The Simpsons has been running for just under 30 years, making it a pioneer among prime-time cartoon shows. For more than a decade, RTÉ have been showing at least an episode a day, meaning for the people of Ireland, especially those who have grown up with its customary 6pm slot on RTÉ, it has a special place in their (and our) lives. With such an iconic status, many have taken their own stance when it comes to things like favourite episodes, or moments. However, almost every viewer of The Simpsons undoubtedly has a favourite character, which is the reason I chose that as the prime topic of my podcast. After a riveting discussion with two friends of mine about it, I added a section of the theme tune at the start and a classic catchphrase at the end (this was after I searched for US copyright laws on the Internet). The link is embedded here > Soundcloud Podcast
So, the qualifiers for Euro 2016 are well and truly underway, we’ve had shocks, thrashings and the emergence of a few sleeping minnows that are starting to wake up and realise their potential. What’s really interested me about this campaign so far is the closing up of the gap between the different seeds. Results like Poland’s victory over Germany, Slovakia’s over Spain and Iceland over the Netherlands have really shown that these sides no longer fear the traditional kingpins. Also, the nations that make up the British Isles will be quite pleased with their start. It would be fair to say these countries haven’t lived up to their potential over the past 10/15 years, for various reasons. England have done half the battle by actually getting to the major tournaments for the majority except for one blip for Euro 2008. However the other home nations have seemed lacking in stability and consistency, again for various reasons. It now seems that the tide is turning and it’s great to see from a neutral’s perspective.
There’s advantages and disadvantages of the seeding system for the qualifying groups, but a big disadvantage is that it makes it extremely hard for a new, up and coming team to break into the winners circle. For example, a team in the third or fourth seed, will be placed in a group with two or three teams that are supposed to be better than them. Therefore what would likely happen is that the top two seeds qualify for the finals or at least the play offs and so those top two remain as the top two seeds. The countries at the bottom of the scale have no choice but to wait until they’re drawn with a weaker top seed or weaker second seed and go in for the kill. Until now…
The top seeds in each group when the draw for the qualifying groups was made were Netherlands, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Spain, Germany, England, Greece, Russia, Italy and Portugal. Seems fair enough, those sound like 9 strong sides that nobody would really want to draw. Well, amazingly, out of these 9 top seeds, just England lie at the top of their group after Matchday 3, while all but England, Russia and Italy have been beaten already. However, this tournament finals is different to the previous ones in that there will be 24 European teams in it. While all of these top seeds will have been thinking they will be pretty much guaranteed to finish in the top 3 to at least make it to the play offs, there’s a few now that will be extremely worried about the recent improvement of the supposedly weaker teams. The likes of Northern Ireland, Iceland, Wales, Poland among others have really stepped up to the plate and given the top seeds the kick up the backside they needed. As a proud supporter of the Republic of Ireland, I know that it has felt at times like the system has failed us, the so-called third or lower seeds, but this mini revolution is exactly what’s needed to dethrone the traditional superpowers of European football. Bring on the era of the underdog.
Einstein once famously said insanity was to repeat the same things over and over again and expect different results. It’s a quote thats meaning can be transferred to all walks of life, including sport. Today it was confirmed that James Rodriguez would be joining the ranks at the Estadio de Santiago Bernabeu for a sizeable fee in excess of £63m. Now, the fee is not necessarily a bad decision, in times to come it might prove a bargain, who knows? In my opinion, it is a little excessive, despite all of the valid attributes he possesses. However, what is surely not excessive is the unavoidable excitement ahead of the Spanish Primera Division’s next season. The reason for most is that two out of the top 3, Barcelona and Real Madrid, have gone on a worldwide spending spree in an effort to return to the summit of La Liga. This is more understandable for Barcelona, who, by their previous standards, had a dismal, trophyless season last year. However Real Madrid have just won the Champions League, supposedly the best and most testing competition in world football. That’s not the sign of a team that needs an expensive new ream of talented players. Still though, I can see why they would feel it is necessary in order to keep up with big-spending Barca.
Only, this huge investment in World Cup stars by Real Madrid seems familiar. Oh, that’s right, that’s because they do it every four years, most notably in the years following the 2002 World Cup. They built a team of Galacticos, or so they said. But you see, success wasn’t just around the corner for the most expensive team in the world at the time. Sure, they won La Liga in 2003, but after that it took four years until they won it again. They didn’t win a European title again until this year. The Galactico project didn’t work. Buying a team of international superstars and throwing them on the pitch together wasn’t enough to win trophies on a consistent basis, especially at a European level. Most seasons success in Spain was almost handed to Real Madrid if Barcelona were having a poor season, and vice versa. The real test was in the Champions League, where they failed time, after time, after time. For the romantics it was wonderful to see this all consuming business juggernaut be knocked out by teams with much more limited resources but to the fans of Real Madrid, this was a disaster and for some reason, each season the lack of success was blamed on the manager. We saw the likes of Camacho, Capello and Schuster all axed after terms that were too short to be condemned for. All this time and there was no rethink of the transfer policy, or of the revolving doors style manager-hiring policy either.
