Monthly Archives: July 2011

Join The INFTH I Know The Score League

talksport.jpg (635×374)In case you haven’t heard, Premier League I Know The Score has a new home. Instead of being featured on the official Premier League site, it is now run by British sport radio gurus Talksport.

To join the official INFTH mini-league visit this link, and create an account. Next, type in the code F778B-IOC and you should be set to go.

We look forward to competing with you!

The Chairman will publish his predictions for the weekend of Premier League football every Thursday/Friday.


Bradley The Victim Of The States’ Search For Stars

klinsmann0zm.jpg (400×266)Over his five year tenure, Bob Bradley did little wrong. He managed to steer a team currently ranked thirtieth in the World into the World Cup’s Round of Sixteen, in addition to taking them to four major finals. No, what Bob Bradley did wrong was that he was always Bob Bradley; a college coach who had done nothing more remarkable than engineer one silver lined season in Major League Soccer

While Bradley coached university teams at the NCAA tournament, his replacement was busy winning World Cups, playing professionally for Bayern Munich and scoring goals in the Champions League. In short, Jurgen Klinsmann was always a star, Bob Bradley was never one.

Americans like stars. From the fifty embroidered onto their national flag, to the name of New York’s first Major League Soccer side, it is clear that there is something about the mystical bodies which enchants citizens of the US. They love sports stars too. As part of  Major League Soccer’s attempt to popularize their product, they brought in stars, namely, Thierry Henry and David Beckham. In coaching too, the United States have sought stars; Ruud Gullit the prime example.

And now, for the first time, they have transmitted their love of stars to the national side. Mind you, it’s not the first time they’ve tried, Klinsmann had already turned down the job at least once in the years preceding yesterday’s announcement. Americans infatuation with stars has led them to convince themselves that they are what is needed to succeed and, in certain ways, they are right. The United States is unique in the fact that when it comes to football, the men in charge have a dual agenda. While nations like England only have to worry about hiring the best man for the job, US Soccer must make sure that the man they hire is both qualified, and capable of improving the soccer brand. Handsome, charming and talented as a player, Klinsmann is the perfect man to further US Soccer’s hidden goal. Bradley, bald and boring, just wasn’t.

From the beginning Sunil Gulati knew that Bob Bradley was only ever going to be a stopgap, a placeholder as US Soccer searched for a more suitable replacement. Sure he made mistakes; unable to prevent his team from giving up two goal leads on two separate occasions in major finals, and making a vital error in his starting line-up against Ghana. But he has had successes; organizing his team well to grind out a point against England, leading them through to a 2-0 victory over Spain and inspiring a team of youngsters to the 2009 Gold Cup final. However, whatever his achievements or lack thereof, an excuse to sack Bradley would always have been found. Gulati didn’t care what Bradley achieved, he only noticed the name, noticed that it was not Jurgen Klinsmann.

As Klinsmann prepares to start his third major coaching appointment, he is lucky in that the road ahead has plenty of room for error. Doubtless, the United States will reach World Cup 2014, and as the next continental tournament doesn’t decided Confederations Cup qualification, not until Brazil will the German really be tested. Klinsmann has proved in the past that he has what it takes to inspire a team at a World Cup, though his achievement in 2006 comes with the disclaimer of the competition’s location.

In taking over the United States’ national team, Klinsmann has taken on the responsibility not just of managing a consistent World Cup qualifier, but of learning about a new league and a new footballing culture. The organization of Major League Soccer disrespects international play, and Jurgen Klinsmann must learn to both accept and navigate around that obstacle.

Over the next three years, all eyes will be on Jurgen Klinsmann. He is the latest in a long line of sporting stars in America, what he does in the future will decide whether or not he retains that status.

The Premier League Needs Sergio Aguero

The English rarely get on well with Argentinians. There was the Falklands War, the hand of God, Tevez’s betrayal, Simeone’s acting, the list goes on. However, while one Argentine dominates a sport with very English origins, the creators themselves are left seeking a sprinkle of stardust, seeking it from an Argentine.

