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Tuesday, January 31, 2006

"He doesn't know how to spell the word give up."

But Shepherd does. Bad news for the Toon faithful, this time via BBC:
1100: Newcastle boss Graeme Souness, who snapped up Michael Owen on deadline day in the summer transfer window, says he has no money to add to his squad and will not be making any signings.
Not much more TDH can say. Looks like no European football for us next year, eh? There were several decent players available on loans or free transfers, so TDH must presume that "no money" meant no cash for wages, either.

Why such austerity? With apologies to residents of non-baseball-playing countries, it reminds TDH of the 1997 Chicago White Sox. Midway through the season, with the team lagging in its division but not yet out of contention, the owner essentially gave up. He swapped some starters for minor league prospects in what the local papers called the "White Flag Trade."

Later on, some of those prospects turned into pretty good players. And presto, the White Sox won the World Series last year for the first time since 1917. But the bosses on Tyneside aren't even deepening the reserves - they're doing nothing.

Is this the "White Flag January Transfer Window" for the Magpies? Certainly feels like it. With not even a token signing to keep the fans in good faith, Shepherd and Souey seem determined to grin and bear it until the end of the season. Well, TDH isn't grinning.

Monday, January 30, 2006

"Little by little you have to teach the United States that this is the best game in the world."

Late last night TDH had the distinct pleasure of watching a US team made up entirely of domestic players trounce a Norwegian team of similar breeding. It wasn't a particularly good indicator of how the team will perform at the World Cup, since most of the US starters ply their trade in Europe. At best, we now know that the US has a credible bench.

No, the important thing to glean was that Major League Soccer has improved. How does TDH know this? Consider two lines of evidence:

The all-MLS team created buckets of chances (24 shots, 13 on goal) while keeping the Norwegians' almost to nil (2 shots, 1 on goal). Sure, the match was in front of a home crowd at the beautiful Home Depot Center. But the 5-0 scoreline was well-earned.

Now look at UEFA's coefficient rankings. These aren't as ridiculous as FIFA's rankings - they're based on much more data, and much more consistent data at that, from the club competitions. They're used to figure out how many spots each association gets in the Champions League and the UEFA Cup. In the last rankings, Norway was on the same level as Turkey, Scotland, Belgium, Switzerland and Ukraine.

The best of MLS comprehensively destroyed the best of Norway's Tippeligaen. It was only one result, but it seems fair to say that MLS could be on roughly the same level as the leagues in the other countries ranked alongside Norway.

Because of MLS's socialist structure, there aren't any American teams that stand out quite as much as Rangers, Celtic, Galatasaray, Fenerbahce, Besiktas, Rosenborg, Anderlecht, Dynamo Kiev or Shakhtar Donetsk. But that's the great thing about this type of international match - only the quality of the best players matters.

From what TDH saw, MLS has come a long way. And that is an achievement indeed.

"I am often interested in players but I never say so, although I am looking for a striker and a midfield player."

Newcastle Striker Crisis, Vol. 2398, No. 6

Time for some serious thinking about the Toon front line.

First point: Amoeba and Chop are damp squibs. It's a shame, local talent and all, but it's true. We need to clear them out. The problem they pose is two-sided: 1) they stink and 2) when they play, Shearer often drops back behind them, which is not really where he should be. Here's a guy who is almost 100% inside the box, and you have him halfway back to the midfield line? TDH doesn't think so - the last touch should always belong to Shearer or Owen. When Amoeba and Chop play up front, they bring the whole enterprise down.

Second point: The natural partner for Shearer plays next to him. The natural partner for Owen plays slightly behind him. With only six months of Shearer left (sob - just a minute while TDH regains composure, ah, there it is, okay, whew) it makes more sense to plan for the future. So you'd be looking for a largish fellow who can flick balls onwards to the little guy, or play on his flanks - someone rather Harewood-like.

Third point: Central to this whole analysis, of course, is the assumption that Owen will stay after the World Cup. There won't be the same urgency that brought him to Tyneside. He'll have to choose between first-team mediocrity, with much adulation but probably no European hopes for at least a year, or platooning somewhere snazzier. Bless him, it won't be an easy choice.


