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Wednesday, May 31, 2006

"We had enough chances to win this game. In fact, we did win."

TDH only managed to take in the first 25 minutes of England v Hungary. Eventually Sven's intelligent setup was vindicated - at least the Stevie G part that your grandmother could have put together - but TDH will air plenty of gripes.

First off, there was clearly plenty of ambition in the side. Carragher charged forward majestically, and JT and Rio were up front for every corner. Owen was challenging every ball at the back, and Gerrard seemed to be loving his new (if you can call it that) forward role.

There were problems, though. The last pass always seemed to be lacking, and so many spirited runs ended with a fairly easy dispossession by the Magyars. It seemed like the squad simply hadn't played together enough - undoubtedly an infirmity bred by Sven's constant chopping and changing. Hopefully, by the time they make it to Germany, they will have had more time on the pitch as a unit.

Also, the Spice Boy seemed eager to occupy the space left by Owen, who likes to operate on the left, and Stevie G, who was coming in behind. So he ran deep into the box from the right, leaving 'Tache to take the crosses. That is not what England need. Becks has scored from inside the box for the Merengues several times this season, but England have plenty of threats there. What they need are his crosses, since those supplied by 'Tache were frankly (and somewhat unusually) abysmal.

Young Joe, sad to say, seemed to be falling into his old habit of dribbling against three defenders and then falling over or losing the ball. What has saved him from this at Chelsea has been having a big target or a corresponding winger across the pitch who can receive a pass. He won't always have this with England, and he needs to figure out an alternative. TDH's vote is a looping pass to Gerrard, who is unbeatable on the volley.

Finally, as TDH had feared, the system with Carragher in the holding role didn't exactly gel. He moved to the right with Hargreaves coming on for out-of-sorts 'Tache. To judge by the scoreline, it settled the team. But please, Hargreaves? Where's Carrick?

Clearly, England could have won 4-1 or 5-1. But still, Sven, it's getting late! Sort it out!

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

EXTRA: England squad changes

The Telegraph reports that Sven will be using the following formation tonight againt Hungary, and possibly in the first three matches of the Cup:



'Tache / JT / Rio / Tap-Up


Spice Boy / Fat Frank / Young Joe

Stevie G


This may be the greatest proof ever that Sven has regained whatever sanity he once had. Just get your best players out on the pitch and let them do what they're best at. The only problem is that it's not the easiest system to work - responsibilities are not entirely clear (e.g., will Young Joe have to defend more space in midfield?). TDH has a mild doubt about using Carragher in place of Carrick, but it's probably just as well to have someone who won't try to get forward all the time. And there's no doubt about Carragher's ability to play as a sweeper. So this should be quite the display.

Monday, May 29, 2006

"Alex Ferguson is the best manager I've ever had at this level. Well, he's the only manager I've actually had at this level."

TDH and the Gooner known as Redgravey have been discussing the grandest conspiracy theory of the season. Is Sir really trying to keep Wine Hrooney out of the Cup?

Of course he is. He'd like nothing better than for Wine - and hey, why not Rio and 'Tache as well? - to sit out the tournament and rest up for Manure's annual assault on the four trophies. And wouldn't it kill the old Scot to see England win it all again? Even after all the money English fans have paid the dour old man....

In public, naturally, Sir is declaring that there's no player he wants to see more in the World Cup. Microphones had a little trouble picking up the mumbled words in between "more" and "in the World Cup"; they were, nonexistent sources tell TDH, "in the stands."

And this latest ruse, bringing forward Wine's scan to June 7, so that it's before the deadline for the final squad list, didn't fool TDH. At that point, Sir knows, that the boy wonder probably won't have healed enough for any conclusive decision.

Why does TDH take such a cynical view? Well, even TDH's Scottish friends - much less devious types than old Taggart himself - have been known to wish ill upon England's footballing campaigns. Can you imaginge? Yes, TDH even walked into a Tennent's in Glasgow once, to watch an England v Germany match, and saw the locals wearing Deutscher Fussball-Bund shirts. You've probably heard that one before, loyal readers, but it bears repeating.

At least Sven will get back that spot on his roster. Too bad he's going to use it for Tito, Latoya, Jermaine, who's starting to look like the Second Coming of Empty Vassell. (No Holy Grail he, har har har.)

On a happier note, all of London seems to be united behind Stevie G pushing forward as a second striker or in a 1-5-4 set. Sven, listen up!

