Don’t blame it on the Mario. Blame it on the Liverpool.

As the latest sh*tstorm involving Mario Balotelli takes full effect*, many observers are reaching a unanimous conclusion.

(*Footballers swapping shirts at half-time, that’s a new one, right?)

Mario Balotelli is a waste of space.

Balotelli Shirt Swap

An overhyped, lackadaisical, egotistical, sporadically talented waste of space.

But has anyone really stopped to consider whether this is actually all Balotelli’s fault or should Liverpool – and manager Brendan Rodgers – be taking the flack for the club’s faltering start to the season culminating in a comprehensive 0-3 home defeat to Real Madrid?

Let’s be clear. Here are some deficiencies that certainly aren’t Mario Balotelli’s fault. Continue reading

Ronaldo? Overmars? David Silva? No. Sterling is Sterling.

Sterling 2014For goodness sake, let Raheem Sterling be Raheem Sterling.

Why is it that we have an insatiable appetite to build potential stars into something they’re clearly not?

Not only does this add unnecessary pressure on the player themselves but it lures everyone else into a false sense of expectation.

Sterling, least we forget still only 19-years-old, has seen himself compared to Cristiano Ronaldo, Marc Overmars (by England team mate Wayne Rooney, believe it or not) and David Silva – to name just a few.

The latter of those – suggested by that “well-respected” Sky Sports pundit Jamie Redknapp – is perhaps the most lazy of all. For anyone that has studied the features of Sterling’s game (and indeed, that of Silva’s) will understand the quite blatant differences in their play.

The Liverpool teenager – it must be said – is, first of all, still very raw. His primary asset? His searing pace, of course. A trait that you wouldn’t exactly associate to the accomplished Spanish playmaker, Silva.

Silva is a player who likes to patrol in behind the opposition midfield, yes, in some similar areas to those that Sterling has operated recently – yet in complete contrast. Silva likes to knit the play together, his awareness of space and those around him offer him the ability to deliver one of his trademark incisive through balls. You could argue that his deliberate style suits a slower build-up of play.

The same can’t be said of Sterling, however. His strength lies in speeding up transitions – helping to turn defence into attack with the drop of a shoulder.

The point I’m trying to make is that while they may sometimes appear to take up similar positions on the field, their attributes are very much black and white.

It makes comparisons – like Redknapp’s and many alike – ever the more infuriating and bewildering.

Why should we compare Sterling to someone he isn’t and ever likely to be?

The title of “England’s best player” is another tag that has been lethargically labelled onto Sterling in recent weeks following (and let’s just take some stock here) the completion of his ninth cap for national side.

After a man of the match performance in the friendly win over Norway (when, admittedly, nobody really covered themselves in glory), Sterling assisted one of Danny Welbeck’s two goals in the qualifying win over Switzerland.

Yet, if we were to be honest about Sterling’s performance in that match then it would only be fair to say that he was often very careless in possession. If there’s an improvement to be made in Sterling’s game then it’s most certainly his decision making – and that was very much evident in Basel.

Despite that, his pinpoint cross for Welbeck’s opener will be the takeaway for many observers – leading to only further hype around his future stardom.

Perspective is needed.

By all means, Sterling is evidently a talented individual with the attributes to excel for club and country for many years to come. But he’s not the finished article. Far from it. And until that happens it is unfair to speculate on what Sterling “could be” or indeed associate him with over-inflated comparisons right now.

England’s best player? Sterling isn’t even Liverpool’s best English player.

Appreciate Sterling for being Sterling and perhaps he might just become something special.

7 Defining Moments That Made Suarez The Idol of the Kop

Biter.

Cheat.

Racist.

All round horrible person.

Suarez Barcelona

If you were creating a narrative against Luis Suarez (mentioning no names) you wouldn’t exactly be short on ammunition. Suarez’s time in England has been littered with controversy and the striker has suffered some scathing criticism from the press, former players and opposition supporters.

Some of it justified. Some less so (people still talk about that Mansfield “handball”, really?).

It’s these moments of madness that have made Suarez perhaps *the* most hated footballer on the planet. And that’s some going.

