Friday, April 29, 2011

Madrid starts calling the kettle black!

In line with Jose Mourinho's post-match complaints following Real Madrid's 2-0 defeat to Barcelona in the Champions League yesterday, the Spanish giants have now posted pictures and video footage on its official website that indicate Dani Alves' dived to get Pepe sent off.

The pictures and video footage were posted on the club's website along with a lengthy diatribe over what it claims were play-acting antics by Pep Guardiola's men. The video footage even shows clips of other Barca players 'feigning' injury during the match. Yep, pretty provocative stuff.

I think there's no real contention that Pepe's sending off was a bit of a harsh decision. On the contrary, I think everyone's in agreement that it was at the most a yellow card offense. But make no mistake. It was an offense and Madrid's own photos clearly indicate that Pepe's offending foot was heading no where near the ball but aimed directly towards Alves' shin.

I can't say for sure whether contact was made but the video footage seems to suggest there was contact (you can check out the video below).

Perhaps the most appalling aspect about the whole incident is Real Madrid's cry of injustice and attempt to paint Barcelona as a team of Olympic divers. It just seems kinda rich coming from a team that boasts legendary divers such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Angel Di Maria, Emanuel Adebayor and Kaka to name a few.
In fact, Mourinho's had a long history of coaching divers. Does Didier Drogba ring a bell? In case your memory needs some refreshing, here's one of Ronaldo's many classic dives.

Last but not least, there's Rio Ferdinand who weighed in over the affair with the following posts on Twitter.

Rio Ferdinand: "This diving is a joke/embarrassing. When Pedro watches that do you think he'll think, "What was I doing!?" Rugby players must laugh at football. If you ever see me go off on a stretcher then run back on to play, I give everyone on here the green light to him me with a two-footed tackle."

Thanks Rio. Hopefully you can impart some of that wisdom to your teammate Nani the next time he falls like a deck of cards at the softest of tackles.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Jose's pissed at Barca...again!

For a man who's had his share of good fortune, it's fair to say that luck always seems to desert Jose Mourinho whenever he's up against Barcelona.

From Chelsea to Real Madrid, the Catalan giants have, time and again, foiled the self-proclaimed Special One's quest for glory. Minus that historic victory by Inter in the Champions League last season and you might call Barcelona the Special One's kryptonite.  

And when you consider Mourinho's history with the club, it does seem strange that he keeps finding defeat at the hands of the club that made him the coach he is today. In someways, Mourinho shares a strange similarity with Cesc Fabregas, another Barcelona old boy, who just can't seem to get the better of his former employers.

But unlike the Arsenal midfielder, who speaks fondly of his time at the Nou Camps, there seems to be little love lost between Mourinho and the club where he served as assistant manager to both the late Sir Bobby Robson and Louis Van Gaal. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that the press keep reducing his role at the club over those years to that of a mere translator. (Oddly enough, Mourinho, who once cheekily asked a Spanish reporter, "How do you say 'cheat' in Catalan?" after a Chelsea defeat to Barcelona, is reported to be fluent in Catalan.)

As such, Real Madrid's tie against Barca in the semis of the Champions League was always promising to be vicious affair. Even before the match, Mourinho lay the first challenge by labeling Barcelona coach, Pep Guardiola as belonging to a new breed of coaches who complain against referees for making the right decision. That comment, unsurprisingly, drew much ire from Nou Camp boss who got all potty-mouthed at Mourinho at the pre-match press conference (WATCH BELOW).

Suffice to say, all the pre-match psychological baiting did little to alter the outcome of the first leg at the Bernabeu. Guardiola's men won the tie 2-0 but the match will be remembered for many other things than yet another superb showing from Lionel Messi. Real Madrid midfielder, Pepe's sending off in the second half for a lunge at Dani Alves was the turning point for a match that had remained 0-0 until then. Mourinho's protests also earned himself a red card and was forced to watch the remainder of the match from the stands as Barcelona took full advantage of the extra man in their side.

