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5 Sporting Events to Look Forward to in 2012

I’ll start with an apology. My suggestions last year were, frankly, dreadful. The Cricket and Rugby Union World Cups were dreadfully dull, the South American teams forgot how to score in the Copa America and Haye v. Klitschko was quite the one-sided affair. Even the Masters, won by Charl Schwartzel, will only be remembered for Rory McIlroy’s spectacular collapse in his final round.

So I’ve told myself to be better this year. Have a finer judgement, be more original, everyone knows about the Olympics, and to be honest, the only thing about that I’m looking forward to is the Closing Ceremony.

Speedway: New Zealand Grand Prix – 31 March

I’ve said it many times previously, but speedway is having a torrid time of it. The domestic scene in the UK is frankly a shambles, the rules in Poland exclude some of the very best from driving in the best league, and the only thing that isn’t going horribly wrong is their showpiece events. On the contrary from the rest of the speedway world, the Speedway Grand Prix is looking good. Especially with the introduction of the race in New Zealand, at the Western Springs Stadium near Auckland.

After Greg Hancock’s World Championship win at the young age of 41, he’s hoping to defend his title, and start by doing so with a win in New Zealand. On the face of it, it is difficult to predict who is going to win the title overall. Runner-up in 2011. Andreas Jonsson, is prone to starting his season slowly, Jason Crump and Tomasz Gollob seem to be on the decline, and the likes of Emil Sayfutdinov have so far failed to continue living up to expectations.

This could be the time for Chris Holder to step up. The Australian is still young, and has shown more than enough times he is capable to challenge at least the podium. Two wins are already under his belt, including the massive British Grand Prix. Failing that, Jaroslaw Hampel has been knocking on the door for two years now, meaning this could be the year he manages to break in.

Formula 1: Bahrain Grand Prix – 22 April

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Putting this under ‘events to look forward to’ isn’t probably the right option, but ‘events which will be very interesting’ will certainly feature this. In 2011, despite the constant reports of violence against protestors in Bahrain, forming a small part of the Arab Spring, it was decided by the FIA that the race would go ahead. After some pressure though, it was eventually cancelled for the second time, but strangely placed back on the 2012 calendar.

So far, I’ve been surprised with the lack of anger against this. To the best of my knowledge, their is still protests going on, and those protests are being crushed on by the government. With only four months now until the Bahrain Grand Prix, this one may not actually happen, but it will no doubt continue to make the news.

The race itself is nowhere near being any good, with constant dullness since 2004 (apart from when Robert Kubica got pole, of course, but then I am heavily biased). The cancellation of it in 2011 spared us of another waste of 90 minutes, but the effects of the race on the actions of the protestors, governments, and the bottle of the fractured teams and governing bodies, will be highly interesting to follow.

Rugby League: Super League Magic Weekend – 26/27 May

Sometime next year, the world will be descending on the United Kingdom (and Ireland… and France…and probably half of the rest of the northern hemisphere) for the 2013 Rugby League World Cup. International strength was shown in the recent Four Nations, with Wembley and Elland Road both being used to boost the game and attendances, and it worked. Even if Australia decided they fancied winning again.

This year, while the international scene rests with no World Cup or Four Nations, its crucial that the domestic game is given a bigger stage to stand on. The second biggest selling point of the Super League season is the Magic Weekend, which is very much similar to a model strutting down the catwalk showing how good their costume is. It’s Richard Scudamore’s 39th game proposal, but without the excessive travelling.

For a change though, the sport isn’t trying to venture outside its comfort zones. Previous weekends in Cardiff and Edinburgh had seen the sport go into the unknown, and seemingly work, with the first Welsh club in the Super League coming soon after (albeit they have now lost their licence). This year though, its in Manchester and the Etihad Stadium, and a lower train fare for fans of the twelve of the fourteen clubs (I guess its always long for the Catalan Dragons, and to be honest, I’m sure Harlequins changed their name to the London Broncos so I’d remember they were there).

Football: Euro 2012 – 8 June to 1 July

Germany v Spain UEFA EURO 2008 Final 0fg76OSb_Lil

There are two major football championships coming up in 2012. The African Cup of Nations is being hosted by Gabon and Equatorial Guinea in January, and usually it comes up with fireworks. This year, the fireworks sadly probably happened in the qualifiers, with the likes of current champions Egypt, Nigeria, Cameroon and South Africa all failing to make it to the finals.

