Football's fine line between love, hate and sarcasm

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  • Sometimes you have to be careful what you write. Football journalism in particular is so reactionary, realities have a habit of shifting; one month’s fool is next month’s genius.  Just this season, Steven Gerrard was the toast of the town in March, but by June, he was the man who had cost Liverpool their presumed title win, and England their presumed last 16 spot at the World Cup. Some leeway has to be granted for being wrong when out of nowhere the narrative can evolve to resemble something else.

  • It’s been a busy transfer window for Newcastle United. They’ve lost key players such as Mathieu Debuchy but have brought in six new signings, who fans hope will be able to rectify last season's disappointing performance by the Magpies. The signing of a number of new players could be viewed as a sign of intent from manager Alan Pardew and owner Mike Ashley, both of whose dedication to the club have come under scrutiny of late. Pardew may fear that he walks a thin line this season and must be shown to strengthening a squad which lacked depth last season. 

  • After the sale of Luis Suarez, Liverpool are spending considerable amounts of money to bolster their squad. So far, they have strengthened their defence with the signing of Dejan Lovren, their midfield with the signing of Emre Can, and their attack with the likes of Lazar Marković, Adam Lallana, and Rickie Lambert. Some have hailed these signings as vital; let's face it, Liverpool's lack of depth was one of their weaknesses last season. On the other hand, supporters might fear that Liverpool will be the Spurs of 2014/2015, the team that sells their star player, and splashes all the cash on players who might not be up for the job.

  • PURGENoun: 1. an abrupt or violent removal of a group of people.

    One is accustomed to bowling over in the face of more aggressive opponents in this country; England’s players are relentlessly pilloried and berated for a typically absent charisma and fortitude that so many other countries thrive off to their prosperity, but we allow failure to flourish anyway. It comes as little surprise, therefore, that Southampton have greeted the merciless raid on their young English talent with little other than a helpless sneer and a shrug of the shoulders. Que sera, sera.

    As England’s top clubs purge on Southampton’s most talented personnel, I can’t help but ponder whether the fear of success is an underlying reason for so many of English football’s deficiencies, and whether high league positions and strong cup runs for some of the game’s lesser powers is more hindrance than help.

  • Arsenal have started business in the right way this summer. After an air of worry flooded North London with regards to their transfer business before the World Cup, most Gunners fans are satiated now. After securing the signatures of Alexis Sánchez, Mathieu Debuchy, David Ospina and Calum Chambers, Arsenal have signalled their intent for next season. One rumour that fails to go away is the big name signing of German midfielder Sami Khedira.

  • After a thirteen-year stay in England's top flight, Fulham will be spending this season in the Championship – and without sounding too biased, the team seems to be in good health. Despite players' criticism of the Felix Magath regime, he appears to be on a mission to get all of the old guard out (be it right or wrong) and mould the team in his own image. But how will this team line up come the opening day against Ipswich Town? What positions are still in desperate need of some new blood? Much like my previous article in which I built a squad from Blackpool's bare bones using free transfers, I will endeavour to try and put my managerial coat on once again, and give you my starting XI for The Cottagers.

  • At times last season, it felt as though the infamous Chinese curse "May you live in interesting times" was written for Manchester United. Ironic it would be, as United ever increasingly look to convince China that Manchester United is made for them. Anyhow, when David Moyes took over as Manchester United manager last summer, I remember thinking that whatever happens, at least it will be interesting. And it was.

  • Heading into their fourth season under Antonio Conte, Juventus fans had good reason to be optimistic about the twelve months that lay ahead. The bianconeri had reaffirmed themselves as domestic powerhouses yet again and Conte appeared to have turned his attention to finally making an impression in Europe. These high hopes all came crashing down when Conte abruptly resigned from his post, and CEO Giuseppe Marotta promptly named his replacement to be Massimiliano Allegri, infamous for his role in A.C. Milan’s recent downward spiral. Replacing arguably the best manager in Serie A football with one recently sacked from a rival club that finished eighth was enough to spark the furore of Juventini worldwide.