Following the match, Mourinho claimed the tie to be over with Barcelona guaranteed a place in the final although one finds it hard to believe Madrid won't put up a fight in the return leg at Barcelona. Until then though, Mourinho won't be finding his favorability rankings increasing among the Nou Camp faithful following his latest tirade against former employers. This time, the Pissed-Off One claims referee decisions always seem to go Barcelona's way and hinted at a conspiracy behind the Catalan club's success. Is he getting desperate?

Saturday, April 9, 2011

So what's wrong with second place?

Arsenal boss, Arsene Wenger, has responded strongly to critics of his side by claiming there's nothing wrong with being in second place. The Frenchman also defended his youth policy and strategies and took a few subtle hits against clubs like Chelsea and Man City who have spent big but are behind the Gunners in the league.

Here's what Wenger said as reported by Soccernet.

"We have done well for our age as we are second in the league. Is that a disaster for you? There are teams who invest 10 times more than us, one player cost more than the whole team and they are behind us. I don't understand the way people think. We should not go overboard. We are second in the league so it's not a scandal. Where is the common sense?

"Some of the clubs behind us have done nothing for 20 years, yet suddenly they get a lot of praise. I don't understand. We have eight games to go and are in a position to fight for the championship, so let's give the maximum. If we are disappointed at the end then okay. Why do you say it's a disaster when we are second in the league? Do the 18 clubs behind us have a fantastic disaster?

"If I cannot defend the fact that we are second in the league and fighting for the championship then I should stay at home, but I am in a fighting job.''

Well said indeed and the Prof certainly has a point. Being second in the toughest league in Europe without spending heavily is indeed an achievement.

But it seems strange and a bit sad that Wenger's settling for second place. There was a time when Arsene Wenger's Arsenal were an untouchable force. Remember the 2003/04 season when they won the title without losing a single game the entire season?

Wenger has every right to put on a positive spin on yet another disappointing season and it may at least inject some confidence into his team, which delivered yet another sub-par performance last weekend. But even second place at this point is not guaranteed and if it weren't for Chelsea's own variation of the art of self-implosion, Wenger could have ended up extolling the virtues of being in third place instead.

If the Arsenal side that won the 03/04 Premiership were called "The Invincibles," an apt label for his current squad would be "The Team That Almost Could." Yes, "almost" because every season this squad makes a promising run for the league title (and the various cup competitions) only to end the campaign empty handed.

But, as Wenger would probably say, "almost" is better than nothing.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

LeBron James is now a shareholder at Liverpool!

James has often been compared to NBA legend, Michael Jordan
Liverpool's owners, Fenway Sports Group (FSG), has inked a deal with LeBron James which will see the basketball star become a shareholder at Anfield. News of the deal was reported earlier today and has been making headlines for the obvious reasons.

The emergence of James, a two-time MVP and arguably one of the biggest names in basketball, as a shareholder in Liverpool certainly offers the Reds a new avenue for commercial revenue. While details of the deal are still sketchy at this point (James' equity in the club hasn't been disclosed nor has it been announced if the basketballer will be given a place on the board), it's clear that FSG believes its grasped onto a great opportunity to bring the Liverpool name to markets where basketball, and in turn James, is popular. One can already envision the commercial possibilities in selling Liverpool jerseys with James' name on the back of it.

At the same time, this deal also offers FSG a new revenue stream. By securing marketing and sponsorship opportunities for James, FSG may be able to raise funds that could be injected back into Liverpool during the summer transfer window. At a time when the club is in dire need of more talented and skilled footballers, today's developments should come as a positive sign that the Anfield side under John Henry and FSG may indeed be headed towards the top of English football once again.

It's also clear that James sees potential in Liverpool. If he hadn't, the Miami Heat star would have opted for a straight cash deal instead of equity, which may very well devalue if the Reds remain a Europa League side in seasons to come. Ironically enough, Liverpool's woes would be over if they could find a footballer who scores as often as James does.

What?! Freakin' what Chelsea?!

If Frank Lampard ever considers leaving football for another profession, he might want to consider fortune telling.

Yesterday, the Blues midfielder issued a warning over the effects the negative publicity surrounding Wayne Rooney's vulgar rant over the weekend would have on his England teammate's performance on the pitch for Man Utd's Champions League clash against Chelsea.