For me though, there is one international tournament that is worth watching, that being the European Championships held in Poland and Ukraine. The Euros, for me, always tend to be an exciting occasion. Though sadly, I fear this could be the last time I feel this way, with the expansion to 24 teams in 2016 probably going to ruin the competition.

The groups themselves are tasty, with the group of death featuring Germany, the Netherlands and Portugal, and even the group of… un-death, with hosts Poland, Russia, Czech Republic and Greece, which is bizarrely, looking very interesting to watch.

Despite my positivity, I can’t see a final four, right now, that doesn’t feature Germany, Netherlands, Spain and Italy (I lack any hope for those who qualify from groups A and D), those are the four best in Europe right now and well, I’d love to see the matchups between them too. Can Spain be the first team to win to win back to back Euros? There’s a good chance, but my money, is as always, on the Germans.

Golf: Ryder Cup – 28 to 30 September

I tried watching the Presidents Cup, and I really, really wanted to get into it. But it didn’t work out. Because, for me, and for many others, their is only one team event worth watching in golf.

In 2010, Celtic Manor played host to one of the most dramatic Ryder Cup’s in memory, with the schedule being ripped up because of the rather unsurprising early-autumn weather in Wales. It went down to the final game between Graeme McDowell and Hunter Mahan, which went to the wire and was effectively won by McDowell on the 16th, which his incredible, unforgettable putt, that rolled in to the cheers of the thousands huddling the green.

2012 should be once again enthralling, lets be honest, when does the Ryder Cup disappoint? The ever popular Jose Maria Olazabal will captain the Europeans, while Davis Love III captains the Americans. With the strength of European golf at the moment, it is difficult to see any other result at the Medinah Country Club, but it would be foolish to suggest what could happen come September.

And with any luck, the whole summer won’t be full of stories with the words ‘Tiger’, ‘Woods’ and ‘Captain’s pick’.

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RIP Liverpool

Respect is a thing hard to gain and easy to lose. Liverpool proved that today with their statement.

Sounding like a bunch of bitter children, they slated the FA, slated Evra, and defended Suarez, who we can now remember has been found as a racist. There is no class, it is no different to eleven footballers surrounding the referee even though it was a clear penalty.

It doesn’t matter about the length of the ban, or if it was just. The reaction of Liverpool Football Club and their fans has been simply appalling. It’s all the FA’s fault, they were always going to do this, they’re a bunch of corrupt idiots in charge, you know.

Well done Liverpool, from the clubs management to their fans, you’ve made me a rather depressed football fan today. Good going.

Living With No Hope

Africa, Asia, North America and Oceania all make their weaker opposition face a number of preliminary rounds before they are even allowed to come and think about playing the big boys. You never see Cambodia play Australia in an Asian qualifier for the World Cup, likewise São Tomé and Príncipe playing Ivory Coast, or even the Turks and Caicos Islands facing off against the USA.

Yet Europe thinks differently, countries with a population smaller than Wembley Stadium are forced to play off against the biggest and best teams on the continent. Recently, the Netherlands, the runner-up in the 2010 World Cup, went out and tanked San Marino 11-0. And its a common theme for the Sammarinese, Finland and Hungary have beat them 8-0 and Sweden 6-0. All in all, their eight games have seen them concede 44 goals, an average of 5.5 a game.

And they aren’t the only ones struggling, Malta and Andorra have 0 points, Luxembourg and Iceland have 1. Although the Malta and Iceland situation is potentially misguided because of them being in a five team group.

Why should this be allowed? At what should be the highest competitive level of football, teams are being forced to play weaker opposition, which doesn’t help anybody. The bigger teams walk over them and a couple of players get a nice boost to their national team goals tally, the smaller teams except to be walked over and don’t gain any decent experience from it.

There’s only one real solution for this, and its to follow a similar route used by the CAF, AFC, CONCACAF and OFC and use some preliminary rounds. For the record I will be using the seeding which determined the qualifying draw for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. The big teams, and when I say big, I’m even including Pot 3 nations like Ireland, Belarus and Hungary. So I’m saying there are 27 countries capable of realistically qualifying for say, the 2014 World Cup. That leaves a further 26 who I think are unable to do it. Half and half.

Those 26 will then be placed into several preliminary stages which will help whittle down the number. And it doesn’t have to be anything complex, group stages which are used in North America and Asia don’t have to apply. It’s simple, a knockout stage draw, top 13 in the World Rankings in one pot, bottom 13 in the other. Even Scotland should be able to see off the likes of Malta. And if Malta do go on and beat Scotland, well they have gone out and proved they have deserved to be in contention to qualify.