It wasn’t so long ago that the Premier League was considered the finest league in the World. Default, no question, argument over. It boasted the best players (Ronaldo, Torres, Drogba), its teams dominated Europe and the English national side was enjoying a golden generation. The best coach in the World was making his name in the league, and the best coach of all time was continuing to succeed in it. All was well.

The seeds of unrest though, were sown on a rainy night at the New Wembley. Walking, sheepishly, down the sidelines, was the English national team manager, he had an umbrella in his hand. After all, it was raining. At one point, it looked as though Steve McClaren would be fine, as a cross from the ageless Beckham was converted by six foot seven striker Peter Crouch. Moments later though, the man under the umbrella wilted. Mladen Petric of Hamburg, had made it 3-2 to Croatia. Twenty minutes on and it was over, England’s dream of reaching the European Championships had ended, and with it, a period of dominance. No longer was English football the cream of Europe, the Premier League’s lofty status was disappearing just as quickly as hopeful premonitions of glory in Switzerland.

Later that same year, an English team would go on to win the Champions League, beating another English team, ironically enough, on penalties. Manchester United were the champions of Europe, Chelsea were the runners up, both were English sides, so in essence, England were still champions of European football. But were they? That very summer heralded the rise of a new footballing dynasty as, in the absence of England, Spain lit up Europe for a month, cruising to glory in Austria and Switzerland. Less than a year later, virtually the same team of players would be at it again, this time in the club setting. And most importantly, this time against an English team.’s 2-0 win over Manchester United was important in two respects. First of all, it represented the gulf which had emerged between the best in Spain and the best of the rest, and secondly, it was Cristiano Ronaldo’s final game for Manchester United. As Barca left United to wallow in their misery, so did Ronaldo, off to the new footballing Mecca, off to Spain.

At the time it was only hinted at, but over the next months hints would turn into questions, and then questions into answers. Suddenly, no one saw England’s top division as a quality platform anymore, no one was interested in the passion, the verve and the excitement of Premier League football. Yes, technique, artistry and invention were the new European fads, spreading just as quickly as fashionable clothing styles across a middle school playground.

Next to leave was Xabi Alonso, fed up with life in Liverpool he moved to Madrid. Then Karim Benzema chose to reject Manchester United, he wanted to go to Spain too. Fabregas wished to leave as well, but Arsenal wouldn’t let him. Fast forward a year, and Mascherano had left, reportedly, Rooney wanted to follow him. The message had been successfully conveyed; England was no longer the center of the footballing universe. The Premier League’s time had ended. It had been a little more than just Andy Warhol’s “fifteen minutes of fame,” but nevertheless, it would be a fallacy to claim that the league’s time atop the footballing mountain was anything more than a stint.

Entering this latest edition of the Premier League, England is still behind. Spain is the premier destination, Barca the world’s best club side, and the Spanish national team now, indisputably top of the pile. But there is hope yet. The money infused into Manchester City in September 2008 continues to mature, as does the ambition of its owners. City want more than ever to be the team that breaks Spain’s dominance, and financed by an army of Arabs, they have the funds to do it.

In the cut throat world of transfer market dealings, or simply mercato, as it is called in Italian, any scrap, any lead is of the utmost value. Well, City seem to have found their scrap, one willing to forfeit the sun of Madrid for the rain of Manchester. His name is Sergio Aguero. He is Argentine, and he recently outperformed Messi at an international tournament (though then again, so did everyone else who bothered to show up). He was part of an Atletico Madrid side which triumphed over English opposition in the Europa League two years ago. He sleeps with Maradona’s daughter.

With his silky skills and jet black hair, Sergio “Kun” Aguero could yet be the savior of English football. He has an aura of excitement about him, a sort of swagger, similar to that of Ronaldo, and there is no doubt that he is one of the World’s most sought after talents. However, he was willing to move to England. He was willing to move to a foreign country, speaking a foreign language, and try his luck. In short, he was willing to do what so many stars have been unwilling to do over the past few years. He was willing to join the Premier League.

