Thursday, October 30, 2008

Maradona appointment remains unbelievable for many (WARNING: In poor taste)

I sympathize with his friends and family for their loss, but this Maradona thing really can take your breath away. (winces, ducks, barrel rolls out of way of incoming lightning bolt)

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) – Pedro Pompilio, the president of Argentine Boca Juniors soccer club, died Thursday of a heart attack. He was 55.
The Argentine Football Association confirmed the death. Pompilio, who took over as president of Argentina’s most popular club in December, had played an important role in the team’s administration since the 1980s. He was vice president of the club from 1995 to 2007.
The club suspended all activities for mourning, including the first division’s scheduled training session, according to local press reports.

Maradona on the march for Masch

World football's newest smash traveling sensation, Argentina national team coach Diego Maradona, is bringing the show to London this weekend to watch Mascherano play against Spurs at White Hart Lane. Maradona also is going to check out Tevez during his England visit.

I don't have a link handy, but Maradona once famously described Argentina as "Mascherano plus 10." Here's hoping Mascherano, eager to impress Maradona, takes his performance from its usual "world's greatest defensive midfielder" level to "universe's greatest defensive midfielder" level.

God, this Maradona coaching Argentina stuff is just awesome. I'd give anything for a friendly with the U.S. in spring. I'd fly anywhere in the country for that, even though the two teams just played earlier this year out East.


How does one even begin to process what happened in the Arsenal, Spurs derby last night?

What seemed to be wrapping as a statement of intent by Arsenal - the brushing aside of inferior opposition that we all expected and hoped for - ended with the manifestation of fears that we, as Gooners, have buried all year. 

Team team is gorgeous going forward. Nasri and Walcott are adding a dimension that I don't think many would have even hoped for at the start of the season. But still, we've not got a snarling pit bull anywhere on the pitch.

Gallas has been a diva, and as our most experienced central defender and captain, as has been pointed out on many occasions in this space already, more is expected of him. 

Now granted, it's unfair of me to level much of an assessment. As Jim dutifully pointed out, many times it just blows trying to keep up in America. And those yahoos who put together the fixtures in their ivory tower (Jintao, Putin ... I'm looking in your direction. You'll be found out you bleedin' reds! I'm on to you.) end up slamming one of the biggest matches of the year on a freaking Wednesday!?!?!

So I'm glued to my laptop at work, keeping as much of an eye on the ticker and minute-by-minute report as I can, that's what I'm left with. Normally on days like those I'd be proudly wearing my Arsenal scarf - even at the office. They're all used to it by now. They see the flag at my desk, the two Zidane statues (can we call them relics at this point?). Last time I wore that scarf for the Derby, we dropped the league cup semi to Spurs 5-1. It was embarrassing, and I almost burned the damned thing.

Today, I don't even know what to think. This side better find some steal in defense - not just in the back four but throughout the pitch - and they better find it fast. They are well and truly capable of contending this year.

Not if we continue to concede. 

For the moment ... Look out Stoke. This team is going to be p.i.s.s.e.d. come Saturday. As am I. I pity the Spurs onlooker who decides to show their marbles and give me stick. 

Mid-week wonders: Things I missed while at work

It's always difficult following the league here in the States when the schedule calls for mid-week fixtures. I saw nothing except the first 5 minutes of West Ham at Old Trafford, then I had to leave for work. Despite all that, I YouTube'd the Bentley goal, read a bunch of stuff online and decided I want to chip in with a few things:

• Arsenal 4 – Tottenham 4: I've not talked to Colin about this. I was tempted earlier tonight during a smoke break at work to give him a call, but I couldn't think about what I'd even say. I thought he might like hearing from a friend, but the subject was too painful for me to consider, so what the hell was he going through? I was actually hoping Colin's Arsenal-loving, Gunner-blood-pumping heart might post something on this already because this really isn't my ground to cover on Match Pricks.
But I haven't heard from him, and this match cannot be ignored. First off, the Bentley goal. Yes, a fantastic display of ball control with nobody around him at all, but like Alonso's two from beyond the halfway line in recent years, chalk this one up to keeper error. I'm sure Almunia probably thought he had a good reason for being off his line. After all, it took the strike of the season to beat him, but ... well, he got beat.
Still, from what I gather, it looked like Spurs gave up, Wenger took off his attacking threats, and then Clichy slipped, leading to Tottenham's third. Then, somehow, Gallas fell asleep on Modric's long-range shot and it came off the post for Lennon to pop in without much fuss.


You know what, I can't go into it any further than that. I'm tempted to offer opinion here, but it's not my place. Instead, I'm going to go on to this:

"Hopefully it can be a springboard," said Redknapp, before he looked ahead to Saturday's visit of the Premier League leaders Liverpool. "We can't wait. Bring them on. We will give it a real go. We will be difficult to beat on Saturday."

Yes, Spurs will feel a great rush from the draw with Arsenal and how it came about, but this is exactly the response I would hope for, as a Liverpool fan, from Tottenham. Let's look at that again: "Bring them on." Sure, great Harry. See you Saturday. Your defense is a shambles that conceded four, should have seen 5, 6 or 7 hit your net, and your keeper seems unable to do much more than wet his shorts. Hey, this thing can break two ways: (1) Spurs can romp to a run of wins, or (2) Spurs can suddenly believe the change of scenery along the touch line with the manager means all their problems have gone away. I prefer, from a Liverpool perspective, No. 2. It will be a thrilling match Saturday, and Spurs will surely be up for it. But this is still a team with many problems in defense. And there's a big difference between William Gallas and Jamie Carragher these days. We'll have to see, but Redknapp got a little carried away. If there's one side this year that's shown it won't shrink from adverse situations, it's the Liverpool team that's going to White Hart Lane on Saturday.

• Liverpool 1 – Portsmouth 0: Rotation looked like the word certain to be in every headline for the first 75 minutes. It struck me as soon as I saw the name "Pennant" among the starters before the match. Not only him, but no Mascherano, Riera or Keane. I mean, this was a Rafa special from way back.
But the Diop handball was clear – again, only from what I've read – and not even a doubt. Sometimes you make your own luck, and sometimes luck just finds you. There's no point overthinking it. Gerrard did the job and they move on. Besides, they have to hurry back to the capital. Harry Redknapp said he can hardly wait for Liverpool to get there.

• Man U 2 – West Ham 0: I'm throwing this one in only to point out for the loyal band of Match Pricks international readers that FSC airs United matches almost exclusively these days. Disgusting. Who would want to watch this? There were several interesting games, but this one was never a doubt. Yet this was what we got in America. Thanks, Glazer family, for ruining it for the rest of us.

Hull City 0 – Chelsea 3: Too bad, but can't say this result is a surprise in any way. I haven't read any match reports, but it sounds like Hull gave it a go. After Sunday, though, anything less than a comfortable victory from Chelsea would have really surprised me. The most fun here was seeing Geovanni in the days before guarantee Chelsea would lose. He was wrong. So what? It was fun until it started at least.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Thank you for your consideration

A quick note before we get ahead of ourselves here: I wanted to say thank you to the small but growing number of people taking time to visit our little corner of the football blogging world. Last week we had some of our higher daily visitor totals since kicking off with Match Pricks during the summer. Colin and I are appreciative of those folks we've yet to meet or hear from throughout the U.S. who are stopping by in larger numbers – and sticking around longer – as well as our good friends from Liverpool who we can't wait to see again next year, and we can't forget the new face or three we see now and again from Ireland, Norway or Uganda checking out the site.

If you haven't yet, please check out the Match Pricks interview with author Neil Dunkin here in Part 1 and also here in Part 2. I've been a bit sidetracked early this week, but there will be a third and final installment of that very soon.

Also, coming up soon we'll summarize the Pie Off from this past Sunday. Sweet potato pumpkin, apple and also pear varieties made an appearance, Liverpool made history at Stamford Bridge and Arsenal won a London derby. It made for an excellent Sunday.

Thanks again for visiting.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Banana Peel #1, avoided

Arsenal were 2-nil winners over West Ham on Sunday. A London derby and a match that could have easily ended in frustration - read, disappointment. The way things have gone this season, dropping points far too easily, this was an important win. Especially given United's draw to Everton, and Chelsea's loss to Liverpool. It's crucial not to slip-up when things stack in your favour toward the top of the table.

West Ham, as one would expect, packed it in and defended the entire match. They showed a few surprising flourishes downfield from Craig Bellamy, but on a whole, the Hammers crossed their fingers that Arsenal wouldn't care enough to try to find the goals. Fortunately, Adebayor added the extra dimension as a substitute. Frankly, I'm surprised that Walcott didn't find the breakthrough, he was dazzling on a few runs in the first half. Strong goalkeeping from Robert Green kept it close.

This was one of those matches that was just flat out frustrating to watch. You know the entire time that the breakthrough is inevitable, and when it finally comes it's just relief. Doesn't even really make the football all that enjoyable, does it? I did think that Arsenal didn't put their foot on the gas throughout the match. We enjoyed a vast majority of the possession and moved the ball around well, but we didn't have a spark or a level of incisive creativity outside of the middle of the park. We missed that cutting edge that Liverpool so richly enjoyed from Steven Gerrard at Stamford Bridge. But, as I say, it's three points in the bag and a step in the right direction as we try to finally establish some momentum in the league.

Next up, another banana peel ... an even more dangerous one at that. Spurs on Wednesday. Talk about not wanting to lose a match. Yikes. Spurs supporters are wallowing in their worst start in generations after yet another big outlay of cash, and now they pick up ol' 'arry Redknapp as manager, they do. That team has been shambolic thus far. Quite rightly, anything less than a thorough waltz will be unfortunate. But they are definitely something to watch out for with this shake up they'll be undergoing. 

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Harry isn't that much of a wizard

Scolari puts the loss in perspective. The added emphasis is mine:

"If we lose at any place it’s the same — three points. There is no difference losing here to losing in Liverpool, Manchester or Tottenham."

Exactly right, Big Phil. Yep ... wait, what?!

Feb. 21, 2004 to Oct. 26, 2008: My how times change

Courtesy of the English papers and their roundup of Sunday's match at Stamford Bridge, a look back at some of the events from the day Chelsea last lost a league match at Stamford Bridge:

• Chelsea's keeper that day was Neil Sullivan
• Hull lose at home against Torquay in a Fourth Division match.
• Leeds draws with United at Old Trafford
• Liverpool prepare for the following day's FA Cup 5th Round replay at Pompey. Liverpool lose that match 0-1.

Burning the Bridge

There's much from this morning's action to recap, including the beyond successful Pie Off, but first, a few thoughts about the football:

• I think it was Gerrard's finest match of the season. Away from home, against Chelsea, he was in perfect control in linking the play from defense to attack. At times, Gerrard can be a bit careless with the ball and deliver passes that miss their mark, leaving the defense susceptible to a quick counter from the opposition. This can be particularly dangerous against Chelsea, but Gerrard was brilliant. He stayed close with Keane early, worked well with Riera on moving the ball forward and just generally never lost his head. Of course Carragher, Agger, Mascherano and Alonso were fantastic in the back, but for me, Gerrard was man of the match. His superb play allowed Liverpool to continue going forward and threaten to add to the lead. It caught Chelsea by surprise that Liverpool didn't entirely try to sit on the lead. His yellow for a brilliant tackle on Mikel was a travesty, as the tackle was perfect and had opened the field for an excellent counter attack.

• My early suspicion that failing to sign Gareth Barry and having to "settle" for Riera will prove a blessing in disguise is looking more prescient every week. Riera is outstanding on the left and he rendered Boswinga impotent on the right. For the first two months, Boswinga has been outstanding for Chelsea, adding a new dimension and making them so impressive even though they are missing so many through injury. But today Riera owned Chelsea's right flank. His control and execution while on the ball never wavered, and in concert with Gerrard, kept the side strong despite missing Torres.

• Overall, Liverpool – despite the lucky deflection for the score – were better than Chelsea in every aspect. They were unlucky to not score at least two. Sure, you can say Drogba would have changed the game, but without Torres, it has to be considered an even swap to have both sides missing their best striker. Chelsea were largely unimaginative, the majority of their chances came from long range, and the expected second half surge never materialized. At no point near the end could Chelsea force Liverpool to resort to breathless defending. I was surprised it didn't happen, but Liverpool throttled the life out of their attack. It was a remarkable statement of intent from Liverpool and an incredibly fun day.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Ronaldo is wanker

Could this yahoo be any more insufferable? 

Bags of talent, sure, but everything else that comes with it makes all level-headed people fill up with disgust. The following is from an report.

The Portugal winger and bookies' favourite to win the honour told La Gazzetta dello Sport: "Sincerely, yes, I'm confident. If you assess what I did over the course of the season, I think I did more than everyone. What else should I have done to win the Ballon d'Or and the FIFA award."

There's a thing that athletes should attain when they hit an elite level. It's called grace. To say nothing of respect toward others in your profession. Doesn't matter a lick if he's right or not. Ronaldo has neither.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Buy this book: Part 2 of the Match Pricks interview with Neil Dunkin, author of "Anfield of Dreams"

In the first installment of this interview, we talked with author Neil Dunkin about his book, "Anfield of Dreams: A Kopite's Odyssey from the Second Division to Sublime Istanbul" about the nature of Liverpool fandom through the years and the Atlético match ban situation. Here, in Part 2, there's more about the lengths to which Liverpool fans the world over will go to support their team, some choice bits from Neil's youth about having sandwiches and seeing The Beatles during lunch at the Cavern Club, and also some reflections on the young brilliance of Michael Owen and his ability to drive different generations of fans absolutely mad.

Match Pricks: (Here in America), if you want to watch (the matches), you’ve gotta be up at 6 in the morning on a Saturday. It kind of brings people together, but I’ve made … my friend from Liverpool, I’m not exactly sure where in the city Norris Green is, where his family is from. But that’s as close and as strong a friendship with him and his wife as I’ve had with anyone else. And that never would have happened if it wasn’t for Liverpool.
Neil Dunkin: Well, you know, at the weekend, on Saturday, 60 Germans came over, German fans who support Liverpool. From the German branch of the Liverpool supporters club, and they went to the match. They had meetings with people from various organizations, and, of course, they had a fantastic time because the match itself was just a real roller coaster.
Liverpool, its reach is phenomenal. I know Real Madrid and Manchester United, they have tremendous (support). Boca Juniors, they have tremendous support.
But Liverpool, I don’t know, I just think it has an aura, something about it which you can’t really describe. I think it’s partly to do with the Beatles and Merseyside. The Beatles, obviously, were a very important aspect of the city and the culture. I just love football. If Liverpool had lost on Saturday, I would have been upset for the weekend but that’s just the way I am because of my passion.

MP: You mentioned the Beatles. From reading your interview with This Is Anfield, you mentioned you were at The Cavern Club having your dinner, and they were playing.
ND: What happened was, I was a schoolboy, 16 or 17, and the Mersey Beat, the Mersey Sound was started, and mates of mine at school told me about this club called the Cavern. So I went down and next thing all these bands are coming on. And during the summer … I got a job in a government office in central Liverpool. It was a summer job. It was a tax office, internal revenue. Don’t boo. I used to have sandwiches, which I would take down to eat at lunchtime. What was happening was the Cavern was open every lunchtime and bands would play, so I would go down. I don’t know how much it was to go in. It was something like 20 cents, and I would sit down and eat my sandwiches and the Beatles would be playing on the stage!
When you heard the Beatles for the first time, and when you heard them several times, you realized they were a band and a half. They were just incredible. So I used to go in my lunch hour, with my sandwiches, and sit down and listen to bands. I heard the Beatles many, many times playing away. After they’d finished their gigs, they wouldn’t rush off because they didn’t have a booking in the afternoon. So, they’d just hang around near the snack bar and talking to people. They were just like ordinary blokes.

MP: And these are stories in the book?
ND: Yes, yes.

MP: I’m curious how you wrote about that because that’s your life, but here, stories like that have such a mythology to them in America.
ND: As I say, to the people who went to the Cavern, the boys and the girls, they were just local blokes who were excellent musicians. … Girls were, obviously, hanging around them and would chat to them. And they’d have a soda or something and then they’d talk to the girls. Once I was just having my sandwiches and they’d finished their session and then went off. Then a new band came, and the next thing George Harrison sat next to me, and we just had a chat. They’d just been to Germany to play in the Star Club in Hamburg, and we just sat and chatted like two blokes on a bus. They were just smashing blokes. They weren’t big-headed, they were just very, very ordinary. They’re very proud of their city, actually.
… When I was 17 I moved to London to work in London. There was just no music scene like Liverpool, and, ohhh, I missed it. I missed it so much because the Mersey sound was just massive, and there were bands playing on every corner, virtually. I was so lucky to live through that era, and this is what I’ve described in my book.

MP: Have you ever managed to get over here to America.
ND: Oh, yes! We’ve been to New York, and we’ve driven from L.A. to San Francisco and then across to Yosemite, and then on to Death Valley, to Las Vegas.

MP: Have you ever seen a match here?
ND: No. I’ve seen on television, but I’ve never been to an actual match.

MP: Well, I don’t know what the world perception of USA ’94 was, but it really did make a huge impact here.
ND: Well, I tell you what did make an impact, the stadia, which were just phenomenal. The average crowd was the highest it had ever been during a World Cup. Everyone said how the facilities were just fantastic. I would be very, very happy to see it held again in America because you have these wonderful stadia.

MP: I’m hoping for that because (at USA ’94) I was kind of young, I was just in school at the time. I was 17. That’s sort of the link of how I get to Liverpool. USA ’94 started it, Michael Owen in ’98 was the only player I knew because they showed his goal against Argentina here over and over and over. Once I finally caught the bug, he was the reason I went to Liverpool (as a fan).
ND: I love Michael. The night he scored that goal against Argentina, I was working in London. I was working for the Daily Telegraph newspaper on their financial pages. We had a TV in a room nearby, and I kept sort of darting in there to watch. And it just so happened that I was in there when Michael scored that fantastic goal. I tell you, the whole of London heard me scream.
He’s a wonderful player. It’s a shame he’s had so many injuries, but that’s the way it happens. Some people are prone to injuries. But he is a wonderful player, I must say, and also a lovely man.

MP: It’s amazing to think what might have happened if he didn’t lose his pace due to injuries.
ND: Yeah, well I wonder. Rafa was thinking about signing him after he was leaving Real. You wonder if, perhaps, he had an inkling of this because, you know, on reflection I’m glad he didn’t sign him for Liverpool because he was injured so many times for Newcastle. We wouldn’t have gotten our money’s worth out of him, unfortunately.

MP: It would have been a little heartbreaking to see him come back like that and always be hurt.
ND: Yeah. I still admire him as a player and as a man. He was very good for our team.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

A comment ...

I felt I should take a moment to offer some words.

In America, we have things a little different. Football for us becomes tribal. It doesn't necessarily start that way. We aren't born within shouting distance of Islington or Anfield. 

I often say that a football team chooses you, you don't choose a football team. Although we do see the opposite happen in America; someone catches the World Cup on TV, gets into the game and dives in whole hog with a new team. Shirt, scarf, songs et all. We can't begrudge them that. As Mr. Dunkin says, part of the joy is spreading the gospel.

Through a conflux of circumstances, I've been an Arsenal supporter since my birth in the footballing world (see image and link above - in truth I can't believe I found that picture, ah the powers of the Internet). They chose me.

That said, I do still carry an extraordinary level of respect for Liverpool - their achievements, their club and perhaps above all, their supporters. I want, then, to offer my courteous thanks on behalf of my co-author Jim to Mr. Dunkin for granting the interview with Match Pricks and sharing with our readers thoughts about his life as a Kopite. I look forward to reading the rest of the interview.

I can't wait to pick up and read the book. 

Life as a football supporter is, after all, a shared experience. 

That Atlético match kind of sputtered out

Hard to take much from the long-anticipated visit to the Vicente Calderón today. When Rafa took Keane and Gerrard off so soon in the second half, his priorities were revealed. He didn't much care what happened in Madrid because the Champions League group is set up for Liverpool to advance and, quite possibly, finish top of the group.

The most remarkable thing was the referee, I guess. Keane was a tad offside on his goal, but Benayoun was unfairly judged offside on his goal. That one should have counted. Atlético's first goal was disallowed when it should have stood, so perhaps it ended up even after all. I couldn't help but fail to be moved in the final 10 minutes. I would have been mildly moved with a Liverpool or Atlético winner. They're in control in the group, and, like Rafa, after about an hour, my attention had shifted to Chelsea on Sunday.

Buy this book: Interview with author Neil Dunkin about "Anfield of Dreams: A Kopite's Odyssey from the Second Division to Sublime Istanbul"

Today, we celebrate the 100th post in the short history of Match Pricks with the first installment of a really fun interview I did this week with Neil Dunkin, a lifelong Liverpool fan and author of "Anfield of Dreams". Neil's story differs from many Liverpool books in that it is basically about his life as a supporter, following the team from the Second Division, living within a few hundred yards of Anfield while growing up, seeing Shankly and Paisley reach the highest highs and then ending the book with that once-in-a-lifetime night in Istanbul. Neil was excellent in giving me a lot of time for this simple little blog here, and I couldn't recommend more giving him some of your time by checking out the book.
In this first installment, Neil talks about seeing the club go from promotion in the '50s to getting phone calls from an American 50 years later to talk about Liverpool, the fun that comes with putting a lifetime of memories into a book and, fittingly for today, his thoughts on the Atlético match ban and how it can be difficult balancing fair treatment to all fans.

MATCH PRICKS: There’s a small group here in America, especially here in Milwaukee, we really seem to do anything to watch the matches. From reading about your book and your history of following Liverpool, are you amazed by that, how it’s spread?
NEIL DUNKIN: Well I am, insofar as I’m amazed, going back 20 years, I mean, Italy was really, that was the hotbed. I seem to remember going over to the States and talking to someone in Seattle, and he watched Italian football all the time on his local football TV station.
Obviously, what’s happened is with TV rights and TV money, the clubs here are able to buy very good players from all around the world. I don’t know if you watched the Liverpool game on Saturday (against Wigan).

MP: Oh yeah, definitely.
ND: Well, the perimeter advertising, now they’re getting adverts in Spanish for people in Spain because Liverpool have a very big support in that country. And there are adverts I think it was in Indonesia now.

MP: I noticed some Asian script on the advertising board, which really surprised me.
ND: It really is becoming massive. Just to sort of go to the ending of my book, which is the Istanbul final, what staggered me was the range of nationality – in Istanbul – of Liverpool fans from all around the world. From Japan to Australia to Americans to Canadians to Norwegians. It was just phenomenal.

MP: You’re not really – I shouldn’t use the word bothered – but it doesn’t make you nervous at all?
ND: No, it doesn’t. To be honest, the reason I wrote my book was to try and spread the gospel, to share my passion for this fantastic club. You obviously are a fan, and you know what it’s like, but it’s just a wonderful club with wonderful fans.

MP: It seems like a fans’s dream to be able to share a lifetime’s worth of stories. I was curious how the writing experience was, how it was to relive that and put all that down into a record.
ND: It took a lot of research. I started making notes about six years ago, just rough notes, because I’ve experienced a lot with my team. Both in England, because I started supporting them in the Second Divison in the ‘50s, and then I went on from there right through to European success. A lot has happened, good things and bad things, like Hillsborough and Heysel. … So I started writing down rough notes, and then if I saw an anecdote which reminded me of something, I wrote that down. So I had three years doing notes, and then I thought, ‘Right, now discipline yourself and start writing.’
So I did. I wrote about 190,000 words in all – a long book. Then, I cut that back to 160,000 words. It’s a lot to me. It’s a fascinating story. I’m not just saying that because it’s my book, but I just wanted to put it on the record. Fortunately, people have read it. Non-Liverpool fans have read it, and they’ve been very encouraging in their comments.

MP: I was curious about your thoughts about the Atlético situation. (Note: Click this link for the Match Pricks post on this.)
ND: I agree wholeheartedly about your comments on racism and the way the authorities – FIFA and UEFA – have been very, very weak in their attitudes because I hate it. I hate any kind of prejudice.
But I think to announce it so late in the day – well, what they could have done was said, ‘Right, after the Liverpool game in Madrid, we will implement this ban.’ But when they’re attracting 3,000, 4,000, 5,000 Liverpool fans – it came too late, I think. They could have thought this through more carefully, and I agree with the club and the English FA to protest about this. I think when so many people had already arranged accommodations and flights, it was badly thought through. I absolutely detest racism. I’m glad they’re being punished, and let’s hope next time the punishment is twice as severe, but I think this time you have to allow the match to take place.

MP: Thinking back over this over the last couple of days, I thought, ‘Maybe I didn’t have a good sense of what people go through to try and get to a match.’
ND: I mean it’s no exaggeration to say that, probably, people now (Monday) are on trains in France to try and get through to Madrid because that’s the way Liverpool fans are. Their club is all for them. They sacrifice so much for their team. I’ve seen forecasts of 3,000, 4,000 or 5,000 fans going there because, obviously, the Torres connection. I think to victimize those fans would have been wrong, so I’m glad that what they’ve done is to delay the ban on Atléti and to implement it after the game with Liverpool.

MP: I hope UEFA wouldn’t go soft on that behavior because it’s so atrocious the way Atlético tried to explain it, that they were chanting for Aguero.
ND: ‘Kun, Kun, Kun,’ which sounds like a monkey chant. It’s happened so many times with clubs before, like with Sevilla, and I think Real have had problems. We all hate racism, and as far as I’m concerned, you hit the racists hard or their club hard. It has to be done.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

This is what the fuss is all about, folks: Aguero legend born against Racing in Argentina

I still remember catching this a few years back on FSC's Fox Soccer Report. I made a friend watch it over and over for about 15 minutes straight. It was during a party at the house, and eventually other people gravitated to the TV to watch it with us. Just stunning. I particularly enjoy how he catches a piece of toilet paper on his boot as he crosses the halfway line. This is mandatory viewing, even if you've already seen it.

It's a shame Torres isn't fit for the match. It should be a lot of fun to watch

Also in the news



Diaby a missing piece?

Again, I was unable to see the match. Damn America. ESPN is ramming itself farther and farther up Sir Alex Jintao's nether regions.

After reading the match reports, I must say that I'm delighted and not all that surprised with the 2-5 win at Fenerbache. The back four seem to have been poor, Theo and Nasri seem to have combined quite well to add a needed width, but one surprising item did arise ... it seems that Abu Diaby hasn't taken all that long to find his form after another long injury lay-off.

It's been well documented, especially in this space, that Arsenal are light in the middle and it could prove a massive stumbling block this year. But could it be that the fragile Diaby is the difference-maker we're looking for in the middle? I can remember quite clearly stating over the last couple of summers - 2007 in particular - that Diaby would be one to watch (Jim, can you vouch for me here?). Sadly, constant injuries have held him back. When we brought him in, comparisons to Patrick Vieira were inevitable given their similar size, but Diaby always did seem to have a certain something extra that you look for in an Arsenal player these days. Safe to say that was seen in his one-two with Theo Walcott at the weekend. I will be no means intimate a superiority to Vieira, who is a legend and an icon, and one who also plays a different game, but what I think is worth noting is that Diaby has been trained under Arsene Wenger at a time when Le Professeur could arguably have perfected his approach to football. 

Bear with me ... Vieira joined Arsenal early in Wenger's time when, perhaps, the plot was still being drawn. Certainly Wenger came in with a different set of footballing ideals than had been seen at the time. And by now, it could be argued that Wenger has built his footballing philosophies to a point where they are almost on autopilot. 

So at any rate, to come around to my point, Abu Diaby could rise to fill a much needed role with Arsenal. He brings certain qualities that we've missed in Vieira,  size and strength, but he also seems to be equipped with an extra quality - a natural inclination to play the quick passing game that Arsene Wenger's teams have perfected and coupled with a hammer shot. 

Now to get some of Vieira's durability and utter refusal to lose and we might be on to something.

Jim misses training (out w/ virus)

My apologies to those few regular visitors who I promised would see the Neil Dunkin interview when they checked out the site today. My night at work started with me fighting a slight cold and ended with me in full-blown sickness and cursing every breath. It feels like something extremely thick and made of granite has taken up residence behind my eyeballs and in my brain.

However, please bear with us as I will still make an attempt later today to get the first installment transcribed and posted of my conversation with "Anfield of Dreams" author Neil Dunkin.

Take care,


Monday, October 20, 2008

Nasri Rising

I've been a bad fan. I've been negligent. I'm the first to admit it. I missed yet another match this weekend as I was traveling. As I've said, wonky priorities. Not only have I missed a couple of Arsenal matches this season, I've missed the incredible matches that Liverpool have put out there for us. I haven't even seen a single football match in a couple of weeks.  So yeah, I've been a bad fan. And it's regrettable. I mean, here we are about to roll into more Champions League football, Arsenal seem to have won with 45 minutes of style, a footballer that I long hoped would join Arsenal is looking like a real difference-maker and I'm still thinking about the dregs of international breaks.

With that said, I'm painting myself into a corner of Total Football this weekend. And I can't wait. We'll see just how many matches I can make my way through. Sadly, it looks yet again like Arsenal's European exploits will not be covered on American television this week. I'll have to make do.

Fortunately, I've Sunday to look forward to. Liverpool vs. Chelsea in an early season measuring stick for the title contenders, followed by Arsenal vs. West Ham (another victim of Hull). And to top it off, the wheels are turning for the First Annual Match Pricks Pie-Off. Lots of community buzz about this Pie-Off, America.

Big week of fun coming up here at Match Pricks

Wow, where to start. Kuyt saves the day – again – for Liverpool, the Torres homecoming at the Vicente Calderón on Wednesday, away to Chelsea at the end of the week, and a Match Pricks first, an interview with Neil Dunkin author of "Anfield of Dreams: A Kopite's Odyssey"" that will be published in installments.

Just got off the phone with Neil, and his stories about a lifetime following Liverpool from the Second Division in the mid-1950s all the way through Istanbul were incredible. He was nice enough to give me a long time on the phone, and the interview was an absolute treat. You really should click the link above and buy the book. Reading is fun, and Neil's story is loaded with great stuff about a life with Liverpool, the amazing highs of seeing Shankly build the colossus and even sharing a drink and a chat with George Harrison at The Cavern Club.

Look for the Neil Dunkin interview throughout the week.

With apologies to Colin and the Arsenal faithful, I will be raving on and on in this space during the week. Bear with me, please. I hope to make it a blast for all involved. As always, feel free to tell me otherwise in the comments, if you like.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Unease in Gunner World or: Are the kids alright?

I have for several years now dug my heels (intentional cliche alert!) into the opinion that when it comes to the Arsenal, "We're gonna be alright." I even used it as a headline two years ago, after the sale of talisman Thierry Henry when people who couldn't even tell a football from a football were asking me about the sale of one of the world's biggest stars.

I'll just come out with it. I'm worried. Arsenal have looked incredible at times this year. They've looked like they'd flawlessly brush aside their opponents, scoring 3, 4, even 5 goals a game. But they lost to Hull. They lost to Fulham. They barely managed a draw against Sunderland. That's a lot of points to drop early in the season and everyone knows it.

Why else am I worried? Our captain is a clown. Gallas has been poor. He's one of our most experienced players and he's acting and playing like an ass. First he says he's been out of form, and then he runs this bs about how the players call him "capi" and ask him to lead them. Uh-huh. Right. And who gave that interview? Oh, right, it was L'equipe, the daily French sports newspaper. I've no problem with L'equipe and in fact I used to read it regularly. But you know what it is? It's a paper, ready to fire up a player home on international duty during the break. Honestly, do they think their club teams and supporters will never listen to what they say abroad. Not only can some of us actually (shock! horror!) speak another language, but you know what? Those stories are even translated for us and reported back in other newspapers. 

Shocking, I know.

What else has me worried? Perhaps that vital bit that football managers, for a while now, have been calling the "midfield." Perhaps you've heard about it? Most of the time there's four players stretched across the park. Two wingers, a playmaker if you're lucky, and oftentimes, some sort of efficiently tackling and entire-pitch-covering maniac who keeps the other team honest. 

The Arsenal midfield, utterly necessary for the kind of football expected by Arsene Wenger, is left wanting in this department. Ironically, the fault can be placed in the general vicinity of said Genius Manager. I love Arsene Wenger above all. Whenever I'm faced with the standard question, "So, um, like, who, in all of history, yeah? Would you, like, have dinner with, man?" Arsene Wenger (and a film director who shall remain nameless, wrong place and time).

But it looks increasingly like Arsene has made a critical error this season. That the team is so terribly close makes it all the worse. An experienced midfield player is so desperately needed in this team right now, and he refused to buy. Sure ... we've loads of talent standing just off stage, ready to fly in and make an impression. Hey, we've all seen them in the Carling Cup, right!? I mean, did you see Ramsey for the Wales U-21 side? The kid looks great! And how about that Wilshire, pure quality in the pre-season! 

Right. That's the point. For the moment, those lads, and others like them, are no more ready to make an impact than I am. Although I again contend that I'd be a fabulous, if not terribly conditioned, number 10.

Deep breath, it's still early. Damn football is agonizing, but it's brilliant, isn't it?

My head may explode if we don't buy in January.

More Kinnear

I'm pretty sure this is my favourite story line of this early season. (Tellingly, it is really early. We're freaking out right now, either in the good way (Liverpool and Jim) or the in the bad way (Arsenal and Colin...more on that later)), but when we take stock next April or May and look back ... yeah, it's early. At any rate, time to turn the lens back to club football. And, fortunately for all of us, we get to turn the lens one more time to Newcastle manager Joe Kinnear. You read and hopefully took the time to listen to his rant earlier this month. 

Now, the Guardian turns to their readers and aspiring graphic designers to put a nice little crown on the story with this week's gallery. Enjoy. There are some gems in here.

Racism is unacceptable ... except when it's inconvenient for some people to put a foot down

In the short time since Atlético was banned from playing at the Vicente Calderón for the highly anticipated match with Liverpool next week, I've found my opinion on Liverpool fans hurting in the short term for the better future of the game is not one shared by, well, pretty much any other Liverpool supporter whose bothered to express their views on the Web – at least that I can find.

Despite my allegiance to Liverpool and love for the team, I think this is a terrible shame, particularly now that it seems likely UEFA has reversed its decision and will allow the match to go on in Madrid on Wednesday as first planned. No matter that 6,000 Liverpool fans would have been tremendously inconvenienced by a change in venue, in the realm of public opinion, this doesn't look good. The headline on the Guardian story above I linked to says it all for non-Scousers: "Liverpool set to get their way over Atlético trip"

It's one thing to tell detractors and the media to "Fuck off" when the situation warrants it. But I believe it's horrible form to complain – loud and long – about a relatively insignificant injustice being perpetrated against you when it comes at the expense of sending a serious and potent message denouncing racism in football. As I said a couple days ago, this severe punishment against Atlético was deserved, it represented a line being drawn, at last, against the ignorance and hate that is hurled down from the terraces across Europe on a regular basis.

Instead, very public pressure from Liverpool supporters and the club itself proved they decided to take a pass on joining in that fight.

The return of Fernando Torres to Atlético on Wednesday has been anticipated since the very second the group draw showed it would happen. It will be a highly charged, emotional moment for all involved. Torres, the prodigy turned superstar upon leaving comes "home" to be challenged by Kun Aguero, the new apprentice emerging as a major force. And Liverpool, essentially Spain's de facto representative in the Premier League since Rafa took over – and fairly recent European Cup champions at that – on a trip to Spain to test an exciting La Liga team.

All those factors and more that make me and countless others so eager for Wednesday to get here are exactly why UEFA's match ban was so effective and important. It said that nothing, no matter how hyped, built up and seemingly important to the soul of a club can come before stamping out racist treatment toward any player at any time. This is not political correctness or symbolic gesturing. For fuck's sake, Atlético's official team Web site attempted to explain that observers mistakenly thought fans chanting "Kun, Kun, Kun, Kun!" in support of Aguero were making monkey sounds! This is team-sanctioned cover for inhumane behavior.

The punishment against Atlético should have stood, and Liverpool fans with plans made convenient again for travel to Madrid on Wednesday should recognize steps taken to accommodate their relatively small group have diminished larger efforts to banish the moronic hordes whose very presence inside stadia are an embarrassment to the world.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Brothers In Arms

No, this isn't a Dire Sraits retrospective. Just a nod to This Is Anfield for joining Match Pricks in expressing the frustration, boredom and "Now what?" feelings that come with the international break. Some funny thoughts in there about having a few drinks and chasing girls around.

Extra meaning for me at 3:36 in this video

Easing off my anti-Berlusconi rants a bit, it's time to re-focus our energies as this friggin' international break is about to pass. To help bring things back to where Colin and I prefer them, check out the BBC tagging along with Arsenal for their away visit to Anfield to close the 1964 season. Liverpool clinches the League – for the first time since Shankly helped them get promoted from the Second Division – on the season's final day with victory over the Gunners.

BBC Commentator: "In an hour, Liverpool scored five goals and could have scored more. Their poor, sacrificial victims were Arsenal – southerners."

Anyway, that video is as close as we can get to having a flux capacitor and going back to see it live and in the flesh.

OK, almost back to club football here. Just gotta hang on for a few more days.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

It's sad, really ...

Have you heard about how scant the news is during international breaks? Yeah, it's bad. I think I've only caught a few references to France manager Raymond Domenech's use of astrology, a couple of dozen references to booing England supporters (Warranted but I don't necessarily agree with booing your own players. Managers, yes. Big, fat, sharehoarding criminals, yes. Players, no.) Another 10 or so references to Gerrard and Lampard's inability to play together (By the way, quick solution there ... it's Steven Gerrard. Put Frank on the bench. Done and dusted.), and a smattering of references to Adebayor's problems with the Togo Federation. (How terribly uninteresting is that?) 

At any rate, one more day of international matches ahead of us tomorrow. Another day, likely, of injury reports for the returning players, and hand-wringing from teams from whom we 
expect more (ahem, France) ... and then finally, we'll hear from our clubs again.

To my point ... Not that it's pressing news at this point, but there's word again about Arsenal winger Tomas Rosicky. The tricksy little Czech (oft-referred to as - ok, referred in our circle - as Rosickydino) has missed considerable time over the last season and a half. Now we've reached the point where those associated with him are forced to refute rumours that his career is coming to an end. And my word, I Google "Tomas Rosicky" to find a picture to plop in here - 2 of the 9 most common search terms are to do with his injury. Whatever the case, it's sad. Rosicky is an incredible player to watch. You can see in his eyes that he loves playing football. He's slight, yet rolls downhill toward the goal with the best of them and carries with him an absolute iron-crusher of a shot.

Get well, Tommy. It's sad for the Gooners out there that we're not watching you - nevermind the incredible extra dimension your health would give the Arsenal.

Good comes with the bad on this Atlético switch

While I most certainly can empathize with traveling Liverpool fans who've seen their plans suddenly changed by UEFA banning Atlético from some home matches for racist chanting and fighting with police, I'm encouraged by somebody finally doing something relatively serious about the absolute garbage that comes from the stands in certain areas of Europe.

Compare UEFA's action with FIFA's sanctimonious wrist-slapping and £15,000 fine against Croatia for the filth perpetuated in that country against Emile Heskey. You can only shake your head when FIFA delivers those crap orders for the despicable actions of racists. The fines are always miniscule, rarely more than a middling defender earns on a non-contender in the Premier League. What message does that send to the fools and troublemakers who populate those terraces in Eastern Europe or Spain or elsewhere who have the ignorant gall to shout monkey chants and throw banana peels at black players? It says nothing. The small scale of the punishment essentially condones the behavior and does nothing at all to stop it, no matter what ham-handed press statement FIFA issues.

UEFA, at least, has attempted to say, "Enough!" The fine is not insubstantial at 150,000 euros, and having the courage to move Atlético's most-anticipated homecoming in ages – the return of Torres to the Vicente Calderón – is a true punishment for the behavior of those who acted inhumanely during the meeting with Marseille.

Look, I'm just a Liverpool fan in America, and I cannot completely relate to those supporters who are looking at possibly doubling their expenses or more for the away match next week. They do not win in this situation, but I think it's possible to step back from that circumstance and say, "Well, we are put off by this, but our inconvenience comes with a move for improvement in football." It's just an unfortunate coincidence that Liverpool supporters are innocently caught in the middle of this. It could have been any team paired with Atlético in Europe that would have had their fans put off by this last-minute switch. But this action against Atlético is necessary. It is overdue, and it is, at last, a serious step against vile conduct in football.

The majesty of Torres' and Liverpool's moment in Spain against Atlético is largely diminished. But there is a greater purpose being served, and I hope it is possible for supporters to still enjoy the match while knowing UEFA showed little concern for their condition in service to sending an important message.

So, do you, uh, like Rush?

The title of this post was uttered in a drunken haze to the brilliant Silverback during a cribbage run some years ago, but here it's a more rhetorical reference to this must-read piece on Ian Rush. Hell, it's over at the Guardian, and you've probably already noticed it, but if you didn't click it, why the hell not? Check this out:
I mean, c'mon!

While Rome fucking burns you piece of shit

Hear me out now, it only seems like Match Pricks has been turned into the anti-Berlusconi blog this week, but as you might have heard, we're in the midst of a rather trying international break right now. I promise all 13 loyal Match Pricks readers (especially you, New York City), we will soon bring it back to rolling around in the filthy, awesome mess that is club football.

But I couldn't look at that bile-rising photo of AC Milan owner and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi cheek to cheek with W. and not, in some small way, scream back at those bastards. They are merry-making and socializing while the citizens of the world have just seen untold trillions, or quadrillions in some circles, pledged in their name to make sure some overly leveraged assistant to the regional manager doesn't have to wait too long for a car loan to help keep the machine running that puts well-aged Kobe beef on these fuckers' plates at their little high-society political gatherings.