From this there will be 40 nations left, which leaves for a nice round number, 8 groups of 5. Less matches for everyone, which keeps the clubs happy, and no difficult situations for some, when there are groups of 6 and 5, which means more games and more pressure for those in the bigger groups. The clubs will be fortunate and mean their players will have less international games for them to get injured in.

So the group winners qualify and then the five best runners up as well, and then everyone will have their 13 nations off to Brazil, without any hassle of having to play in front of a man and a dog in Andorra. Everyone wins.

The Way Fixing Works…

Turkey is in a situation far worse to Italy circa 2006. Italy saw its biggest clubs, AC Milan, Fiorentina and the biggest of them all, Juventus, all hit hard. Juventus worst of all, relegated down a division with a hefty points deduction and the humiliation of being stripped of their previous two Scudetto’s, all for match fixing. Turkey has seen a grand total of 16 clubs implicated in the most recent match fixing scandal.

The biggest of these is without a doubt Fenerbahçe, 18 time winners of the Süper Lig and fairly regular Champions League competitors. Fenerbahçe won the 2010-11 season on the final day of the season, beating Sivasspor 4-3, allowing them to finish above Trabzonspor on goal difference. All of this sounds thrilling, exciting, but the season is marred by dodgy and suspicious results in a variety of fixtures, and Fenerbahçe appear in a lot of them.

But as already mentioned, they aren’t the only clubs involved, 15 others come in at a smaller scale to this. These include Trabzonspor and the Turkish Cup finalists Beşiktaş and Istanbul. But like with the Italian case, they will be hunted down and they will be given severe punishments.

The match-fixing isn’t being done my gangs, threatening and offering players who a susceptible. No, this is being done by those at the top, the Presidents, the directors, even some of the players. The former Newcastle midfielder Emre Belözoğlu has been questioned by the police in his role, being later released. Overall, twelve members of staff for Fenerbahçe have been arrested, and all of the trouble has seen them kicked out of the Champions League group stages by the Turkish FA.

Ultimately, UEFA opted to go for the second best option to replace them, even with talk of Arsenal, FC Copenhagen and even Liverpool, the most logical choice is to remain in the country, therefore allowing Trabzonspor their first Champions League appearance.

Logical, if Trabzonspor weren’t also one of the sixteen involved in match fixing.

I am aware it isn’t to the same scale of Fenerbahçe, but they are still involved and should be suitably punished. They caused a certain amount of games to go a certain way, changing the outcome of the match away from the natural progression of it all. They shouldn’t be given the privilege of competing in the biggest European club competition.

Logically then, it should be given to Bursaspor, a team not involved in the match fixing scandal, and a team who finished third in the Super Lig.

Once again it shows total ineptness when it comes to serious issues from the governing body. The fact that a number of clubs were banded around saying they had every right to be involved and replace Fenerbahçe shows that no one really knows what is going on in terms of the rules and regulations. Nothing makes sense anymore. And not even the right decision was made, and it is hardly the first time that has happened.

Dissecting Adebayor

Emmanuel Adebayor Sevilla v Real Madrid La eQOArY8Re-rl

Although rumoured for weeks, Harry Redknapp earlier today mentioned the fact that Tottenham Hotspur were in talks with Manchester City regarding a potential loan deal over former Arsenal striker Emmanuel Adebayor.

Adebayor is an interesting individual, but without doubt still a very good player. He started out in France, playing for both Metz and Monaco. His spell at Monaco would also result in a Champions League Final appearance, before his team were comprehensively beaten by Porto 4-0. All in all it resulted in Adebayor moving to Arsenal in 2006, ultimately scoring on his debut against Birmingham City.

Naturally, this is where his somewhat bad behaviour came to light. Adebayor was one of the key men in the middle of the 2007 Carling Cup Final fracas, which saw him get a red card and subsequently refusing to leave the field. This was followed up by another incident in the Carling Cup, this time against Spurs, where he ended up in a heated argument with Nicklas Bendtner.

But of all of them the most famous would have to be after he signed for the oil kings of Manchester City, and played his first match against Arsenal, where after scoring, he ran the full length of the pitch and slid in celebration in front of the Arsenal fans. This wasn’t the only controversial thing he did that day, also kicking Robin van Persie in the face. Ultimately he fell down the pecking order at the Manchester club, and went off on loan to Real Madrid at the end of last season.

