Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Dreaded No. 2?

A successful club side always have an equally high-calibre coaching staff. Usually these assistant managers are less famous than the managers themselves. Who had heard of Roy Evans when he took over from Graeme Souness at Liverpool? Which football fan had heard of Steve Mclaren when he moved from Derby County to Manchester United to work as Sir Alex no. 2? More often than not, these assistant managers are the ones that conducts the training sessions as well as run the players through the roles and tactics for the weekend's matches. So these men must be great tactician and strict task masters, right?

Obviously not, because assistant managers rarely make the step up into successful managers. Therein lies the conundrum I term as "The Dreaded No. 2".
Carlos Queiroz is someone who seems to be stuck with this tag. Sammy Lee also tried to punch above his weight but failed at Bolton. And we all know about Steve Mclaren and his follies with England. While the jury is still out on Queiroz, at least Steve Mclaren has started to gain back his credibility at FC Twente.

Brilliant tactician, great at running the set plays during practice, effective in analysing the weaknesses of the other team, these no. 2 are essentially the reason that Sir Alex and Rafa continue to be successful. It is no surprise that Rafa insisted on contracts for all his coaching staff before he signed an extension. Chelsea would never be found lacking in spirit if Steve Clarke was still around.

Looks like being no. 2 ain't all bad and in fact, there has been recognition for them as well. Sir Alex Ferguson credits the recent League and Euro Cup double to Queiroz's contributions. Club movement has been significant, for example, Chris Hughton to Newcastle and Steve Clarke to West Ham.

So what's missing? What ingredients are necessary to put into the cocktail?
These are what I think,
1. Exceptional man-motivational skills
Frank Lampard used to say that Jose Mourinho could make him believe he was unbeatable and that was while in the shower rooms!
2. Intense partiality towards own team
The classic "I did not see it" excuse from Arsene Wenger which has been known to be effective at diffusing media questions.
3. Creating a siege mentality "everyone against me" within the dressing room
Alex Ferguson does that tremendously well during the Cantona years.

It's the conspiracies and mind games that set the uber-managers apart from the wannabes. The ones who relish and excel in these are ultimately the managers who succeed.

Friday, March 27, 2009

The Next Generation?

When I was growing up, Singaporean football was on the ascendancy in South East Asia. I remembered watching the Kuala Lumpur team sweeping all trophies in Malaysia. That KL team boasting of 3 extremely skilful Singaporeans, Fandi Ahmad, K. Kannan and Malek Awab. The skills they possess and the understanding they displayed were awesome. Together with current ESPNStar.com pundit Shebby Singh who was a "Alan Hansen" type centreback, they were unbeatable.
Fandi Ahmad, in particular was the standout golden boy of his generation. He was the first Singaporean footballer to be a success in a European league, choosing to further his career and experience at FC Groningen in Holland. He was inducted into FC Groningen's club Hall of Fame, named as the best top 25 players ever played from them, playing in 44 matches scoring 12 goals.
He is now a successful coach with Pelita Jaya in the Indonesian League, living the good life with his x-model wife and 3 children. Like Fandi, his children inherited his footballing skills. I came across an article in a Singapore paper which I found a good read.

As coach of Indonesian club Pelita Jaya, Fandi Ahmad spends much of his time at the training ground, bellowing instructions to players, getting them ready for the matches ahead.
On certain days, three bright-eyed boys watch from the sidelines, eager to learn from the big men. The trio may one day make it. They have natural athleticism in their blood, adrenaline in their veins, and nothing but football in their heads.

