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Monday, February 27, 2006

"Do I want to sign him? Never, never, never. Nothing. Never, never, never. I'm happy with the players we have here."

(Apologies for the delay, but TDH had a busted hard drive. Bugger.)

Is this the end of the Galacticos? Florrie has decided to call it quits, just when TDH was starting to enjoy using his cute nickname. Well, it takes a brave president to admit that the coach is not the problem. It's the players, of course. Er, the players he bought, of course.

Was the Galactico strategy really the problem? Zidane, Ronaldo and Figo certainly helped the team (in that order). Beckham was originally expected to do little more than sell shirts. But he has been an immense contributor with his constant (if sometimes slow) ball-chasing and the precision-guided missiles like the one Sergio Ramos headed in yesterday. Of course, you could still argue that Florrie overpaid. But hey, Real has taken over the top spot in the revenue rankings - so can things really be that bad?

Maybe someone just caught Florrie snogging Guti, or something. In any case, football has lost a character.


In the meantime, football may have gained another celebrity with Robbie Williams's investment in Port Vale. TDH isn't expecting the Valiants to become the next Wigan, but hey, Robbie seems to have his business head screwed on reasonably well, so maybe he'll be yelling, "Let's be having you!" on the pitch at halftime before long.


And finally, the news that Ashley Cole has reinjured himself must be making people like... Paul Konchesky... lick their lips.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

"I could use a cliché, but that's not me."

TDH will admit to knowing fairly little about Glenn Roeder before he took over at St. James's Park. Sure, he did some good things with the young'uns, but his time at West Ham wasn't memorable enough to stick in TDH's mind. Today, though, came a breath of fresh air. Even if the lads had lost, this kind of talk is more of what Tyneside needs:
"I told the players before the game, I've been a bit fed up with the negativity leading up to this game. Because we haven't got Alan playing, we haven't got Michael playing, we haven't got Kieron playing, the best we could hope for was probably a 0-0 draw. I said to them that was absolute rubbish - in fact, I said we wouldn't even settle for a draw before the game. I told them I didn't think they had been shown the respect they deserve by the suggestion this team was not good enough to beat Everton, and they went out and they were terrific."

The best part, of course, is that the chatter did the trick. Thirteen points from a possible 15 is nothing short of a dream. Of course, Souey also managed a nice streak when he took over. Perhaps the new manager always brings the ingredient that the previous gaffer was missing, so he always succeeds in the short term. But the long term is more of a test, when he has to supply everything by himself. (Then again, poor Harry can't seem to get the first part right, either....)

Given the games-in-hand, it will take some time for us to climb the table much farther beyond our current 11th. Still, what a turnaround. And well done to Roeder, too, for sticking up for Parker in England. The players must know he's behind them.


What cynicism at Zaragoza today, as Celades, standing just inside the right post, punched Edmilson's gorgeous curler away. The offending defender got the deserved red, of course, and L'il Ron duly converted the penalty. But the interesting part? The Argentine commentary on the handball was, "Well, he had no alternative." It's the same thing with the play-acting - they'll do anything to win, no matter how demeaning. By the way, the second goal, care of Larsson, showed the Swede back at his best, at least for the moment. A true thing of predatory beauty.

Friday, February 24, 2006

"He has the brain of a refrigerator."

Bits and pieces in TDH's brain today:

1. Toon fans would have had that sinking feeling as they watched the first half ticking to a close in the Marseilles v Bolton match yesterday. Yes, any Toon fan would have easily recognized the dark cloud that glides over the pitch when a seemingly-in-control team is about to concede just before the end of a half. And concede Bolton did, with soft defending and 20 seconds left in the first period. Bye-bye, Bolton - somehow Boro made it through, and you didn't.

2. Hey, Florrie, are you trying to drive away the Evil Eye? The Madrid supremo has told the press that he's sure Va-Va-Voom will stay with The Goon Show for the forseeable future. Well, he'd better, hadn't he, if the Merengues are to have any chance of a title in the next few years....

3. Speaking of Spaniards, they've descended to the lowest level of international football squad-stacking by pulling Brazilian-born Marcos Senna into la seleccion. Doesn't Spain's proud history pre-empt such ringers? Evidently Spain's trophy-less history doesn't.