Sunday, May 28, 2006

"The one thing I didn't expect is the way we didn't play."

Curiouser and curiouser! Figuring out the implications of the pre-cup friendlies is like reading tea leaves. You never know whether the players are really trying, really running flat-out. In some cases, you don't even know if you'll ever see the players on the pitch in Germany.

For example, Horseface scored against a Cameroon that was missing only Eto'o. But has Van Basten's taste for Kuyt actually flown away, or does he really intend to start Mr. Ed alongside Batman's faithful sidekick? And Spain couldn't score against Russia with what could have been a full-strength side, depending on your taste in midfielders. TDH wouldn't have left Xabi Alonso, Iniesta and Xavi on the bench, but hey, you can't really knock Cesc and Louie G either. (Spain definitely has a lock on the smooth-passing midfielders, don't they? Too bad they'll get mowed down by anyone who weighs more than 80 kg.)

And moreover, can TDH simply ask why some friendlies are played at all? Does Germany really gain anything by clobbering Luxembourg 7-0? No serious player could take a morale boost from that. At the same time, you have to wonder why Portugal only won 4-1 against Cape Verde.

Meanwhile, it looks to be a rough road ahead for Dyn-o-mite! (That's TnT to you, loyal readers....) Going down to Wales in the soon-to-be-renamed Schwarzenegger Stadium on two Gobby Goals can't be a good sign.

On a happier note, the US put paid to the Bolivarian Circles 2-0, leaving their leader to fly to Bolivia, don some interesting headgear, and then badmouth our leader, or at least the leader of some 32 percent and dropping of us. Nice work if you can get it.

Friday, May 26, 2006

"I can't see us getting beat now, once we get our tails in front."

And it all started out so promisingly. England's B team looked to be tearing the Belarus squad apart in the first half of their competition at the newest stadium in the Premier League. Downing and Carrick were bombing the balls in, and Lennon was looking like, like, well, like The Special One probably dreamed SWP would look like. With Sol and Jamie at the back, what could go wrong?

Well, plenty. Sol was fouled going for a header in the 19th, and then Shtanyuk the Manyuk handled in the 60th. Both were such clear penalties that they could have been seen from the moon, but somehow Ireland's man in black, Dave McKeown, missed both. And then there was the freak injury on Robert Green that led to the first goal for the opposition. Seemed a bit unsportsmanlike, but it all happened so quickly that TDH isn't quite ready to condemn Kutuzov to football hell.

Then, after Sven's usual billion substitutions, came the second goal. Loyal readers, please pay attention. Dawson may have been the one who failed to block the shot, but it was HARGREAVES who lost his man. HARGREAVES. Let's not forget.

In his usual perverse way, Sven will probably be happy. He got to see virtually all his players on the pitch for at least 39 seconds each. And his late selections - Downing, Lennon and Walcott especially - showed deadly speed and not a little finishing potential. Yet TDH is getting more excited, too. The beaky Swede has given himself a scary arsenal of scoring talent. Combined with a deep defense, it's looking like a quality team indeed.

Maybe that's why TDH hasn't mentioned Wine Hrooney yet. It looks like he's out of the first round of the tournament, at least. Yet at this point, he's looking more and more like another option, rather than the only one. He has more game-turning ability than the other guys, but it hardly looks like England will have a hard time finding goals.


Halfway around the world, in Melbourne, 95,000 people saw the Aussies take out the European champions. That team is going to be pumped. In fact, Hiddink seemed pumped enough to fly all the way to Germany under his own power. Meanwhile, about a zillion people showed up to see the Argentine squad's bus pulling into the airport. Too bad they couldn't get a direct flight to their training base in Italy....


The news that "Moro" Morientes (such a clever nickname) is on his way to Valencia will come as ominous news on Tyneside. The Kop will definitely be in competition for a top striker. Rafa's too clever to sign a Horseface who's getting long in the tooth when he can pick up a promising youngster and ink Robbie Rifle for pennies. But hey, TDH would be happy with a couple of years of Horseplay, if that's the best Freddie can do.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

"I do want to play the short ball, and I do want to play the long ball. I think long and short balls is what football is all about."

Okay, short TDH today in honor of Sir Bob as the bigger action is coming tomorrow. First off, sounds like Captain America's injury is minor, so hopefully he'll be back in time for the first match in a few weeks. Chelsea may indeed sign Sheva, which is finally getting to the point of "not fair". Liverpool are in for Kuyt, so he says, or so his agent says, or so everyone but Rafa says. But who could blame Rafa for trying to bulk up his costly, misfiring strike force?


