Tag Archives: champions league

What’s Happened to Manchester United?

The manager: It seems almost inconceivable now, but nine months ago the media loved David Moyes. David Moyes believes Manchester United need to sign 'one or two' playersFourFourTwo published a fawning profile. Columnists praised him for guiding Everton to fifth place. And in a fit of enthusiasm, an Israeli newspaper erroneously claimed he was Jewish.

Since then, it has become increasingly clear that for all his accomplishments at Goodison Park – and I’m not convinced there were quite as many as some people think – Moyes is neither charismatic enough to inspire a dressing room full of bloated egos nor courageous enough to put his best attacking players in the same XI. Rooney, Januzaj, van Persie, and Mata would probably form a dangerous, flexible attacking unit, but Moyes, whose Everton team won plenty of games but never threatened to entertain anybody, isn’t interested.

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Ferguson’s Mistake

Flipping through FourFourTwo’s Top 100 Players list, I kept thinking about Manchester United’s pogbamidfield. The list is pretty much a catalogue of players United should have signed or shouldn’t have sold. It was hard not to notice that Tom Cleverley and Marouane Fellaini hadn’t made the cut. And that Michael Carrick languished in the mid-70s. And that in 64th place, making his first appearance on the annual list, was Paul Pogba.

Here’s the thing about Pogba: People knew he was going to be good. It’s not as if he flopped, Zoran Tosic-style; left Old Trafford; and then suddenly turned into the best midfielder in Serie A. United sold Pogba because he had started to believe his own hype, or at least his agent had, and Alex Ferguson wouldn’t meet his salary demands. Unlike Ravel Morrison, who has played brilliantly for West Ham this season, Pogba wasn’t lazy, or volatile, or even an alleged sex offender. He just happened to consider himself the next Patrick Vieira. Pogba signed for Juventus about a year and a half ago and has since proved that a) he may well be better than Vieira; and b) Ferguson shouldn’t have been so stingy.

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Violence, Corruption and the UEFA Coefficient: The Decline of Serie A

On Tuesday night, Udinese, the third best team in Italy, lost their Champions League qualifier to Braga on penalties. The result leaves just two Italian teams, AC Milan and Juventus, in the 32-club pool that kicks off Europe’s premier competition next month. Ironically, the penalty miss that effectively eliminated Udinese was a failed “Panenka,” a disastrous rendition of the technique that Andrea Pirlo executed perfectly in Italy’s penalty-shootout win over England at Euro 2012. Italy’s sweetest international moment since the 2006 World Cup resurfaced only to underline the symbolic culmination of years of domestic decline.

Of course, decline is a relative term. If you offered the current state of the Serie A (millions of viewers, still producing top-class players) to even the most fiercely optimistic fan of MLS (thousands of viewers, still producing a whole lot of rubbish), he would take it in an instant. But after years of constant success, Italy’s predicament feels a whole lot worse than anything MLS has ever had to cope with. Consider this: in the last seven years, Serie A has been rocked by two high-profile match-fixing scandals, the most recent of which brought league-championship-winning manager Antonio Conte a ten-month suspension. Two years ago, Italy dropped below Germany in the UEFA coefficient rankings and lost a Champions League spot. Inter Milan, European champions in 2010, finished sixth last season. This year, Portugal is sending three representatives to the Champions League, while Italy is sending only two. Meanwhile, in Spain, Barcelona is producing epic, era-defining football, and the national team is winning World Cups. In July’s European Championships final, Spain beat Italy 4-0.

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INFTH Book Review: All Or Nothing

At football’s European epicenter lies the world’s premier annual sporting competition. The Champions League shapes the
ambitions of clubs across the continent; all of them dreaming of the same ungainly, two-handled trophy. All or Nothing is the story of that tournament. The story of the teams, fans and players that make-up modern football’s most defining edifice.

Andy Brassell sets out to understand the Champions League’s transcendent influence on European club football, to examine how the tournament affects competitors big, small and in between. Unfortunately, Brassell’s account of one “season in the life of the Champions League” fails to compel. It’s not fresh, it’s not new and it’s not exciting. Moreover, only eight years after publication, it’s hopelessly out of date.

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Moment #2: Van Der Sar’s Moscow Heroics

This one is by me, The Chairman; David Yaffe-Bellany, editor of In For The Hat Trick.

The rain glistened off his head. Sparkling like the cosmos, the gloriously bald Nicolas Anelka took his first tentative steps. In the slightly blurred background, Van Der Sar beat his hands together looking, presumably, to inspire a last bout of energy. Twenty fellows anxiously waited, millions more consumed excitedly, all were transfixed by the action unfolding. 

I had always been a sucker for penalty shoot-outs. The sheer, almost manufactured drama inherent in these most ultimate of deciders is an addictive drug – pure, unadulterated adrenaline.

But here something was different. The grown men covering their eyes with scarves were my men, the sweat soaked victims of football’s fickle executioner were my players.  Everything was distinctly more personal.

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A neglected, fast cooling box of pizza lay discarded in the corner, beside it, an untouched pitcher of water. ESPN’s transmission lit up a rather morbid setting, even Tommy Smyth’s inept analysis was met with no complaint. Laying prone on the couch was a rather unattractive lifeform, its steely gaze fixed on the television – as the nostalgic elderly might have it, a quintessential twenty-first century human.

As Anelka strode nervously to the penalty spot, the slumping figure straightened to attention. Expectation began to prevail, hope usurped negativity. Dressed in marvelous green, Van Der Sar looked the part. His arms waved menacingly, daring Anelka to score, daring him to deny United a third sojourn into European nirvana.

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Champions League Consigns International Break To Distant Memory

After two weeks of old arguments, the Champions League’s return proved a refreshing end to the monotony.

At what point England’s dour, 1-0 win over Wales was forgotten is hard to say. It could have been on ninety-three minutes at the Nou Camp, when Thiago Silva powered home a late equalizer, or maybe seconds later, as Ivan Peresic’s breathtaking volley flew into the top corner in Germany. The contrast between two midweek spectacles couldn’t have been more pronounced.

It seems that international breaks are now nothing if not depressing inevitabilities - interim periods cut from the same cloth as that mountain so elegantly described by the brilliant Dante.

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