They are Fandi's sons - Irfan, 11, Ikhsan, 9 and Ilhan, 6.
They hope that one day, they could follow the footsteps of their dad.
Already, the signs are looking good. They train at least thrice a week, either with their school Sekolah Tiara Bangsa, Arsenal's football school in Indonesia, or with dad.
Eldest son Irfan is a feisty striker who once scored seven goals in a competitive game with his peers. He impressed scouts during recent football camps and stints at AC Milan and Valencia.
Said Fandi, 'He's an aggressive player. His team just won the Jakarta International Youth Tournament and he was selected for the All-Stars team".
Ikhsan possesses as much potential, if not more. Just 9, he has a record of scoring 13 goals in one game. Fandi described him as a 'more complete player' and a 'natural'. Like Irfan, he also impressed coaches in Europe earlier this year. He recently scored eight goals in seven matches in an Under-10 tournament in Milan, finishing as the competition's second-top scorer.
The Fandi prospects do not end here, as mum Wendy Jacobs was quick to point out.
'You've got to watch out for Ilhan,' said the 34-year-old former model, looking stunning as ever. Indeed, Ilhan is the only kindergarten boy to play for his school's Under-9 team.
The striker is already too good for his peers, resulting in envious parents complaining that a six-year-old boy should not be allowed to play in the Under-9 team.

It may be premature to suggest world class players but with the experience that Fandi Ahmad will no doubt impart to his boys, I think anything is possible. The time may come when a Singaporean footballer lights up the Premiership and for that person to be Fandi's son would be sweet.

Thursday, March 26, 2009


WAGS....that's what they are called these days. Though it's a harmless acronym (WAGS=wives and girlfriends), this term has grown to symbolize the reason for England's failure in the World Cup 2006. Ever since Vicky Adams walked down the aisle to become Mrs. Beckham, the media kickstarted a whole new voyeuristic look at the glamourous footballer's lifestyle inclusive of their WAGS.

I fully expect a reality series looking into the life and times of a famous footballing family soon.
These are the Arsenal players' WAGs...

Sizzling WAGs
1. Bouchra Van Persie

She stood by RVP when he was accused of rape (which has been dropped) in a Rotterdam hotel in 2005.

2. Tatiana Golovin

Samir Nasri's girlfriend although it looks like an on-off relationship, as she continues her recuperation from back problems.

Glamour WAGS
1. Ana Almunia

The Almunias bought a villa in Hertfordshire and that place turned out to be haunted. No news about them moving out though. Brave people!

2. Yulia Arshavin
An outspoken Russian woman simply for biting the country that will feed her and her excellent footballing husband. Still, Arshavin needs her around so that he can adapt and integrate quicker to the English game. Signs of his silky skills are emerging already with that unstoppable display against Blackburn.

Unknown WAGS
1. Clara
Cesc Fabregas' reported girlfriend. Keeping Cesc on the straight and narrow by moving in with him in London. Not that it did much good since he has turned into a little thug, spitting and cursing...why oh why?

2. Daphne Edinalvo

Denilson's girlfriend who came over from Brazil to keep him nice and warmly tucked in bed, all juiced up for the next match.

We shall continue to keep an eye and ear out on Clara and Daphne as they evolve into true WAGS.

WAGS of the Ex
1. Cheryl Vieira

Trinidadian wife of Patrick Vieira. Were gassed by burglars together with Patrick in their France home some time back. Scary stuff, more so than Mr. and Mrs. Almunia's haunted story. They survived but it must have done something to him mentally because he goes missing in matches for Inter Milan this season.

2. Anastasia Kosenkova
A singer in a Belarussian pop band. Mr. and Mrs. Hleb are the equivalent of David and Vicky Beckham back in Belarus.
He was superb in Arsenal colours, pity he didn't stay too long. He filled the void left by Pires brilliantly.

Hope this bit of news kept you entertained.
Maybe I will do a 20-part Premier League series on WAGS. After all, part I is already completed.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Mark of a Champion

To win a league championship, it usually takes a number of common factors,
1. be consistent i.e. win more games and only lose a couple
2. be prolific i.e. score more goals and concede very few
3. have a deep squad to cater for injuries
But...is that all though?
If one looks at all the European leagues, there are two additional areas which may prove to be important as well. These are,
1. concentration
2. resilience
When Bayern Munich captured the Bundesliga crown last year, they were prolific at killing off games (19 wins/20 matches) when leading and also had the resilience to turn losing circumstances into wins (3 wins/9 matches) when trailing.
Real Madrid was similarly excellent last season with 22 wins from 25 matches after taking the lead. When the opponent scored first, they recovered notching 5 wins from 13 matches. Even that super form could not prevent Bernd Schuster from the sack!
In France, Lyon was a picture of concentration last season as they did not let their efforts slip at any time during a match. They outscored their opponents in every 15 mins intervals hence proving that championship winners need to have mental toughness to compete and overpower opponents. Concentration is an attribute that the EPL Big 4 have in common. Arsenal, Liverpool and Man Utd all visibly finish the last 15 minutes of a match stronger than their opponents. The last 15 minutes of a game is usually the time when lesser teams tend to switch off due to physical and mental tiredness.