4. Tomorrow's match against Everton will be a good test of Roeder's managerial prowess. The Sticky Toffees are resurgent, and, lacking players, he'll have to use tactics to disrupt them. Another home draw simply will not do, as Dodgy will tell you.

5. Once more, with feeling: come on, you Latics.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

"Do I send a 'B-team' and concentrate on the FA Cup and the league?"

What 'B-team' is that, Jose? Roman would like to know. Oh, you just have to love The Loquacious One. Barcelona is a very cultural city! You have wonderful theaters! So you know all about great acting!

Mourinho isn't just pricking the opposition when he comes out with these comments. He's also taking a bit of the stuffing out of the whole post-match press conference ritual. Let's face it, all these supposedly earnest journalists are asking supposedly earnest questions about a game. And as we all know, it's a funny old game - not one where you can seriously discuss the essentially arbitrary decisions of a single guy in black.

Perhaps Mourinho's breaking football's social contract with these departures from sincerity. After all, this game is paying his considerable salary. But maybe that just shows how smart he is. One can just imagine the young Mourinho: "Hmmm, I could make a million a year as a chief executive, or I could make several times that amount and be famous to boot as a coach. Hmmm...."


TDH finally took in a decent Copa Libertadores match last night, Corinthians versus Catolica. "Finally" because there have been just a few too many matches pitting the cream of Argentina, Brazil and even Mexico against overmatched sides from the Andes.

Tevez - known as Carlitos on the other side of the border - was creating plenty of good opportunities for his teammates, but he always seemed to react too late to his own chances. Corinthians looked to be heading for an easy victory after the first half... and they relaxed commensurately. The patient Chileans eventually grabbed a draw, truly a tremendous result on the road in Brazil.


TOMORROW: Er, UEFA Cup report, on the off-chance there's anything interesting later tonight....

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

"120,000 Barcelona fans go to their home games, and they're all here tonight."

The energy at Stamford Bridge was nothing short of electrifying. Flipping back and forth with the Ajax-Inter match, it was like watching the Rumble in the Jungle on one side and Punch and Judy on the other. And it didn't take long for things to kick off, in the familiar sense.

Here's how TDH saw the first half:

The Catalans had about 99 percent of the possession, and Fat Frank was completely missing in action. Chelsea never stopped pressuring, though, so Barca failed to hit its usual easy rhythm. Cech took care of their biggest chance.

Del Horno's charge into Messi was plainly devoid of any intention related to the ball, and by that measure, the red card was deserved. It seemed a little harsh, though, given that Messi 1) saw the challenge coming and 2) made a meal of it with the usual rolling around. The missed penalty call on Geremi, after Marquez connected with a corner, was nothing to cry about; there never should have been a corner kick in the first place, since Cech never touched the ball on the previous play.

And the second half:

If you wondered who that shaggy mop playing in place of Iniesta was, now you know: Thiago Motta, whose knee scored Chelsea's first goal of the tie. Then it was a case of Terry giveth, and Terry taketh away. The skipper's glancing header unluckily found his own net, but he then made two incredible stops playing as a surrogate keeper.

Still, Rijkaard's decision to play an extra striker, Larsson, against 10-man opposition eventually paid off. Mourinho had opted to put on Geremi, rather than a pure defender, after Del Horno's dismissal; Ferreira, though he did everything he could, was unable to cover both wings at once.

Somehow, Robben and Deco both managed to escape without a single yellow card between them. Iniesta, Deco's sub, picked one up within about a minute of touching the pitch. TDH is still trying to figure that one out.


Mara will undoubtedly feel some consternation that Inter managed to come back from 2-0 down in Amsterdam. Indeed, it was a night for 2-2 scorelines, except that Werder Bremen somehow stole one of Chelsea's goals. And of course, somewhere far in the wilds of Northern England, the Magpies grabbed a point from FC Curbs. Ahhhh.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

"And the steam has gone completely out of the Spanish sails..."

Truly, Arsenal should play in Spain. Real Madrid simply did not have the physical might to disrupt The Goon Show the way so many English teams have this season. Only Gravesen, Beckham and perhaps Woodgate had the stomach for it - no surprise, given where they played most of their careers - but Woody was gone after just a few minutes, thanks to a nagging leg muscle.