I feel Spurs have been here before. Talented player, previously played for a rival club and often has temperamental problems. But William Gallas has come good, and certainly became an integral part of the Tottenham side last season, having a decent partnership with Michael Dawson. From many hating him and criticising him at the start of the season, he ultimately ended up being one of the best and most consistent players.

Adebayor I believe can be something similar, obviously it is only a loan deal and I can’t see him staying accepting a full contract from Tottenham (down to the fact he is currently on a wage deal twice as much as Spurs are willing to pay for him, and I’m sure he isn’t the type that fancies that big a pay-cut). But in one year he has the ability to at least help put some spark in the attack which was a massive disaster last season.

Despite any controversy he could bring, he scores goals. He scores lots and lots of goals. And that’s what Tottenham needs right now, goals. Their failure to dispatch teams that they should have been a walk of the park was half the time down to the strikers inability to hit the net. How many games last season did Spurs have 25+ shots on goal only to fail to score. The game against Blackpool is a prime example, 33 shots, and the only way they scored was a speculative long range effort which was deflected in.

Ultimately Adebayor is only one piece of the jigsaw that Spurs need. There is still a need for another striker, as it looks likely that Peter Crouch may be off this summer. If that person is Bryan Ruiz, then its fine with me. For me Ruiz isn’t exactly the person who is automatically first choice, but a kind of player you want when things are getting tough, or there is a bit of an injury crisis. And lets be honest here, this is Spurs we are talking about, of course there will be an injury crisis.

I’d have Adebayor in the team at the drop of a hat. My only curiosity is why the guy would sign for a team he has previously accused of singing racist songs, it seems like he’s ignoring everything that’s been said and carrying on. Which I find somewhat odd.

But Adebayor is someone Spurs should look to sign and a deal can only be days away. Obviously the last few people Redknapp talked about signing in a press conference did include Phil Neville and David Beckham, but I hope this time the wages can be sorted out and Adebayor signs on the dotted line.

To FIFA And UEFA

Roberto Carlos had a banana thrown at him in the match between his team Anzhi Makhachkala and Krylya Sovetov today in the Russian Premier League.

In response Carlos did a dignified response, simply throwing the banana off the pitch and walking off down the tunnel. This despite the fact his team had used all three of the substitutions.

And lets not forget that Russia, in 2018, will be hosting the World Cup, the biggest event in football.

How can this be allowed? Fans who subject a racial abuse are going to be allowed a World Cup? One off incident, maybe I’d accept the fact that there is one idiotic fan in the whole country, who can’t keep his thoughts and views to himself, and ruins the reputation of a normally good, well behaved fan group in the nation. But no, this isn’t even the first time it has happened to Roberto Carlos. Earlier this season Zenit St. Petersburg fans waved a banana in the face of the Brazilian as he walked down the tunnel.

Then there is current West Brom striker Peter Odemwingie, who, after leaving Lokomotiv Moscow, had his former fans unveil a banner saying ‘Thanks West Brom’, with a drawing of a banana in the middle. And he has also spoken out since about the racial abuse he had while in Russia.

The same Russia hosting the 2018 World Cup.

Have Russia so far done anything to solve the problem? No, nothing substantial enough which is having any effect. As far back as 2004 the issue had been noted, especially among Zenit St. Petersburg’s refusal to sign black players, and nothing has been done by the RFU, UEFA or FIFA about any single incident. Nothing. Sure, a little slap on the wrist, if you do it again it’ll be a tiny bit harder. But nothing substantial, nothing at all. Just put a massive blanket over it every single time its seen to the whole world. After all, they are getting the World Cup, how lovely and thoughtful by FIFA. Who cares about the racial abuse that the fans chant, I mean, they are going to have big stadiums and host big matches which people will watch. FIFA have to do something about this, the act is disgraceful and every single time they put a clean sheet on it gets dirty.

And we can’t just blame FIFA for being blinded by money and forgetting all morals in choosing who to host a major international event. That is right UEFA, as you plan on sending 14 teams to Poland and Ukraine, you appear to have massively forgot about the hooliganism in the two countries especially Poland.

Poland has been described as having hooliganism worse than England in the 1980s. Fans have been killed, this years Polish Cup final ended in a fight between Legia Warsaw and the Police. It’s a disgrace, and once again, the major international players that should be looking after and solving these issues aren’t there. They are cowering in the corner frightened to alienate the Polish FA, after all, they did allow them to host Euro 2012.