TDH saw a very ordinary L'il Ron the Cowboy being completely outclassed (and practically imitated) by L'el Messi at Mallorca. The Argentine starlet should have had a hat-trick within 10 minutes of coming on as a second-half sub, except that he missed a tap-in served up by maitre d'hotel M. Ludovic Giuly. He bagged the brace, though, the first on a classy run and classier finish, the second on an angled chip that reminded TDH of, well, that bucktoothed guy wearing the headband.


TDH also realized why Villareal lay down in front of Sevilla. It's simple - none of the Argies in yellow wanted to piss off their national team coach. What, you say? Isn't TDH talking about two separate people, i.e. Manuel Pellegrini and the unfortunately named Jose Pekerman? Well, have you ever seen the two of them in the same place together? TDH didn't think so. Ahaaaa!

Sunday, January 29, 2006

"No-one hands you cups on a plate."

Duke Ellington must have been thinking of Arsenal when he and Ted Persons wrote "Things Ain't What They Used To Be." Yep, the Snal just couldn't get the job done against Bolton and easyGoal, who took a Henrik Larsson-like header to dump The Goon Show out of the FA Cup. And Big Sam's share price must be rising in the eyes of a certain Mr. Barwick.

One of the major talking points, though, has to be the waste of space also known as Jose Antonio Reyes. At 17.5 million pounds he's starting to look like the SWP of Highbury. Those impassioned sighs after he misses sitters are getting, shall we say, a little bit old. Old Florrie must be heaving sighs, too - of relief. Meanwhile, as far as Le Voyeur is concerned, Theo Walcott's birthday can't come soon enough.

Chelsea put on another less-than-convincing display at Goodison Park, though, it must be said, Rice Crespo came very close on a couple of occasions. Is he the master of the curling shot to the far post from 12 yards out on the left side? Probably... as if such a position existed in the football pantheon.

Finally, facing the worst opposition in all of the day's action, the Toon barely managed to bring home the bacon with a couple of the least convincing goals you'll ever see (or read about, like TDH did). Sure, Shepherd must be thinking, "Why should I sign another striker, when Owen's likely to come back in a couple of weeks?" Well, how about for the 75th minute, when Owen and Shearer haven't scored yet? Come on, January's almost over, give us a third striker with some quality. PLEASE. And oh, by the way, Robbie Fowler's taken. Cripes.

Friday, January 27, 2006

"Our qualifying group is unpredictable. It's like our match against Croatia; it started out well but at the end they were killing us."

Whoever made the draw for Euro 2008, he'd better stay out of Scotland for a while. The poor Scots will have to contend with France, Italy and Ukraine while England face such heavyweights as Russia and Croatia - never mind who did the draw, who drew up the seedings? Greece managed to be a top seed, somehow. Okay, they won it last time, but since then they've looked like a pile of leftover moussaka.

The Dutch group is even more of a laugh than Englands: Holland, Romania, Bulgaria, Slovenia, Albania, Belarus and Luxembourg. I hope Robben & Co. enjoy their tour of the best hotels a legacy of state socialism can offer. I see acres of cracked concrete, creaky windows and stained carpets in their future....

Wales and Ireland can kiss their chances goodbye unless the Germans and Czechs decide it's 1938 all over again. And Northern Ireland will be lucky to grab a few points off Liechtenstein and Iceland - if Eidurdona's not playing, anyway.

Sure, it's a couple of years in advance, but TDH is ready to give you the group winners and runners-up right now: Portugal, S & M, France, Italy, Turkey, Norway, Czech Republic, Germany, Sweden, Spain, Holland, England and, for two very different wildcards, Belarus and Israel. Thank goodness the World Cup's coming - what's next is likely to be a snore.

"As a striker, you are either in a purple patch or struggling. At the moment, I'm somewhere in between."

TDH would like to direct loyal readers, once again, to the statistics at the right-hand side of the page. (Yes, TDH finally updated them.)

First of all, most of the top strikers have been seeing their goals-per-90 numbers fall. It's not just a statistical artifact, since the top guys aren't the ones who just made it onto the table. Maybe they're getting tired! A bit of a holiday hangover? Those matches right before New Year's did come pretty fast and furious.