Can concentration and resilience be the hidden factor in the title deciders for this season?
Well, only the stats at the end of the season will reveal that...in the meantime, we shall just enjoy another great year of football.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Future is Asia Pacific

I hope this piece of information will prove useful once again to the marketers in Manchester United or even Real Madrid. After all, they are the ones who have put the word "global" onto football.

Turns out the manutd.com is the most popular website on the internet. Also the visits from non-home country shows that the game has a global reach (which of course is something that we all know, duh!).
Whats more interesting is that French football is very insular in nature as reflected by their smaller numbers of non-home country hits. Well, if Lyon can win the Le Championnat 7 times in a row, you have to wonder about the competitiveness of the league. Nevertheless, French football clubs have loads of potential if marketed correctly. I don't remember Marseille, Lyon or Bordeaux doing a tour of Asia or China. Hopefully the clubs see this as an opportunity and try to raise the profile of their clubs abroad. I am bored of seeing fans in their Man U or Liverpool or Arsenal team shirts.
Here, one could see that Asia Pacific internet traffic accounted for almost 1/3 of the total visits to the EPL Big 4 websites. Surprisingly, Arsenal.com gets more hits (12%) in MEA (Middle East & Africa) than even Manutd.com (6%). They must be benefitting from the "popularity" of the obnoxious Emanuel Adebayor (Togo) and brilliant Kolo Toure (Ivory Coast). Also interesting, Liverpoolfc.tv seems to be the most popular (52%) website in the UK which goes to show that there are always fairweather fans tagging along any team who are at the top of their game.
So does this mean that Richard Scudamore's idea of a 39th round with the matches played overseas is rubbish? From this evidence, it looks a certain winner!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Lucrative Global Game

All football clubs thrive on 3 areas of income,
1. Matchday receipts
2. Commercial sales (shirt sales, sponsorship etc)
3. TV broadcasting rights
As the popularity and stature of the club improves (achieved from winning titles, signing marquee players and marketing), these sources of income increase exponentially.

Over the years, clubs like Manchester United and Real Madrid have set the standard in seeking the unreached and building a vast global fanbase empire.
Estimated numbers are as follows,
Team (Estimated no. of fans)
1. Manchester United (330m)
2. Real Madrid (228m)
3. Juventus (170m)
4. Barcelona (70m)
5. Liverpool (70m)
6. Arsenal (27m)
7. Chelsea (20m)
8. Bayern Munich (12m)
Coincidentally, 6 of the 8 clubs above are still slugging it out in the UEFA Champions League and all 8 clubs are seasonal CL certainties. It would be interesting to understand the popularity impact of reaching the CL quarterfinals will have on Villareal and Porto.

With such attractive numbers, I should no longer be surprised that Air Asia is visibly considering being a sponsor for the mighty Manchester United brand.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Champions League 2009 Quarters Draw

With the buzz from the recent standout performances of Bayern and Liverpool, there was built up anticipation of what the quarterfinal draw will throw up. These are the fixtures scheduled for the month of April.
It had to happen, didn't it? The irritatingly annoyingly CL staple fare of Liverpool-Chelsea....sigh.

Apart from that, the English teams do have a relatively easy draw, probably 65% sure of a Rome final ticket at the end of May. Still let's crunch some numbers to assess the potential banana skins in the draw.

