Friday, March 22, 2019

A hundred is too much for 90 minutes

BARCELONA'S EYE-WATERING TICKET PRICES AND OTHER NOTES

* Manchester City are still on course for a four-trophy grand slam this season after advancing to the F.A. Cup semi-finals, where they will meet Watford. However after Sergio Aguero netted a late winner to complete a 3-2 comeback at Swansea City, TV replays showed the Argentine had clearly been offside. There were questions too surrounding City's penalty award too.

VAR was not available at the Liberty Stadium although was being employed at the other three quarter-finals. Last season when Swansea were Premier League they also used it. The jury is still out on VAR, its obvious benefits nullified in many eyes by the time it takes to reach a decision. A half-baked introduction does not help its cause either.

The F.A. should have insisted all the quarter-finals had VAR or none at all.

More Than A Profit
More Than A Profit
Barcelona v Manchester United is the most attractive of the last eight ties in the Champions League but travelling fans will have to pay £102 for the privilege of watching it live in the away ground. While Man Utd are subsidizing their followers in Catalonia by £27 to make up the difference to what they are charging Barca fans, is this the first time UCL tickets have reached three figures for this stage of the competition? As many fans protest, 'twenty is plenty' but one hundred is surely too much.

* For some reason everyone was cooing over Lionel Messi's hat-trick away to Real Betis on Sunday and it is true his third goal was so sublime the home fans applauded his magical feet. Yet since he has already netted half a century of three-goal matches for the blaugrana, most against the whipping-boys who make up La Primera, I could not get too excited.

That said we should feel blessed one of the all-time greats is still in fantastic form at 31, having scored 39 goals in 37 outings this season already.

* England's Euro 2020 campaign begins tonight with a home tie against the Czech Republic. While the media are fussing unnecessarily over an adolescent tweet from Declan Rice, set to pin himself to the Three Lions after three friendly appearances for Eire, what is surely more pertinent is that Gareth Southgate has picked his most youth-centric squad yet.

His 21-man selection includes two 18 year-olds, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Jadon Sancho, two uncapped players (Hudson-Odoi and Rice), two with one cap (James Ward-Prowse and Callum Wilson) and one with two (James Tarkowski).

As the World Cup showed, this is a new era for England where a young player can replace an established one at any moment. Southgate has forged a production line from England's youth teams and changed the formula, hopefully for good.

* England's women's football is on the up and up too. The national team won the She Believes Cup earlier this year in the USA and are one of the favourites heading into this summer's World Cup in France. The FA Women's Super League has just got a boost of £10 million in sponsorship as part of the association's plan to double growth and participation by 2021.

Nine countries are in the race to host the 2023 Women's World Cup: Argentina, Australia, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Japan, New Zealand, South Africa and most intriguingly of all, a joint bid from the two Koreas.

On darker notes, a coach of PSG fans travelling to watch their side play Chelsea this week was stopped and drugs and weapons confiscated. Damage was done to Kingsmeadow Stadium and trains by fans who had been banned from attending PSG's men's fixtures.

Meanwhile, Sheffield United cancelled the contract of player Sophie Jones who was recorded making monkey noises to another player. Those are sides of the men's game the women's one can certainly do without as it advances.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Enter the Big Guns

The Round of 16 Second Legs this week offer some tasty morsels

The Round of 16 Second Legs this week offer some tasty morsels


Who will win this season's UEFA Champions League?

All we know for sure so far is that Real Madrid will not make it four in a row.

Los Blancos' submission before an ebullient Ajax was a death long foretold, with the exits of Cristiano Ronaldo and Zinedine Zidane in the close season and the cack-handed hiring and firing of Julen Lopetegui sure signs of a listing ship about to keel over.

Four teams have already made it to the quarter-finals but none were among the pre-season favourites: Ajax, Manchester United, Porto and Tottenham Hotspur. 

This week we will know the other eight, with bigger cannons being rolled out on deck. If the second legs throw up no shocks then Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Manchester City will be in the hat as well.

Atleti have the incentive of the final this year being played at their new home ground, the Wanda Metropolitano, and looked imperious in the first leg, winning 2-0. However, it is too early to write off the runaway Serie A leaders, Ronaldo and the cauldron of the Juventus stadium hauling back two goals. Los Colchoneros are favourites but this tie is far from over.

The same night, Tuesday, Manchester City host Schalke 3-2 up from the first leg. It is hard to see Pep Guardiola's team squandering three away goals but the fact Schalke breached their defence twice in Gelsenkirchen will keep them on their toes. A strange rumour surfaced last week that the Catalan will swap the Etihad for Juve next season. But if he captures an unprecedented four cups in a season..?

Barcelona and Bayern both drew their away legs 0-0, the lack of away goals rendering their goalless draws less an advantage than they might appear. While the Camp Nou should prove too much for Lyon, the Bayern v Liverpool clash on Wednesday should be a real cracker.