Second, Darius Vassell does not belong on the England team. Sure, he's played every game for City. But fully five midfielders are scoring more regularly, as well as all the other strikers in the table. Maybe he creates a bit more than your average target man, but so does Harewood, for example, with his runs to the right corner. Come on, Sven, give Darren Bent a chance - he's been a fixture in TDH's Top 10.

Third, check out TDH's "what if" table. With goal line technology, the Premiership would look quite a bit different: Wigan in 7th instead of 6th, West Ham in 12th (at best) instead of 9th, Newcastle in 13th instead of 14th, Boro in 16th instead of 17th. Obviously, as far as money goes, the only differences at the end of the season will depend on the European places and the relegation spots. But it's looking like these avoidable bad decisions could cost Bolton several million quid, and maybe Boro the Premiership.

Lastly, a footnote. TDH told you, loyal readers, that Barca was deep. Well, there's one place where they're not: central defense. No Carles Puyol? Not surprisingly, Oleguer couldn't fill in for Captain Catalonia, who usually does the job of two taller men. A 3-2 loss away to Zaragoza in the cup is no big deal, but TDH noticed....

Thursday, January 26, 2006

"I wouldn't take the England job because of what it does to your social life; a couple of bad results and you can't go out in the evening."

Who should replace the Svenster?

Let's talk about the candidates, each one in turn. These are the guys currently favored on Betfair:

Big Sam: He's solid England, sure, and he's pretty unlikely to embarrass the FA like Sven. But he's no tactical genius. His talent seems to be for picking over-the-hill foreigners who can still play - not too useful to England.

Curbs: He works well with young players, he keeps his nose clean, and he makes a lot out of not much talent. The latter part won't be required with England, but the guy knows how to draw up a team sheet. The only downside is the lack of charisma, though that didn't exactly hurt Sven.

Rhymes With Goose: Definitely has the best resume for the job - the guy gets it done. If he could take South Korea to the semifinals, where could he take England? Demands respect and may be the perfect package, except for not being English.

O'Neills: His wife's illness may still keep him out of the business, but then again, the England job may be the cushy post he's been looking for. A good manager, surely, and he's played in the big show, but he may be a bit too taciturn.

England's No. 2: Steve-o has been dying for the job, and he'll definitely want to get away from the mess on Teesside as soon as possible. He showed Sven up when El Roon acted his age, but how much substance is there, really? He's got no top-level international experience except with Sven at his side.

Big Phil: The question would have to be, why? Okay, he's won the World Cup, and he took Portugal close. But TDH could have turned Brazil into winners in 2002, and coaching Portugal next - at home - doesn't show a ton of skill or versatility.

Psycho: The experience, the heart, even the tactics seem to be there. Make him the assistant coach, if you can tear him away from Maine Road for a few hours a month. One day, he'll be the perfect man for the job, but he needs a bit more experience first.

Hitzfeld wasn't in the running, for some reason that perhaps you loyal readers know. But neither was Capello. So, TDH would like to add an option: Souey! Yes, please, you wizards of Soho Square, take him off our hands! Pay off his contract with us! You can have him for cheap!

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

"Well, he's certainly not Barry Fry."

The big news from yesterday was obviously Sven. Is he a lame duck now? Not quite. Winning the World Cup is a big enough deal that Sven still has power.

He certainly has power over the players on the selection bubble, and eventually those on the subs bench - obviously they want to impress and obey him to the best of their abilities. For the guys whose tickets to Germany have already been printed, it's a bit of a different story. They want to win the World Cup, too, and they probably won't be as stupid as Roy Keane was in disrupting Ireland last time. But they might decide that there's little reason to follow Sven's instructions on the pitch, especially if they think they know better.

TDH tuned into Lazio v Inter just in time to see a couple of fascists kicking things off. Fewer than four minutes had elapsed when Mihajlovic, who once dedicated a goal to Arkan, stuck a sharp elbow into Di Canio's head. Then, after Burdisso engaged in a brief discussion of political theory with Di Canio, said midget fascist grabbed the Inter man's head and started wrestling him from below. Burdisso (unjustly) and Di Canio got the boot, while Mihajlovic, one of the sneakiest bastards in TDH's Dirty XI, somehow managed to avoid even a yellow.