Villareal v. Arsenal
Robert Pires has said he relishes coming back to his old stomping ground for this. So he is clearly up for it. Villareal must be feeling pretty good drawing Arsenal. Nothing to choose from between these two sides, statistics-wise. Therefore, this matchup could swing either way.
FanZine Prediction: Arsenal to go through (away goals rule)

Manchester United v. Porto
United should be gunning for revenge in this one. But will they get past the Portuguese champions? Equal on the Goals Scored (11) column but Porto's defence is clearly porous (10 goals conceded) and this is an area that United should capitalise. Apart from Barcelona, the United attack has more shots on target (124) than the other quarterfinalists. This matchup is United's to lose and I tip them to go all the way and retain the title.
FanZine Prediction: Manchester United

Liverpool v. Chelsea
Yawn! The fixture that we all dread....Liverpool will typically be counter-punching. They are 2nd lowest in terms of possession (49%), making it all the more possible that this will turn out to be much like the previous Liverpool-Chelsea game. Both teams commit a lot of fouls as seen from the "Fouls Committed" column (135/145) suggesting that both teams will sought to disrupt the opponent's pattern of play. This is guaranteed to make the game very unattractive. Cat and mouse all the way.
FanZine Prediction: Chelsea (due to the "feel Guus" factor)

Barcelona v. Bayern Munich
The plump tie of the round. The joint top scorers (24) in the competition face off against each other. Both play the attacking game, but Barcelona are the masters at keeping possession (63%) of the football. Barca however will need to be wary as their defence will leak goals (11) which augurs well for an open game of attacking football. Barca's very low "Fouls Committed" stat (92) means that Bayern can actually come forward and play their brand of football. Should make for an excellent footballing spectacle. The most glaring weakness being Barca's leaky defence. Bayern has the attacking prowess to exploit that while keeping it tight at the back (only 5 goals conceded).
FanZine prediction: Bayern Munich

There you have it! The predicted semifinalists will be,
1. Arsenal
2. Manchester United (and to retain the title)
3. Chelsea
4. Bayern Munich

Oh, the prospect of a Man U-Bayern final is just too good to be true. A repeat of the '99 final, what an ending that would be to this year's competition.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Which is the Best League in Europe?

A lot of football pundits and experts continue to bellow that the English Premier League is de facto the best football league in the world. I am not too sure about that. Of course, from a pure sports entertainment aspect, it is the most exciting league to watch. In Asia, we get fed loads of TV coverage from the Spanish, German and Italian leagues. So my opinion is that the accolade of best league in Europe should go to the Spanish league simply because the technical skill and artistry of the beautiful game are best expressed by the players in that league.

To verify this hypothesis, I decided to utilise Yahoo! Fantasy Football player statistics, applied a certain lineup for the different leagues and collated the best performers. From there, the total points rating should tell us which league is the best.

This came out...

Based on this information, I was dead wrong!! For all the flair and technique in the La Liga, the EPL IS, quantitative-speaking, the best league in Europe.....the pundits were right after all, hmmm I gotta start taking them seriously from now on.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Malaysians in Football

Recently, I read that Tam Sheang Tsung, a 13-year old Japan-born Malaysian has been recruited into the Yokohama FC U-15 team, part of the J-League Division 2. Hope he graduates to the Yokohama FC first team and would want to play for the Malaysian national team in future.

The highest profile Malaysian abroad has always been Titus James Palani who is now 22, playing as a winger in France for FC Villenoy (a 3rd division team). Titus apparently is vying for selection in Ligue 1 fuelled by his youth experience with Le Havre.

These are but two Malaysians pursuing their dreams of football superstardom. Akmal Rizal tried his luck in RC Strasbourg before retreating to the backwaters of Malaysian football. Syed Adney also failed to impress at Middlesborough and now is also back in the M-League. An 18-yr old Penangite had a one-month trial at Belgian club, Germinal without any success. A couple of promising players had stints in Fulham and Birmingham. Yet, none of them has achieved the desired success. Success in football requires not only skill but also a dogged personal determination. Together with the right conducive environment and training facility, one can be successful. So looks like Malaysian footballers are not a very determined lot, eh? I shudder at the thought.