How can FIFA and UEFA allow two nations, each with different moral issues, the right to host major international events? It doesn’t comprehend or make any sense for me. It allows for weak FA’s who refuse to take action on things the ability to get away with it, hey, the might get a World Cup out of it. England cleaned up its act, now (most of the time) the fans are civilised. Sure there is the odd chant which is suspect, but it doesn’t happen every week and it doesn’t happen all the time. Racial abuse and hooliganism doesn’t happen in rugby, cricket or tennis. Or any other sport for that fact, why should football be the example? Just because the sport reaches a far bigger fan base doesn’t give it any sort of excuse that racial abuse and hooliganism should be allowed. The fans who do this are not real fans, they are cowards. It is more than a sport but it ultimately should be played for the enjoyment of the fans and players. That can not possibly be achieved with the attitudes of the football authorities, especially in Eastern Europe. Both FIFA and UEFA should get out from behind the sofa, and make a stand. Forget all the bribery allegations that FIFA are in at the moments, they should also be taking a serious look at the events in Russia and Poland, and take a serious look in threatening the right to remove the host duties from them if they don’t get up and stop the racism and the hooliganism.

Five Footballing Stages of Grief

In the season 5 episode of Scrubs, a popular patient passes away and J.D and Dr Cox go through five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Ultimately this happens and they reach acceptance stage at the end of the episode.

And like with J.D and Dr Cox, the same can be applied to Tottenham’s away performance at the Bernabeau. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance, all felt over the course of the day and especially during the 90 minutes itself.

Denial All day I was fearing the worst. I had in my head Real Madrid scoring goal after goal, after a few more goals, before the referee calls the game at a halt after 67 minutes with the scores at 24-0. Of course, that wouldn’t happen, Spurs do at least have a half decent defence when it wants to be. And then the build up comes, decent teams, no complaints to be had. But then at 7:40PM BST it went wrong. For some reason Jermaine Jenas appears on the pitch, where is Lennon? This can’t be good…

Anger For some reason the line up was all wrong, everything about it. The midfield was a mess, Bale started on the right, nobody seemingly fit to play on the left. Why not put Kranjcar on in that case Redknapp, further proof of tactical naivety on his part. Jenas had an awful game, constantly giving away possession, I know it is almost a cliché that Jenas gets blamed every game, but this game is proof why he gets that tag. Three minutes in, goal, Emmanuel Adebayor, ex-Arsenal, villain. For some reason Jenas is given the task of marking him, not Dawson, not Gallas, but Jenas. Nonsensical, free header, Modric messes it up a bit on the line. But hey, 177 minutes still to go right. No. Thank you Peter Crouch. Two idiotic tackles, two yellow cards. The referee had an excellent game in my view, despite Sergio Ramos getting away with two bookable offences. That ruined the game for Spurs, playing effectively a 4-5-0 formation. Rafael van der Vaart not fully with it, Luka Modric marked tight, Bale anonymous.

Bargaining But look, half time. It is only 1-0, that isn’t too bad. We can still get into this, one more goal. Stick a striker on, hope for the best. Heck, I can still just about laugh about Ray Wilkins’ new catchphrase of ‘stay on your feet’. Bale showed some glimpses, keep giving it at him, Pepe is now yellow carded, out for next game, one tackle away from a red. Run, Gareth, Run. Defoe comes on for van der Vaart, smart move, the Dutchman was dreadful in the first 45 minutes. Still time, 45 minutes and another leg at White Hart Lane to come, we did it against Inter Milan…

Depression Alas, no. Shot, shot, shot for Real Madrid. Cristiano Ronaldo ended up with 13 overall, 13, an insane amount. 36 shots for Real Madrid. That just sounds like Tottenham really, except they score with their chances. The second goal, more defensive woe, Gallas left with two men, forgets to jump. Adebayor with two, painful. The third is unstoppable, beautiful curler from Di Maria. The fourth, oh Gomes, he was solid all game in fairness, but one mistake clouds a game. No goals in four games, 410 minutes. Les Ferdinand out and all that.  Madrid deserved four, Spurs deserved nil. Poor all round, bye bye Europe. Europa League here we come, book your tickets for Finland, Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina now.