The Gooners cut through the Merengue defense like a chainsaw through custard. The through balls - half a dozen of them - were exquisite. In the second half, four Madrid defenders at a time were helpless to stop the Fabregas-Henry link. Ljungberg was a constant menace. Even Hleb looked lively, though Robinho tied him in knots with ease.

Lopez Caro made a slightly idiotic play by switching L'il Rob, who was providing decent service to a not-quite-on-song Ronaldo, for Raul. For his first touch, Raul got the ball right at the top of the box and froze. Then he missed a good chance. And then Julio Baptista came on... for Gravesen. Whaaaa?

He Who Sees No Incidents actually had almost as many Spaniards in his starting XI as Lopez Caro did: Fabregas and Reyes versus Guti, Casillas and Sergio Ramos. TDH waited eagerly to see if Theo Walcott, too young for the Premiership but not for UEFA, would make an appearance and add some English flavo(u)r to the visiting side. But it was not to be.

Meanwhile, two teams that actually have quite a few of their home countries' citizens in their squad lists slugged it out in Munich. Fantastic strike by Ballack and a rather fortunate away penalty for the Milanesas (which means "the breaded cutlets" down here), but I'll let Mara supply the rest of the commentary....

Monday, February 20, 2006

"Matches don’t come any bigger than FA Cup quarter-finals."

F*ck was all TDH could say after seeing today's FA Cup draw. Not just Chelsea, but Chelsea away. TDH supposes that Owen and Shearer will be back by then, if Owen will deign to play in an away match. Maybe Taylor will relieve us from Bozosong's horrors. TDH would even rather see Bramble and Babayaro in central defense.

But Chelsea's little lacuna in form will probably be long over by then. At least, after last year, we know we can beat them. But to beat the odds two years in a row? Well, there's that leaked scouting report to rile up the lads....


Newcastle Striker Watch * Vol. 971, No. 36

Now Ronaldo says he's ready to leave Real - another possible signing for the Toon. He's 29 and probably has two more good years in him. The Bucktoothed One is a bull and a good worker who usually keeps his head down. Of course, he'll probably want to bring his unique hair sensibility somewhere Champions League-ish. But Sir Bob showed that the team can jump from obscurity into the European places in a single season. Perhaps, with the right coach on board, O Fenomeno could be convinced.


Darius Vassell Slag-a-Thon * Vol. 39287423, No. 87681

Did anyone else see Empty Vassell's lone run on Sorensen in the FA Cup yesterday? The Man Who Couldn't Score had at least 30 yards of wide open space, a beautiful green plain devoid of any biped mammals, between himself and the Villa keeper. And yet, and yet, somehow he didn't even get a shot off. Sven, please take note.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

"I wouldn't trust Newcastle’s back five to protect my garden gnomes from squirrels."

Yes, it's three on the trot for Roeder. He took TDH's advice and played Dyer instead of Chopra, and he got the result. But, boy, was there a lot to worry about.

Top of the list, as usual, was the defense. Bozosong was at his most clownish, with Bramble and Given saving his considerable bacon on several occasions. Elliott had a couple of decent moments but really belonged on the Championship team, rather than the Premiership squad. Ramage put in his usual valiant effort, but N'Zogbia was arguably the Toon's best defender. Agh.

And Roeder showed his own bit of idiocy late on, when Southampton were forced to use substitute striker Dexter Blackstock in goal after their able starter, Bialkowski, was injured. In about the 84th minute, Emre managed to finagle a free kick in a good position outside the box. A direct kick almost anywhere probably would have scored, but instead the Magpies took three touches, allowing the Southampton players to rush forward for the block. Really, who's calling these plays? The Argentine commentators were practically pissing themselves as they witnessed our inability to score against nine men plus a goalkeeping muppet.

Still, TDH's heart was warmed by the sight of injured Uncle Alan, in a team overcoat and tie, celebrating on the bench with Roeder. Loyal readers, it was a glimpse of a happy future....


In other news, TDH was pleased to see that Sir will likely have to make do with the Carling Cup this year, if even that. Come on you Latics....

Friday, February 17, 2006

"He didn't get booked for the yellow card...."