But when all hope seemed lost, I stumbled upon Brendan Gan, a 20-yr old Australia-born Malaysian, who has found success playing for Sydney FC in the A-League. He has been described by the Australian sporting press as a midfield prodigy and an extremely bright prospect. Brendan himself has lofty ambitions reportedly. Hopefully, he will want to play for Malaysia rather than Australia.
I await the day when the Malaysian national team, consisting of overseas-based players (like Brendan, Titus and Tam), lifts the Asian Nations Cup and regain the glamour of the 70's.
Now THAT would be something to look forward to.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Europe's Top Teams (Statistically)

Another interesting statistic...and something that Rafa Benitez was fussing about.
I never understood why Rafa wouldn't let the football do all the talking but insists on bragging about his management skills. If he did, Liverpool would be top with points to spare rather than having to hope that ManUre drops points.
For what it's worth, here are the UEFA 2009 top 20 ranking....this also explains why the Big 4 makes it to the Champions League quarters year after year.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Manchester United 1 Liverpool 4 - Seriously!

Would you believe it??! Just when I thought it would be a cagey affair, a superb match unfolded.
Just as I predicted, Torres scared the daylights out of Vidic and the Serbian had a poor afternoon culminating with an early shower.
Truth be told, Utd were sluggish the whole game, and that's two games in a row now so there is hope for the chasing pack especially Liverpool.
Gerrard had a quiet game from where I was sitting...and yet, was involved in all the good things that Liverpool created. SAF's attempt to inject lots of mobility and quickness backfired as Liverpool just did what Liverpool do best i.e. defend defend defend and then the quick long ball for the chasing strikers.
They've done the double over ManUre in style...I am going to bask in this win.

Top 10 Best British Footballers Abroad

I picked up this list compiled by http://www.championshipmanager.co.uk/ which I would like to share.
The Top 10 best British footballers abroad are,
1. John Charles
2. Kevin "Mighty Mouse" Keegan
3. Chris Waddle
4. Glenn "Glenda" Hoddle
5. David Platt
6. Gary Lineker
7. Owen Hargreaves
8. David "Goldenballs" Beckham
9. Steve "Shaggy" McManaman
10. Paul Lambert
This was seen from

I would agree with most of them except I think Paul Ince should be in the top 10 as should Michael Owen.

And now, onwards to the biggest game of the EPL season....

Friday, March 13, 2009

A Must-Win Match?

This Saturday, the match I would term as the "title decider" will take place. The biggest match of this season (Man Utd v. Liverpool) will, in my opinion, decide if this season will continue to be a two-horse race or basically a boring 18th title for Man Utd.
18th, tied with Liverpool! Boy, that would truly suck!
Man for man, Liverpool is more than a match for Man Utd. And the Reds are buzzing after a sensational 4-0 demolition of Real Madrid. If Rafa decides on a 4-4-1-1 formation, then they will have a great chance. Gerrard, being a big game player, will be driving Liverpool on from the more advanced "in the hole" position. If Liverpool gets an early goal at Old Trafford then they have every chance of closing the gap to a mere 4 points. Defensively, Liverpool is hard to break down and at Old Trafford, with the expectation of Man U fans, the Devils will pour forward and that will just play into Liverpool's hands. The Reds are after all, a very competent counter-attacking side and Torres (back to his best) will trouble Nemanja Vidic.
With Rooney stoking the flames with his "I hate Liverpool" sentiments, this will only heat up the competitive nature of this match adding to the excitement. Doing the double over ManUre for the first time in over 6 seasons would be absolutely heavenly. Yes, the last time Liverpool did the double over Man Utd was at the 2001/2002 season!
Expect a cagey affair where an early goal from Liverpool will seal it, making the title chase a more interesting affair.

Now if only Liverpool had beaten the likes of Hull and Stoke City......sigh....

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The start of all things football?

So what prompted me to do this? A means to release fan frustration when my favourite team loses? A vehicle to share footballing thoughts of an ordinary person who want to be taken seriously? Could be....who knows, I might actually find kindred spirits who shares my obsession in all things football...
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