Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Arrivederci al la Cosa Migliore:

5-time IFFHS World Referee of the Year Pierluigi Collina said farewell this week, ending his 28-year career in football. Long regarded as the best in the game, Collina was born February 13th, 1960 in Bologna, Italy and has served as a referee in Italy's Serie A since 1991. In 1995, he was placed on FIFA's referee's list and his reputation as one of football's most capable officials began to take shape. He refereed 5 matches at the 1996 Olympic Games including the final between Nigeria and Argentina. In 1999 Collina officiated the Champions League final between Manchester United and Bayern Munich. His career reached its apex when in 2002, he was appointed referee of the World Cup Final between Brazil and Germany. He has also served in a UEFA Cup Final in 2004 and his final tournament as a professional was Euro 2004.
Pierluigi Collina's retirement was scheduled for this summer, but his career came to a premature end when he was accused by the Italian Football Federation (FIGC) of a conflict of interest when he signed a sponsorship deal with Opel, a European automobile company that also sponsors Italian football club AC Milan.
Manager of Italian champions Juventus, Fabio Capello, spoke of his disappointment at the development. "I feel bitterness for a decision that has deprived us of a man of sport who has always been fair and up to the job. A person's credibility does not depend on who sponsors him." It appears that prior to agreeing the deal with Opel, Collina approached the Italian Association of Referees (AIA) its president Tullio Lanese to discuss the deal and was not discouraged by the meeting. However, Lanese failed to inform the FIGC of the meeting and as a result FIGC president Franco Carraro only found out about Collina's sponsorship deal after reading it in Italian newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport. The FIGC informed Collina that due to this conflict, he would only be allowed to referee matches in Italy's Serie B. Collina decided instead to step down and issued the following statement regarding his resignation:
After 28 years I've decided to hand in my resignation. People must believe in a referee. In the end, we have all lost out. I have slept less these last few nights than on the eve of the World Cup final. For me it wouldn't have been a problem to referee in Serie B, but either they (the FIGC) have faith in us referees or they don't. If they don't, then we have to go. Without trust we cannot move forward."
It was an unfortunate ending for one of the games great officials, just last year the FIGC raised its mandatory retirement age from 45 to 46 to accommodate Collina's desire to end his career on his own terms. Goodbye to the best.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Unsporting Behavior:
8 red cards, 3 downgraded upon further review, 3 matches irreversibly changed by regretful officiating.
In the opening week of the season, Newcastle United were down to 10 men after just 32 minutes after Jermaine Jenas' tackle against Arsenal's Gilberto Silva was adjudged by referee Steve Bennett to be an act of violent conduct and Jenas was shown a straight red card. The decision was appealed by Jenas and the red card was downgraded to a yellow. Newcastle held off Arsenal's persisent challenges until a late penalty put them behind for good. They were playing inspired football before and after the incident and looked like a side capable of taking a point at Highbury, and Newcastle manager Graeme Souness said as much after the match. "Until the sending off we more than a match for a team that will be challenging for the championship come the end of the season."
We'll never know.
In week 2, when Sunderland faced off against Liverpool, midfielder Andy Welsh was sent off by referee Barry Knight after he was thought to have pushed Liverpool's Luis Garcia, leaving Welsh puzzled as he left the pitch. "It's not a sending off. It's sad I'm talking about the referee when we played well, especially in the first half," said Sunderland's Mick McCarthy, "I spoke with Barry Knight after the match and he said he'll have a look at it." The replays showed the contact was incidental, and to no one's surprise his 3-game ban was dismissed on appeal.
In the same week, West Ham's Paul Konchesky made a textbook, game-saving tackle on Newcastle's Jenas and was given a straight red card. The decision, made by referee Dermot Gallagher, was challenged immediately by Newcastle captain Alan Shearer who surprisingly sprang to the defense of Konchesky but could not convince the official to overturn the decision. Konchesky appealed the card and just days later, he was cleared of any misconduct and his 1-day suspension was overturned.
In each of these situations the referee made a choice to change the course of the game and put the offending player's team in a position that was difficult to recover from. Playing with 10 men at this or any level in football arguably puts a team in a points-conservancy mode that restricts the teams capability to attack and as a result forces the team to abandon its gameplan. The Premiership, as a league, is the most lucrative in the world with total club revenues exceeding £1.3b
. The league pays out millions to its participants based on each teams final position in the league table, and in an environment where a club could be fighting for qualification into one of Europe's lucrative club competitions or another club could be struggling to meet its annual budget, these questionable decisions are magnified.
Should referees be held more accountable? Just last season, Premiership referees Mike Messias and Andy D'Urso were handed 14-day and 28-day suspensions respectively for "less than proficiently applying the laws of the game." In each case the official was reprimanded for not sending off a player that recieved a second yellow card, not a situation where a player is dismissed wrongfully and the potential for gaining points significantly reduced. In the interest of the game itself, referees should take more responisibility, but how can you hold officials accountable when a decision is made, the match goes on and whatever chance a team had of competing on a level playing field is gone? Wouldn't Newcastle, Sunderland and West Ham like to know.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