Well, FIFA's looking to make some changes. The main emphasis appears to be time-wasting. Here are the highlights:

"...any player who intentionally interferes with the ball to prevent an opponent from restarting play, at a free kick, throw-in, corner etc., will receive a yellow card..."

Probably not a bad idea, but this stuff is rare. Maybe someone kicks the ball out of the way to delay a free kick or a quick restart. That does deserve a yellow. But equally bad are the guys who rush the kick before the player strikes it, or otherwise refuse to observe the 10-yard rule. Those offenses are far more common - how about some action?

" is proposed that a yellow card be shown to any player who interferes with the ball after his team has scored in an effort to delay the restart..."

When does this ever happen? If anything, players on a team that's behind are more likely to rush the ball back to midfield to get the game going again. Players on a team that's ahead usually just celebrate - they leave the ball for the keeper. Maybe there's some league in Uzbekistan or Burma where they do it differently....

"Items for discussion and decision under section V of the agenda include the use of technical aids by referees."

Well, TDH is all in favor of goal-line technology, which solves two problems at once: corner/goal-kick decisions, and the goal decisions themselves. We have the technology... but it would have to be tested in every stadium where it's used, and perhaps even before every match. Most likely the top-flight leagues would be the only ones able to pay for it. For something like the World Cup, though, surely it would reduce the risk of violence among "robbed" fans.

And there will probably be more. But we won't find out until after March 4.


BONUS: Can you name the two sometime Scots and Labourites sitting together at the Bolton v Marseilles match? Hint: one chews gum, the other used to chew out Tony Blair.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

"When it comes to using a meat knife, I can do everything. My players will have to watch out or I will kill them."

Could it be... TINKERTOON?

What would a Ranieri-led side look like on Tyneside? Well, one thing is for sure. There wouldn't be quite as much tinkering as there was at Chelsea, for the simple reason that we don't have enough players!

Thus restrained, Claudio might actually make a decent manager. He's a clever, affable guy. But can he lay down the law in Souey's wake? The players might think they're going to have an easy ride (except for that meat knife). Uncle Alan would have something to say about that, of course, but would the two men get along?

Claudio's laid-back enough to give Al his space, and probably smart enough to do some new things with the club. He's a decent man. Perhaps he could turn the Magpies into "gladiators," too.

Could we do worse? Certainly. But the Toon Army will always long for an inspirational general - something Ranieri's not. He doesn't have the presence. If Hitzfeld is available, he would probably be a better choice. But if it's between Ranieri and George Graham, Graham Taylor, or anyone else named Graham, then bring on the Tinkerman!

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

"Sometimes in football you have to score goals."

What, loyal readers, did TDH tell you about Real Madrid only a few days ago? Four goals, you could have taken it to the bank. The Merengues fell just short of overturning their 6-1 first-leg deficit against pesky Zaragoza. Thanks to excellent service from Becks they had their chances to win, including more than one flubbed by Zizou. But Zara also missed out on a clear penalty.

And so, the jajalacticos can only look to Europe for high-quality silverware this season. Raul was in a skybox, wearing glasses (!) and looking like a graduate student in comparative literature. It was hard to imagine him returning to the pitch alongside the ancients and the young bucks, but perhaps he's the missing link.

As TDH was watching the desperate attempts by the visiting side to stop the white tide, thoughts reappeared of Valencia's successful outing against Barca at the weekend. It was no accident. The Valencia offside trap was a thing of beauty. On more than one occasion, the slow-motion camera captured an absolutely straight line of four white shirts, across which the lone Barca offender was caught helplessly red-and-blue-handed.

Meanwhile, The Goon Show are now within goal difference of being the fourth best team in London. Who would have thought it? Suggestion for Arsene: call up Florrie in the summer and offer to take Shrek off his hands. Gravesen has the kind of presence hapless Highbury needs, and he's a misfit at Madrid.

Finally, for those in need of a L'il Ron fix, TDH has finally located some video of those crazy back-heel lob passes. It's here. Mesmerizing.

"In football, you can never say anything is certain. The benchmark is 38-40 points. That has always been the case. That will never change."

The somewhat rich get richer, the rather poor get poorer. That's the way TDH saw last night's match between West Ham and Birmingham.