How strange is the Copa Libertadores? They take a two-month break for the World Cup - not just between rounds, but actually right in between the two legs of the quarterfinal round. TDH will have such a football hangover by then that it'll be a chore to tune in. Or... well, who is TDH kidding? There's got to be at least, er, a week in between the World Cup final and the first Libertadores match. That's enough time to get over a triple bourbon, a six-pack of beer and a bottle of cheap champagne, right?

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

"I don't think we quit. I don't think we quit.... I'm sure, from a coaching standpoint, it looked like we quit."

Not such great news for the Yanks from tonight's friendly against Morocco in that great capital of world soccer, Nashville. Arena started the match with what was probably, in his opinion, his strongest XI. (TDH might have plugged Bocanegra into the defense, but otherwise it does seem pretty close to the best XI.)

Within a few blinks of an eye, Captain America was grabbing his right thigh and Maestro Mastroeni came on - solid player, but not half so influential. To make a long story short, Sam's Army couldn't score against a middling team on home soil. And after Arena took off Onyewu - perhaps our most talented defender - it didn't take long for the squad to concede a soft goal after some sloppy play by his replacement on the right, Clint "Make My" Dempsey.

There were a couple of bright spots. Johnny O seems to be dropping great balls in over the top, as he did in 2002. "Fast" Eddie Johnson came close with a header, which suggests the US could do well with a vintage Toon-style lineup of two big forwards. Brian "The Head" McBride may finally have found his partner.

But Arena puzzlingly said after the game that the US was "leg-weary" and "overtrained," which hardly bodes well for the next friendly... on Friday against Venezuela. That's a must-win for the US, if only because losing will lead to a decade's worth of chiding from this guy. What a nightmare.


Kuyt to Tyneside? Hey, sounds like Roeder's keeping his eyes open for hot young talent, and he's got some money to spend - both good signs. And any striker fancied by Van Basten has to be worth a bit of dosh. But let's wait until next month and see how the Dutchman stacks up to a certain equine compatriot who's also on the market. Now, if only someone would buy Luque....

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

"I'm not going to drag it out or make a point, because points are pointless."

Poor Palace, poor AJ. Their sneering chairman, Simon Jordan, is one of the more intrinsically dislikeable people in football, even if he does sometimes say things that ought to be said (as he has about diving). And he seems bent on keeping them out of the Premier League.

Evidently taking a mediocre team as far as the Championship playoffs was not enough to keep Iain Dowie in his job. Well, you can bet that the former Northern Ireland international and Sam the American Eagle lookalike (there are so many of them in English football) will find a new job, and probably a better one.

As for AJ, apparently 8 million pounds isn't enough to get him back into the Premier League, where he almost certainly belongs. Heck, if Four-Goal Heskey still belongs there, then surely AJ does. That 8 million would likely buy Palace enough players for promotion next year, but no, Simon Gollum has to hold onto his precious....


Sven has again - and inexplicably this time - ignored Ledley by bringing Neville #2 into the England squad for injured Reo-Coker. Is Ledley's recovery really so far off track? Phil certainly did blossom at Everton this year, but still, both Nevilles again? Also, why is a defensive midfielder being swapped in for Captain Wham, anyway? Wouldn't even Kieran Richardson have made more sense? Come on, now, Sven. As Ricky Ricardo would say, you got some splainin to do....

Monday, May 22, 2006

"It's great to get the first trophy under the bag."

And he doesn't even have to share it. Samueleeto put his name, and only his name, on the Pichichi with his usual aplomb, barely halfway through the first period in Bilbao. Sure, Barca's B team (or was it their C team?) lost the game, but the job was done.


El Tel for Boro? Come on, can't you guys come up with something more original? He's a safe pair of hands, translated as "walking recipe for mediocrity." Not that Boro have such high aspirations, but come on, why not try someone with at least a chance of a bit more excitement?


With Luke Young's injury, Sven has drafted Tottenham's Michael Dawson into the England setup. The only knock on him has been his temperament - a couple of red cards in the second half of the season. But his record isn't too different from Luke Young's; the Charlton captain had nine yellows to Dawson's six, with both playing in 32 Premiership matches. The final squad could get younger still....