FC Thun Striding Confidently Into The Spotlight:
"We are preparing to write a fairytale," FC Thun coach Urs Schoenenburger said after his side's 1-0 first leg victory over Swedish Champions and former European Cup finalists Malmo FF in their third round qualifying match. On the return leg FC Thun, the 2004 Swiss Super League runners-up, turned on the style and cruised to a 3-0 victory and booked their spot in the Champions League group stage for the first time in its 107-year history. The only team from Switzerland other than Grasshoppers Zurich and FC Basel to reach the group stage of the Champions League, FC Thun is living the dream of playing in Europe's elite competition.
Founded in 1898, the small Swiss club from
Bernese Oberland was playing in Switzerland's lower leagues until it gained promotion in 2002. The fairytale began in the second round of qualifying when they defeated 2-time European Cup Winners' Cup winners and 1999 UEFA Champions League semi-finalists Dynamo Kyiv (Kiev) 3-2 on aggregate. Kyiv had failed only once in the past 10 years to reach the group stage of the Champions League.
"This is all so thrilling, so fantastic for us its almost unbelievable" said Thun President Kurt Weder after attending the UEFA Champions League group stages draw in Monaco. FC Thun was drawn with Arsenal FC (England), Ajax Amsterdam (Netherlands) and Sparta Prague (Czech Republic). "It is all so new, a new dimension. It is a challenge for us" said Weder, "We have a club owned by the population, by the people you could say, so we don't have any big investors and nobody is in the club with more than 5% of the budget." Its annual budget of £2.4m will be guaranteed a £7.5m financial boost by its qualification in these final stages.
FC Thun begin their quest for European glory on September 14th in London against Arsenal FC at Highbury.

Champions League Group Stage Draw

The Chelsea Effect:
Is Chelsea good for football? Since his arrival in West London, Roman Abramovich has transformed Chelsea Football Club from a club on the brink of administration into one of Europe's biggest clubs. "Some will doubt my motives, others will think I'm crazy," says Abramovich, "It's not about making money. I don't want to throw money away, but its really about having fun."
After spending an initial
£140m when he bought the club 2 years ago, £60m in stock and £80m in total debt, Abramovich has sanctioned the spending of over £250m in player transfers. According to Delloite, as of the end of the 2004/05 season, Chelsea's wage bill alone has topped £118m, £38m more than their closest rivals Manchester United.
Since the takeover, Chelsea has also sold players, but at a huge loss. Surprisingly, the only profit turned on a player was from the sale of Mateja Kezman to Athletico Madrid (
£0.3m). Juan Sebastian Veron, who arrived from Manchester United for £15m, has spent the last 2 seasons on loan at Inter Milan and will subsequently spend the final year of his Chelsea contract at Inter with Chelsea taking a total loss on the initial investment. Midfielder Scott Parker came to Chelsea from Charlton Athletic in a deal worth £10m, and moved to Newcastle United this summer for £6.5m at a loss of £3.5m. The latest departure from the Blues was Tiago, who was bought from Benfica of Portugal for £10m and was sold for £6.5, another £3.5m loss. In a very different story altogether, the Adrian Mutu saga has not only done damage to he and Chelsea's image, but brought on a potential £7.8m loss on an investment of £15.8m paid to Parma pending the player's appeal of a Premier League ruling that he breached his Chelsea contract by failing a drugs test.
Despite these figures, Abramovich and Chelsea continue to spend money much to the dismay of their European rivals. 1"In the year before Abramovich bought the club, gross spending in the sport reached
£187m, prompting talk of greater financial realism within a sport living beyond its means." Chelsea's overspending on transfer targets has prompted other teams in the league and across Europe to play a waiting game, "There is a price for Chelsea and a price for everyone else" Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger stated after the £21m purchase of Manchester City winger Shaun Wright-Phillips. He also said, "Clubs know they have plenty of money, so when Chelsea come in they will buy for £20m what costs £10m. There are 2 markets: one which Chelsea is in, which is quite lively and high and one which is without Chelsea, which is morose all over Europe."
Not only have Chelsea changed the landscape of the transfer market, but they have done so at the expense of the greater talent pool of European football and perhaps even have damaged the impact of its own players and their hopes of representing their country in World Cup 2006. Any football club regardless of its size or financial influence can only field 11 players at a time, and while Chelsea boasts 2 internationals at every position, playing time and the form of those left out must be sacrificed to the detriment of their country.
Domestically, the allure of Chelsea and its growing stature as one Europe's biggest clubs has been making waves across the Premiership, and some may say that it has disturbed the balance of one of the world's most competitive leagues. Having already signed the likes of Scott Parker (from Charlton), Wayne Bridge (Southampton), Shaun Wright-Phillips (Manchester City), Glen Johnson and Joe Cole (West Ham), Geremi (Middlesbrough) and Damien Duff (Blackburn), and attempting in vain to tempt Liverpool's Steven Gerrard and Arsenal's Ashley Cole to Stamford Bridge, Chelsea have thrown England's top flight into turmoil.
But with a Premiership title, a Carling Cup triumph and 2 consecutive appearances in the Champions League semi-finals in its first 2 seasons since the arrival of Roman Abramovich, its hard to question Chelsea's motives. And with the cream of the talent crop literally rising to the top, don't look for any challenges to their defense of the Premiership title or their dream of European glory. Chelsea Football Club may be the biggest spenders, but who says the rest of the world doesn't also have a price to pay?