Whether or not Sergio Aguero rises to prominence in the way that he is expected to, only time will tell. He has big boots to fill in Carlos Tevez, and even greater expectations; ones which are direct products of the favorable reputation he garnered while playing in Spain. Aguero will be expected by the English press, to not only produce the odd, sporadic moment of genius, but also to grind it with the minnows, to perform just as well at home to United, as he does away to Bolton, on a cold, rainy Tuesday. It was with the latter requirement that Robinho failed so miserably, and for the sake of the Premier League, fans must hope that Aguero’s path is more successful than that of his fellow South American. Aguero needed to move to competitive a club, but unwittingly, he has fulfilled a much greater need. Perhaps even more than Aguero needs City, the Premier League needs him.

INFTH Book Review: Forza Italia

Ian Rush once described life in Italy as “like living in a foreign country.” Though the statement appears idiotic on the exterior, with due consideration it reveals itself as possibly the most accurate reflection ever made. Living in Italy is like living in a foreign country, and Forza Italia is a story of that very life, a story of an Irish immigrant who faced all the same perils as Ian Rush, albeit as a football reporter, rather than a player.

Perhaps though, the autobiographical element, an over obsession with life in this foreign country, is the book’s major flaw; one that tarnishes what could have been an incredible work. Having lived and worked in Italy for nigh on twenty years, there is no doubt that few men are better equipped to write a book about Italian football than Paddy Agnew, yet, after emerging from the pages of Forza Italia, a feeling of disappointment prevails.

Part of this probably has to do with the book’s very own identity crisis; it’s inability to find a place for itself amidst the smorgasbord of football topics. A thesis it most certainly is not, but neither is it totally autobiographical, nor a history. Forza Italia bites off more than it can chew, it attempts to be everything, every genre, and inevitably, it fails.

Had Agnew simply elected to detail the modern era of Italian football in its entirety, such would have been satisfactory, a comprehensive look at what has been an action-packed time period. However, though Agnew does touch upon ‘hot topics’ like Silvio Berlusconi, Sven Goran Eriksson and Calciopoli, his writing is continually interrupted with accounts of personal history- anecdotes which are, in all honestly, quite dull.

The book’s opening chapter is devoted almost entirely to the writer’s cultural adjustment; his struggle for acceptance, money and press credentials. A page or two of this would have been perfect for setting the stage, but a chapter or two is overdoing it- there is only so much of Paddy Agnew’s personal life that one can bear hearing about. During his reminiscences, Agnew saturates the reader with pile upon pile of pointless drivel, from discussions of friendly neighbors, to ones of life in an Italian village. To put it bluntly, I don’t give a damn where Paddy Agnew’s daughter goes to school.

For all its faults, Forza Italia is not a complete failure- when Agnew cares to entertain the reader with thoughts on his own area of expertise, the book improves markedly, and for this particular reviewer, the change in subject prevented abandonment. Yes, when Agnew talks football, he talks about it well, and it is clear that his twenty years in Italy have not been wasted. Hearing an intelligent writer coherently describe the fascinating world of Italian football so well is a privilege to the reader, and I only wish that there had been more of it for me to eulogize.

In terms of thesis too, Agnew excels, explaining how football in Italy reflects the country’s culture, merging the beauty of Michelangelo with the cynicism of Machiavelli. Unlike many other football writers, he also manages to paint a realistic, and at times frightening, picture of the country’s lower divisions, using extensive interviews with one of football’s most unfortunate players to convey the true darkness of life in the darkest reaches of Calcio. Once again though, there just isn’t enough of it.

Sporadically brilliant, more than often dull, Forza Italia is a tantalizing read. It combines the mundane with the fascinating- trying to complement what needs not complementing, with drivel that only needs deleting. If ever there were a book in need of a strong minded editor, it is this one.

Balloteli The Victim Must Learn, Or Risk Leaving His Talent Unfulfilled

It was pre season, a tour of the USA, and Balotelli thought that he would have some fun. Through on goal, instead of shooting in an orthodox manner, the enigmatic Italian chose to pull something out of his bag of tricks; a back heel, which for the record, went badly wide. As the youngster strode off, shoulders slumped in the usual arrogant style, it was hard to tell whether he was aware of the tidal wave of rage manifesting itself on the City bench, as Roberto Mancini blew a gasket, maybe even two.