Acceptance Full time, 4-0. Brushed aside. But it isn’t anything to be ashamed of, is it? Surely Real Madrid are the second best team in Europe, just after Barcelona. And what a ride Tottenham have sent everyone on. From 3-0 down away at Young Boys, to the highs against Inter Milan (3-1), AC Milan (both games), hell even being there has been special. We did it, judging by the league it may be the only opportunity Spurs get for a few years and they gave it a damn good crack at it. Quarter finals is nothing to be ashamed of. We went one round further than the lot down the road. Arsenal only made the group stages at their first attempt of the Champions League as well. Spurs had one of the best debut seasons in the Champions League without a doubt. Kings of Milan, stars, nothing to be disappointed about. Bring on FC Honka, RNK Split and FK Željezničar Sarajevo. Europe is Europe, its still more attractive to players than no Europe. It hasn’t stopped Manchester City this season, nor the likes of Porto and Napoli. One leg to go, why not go out in style.

The Biased View

Am I really going to be a partial observer to anything Arsenal ever do? No, of course not. That would be ludicrous. I mean, I could give it a good shot.

Arsenal are… are…

Okay, so that isn’t going to work. But does it stop this little writer commenting on every last bit of detail, no, of course not.

Lets look at the news, oh, Arsenal are after Jens Lehmann? This is the part where I’m expected to laugh uncontrollably, point at all my Arsenal supporter friends and say, ‘At least our keeper doesn’t have a pension’.

But, I won’t, I’ll be impartial, because if I state that now, you wouldn’t believe me based on the rest of this text. Because whichever way you look at this story, it is quite possibly one of the most ridiculous and stupidest things Arsene Wenger has even thought about doing. See, totally not biased at all.

Background check, Jens Lehmann, 41, from Germany, signed first for Arsenal back in 2003 to replace David Seaman. What followed was five years of a wide range of things stretching from sheer brilliance to absolute insanity. He eventually plodded back to Germany in 2008 to sign for VfB Stuttgart, before retiring two years later.

Meanwhile Arsenal struggled to find a capable and consistent goalkeeper, first there was Manuel Almunia, then Lukasz Fabianski and finally Wojciech Szczęsny, a name I had to copy from Wikipedia for this to work. Here could be the point I would list the amount of howlers from all three of those keepers, but I plan on this post being finished before Christmas.

So, the solution when Szczesny gets injured? Lehmann. A 41 year old retired goalkeeper. A man who is unlikely to have touched a ball in anger for over six months. This idea is br… oh, that will be biased, I mean, this idea is dreadful.

First things first, yes, I know goalkeepers are supposed to peak in their 30s, and several goalkeepers are still playing in their 40s. Stand up Edwin van der Sar and David James. However, can you say they are playing well? Van der Sar has made several high profile errors this season, and David James has shipped in 49 goals and Bristol City are 18th in the Championship, a league they were expected to be promotion contenders in.

Arsenal have appeared to forget about the one obvious form to bring in a new signing, emergency loan. Ah, remember that Spurs fans, our old mate Martin Fulop committing several stunning saves in that Champions League ‘play-off’ against Manchester City at the end of last season. And hey, they got him despite having about twelve fit keepers in the reserves. That is about eleven more than Arsenal appear to have.

Who to get, there are some brilliant keepers who are stuck on the bench. Tim Krul, who I maintain is the best young keeper in England right now. His performances in the UEFA Cup against Palermo several seasons ago (back when Newcastle United were in Europe, yeah, that was only 2006) were staggeringly impressive. And then think about others, Fulham with Schwarzer or Stockdale (whichever happens to be the reserve).

The point is Arsenal don’t need to resort to Lehmann, just because he is a free agent and one of their old players should mean nothing. Get in quality, reliability, not just a known face.

Although, if they want to get him, it would be fantastic…. oh, sorry, I just couldn’t help that one.

The Second French Revolution

I’d like you to go to that part of the brain you have padlocked shut, hidden the key to the door somewhere you have forgot about and basically have a ten mile exclusion zone around it. Inside contains all those things you have decided to forget about, all those things you don’t want to remember, they are just too awful.

Come on then, I’ll give you time to find that key, its time to go in. Just be careful, I only want you to go to the bit which stores the 2010 World Cup.

There? Good, just be careful, some bad memories will come flooding back to you. Oooh, the 4-1 is there, the Rob Green howler, you can remember that again. Can’t you? I’m sorry.

But the reason for this rather strange and possibly pointless exercise is that I want to talk about France. And you thought England had a bad World Cup, it seems good, in fact I’m pretty sure that 4-1 against Germany still looks good against France. Hey, we won a game at least.