Finally, Atleti is apparently willing to sell Fernando Torres. The guy scored 16 league goals last year at age 12. Please, please, please.

TOMORROW: Who should succeed the Swede?

"It was one of the best goals I've seen this millenium."

What a pleasure it was to watch West Ham v Fulham. TDH was drawn away from Nigeria v Ghana by the prospect of seeing two of the Premiership's American footballers in action for the visitors. But the real attraction was the style of play: crisp and exciting, with plenty of quickness, enterprise and tactical intelligence shown by two teams of modest talent.

TDH was a little disappointed that Bocanegra had some muppet-like moments; contrary to initial supposition, his missed clearance wasn't really responsible for West Ham's first goal. But McBride managed to grab an assist before he made way for Collins John.

Those items faded into the background, though, in the shining light of the Whammers' two first-half strikes. TDH hadn't witnessed two such flashes of brilliance in the same match since that Blackburn tie early in the season where Pedersen and Tugay hit a pair of the sweetest volleys you'll ever see. Anton did big brother one better with the first, lashing a half volley above Niemi's reach after a full turn. And then Benayoun did a Ronaldinho, chipping the hapless Finn from just the edge of the box.

In other notes, Yaniv Katan, the Whammers' other Israeli signing, showed some pretty classy moves in the waning minutes of the match. Clearly sent on to waste clock, he did it with flair. Muslim East London cheering on Jewish Israeli players? Perhaps world peace isn't so far away....

Sunday, January 22, 2006

"Of their goals, two came from headers and one was a header."

TDH has discovered an easy way to judge the quality of a Premiership match: it's inversely proportional to the amount of time the ball spends above the players' heads. By this measure, the West Brom v Scumderland match wasn't too different from Manure v Liverpool. Both were frustrating exercises in volleyball and misfiring passes.

Is it because of the English game's speed? Perhaps. With less time on the ball, it's more likely that a pass will go astray, or a header will take the place of controlling the ball. Perhaps the Spanish game is not as fast, not as tough, yet there's something to be said for watching the pretty patterns drawn on the ground.

If you want that in the Premiership, you're stuck with Chelsea on a good day. Arsenal used to be an option, perhaps the best one, but after this weekend's loss to Everton it seems like every team has twigged how to disrupt their precious triangles.

Manure finally triumphed with a good piece of fundamental footie. Cap'n Gary curls a textbook cross into the box from a free kick, His Name Is Rio loses his marker in a sea of red, goodnight. Liverpool couldn't muster even one moment of similar precision in the entire match - it looked like Cisse and Crouch were communicating about as much as the USA and the USSR in 1962. Moreover, Cisse's never seen a half-chance he couldn't turn into no-chance.

Not that Manure was much better; Horseface had one open shot on goal, which he tapped into Reina's hands as if he were teaching a six-year-old. Were these really the 2nd and 3rd placed teams in the Premier League? Let's just say TDH was relieved that Barcelona v Alaves was on next.

"A few bad results and they are staring down the barrel of the sack."

TDH is starting to understand how it feels to be the chairman of a Premiership club.

The team is losing. Injuries are part of the story, but they can't be all of it. Some of the personnel are doing their jobs, others aren't, others may not have the ability needed to do them. The club has splashed plenty of cash already this year, and there are precious few prospects left to pick up in January - scouting was never the club's strong suit, in any case.

There's not much you can do to change the team's fortunes. You can't shop the whole squad or slow down the fixtures until the injured men come back. Even when they do, the season has been so disjointed that it's hard to see things getting back on track for a while. Yet the supporters expect action, something to give them hope. A deadeye striker might do the trick, but where does one find such a creature at this late hour?

So this is how managers get the sack. Souey's misfortunes may not be completely of his own making, but blameworthiness is not the only variable in the chairman's equation. It may be difficult to find a suitable replacement, but doing nothing becomes less and less acceptable by the week.

Surely, the hour has come.

Friday, January 20, 2006

"Another fine mess you've gotten me into..."

Just a brief note from TDH today. Wigan's Dave Whelan, a long-time enemy of the philandering Swede, has touted his own Paul Jewell and City's Stuart Pearce to take over from Sven - immediately - at England's helm.