"Wayne is always a very competitive player and there is never a good time to be playing against him. But there's a chance that the ban might spur him on even more. When you get negative headlines like he's had it can make you more of a threat," Lampard said, ESPN reported.

And how right he was.

Rooney's goal made the difference in the first-leg of the all English quarterfinal which resulted 1-0 in favour of the Devils and gives Sir Alex Ferguson an away goal advantage for the second leg in Old Trafford next week.

There's no doubt that Rooney's return to form has arrived at the best possible time for Fergie's side who have been looking a little tired and out of pace prior to the 4-2 victory against West Ham last weekend.

Nonetheless, the England striker looks set to be banned for two matches for his four-letter rant which may see him miss Utd's FA Cup semifinal clash against rivals Man City next week. Unfortunately for Chelsea, the FA's powers don't extend to the Champions League.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Henry: Rafa to blame for Reds' lack of depth

Rafa Benitez has been in the news lately talking about making a return to the Premier League and dropped several hints that he would be open to move back to Anfield if the opportunity arose. Well, he might have to wait until another shareholder takeover at Liverpool before he gets called in for an interview.

Liverpool owner John Henry recently lamented Liverpool's severe lack of depth in the squad and blamed the previous regime in charge for the club's imbalanced squad.

"The worst surprise was the lack of depth. Our biggest concern was this issue - and it was a bigger issue than we feared. There was a huge, multi-year payroll for a squad with very little quality in depth," he said in an interview with Four Four Two.

Henry's comments aren't surprising and perhaps timely following another tame performance by Kenny Dalglish' men against West Brom, who are managed by the man Henry sacked a few months back, Roy Hodgson.

Liverpool's midfield pairing of Jay Spearing and Lucas Leiva produced next to nothing in terms of supply for Luiz Suarez or Andy Carroll while the lack of actual wingers was extremely evident with neither Dirk Kuyt or Raul Meriles providing genuine attacking options down the flanks.

Perhaps more alarming for Henry and Dalglish was the frequency in which the Reds kept deploying long balls towards Carroll who was often left to his own devices up front, which is somewhat reminiscent to the days when Peter Crouch plied his trade in a Liverpool shirt. In fact, Carroll's dejected demeanor, which was on display for much of the match, was similar to the one Fernando Torres wore for the first half of the season prior to his move to Chelsea.

The fact is, Henry, Damien Comolli and the rest of the Anfield hierarchy need to realise that purchasing strikers alone won't be enough to make Liverpool a championship winning team.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Who was Rooney swearing at?

Good old Wayne. After what can only be described as a mediocre season by his standards, the Wayne Rooney of old returned last Saturday when he scored a hattrick to help United stage a stunning comback and followed it up by yelling some expletives at Sky TV's camera crew.

Yep. Not many - except for Joey Barton - can go from hero to zero in such short span of time. I say zero not so much because of Rooney's enhanced vocabulary (everyone knows the effenheimer is commonly used by all footballers) but the fact that his actions have landed him a two match suspension is something Man Utd can ill afford at the moment.

Now, in case you're like me and missed out on what Rooney told the camera, it went something like this: "what, fucking what?!" Yes, it doesn't seem to make much sense at all. Even more puzzling is the intended recipient of his mini-rant. Was it the viewers at home? Was it the press? Was it Sky TV? Did the cameraman make an insulting gesture at Rooney? Or does Rooney hate Rupert Murdoch?

Ok, the last question is a bit of an exaggeration but it seems likely that Rooney's message was aimed at his detractors who've constantly taken swipes at him this season for a multitude of reasons. But the ones who probably feel insulted the most at the England striker's actions would be Sir Alex and Man Utd itself who've sorely missed Rooney's goals all season. Just when it seemed as though Rooney had found his form at the right moment, he does something like this and has to sit out the next two games.

Watch Tore Andre Flo take a crack at ballroom dancing!

Remember Tore Andre Flo?

Turns out the lanky Norwegian striker decided to pursue a career in dancing after retiring from football. The video below is a bit dated - it's from 2008 - but shows the former Chelsea striker doing a form of ballet that is supposed to represent an artistic rendition of his goal against Brazil in the 1998 World Cup. Enjoy! (Special thanks to the guys at ESPN Soccernet for highlighting this video)