Monthly Archives: May 2011

There’s Only One Paul Scholes

It was coming, and now it has come. After months of rumors, meetings with Sir Alex, and David Gill hints, Paul Scholes has finally called time on an illustrious career at the top.

As shy as he was brilliant, Paul Scholes lit up the English game for seventeen glorious years. Part of the “class of ’92,” (which also included Nicky Butt, Ryan Giggs, David Beckham and Gary Neville) Scholes broke into the first team in 1994, scoring twice against Port Vale in the League Cup.

Known for his blaster of a shot, terrific vision and unassuming personality, Paul Scholes has come to define Manchester United for the last fifteen years. Noticeable on the pitch due to his ginger hair, Paul Scholes has been a master of the long ball, a consistent player with a rocket of a shot, though not the world’s greatest tackler…

Ask any United fan to list their favorite Paul Scholes moments, and you’d likely be conversing for hours. The blasters against Bradford, Aston Villa and Barcelona were brilliant, the late header against City even better. For years, Paul Scholes has been the only English player of his kind, the only one able to spot an eighty yard pass, the only one always a threat around the edge of the penalty box.

Scholes is one of the only players who has managed to carve out a career on the finest footballing stage, yet managed to avoid the temptations and pitfalls that come with the celebrity lifestyle. While teammates like Wayne Rooney and Ryan Giggs spent nights frolicking with prostitutes and TV models, Scholes stayed home with the kids, ever the role model, ever the man to look up to.

A high up official at Inter Milan once said “I told Morrati Scholes is a “mission impossible” man. It’s more than money with him. He was born just a few blocks away from Old Trafford. It’s about wearing United’s colors.” It’s about wearing United’s colors. That was really all it was ever about for Paul Scholes. He shunned the media and shied away from the limelight, concentrated on not furthering himself, but on furthering the team. England need more players like Paul Scholes, men that would never be caught urinating in parking lots, sleeping with teammates women nor brawling in nightclubs. England need more players creative enough to break down the most resolute of defenses, more players capable of picking out passes in the dying embers of important matches. 

Perhaps the reason for England’s lack of success over the years has been a dearth of players of the caliber of Paul Scholes. Lampard and Gerrard have both had their moments, but total inflexibility has inhibited their progress, while maestros like Hoddle, and in particular Le Tissier, have lacked the mettle and the desire to make it at the top. 

As indicated in the title, there is only one Paul Scholes, and as long as that statement remains true, English international football will remain very much second best .


Barcelona Too Good For United

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 28:  Eric Abidal of FC Barcelona lifts the trophy after victory in the UEFA Champions League final between FC Barcelona and Manchester United FC at Wembley Stadium on May 28, 2011 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)Was it really ever in doubt? Even while United pressed and probed, trying to force an opening in the first few minutes, did anyone ever see a United victory as a plausible result? Barca are simply the best, and the proved it again on Saturday night with a performance of sheer sublimity.

Their passing was mesmerizing; Iniesta to Xavi to Messi back to Iniesta… Every shot was on target and every clearance solid. Constantly changing the tempo, Barca caused the United midfield all sorts of problems, Ferguson’s men just couldn’t cope with the fabulous combination of Xavi and Iniesta.

Their first goal was perhaps avoidable from United’s point of view, but in all honesty, even if Pedro had fluffed his lines from eight yards out, a goal would eventually have arrived. Many watchers on accused United of lacking a “Plan B” or failing to have an answer to Barcelona’s wondrous tiki-taka. However, those who look to United for the reason behind Barca’s success miss the point. Barcelona are a team of such quality, and such togetherness that I doubt a World XI, the best not playing for Barca, would even come close to victory.

United’s goal, a powerful finish from Wayne Rooney was a blip on the radar, a footnote to what was a stunning page of football history, all written by FC Barcelona. Even after Rooney’s goal, Barcelona maintained composure. Continuing to play their game, they fought on; refusing to let United have even the faintest sniff of the ball. Lionel Messi, the greatest player on the planet, wove his dribbling patterns around the pitch, and though he was stopped on occasion by the likes of Vidic and Park, it was only ever a matter of time before he struck.

For those waiting for confirmation of Messi’s brilliance, one game which stated his case to be placed alongside Pele, Maradona and Cruyff, they have finally found it. Breathtaking in the dribble and clever in his passing, Messi combined subtlety with brutality, a blaster of a goal to go with his agglomeration of nutmegs. Post match, Pep Guardiola described Messi as “probably the best ever” and I think now, few would argue with that.