The Whammers were constantly on the attack, Pardew mercilessly playing Ashton next to Harewood, with a recently shorn Benayoun rampaging all over the right-hand half of the pitch. TDH would be surprised if the Brum had 30 percent of the possession. And just when Bruce's Bums had managed to hold off several solid minutes of Whammer attack, Latka - yes, the guy in the white jumpsuit with the funny voice - goes and gives up the silliest of penalties.

Bruce the Elder was impassive. Bruce the Younger was losing his rag. Indeed, TDH wonders whether Bruce the Elder can be trusted with the team sheet these days. Given the near-certainty that the hopeless Brum will go down - yes, Bryan Robson, TDH thinks you can breathe easy - it wouldn't be too surprising if he just used the rest of the season to give his boy as much Premier League experience as possible.

Well, he's got about 115 minutes and counting. The lad's nose is still in one piece. The Brum defense? Still crap. And by the way, Steve, as TDH has pointed out in the past, it takes about 43 points. That may never change. Too bad, Brummies....

Monday, February 13, 2006

"The manager could not even talk to us at the interval - he said we were bad."

TDH was a little bit footballed-out this weekend, but of course there was much to comment on. So, what was the top of the charts?

Was it Chelsea and Barcelona losing within a day of each other, probably for the last time in history? Was it Guus Hiddink saying he'd happily be a part-time England coach? No, it was Newcastle winning two matches on the trot! Hurrah!

Despite the celebrating, TDH found some time to peek into the locker rooms of a few big clubs. Here's what TDH heard - see if you can guess where.
"Okay lads, here's the deal. If we lose this game, I may never be England coach. And you know what, I heard Guus Hiddink say he doesn't like you, Stewie. So you lads better go out and win this one - I don't care if Jesus himself takes the pitch for Abramovich. Yeah, do it for Stewie, not for me...."

"I have an ingenious plan. First, I'm going to rest Claude and Joe. I'm going to play 4-4-2 with Carlton, ha ha! That referee-tampering arsehole Rijkaard will think we've gone soft. And then on Wednesday, with Didier back, we'll stick it to him...."

"I have an ingenious plan. First, I'm going to rest Deco and Lionel. I'm going to play 4-5-1 with Sam in midfield, ha ha! That earpiece-wearing arsehole Mourinho will think we've gone soft. And then on Wednesday, with Ronnie back, we'll stick it to him...."

"Excellent performance today, lads. I'm going to pass around Alan's groin protector, and you all put in some cash for Shay's beatification appeal. I'll send it off to the Vatican first thing, after I finish cleaning it. Won't be a minute, Alan...."

"Our Murphy's better than their Murphy! Our Murphy's better than their Murphy! Yeah!"
Oh, those rowdy Mackems. You'd think it was only their 10th point of the season or something. Meanwhile, back at Stamford Bridge, the Special One started to... sing. Oof. But hey, Saint Seamus of Gateshead - TDH likes the sound of that.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

"There are no opportune times for a penalty, and this is not one of those times."

Today's lowlight was the ugly Espanyol v Deportivo match, which featured one dubious penalty for each side. Again, acting was partly to blame. The second instance was particularly egregious: two players went up for the same header in the Deportivo box, the ball fell between them, their heads barely touched, if at all, yet the Espanyol player curled up on the ground in mock pain to have Coloccini sent off. Truly disgusting.

More notable but just as crummy was last night's slugfest between UNAM Pumas and Nacional of Uruguay in the Copa Libertadores. Pumas used to be the team one looked to for the dignified, workmanlike spirit in Mexican football. That reputation lasted up through the coaching tenure of national hero Hugo Sanchez, but apparently it has now deserted the club.

At one point, a Pumas defender punched an offensive player in the face while jumping for a header. Later, another Pumas defender tried to pull a Nacional player's shorts down when he couldn't win a ball near the corner flag.

TDH has been asking the locals here in Buenos Aires how Latins with such an appreciation of machismo can countenance these despicable, contemptuous practices. The answer so far: players will do anything to win. It's almost as though sacrificing that treasured machismo in the name of victory is a noble thing.

How screwed up is that, TDH would like to know.

"The FA Cup is still domestically the best cup in the world."