James Milner, in many ways a polar opposite of the player he was about to replace, readied himself on the sideline, preparing to enter for his rebellious colleague. Guilty of nothing more than audacity, Balotelli jogged fitfully off the pitch, steeling himself for the wrath he was about to face. Turns out, Fergie’s not the only one in Manchester with a health supply of hairdryers.

Up to this point in the narrative, Balotelli had done very little wrong. Yes, it was foolish to attempt such a trick in a dangerous attacking position, but the game was an exhibition, a platform to exhibit skill and artistry, not to mindlessly conform to a norm set by the draconian teachings of a manager who has lost the flair which made him so notable as a player.

But then, the ugly side of Balotelli reared it’s head, the side that led to his fall out with Mourinho and the side that continues to create havoc in the Manchester City dressing room. A controversial figure,  Balotelli needed a low key pre season, but his reaction upon leaving the field insured that he will enter the new campaign amidst a swell of discussion.

A point, a shrug of the shoulders, and a dismissive gesture towards Mancini- Balotelli’s actions weren’t just disrespectful, they were downright stupid. City knew when they signed the man called “Super Mario” that his relationship with authority had never been healthy, but they couldn’t possibly have guessed at the way his arrogant demeanour would undermine what is unquestionably a prodigious talent.

Next season could have been the one for Balotelli. With Tevez all but gone, the stage is clear for someone within the City’s ranks to step up and make an impact. Dzeko, though a hit in Germany, is said to be too slow for the league. The incoming Sergio Aguero will take time to adjust, and Emmanuel Adebayor’s bridges have not been so much burned, as absorbed into a fiery inferno, before thrust into the darkest ocean.

Now was Balotelli’s time, the Premier League his platform, City his team and most importantly, Mancini his manager. Whatever his faults, Mancini commands respect, and must command respect, lest he risk losing a dressing room which is a veritable minefield of egos. Mancini’s job is arguably the most difficult in club football, and he is right to be angry at the disrespect of Balotelli. Had Mario at least pretended to repent, all surely would have been forgotten, the incident swept under the rug not to be talked about again.

But apology and remorse isn’t part of the Balotelli psyche, after all, throughout his career he has been the victim of a lack of repentance; from the parents who abandoned him as a child, only to come back when informed of his talent, to the supporters who waved bananas in his face at the San Siro. Forever in search of an apology, how can Balotelli be expected to give them out?

However, he must learn. He must learn to control his turmoil and anger, or at least channel them into a more productive enterprise. He must learn to bow to the power of men like Mancini, even if he knows inside that “Super Mario” is in the right. And most importantly of all, he must learn how to do a proper back heel.

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Five Things We Learned From The German Super Cup
1. There is life after Manuel Neuer- Talk about a baptism of fire. A local derby, in a packed stadium, with silverware on the line and the big boots of Manuel Neuer to fill, there must have been a few nerves running through the body of Ralf Fahrmann heading into yesterday’s German Super Cup. And then the match started. From beginning to end, Dortmund looked the more dangerous team, and Fahrmann had to pull saves out of the locker on several occasions, most notably to palm away a Robert Lewandowski effort late in the first half. Perhaps lucky in that Klopp’s side were missing their main finisher, Schalke managed to ride out the Dortmund storm all the way to penalties, where Ralf Fahrmann would really make his mark. Sprawling to save two spot kicks, the German keeper was the hero of the shoot out, a player who will now head in to what could have been a difficult first few weeks of the season, with confidence shooting through his veins.

2. Dortmund have depth at left back- There were several high class performances by players on both teams last night, but only one really stood out to me as the obvious choice for man of the match. Starting at left back in the place of the absent Schmelzer, Chris Lowe was absolutely everywhere, doing well to deal with the considerable threat of Baumjohann down Schalke’s right side, and attacking with verve and enthusiasm too. Perhaps not a solid penalty taker, Klopp elected to withdraw Lowe after seventy-five minutes, but the youngster had made his mark, and though Schmelzer will inevitably walk straight back into the team, Dortmund fans can remain safe in the knowledge that they have an able deputy waiting to make an impact.