Manchester United keeper Edwin van der Sar not to blame, Barcelona  we're just too hot, says Alex StepneyFrom back to front, top to bottom, Barcelona oozed brilliance. Valdes, always comfortable on the ball, made several last ditch clearances to deny Chicharito, who could have been replaced with an actual pea. I doubt anyone would have noticed the difference. Eric Abidal, just two months after having a cancerous tumor removed from his liver was immense, as he silenced the considerable threat of Valencia. Upfront, the three pronged attack of Villa, Messi and Pedro continued to operate effectively, all three were on the score sheet.

Pep GuardiolaOn the sideline, a proud but beleaguered looking Pep Guardiola looks to have aged much since his last meeting with Sir Alex, the strains of managment have clearly effected him greatly. However, in a post match interview Guardiola stated in no uncertain terms that he plans to fulfill his contract, guaranteeing Barca at least another year of domination.

As the United players trooped off the pitch, watching sorrowfully as their Catalan rivals danced around the center circle, they must have wondered what they had to do to beat them; what feat of alchemy it would take to find the winning formula. Barcelona are not unbeatable, they are a brilliant team but not invincible. Real Madrid defended stoutly in the Copa Del Rey final, and won. Hercules were opportunistic against a poor Barca side, and won. But United, for all their planning, all their talk of maturity and development were still lacking something. The mediocrity of competition in the Premier League this year threw a veil over United’s glaring deficiencies, they are a team which must rebuild or risk being left in the others’ dust.

So while Barcelona celebrate another season of brilliance, United once must again ponder how best to combat that seemingly invincible force. Perhaps United fans, as well as Sir Alex Ferguson, should take solace in the fact that they are not the only ones who will be left praying for solutions to the plethora of problems posed by Messi and company. In Madrid, Jose Mourinho has already started his preparations for 2012 with three signings in no time at all. But, as all who plot against Barca will soon realize, their battle is eternally futile. Barca are just too good.

The Golden Conundrum

Why Bob Bradley will have so much trouble choosing which strikers he plans to bring to the Concacaf Gold Cup…

The Candidates-

Juan Agudelo- Teenage dynamo Agudelo is the name on everybody’s lips at the moment. Despite not locking down a starting spot with the Red Bulls, Agudelo has scored two terrfic goals this season, and produced a series of highly encouraging performances. Remarkably, Juan Agudelo has scored just as many National Team goals, he has netted two in three games for the Stars and Stripes. Certainly, Agudelo’s youthful enthusiasm would be useful, but Bradley is unlikely to elect to start the eighteen year old in some of the competition’s more important games.

Chances of going: 8.5/10

Jozy Altidore- Altidore has split opinion immensely in US Soccer circles, the American has proved himself on the National Team level in the past, but has struggled for goals and consistency more recently. Altidore possesses raw power, as well as Gold Cup experience, but his recent form has put a starting spot in serious doubt. However, Bob Bradley is generally believed to be a big fan of Jozy’s, so I reckon that Altidore will get the nod, despite lacking the technical ability of Agudelo, and the form of players like Herculez Gomez.

Chances of going: 9.9/10

Charlie Davies- Davies’ chances looked significantly brighter before the injury he sustained against Colorado. The DC united man has been in red hot goalscoring form this year, though it is still unclear whether he has retained the burning speed which so defined his game pre injury. Davies is widely considered as an outsider to go to the Gold Cup, the striker is still short of games since his return from the car crash, and a flurry of early goals in MLS may not have been enough to convince Bob Bradley of his worth. Personally, I see Davies as a better man to bring than the out of sorts Altidore, he offers the X Factor in attack, as well as a decent amount of National Team experience. The sooner Davies is reintroduced into the National Team fold the better, CD9 still has a great chance of starring for the United States in years to come.

Chances of going: 2/10

Chris Wondolowski- A star for the San Jose Earthquakes, last year’s top scorer in MLS deserves a shot at National Team play. Wondolowski possesses an impressive skill set, as well as the eye for goal which served him so well last season. This year, Wondo has five goals in ten appearances for the Quakes, a far superior record to that of Agudelo, and one almost as good as Charlie Davies’. However, Wondolowski is virtually untested at the international level, his one cap coming in a friendly against Chile last year.