Well, it was a workout for TDH's channel-changing thumb today as Chelsea v Everton and Zaragoza v Madrid kicked off within minutes of each other. First, to Stamford Bridge....

Why does TDH talk so much about Chelsea? Sure, they're the champions and will be again this year. But Mourinho, love him or hate him, always comes to the stadium with a full bag of tricks.

Mourinho's squad list held what the television guys interpreted as a 4-4-2 formation: Crespo, Gudjohnsen, Robben, Lampard, Essien, SWP, Gallas, Terry, Huth, Johnson, Cudicini. Makelele was getting a rest, but otherwise everything seemed pretty pedestrian. And yet, and yet....

From the off it was clear that Gudjohnsen was going to play behind Crespo, not beside him. Lampard would play near Gudjohnsen, and Essien in Makelele's regular holding spot. (Can you imagine Essien taking over that job when the Frenchman retires, loyal readers? Arsene and Sir must have been shaking as the thought occurred to them.) The wingers would streak in on Crespo's flanks as per usual.

But wait! What's this? Robben on the right and SWP on the left?!?! Yes, that's how they started. TDH started feeling nauseous almost immediately, and you can imagine how the Everton defense felt. They were in total disarray. Then, after about a quarter of an hour, Dr. Football switched the wingers back to their usual positions, and within minutes he had his first goal.

The high-test motor oil also known as SWP is called "El Supersonico" around these parts, and he certainly looked the part as he attracted a penalty from clumsy Nuno Valente in the 36th minute. Oh, clumsy Nuno Valente - the referee took pity on him by not awarding a second yellow card. Had he done so, the 4-1 scoreline could have been much worse.

With the result already in hand for the Billionaire Boys Club, TDH decided to check out the Madrid match. 3-0 to Zaragoza already, care of a 20-minute hat-trick by local hero Diego Milito! He bagged another after the break, on the way to 6-1. The Merengues looked like cold bacalao.

To sum up, TDH would like to offer loyal readers a little something to take to the bookies: It's a safe bet that the total number of goals in any Madrid match will be at least four. It's just not clear who'll win.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

"Someone said, 'Football is more important than life and death to you,' and I said, 'Listen, it's more important than that.'"

The final is set in the African Cup of Nations: Egypt v Ivory Coast. The first semifinal was a tepid affair, with some peculiar attributes. The weather in Alexandria was in the 60's, but by midway through the second half Nigeria looked tired. After they went behind to another Drogba strike, no one except Okocha - a sub for Obi Mikel - was really trying. Even Drogba struggled to fire up his side's fans as the last minutes ticked down.

Despite the cool weather, playing in the late afternoon in Alexandria seems to be no picnic. The stadium faces almost exactly east-west, so one team was always going to see its offense neutralized by the glare of the low sun. (To see for yourself, try this link on Google Earth.) Martins had to shield his eyes just to arrange the second-half kickoff with Kanu!

It sounds like the other semifinal, not broadcast in TDH's neck of the woods, ended on a sour note. Apparently Senegal should have been awarded a penalty in the 90th minute that could have drawn the match, but the referee waved play on - probably out of fear for his life.

It's not only in Egypt that such a thing could happen. A better question might be, why don't such threats ever arise in the US? Perhaps it's because sporting events are much more of a family affair there. Or maybe it's just because, for all our faults, Americans realize that a game is just a game.

Plenty of diehard football fans see that attitude as a sign of the inferiority of American sports and sporting culture. It's not emotional enough, not life-or-death enough for them. Well, maybe they should take a step back once in a while to consider their priorities.

"There's Bergkamp standing on the halfway line, with his hands on his hips, flailing his arms about."

The continuing travails of The Goon Show merit some more mention, especially after the frank comments delivered by the Delayed One Hour Dutchman. They're worth reading, and you can find them here.

His point that Arsenal shouldn't have ended up in a rebuilding year certainly rings true. They needed to replace Vieira, and they didn't. Who honestly could have thought that Fabregas and Flamini could handle the job between them? Even if they could have on the pitch, there was no way that they could fill Paddy's boots off it.

Of course, the Grounded by Snow Dutchman himself should have been one of the people picking up the slack as far as leadership was concerned. But no matter, a rebuilding year it is, like it or not.