Jurgen Klopp has plenty of history with the Bavarians, not least the 2013 final with Borussia Dortmund. His rejuvenated Liverpool were beaten finalists too last season and are hungry for success this season domestically as well as in Europe. Bayern however are seemingly perennial inhabitants of the last four of the Champions League and at home must start as favourites.

While Real failed to match their five straight European Cups from the 1950s, Spanish league teams have won the last five Champions Leagues. A win in 2019 for Atletico Madrid or Barcelona would equal England's six in a row streak between 1977 and 1982.

After Spurs and Man Utd's unlikely advances last week, the possibility remains of half the last eight coming from one country.

Now Real's latest golden age is over, if Atleti or Barca are not to keep La Liga's flag flying at the summit of Europe, then it could be the start of another English reign.

Tuesday 12th March

Manchester City (3) v (2) Schalke 04
Juventus (0) v (2) Atletico Madrid

Wednesday 13th March

Barcelona (0) v (0) Lyon
Bayern Munich (0) v (0) Liverpool

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Monday, March 4, 2019

Remembering the Dynamic Duo

PETER TAYLOR'S MEMOIR OF A REMARKABLE FOOTBALL PARTNERSHIP IS BACK IN PRINT  

First published in 1980, "With Clough by Taylor" is a frank and fascinating insight into English football's most famous managerial partnership and has just been reissued by Biteback Publishing.

To recall, Brian Clough & Peter Taylor took two provincial teams from the East Midlands, Derby County and Nottingham Forest, from the English Second Division to the heights of European football in the 1970's, an unprecedented and unmatched achievement.

Remembering the Dynamic Duo
With Clough By Taylor
Both clubs became league champions under their tutelage, Derby reached the semi-finals of the European Cup and Forest won it twice.

The pair, who had played together at Middlesbrough, found their contrasting personalities formed an electrifying cocktail in management across five teams. Their partnership was possibly football's finest, a famous male bonding commemorated in the film version of David Peace's dark and wonderful novel 'The Damned United'.

While Clough stole the limelight with his mesmerising personality and need to tell the world what he thought about everyone and everything, it was Taylor's diligence in the shadows that was fuelling that famous chutzpah.

As his partner reveals, Clough had endured spells of serious self-doubt such as when his playing career was cut short by injury, or when he was sacked by Derby, Hartlepool and Leeds.

Clough was an expert at tying up transfers, often talking his way into prospective players' houses and befriending their parents, but Taylor had a hawk's eye for spotting talent  in the first place, particularly ageing or overlooked players.

Their capture of 30-something Roy McFarland was instrumental in taking Derby to the top while they managed to turn a number of apparent journeymen at Forest into European champions.

Equally astute as their hiring was their firing - dismissing players at their peak before their transfer value dipped, a policy Taylor explains was the same as trading shares on the stock market.

He is disarmingly frank in his explanation of his methods, admitting the pair would tell new signings they would be moved on as soon as their form dipped and a better player became available. And yet they also forged great team spirits, as their results show.

Taylor put much stock in a player's character and for him the most important football skill was being able to pass well under pressure.

His way of assessing players ultimately was quite similar to the Ajax TIPS system - measuring technique, intelligence, personality and speed. The Dutch giants, along with Barcelona, actually came calling for the pair, leaving us to only wonder how Cloughie would have dealt with Diego Maradona.

Forest ironically was the biggest job the most talented managerial duo ever had. Despite overwhelming public support, Clough (and presumably he would have brought his wing man) was passed over for the national team, so in the book Taylor relishes demolishing Ron Greenwood's England selections.

Some of their methods are unthinkable today - Cloughie asking a difficult player to punch him, or the pair handing out beers on the bus to a big match to calm their nerves, but their results did the talking.

They were not perfect - Taylor admits to misjudging Asa Hartford and spurning the chance to sign a young Kevin Keegan, but their formula was mostly a winning one.

"The basic element is togetherness," he explained. "We're always picking up each other's thoughts and finishing each other's sentences - we're a twosome speaking as one."

What is also fascinating from the book is how different their characters were. Taylor explains how Clough needed company while he preferred solitude and how Clough was a monk pre-match and a talking head afterwards and he was the opposite.

As it happened, the apparently inseparable pair who had flourished together at five clubs finally fell out and did not speak for the last seven years of Taylor's life.

Apparently Clough had no idea Taylor was writing this book and did not take kindly to it either. The pair parted definitively when Taylor, then Derby boss, signed a Forest player behind Clough's back in 1983, causing Clough to denounce him as a snake in the press.

Football's strongest partnership, the Achilles and Patroclus of the East Midlands in the 1970s, was suddenly no more and would never be again.

But nevertheless Taylor's long-term football partner dedicated his autobiography, which is far less interesting a read by the way, to his old pal thus:

"To Peter, still miss you badly...You were right."

Buy this book from Amazon: USA | UK | Japan

Clough Related

Nottingham honours its sheriff

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile