Tuesday, 30 November 2010

10 things a footballer should never do

1) Wear gloves

If anything is going to give a 6’4 brick shit-house centre-half the encouragement they probably don’t require much of to come clattering into you before the first whistle’s gone, it’s wearing gloves. Unless you’ve got a number 1 on your back, gloves should always be a big no-no for all footballers. If you’re cold…run more! It not only looks daft but tells 40,000 bloodthirsty, drunken football fans that you enjoy sexual attention from Will Young and co.

2) Even worse – wear short sleeves and gloves

The ultimate clothing oxymoron. Yes, it may not be the 30+ degree matches La Liga often enjoy, so if you really must wrap up warm for physical exertion, choose the long-sleeved option. Maybe even with ‘Skins’ underneath if you have the misfortune of being away at Newcastle in January. I wouldn’t inflict that on anyone, except maybe Tottenham. But to act the hard-man with short-sleeves, then wimp out by pulling on a pair of gloves is utterly ridiculous.

3) Wear multi-coloured monstrosities on their feet

Defenders in white boots not befitting of their position, wingers who look like they’ve dropped a bowl of custard on their boots and strikers whose feet resemble over-sized tic-tacs. Why? You’re either not good enough to warrant drawing that sort of attention to yourself and if in the unlikely event you do have the odd Cruyff-turn in the locker…let your football do the talking. I’m from the real old-school camp. Boots should be black. End of. They look better, they look smarter and most of all, you don’t look like a twat in them. Unless of course, your name is Titus Bramble.

4) Over-elaborate celebrations

It’s always been amusing for opposing fans when players celebrate like monkeys at feeding time and get injured as a result. But the extent of the hilarity this can cause never really hit me fully until I Googled ‘Footballers injured celebrating’. Here are a few of my favourites.

Steve Morrow broke his collar bone after falling off the lofty shoulders of Tony Adams celebrating Arsenal’s 1993 League Cup victory over Sheffield Wednesday.

Perry Groves knocked himself out whilst on the bench during a game – hitting his head on the dugout after jumping up in celebration.

Thierry Henry (there seems to be a distinct Arsenal theme building up here…) required treatment to his face following an over-enthusiastic celebration with a corner flag (at least it was his face…).

Shaun Goater injured his foot when he kicked an advertising board celebrating a goal by Nicolas Anelka (at Manchester City on this occasion, not Arsenal!).

5) Kiss the badge

Cheap, tacky, fake and the one sure-fire way to tell your fans that tomorrow you’ll be buggering off to their local rivals for £1,000 more a week. And even worse (*cough* Gus Poyet *cough*) is kissing said rivals badge when playing against your old club. I love to see Mr Poyet try a move like that in Turkey!

6) Premature celebration

In last season’s FA Cup 4th qualifying round, Tooting and Mitcham United were 3-1 up at home to Blue Square Bet Premier side Eastbourne Borough with just 10 minutes remaining. Tooting’s star striker, Paul Vines, was substituted and received a standing ovation from the err…terraces (ok, and the rather sizeable main stand), to which he responded by repeatedly punching the air. Match ticket - £10. Half-time burger - £3 (and a dodgy stomach). Seeing Vines’ face as Eastbourne pulled a goal back and then netted an injury-time equaliser – Absolutely priceless!

7) Sign for Portsmouth

Now this isn’t an attack on dear old Pompey. There are many things I love about Portsmouth. Well no, ok, just Fratton Park. And that’s largely because I have the same taste in football grounds as Cheryl Cole has in men! As a player, if Pompey come calling, you know you’re probably guaranteed a game so long as you turn up by 2:55 on a Saturday afternoon. That’s the good news. The bad news is your career is probably going to come to a screeching halt and slowly spiral down into oblivion. So now the entire footballing world knows you have absolutely no ambition…but at least you’re not a money-grabbing wanker. Every cloud…

8) Date tarts with plastic boobs

I’m not bitter…honest!

9) Get their names/their children’s names on their boots

Now I’ll hold my hands up, in my lifetime I’ve owned two cars. I’ve given both names. But they’ve both been tongue-in-cheek and I would never dream of getting ‘Ben’ (Benito Carbone…yes I’m that sad) embossed on my Corsa. Doing the same thing with boots is a monstrosity. Admittedly, footballers have a reputation of not being the sharpest tools in the box and often they live upto this stereotype. But I’m sure even Joey Barton can remember his own name…he’s had to say it often enough in court! And at a push, he can probably recite the names of his kids too – if he has any. So what need is there for players to get the names of either themselves or their offspring stitched onto their footwear?

10) Verbally kill off your still very-much-alive grandparents to get out of international duty

Oh dear Stephen Ireland, oh dear. Now sit down and focus dear reader, this is a complex and increasingly tangled web of lies spun by the then Manchester City man in order to excuse himself from international duty. Here goes. Ireland originally told his country that his maternal grandmother had passed away. Upon reading of her own death in the papers, she came out and told the world that she was still very much alive and kicking. The footballer, clearly confused by his grief, then changed his story to say that it was in fact his paternal grandmother who had died. Guess what? She too was still with us and she too wasn’t backwards in coming forwards with that information. Ireland, obviously not knowing when to give it up, then said his grandparents were divorced and it was his grandfather’s elderly partner who was next to be verbally killed off. Another lie exposed. Learn when to put the spade down, Stephen.

N.B. It should also be noted that the real reason Ireland wanted to be excused was because his girlfriend had suffered a miscarriage. Why it didn’t cross his mind to say that from the start, well, your guess is as good as mine.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Can England retain their Ashes title or will Andrew Srauss’ side burn-out in the heat of Australia?

With just 24 hours to go until England begin their Ashes title defence down-under, Hannah Duncan casts a critical eye over the visitor’s chances.

Having touched-down in the ‘convict colony’ nearly a month ago, Andrew Strauss’ side have got their Australia tour off to a flyer – with two dominant victories either side of a draw against South Australia.

But it’s all well and good playing neat cover drives and manufacturing more spin than the government’s PR department against second-rate opposition, but it remains a tall order to replicate the form England have enjoyed for best part of 2010 against Ricky Ponting’s Australia side determined to claim back the little urn on home turf.

For the average cricket fan (or at least the average overly-optimistic England fan), the visitors probably go into the first Test tomorrow as narrow favourites for the series, although Bet365 currently have England down as 7/4 underdogs, with an Australian victory at 21/20 and a draw at 9/2.

And in a sense it’s easy to see why. England have not won a series in Australia for 24 years. The conditions don’t really suit our bowlers very well as it will be tough to gain much in the way of swing, making the lives of James Anderson and co. very difficult. And potentially most tellingly, Kevin Pietersen has yet to find the form he and the selectors promised he would.

Before the squad departed England, I spoke to former England captain Alec Stewart about the form of Pietersen and he insisted that he’s “England’s best player in all forms of the game.”

But whilst it’s nice to see support for the team collectively and as individuals, the positive words won’t offer much comfort if the South African-born batsman continues to be dismissed cheaply.

Nevertheless, Stewart maintains, “Pietersen wants to do well. I expect him to score very heavily in the Ashes series. I’m a huge fan of his.”

And the former Surrey man – where Pietersen now plies his County trade – believes, “He’s gone through a run of bad form but very good players come out of those little dips in form. Pietersen will come out of that dip and I’m sure he’ll hit the road running as soon as the Ashes begin.”

One player who seems to have regained form since landing down-under is captain Andrew Strauss, who has struggled to really make the sort of impact with the bat from which he gained so many plaudits prior to taking on the captaincy. But with two formidable centuries under his belt in the warm-up matches (in one of which he remained unbeaten), Strauss’ form could be returning to its peak at just the right time.

And with Alastair Cook, Jonathan Trott, Ian Bell and Paul Collingwood all chipping in with solid innings and the odd flamboyant century (helmets off to Bell for his superb 192 against Australia A), the batting order look to be settling into the Aussie wickets nicely.

With the ball, no individual has really shone consistently, but each of the bowling attack has contributed fairly evenly, hopefully boosting the confidence of the group without being too reliant upon one or two stand-out bowlers, unlike in previous series’.

All in all, it’s been a successful start to the Australia tour for England. Andrew Strauss and his team have so far hit the wicket running but a far from easy ride lies ahead over the next few weeks. And whilst the big grey cloud continues to linger over Kevin Pietersen and his bat, England cannot rest on their laurels. A tough winter is certainly set to be in store for the Ashes holders, but it still looks to be our best chance for many a year down-under.

Whether that says more about England or Australia remains to be seen.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

When the Lamp burns out, Josh can shine for club and country

The prospect of Frank Lampard hanging up his boots is one that sends shivers down the spines of Chelsea fans (and causes most England fans and Stevie G to crack open the champers!).

But the emergence of seventeen year-old central midfielder Josh McEachran could make the transition away from the Blues’ halo-adorning number 8 that little bit more comfortable when that fatal day dawns.

Since his arrival at Stamford Bridge in 2009, Carlo Ancelotti has reaffirmed his commitment to promoting youth players to the Blues’ first team. Partly due to his belief in this system and partly due to the tight knot Roman Abramovich has tied in his purse strings, youngsters such as Jeffrey Bruma, Patrick van Aanholt and Daniel Sturridge have found themselves regularly warming the Stamford Bridge bench over the last year.

And until the beginning of this campaign, the west London faithful thought these would be the names of the future, but little did they know a youngster who was part of the FA Youth Cup winning side last season would make the jump so readily.

Introducing Josh McEachran. Born to Scottish parents (mits off Craig Levein!), McEachran was snapped up from a youth team in his hometown of Oxford at the tender age of 8.

The left-footed youngster, who can play on either the left side or central midfield, has come on leaps and bounds in the past year – an improvement that’s not gone unnoticed by England’s coaching staff.

Having starred as his nation won the European U17 Championships earlier this year, McEachran has seemingly bypassed the Under 19s - being called up for tonight’s U21 tie with Germany.

To put the icing on the Chelsea bun in what has undoubtedly been an incredibly successful year for the Blues’ youngster, McEachran also made his first-team debut in September for his side’s away European Cup tie with MSK Zilina. His 79th minute substitute appearance made him the first player to take part in the competition having been born after the tournament was rebranded the UEFA Champions League in 1992.

He has since been utilised by Carlo Ancelotti in all of Chelsea’s Champions League ties this season. But it hasn’t been just bit-part cameos in matches the Blues have already sewn-up. Ancelotti has entrusted McEachran with helping his side chase the game against Manchester City and Sunderland, as well as trying to gain maximum points at Villa Park.

And whilst the newly-promoted England U21 man has impressed on each showing, it was his performance against Newcastle in the Carling Cup which really got Chelsea fans’ heads turning. Despite the 4-3 home defeat, the performance of McEachran was a real shining light for both Ancelotti and the Stamford Bridge crowd.

Despite his years - and easily being able to masquerade as an Under 12 squad player - Chelsea fans were stunned by the starlet’s composure, level-headedness, decision-making, confidence and ability.

But not only does he have a great first-touch and an ability to play a pass through the eye of a needle, the youngster has a footballing brain to boot – gaining him plaudits from the very top of the game.

Both Sir Trevor Brooking and Jamie Redknapp have been singing his praises in the press, whilst Blues boss Ancelotti said after the Newcastle game, “He is very young but he showed fantastic ability and quality. If we need him he is ready to play the Premier League and the Champions League.”

Having been likened to Chelsea stalwart Lampard, the young midfielder admits his aim is to emulate the former West Ham man. “Chelsea say to me 'look at Frank Lampard'. I need to get into the box more," he told the club's website.

Whilst McEachran’s captain and the last player to break through the Chelsea ranks, John Terry, believes the youngster has “amazing ability and can open defences with a pass.”

It’s high praise for such a young man, but if McEachran can continue his development and keep forcing Carlo Ancelotti's hand into selecting him, the midfielder could have a massive future not only for Chelsea but for his country too. And who knows, when the Blues' current number 8 eventually hangs up his boots, we could well be asking, "Frank who?"

Monday, 1 November 2010

Communication or Confrontation?

Following the weekend's big controversy at Old Trafford, the argument for referees justifying their more contentious decisions has resurfaced and for those of you that care (hopefully you have a vague interest if you've found this blog), here's my take on it.

Since the emergence of television replays from angles even Pythagoras hadn't dreamt up, referees and linesmen (sorry, i'm old fashioned) have come in for an even more vociferous torrent of abuse than ever before. And i'll admit now i'm probably more guilty than most for not mincing my words towards the men in the middle.

But as i've always believed and as Mark Lawrenson discussed with Gabby Logan on Match of the Day 2 last night, referees should be obliged to come out in the media, preferably infront of a post-match camera, to explain decisions - particularly the more contentious ones.

It would not be demeaning of their authority. If anything, as Gabby Logan observed, "It empowers them if they do that."

Communication goes a long way in all walks of life and may not altogether solve problems, but certainly makes people more accepting. And it would undoubtedly go a long way to improving a deteriorating situation in football. If the officials make a mistake, admitting they've done so is acceptable. If they still believe they are in the right, explaining the methods behind their madness is also acceptable. Hiding away behind former referees endears them to no-one and only serves to fuel speculation, arguments and anger amongst the media, players and supporters.

By refusing to hold their hands up to mistakes or explain how and why they've come to certain decisions will only serve to widen the ever-increasing gap between the officials and the rest of the footballing world. At present, the cracks have appeared and are creating a crevice in relations but with a continued lack of communication and officious nature, the crevice will become an irreparable chasm. The FA's respect campaign will never work until referees hold up their end of the bargain - only then can they really have grounds for complaint.

Some referee sympathisers will say that officials have no reason to do so and that players make many more mistakes in the course of 90 minutes than their officious counterparts. This may well be true, but to believe players don't get reprimanded for poor performances or costly errors is to believe Titus Bramble is one of the world's best defenders!

Players are often villified for their mistakes and are subjected to cameras and microphones being shoved under their noses only minutes after the end of a match. I'm not saying this is right, Didier Drogba's actions after the 2009 Champions League semi-final defeat to Barcelona show how high feelings can run so close to the final whistle, but if players are put in this position it only seems right that referees are afforded the same or at least similar treatment.

This isn't an attack on referees or the job they do, but I feel being more open with the paying public and offering a greater level of communication will assist their efforts to reduce abuse both on the pitch and on the terraces.

The cameras show up poor decisions, replays confirming incorrect calls infuriate fans. Officials can use the same offending technology to get people back on side and it's about time they were brave enough to either back their decisions or hold their hands up to mistakes. Then the respect campaign may just have some clout to it.

In a case of communication or confrontation for football's officials, communication is surely the best option all round.