Chances of going: 3/10

Herculez Gomez- The Mexican League’s top scorer in 2010, Gomez carved himself into the minds of US fans last summer, as he played for the United States in South Africa, having scored two goals in pre-tournament warm up games. Gomez has been less prolific for his club this year, but he still remains a decent option for Bob Bradley, experienced at the national level and more than capable of playing against Mexican opposition…

Chances of going: 7/10

Teal Bunbury- In my opinion, Bunbury is the most exciting young forward in American soccer, not Agudelo. Unlike his international colleague, Bunbury starts for his MLS club, and boasts a full season of experience at club level. Early season, Bunbury scored two goals against Vancouver that were just dripping with class, and I’d love to see him reproduce that at the Gold Cup. Unfortunately, Sporting KC’s tough schedule has inhibited his progress this term, but I still think Bunbury represents a good option for Bradley.

Chances of going: 5/10

Edson Buddle- A very outside pick, Edson Buddle has acquitted himself fairly well playing in Bundesliga 2 for FC Inglostadt. With three goals in fourteen appearances, Buddle has helped the team climb out of the relegation zone, but his scoring total still remains quite meager. However, Buddle does boast a handful of caps, highlighted by his participation in the 2010 World Cup and his two goals against Australia in a pre-tournament warm up game. Buddle is a proven MLS goalscorer, so he would represent a safer pick than either Agudelo or Bunbury.

Chances of going: 1/10

Who I would bring: Bunbury, Wondo, Gomez

Who Bradley will bring: Altidore, Agudelo, Gomez

The Tragedy That Is Owen Hargreaves

It is difficult to remember a player who has been worse afflicted by the terrors of injury than now former Manchester United midfielder Owen Hargreaves.

Once dubbed the finest defensive midfield player in the World, Owen Hargreaves was a key figure in the Manchester United first team, instrumental to United’s double success of 2008. Versatile, Hargreaves was able to play all along the right side, as well as in the holding midfield position he frequented most.

Arguably, Hargreaves had been England’s best performing player in the 2006 World Cup. He was the most lively member of an anemic England midfield, and was the only man to convert from the spot in the Three Lions’ shoot out loss at the hands of Portugal.

However, under that terrific exterior, Hargreaves has an underlying weakness, the Canadian born Englishman has been dogged by injuries, ones which have limited his progress after a terrific debut season at United.

Tendonitis in both knees, and recurring minor injuries have conspired to stop Hargreaves from participating in the first team, the Englishman has had to watch on from the sidelines as his teammates have made history over the last three season.

When United needed him most, in the Champions League final of 2009, Hargreaves was still on the treatment table, undoubtedly, his energy in midfield would have assisted in keeping out the likes of Xavi and Iniesta. Time and time again, critics of United have insisted that they miss a strong presence in central midfield, a void that was left gaping open by  Hargreaves’ consistent problems.

The Hargreaves tragedy is one that has not just effected United though, England have sorely missed him too. Capello’s men were ripped apart by the verve of players like Bastian Schweinsteiger and Mesut Ozil in South Africa, could Hargreaves have not posed a more substantial challenge to them than the mediocre Gareth Barry?

Hargreaves had the potential to be a shining light on both the club and international stage, after all, even despite those injuries he still boasts a remarkable collection of medals, including two Champions League triumphs, and league titles in both England and Germany. Hargreaves is a member of a select club of English players to have won Champions League titles with non-English teams, as well as a select club of English players to have improved their reputation after playing in a World Cup.

May 22, 2011 will forever remain a sad day in the career of Owen Hargreaves. After years of struggles, the midfielder has been released by Manchester United, with a message of hope, for the resurrection of the man’s career.

At age thirty, there is still gas left in Hargreaves’ tank, if only he can overcome his injury problems, he could still yet prove to be a crucial player for a whole variety of teams in Europe. Hargreaves is the best English holding midfield player of his generation, and he won’t let a few injuries get in the way, as he looks to go out on a high.

The All Felon XI

Stephen Bywater- Okay, so Bywater  never committed a crime of any really serious note, but he was questioned by police following the insertion of “erotic artwork” in his backyard. The Derby County goalkeeper’s actions infuriated neighbors, who had encountered problems in the sale of their house due to the disgusting artwork visible over the garden fence. Eventually, Bywater was ordered by police to cover the “masterpiece”, and the keeper later issued a public apology to any fans who had been offended.

Ashley Cole- If El-Hadj Diouf wasn’t such a nut job, Ashley Cole would surely claim the crown of most controversial footballer of the generation. A renowned adulterer, Cole has had several scrapes with the constabulary over the years, swearing in front of a police officer in 2009, before being convicted of speeding. However, Cole’s nadir came earlier this year when he was questioned by police after seriously injuring a Chelsea intern with an air rifle. Though Cole did make a formal apology, his reputation had been sullied beyond repair.