TDH had a think about this, and though Jewell's miracle up north has been mighty impressive, there may be room for improvement. Yes, TDH believes that Pearce is such a cool surname that the team really ought to have two of it.

That's right. Stuart Pearce and Jonathan Pearce. One, a fount of football heart and emotion. The other, a vast databank of football knowledge and tactics. See, Pearce and Pearce complement each other in a way that Pearce and Jewell (just doesn't sound right, does it?) never could. They'd be kind of like Laurel and Hardy. But in England. With football.

And one other thing. What does Mohamed al-Fayed need when one of his businesses is faltering but may be on the brink of better times? Well, how about a Bridge Loan? TDH'll be here all week....

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

"He's got a brain under his hair."

But what if he has no hair? Assorted scuttlebutt from TDH today:

Now you hear it, now you don't. The BBC quotes Anelka saying he's going to finish out his contract at Fenerbahce... but the quote was from the club's website, not an interview with a reporter. Well, is there really any point to reading anything he says? Or did someone else put that on the website and then tell him he'd better back it up? The intrigue grows.

How does Fabio Capello know he's going to stop coaching in 2009? Has he made a promise to his wife? TDH knows that it's hard to say goodbye. How many successful coaches have managed to stay out of the game before becoming senile? Not many. Sounds like a good opportunity for some long-term bets.

TDH has been wondering about the lack of minority coaches in the top flight - and no, TDH doesn't mean Welshmen. In the US, this was always an issue in baseball, American football and basketball. With time, some minority coaches appeared, even if the front-office staff usually stayed lily-white. But nary a mutter is heard from the Premiership. Is it too early, given the late entry of minority players in England? Was Ruud Gullit enough? Surely not.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

"I believe that we'll win the World Cup until the final whistle blows and we're knocked out."

TDH has been ruminating on the News of the World's fake sheikh stunt against Sven. And the more TDH ruminates, the more TDH thinks it's rotten.

Not that Sven is any saint. We already knew that he was available to anyone with a big enough bankbook or big enough boobs. And we already knew that he was prone to going behind people's backs, or behind their office doors.

But so far, he still has a shot at completing the mission for which he was hired. And for success, let's face it, England would pay with far more money - and far more Page 3 girls - than Sven could ever want.

If anything, the News of the World has made that mission more difficult. True, the sting could have taken place much closer to the tournament. But why rock the boat now with these potentially mutinous intimations? This sort of entrapment was not exactly in the best tradition of journalism - did the world learn anything new that it really needed to know?

Clearly, the job of the News of the World is to sell papers. But perhaps the wise readers of the red tops will have second thoughts about supporting an enterprise that doesn't seem to have their summer happiness at heart.

Monday, January 16, 2006

"We have to roll up our sleeves and get our knees dirty."

As promised, today TDH brings you the nastiest team in top-league football.

Watching Boca trounce River the other night, TDH was struck by what whining pricks Marcelo Gallardo - who recently threw a big enough tantrum to get the River coach booted - and the lesser-known Gustavo Oberman are. And that got TDH thinking about the current kings of diving, handling, holding, stamping and otherwise taking cheap shots at the opposition when the referee's back is turned.

Doubtlessly you could compose the entire team from any league, but TDH's sinister squad is weighted a bit towards the Premiership, as it's focus of this blog. Here's TDH's XI, but suggestions are welcome via your comments below:

The Dirty XI

Duncan Ferguson (EVE) - second career as mugger awaits
Cristiano Ronaldo (MAN) - sissy queen of cards up front

Michael Ballack (BAY) - most cynical player alive?
Young-Pyo Lee (TOT) - turns diving into an art
Robbie Savage (BLA) - biggest time-bomb since Haji
Marcelo Gallardo (RIV) - has a cabinet full of Oscars

Gary Neville (MAN) - dishes it out but can't take it
Ricardo Carvalho (CHE) - stealth instead of skill
Juliano Belletti (BAR) - rivals Tarricco for cheap shots
Sinisa Mihajlovic (INT) - a mobster, not a footballer

Jens Lehmann (ARS) - specializes in injuring strikers

TDH tried to resist picking more than one player per team, though Blackburn (Dickov) and Inter (Materazzi) seem to attract these guys, as well as the Red Mist. Any more entries from Germany, France, Portugal, Holland, Brazil? Is Phil the more evil Neville? Let TDH and the world know by posting a comment!

