Why have we become so transfixed on being fourth best?

Will it be United? Southampton?

What about Liverpool? Spurs?

Arsenal? Surely, Arsenal?

West Ham…? Don’t be silly.

Ah, the battle for those elusive Champions League places. What a thrilling end to the season we have in store over the coming months, right?


Well, if the height of your ambitions is to compete for the title as the fourth best team in England then, sure.

What’s it worth? A place in the Champions League, of course. The holy grail of European football (or at least the qualifying stages) – and all the glamour that comes with it.

Just ask Everton (2005), Manchester City (2011, 2012) and Liverpool (2014) and I’m sure they’d vouch for how they cherished their experiences in Europe’s premier competition; on the back of top four Premier League finishes.

The point I’m trying to make (if you haven’t already detected the huge stench of sarcasm in the previous paragraph), is that just qualifying for the Champions League has become a barometer of success – a fixation in the modern game.

But why?

  • Perhaps it’s the clubs themselves. In 2012, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger remarked that achieving top four status should be received with the same prestigious nature of “winning a trophy” (although he had gone a long time without one at this point in time).
  • Perhaps it’s the players. How many times have you heard a player sound out a move away from his current club because he “wants to play in the Champions League“?
  • Perhaps it’s the broadcasters. Let’s face it, given Chelsea’s procession towards the Premier League title, there isn’t too much to get excited about right now so pushing the “Race for fourth” creates a narrative.
  • Perhaps, even, it’s about the money (isn’t most things?). The revenues involved for qualifying for the Champions League (proper) far outstrip those of winning a domestic competition like the Capital One Cup or FA Cup – making achieving a fourth-placed finish far more lucrative and attractive to prospective clubs; leading to the prioritisation of league matches ahead of cup games.

The reality? Probably a combination of the above.

This trend, however, is a worrying one. Ought we not to consider success as winning a trophy? Winning the league title? Isn’t that what clubs should be aiming for? Should we not be lamenting the season-long form of United, Arsenal and Liverpool with their failure to keep pace with Chelsea and Manchester City?

Is it not dangerous to start the season with the mentality of “reaching the top four”?

If Champions League qualification becomes the pinnacle of a club’s (and fans’) ambitions then we are deceiving ourselves from what real achievement actually is; thus hindering the prospect of actual success.

Champions League qualification should be a consolation. Not the realisation of a season’s objectives.

Barca Win Makes Moyes No Laughing Stock

If life as Real Sociedad boss had begun timidly and unspectacularly for David Moyes, victory over Barcelona may act as the catalyst at this crossroads in the Scot’s managerial career.


Moyes’ brief tenure as Manchester United manager had turned him into a figure of ridicule and the butt of many a social media mocking meme; but this was a reminder to the doubters and hecklers (and perhaps Moyes himself) that his ability to work with limited resources and upset the odds ought not to be undervalued.

It must be noted that Barcelona weren’t great, of course.

Coach Luis Enrique left Lionel Messi, Neymar, Gerard Pique and Dani Alves on the bench and probably soon wished that he hadn’t (bringing on Messi, Neymar and Alves in the second period).

But that isn’t a slight on the performance of Moyes’ Soceidad. Aggressive and intense from the first whistle, it was already clear to see how Moyes is beginning to put his mark on the Basque outfit.

The home side’s early pressure brought them reward almost immediately thanks to a Jordi Alba own goal but this wasn’t a typical backs to the wall display (at least not until the final moments of the game).

Moyes’ team were compact, disciplined and hard-working in a 4-4-1-1/4-4-2 system where – despite the obvious language barrier – it was clear that both individually and collectively; the Sociedad players were already buying into Moyes’ philosophy.

An endeavour typified by the running and cuteness of Uruguyan Chori Castro who caused the Barcelona defence problems throughout – most notably the cumbersome Jeremy Mathieu who was lucky not to see red for getting too close to the youngster.

Even when Messi was introduced for the second 45, Sociedad were quick to hunt down the mesmeric Argentine as if they had been briefed for his likely appearance.

There were some openings for Barcelona – not least when Luis Suarez went through but failed to round keeper Rulli – but this was a derserved Sociedad victory. Their third in four seasons against the Catalan giants.

It may only be early in his Spanish reign and this is only one game but a win over a star-studded Barcelona means Moyes might just be taken seriously again.

The Right Time? Gerrard’s Exit Is Bad Timing For Liverpool

Considering the enormity of the story, there’s probably very little that hasn’t already been said about Steven Gerrard’s impending departure from Liverpool.

(Yet, given that I haven’t written anything in what seems like ages, I’ll do just that).


One of the first things that struck me about the reaction to the news was the general consensus of it being the “right time”. One article in particular from Daniel Taylor in the Guardian seemed to typify this.

To paraphrase;

It is unlikely there will be too many people saying he should have tried to defy the process and remained at Anfield, always to be a one-club man. Gerrard has simply recognised his own vulnerabilities and, however much of an emotional wrench it will be, nothing would have been more galling for him than feeling like he was straying dangerously close to letting down the club he cherishes so much.

While nobody can argue that Gerrard’s powers as a player have wained (what would you expect from a 34-year-old?), it is far too short-sighted to believe that he’s finished as a player completely and therefore surplus to Liverpool’s requirements.

Lest we forget, after all, Gerrard is Liverpool’s top goalscorer this season. Continue reading

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




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.



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