  • Watch out, City. Take heed, Liverpool. Don’t get too excited just yet, Arsenal and United. Having splashed out almost £80m on Cesc Fàbregas, Diego Costa and Filipe Luis this summer, plus having secured the future services of Croatian teenager Mario Paŝalić for an undisclosed amount, it seems like the "little horses" of last season are ready to gallop. After all the bizarre mind-games and disappointing inconsistency of last term, there is reason for Chelsea fans to be excited again.

  • Welcome to class. Please take your seats. Today’s lesson will look the notion of footballing power. What is footballing power? What grants a football club true power, and how can powerful clubs wield it? We live in an age where any club can legitimately force their way to the top of the table provided that the right conditions are met; Manchester City have gone from ‘typical City’ and playing Darius Vassell to two-time Premier League champions, while Paris Saint-Germain went from mid-table mediocrity (in Ligue 1, not forgetting) to seemingly permanent Champions League fixtures. It’s a sign of the modern day that a super-rich business person can pick a club - any club - and turn them into a global powerhouse through finances and will alone. Does money, and even more significantly, success, equal power, though? Let’s discuss.

  • Even as the accolades and titles begin to rack up for Manchester City, a notable anxiety has crept over the blue side of Manchester this summer; the fear of where the next great City academy product will come from. They managed to ignore this for a while, as the thrill of becoming a successful, world-beating club was all consuming. But a couple of things this summer have brought the issue to light. Firstly, the much-vaunted Financial Fair Play hammer came down, and amidst the various financial and symbolic punishments, the one that actually had the capacity to hurt City the most wasn’t the £50m fine, or the 21-man Champions League squad; it was the home-grown quota, as City officials and fans awkwardly looked around and realised they would have to give new contracts to professional ringers Dedryck Boyata and Richard Wright in order to make the grade.

  • Since Antonio Conte’s shocking resignation last week, much speculation has ensued over what broke apart what was a mutually beneficial relationship. Considering the developments over the last season and the information that has been revealed in recent days, one scenario holds more credence than others.

    Over the past few years, Juventus have quietly been building a minor dynasty in Serie A, winning three successive league titles with relative ease. This can be attributed to a range of factors, mainly the disturbing weakness of teams competing with Juventus for the title, but there is no doubting that Antonio Conte has been central to the Old Lady’s resurgence.

  • For the lack of a better way to put it, Blackpool are up the swanny.

    With less than three weeks to go to the opening day of the Championship season, last season's relegation candidates, Blackpool, are only left with eight players. Manager José Riga is reportedly days from leaving due to the situation and they had to cancel a pre-season trip to Spain due to the fact they can only just about field a seven-a-side team.
    Chairman Karl Oyston has said that deals are in place to bring in players, but we know that the Championship can be feast or famine, and many clubs have gone to the wall because they've spent big on the promotion dream. So why not spend next to nothing? Let's scour those who are without a club and build a team that could give Tangerine fans something to smile about.

  • The stage was set, the script written. One of the most pulsating, passionate yet professional World Cup finals of recent years was drawing to a close as the last few seconds of extra time leaked away. As it stood, Joachim Löw’s impressive German team had one hand firmly wrapped around the trophy, after Mario Götze’s stunning chested volley fizzed André Schürrle's cross past a stricken Sergio Romero with 113 minutes on the clock. Then Lionel Messi, the heir apparent to Diego Maradona, finally had his moment. Hauled down in the injury time of extra time by the otherwise indomitable Bastian Schweinsteiger, Argentina’s talisman was a free-kick away from salvaging a penalty shoot-out for his country, and a chance to beat Die Adler at their own game. The ghosts of a hundred and one footballing legends circled the Maracanã, as the whole world watched a shrimp of a man from Rosario in confidence, in expectation. But it wasn’t to be. Not for the first time that night, Messi let us down, shooting a set-piece that wouldn’t look out of place on a wet Wednesday night in Stoke high over the bar. Argentina had lost the World Cup final, and Messi, devastatingly, had fallen short of the standards we set for him.

  • The World Cup is over for another four years; no longer will we be able to watch a display of international excellence almost every day, or compare the skills of players we probably wouldn’t have heard of otherwise (Ochoa, anyone?). But what we have been left with is an absolute feast of goals that can sustain us through the drought until Euro 2016.