3. Watch out for Perisic- One of Dortmund’s most exciting new signings, Perisic arrived in Germany this summer after starring for Brugge in the Belgian Jubilee League. A gifted attacking midfielder, Perisic showed plenty of spark and invention after coming on, in one instance skinning a defender on the left side of the box, before whipping in a dangerous delivery. After the departure of Nuri Sahin for Real Madrid, it was always going to be crucial for Dortmund to bring in high quality new signings, and Croatian international Ivan Perisic looks just the sort of player to make up for the absence of Dortmund’s Turkish maestro.

4. Huntelaar has got to get his act together-Klass Jan Huntelaar seems only to deal in spurts. Like a young Wayne Rooney, Huntelaar is either very hot or very cold, on a drought, or on a spree, there is no middle ground for the Dutchman. Already he has failed to impress at a collection of European clubs, Real Madrid and AC Milan both saw him come in and out of their respective revolving doors. Going into next year, Huntelaar will want to impress Dutch coach Bert Van Marwijk, as a starting place for the Netherlands in the 2012 European Championships is most certainly up for grabs. However, though it is important not to read too much into games like that of last night, Huntelaar will have to improve if he is to push himself into a permanent spot in Van Marwijk’s starting eleven. Ineffective for most of the game, the Dutch international was subbed off during the second half, ending a highly subdued performance- one that will discourage Schalke fans hoping to see him at his best next campaign. It is about time that Huntelaar let his talent be known to the World, for too long has the striker been dubbed as a player with the “potential” to deliver the goods- this year he will have to prove that he is more than just another player not good enough to make it outside the Eredivisie.

5. Barrios can’t get back soon enough- Dortmund were the by far the better team in last night’s match, but yet, they failed to penetrate what is hardly a water tight Schalke back line. Chances were created alright, with players like Gotze, Kagawa and Gundogan on top form opportunities will always present themselves, but the reigning champions failed to put the ball in the net. Robert Lewandowski was particularly profligate in front of goal, but all members of Dortmund’s attack were guilty of missing chances. The obvious reason for the lack of finishing power is the absence of Lucas Barrios, who is currently preparing to represent Paraguay in tonight’s Copa America final. No doubt, Barrios will be allowed an extended break upon returning from the Copa, meaning that he is likely to miss the start of the new season. Someone must step up in front of goal for Dortmund, or the opening weeks could prove very tricky indeed.

INFTH Book Review: Brilliant Orange Winner’s book isn’t just about Dutch football, it’s about Dutch life, culture and geography; about how football’s greatest teams were created by a country’s neurotic genius.

Winner’s argument is one that has been made before, and will likely be made again, that the essence of a footballing style is dictated by the country that harbors it. Through analysis of architecture, geography, politics and a vast assortment of interviews, Brilliant Orange explains why Dutch football is what it is.

Written by an author who has professed his love for all things Dutch on numerous occasions, Winner’s passion for the subject of his writing is clearly expressed, and makes for a highly enjoyable read.

In the book’s introduction, Winner explains that although Brilliant Orange is a book about Dutch football, mentions of politics, art and the Second World War far outweigh those of Feyenoord and PSV Eindhoven. A concession that might put off many football fans thinking of reading the book, it would be a fallacy to say that Brilliant Orange frequently veers away from football- even when Winner delves into art, politics and geography, the relationship to football, and the thesis of the book, remains clear.

From the glory days of Ajax in the 1960s to the Dutch World Cup tragedies in ’74 and ’78, Brilliant Orange attempts to explain the major events of Dutch footballing history- probing into why the superb Holland team of the 1970s never won a World Cup, as well as detailing the origin of Ajax’s “Total Football.”

However, while Winner’s arguments about the constant presence of space manipulation in Dutch society are fascinating, the book really comes into its own during the discussion of Holland’s losing habit- why the series of fantastic teams produced by the Netherlands are incapable of winning international competitions on a regular basis.