They were shown up by the Barcelona revolution, inspired by Pep Guardiola and the team he assembled, mostly from the youth teams of years gone by. It was a team with a plan on and off the pitch, which Real haven’t really seemed to properly grasp for the last decade. Finally, last year, with a team built up over a number of years, Real Madrid became champions of Europe for the 10th time. La Decima, as they christened it, was a result of years of planning and sometimes heavy investment. However, it was a different type of investment. It was an investment in younger players, e.g. Benzema, Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, Isco, Fabio Coentrao. The list goes on. This type of rethink of their transfer policy was vital if they were to achieve success at European level. Ancelotti was trusted to co-ordinate a playing style that suited the players at his disposal, which he managed to do of course. They’ve decided to build on this squad, with additions like James Rodriguez and Toni Kroos. These are younger players than the likes of Cannavaro, Emerson and Van Nistelrooy, who were all in their 30’s signing for Real. They’re still big names that command big fees, but they’re long term signings. It’s yet to be seen if these younger players will deliver success to one of the proudest clubs in the world, but at least the big cheese at Real noticed that a change was needed, because, failure to change, if you remember, would have been insanity.
This has been a summer to reflect upon in the game of football/soccer, for many reasons, most notably the unusual amount of legends of the game retiring at the end of the season.
First on that list for most would be Sir Alex Ferguson and I am no different. His career will be remembered at the moment for his fiery behaviour, on and off the pitch, and for the insane success he brought to Manchester United. The minority have tried to see past all the praise and scrutinize his downfalls, e.g. his treatment of club legends such as Roy Keane, David Beckham and others. But to focus in on those moments, you have to look at the bigger picture (which sounds contradicting but just try it).
Think about the 1999 treble team, and the 2008 double team. Note the different changes and also the players that remained. Take the midfield. Beckham, Keane, Scholes and Giggs was possibly the best midfield on paper and on the pitch in the modern era. Now we’ll take the transition down to an individual basis. Beckham and Keane gone, Scholes and Giggs still there. Now, had Keane, who had retired in 2006, and Beckham, who was on the books at LA Galaxy by that time, stayed until 2008, you could argue that they wouldn’t have been up to that standard anyways, but I don’t think it’s that simple. In 2003, Beckham got on the wrong side of Ferguson and was duly sold. Keane got on the wrong side of Ferguson in 2005, and that was the end of his United career. Scholes and Giggs never so obviously got on the wrong side of Ferguson, and they remained. The standard of the exiled in 2008 was probably a result of, rather than the reason they weren’t in that team. Therefore, it is plain to see, it’s Ferguson’s way or the highway. Not a flaw, or an asset, just the way it was, the way he was. To focus on this aspect, also, would be an injustice to Ferguson. While it might seem harsh on the individuals who made this career-ending mistake, would Manchester United fans prefer all the trophies won without them, or a midfield in their late 30’s? Because you can’t have both. And being a United fan, I can most definitely say I am happy to leave behind them behind us and continue to win trophies with the players that haven’t crossed Ferguson. So to finish my tribute to Ferguson, I ask that minority to please be a little more positive and see why he is the greatest manager of all time.
Beckham, Scholes, Petrov, Phil Neville, Carragher, Van Bommel and Heynckes have all left the game this summer. Barcelona’s reign has arguably ended, while Spain were comprehensively beaten by Brazil in the Confederations Cup final. While this might suggest the game has become completely different, I don’t think it really has. The transfer window is my argument and is what I’m clinging onto that’s left of the last era of football. The big names linked with the big clubs, where, until UEFA’s financial fairplay rule becomes of any importance, they will have the monopoly that money privileges them with. Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern, Manchester United, and I’m going to add in Chelsea as well, despite their wealth only arriving in 2003. You know, if this money monopoly is all that’s left of the last era, maybe it’s best to encourage financial fairplay, David Moyes and all the others bringing the next act onto the global stage that is the beautiful game.
After two encouraging yet frustrating world cup 2014 qualifiers, Giovanni Trapattoni finds himself in a familiar position with the Irish media. He’s being heavily criticized for his tactics, and especially the substitutions he made in the Austria game.