Sunday, January 15, 2006

"For a player to ask for a transfer has opened everybody's eyebrows."

Today TDH asks, will Orlando Soueyoso hear the cries of Dona Anelka, suffering in the iniquity of the Turkish league?

Okay, literary references from the Middle Ages aside, the gaffer has a choice that nobody likes to make: bring in the striker we desperately need, or say no to a potential cancer for a club that's just gone into remission. Anelka's at Fenerbahce because better clubs think he's more trouble than he's worth. Now he may be that to Fener, too. And yet, he may be the perfect sort of striker for us until Owen comes back. TDH says give him six months.

Who knows, he may be happier than Owen. The revelations from Svengate III (or is it IV? TDH has lost count) suggest that our golden boy is less than pleased with the club's fortunes. Well, that's no shocker - is anyone on Tyneside pleased right now? As for the house and car we gave him, well, too bad we didn't think of that for Miguel or Julio Baptista.

TDH tuned in to watch Dunderland v Chelsea, hoping to see Mourinho's men hand the Mackems their asses in their own stadium. It wasn't as lopsided as all that, but the Billion Dollar Blues pulled it out in the end. Replays showed Chelsea's first goal over and over again, as there was some question whether Lampard headed the ball back into the box from across the end line. Clearly the ball was in, but TDH believes Fat Frank may have been offside when he received it. Also, Carvalho probably deserved to give up a late penalty for his usual boa constrictor imitation.

Poor Bilbao. Days after getting stuffed by Real, they had to make the trip to the Camp Nou. As in the Chelsea match it was a fairly ugly win for the leaders, but a win nonetheless. And there was yet another one of those pinpoint, behind-the-back, donkey-style passes by L'il Ron the Cowboy. Ah, come on, Ron, it's getting boring!

Finally, the Merengues took advantage of some horrific officiating to beat Sevilla at the Bernabeu. Baptista's penalty was debatable at best. But even more surprising was the fact that after the BFG went down, Robinho stood there begging for the spot-kick when he could have slotted the ball home himself. Also, a phantom foul was called on Kanoute when, for once, he threatened inside the 18-yard box. Sergio Ramos could easily have given up a penalty late on. For referees, they ought to call it the Bernabeu Triangle. No wonder Florrie always has a smile on his face... except when he's doing this.


Saturday, January 14, 2006

"If there wasn't such a thing as football, we'd all be frustrated footballers."

Ah, the return of Premiership football. TDH listened attentively as the Argentine commentators for the Liverpool v Tottenham match growled the name "Crrrowwch" over and over, as though recalling with agony the way Sorin tried to run between the Empire State Building's legs in that recent "friendly." And then there was Harry Kewell. For most of the game he was made to look like a statue - and a shadow of his Austalia self - by the Energizer Bunny (well, he does favor pink shirts). But his deadeye volley decided it all.

The restart wasn't so pleasant for the Toon, unfortunately. Without a gifted midfield distributor like Parker or a dazzling playmaker like Emre, the Shearer and Luque combination fell flat. It didn't help, of course, that Antti "Freeze" Niemi was making an enthusiastic return to the top flight.

TDH didn't see The Goon Show's 7-0 destruction of the Tees OAPs, but you can just hear the chants around Highbury, can't you? "England coach, you're having a laugh, England coach, you're having a laugh...." Maybe Henry's staying because he likes scoring. TDH doubts he'd grab as many hat tricks in Spain, with so much competition for the final touch.

You have to envy Stuart Pearce. No one in the league seems more committed to his job, or capable of enjoying it more. Sky's cameras treated us to him throwing down his water bottle in disgust when Vassell somehow failed to find a wide-open Sinclair in the box. But when Fowler slapped a seal on City's derby win (after another inexplicable excess of dribbling by Vassell, who had an open shot himself), Psycho threw himpself into the pstands to be pswallowed up by the adoring psupport. He returned to the touchline dazed but otherwise unharmed.