Finally, shame about Leeds. Eddie Lewis won't be back in the Premier League just yet. Watford hasn't exactly shown much staying power in the top flight - but hey, they could hardly be worse than Scumderland.

Friday, May 19, 2006

"They can blame the referee, but they can blame no one but themselves."

No surprises in the aftermath of yesterday's match. The ever-noble Norwegians stayed true to type, with the ref admitting he should have let play continue after Lehmann's ankle-grabbing of Eto'o. But strangely, he said he would have let the German get off with a yellow card. For TDH, that was a red, regardless of the situation.

Back up on Tyneside, Roeder is starting to make his summer plans. There are some doubts about Milner, who might be worth more in cash than as a player, given N'Zogbia's current ownership of the left wing. The Toon need a striker and a couple of defenders, not so much a winger. Defenders. Did TDH say defenders? TDH meant defenders. Did TDH mention defenders? Oh, okay.

Also, the papers say Henry is going to sign a new contract with Arsenal. It's an interesting development. TDH figured he'd be sure to leave if The Goon Show lost; the only question was if they'd won. But no, he seems to believe in Arsene's young gun(ner)s... and to be honest, TDH does, too. They're a promising bunch, a TH has at least four years left to see how far they can go. Besides, he's happy living with his dog up in Hampstead, ain't he?

In other news, the Sun reports Drogba is looking to move back to the continent. He could surely make a fortune pushing around the wussy defenders in La Primera Liga, or picking up scraps in Serie A. But really, does he think he'll be paid more than he is at Chelsea? In TDH's book, he's already a bit overpriced. Chelski will get their European Cup eventually - where else will he go?

Thursday, May 18, 2006

"(It was) one-nil to the Arsenal..."

Well, they said those UEFA Champions League final officials were from Norway, but they might as well have been from Mars! First off, clearly the ref should have played the advantage after Lehmann took Eto'o down just outside the box. Since he blew the whistle, though, he had no choice but to send Lehmann off and award a free kick. Even if he had played the advantage, though, and Giuly's goal had stood, he probably should have sent Lehmann off anyway - right?

Then there was the "foul" on Eboue, which led to the free kick and the Gooners' goal. Clearly there was barely any contact. And Van Bommel made several outrageous lunges without being penalized. Once, in fact, TH ended up with the foul instead. He was left spluttering in disbelief....

Almunia almost held the gates closed until the end, but TDH has to believe that Lehmann 1) wouldn't have been wrong-footed by Eto'o nor 2) would he have let Belletti - Belletti! - shoot through his legs.

That said, the real culprit was probably Ashley Cole, who had to mark Eto'o on the left. If he hadn't lost Samueleeto, Lehmann never would have had to spare the left-back's blushes with the red card. And perhaps Lehmann doesn't know just how much he's worth; had he simply conceded the goal to Eto'o, the score might have been 1-1 at the end of 90 minutes.

On the bright side, Big Sol was a monster in the biggest match of the season. He looked as good as in Euro 2004, for TDH's money. Sven must be smiling, somewhere. Meanwhile, La Pulga Bionica was nowhere to be seen - TDH couldn't even spot him in the celebrations after the game. Could you, loyal readers?

Overall, TDH is a bit saddened for The Goon Show, as they might not have another chance at the title. Barca clearly will, but TDH could hardly say they didn't deserve it this time, too.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

"For some it's the ultimate job, for the others it's the last job."

Huge TDH today! First, the Toon. Great to have Roeder in place, showing that for all Freddie's faults, he still handles a managerial succession about 1,384,892 times better than Soho Square. And just read the chairman's comments on the League Managers Association. TDH was chuckling with glee.

The Magpie Messiah made all the right noises at the press conference, even if he lacked a nice Geordie accent. He was also careful to point out that he only had the benefits of Mickey O's services for about 30 minutes during his tenure as caretaker. England look set to have rather more, with the uneventful return to training today of Sven's "clean killer." And finally, Uncle Alan as the Toon's "sporting ambassador?" Tell TDH something TDH doesn't know.


'Twas a fascinating night in Spanish football. Men in White lost to Sevilla, 4-3, and TDH is starting to think that four-three's really do grow on trees. But more seriously, there were several possible harbingers of World Cup fate:
  • Becks: his crosses and lobs were impeccable, and he took his second goal with merciless efficiency
  • Zizou: still has some of that magic, and the ability to smack a ball from close range
  • Iker: left looking silly by a couple of thunderbolts, fumbled a save badly leading to another goal
  • Saviola: may finally be turning TDH into a believer with two well-taken goals, one at a positively Horsefaceian angle
And the Germany-bound defenders - Salgado, Sergio Ramos, Sissinho and Rob Charlie - looked like so many Jim Henson creations.