First of all, let’s put things in perspective. Ireland are fourth in their world cup qualifying group, yet are level on points with the teams in second and third place (Austria and Sweden respectively). Germany are, predictably, runaway leaders of the group. That will surprise no-one. The race for second was always going to be the race for Ireland. We went to second favourites in the group, Sweden, and played some really great stuff, our best performance since Paris in 2009. Nobody cared about the past, about selection, substitutions or negative football. We got the result we came for, a draw. Now it must be said that if not for injuries and other factors, we actually would have been worse. The important thing however, obviously, is that we got the result we came for. We got a draw. Then we had a home match against Austria, also fancying their chances at getting second place. In the first half, Ireland were even better than they were against Sweden, Shane Long and James McLean especially. We were looking like a real new team, with a great chance of going places in this group. Everything looked rosy, until the second half. Ireland tired, dropped back deeper and deeper and Austria smelled blood. They got a last minute, long range, deflected, equaliser.
OK, now that is the simplified version, but it has the important facts. Ireland should have beaten Austria, but there is no need to jump the gun and start saying Trapattoni isn’y doing the team justice. However, hindsight is the easy way out in this case. I am Irish, I want the best for the team and before the match and even more so after Austria took the lead in the 12th minute, I would have taken a draw. Considering how badly we played in the second half, we should accept the draw as a point gained, it isn’t catastrophic.
There are things that could have gone our way, like Shane Long’s backheel hitting the post. Trapattoni could have brought on Wes Hoolahan, who, despite all the media attention, remember, is still not the best player ever to come out of the country. His reputation in the country has grown incredibly since he wasn’t used as much as he should have. Paul Green was a good substitution. David Alaba was running riot, getting on a lot of ball and needed to be marked. I was disappointed that Green wasn’t given this task. He did it well when marking Ibrahimovic, so why not try putting him on Alaba? The equalising goal was scored by the man that needed to be picked up when he got into those positions: Alaba. I nearly find myself writing “winning goal” instead of “equalising goal” there. Such is the negative attitude about the result, you forget that we didn’t actually lose!
There are positives to take out of the match, and as always there are negatives to take out of the match too. Trap’s only human, he made mistakes, minor mistakes. We still drew and are still level on points with Sweden and Austria. Don’t listen to the negativity, we’re still in a good position and if lessons are learned we should be a better team when facing the reverse fixtures against the top teams later in the year.
Lastnight’s game was one I was looking forward to for a long time. Two historical heavyweights, if you like, both trying to recapture their territory at the top of their domestic competition and continental competition.
Real Madrid have always intrigued me. While they had the Galacticos team of the early to mid 2000’s, I would say they under-achieved. They always had such talented players yet always seemed to bottle it when it came to Europe. I could never understand it. Even now, their attack is phenomenal, mainly down to Ronaldo, but still, they’re very prolific. The one thing Real Madrid have lacked in the last 10 years is a real leader of a defender. Look at the winners of the Champions League since Real Madrid’s last triumph. Porto, Liverpool, Barca, AC Milan, Inter, United, Chelsea: they all have/had a leader in their defence. I thought they had found one in Ramos. I was wrong. Real were shaky at the back last night. Welbeck and Van Persie both could have scored more, Giggs had a chance. This was all while Real were dominating the game completely. If United can get a hold of the game and start dominating Real in Old Trafford, they will score. Real Madrid controlled the game completely and only scored once. United had barely any of the ball in the second half, and even then could have scored 4 goals. This is the reason Real Madrid will not win the Champions League. Their chances increase when Casillas returns, but by the time he does they’ll already be out. They need a leader at the heart of their defence. Give Raphael Varane some time and he might just become that, but for the moment they will remain with “just” the 9 titles.
Moving on to Manchester United, the team nobody gave a chance at 7:45 lastnight. Their performance showed bottle, determination, leadership, mental strength, team spirit and the side to Manchester United nobody thought was there, the defensive side. I’ll admit I thought the defence would be the problem that would hold us back, but the five at the back, helped by Carrick and especially Jones, were exceptional. I thought that was definitely David de Gea’s best performance with United. It was certainly the best I’ve ever seen. Likewise for Evans and Jones. The maturity shown by these young men was admirable. Rafael will be disappointed that he wasn’t as mature in his performance. He lacks composure, which sometimes can be good but was definitely a hindrance lastnight. We are lacking back up in that position when Jones is played in midfield. The attack was an interesting sub-plot in the game. Rooney might not like the position he played in lastnight, but he can rest assured he did the job and did it well. It was very important to the team. Van Persie showed he is human, he is actually susceptible to pressure and can buckle when given extra attention by a defence. It was refreshing to see Welbeck’s contribution to open play, too. He didn’t seem to succumb to the occasion at all. the midfield was a disappointment, but should be more solid if Scholes returns. If United perform like they did lastnight in the second leg, Real will go through. But personally, I think they will have more possession, more attacking possession, more chances and will go through. I usually get the score wrong but I’m going to go for 2-1 on the night to United. Clash of the Titans part two will be a night to savour no doubt!