The AP has the tale of Berlusconi, the Washington, D.C., court jester in action:

WASHINGTON (AP) – Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi toasted President George W. Bush with pieces of a podium Monday night while House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was dubbed a "prima donna" during translation in a Columbus Day official dinner at the White House.
In his haste to honor Bush, Berlusconi accidentally bumped the podium from which he was speaking in the crowded dining room. It fell apart, leaving the grinning Italian to advance on the president with just its top and attached microphones. The crowd of prominent Americans, Italians, and Italian-Americans burst into appreciative laughter and applause.
"I'm 100 percent confident that we'll be friends forever," Berlusconi said.
The guests, including singer Frankie Valli, were entertained by performances from the hit musical "Jersey Boys" including some of the greatest hits of Valli and the Four Seasons, including "Big Girls Don't Cry" and "Walk Like a Man." At the end of the performance, Bush jumped up onto the stage to thank the performers, joined quickly by Berlusconi. "Frankie, come on up," Bush said, hugging Valli as he came onstage.

Well, thank sweet Jesus H. Christ Bush, Berlusconi and "Frankie" got that whole mess figured out – and just in time before they closed the White House kitchen for the night. Meanwhile, shortly before being so defeated they turned, again, to Berlusconi to lead their nation, the Italian people had to come to grips with knowing 70 percent of Italians between 20 and 30 still live at home, beset by an entire structure that is not built to compete in the 21st century. Their young people face few prospects at home, and most leave to seek prosperity elsewhere.

Hell, even Berlusconi went overseas for a good time, and he found it with his little podium-toasting act straight out of a Marx Bros. flick – one of the bad ones. These things happen when your favorite plaything is set to face Pompey in Europe this season and not the usual suspects like Liverpool, Arsenal, Barça ... you know, Europe's best.

Rot in the gutter, Berlusconi, you fucking prick.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Look who's got Berlusconi's back

As if you needed another reason to hate Milan. Luckily for all of us, the Bush presidency is in the final death throes of its Istanbul phase.

Dispatches from the front: Mama, please send me a Lancashire derbry, Blackpool v. Hartlepool, anything ... please!

It's never the greatest start to a footballing week when the headline Kuyt relishing Riise clash is something you actually end up clicking. Rough.

Anyway, on we trudge through this international break so jaw-shatteringly dull I've been lulled into caring (just a little) about the booing at Wembley. To cheer you up a bit, check out this Salvador Cabañas goal for Paraguay against Colombia. The angle makes no sense, and I had to watch the clip full through the first time for the right angle to see that, amazingly, it wasn't deflected.

Anyway, no chance of seeing a winger for England make that happen. Theo just runs, Beckham just stands, and Bentley is nowhere to be seen because he wears a Spurs shirt.

Lastly, got a dispiriting reminder of the international break this morning when I started up some laundry. Gathered up the stinky shirts that need to get bar stank off of them, and I noticed not a single kit was in the dirty pile. All my shirts are hanging, neat and freshly washed in the closet. That's a really bad sign because it means I haven't worn them. And if I haven't worn them, that means I haven't gone down to the bar at 6 a.m. for a tripleheader of Liverpool v. Someone Else and then two other matches. That's not good. If I'm not washing football shirts, that means I'm not watching a lot of football. And that'll take the starch out of your step every single time.

How Low can the Internet go?

AAARRGGHHH!! I can't believe I can't find a photo of the outrageously mod black-turtleneck, black-suit get-up that Joachim Low sported during Germany 2 – Russia 1 on Saturday. It was the highlight of an otherwise drab international break Saturday. So ridiculous. What is with the German national team forcing its managers into either some insanely tightly cuffed and tailored shirts or otherwise comical wardrobe. The Low outfit Saturday was really funny.

Almost as funny as how Russia couldn't manage to equalize in the second half after running Germany all over the place. Once again, supreme German efficiency strikes – even if it was only over the first 45 minutes.

Anyway, yeah, international break pretty much sucks. Love that England, by the way. 5-1 winners over Kazakhstan, and the English press is practically crapping in the street to insult them. Next up, away to Belarus in Minsk. Anything less than 9-0 England in a style reminiscent of Brazil '70 will surely have the entire nation calling Capello nothing but a better dressed Second-Choice Steve.

Oof. Gimme back my club football, please.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

In the end, it'd be good for you to shut your mouth.

There's a global economic crisis running through every stream of our lives. So I don't think I can pop for tickets to Barcelona right now. And besides, there are other places I'd rather go at the moment. As much as I love the city, and trust me, I do love it there, if I set foot on its soil, I'd be there only as part of a mission. We've reached a critical apex and my mission would undoubtedly call for the complete and utter destruction of their football club, and all those associated with it. 

Alex Hleb, a fine midfielder with a deft touch and skill on the ball who can't score to save his life, much less actually get a shot on target, has again begun running his mouth about his desire
 to lure Cesc Fabregas to the Catalan club. How much more do I have to say it? 

More than a club my ass. 

I do believe at this point that I'll only be happy when Las Ramblas is running red and blue with the blood of that damn shirt they love so much. And the shame I bear is my 10 year old Rivaldo Barcelona kit hanging in the closet that I bought when I was on holiday there. If I wasn't so hindered by this damned economic crisis (really, it's holding me back from making breakfast and even any consideration I had of actually accomplishing something this morning, what's the point, man?), I'd pony up the Euros to buy a sponsorship myself to sully their precious kit. Why not? I'd cram my ugly mug right there in the middle of the damned thing. That'd show them.

I'll go ahead and line this up with actually targeted words one more time. 
  • Cesc Fabregas 
  • Contract
  • Arsenal Football Club
If a player from another club, much less the club's sporting directors and leadership, says that he is trying his best to lure a player from another club to a new destination than it must be considered illegal by standards that must be erected by UEFA and FIFA. It is called tapping up. In America, they call it tampering and it is a legitimately concerning situation.


It's the first annual Match Pricks Pie-Off!

We're taking two girls we know and love (dearly) and are making them face off in a match that can only be described as Hulk Hogan v. Andre the Giant in Wrestlemania III. And when I say that, I am by no means attributing any of the qualities of those two combatants to either of these two wonderful ladies. To be clear, they are two fantastic and utterly reputable ladies. I hold them in the highest regard. Really. No, really, I do. Beautiful. Really. Absolutely.

So, at any rate, here we are in the tedious international break and we've nowt to do but have a c0uple of ladies we know have a Pie-Off. The first annual Match Pricks Pie-Off. Right, right, right, there we are then, go ahead, 'ave a pie-off, too right, might as well then, right, right, right, bip, bip ol' chap.

Will it be apple? Will it be rhubarb? Maybe something along the lines of a meat pie, like a potatoe, curry and, um, meat?

At any rate, as we stand, here, in a remote corner of the footballing world, there's the fantastic possiblity that two wonderful, um, ladies, will have a pie-off.

And the world stands waiting. (as I type, a fabulous remix of Spoon, "Don't You Eva," a Matthew Dear remix is rolling.)

Friday, October 10, 2008

Berlusconi, the schmuck

You see Berlusconi today? He wants world leaders to close all the financial markets while they go about rewriting the rules of international finance.

What an ass. While he's at it, he's going to have the second half of Istanbul replayed, only this time it'll be at the San Siro ... and Milan gets to have Torres while Liverpool will be forced to play with Djimi Traore up front.

What an absolute ass. "Hey, things aren't going our way. Let's put everything on hold and make up new rules."

Fuck you, dick.

Thursday, October 9, 2008


How can I put this politely? Nah, screw it. 


This is the Arsenal captain. This is a 31 year old central defender. This is a man who has played at a top level for many years. This is a France international. This is the man the Arsenal got in return for punting Cashley Cole to the curb. (lame joke alert) This is the man from whom we all now say, "you must be taking the piss!"

Swerving off the side of the road aside, (end of lame joke alert) Gallas has, by all accounts, been a massive disappointment since joining the Arsenal. He has been weak on set pieces, particularly in covering corner kicks. He shows no strength in the air, if he even manages to get in the air. He loses his man time and time again under those set piece circumstances. He has not paired up well with longtime (in the modern era at least) Gunner Kolo Toure. And, perhaps most damning, he has been a poor example as a captain for a team that is clearly lacking maturity, much less mature leadership.

And I say this in the face of the fact that he has clearly picked up a number of big late goals in the last two years. As it is, he's been so inconsistent that I look past those goals. He is supposed to nick a big one from time to time. Just like Arsenal are supposed to get the points against Fulham, Hull and Sunderland (which is why I wasn't stomping in glee with Cesc's equaliser last weekend, again "winning is agony, innit?"). And he certainly should provide more of an impact at his position.

He's a player from whom we hope to see more. Here he is, now, during this international break, admitting that his form has been poor. And we all know how much I love the barrage of quotes that we're overloaded with during international weeks.

William's most stunning performance was The Eduardo Game against Birmingham last spring. Eduardo went down with an horrendously broken leg (thus kicking off the classic summer of "Doing it for Eduardo!"), Clichy took a silly red card, Arsenal dropped the points and William Gallas ... one of our most experienced players ... threw a fit on the field after the final whistle. He kicked the ad panels. He sat on the pitch long after the players had left like Korean Boxer Byun Jong-Il in 1988. And this was the Arsenal captain. That fit led to the swoon of poor form and string of draws that eventually saw the Gunners lose the title to red-faced Jintao, oops, I mean Fergie by a mere five points.

And now, Arsenal face another string of dropped points while team captain William Gallas sulks about his poor form - "my worst at Arsenal." 

Meanwhile Liverpool supporters are rewatching their matches with their morning coffee and dancing in the streets (if not dancing on the bar).

Who are not what they seem?

We might exhaust the man's film catalogue before the international break ends, but "Kubrick Movie Stills Week" continues here at Match Pricks with a look at those Premier League upstarts who have caught everyone by surprise. Are they for real? Or are these teams not exactly what they seem to be? There's a few choice candidates, but let's start with the most innocent scrappers on the scene.

• Hull City, 7 played, 14 points, 3rd in the table
Whoa sweet baby! Nobody saw this on the horizon. In England's 4th Division less than a decade ago, Hull is now among those lofty heights that place teams in European competition (provided they've paid all their bills).
But can they maintain it? At this point, I'd hate to commit to the permanent record any kind of statement condemning Hull to a quick freefall. Sure, it could happen. Of course it's insane to imagine Hull playing a Champions League qualifying match in August 2009 against Fiorentina. But 6 points out of 6 from two visits to North London sounded equally daft a month ago.
It still seems few teams will take them completely seriously, and they're likely to pick up valuable points against the relegation battlers. You can't doubt them much now. Europe is likely still an outrageous longshot, though. Hull will continue to be an underrated experience whose presence will drag on for some time.
Hull City are: Barry Lyndon.

• Liverpool, 7 played, 17 points, 2nd in table (on inferior goal differential)
Well what do you know?! The old boy has some life left in him! And there's a few surprising characters popping up in unfamiliar roles to really help the side shine. With an experienced master in the middle of it all, and a tour de force upfront delivering a R. Lee Emery-worthy performance that takes your breath away, I dare not project any future greatness. But I'll tell you what, this has been one hell of an amazing start.
Liverpool are: the first 45 minutes of Full Metal Jacket.

• Spurs, 7 played, 2 points, bottom of the table
Ha! Everything about this is wrong, despite the side's pretensions toward sexy play and desperate hope that everything is just going to be, you know, A-OK. It's been wrong from the start, it's wrong as it's happening and it can only end in an unfortunate manner that leaves everyone involved feeling generally creepy.
Spurs are: Lolita.

• Manchester City, 7 played, 9 points, 11th in table
Three Brazilians run around for City on a regular basis, and in Mark Hughes, there's a calm force at the center of the Abu Dhabi-inspired chaos. Foreigners have encroached on solemn land ... or have they? Their interference has been welcomed with open arms. Children at Eastlands attend matches like this:

Will it work? It's far too early to tell. If it all goes wrong, we might look back on it as one of the most devastating satires of the mega-rich era in football.
Manchester City are: Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.

This has been too much fun – almost criminally so. In the future, we'll dial it down a notch with Bergman Movie Stills Week for the relegation battle.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Wunderkid, meet your replacement

In the 1998 World Cup against Argentina, Michael Owen announced himself on the international stage. It's a goal people remember. And rightly so, it was backed up by several years of fantastic poaching and predatory instinct for both club and country. Injuries have slowed the now 28 year old Michael Owen. At a time, he was much more popular in America even then publicity machine David Beckham. Now, Michael should be entering his prime as a striker and could have been the veteran piece upfront that England need to make an impact internationally. But, with struggling form and too many injuries, Owen, the old speedster, is left in the cold again as England set off on World Cup qualification.

And so, along comes this picture. I'd heard of it, but never seen it before. Theo Walcott, the new England wunderkid (details in this quick article from the Daily Mail) who was left on the bench for the vultures in the press at the 2006 World Cup in Germany after an ill-advised selection by then England manager Sven Goran-Ericksson,  has long said that from an early age he looked to Michael Owen as an early idol. Owen has now lost his England place to Walcott and the new wunderkid has dazzled this year after taking baby steps through his late teens. So, how nice to see this while reading the papers today.

E-mail Match Pricks and let us have it

You can now send along your private messages of hate and filthin', foul filth to our dedicated Match Pricks account. Just click right here or over at the link on the right below the pictures and above the YouTube links.

All messages will be read and studiously considered. Except for the ones for wang pills. No problem there on our end, V!agra and Ceealis peddlers.

We're so proud to have ushered in 1997 here at Match Pricks and look forward to the remaining years of the Clinton presidency.

F**kin' brilliant

I've made a habit this week of watching all or at least some of City 2 – Liverpool 3 on DVR each morning with my coffee. I'm not tired of it yet, and with this godforsaken international break on deck, I doubt I will get so. Might even host a viewing party Saturday to watch it all again. Yep, in a pretty good mood right now.

£90 billion? $700 billion? Just enjoy the ride

Continuing "Kubrick Movie Stills Week" here at Match Pricks, I think the image of Slim Pickens riding a comical nuclear bomb straight into oblivion while laughing the whole way down is the mood that football fans should adopt while the game's overlords warn of massive consequences from the global financial crisis.

I mean, seriously, at this point, what is there anything the common man can do about it? If the die is well and truly cast for the demise of big-time football, the kind that brings a majority of the world's most-talented players to England to be broadcast around the world by Sky's and Setanta's cameras, well shit man, just soak up what's left of the good times.

Yes, this is the kind of foolish and shortsighted advice that I have applied myself to continue a run of fantastically delirious and wild weekends with little thought to what might actually happen should I live to 55 or beyond. I'll concede that point to you. But you have no stake in my retirement years. Besides, retirement is sooooo 20th century. We're all working now until the heart fails, the kidneys stop working their magic and the brain slowly winds down into zero activity and we keel over at our desks. No point in expressing your interest in "travel" during your golden years. Seeing the Coliseum is just going to have to remain one of the unchecked boxes on that bucket list, kiddo.

No, now is not the time to fear for the future of club football at the highest levels. The money men are stuck. The fans are left, though, with the team they supported back when players did backflips for £250 a week. Look at Hicks and Gillet – and sometimes, unfortunately, you have to. Those rotting, slowly moving vessels of scum and lies are panicked into total silence. There is no future for them in this game, and it has never been more clear to them. They'll be gone soon. But Liverpool Football Club is going nowhere, nor are its supporters.

The 2014 Reds might feature Fat Albert instead of Albert Riera. So what? With football, why worry about it? Look after yourself, don't buy that new Mascherano European 3rd kit if you can't afford it, and make sure you can still put food and drink in front of you every day. Let the pigs stress about how they'll pay next week's wage bill. The structure of the game might change, but the leagues are not about to evaporate, no matter what dire warnings David Conn issues from the Guardian Serious Writers Desk tomorrow or the next day.

(Sidebar: Conn is an excellent writer and exceedingly knowledgeable about what he covers. But the tone of fear and pending doom that permeates much of his work only strikes a worrying tone if you consider football unwatchable outside of its current big money phase. A reduced, vastly different game would not necessarily mean a less-enjoyable product.)

Meanwhile, once this interminable international break ends, we can all get back into the business of watching these rich bastards run around and drive us mad – or carry us into even higher levels of delirium. It's only two hours of your time and whatever you care to spend on tickets or drinks during that time. The game can only break your hearts. For Hicks and Gillet and their ilk, it can break their bank.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Like Clockwork

See, the thing about Clockwork Orange is that it's an impossible concept. An orange is organic. Clockwork, not so much. Can't be tampered with. As a concept, it's something that happens the same way every time. Like clockwork. 

So, the argument goes, what happens when you try to force an automatic response on organic matter? Generally, the results aren't in the least positive, oh my readers. (Get it? See what i did there?)

Unless, I suppose, it's the predictable world of the football interview. In particular, the football interview during those horrible mid-season swoons we accept as "International Breaks."

Like clockwork, during each international break, the local papers get ahold of their favourite sons, footballers who by any normal reckoning would be considered organic matter who are precociously able to exercise their own free-will. And like clockwork, reporters fall in line and fall over themselves to draw out quotes. They turn these players, who head back to their home countries, into A Clockwork Orange. These kids, thrust in front of a gaggle of press, automatically say any number of things. "Sure, I'd love to play for Milan, who wouldn't?" "It'd be an honor to play Real Madrid, they're one of the world's biggest clubs." What else are they gonna say? "Ugh, yuck, are you kidding me? I can't stand Barca. I mean sure, I liked 'em when I was a kid, but have you seen them lately? Yeah, that Messi's good, but he's a ball hog. And Milan? No way, man. No. Way."

Somehow it always seems to work, and somehow the press around the world always seems to lap it up. Herd mentality. Never mind how the quote was procured. (Of course they'll be cordial! With the nation's microphones turned on them today's footballers are more image-conscious than ever before. And they won't want to tick off the home base, much less a future income source, they're not stupid.) Never mind the source, by all means. And surely never mind the context. 

Every single international break, a story comes back with an Arsenal player flirting with another club. With a story of a certain foreign club's president casting lecherous glances in the direction of a budding Arsenal superstar. With a story of how a player is merely biding his time with the Arsenal, until he can, oh if he finally can play for the club that his heart truly sings for. And you know what, it's sickening. It may well be true that a player like Cesc Fabregas has fairly documented a desire to return to the club that 
he and his family have always supported, but for the time being, Cesc Fabregas is an Arsenal player and is under contract to Arsenal Football Club. For a so-called news reporter to leverage his country's opportunity to welcome home a star player with what amounts to a base-level of shit-stirring is nothing short of evil. And it's time one of the fat cats with FIFA and UEFA did something about it. And yes, Real Madrid and Barcelona, I'm looking in your direction. How nice it must be to come out and say, "Agger is a player we have been looking at for a long time and it is likely we will bid for him in January." Or Barcelona's pursuit, over several years, of Thierry Henry, this summer's pursuit of Adebayor or even Manchester City's chest-thumping, to say nothing of Real Madrid's pursuit of noted poon-hound Ronaldo.

I'm not saying I know what should be done, I'm just saying I'd like to see some rules enforced when it comes to tapping-up and blatantly unsettling players who are under contract with their club. The out-in-the-open comments regarding transfers must be curtailed.

Oh, and one more thing, Spurs are a joke.

And we're back – to a screeching halt

What does this picture of Putin have to do with the current football landscape? Well, thanks to the insufferable World Cup qualification process, instead of watching football this weekend, I'll be doing things like looking up funny pictures of Vladimir Putin, possibly taking up judo myself or otherwise being forced elsewhere for entertainment when my favorite team is off to its most-flying start in 12 years.

Ugh, I hate most international football. Call me when England has to beat Croatia at Wembley sometime in late 2009 or miss South Africa 2010. Let me know when Paraguay has a chance, again sometime in late 2009, to somehow knock out Brazil or something. I'm not even sure any of those scenarios are possible, but that's part of the problem with international football qualifying: They started this crap for South Africa only a few weeks after finishing up Euro 2008. It's too much, it's always going on, and I think Estonia and Cuba are involved in some of this weekend's "more prominent" fixtures on the schedule. What?!

That's why I'm gonig to end up enjoying funny Putin photos. Better to laugh than cry when it comes to Putin, and there's a lot to cry about with the man. I particularly enjoy how his judo outfit is monogrammed. Wouldn't you like to have a monogrammed judo outfit? Come to think of it, I'd like to have that monogrammed Putin outfit. I'd wear it as a robe coming out of the shower or as pajamas or something. Guaranteed laugh out of everybody.

Monday, October 6, 2008

A much different Liverpool

More so than any week yet, the post-match analysis around the world following the amazing comeback win at Eastlands was that Liverpool really might be – for real this time – ready to sustain a challenge for the Premier League this season. Of course, all of us sympathetic to the cause want to believe this. And why shouldn't we? In the past, Liverpool would do well to draw after going down a goal. This year, it seems they go down a goal every week. Sunday, they went down two, but Torres was there, and the red card helped the effort at the end.

(Sidebar: I'm stunned Alonso wasn't seriously injured. Zabaleta went hard studs up into Alonso's planted foot and swept Xabi's free leg with his other. A little higher up, and it could have been another Eduardo. Watching the match again this morning with my coffee, it seemed even more incredible Alonso flipped over instead of seeing his leg shattered.)

Back to what's next: This season seems more like a series of weekly hurdles to be cleared instead of the often-overwhelming focus of "Can they win the league?" In the first weeks, it was conquering the task of coming back from a goal down. They did that fairly dramatically. The next hurdle was getting a result against United. In a delirious fashion, they cleared that one, too. There was a setback against Stoke, but they didn't let that disappointment linger, and the comeback against City will live on in our memories for years.

Next up is adjusting without Skrtel. It's a big task. Agger must find his pre-injury form. Then, at the end of this month, they're away to Chelsea. I would argue they need to keep their eye on these short-term goals. The season must be broken down into a series of goals. Outside Melwood, the teams's free time will see them bombarded with hype about the title challenge. That focus on ending the title drought seems to have crushed them in the past. There's an international break now, so they have some time to let this City victory linger. It shouldn't inflate their heads. Reality could be forcefully reintroduced at the end of the month at Stamford Bridge.

Cautiously optimistic is probably the best way to think now. It was amazing to watch yesterday and a great deal of fun. Is this the year? It's Oct. 6, but level with Chelsea on points is a wonderful spot to be right now.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Because it's too early to entirely trust Anderson

This is a fucking joke right here, it is.

Are you kidding me? Your future is Anderson, and the old man is coming off a fresh knee knack that his him just about down for the count. But now's the time to extend the contract?!?!?!

There's been some fairly productive tricks that fit the "biding time" mold out of Sir Alex Ferguson, but what does that move say? Scholes will play until he's 3,000??? No, the final milking of Paul Scholes took place in the 2007-08 season. He held off for years on the internationals, willfully declined being England's difference maker, to elevate Man U, and the payback, apparently, is overblowing his legend.

It can only be a slow news day, because leading with Scholes and Fletcher signing extentsions is the same as doing nothing at all – and watching everyone else move even further ahead

More on Joe Kinnear; let's be honest, like anything else is as interesting

There's a point Russell Brand makes in the The Guardian that is the opposite of how I view the Newcastle situation:

(Brand): What this press conference and Kinnear's agitation reveal is that he failed to anticipate the kind of environment he was going into.

That's the exact opposite of what I think Kinnear intended. I think it's fairly clear Joe Kinnear knew exactly the stink he was about to create. What makes the moment so incredible and perfect, what summarizes it so succinctly for the modern era, is that Kinnear's statements are a great, big, unapologetic kiss off to every semblance of the way things are conducted in the 21st century. The magic is in how he doesn't give the least shit in the whole world. Somebody, for better or worse, decided to unhinge every harness and restraint he's ever felt and express what a decent person must think about the way the football club and its leader have been treated.

It's pitch perfect and the most sane thing any footballer, club official or sideline towel hand has offered all year. Joe Kinnear isn't an idiot, and he sees what Newcastle United now embodies, just like the rest of y'all. At least somebody up there is willing to call an ugly, shit-stained spade a spade. The only hope is to get them to actually think the whole world is against them.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Zingo! Kinnear unbleeped, unedited and totally unhinged!!!

Thank, Daily Mirror, for getting up the unedited audio version of the Joe Kinnear rant.

Bang here for awesomeness.

Joe Kinnear's not taking any guff from those swine

Have you seen Joe Kinnear go absolutely apeshit on the English press? Here's the link to the Guardian's transcript. How funny is this?! I mean, the devolution of Newcastle into a third-rate sideshow – at best – is becoming painful to watch. But this work from Kinnear, who is really unhappy with the press he's been getting, is out of this world. Here's how he started his Thursday press conference:

JK Which one is Simon Bird [Daily Mirror's north-east football writer]?

SB Me.

JK You're a cunt.

SB Thank you.

JK Which one is Hickman [Niall, football writer for the Express]? You are out of order. Absolutely fucking out of order. If you do it again, I am telling you you can fuck off and go to another ground. I will not come and stand for that fucking crap. No fucking way, lies. Fuck, you're saying I turned up and they [Newcastle's players] fucked off.

I've scolded some (i.e. Carl) for using the word "cunt" in the comments section, but I'm making a one-time-only exception for use of the word "cunt" on this blog for this post only. How brilliant is that start to the press conference?! A completely unhinged man, and the whole world gets to watch. Amazing.

UPDATE: There's audio! The Daily Mirror has a heavily beeped audio clip up on their football site. Regrettably, they beeped the "You're a cunt" line and the exchange makes it hard to hear it clearly. However, the whole thing is a gem. An absolute gem.

And you? You're a cunt.