In the day's other big match, Osasuna pipped Valencia, meaning that 1) the Merengues go straight into the Champions League despite losing, 2) Valencia goes into Champions League qualifying instead of the group stages, 3) Osasuna goes into Champions League qualifying instead of the UEFA Cup, and 4) Sevilla has a free trip back to the UEFA Cup, which they already had, anyway.

Whoever scheduled these matches on the same night is obviously an evil genius! So, was it you, Luciano? Just whisper it in TDH's ear....

In addition, David Villa showed that yes, he also strikes a mean free kick. But it wasn't enough. Noble and talented Samueleeto will be the Pichichi, assuming L'il Ron doesn't score nine at Atleti on Friday. Which, let's face it, could happen.

That happy development was somewhat offset by the news that Frankie Hejduk has been ruled out of the World Cup by injury. No Jay-Z for Argentina, no Frankie for the US? There will only be justice if Materazzi gets abducted by aliens. Ah, but wait, then they'll think we're just a race of tall muggers with sweaty headbands....

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

"The World Cup is a truly international event."

Well, today all the news came in. Soccernet (link at right) can fill you in on the details - no, TDH isn't going to list every single national team here. But there are some salient details.

Let's start with Soccernet's finest headline of the day: "No surprises as Brazil name superstar squad." Almost every player is a household name, or should be. But one guy probably was surprised by the annoucement: Julio "The Beast" Baptista. TDH has taken a shine to the big man with the infectious smile, yet even on his footballing merits he would have been a great understudy for Kaka. The odd man in, however, seems to be Ricardinho of Corinthians. TDH has seen a lot of Corinthians lately, and the guy hasn't exactly set South American screens on fire.

Pekerman finally broke his silence in Argentina. TDH was not at all pleased to see Aguero left out - and both Sevilla's idiosyncratic Saviola and Boca's Palacio included. Palacio's an exciting player, but he doesn't have quite as much game-changing, world-tilting X factor as El Kun. Also, Abbondanzieri and Ustari are in as keepers, but no Lux? Was Pekerman even watching Abobblezeball against Croatia?

DeMichelis is out, which takes a lot of weight from the team. Pekerman is clearly betting that lean and quick will win - sort of like Sven - even if Argentina can't deal with ten-ton strikers like Drogba, Horseface and Slobo. And finally, no Zanetti. "I think I did everything necessary to be in the World Cup," he moaned. Farewell, old left-wing warrior....

While Klinsmann came to his press conference equipped with a video, Lippi simply read out the names in about three seconds flat. He's got tons of scoring power, with, yes Mara, Pippo joining Toni and company on the team sheet. But are any of these players, besides Del Piero, really creative enough to turn a match?

Finally, TDH was happy to see a decent non-US team pick a player from Major League Soccer! Yes, Claudio Suarez of Chivas USA, who at 37 is the world's all-time cap leader, is on Mexico's list. Progress, loyal readers, progress.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

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

Oh no, not another baseball connection! Yes, it's time for what the folks in the major leagues call the hot stove heater. That's how ball players keep warm over the long winter, trying to figure out who's going where for the next season. Of course, in football most transfers happen over the summer. So, time for the cool air conditioner.

There are quite a few prospects out there for ambitious teams. The Toon clearly need a striker and a defender or two, plus perhaps a bit of midfield cover. Top options would be Horseface, Horsename, and some guy who plays for France called Chimbonda. Horsename has taken his knocks for not defending well enough, but he's the kind of exciting player who could be a dream in combination with Emre, Nobby, Parker, Dyer, or whoever's healthy....

And speaking of health, the most important thing for the Magpies to do this summer is to figure out the recurrent injury problems. Is it the pitch? Is it the trainer? Is it the climate? Is it the diet? TDH has said it before and will say it again. It's time for a Milan-style computerized fitness regimen with the highest quality medical attention available. Injuries have killed this team in three of the last four seasons, and it's time to sort things out once and for all.