After the Manchester United v Liverpool game at the weekend, Brendan Rodgers said something that really caught my attention. He said: “We are not 24 points behind in terms of quality, the points difference is due to the squad and once we close the gaps in the squad in the coming windows, I have great faith we will be able to challenge.” This was in reference to Manchester United, who, for the first 45 minutes of that game on Sunday, looked like a team capable of winning out on a score of 4-0 or 5-0. When Rodgers came to Liverpool, he brought all this ambition and there was a feeling of a new dawn for Liverpool FC, a new style of playing and a new bunch of young players capable of bringing the club back to the glory days of the 80’s. While there have been very prominent signs of this young squad with so much potential, what Rodgers said on Sunday effectively admitted that these young players will not be good enough to challenge Manchester United, that the integration of young players will only go some of the way and the rest will need to be made up by transfers. But really, isn’t this the same old Liverpool attitude that brought Dalglish’s Liverpool to 6th and subsequently 8th? Where is this new attitude of trusting the new generation gone?
Another point on that too is that Liverpool’s quality, that apparently isn’t 24 points behind Manchester United’s, was so outplayed by Manchester United in the first half of the game on Sunday that if United had taken their chances, the introduction of Daniel Sturridge would have been about as significant in terms of the result as me turning the volume up on the television. Robin Van Persie and Danny Welbeck were outstanding, as was Michael Carrick, but to name a few. Liverpool were better in the second half, no doubt about it, but really, the class told to be honest. United’s forwards were too hot to handle for the Liverpool defenders, and only when Daniel Sturridge came on for Liverpool did they come anywhere close to scoring. I think, therefore, the statement by Rodgers simply isn’t true. Liverpool, in that first half, had nobody close to the quality in the Manchester United team. Also, United were missing Rooney.
But back to Rodgers and his dream. What is evident from Sunday’s match is that the only way Liverpool can catch up to Manchester United is to go and buy “ready-made” first teamers. I hope, for the sake of Liverpool FC, that this is a temporary fix. If they don’t get the balance right, they could end up at one extreme or the other. these extremes are both demonstrated by Premier League clubs, Arsenal and Chelsea. The first extreme, demonstrated by Arsenal, is the trusting of youth to the point where the team lacks experience and mental strength and even when they get into a winning position, they usually crumble under the pressure. The second extreme is demonstrated by Chelsea, the opposite of that, where they refuse to plan for the future and only buy players that won’t get much better, usually for a very expensive price. However, which club, Arsenal or Chelsea, usually finishes higher in the Premier League, who gets further in Europe, and the domestic cups? Chelsea, no doubt about it. Arsenal since they started buying only young players have been nowhere the standard of Chelsea since the money of Roman Abramovich came into play. Now, what has contributed to this success so much has also cost Abramovich somewhere in the region of the hundred millions, edging closer to a billion every transfer window. What Liverpool have to do in this stage of transition is get the balance right between these extremes. They must not start sacrificing the club’s best players and transfer prospects because they are over their mid 20’s. However, they must not give up on investing in youth. Just look at Manchester United. Whenever big players at United reach their late 20’s, they aren’t shown the door automatically. That said, they have invested in the future heavily, such as the likes of Welbeck, Hernandez, De Gea, Smalling, Jones, Evans, Young. These players are probably going to be at the club for the next 10 years. The funds provided to United are obviously at the moment something Liverpool can’t afford to do. So, for the time being, while they get rid of the sub-standard players and players that are too old, they must trust the likes of Gerrard, Reina, Skrtel, Agger, Johnson, as well as mixing it with the current young talent Sterling, Sturridge, Kelly, Allen, and I’m going to count Suarez in that, too. The Premier League experience provided by the more senior players is vital, and getting rid of players that are too old is something that can’t be done overnight. One or two at a time is plenty. The experienced players I have mentioned all have years to go until retirement, so now is the time they get the balance right. Give the younger players the experience now, so when they get rid of the older players, the experience won’t suddenly disappear. They must still keep the older players involved, as, for Liverpool anyway, they are probably better footballers, and also, their experience is very important.
Liverpool FC is under a big transition stage, that was not helped by the reckless spending of Benitez, Hodgson and Dalglish. It may go on for 10 years, but it probably won’t because I feel Rodgers has the right idea. His policy is admirable, but to put it into practice and turn the club around would be an outstanding achievement. If done right, it would put Liverpool at the forefront of English football for many years. However, the owner and the board of directors need to trust their manager. They must trust him not just for this season, or for two seasons, but for eight seasons or even 10 seasons. Immediate success is simply not going to happen with the funds available to Rodgers. He is the right man for the job and his dream needs to be trusted, but the big question in the football world we live in where everyone is so impatient, will he be given the time and the money? Let’s hope so, the fans deserve it.