However, ask supporters of Nacional, Groningen, Ajax, Liverpool and Uruguay about Luis Suarez and you’ll be presented with an almost polar opposite take on the 27-year-old.

For all his faults (for which, there appear to be many), this is a man simply adored by the legion of fans that have followed his progress in club and international football. It’s an affection that has led to an unequivocal backing of Suarez – even in the most indefensible of situations.

Regardless, it is Suarez’s performances on the pitch (when he’s available, of course) that has taken him to the hearts of Liverpool supporters in the past three-and-a-half seasons. In a club with such a decorated and distinguished history as Liverpool, it is difficult to press forward an argument for a player who won a single League Cup winners medal to be considered as one of the club’s greatest players.

Despite his relatively short spell at Anfield and lack of honours, that’s exactly what Suarez will go down as. Rarely has such outrageous ability been acquainted with desire, aggression, passion and will-to-win. Usually you get one or the other. Suarez has both in abundance.

Here are seven defining moments in the Liverpool career of Luis Suarez. Continue reading

Suarez must get lengthy ban, Time to ditch Gerrard

In the second of his World Cup blogs, Stuart Chinaloy (@FalseNlne) discusses the tournament’s biggest talking point and what England must do looking forward. 

Suarez BiteOh Luís. I was just getting to like you.

In no way can I defend your infamous clash with Patrice Evra, and double battery attempts at Branislav Ivanovic and Otman Bakkal.

Nonetheless, being the fickle Arsenal-supporting football fan that I am, I was blinded by the sublime goals and outrageous nutmegs. So, why do you go and do this, Luís? Sinking your teeth into a seemingly appetising Italian shoulder is the final straw. You’ll no doubt be banned for a sustained period of time that will might even see you miss the start of the 2014/15 domestic season (although this probably won’t stop you gobbling-up another golden boot).

Make no mistake, Suárez’s bite really was shocking. Like many others when they first witnessed the incident with Chiellini, I thought it was a poor attempt at winning a cynical penalty, or earn a card the Italian defender. Then, the replays. I was incredulous.

The referee Marco Rodriguez, whose nickname is ironically ‘Dracula’, did nothing but wave away protests from the Italians, which left a sour taste in the mouth. Even more so post match when Chiellini, in an attacking interview, said: “The referee saw the bite mark, too, but he did nothing about it”.

Chiellini also went on to challenge FIFA to take retrospective action, and they must.

In the US, a third conviction gets you life in jail. Although this won’t be the case considering that life-time football bans are rare – usually reserved for villainous cheats, match fixers, hooligans and racists.

Suárez, of course, by having the previous convictions must be given a lengthy ban. Suárez knows it himself; he’s guilty. His restrained and muted celebrations with his compatriots were evident, he even looked angered, disappointed at his actions after the final whistle. Uruguay deservedly won, after shutting down Italy and Atletico Madrid’s Diego Godin scored what’s now becoming a trademark headed goal has already become an after thought.

After the win against England, Suarez admitted that it was a particularly special moment for him because, “too many people in England laughed” at his attitude. He had his revenge against the British press and it must have tasted sweet. His outpouring of emotion when lifted by his teammates showed it all.

His brace all but finished any chance of England reaching the last sixteen. He looked like a man who had turned a corner, leaving behind his past, focussing on football. Unfortunately, he’s only confirmed beliefs that he’s a brilliant yet hugely flawed footballer. Continue reading

Time for Ronaldo to stop being so selfish, New US star in the making?

ronaldowc2014Guest writer Stuart Chinaloy (@FalseNlne) writes the first of his World Cup blogs.

What an incredible tournament.

The final 11pm kick off of the 2014 World Cup gave us a dramatic late equaliser seconds from the final whistle – a moment that really sums up this quite stunning show in Brazil.

I apologise sincerely for moaning at any point, as for every Iran vs Nigeria 0-0 and England defeat has given us a Jermaine Jones screamer, Tim Cahill rocket or second half fight back. It really is a pleasure to be able to watch such an action-packed spectacle (and we’re barely half-way through).