Domenech's France squad makes it pretty clear that he'll be playing 4-3-3. Understanding how Swansong made it into the 23 is beyond TDH's mental capacity. It's also a bit puzzling that Cisse is preferred to Giuly on form, but TDH supposes that Giuly hasn't made any friends by talking out of turn. A Saha-Henry partnership could be quite dangerous. The midfield of Vieira and Zidane, with Dhorasoo or Makelele, is solid but aging. Thuram and Chimbonda stand out in defense, but that's definitely where they're weak. TDH figures they'll need to score three every match to spare Baldthez's blushes.

Van Basten's Netherlands had few surprises, but again, most of the brand names are on the front two lines, and it looks like a 4-3-3 again. With Robben and van Persie on the wings, there's a great choice of target men between Horseface, Kuijt and Vennegoor of the Longest Name on Record. Looks like another team that will need to score often, though TDH would prefer Van der Pinocchio to France's cue ball.


Ballack to Chelski - but where will he play? Lamps has a lock on the offensive central role, and Essien will be taking over for Makelele behind. There are already four wingers, though one or more may be on his way out (why so confident, Arjen?). Will Ballack be forced over to one side, playing in Schweinsteiger's usual slot at Bayern? Could happen, could happen....


Okay Mara, you can't blame Milan for giving up the scudetto to a team that's only lost once all season. But as Italian football has shown us time and time again, what seems permanent may not be. How many games did Moggi fix? We'll soon find out. And despite your worries, Mara, it seems like Milan hasn't been implicated... yet.

"It's like deja vu all over again."

At least that's what a certain baseball star of the past is fond of saying. And here's how you do it:

Step 1 - Team starts to lose big cup final.
Step 2 - Indomitable captain rallies team with amazing goal.
Step 3 - With score tied 3-3, go to penalties.
Step 4 - Bring big silver trophy back to Merseyside.

Poor Marlon was unlucky to miss a chance to win and any chance of going to Germany, both thanks to a late injury. Cisse, too, may be in jeopardy - you can bet Raymond Domenech was frantically calling the Kop all night, since he's supposed to announce the France squad on Sunday. (If you ask TDH, an injury to El Abuelo is the best thing that could happen to France, his opening goal notwithstanding, except perhaps for Swansong falling down a well.)

TDH was watching Harewood, Sissoko, Cisse and Gerrard limping around and thinking, "Just shoot the poor things!" Fortunately, the Whammers' complete muppetry from the penalty spot quickly put the game out of its misery. Note to Alan Pardew: next time, practice. Wait a second, there won't be a next time - when will the Whammers ever get an own goal, a goal from a cross, and a goal from a keeper's mistake all in the same match again?


Barcelona and Sevilla somehow contrived to give each other guards of honor as the two squads of champions took the pitch in Andalucia. Most of Barca's stars were resting for Wednesday's final against The Goon Show, but TDH was again struck by how pedestrian the second string of a big team can look. Like Chelski against the Magpies, it was hardly impressive. And yet, you'd think, if these players were first-stringers, they would have a chance at winning the league. Is it all in their heads?

Friday, May 12, 2006

"Only if Juve had won would the title have been invalid."

Many years ago, when TDH was just getting into the beautiful game, a telecast of a Juve match showed a balding man in a sinister leather coat watching impassively from the stands. Now, as it happened, one of TDH's football mentors was a die-hard Juve man, given to spontaneous Vialli impersonations on the pitch. So TDH asked, who was this eminence grise (and embittered author of today's quote) at the Stadio delle Alpi?

TDH's mentor needed no more description to provide the answer: Moggi. Yes, even as a Juve supporter he was happy to tell TDH about the froggy-looking one's supposed links to organized crime and footballing terror.

Well, now it seems like the tadpoles have finally come home to roost. In a way, TDH is relieved - what else was there to write about before El Mundial besides the FA Cup, the national team selections and a few pointless friendlies? Thanks, Luciano, for grabbing the headlines with a story that'll run and run....


Carlos Tevez - is he worth 22 million pounds? Well, probably moreso than SWP. Looks like Roman isn't finished shredding his checkbook. We already know Ballack's on The One-Trophy One's hitlist, but who's the fabled third signing to be?

Meanwhile, Psycho has let go 10 players at City, including Musampa and Sommeil. Okocha and N'Gotty are leaving the Reebok, perhaps joined by Campo as well. Could Big Sam be so inspired by 19-year-old Vaz Te that he's actually considering - gasp - converting the Bolton Pensioners Home into a Jobcentre Plus?