TDH watched The Goon Show's new players in action at the weekend. Sure, there's plenty of talk about Diaby and Djourou, but it was Emanuel Adebayor who really caught the eye. The Togolese striker was full of action and intent, leading one of the Argentine commentators to call him "el nuevo Kanu," an apparently popular nickname. Unlike the lanky Nigerian, however, Adebayor actually looked like he might score in an Arsenal shirt... and did.

Still a couple of weeks away from his 22nd birthday, Adebayor could be Arsene's find of the season. These days, he always seems to have one: Toure, Senderos, now Adebayor. And one a year would be enough for a team with established players in every position - but that's not Arsenal, not anymore.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

"Chelsea look like they've got a couple more gears left in the locker."

For several years, the marquee match-up in the Premiership was Manure v Snal. Then, for four matches all bound up in a brief moment in time, it was Chelski v Snal. As the current season dawned, surely it was Chelski v Rafapool; the two continental managers, the honors shared from the previous season, the young talents - all the ingredients were there.

It was truly a great tie, without the ugly violence of Fergie's neanderthals and Arsene's unseeable incidents. But then something happened: the stuffing went out of Liverpool. Call it over-reliance on Harry Kewell, call it the failure to recognize a rubbish crop of strikers, call it what you will - they're not as fearsome as they once seemed.

And on the other side, Chelski only ever looks vulnerable on a corner kick. Even with Kerrrowwch - there's that Argentine accent again - up front, the threats were neutralized by Terry and the octopus also known as Ricardo Carvalho (that's him in the center). Gallas got into the act, too, pulling down the back of Cisse's shirt to restrain his jump unbeknownst to the referee.

So the champs are back in the "W" column against what used to be their toughest opponent, and there are only two things left to do: 1) wait for April 29, when Manure visit Stanford Bridge, and 2) hope that L'il Ron and Eto'o are back in the squad when Barca meet Chelski in the Champions League, because suddenly the Catalans aren't looking so hot without them.


Playing as the lone striker in front of Chelski's four offensive midfielders, Rice Crespo (6' 181 lbs) was at his predatory best on Sunday. His opposite number in the Argentine squad, Julio "The Gardener" Cruz (6'1" 176 lbs), has been scoring regularly lately for Inter. So with a couple of bulky strikers, will Argentina play long-ball in Germany?

The locals say no. In fact, they bemoan the supposed fact that they can't play the "pelotazos" like England. They argue that they have to build everything up on the ground. But is that just a result of Romanitis? If TDH were coming up with a strategy to beat the Dutch, a bit of long-ball battering might figure into the equation. What say you, loyal readers?

Saturday, February 04, 2006

"Football's not just about scoring goals - it's about winning."

Well, was it magic? Souness out, and the Magpies return to winning ways with the assistant manager's record-setting goal. Nothing changed on the team sheet, though it seemed like there was some flexibility with Dyer and Bowyer on the bench.

This could be a problem, in fact, in the short term. Since Roeder was the youth team coach, he probably has a soft spot for Amoeba and Chop. What he really should be doing, of course, is keeping those guys on the bench and playing Dyer next to Shearer.

If Dyer's healthy enough to sit on the bench, he should be healthy enough to play a half up front - which, goshdangit, is his preferred position, anyway. Sure, put one of the scrubs on for the second half, or when Dyer gets injured again. But Oinker's the best option in Owen's absence.


Fulham were unlucky not to take a point from Manure. They fought back to 3-2 in the first half. Then in the second half, they had the better of the possession, with loads of half-chances for McBride and John - playing together for a change - until Rooney came on.

It didn't end well for the Cottagers, with an offside goal allowed, but there was one bright spot. Evra plowed into a Fulham player and then started writhing on the floor - the classic continental tactic to avoid the blame. Martin Atkinson, the referee, waited patiently for Evra to stop moaning, showed him the yellow card, and motioned him off the pitch. Moments later, Evra ran back on - in perfect health, of course.


Finally, a footnote. Birmingham snapped up Brentford's cup hero, DJ Campbell, in the dying hours of the transfer window for half a million pounds. He looked a bit small against The Goon Show, but he had a couple of nice runs. It seems a shame, though, that he won't be in the side against Charlton in the fifth round of the FA Cup. Charlton's a beatable team - especially now. But alas, TDH supposes that kids like Campbell need to take their chances to play in the big show, whenever those chances may come.