I will be bringing you daily blog posts from here on in, hoping to replicate for you, a fragment of the enjoyment that Brazil 2014 has so far given me. Continue reading

The Story of the World Cup (Brian Glanville) – A Damning Review

Story of the World Cup - ReviewYou’d think that writing a book about the history of the World Cup would make you a pretty big exponent of the globe’s biggest football competition.

That’s unless your name is Brian Glanville, of course.

If, like me, you’re a fan of the World Cup and intrigued about the history of the tournament, its origins and its most defining moments, then Brian Glanville’s The Story of the World Cup: The Essential Companion to Brazil 2014 ought to be ideal reading. Instead, it’s quite disappointing.

This book’s biggest problem is that it’s been patched up – a lot. The original was first published in 1973 – there have been just the 10 tournaments since. And in that intervening period there have been social and cultural adaptations to the English language. That much is blatantly obvious when you read black players being described as “dark” or “negro” (yes, really) in the early stages of the book. In 2014, at times, it makes for quite unnerving reading.

Then there is the structure. In the initial stages of the book, there are clear headings that separate each section of a tournament. There is also some degree of chronological order to proceedings – as you’d come to expect from a play-by-play guide to a World Cup. That format goes out the window when you reach the more recent tournaments, however. Chapters begin with the conclusion to the tournaments – rather than detailing the inception of the host nation and its opening matches. And then there’s there repetition. It’s almost as if Glanville contracts temporary Alzheimer’s. For instance, in the 2010 World Cup, we are informed (in detail) on two separate occasions about the departure of coach Diego Maradona and how his falling out with the Argentine hierarchy led to his dismissal.

That leads us on nicely to the book’s factual inaccuracies – of which there are many. Here are just a sample of Glanville’s claims:

- Japan were eliminated at the quarter final stage of the 2002 World Cup
(They were knocked out at the last 16 stage)

- Graham Poll showed three yellow cards to Serbia’s Josip Simunic at the 2006 World Cup
(It was Croatia’s Josip Simunic)

- There was a 2002 European Championship
(There was a World Cup in 2002 – we can only assume Glanville is referring to the 2004 Euros)

- England held a 2-0 half time lead against Sweden at the 2006 World Cup
(England led 1-0 at half time, were pegged back in the second half, took a 2-1 lead before Sweden equalised for the second time late on)

Having been an avid viewer of the World Cups in recent memory I can vouch for these blunders. It does, however, make you think that there could be similar errors throughout the earlier parts of the book – I just wouldn’t be able to disprove them considering that I wasn’t born in 1920 and have no recollection of the early incarnations of the competition.

Despite all this, what may serve to irritate the reader most is Glanville’s continual condemnation of the tournament and its format. The quality is always bad. Third place games are always bad. Finals are always bad. Opening games are always bad.

That’s not all.

Penalties are an unjust way to settle matches (not that he ever offers an alternative) and the pool of teams competing is either too small or too big! These regular gripes from the author only serve to demoralise the reader.

While the book undoubtedly has its faults (I’ve ripped it to shreds a bit, I know!), the level of detail contained early on in the publication do offer a fine insight into the World Cup’s primitive beginnings. And that, in summary, is what the book does best. The language and understanding of the game may be outdated but the content does compliment the rare and low-quality clips that you may have seen from the World Cups in the 30s, 50s and 60s.

Perhaps Brian would have been best served to leave the original 1973 copy as it was. Though, in fairness, I probably wouldn’t have bought it then.

 

32 Potential Stars of the 2014 World Cup

With players from 32 different nations and six separate continents competing at the 2014 World Cup, it would be understandable if you weren’t familiar with every single player who takes the field in Brazil (seriously though, if you know the Iran one to 11 I’d be worried).

As a guide, here is a basic rundown of some of the more obscure (and some not so) players that could star at this summer’s World Cup.

Brazil

1Bernard

Name: Bernard
Age: 21
Position: Left winger

While much of the spotlight in Brazil is on Barcelona forward Neymar, there are many in South America that rate the talents of the elusive winger Bernard just as highly. Reportedly tracked by both Arsenal and Liverpool last summer, Bernard’s £22m transfer to Shakhtar Donetsk hasn’t quite taken off. By no means a likely starter for the hosts and tournament favourites, Bernard will be looking to make a direct and skillful impact from the substitutes bench. Continue reading

Rooney to flop and why penalties would be good for England

Roy Hodgson England World Cup 2014Here we go again.