To find the answer, Winner carefully analyzes Dutch society, explaining how things as simple as the presence of Calvinism in the Netherlands, can contribute to the downfall of a Dutch team.

In what is a scintillating final chapter, Winner delves into the issue of penalty shoot outs, i.e. why Holland always lose them. Featuring an interview with a penalty expert, Winner clearly explains the innate problems in the Dutch attitude which contribute to consistent spot kick disappointment.

The thoughtful and intelligent analysis used to seek the reason for Netherland’s losing habit is not atypical of the entire book. Using simple yet beautiful logic and deduction, Winner manages to arrive at conclusions about Dutch football which are both well conveyed and highly plausible. Even for those unaccustomed to talk of architecture, anarchy and canals in the context of football, Brilliant Orange is still a fascinating book, one which over the years has become an ever present in the football enthusiast’s typical library.

Before it’s publication in 2000, the World was waiting for a book like Brilliant Orange.  Dutch football remains the most enigmatic species in the sporting universe, making a complete study of it all the more difficult.

A stimulating read, Brilliant Orange is a well researched, cleverly thought out book- rich in detail and imagery as well as humor and voice.

 Brilliant Orange is available on Amazon

Join The INFTH Premier League Fantasy League, it’s that time of year, the anoraks are getting their notebooks out, the fans their pints of beer- the Premier League season is just weeks away.

Fantasy Premier League has opened for the new season…

Complete with a total face lift, the World’s greatest fantasy game is back up and running and INFTH wants you to join them in preparation for the new season.

Click this link to reach the Premier League fantasy home, follow the on screen directions to create your team and then click on the “Join Leagues” tab. Choose “private league” and enter the code 70292-26112 to join the official INFTH fantasy league!

We look forward to seeing you…

INFTH Book Review: The Football Men

The Football Men, isn’t really a Simon Kuper book. There’s no complex mathematical formula used to support its ideas and there is little mention of wars or dictators either.

Nevertheless though, Kuper’s unusual book bears all the hallmarks of a product of one of this era’s great sports writers. It’s well written, clever and funny, sure to keep even a reader jaded by the inept autobiographical skills of footballers hungry for more.

A collection of profiles, the book doesn’t have to be read in any specific order, however, it is organized chronologically; starting with profiles written in the late nineties, and ending with some only months old.

Detailing the lives and professional travails of some of football’s most well regarded people, The Football Men seeks to understand the man within the player- what sort of person exists behind the veil of jerseys, names and numbers.

Interestingly, Kuper doesn’t limit his research to just players- profiles of well known managers, stadium architects and even film directors are all included.

If one criticism could be levelled about the content in part one, it would be that the profiles felt, well, a little out of date. Of course, in picking up the book you accept that what is about to be read won’t feature cutting edge commentary on the very current affairs of footballer, but rather that the book will be a refreshing chance to review past perspectives, and gain an even more thorough insight on the players mentioned.

There are of course, times when Kuper clearly gets it wrong in his profiles- pronouncing the 2008 Champions League final as Drogba’s farewell match for example, or his predictions that in the mid 2000s, Michael Owen was entering the peak years of his career. However, there were times when a momentary salute to Simon Kuper’s expert divination had to be in order- he tipped Ruud Van Nistelrooy for success before he started banging in the goals for Manchester United, and foresaw the departure of Jose Mourinho from Chelsea several months in advance of the Portuguese’s acrimonious exit.

Some certainly, might find it dull to read rehashed, out of date descriptions of the game’s stars, and I too entered with similar apprehensions. However peculiarly though, the book and its subjects still took on a place in an intriguing and thought provoking plot, one that wasn’t the slightest bit tarnished by my knowledge of the eventual ending. Simon Kuper manages to turn well documented stories into captivating versions of his own, accounts of players’ lives that are complemented well by his wisdom and insights.