"Sol Campbell there, using his strength. And that is his strength - his strength."

Isn't it funny how some things that seem so solid can suddenly crumble into uncertainty? No, TDH isn't talking about Sol Campbell. But TDH is talking about Sol's effect on England's line-up for Germany 2006.

The big man looks like he's on a one-way trip to the bench. With less playing time, there's a fair chance that he'll be left out of Sven's Last Squad. (Alas it's too late for the Toon to pick him up - anybody would have been better than Swansong.) So what will Sven do?

Well, there's no doubt that three of the center-back spots will go to Terry, Rio and Carragher. For the fourth, Sven could plump for Wrong-Way Woody as long as he finishes out the season reasonably in Madrid. Heaven help England, but Wuss Brown is also a possibility. Or Sven could be clever - bear with TDH here - and pick King for that spot.

The whole reason you have back-up players at each position is for flexibility, right? Well, Ledley can provide it. Even if he starts a match as a holding midfielder, he can drop back if one of the center-backs is injured. And in the meantime, another midfield spot opens up on the roster.

As we've all recounted time and again, four of the eight spots are taken by Fat Frank, Stevie G, Becks, and Young Joe. Now there are four remaining for some combination of SWP, Kieran Richardson, Jenas, Carrick, Downing (we pray), Hargreaves (agh) and perhaps Parker. Hargreaves has only played in about half of Bayern's games, several as a sub. As of today, TDH would bet on Sven picking the first four. The way Richardson's playing, he could be England's 1958 Pele....

Thursday, February 02, 2006

"Newcastle is a bigger job than England."

Truer words were never spoken in jest, Mick Quinn! At last, the day has come: Souey's out.

Okay, he had his problems with injuries. And speaking from TDH's vaunted statistical perch, any club can have a run of bad form. But let's face it, the Magpies have looked like dog food for weeks. Time for a little kick in the rump.

So, whom do we want? Well, it's a complicated question. With Uncle Alan already installed as assistant manager, this may not be a job that many of the big names would take. Whoever cops it will know that their days are numbered. The local boy will be taking over within a few years at most. (Of course, Uncle Alan needs to get his UEFA qualification first - yet another ridiculous labor market restriction imposed by Europeans.)

Is there an elder statesman out there who'd be willing to show the 200-goal man the ropes for a few years, whose name isn't Sir Bobby Robson, and who we'd actually want managing the team? TDH isn't so sure there is. I mean, come on, Jim Smith would be a disaster. Maybe, er... Jimmy Hill?

(TDH toddles off, head shaking in bemusement.)

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

"I never comment on referees, and I'm not going to break the habit of a lifetime for that prat."

And it all started so promisingly. Barca needed 2-0 or better to correct their first-leg deficit against Zaragoza in the Copa del Rey. They were all over the Aragonians in the first half. Protecting a 4-2 lead in the tie, the visitors to the Camp Nou tried to slam the door - but they couldn't hold off the L'il / L'el combination.

That is, they couldn't until just a few minutes before the end of the first period. L'il Ron came in late for a challenge near the center line and bumped one of the men in white off the ball using his shoulder. The ref's reaction? A straight red.

Just so you know who we're dealing with, his name is Julian Rodriguez Santiago, and this is his ugly mug. Because of him, Barca unfairly had to play most of the match a man down and without their talisman.

They responded admirably, scoring minutes later on a header by L'el that was pure aggression. In the second half, though, they conceded a goal - meaning two more of their own were needed. Barca's second score, from Larsson, came near the stroke of 90 minutes. Four minutes of stoppage time were supposed to ensue. But at 93:30, with Barca on the ball at midfield, Rodriguez Santiago blew his whistle.

Marca, the sycophantic sports paper from Madrid, had a headline on its website right away. It read, "Zaragoza 'bumps off' Barca" - how ruefully true.


In other news, looks like Arsenal could use a little David Bentley action now, eh? He can score a hat-trick against Manure, but he's just not good enough for Highbury. Where they can't even beat West Ham. Oh, and zero points for Newcastle? What else is new....