France got one point. In that drab and horribly dull game against Uruguay on the opening day. And then the capitulations against Mexico and South Africa.

It wasn’t the performances though that made the headlines. The spectacular internal implosion got everyone talking, from Anelka to the fitness coach chucking away his pass in front of, well, the whole of the international press and their cameras.

And the man who ended up with full responsibility was Raymond Domenech. The astrological lover who only four years early took his nation to the final of the World Cup.

How times change. And it really shouldn’t have come as a surprise. They did set precedent by finishing last of their (albeit difficult) group in the 2008 European Championships (behind the Netherlands, Italy and er, Romania). And then only got into the finals themselves because of the hand of Henry.

Out went Domenech, fair to say no one was really saddened by this decision.

In came Laurent Blanc, the ex-Barcelona, Internazional and Manchester United (to name a few) defender. He brought to the table three years of managerial experience in the French top flight, Ligue 1, with Bordeaux. He was the first manager since 2001 to break the Lyon stranglehold on the league, winning the Ligue 1 Manager of the Year in the process.

Not bad for a young manager.

His first job for France was to punish all 23 members of the World Cup squad. None of them would be present in his first international match, a friendly against Norway. They lost 2-1 but a precedent was set by Blanc, he was boss.

And its shown well in his spell so far, which has included wins against England (2-1 at Wembley) and Brazil (1-0 at Stade de France). France are getting back to their successful selves, like the team Blanc won the World Cup with back in 1998.

Of course it would be silly to suggest the European Championships in 2012 are nailed on certainties for France. There are still a lot of good teams in Europe, Spain will still have many of the top class players which won them the last Euros in 2008 and of course the World Cup, Germany have talented youngsters which served them well in South Africa and the Netherlands should never be discredited, even if their tactics these days aren’t as good as they used to be.

But Blanc has tried to make improvements, shift the dead wood, actually care about the national team and prove himself to be a capable manager who can take care of the players and manage them suitably.

To compare the changes, below I’ve listed the last game in charge for Domenech (South Africa at the World Cup) and the latest game for Blanc (Brazil in a friendly on Wednesday).

v South Africa (22/06/10) v Brazil (09/02/11)
Lloris (GK) Lloris (GK)
Sagna Sagna
Gallas Mexes
Squillaci Rami
Clichy Abidal
Diarra Malouda
Diaby M’Vila
Gignac Diarra
Gourcuff Benzema
Ribery Menez
Cisse Gourcuff

Only four members have remained. The talented keeper in Hugo Lloris (who was about the only player not to disgrace himself at the World Cup), as well as Bacary Sagna, Alou Diarra and Yoann Gourcuff. And its worked, Brazil’s team consisted the likes of David Luiz, Robinho and Alexandre Pato, all players who are world class. Even if it is only a friendly, the signs are promising.

I watched the France v Brazil match on ESPN instead of watching England, and despite me regretting the decision because for once it seemed the England match was a better spectacle, I could see France were getting much better. The goal consisted of a superb run from Jeremy Menez, who crossed the ball in for a Karim Benzema tap in.

Those two players show the quality France has available, from the reliable Lloris to the skilful Gourcuff, it has its talent. And I do believe Blanc is the right man to guide them forward, back up the rankings, back to the best they can do.

It’s too early to say for certain is Laurent Blanc is the genius I’m making him out to be, but why not? Top of their qualification group, Euro 2012 on the cards.

And no more Domenech.

Let It Be Said, The Romance Is Dead

Ahh, the FA Cup. Every year it brings up the great cup stories, the great upsets, the great goals, the great moments always associated to the finest domestic cup competition. And everyone loves to see the underdog have its day, Hereford beating Newcastle, Sutton beating Coventry, Leeds beating Manchester United.

But come the fifth round of this years FA Cup, that won’t be happening.

It was  pretty inevitable after games against Derby County and Torquay United, Crawley Town would be getting the big name draw for the fifth round. And that is just what happened, out came ball number seven, Manchester United, followed by ball number one, Crawley Town.

Premier League v Blue Square Premier. Surely the tie of the round, the one all TV stations will be fighting each other for, the tickets snapped up straight away, the chance of the greatest cup upset of all time. My God why isn’t it the next round already, we are missing so much for waiting. Scrap the rest of the Premier League season, no one cares about that until the best cup tie of all time.