Friday, January 13, 2006

"Now there are two good-looking guys at Real Madrid!"

Another day, another slew of cup matches. The playboys in white took on Athletico Bilbao, and the result was fairly predictable. But it was interesting to see the dynamics within the squad. Robinho and Julio Baptista are clearly enjoying their football, and they play with the same smiling innocence as L'il Ron, if not with as much verve.

Robinho missed at least one sitter, but he also seemed to pop up in the right place most of the time. His tricks weren't as mesmerizing as L'il Ron's, but he still managed to shake most of the Basque defenders.

As well as being one of the most effective deep strikers - moreso even than Raul of late - Julio Baptista is like the Adriano you'd actually like to meet. He's also another player of quality who got away from Tyneside.

On the other side of the ledger, observe Thomas Gravesen. He lost his rag early and often, finally shoving Baptista out of the way when the latter tried to intervene in a dispute. While TDH might have enjoyed seeing Lex Luthor and the Big Friendly Giant square off in the Octagon, there were just too many reminders - the green four-sided pitch, the goal nets made of string, the other players - that this was actually a football match. Somehow Gravesen managed to miss them. Another misfit heading Toonward? Seems like we do a pretty good trade with the Madrilenos.

Meanwhile, TDH caught the highlights of Milan's back-and-forth embarrassment with Brescia. Inzaghi's opening goal looked like a stroke of genius... until it became plain that 1) he handled the ball to control it and 2) it took a deflection before looping over the Brescia keeper. It was like the old joke that starts, "Comrade, did you hear, they're giving away cars in Moscow!" The punch line? Actually it's in Leningrad, it's bicycles not cars, and they're not giving them away - you have to steal them. Kind of like Milan's 4-3 victory.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

“I’d like to play for an ltalian club…like Barcelona."

Who says Barca isn't deep? Take away L'il Ron, Eto'o, Deco, Messi and... you've still got a team that can rip through a third-division side like with ease - something Premiership sides seem to have a hard time doing these days. With Larsson on song and Ezquerro providing decent service, there wasn't much doubt. Puyol barely had to make a tackle.

Of course, you could argue that English League 1 sides are better than poor Zamora, who went down 6-0. Indeed, very fewer lower-division sides made it through to the current round of the Copa del Rey. You see many more upsets in the FA Cup, even though the Premiership sides often use more of their better players than Barca did. But still.

Over in Valencia, Miguel's outstanding individual effort, leading to what must be one of the goals of the tournament, gave TDH more reason to rue Sir Bob's unsuccessful bid for the Portuguese antelope. He's the sort of young, mobile defender that, hmm, Milan might want to pick up.... In the meantime, Villareal's poor showing over both legs may show that apart from Riquelme, the best Argentines are playing elsewhere.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

"It's just like they always say - too much too late."

Greetings, loyal readers, from the land that brought you the Church of Diego. TDH now has access to four cable channels showing nonstop football in several different languages, and will be regaling you with stories from leagues and teams you've probably never heard of. Ukraine's beach soccer squad? They're shite.

Yes, TDH was getting too much football, too late at night. For starters, matches in the Torneo del Verano - the summer tournament - start at 10 p.m. The world is being treated to such strange sites as Boca Juniors and Racing Club playing in the mountain air of Salta, some 1,187 meters above sea level. Apart from Diego "El Pulpo" Simeone, who still has the face of a revolutionary who's had plastic surgery in a back alley, the teams looked to be about 12 years old. TDH doesn't know what that makes the mascot - negative three? In any case, it was a mildly entertaining tie that ended 1-1.

Earlier in the evening, it was a live telecast of Juve stomping on Fiorentina 3-0 in the first half while Luca Toni sat on the bench, desperately trying to whip up the spirits of the men in violet. He came on in the second half, and the teams played evenly. Funny, that. Still, for the first time since his injury, Del Piero looks back to his predatory best... which makes Sam's Army shudder.

TDH also had the opportunity to watch every goal Albeiro "El Palomo" Usuriaga scored for Independiente - many while Cesar "Cool Hand Luke" Menotti watched impassively. Now there was a talent. The Colombian was arguably a better wide-angle scorer than Horseface. Tragically he was murdered by a teenager in early 2004 at the age of 37. But the clips live on in South American memories....