Revealing talks with Sven Goran Eriksson and Lothar Mattheaus are complemented by a stunning evaluation of some of English football’s giants. It is here, in part two, where Kuper’s narrative becomes reminiscent of his earlier works- the writer draws logical and intelligent conclusions based on his knowledge of the social and economic background of  players, as well as their actions in later life.

A very funny writer, Kuper’s natural humor becomes more obvious in this book than perhaps it could in his more complicated theses- something which adds an extra dimension to the writer’s already very accomplished style. Thankfully, Kuper doesn’t fall into a trap frequented by too many profilers scattered around numerous fields- despite his obvious occupation with the life of the footballer, Kuper manages to deliver intelligent, unbiased opinions on the subjects of his writing, castigating Ashley Cole for instance, while at the same time eulogizing the many virtues of Arsene Wenger (okay, I did say unbiased but we all know Kuper is a sucker for stat lovers…).

Where the book moves into the realm of uniqueness previously explored in Kuper’s past works, is in its descriptions of ‘the other football men.’ A film director, a statistics expert, an architect, a professor and Franz Beckenbauer- the five men detailed by the book’s fascinating third part. Unlike coaches, players or even referees, these ‘football men’ are of a much less fashionable variety, and good, well researched reporting on them can be difficult to find. Certainly, no one could accuse the book of being poorly researched, and Kuper is probably the perfect man to go out and discover football’s less illustrious characters. Before reading, I had heard of none of the men listed apart from Der Kaiser, yet afterwards I felt like I knew them all quite well.

For a fan just getting into the game, or for ones who wish that a fifty year addiction was possible to break, this book can contain appeal. An introduction for some, a rehash for others, there is no question that The Football Men is worth a look.

Buy The Football Men on Amazon

Pre Season- I’m Bored Already

Emerging from a club football barren spell, the start of pre season is heralded with joy; the first part of a new season, and a welcome break from stodgy international competition.

Perennially, all the clubs pack their bags, board planes and head off on money spinning tours around the world. Some prefer Asia, others the Americas, while Chelsea like to hit Wycombe. Club TV channels see record highs in subscriptions, as supporters desperate to watch their team play, pay over the odds for sub par football. Meanwhile the players get back to work; lifting weights, running sprints and signing autographs for fans who didn’t even know they existed until Ji Sung Park signed.

The games themselves are nothing to shout about either. Today Arsenal drew one-one with Hangzhou Greentown, while at the time of writing Chelsea are one up at Portsmouth. Even exciting scores like Liverpool’s 6-3 against Malaysia XI, or Lazio’s 16-0 win over Auronzo di Cadore seem empty, hollow results that no one really gave a crap about apart from the organizers.

So is pre season just a load of fluff? For fitness coaches, it is the most important time of year, for managers a distraction from hassles with agents and futile attempts to do any kind of business with Harry Redknapp. For the players, it is purgatorial work outs, combined with an extended vacation to somewhere nice. Or, in the case of Chelsea, somewhere bland and rainy.

Pre season has always been an important part of the sporting calendar. Whether in football, cricket, baseball or something else, it is a period inexorably linked to pain, suffering, and of course, the new season’s start. However, over the past few years that holy grail of footballing excitement, the beginning of a countdown to season’s start has begun to lose its luster. The process started in 2008 when, watching Tottenham Hotspur and in particular Darren Bent inspire  over the summer, I became convinced that with manager of the century Juande Ramos at the helm, Spurs were set for the Champions League. Needless to say, I was wrong.

An overblown assumption of mine, or a sign that all of pre season is meaningless, it is hard to say, but there is no doubt that this period of the football year is becoming more and more disillusioning. Years ago when trans continental competition was rare, pre season was a time for clubs to test themselves against adversaries from around the world; for some even, it was more important than certain competitive games.

Yet now, I have found myself more interested in the many varying kit unveilings, than in Arsenal’s failed attempts to beat a Chinese village team, or Chelsea’s swashbuckling warm up tour of some of England’s most boring locations. No, if pre season ever did have a little magic, it has lost it all in a wave of commercialization, one so vast it spreads from the shores of China, to the California beaches, and back again, to the home of Wycombe Wanderers.