Monthly Archives: January 2012

A Lost Art: The Toe Ball

It is one of the great misconceptions of our sport that the toe ball is solely the domain of the inept, a weapon wielded only by the lazy and the stiff.

Along with the drag-back, infinitely less useful than you might think, proper shooting technique is the first thing emphasized at youth football programs. Coaches feel it is their prerogative to ignore time-honored techniques and beat into their players the importance of shooting with the laces, and the laces alone.

Sometimes, the first years of a player’s footballing eductation are spent eliminating the toe ball. At football summer camps, men in shiny new gear, smiles gleaming tote around carts full of “sweet spot straps” – wide rings of plastic that are strapped around a player’s kicking foot several inches above the toe. Not only do such devices cut off circulation, but they also tend to snap in half after making contact with the ball.

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Retrospective: King Of The Nil

They say that the Premier League is no country for old men, that its dash and intensity are too much for the over-30s.

The year is still in its infancy, but already 2012 has proved the nay-sayers wrong. With the broad shouldered Phil Jones losing impulsive cult followers with every passing game, English football is turning to tried and tested players.

In its perpetual quest to destabilize the English national team, club football has sent a resounding message. The returns of Paul Scholes to Manchester United and Thierry Henry to Arsenal are reminders that the Premier League lacks faith in the youth game, and that its cynical commercialism trumps all. Fancy a Paul Scholes No. 22 shirt?

However, 2011/12 will never seduce the Premier League’s most recent retiree. Edwin Van Der Sar’s career ended in May, without an asterisk. But United fans remember him, with throbbing temples every time David De Gea leaps for a corner, or Anders Lindegaard’s complacent feet encourage an opposing striker to press high-up the pitch. The ghost of Van Der Sar still haunts the United penalty area, undermining its youthful commanders.

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United’s Problems Resurface On A Surreal Day

In May, when we look back on the season that was, January 8 will stand out as the day it all went bonkers. 

Budweiser, the new official sponsors of the FA Cup, must have been delighted.

A competition supposedly bereft of its magic was the backdrop to arguably the wildest morning in recent footballing history.

Even with Darren Fletcher unavailable, Tom Cleverley injured and Anderson predictably mediocre, no one saw it coming.

Paul Scholes’ retirement last summer had a sense of finality; conventional wisdom held that the once-great midfielder had called it quits at just the right time. Scholes’ testimonial was marked by a 10-minute cameo from youngster Paul Pogba, a midfielder that didn’t look out-of-place in a United side featuring several first-team players.

Sir Alex Ferguson may not have been particularly happy about Scholes’ retirement, but he was resigned to it. United’s intermittent attempts to sign Wesley Sneijder over the summer confirmed their desire for a new creator. The club was  moving on.

And then, on Sunday morning, Paul Scholes announced his return to professional football.

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Henry Is Jeopardizing His Body And His Legacy

Thierry Henry’s statue now stands proudly in front of Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium, but Henry is not the player he was in 2007, when he sealed a sixteen-million-pound move to Barcelona. The mercurial goalscorer renowned for his pace, skill and movement is no more. Henry is a slower and more temperamental version of his former self. While he is still capable of isolated moments of brilliance, his star is waning.

For Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, signing Henry is an opportunity to remind beleaguered supporters of the silver lined days of yore, and to inspire inexperienced players like Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to emulate their illustrious predecessor. Wenger understands that, while Henry’s impact on the field is likely to be negligible, his presence in the dressing room could be priceless.

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