    So sit back, relax, and enjoy the best of World Cup 2014 (in no particular order) all over again. Don’t say we’re not good to you here at Ballsy Banter.

  • It's coming as quite a surprise that Newcastle United have started their transfer window off by taking big steps to improve the state of their club. After the dismal end to their season it was highlighted that if they did not improve the squad, they could find themselves in a similar situation to which they did five years ago - relegated.

    With that in mind, lets look at who they have bought or plan to buy in the near future.

  • It was supposed to be all about the world’s best player. The stage was set for Lionel Messi, the little Argentine following in the footsteps of his compatriot and inspiration Diego Maradona in almost single-handedly dragging his side to glory against a team of Germans. But instead it became about the world’s best team.

    Instead, Messi would trudge up the Maracana’s long flight of steps 120 minutes later, not to collect football’s most coveted trophy, but to pick up a barely-deserved Golden Ball award, seen by some as a token gesture in the wake of a disappointing final for the four-time Ballon d’Or winner. Messi failed to crack even a half-smile, perhaps knowing that the decision to give him the award would be deeply scrutinised.

    To the game, and much of it was disappointing when compared the rest of the tournament, or at least its early stages. Perhaps understandably, given what was at stake, it was a largely tense affair.

  • And breathe.

    What a World Cup. What was expected by many to be a turgid, sluggish affair in energy-drenching temperatures turned out to be something rather quite special. Brazil is a country notorious for its party planning and it played host to arguably the greatest festival of football there has ever been in a summer that will take more than a couple of Caipirinha’s to forget about. 171 goals were scored, the applecart was upset on more than one occasion, histrionics were at a minimum and some of the world’s best players paraded their quality on a stage that has played host to so many greats of the game in the past. Brazil 2014 was truly a triumph.

  • What would happen if you merged Jose Mourinho, Pep Guardiola, Tuco Salamanca from Breaking Bad and Quagmire from Family Guy into one person? You’d end up with Aloysius Paulus Maria van Gaal. Otherwise known as King Louis.

    “I have seen many women here and mothers too. A big kiss from the coach of the champions.” - Louis van Gaal

    The World Cup is all but over for Holland, and Louis van Gaal has further enhanced his reputation by taking the mediocre Dutch squad much further that anyone had predicted. So now, Louis will turn his attention to matters in Manchester, and for the United fans who wanted something a little bit different to David Moyes, you’re in luck. Louis van Gaal and David Moyes are about as similar as Arnold Schwarzenegger and Justin Bieber.

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    For a game that consists of 22 players and a pitch that is generally larger than 7000 square metres, football can be an awfully simple sport. For all the tactical preparation that is invested in a match, a culmination of scouting, training and continuous analysis, a single game of football is far too often decided by the best player on the pitch.
    They may not necessarily be the most talented overall, but the one player who outperforms everyone on the pitch often does enough to tip the scales in his or her team’s favour. Such a phenomenon belies the trumpeted team nature of football. This World Cup has been emblematic of this, with many nations relying on the exploits of only one player to drag them into the latter stages of the tournament.

  • On a bizarre day for football, considering it was also the night THAT semi-final happened, eyebrows were raised early when Ross McCormack signed for recently relegated Fulham from Leeds. The fee is to be believed at £11 million (although the official amount is undisclosed). This lead to many memes stating how ridiculous this amount it is, and the reignition of the debate of British players being overpriced. However many Fulham fans, including myself, are ignoring the price, as it’s an anomaly in a situation with more good things than bad. The fee is over the top, but it’s not as ridiculous as it sounds; and here are the reasons why.

  • I'll set my stall out from the off – Lionel Messi is the greatest player I've ever seen and my 'GOAT'. Beyond video clips and an odd full length match, I haven't seen much from the likes of Pele, Maradona, Cryuff, or the recently departed Alfredo Di Stefano; and so I'm not in a position to make a detailed and compelling argument for Messi > them without making an awful lot of assumptions.
    But regardless, for the purposes of Messi's place in history, I believe what those storied names have achieved is increasingly an irrelevance, something which has become apparent as Messi and Argentina prepare for Sunday's World Cup final. Suddenly, mere victory will not be enough. Messi has to own it, define it, almost win it all by himself...or really the achievement isn't so impressive. This is the narrative which has begun to creep onto my Twitter timeline and further beyond, even into my weekly dose of Football Weekly. Messi isn't trying to catch up and then supercede Pele or Maradona; he's having to leap through hoops which are forever shrinking.