Saturday, January 07, 2006

"If you were to name the top three goalkeepers in England, he’d be pleased with that."

TDH can barely believe that it´s taken this long, but... someone has finally snatched Antti Niemi from the indignities of the Championship. (Thought TDH was going to start right in on Shearer tying Jackie Milburn's 200-goal haul, didn't you?) Niemi certainly didn't deserve relegation, even if the rest of Harry's crew did. And now the Finn moves to Fulham. With McBride and John scoring regularly, the Cottagers may just move up the table a notch or two.

Back to the main news - obviously it's great that Shearer has taken his place alongside Wor Jackie, but again he's probably spared Souey from the axe, after the unconvincing win at Mansfield.

The bizarre happenings in the Magpie midfield aren't helping the Toon troops sleep any more easily, TDH can tell you. And if a Premiership team can't score twice at home against a side that's sitting 77 places lower in the pyramid, something is most definitely wrong. (At least Luque is making himself useful, TDH could be heard to grunt through clenched teeth....)

Luton gave Rafa's Riff-Raff a scare, going up 3-1 after Cisse missed a penalty, but it wasn't long before the Benitez Key Substitution (TM) made Town pay. It's not that Rafa is putting on great players - today it was Florence Cinema Pangolin - he actually just seems to be able to solve the equation correctly every time... just like the sort of mild-mannered accountant he so very much resembles. Maybe the Premiership's next great coach will come from Ernst & Young!

Thursday, January 05, 2006

"He'd no alternative but to make a needless tackle."

Are there more horror tackles in the game these days, or is it just TDH? There's no doubt that the art of the tackle, once the finest exponent of the English footballing tradition, has suffered from a lack of masterful practioners lately. How many Premiership hands can you name who know how to carve the ball out the way Parker, Redknapp and dear departed Vieira do? Probably not more than one per team, and there's the shame of it.

TDH doubts that players are any more susceptible to injury now than they were in the past, gripes about soft boots aside. Yet the list of the injured and punished grows every week, as the press replay freeze-frames of Essien, Reo-Coker, Sommeil and the likes.

What to do? Are the punishments for bad tackles too weak? Perhaps they are, but stiffening them might not be the best solution. It would be a shame if a flurry of cards and suspensions turned the Premiership into La Liga.

A better idea would be to improve players' training. TDH doesn't know exactly how the FA should do it, but a league-wide return to artful tackling would surely serve its interests. Instructional videos? Lectures by former stars? Tackling exams? Well, it's time to try something....

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

"That was in the past - we’re in the future now."

2006 - it's one of those even-numbered years that's not divisible by four. And that can mean only one thing: World Cup. But let's not jump to June just yet. After a two-week break, TDH is back in action! There's much to catch up on....

League: With even Wenger admitting the fight's gone out of his team, surely Pires' exit isn't the only one on the cards. They'll probably pick up points from Boro, but things are bad enough that a trip to Everton looks daunting. Fight Club's form has lifted them to dizzying heights. Of course, it's really just a sign of how weakly all the other mid-table squads performed over the holidays. Will Chelski make it 100 points this season? TDH wouldn't bet against it. Right now Betfair has them on 96.

Transfers: Au revoir, Laurent! Too bad we couldn't recoup more of that transfer fee with the fines on your behavior. Cassano's signing shows just how little the white jersey means in Madrid these days; he's the kind of player they never would have dreamed of signing a decade ago. Portsmouth are looking to cash in on their new oligarchic ownership, and given how things are going on Teesside, Yakubu might even answer the phone.

Toon: Another star-crossed season continues with Owen's injury. See, Sven, we wanted him to be rested for the World Cup! Luque may finally start producing now that he's gotten a few minutes, but the Toon must pick up a solid striker this month. Perhaps Saha is available? Manure would have to take a loss on him, but they could probably afford to sell him given Baby Face's return.

Obscure: How many of you loyal readers knew that Arsenal have a keeper named Michael Jordan in their first team? Come on, Mike, two sports were enough. But then again, who'd bet against one of the most acrobatic 6'6" 42-year-olds ever to span his hand across a ball?