IFA go out every season to fix the league and hand Linfield the title. I have evaluated all the facts and have drawn the conclusion that I think this assertation is bullsh*t.  I begrudgingly admit, Linfield have a superior advantage due predomiately to their home stadium, marketability, fan-base and the harsh reality that they are the biggest club in Northern Ireland.  Supporter clubs in areas of Londonderry, and the one on the Shore Road next to Crusaders FC are examples of their continued 'loyal' following throughout the country.

Those with influence at Derry City Football Club need to think outside the box on this one.  A return to their natural home in the Irish League?  It would cut-out all those financially crippling long trecks to Cork, Galway and Dublin for a start.  The all-Ireland Setanta Cup will still remain, should they qualify.  Cross-border football doesn't mean having to leave one Irish governing body for another.  Just ask the founding members of the Irish Football Association, Cliftonville FC - a club currently thriving in the middle of this recession.

Let's see a Derry City ruffling the 'Big Two's' feathers with a sustained assault on the 71 league title's between them.  We can't guarantee big wages (unless your employer is FonaCab) but we are now reaping the benefits of our clubs not going full-time.  Stability first, growth second.  The IFA have got it right this time. 

Alot of this depends on Derry City officials to bury the hatchet with those at Windsor Avenue.  The removal of the chips from any remaining hunchbacked shoulders in the Bogside and Sandy Row areas in-particular would also be well-received by all.  Then, and only then, should they make the much anticipated return home to the revamped, refreshed IFA Carling Premiership.

'Le Jeu Avant Tout' ----------- 'The Game Above All'

Monday, 19 October 2009

Reasons to be cheerful.. Un, Deux, Trois

Today seen the biggest ego in football (next to Cristiano) get the draw he wanted.  The 'big boys' of European football have been issued their life-line for world cup qualification.

It was this afternoon that the play-off's in the European Qualification region for the World Cup were drawn.  Republic of Ireland were dealt arguably the cruelest card of all, paired alongside former World champions France. 

The draw in full was as follows (left team at home first)...

Republic of Ireland vs France
Portugal vs Bosnia Herzegovina
Greece vs Ukraine
Russia vs Slovenia

FIFA's decision two weeks previous to introduce seedings for the play-off draw in order to help the bigger, more marketable nations take their 'rightful' place on the world stage, could have a detremental impact on everyone else... and FIFA doesn't seem to mind.  How the so-called protector of smaller nations Michelle Platini has kept so quiet during this quite blantant moving of the goalposts beggars belief.  Have FIFA gagged the UEFA chief? Have they slipped a few extra sugars into his tea?  Or could it be that Platini's own country stood to gain massively from the change of rules? In my view, this seems to be the case.

As a neutral looking at the draw, it would seem the next eight games will be a mere formality.  France, Portugal, Greece and Russia all have favourable draws due to their seeding status.  However, as much as I'd rather see the likes of Ronaldo, Benzema and Arshavin showcasing their 'star-power' at the greatest competition in world football, I would (to quote Kevin Keegan) "LOVE IT, JUST LOVE IT" if this masterplan to bundle them into the tournament through the back door back-fired.

So here's to the little guys... Republic of Ireland, Slovenia (should have been NI!), Bosnia-Herzegovina, and the Ukraine. 

But you know what, despite the cards being stacked against them, I still think there's room for at least one shock somewhere in Europe. 

The French should have coasted their group with Serbia their only real threat, yet they only just sauntered over the finish line into second place.  The Republic of Ireland came close to topping a group that involved the current World champions, Italy. They will give France a fright at Croker but I feel with the all-important second leg being in Paris it could be curtain's for the Irish if Benzema and Henry up the ante.

The same can be said for Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal.  They got lucky in the final round of games and have Denmark to thank for disposing of the Swede's for them to sneak in behind them.  They're up against super-minnows Bosnia-Herzegovina, a relatively unknown quantity, but as we saw with Serbia topping their group, Portugal should be on their guard.

Greece versus Ukraine is probably the most likely one of the four matches to go against FIFA's seeding stategy.  The Greeks are fading quickly.  The Euro 2004 winners had aruably the easiest group during qualifying yet made a bit of a hash of even attaining second spot.  They did it, but face a strong Ukraine side who pipped Croatia to second place in a group that contained a resurgent England.

Finally, Russia will be up against Slovenia.  Expect a Russian win at home and away in this one.  No disrespect to the Slovenian's but they're not a great side.  They did well in beating Czech Republic, Poland and Northern Ireland to second place, but really that was all about the amount of draws those three teams had with each other... not realising they were leaving the door open for the unfancied Slovenia to shimmy on through!  No sour grapes from me though, I think they were value for second place (even though we beat them at Windsor!)

Good luck to all the minnows. Cristiano can top up his tan elsewhere this year, South Africa and the footballing world doesn't need you... but FIFA unfortunately does.