  • The Brazilian national team suffered their heaviest defeat in World Cup history as a result of poor psychology and discipline. The German tactic of marking Luiz Gustavo and Fernandinho out of the game worked perfectly, and finished off the game in thirty minutes.

    The formations

    Both teams started in their usual formation, Brazil in a 4-2-3-1, Germany in a 4-3-3. Bernard started in place of the injured Neymar, even though many tipped Willian to start instead. Fernandinho and Luiz Gustavo played in the centre of midfield. Germany opted to start with the same starting eleven that beat the French - which put Lahm back to right-back - giving a place for the trio of Kroos, Khedira and Schweinsteiger in central midfield. 

  • On July 12, 1991, in the commercial Colombian city of Cúcuta, a star was born. With the imposing image of the magnificent Andes posing as the backdrop, James David Rodríguez Rubio opened his eyes upon the world for the very first time. Almost 23 years on, James is ascending his own mountains with frightening speed.
    Born in Cúcuta but raised in the cosmopolitan city of Ibagué, famous for its music, James's emergence as Colombia's poster boy has coincided with the country's rebirth as one of football's superpotencias. Manager José Pékerman is composing a new chapter in Colombia's history with an orchestra that plays football the beautiful way.

  • This is a different Brazil. Forming my fantasy football team, I realised that I had not selected a single player from pre-tournament favourites and host nation, Brazil.  Re-forming it now for the quarter-finals, I once again didn’t choose a single Brazilian player. This is slightly to do with my aversion to Neymar (I know he’s a good player, I know he’ll be a great player, but that doesn’t mean I have to like him), but apart from his absence can you really think of another player in the Brazil side that I should select?

    A case can be made for the defence. But only one clean sheet in four games this tournament hardly gives me confidence against a Colombian side who have scored 11 goals and boast James Rodriguez, who in my mind has been the stand out player this tournament.

  • When Jurgen Klinsmann announced the 23 U.S. players that he would be taking to Brazil, people started to doubt just how well Klinsmann knew his team. For the following month after the roster was released, Landon Donovan’s exclusion graced headlines around the country. It was one story after another about Klinsmann and how he was “defacing” the image of U.S. Soccer. I’ll admit it, I was skeptical of how the team would play going into the “group of death” without a powerhouse like Landon Donovan, but boy, did they prove me (and basically all of the world) wrong.

  • Digging deeper and burrowing beyond the faces of world football's most established players - the ones who are grabbing the plaudits and newspaper back pages -, which players could see themself elevated up a level due to their eye catching World Cup performances? Here are my five picks:

    1. Juan Cuadrado (Colombia)

    What's more impressive; out-muscling Yaya Toure, or assisting four World Cup goals and even scoring one yourself? Either way, both are valid enough reasons to warrant interest from Europe's biggest clubs, and Cuadrado is receiving just that.

    Cuadrado, who is a winger by trade, had a major role in his side's group stage domination and has been constantly been at the heart of his side's offensive play. The 26-year old Fiorentina attacker creates a lot, and combined with his ability to pick a pass or fizz in a cross, he's has proved himself to be a devastating asset for the South American side over the past two weeks. And, unsuprisingly, his performances have attracted attention from all of Europe's top sides.

  • The World Cup campaign of the United States came to an end, despite a late push against Belgium. They couldn't create enough chances from their good build-up play, because they relied on crossing as a method for providing the final ball.

    The formations

    The United States started in a 4-3-3 formation, with Geoff Cameron in midfield. This meant that Matt Besler took his place alongside Omar Gonzalez in the centre of defence.

    Belgium started in a 4-3-3 formation; Divock Origi started instead of Romelu Lukaku up front, and Dries Mertens earned a starting place as a result of his good performances in the tournament so far.

 

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