England and the World Cup.

The nation; swept up in a whirlwind of optimism, self-assurance and unsubstantiated certainty. This is it. This could be one. All the years of failures, disappointments and mediocrity. The long-awaited triumph we’ve been waiting for since 1966.

And then the football begins. “Oh, yeah, we aren’t very good, are we?”

But, hold on, maybe – just maybe – this is the year? Roy’s Boys can defy all the odds and become world champions in the backyard of the five-time winners.

Ah, fuck it. Here is what will really happen to Hodgson and co. this summer.

It will end in failure (and probably penalties)

Only England’s team of 1990 has emerged from a World Cup with an ounce of credibility post 1966 and it’s difficult to see that changing in Brazil. Indeed, the inevitable deficiency from the penalty spot* may actually be a welcome one this time round considering it will mean that England have at least qualified from Group D. In a section that contains Euro 2012 finalists Italy, Luis Suarez-inspired Uruguay and the North American giants (I’m sure Roy would agree) Costa Rica, England will have performed admirably to navigate their way into the second round.

*For the record, England have suffered shootout disappointment in 1990 (Germany), 1996 (Germany), 1998 (Argentina), 2004 (Portugal), 2006 (Portugal) and 2012 (Italy).

rooneyalgeriaWayne Rooney will flop. Again.

In many ways you could argue that Wayne Rooney symbolises England at the World Cup. Lots of promise yet very little end product. Not since Rooney burst onto the international scene as a rampaging and all-conquering teenager at Euro 2004 has the former Evertonian ever really threatened to display his ability at a major tournament. In 2006 injury hampered his progress before an indiscretion (stamping on the crotch of Ricardo Carvalho) against Portugal ended Rooney – and England’s – tournament. Similarly, in 2010 and 2012, there has been little to get excited about (barring a solitary strike against Ukraine).

For all Rooney’s plaudits domestically, there remains a very forthright argument that his best playing days are already behind him. Brazil is another opportunity for Rooney to announce himself on the world stage yet it may already be too late.

beckham-red-cardSomeone will shoulder the blame

It would not be unfair to suggest that in the UK we have a bit of blame culture. It’s always someone’s fault. And we like to have a bloody good moan about it.

The same applies to football. Whether it’s the manager or the players (or, quite often, both), it’s very rare that an England team remains unscathed from an international tournament with reputations in tact. History shows the World Cup is a poison chalice for any England manager. Unrealistic and over-inflated expectations have left the likes of Fabio Capello and Sven Goran Eriksson with stains on their otherwise glittering CVs.

A display of tactical and technical inferiority

Barely a major tournament has gone by in recent times without widespread calls to review the English football pyramid. Just why do the likes of Portugal, Germany, Italy and (not to forget) Algeria make England look so distinctly average? Both an inbility to retain the ball and rigid tactical inflexibility have dominated the post-tournament complaints with calls to produce technically superior footballers who can handle the ball under pressure.

Well, this year, it’s likely that England will need at least one victory against a “leading” nation in order to progress past the first phase – something the national team can’t vouch for since beating Argentina 1-0 back in the 2002 World Cup (from a penalty, incredibly).

With all this being said, there is some degree of realisation about England’s chances of prospering this summer. Most bookmakers have England at 28/1 to win the tournament – behind the likes of France (a team that flopped catastrophically at the last World Cup) and Belgium (qualifying for the first time in 12 years).

Perhaps, after all, we know what to expect from England in Brazil.

Too right. That 28/1 is far too good to turn down.

Eight Premier League Players Who Deserved More Credit

So, the curtain has been drawn on another Premier League season (they come and go so fast, it seems) in what has been one of the most enthralling and unpredictable campaigns in the format’s 22 year history.