I think you get the idea.

This will be billed as the greatest game in Crawley Town’s history, and to some extent, it is. The next game they face is Kettering Town, which has hardly the same appeal as a team unbeaten in the Premier League. Which non-league club wouldn’t love the chance to play Manchester United? Everyone from AFC Wimbledon to Billingham Synthonia would die to have that one opportunity, the once in a lifetime moment, or more realistically, once in many lifetimes. But Crawley, you have that doubt, they don’t need it do they?

Oh, I let it slip didn’t I? How silly. Yes, Crawley Town are far from popular, far from popular by being the most disliked non-league teams in every division that exists from the Blue Square Premier down.

They are the Manchester City of the non-league world, filled with cash from outside investors (in fairness to Crawley, the two owners are both fans of the club, paid off the debts, brought that level of stability rare to non-league clubs these days), they find themselves in 2nd place in the BSP, two points behind leaders AFC Wimbledon with just the four games in hand. Comparing the money spent on players in the FA Cup fourth round game between Torquay and Crawley, the other Red Devils had spent over £500,000 on players, which for a non-league club, is probably the equivalent of having water in your village when every village around you just has mud.

But as you may say, some people still find Manchester City as that cute little club you are allowed to like, no matter how much money is spent by them. But this is by far not the worst thing about the club. Not by far. steveevans

To the right of this text is Steve Evans.  Normally at this point I’d say the positives about the guy before I’d launch into the negatives. But, there is no positives. None. You can dislike Sir Alex Ferguson, Arsene Wenger, Harry Redknapp and so on, but this could be one of the worst managers in football, not in terms of ability, you don’t get to be so high in the league if you don’t have that, but in terms of attitude, personality and style.

Lets start of with the small things, because they all add up in the end don’t they? He often refuses to shake hands with opposition managers, gets himself sent off from the dugout, sends tirades towards the referees and officials. Then, as I learned from ‘Two Footed Tackle’ often ‘forgets’ he does such things and claims to be a nice and lovely individual. Oh, don’t you just love that sort of person?

But, that is only the small things, because despite other managers displaying some of those characteristics on occasion, none of them has ever been convicted of fraud.

You didn’t see that coming did you?

Remember Boston United, the club Soccer AM used to take the mick of because they had the same name as a well known place over in the USA? Steve Evans was manager of this club, his first foray into management. But it was he who ultimately destroyed the club, sent them tumbling down the pyramid and into obscurity.

From one of the few twitter accounts I have actually seen mentioning this fact about Evans (the others being the Non-League Show and Two Footed Tackle), Two Hundred Percent linked to a Telegraph article back in 2002.

This is a link to the article. Read it. Take as long as you want, but read it, it’ll explain everything so much better than I ever will.

Done? Excellent.

They key bit comes in the final paragraph:

"The sad thing about this whole story," Bean said, "is that at the greatest moment in Boston’s history, one man did so much to damage the club’s reputation. In everything that went wrong at the club, Steve Evans was the common denominator."

This man destroyed Boston. They are now playing in the Conference North after a brief trip down to the Northern Premier. They were on the brink of financial ruin, it is a miracle they haven’t went the same fate as Chester City, Ilkeston Town, down and out. No longer existing.

Steve Evans was fined £8,000 and banned from football for 20 months. He was also given a one year suspended sentence after a criminal investigation into fraud. The likes of Dagenham and Redbridge, a team who had been pipped out on promotion missed out on the glory land of league football, instead given to a team who were managed by a crook.

There is no beating about the bat here, a clear crook. A man who does not even deserve to be given a third chance (Evans was actually rehired by Boston United, would you believe) is seeing his team in the big time, in the limelight, and if there is one manager who doesn’t deserve it, it is him.

The large amounts of money being placed into Crawley is no bad thing, its obvious someone wants to see a team do well, be successful, much like Manchester City. But given Steve Evans record, you do wonder is he is the man you want to trust it with.

Look at the major outlets. BBC, ITV, ESPN, all the newspapers, how many will mention all of what has been said? None, they’ll go on about how fantastic it is that a small team from Crawley have drawn Manchester United. How they are the first non-league team since 1994 to reach the fifth round.

It’s good for the fans, the players, it isn’t their fault. Good for them, they deserve it.

But Evans doesn’t.

And for once, I will be cheering on Manchester United. Most of non-league, will be cheering on Manchester United. You don’t have a reason not to be cheering on Manchester United.