1 Courtesy of TimesOnline reporter Ashling O'Conner

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Viera Comparisons Aside:
The arrival of Mohamed Sissoko to the Premiership has quickly turned some heads. The young center-half, known for his tough tackling, has begun his career with Liverpool FC by playing a large part in their early successes in Champions League qualifying and the opening matches in LFC's domestic campaign.
Born in France, the 20 year old Sissoko played under current Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez while at Valencia. An international player for Mali, the birth country of his parents, Sissoko has been getting the attention of Europe's top clubs for some time and continually draws comparisons to France and Arsenal legend Patrick Viera. As one of Arsene Wenger's first signings after taking the reigns at Arsenal, Viera was a bargain at
£4m considering the skills he has developed and the hard edge he has brought to an otherwise finesse-driven Arsenal squad. Upon arrival to Liverpool, Benitez said of Sissoko, "He runs more than Viera and in a couple of years will be more dynamic than Viera and a better player."
While Sissoko, who came to Liverpool in a deal worth
£5m, has done little to dispell these comparisons, he is still a very raw player who despite collecting 2 yellow cards in 2 matches seems to be finding his feet in the Premiership quite quickly. The partnership of Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard and Xabi Alonso is as good as it gets in the Premiership, but that has done little to deter Rafael Benitez from selecting the young Sissoko. Handed a starting role alongside Gerrard and Alonso in each of Liverpool's opening 2 fixtures (away to Middlesbrough and away to Sunderland), Sissoko has put in passionate displays and is swiftly winning over the Anfield faithful. Also, figuring in all but 20min of Liverpool's last 4 Champions League qualifying matches has shown that Rafael Benitez has his sights set on Sissoko being a major contributor in the club's bid to defend the European Championship. Viera comparisons aside, Mohamed Sissoko is a rising star in European football and will be anchoring an exciting Liverpool midfield for years to come.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Viduka Shows True Class:
Now that the 2005/06 Premiership season is underway, another chance for one of the top flight's brightest talents to shine has been taken with nothing short of brilliance.
Former Leeds United and Australia frontman Mark Viduka, who has spent the better part of the last 2 seasons on the sidelines through injury, was handed a starting role in Middlesbrough's trip to Birmingham City and payed back manager Steve McClaren's faith with a stunning double. After the 3-0 victory, McClaren poured on the praise saying, "When Mark Viduka is fit, there is no one better in the Premiership at what he does, and his two finishes were superb." McClaren continued by saying, "The first goal wasn't easy and the second was just special."
Viduka's first strike, his first since December, came on 15 minutes and courtesy of a low James Morrison drive across the Birmingham City 6-yard box. Ever the wizard in the area, Viduka was denied a strong claim for a penalty later in the half and caused the Birmingham City back four problems all night. His second came on the stroke of half-time from a throw-in that was superbly controlled and taken at such an angle that it left Birmingham City 'keeper Maik Taylor bemused. Middlesbrough's Franck Queudrue rounded off the scoring in the 71st minute from a Stuart Downing cross.
Since his departure from Leeds United, many have expected Mark Viduka to return to the form that helped take United to the furthest reaches of European competition only to see his pursuit cut short by injury and now that he is fit can look forward to seeing him reclaim his rightful place amongst the Premierships most talented footballers.
My First Posting:
My love affair with football began with the Yorkshire Whites, Leeds United Football Club. In this blogspot you will get my opinions on all things football, not just Leeds United. As I am still finding my feet in this blogosphere, I haven't a profound word to write at the moment. This is my first post.