There was the four-way race for the title (though including Arsenal amongst that quartet is a little generous), the battle for the Champions League between Everton and erm… Arsenal, Tim Sherwood’s week-to-week breakdowns, Southampton’s soon-to-be excessively-overpriced English talent, Newcastle’s mid-season capitulation (and head-butting manager), Stoke City’s tiki-taka revolution and 10 other teams (that I’m too lazy to list) changing managers every couple of weeks in a desperate – and often embarrassing – attempt to avoid the dreaded drop.

Oh, and did I mention Manchester United finished seventh? Yes, it was a crazy year.

By now you would have heard, read and even developed your own opinion (if you’re particularly sad) on the season’s top performers. Luis Suarez, Yaya Toure, Eden Hazard, Steven Gerrard – you get the idea.

But spare a thought for those who didn’t get a mention. Those individuals who flew under the radar this season and perhaps didn’t get a two-minute analysis attributed to them on Match of the Day or make Garth Crook’s prestigious Team of the Week.

Here are eight players who deserve more credit than they actually received.

Gareth Barry

When Everton signed Gareth Barry on loan from Manchester City it probably wasn’t the most well received transfer dealing of the summer window. Barry, coming towards the twilight of his career, wasn’t getting any quicker (mind you, he was never that quick) and was a player seemingly on the decline given his reduced role with the national side.

However, the 33-year-old’s reading of the game, clever passing and partnership with midfield partner James McCarthy has provided the bedrock of a new and expansive brand of football under boss Roberto Martinez. With his contract at City up in the summer, it would be a shock if the Blues weren’t to tie Barry up on a permanent deal.

Wilfried Bony

After a relatively slow start to his life as a Swans player, the best compliment you can pay Wilfried Bony is that there has been little mention of last season’s star performer – Michu. With the Spaniard’s dip in form and recurring injury problems, the stocky Ivorian has helped fill the void. With 25 goals in 47 matches, Bony’s has managed a mightily impressive 13 Premier League goals in the calendar year – helping Garry Monk’s team avoid relegation with important goals against Arsenal, Newcastle and Aston Villa.

Martin Demichelis

If you’re the wrong side of 30 and pace isn’t your biggest asset then life as a Premier League centre-back can be pretty daunting.

For Martin Demichelis it was exactly that during his initial tenure at the heart of Manchester City’s defence. The experienced Argentine has shown his class over recent months, though, forming a formidable partnership with club captain Vincent Kompany and vindicating Manuel Pellegrini’s faith in his former Malaga player.

David De Gea

It’s difficult for any Manchester United player to come out of the 2013/14 season with their reputation enhanced – but if there is one that deserves some plaudits it is goalkeeper David De Gea. Another much-maligned performer during his early days at Old Trafford (there’s a lesson in there somewhere), De Gea has evolved his all-round game enormously since his arrival from Atletico Madrid. No longer just a flamboyant shot-stopper, De Gea has the presence to command his penalty area and eradicated the lapses in concentration from his game.

HendersonJordan Henderson

Seemingly out of his way of Anfield at the beginning of the last campaign, the transformation in the fortunes of Jordan Henderson has been quite remarkable. The former England Under-21 captain has gone from unwanted to indispensable in the eyes of manager Brendan Rodgers. It is unsurprising then that Liverpool’s end-of-season wobbles against Chelsea and Crystal Palace coincided with Henderson’s absence from the team. The midfielder’s drive, boundless energy and creativity in the final third was instrumental in the Reds’ unexpected title charge.

Samir Nasri

While the likes of Sergio Aguero, Yaya Toure, Vincent Kompany and David Silva have taken much of the spotlight, it’s important not to understate that value of Samir Nasri’s contribution to Manchester City’s second title in two seasons. Given the arrival of Sevilla winger Jesus Navas in the summer, many expected Nasri’s first team opportunities to be limited this time around. However, the Frenchman has flourished under Pellegrini and returned seven goals and nine assists during the course of the Premier League season.

PuncheonJason Puncheon

Following a more than respectable season with Southampton, it was a little bit surprising that coach Mauricio Pochettino felt the need to let Jason Puncheon leave St Marys. And, as it turned out, the 27-year-old proved to be an excellent addition for Crystal Palace and their subsequent revival under Tony Pulis. With seven goals to his name in 2014 (including winners against Stoke, Hull and Aston Villa), Puncheon has done more than most in a Palace shirt to haul the Eagles into an 11th place finish.