Thursday, May 11, 2006

EXTRA: Miracle at St. James's Park

TDH tried long and hard to find something interesting or clever to say about the UEFA Cup final. No luck there. It was a pasting, pure and simple. Fortunately, there is another story so full of heart, passion and joy that TDH is just dying to share.

After trawling the unmarked side streets of Salta, Argentina for ten minutes, TDH finally found the night's hotel. A few minutes after check-in, the TV was turned on in a search for football, any football. First, it was the last three minutes of the Copa Italia final. Yawn. Then, a couple of channel flips later, there it was: minute 88 of the skipper's testimonial.

With the score 1-2 to Celtic, the Geordie faces were looking wan. But then Sir Les OBE dribbled into the box, failing to shoot but still riling up the crowd. And within a minute, there he was again, dancing along the goal line, looking for Dr. Deepak with a cute backpass that, instead, found its way into the net via a Celtic defender.

Smiles were returning to the Tyneside faithful, but they could hardly have guessed what would happen next. Two minutes into the three allotted for stoppages, Chops was pulled back in the box, leading to an immediate penalty. And off the youngster went, making room for the injured but dressed Uncle Alan. He strode to the spot and calmly stoked in yet another of his trademark penalties. Right arm raised, the general greeted the jubilant Toon Army on his last sally.

A moment later, with the ball returned to midfield, the referee called time. If only life were always so just.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

"We are now entering a new millennium and football's a completely different cup of tea."

TDH has a hodgepodge of news to report today. First, there could be three more Yanks in the Premier League next year with Marcus Hahnemann and Bobby Convey from Reading and, if Leeds win in Cardiff, Eddie Lewis making his return. We're also likely to see more of Tim Howard, who's been loaned to Everton by the Red Mist. It truly is a new millennium. TDH declares it the Millennium of American Soccer, unless we get bombed to heck by some terrorist idiot.

Speaking of the Championship playoff action, though, TDH notes that the 17th president of the United States of America couldn't score in a full 180 minutes against... Watford. This guy is preferred to Darren Bent and Marlon Harewood? Maybe he has that something-from-nothing magic Mara was talking about, but TDH has only really seen it from the penalty spot. (Ooooh, low blow, TDH knows it.)


Either Harry Rednose or some hack at The Sun was inspired to wax poetic about a certain Master Walcott today. As reported second-hand by Soccernet, the jowly one said that Walcott "has so much ability and his pace is frightening." That puts Jersey Joe at 3 out of 8, with 1 being the most ridiculously speedy, on the vaunted Andy Gray Pace Scale.

In Harry's book, however, the only son of Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable is evidently a 1: "He is quicker than anyone else I have seen. Seriously, the boy glides over the park. If he walked across a puddle, he wouldn't make a splash."

Yes, perhaps the water-walking 17-year-old from Newbury will be England's messiah. Or he could just turn out to be a clever Chinese guy, like Chiun in "Remo Williams, the Adventure Begins." That guy could dodge bullets, but does anyone really know if he could latch onto a flicked header in the corner of the box, cut inside his defender and slot home at the far post?


Finally, look for a late comment below as El Bofo leads Chivas into quarterfinal action against Velez in the Copa Libertadores. Who wants to bet whether Velez's enchiladas have been laced with rat poison? Let's hope they're not staying in a Marriott.

By the way, Mara, when El Bofo scores with his head, he just grabs the ball and brings it back to midfield. Not quite as much fun as with the boot, is it?

"I will also take risks in the future. At least, it is good for everyone: our team, the crowd and also the opponent."

Okay, loyal readers, TDH is going to break it down for you, economist-style. Here's why Sven did what he did.

There are two ways for an England coach to approach a World Cup. One is to play it safe - select the players that everyone expects and hope for the best. You're almost guaranteed to make the quarter-finals (again), but you'll be grinding out the results the way the team did during qualifying. England are a good squad, but they're not Brazil, after all.

The other way is to take risks - risks like Walcott, Lennon, Rooney, even Crouch in his way. They might be a disaster. But they might also bring the extra spice, the chance at a totemic figure who will be remembered for decades to come, that a team needs to win the whole thing. In other words, Sven's picks have greatly widened England's risk profile - on both sides of the distribution of possible outcomes.

So, why did he do it? It's simple. This is Sven's endgame. He's a lame duck. He's got nothing to lose. In other words, the downside risk doesn't exist for Sven anymore. He doesn't have to worry that his contract will be terminated if England don't make it out of the group stage - it already has been.