Jonathan Woodgate- The word injury has been synonymous with Woodgate over the last few years, but interestingly, the Englishman isn’t just a sufferer. In 2001 he was charged with inflicting grievous bodily harm, and was sentenced to 100 hours of community service. That conviction led to Woodgate’s suspension from the England squad travelling to Asia for the 2002 World Cup, and since then the Englishman has been unable to assert himself on the international stage.

John Terry- Dubbed “Captain Controversy,” John Terry has had his fair share of personal issues. Soon after the 9/11 attacks Terry was fined two weeks wages for drunkenly mocking Americans at Heathrow Airport, and the English international was arrested at a London nightclub in 2002 following a scuffle involving a doorman. Though Terry was eventually cleared of assault, the controversy was anything but over for Chelsea’s number 25. Terry was stripped of the England captaincy in the midst of allegations of an affair with the ex-wife of teammate Wayne Bridge, and later he was caught charging money for tours of Chelsea’s Cobham training ground. Stunningly, “JT” has managed to maintain the Chelsea captaincy through all of that, perhaps an insight into the culture of the Blues’ dressing room.

Tony Adams- A heavy drinker, Tony Adams was once sentenced to four months in prison following a series of drink driving incidents, the most notable of which being when he crashed into the wall of his own house, and was later proved to have been twenty-seven times over the legal drink-drive limit. In 1996, Adams admitted to his alcoholism and began the difficult recovery process, attending piano lessons as part of his transition. Since his recovery, Adams has become a figure head for addiction support groups, as well as a fairly unsuccessful manager.

Eric Cantona- By far the most famous footballing assaulter, Cantona is more than worthy of a place on the All Felon XI. Away at Crystal Palace in 1995, Cantona was sent off before leaping into the stands to kung fu kick a Palace supporter, who had supposedly been goading the Frenchman. During the subsequent press conference, Cantona released one of the most cryptic statements in football history: “When the seagulls follow the trawler, it is because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea.” Suspended for eight months, Cantona’s Manchester United future was plunged into mystery, though the Frenchman managed to achieve a remarkable renaissance, helping United to league success in 1996 and 1997.

Mickey Thomas- Convicted of involvement in a money laundering scheme, Mickey Thomas was sentenced to eighteen months in prison, a period summed up terrifically by the Guardian: “Getting 18 months in jail over a counterfeit currency scam wasn’t the lowest point of Mickey Thomas’s long and controversy laden career. That came when he discovered his cell-mate had killed two people-then cut off their heads.”

Joey Barton- Modern football’s favorite thug, Barton is a silky, subtle passer on the pitch, a mindless hooligan off it. Twice Barton has been convicted of assault, and twice he has served hefty prison terms. Barton not only has a history of attacking the average pedestrian but also his very own teammates. The English international sent City club mate Ousmane Dabo to hospital after a training ground bust up, an incident which led to the end of Barton’s City career, and the termination of any positive notions about the Englishman’s sanity.

Steven Gerrard- Gerrard’s moment of controversy arrived in December 2008, when the Liverpool captain was taken into custody after a fracas at a night club, which left a disc jockey sporting several serious wounds. Though Gerrard was eventually cleared of all charges, the general consensus still remains that the Englishman was guilty of some level of bodily assault, and unfortunately for Gerrard, his fairly clean reputation was tarnished badly.

Carlos Tevez- One of the finest footballers in the world, Tevez has not only caused legal problems for himself, but also for the clubs that have owned him. In 2007, West Ham were taken to court after breaking transfer rules in the process of signing Tevez, a breach which led to two long, tedious years of negotiations and settlements between West Ham and Sheffield United. However, Tevez warrants a place on the All Felon XI not just because of the controversial transactions which have circled around him, but also because of his driving indiscretions. In 2009, Tevez’s car was impounded after it was found that he had been driving without a British license, an offense compounded by his illegally tinted windows.

Nile Ranger- The youngest offender on the All Felon XI, Nile Ranger has already twice courted controversy. Ranger’s early days at Southampton were brought to an unceremonious conclusion when he was sentenced to eleven weeks in a Young Offender’s Institute, following the part he played in an armed street robbery. To make matters worse, just recently Ranger was pictured posing with a gun, supposedly showing off his “gangster routes.” Needless to say, current club Newcastle United were less than impressed.

Who would you put in your “All Felon XI”?

Who should be elected as the captain of mine?