Martin Skrtel

Many will argue that the reason Liverpool fell short of an unprecedented Premier League title was the 50 goals conceded by an often leaky and disorganised backline. That is, of course, a key contributory factor. However, while central defender Martin Skrtel had his share of mishaps (most notably the four goals he put through his own net), generally the Slovak provided a solid last line of defence – flourishing in his ability to read, anticipate and snuff out danger in typical no-nonsense fashion.

Then there were the goals. Skrtel was a constant menace from set pieces (not just in his own area) and chipped in with seven goals for Liverpool in the Premier League – the highest from any defender in the division. And two more than a certain £50m striker.

Cop Out: Don’t Let Mourinho Fool You

There’s just something about Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho.

Something about him that makes him almost immune from criticism.

Mourinho 2014

Maybe it’s his swarve and sophisticated Portuguese aura.

Maybe it’s because you can never be far from a headline-grabbing sound bite.

Maybe it’s his passionate touchline antics and fervent celebrations.

Or maybe because he’s a damn fine manager.

However you may view it, recent defeats to Aston Villa, Crystal Palace and PSG have threatened to de-rail Chelsea’s season. And yet, if there’s anyone who appears to absolve any blame for the club’s wobbles it’s Mourinho.

His often unprovoked outbursts and uncanny knack to create disharmony may have self-destructed his side’s chances of sealing a major trophy in his first year back at Stamford Bridge.

Not good enough for the Premier League title, Jose argues. No strikers, Jose says.

Say something enough and people will start to believe it. Media, supporters and players alike (despite what might be being said behind closed doors) have begun to buy-in to Mourinho’s script.

Though, when you think about it, there is little to suggest that Mourinho should have any real grounds for complaint. There is a very real possibility that his side could be beaten to the Premier League crown by a team that finished 7th last season – 14 points behind 3rd-placed Chelsea.

Liverpool have had a remarkable season, sure. But suggesting that Chelsea aren’t equipped to win a league title during the most open Premier League in years looks weak.

Consider further that The Blues have invested heavily in the recruitment of Andre Schurrle, Marko van Ginkel, Willian, Nemanja Matic and Mohamed Salah and you begin to have little sympathy for the Portuguese – not least when you realise that none of those are strikers.

And that’s part of the problem too. There have been opportunities for Mourinho to bring in striking reinforcements. Instead, cash was spent on players like Salah and van Ginkel who you feel will have little to no bearing on Chelsea’s immediate future.

Oh, and then there’s Romelu Lukaku. Arguably Chelsea’s best striker. Out on loan.

What Mourinho does have at his disposal, admittedly, isn’t great. Fernando Torres plays one good game in 10. Samuel Eto’o is, in-keeping with the Mourinho theme; old and Demba Ba is, well, actually, not bad and should have had more time on the pitch this season.

Alarmingly for Chelsea fans (or those that don’t preach to everything Jose says), Mourinho has recent form in sinking his own ship. While winning one league title at Real Madrid during Barcelona’s tenure as quite possibly the greatest team ever is nothing to be ashamed of, the way in which his reign unravelled wasn’t pretty.

Mourinho divided the dressing room. He disenchanted key members of the team such as Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos and Pepe. Even Mourinho himself described his final season as Real coach as the “worst” of his career following 2-1 Copa Del Rey defeat to fierce rivals Atletico Madrid.

That’s not to say Mourinho isn’t one of the game’s great managers. He is. His success with Porto, Chelsea, Inter and even, briefly, Real shows as much.

But if the last two years have proved anything it’s that he’s starting to develop a habit of unsettling and alienating dressing rooms – a stark contrast to the persona that arrived on English shores in 2004.

Mourinho always offered the impression of someone who galvanized his players, created a siege “us against everyone else” mentality and unified his teams.

Right now, he seems more concerned with lamenting his misfortunes rather than backing his team.

Mourinho might be the self-proclaimed “Happy One” but it might just be his players who are the Unhappy Ones.