No, the only thing that matters to Sven is the upside. No one will remember him if England finish up in the quarter-finals. But he has a shot at glory. And he's taking it.

That brings us to the final question: how can England guarantee that this situation continues, i.e., that future coaches will also be willing to take risks in order to win it all? The answer is easy: by giving four-year contracts that end right after World Cups.

That's exactly what the FA have done with Stevie Mac. But they need to commit NOT to rehire him unless he actually wins the big one in 2010. With any chance of a renewal after a lesser performance, he might be tempted to play it safe. And while that might be useful in qualifying, it's no good at all in the World Cup finals.

Yes, TDH used to teach a bit of microeconomic theory, back in the day. Class dismissed!

Monday, May 08, 2006

EXTRA: Sven's Provisional Roster

Here it is, loyal readers:
Goalkeepers: Robinson (Tottenham), James (Manchester City), Green (Norwich)

Defenders: G Neville (Manchester United), R Ferdinand (Manchester United), Terry (Chelsea), A Cole (Arsenal), Campbell (Arsenal), Carragher (Liverpool), Bridge (Chelsea)

Midfielders: Beckham (Real Madrid), Carrick (Tottenham), Lampard (Chelsea), Gerrard (Liverpool), Hargreaves (Bayern Munich), Jenas (Tottenham), Downing (Middlesbrough), J Cole (Chelsea), Lennon (Tottenham)

Forwards: Rooney (Manchester United), Owen (Newcastle), Crouch (Liverpool), Walcott (Arsenal).

Standby players: Scott Carson, Luke Young, Nigel Reo-Coker, Jermain Defoe, Andy Johnson.
Well, the Swede has been a busy man, eh? Several of his choices seem to be based on players' form in only the last two weeks! Lennon's recent form, for example, seems to have been enough to displace Richardson. Sol's truncated efforts seem to have booted poor Ledley out of the team, though why he's not even a standby player is beyond TDH's comprehension.

In fact, Sven has evidently decided that Carragher's versatility is enough. He's got 9 midfielders and only 7 defenders, so everything will be fine as long as he doesn't lose 'Tache and two centerbacks at the same time.

TDH is pleased to see Downing in the squad. When he's healthy, he's dangerous. But Sven also seems to be hoping that Theo Walcott will be England's equivalent of Pele in 1958. Certainly, he could do worse (is AJ looking any good these days? he's got 15 from 34 matches), but TDH is hoping he won't just end up being the mascot.

"Why not take one gambling?" was the boss's comment on Wine Hrooney. Indeed, TDH would have included the boy wonder, too. But let's face it - the same comment could have applied to Walcott. Why not five strikers, with Harewood or Fowler (if recent form is so important), and eight midfielders (DROP HARGREAVES!) to protect his options? Well, Sven was never completely transparent. And as a lame duck, maybe he figures he can finally take some risks.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Destination: Hampden Park - May 16, 2007

If the Premier League clubs don't approve Glenn "The Messiah" Roeder as manager of the Magpies, it will only be because of fear.

And who wouldn't fear a boss who brought a team from 15th to 7th and an Intertoto cup spot in just a couple of months? It's truly a football miracle, capped off with today's hairy - and necessary - win over Chelski. Loyal readers, you cannot imagine what TDH would have given to have been at St. James's Park today. Hopefully there will be many more exciting dates, including European fixtures, next season!

It wasn't pretty, with two goals (probably correctly) disallowed for the Billionaire Blues, and a red card for Carr, but the job was done. And to be honest, as TDH's Goal-Line Technology chart will show, the Toon should have had the Intertoto placed wrapped up already. Final stats for the season will arrive on the right side of your screen soon.

In the meantime, let's toast TDH's Man of the Season. It can only be St. Seamus himself, the Irish Cat, the Guru of the Goal, the Nebuchadnezzar of the Nets: SHAY GIVEN.

Without him, not even The Messiah himself could have gotten us into Europe. It's too bad Uncle Alan couldn't get his reward with a trophy this year, but let's hope another loyal soldier in the Toon Army will eventually get his.


TDH's joy was only tempered by Independiente's loss to Boca Juniors. Not that TDH resents Boca's championship so much - it would have been worse had it been Racing, or River - but it comes at a time when Independiente really needs points to qualify for the Libertadores next year. Well, you can't have both of your teams beating the local champs on the same day, can you? Only in football heaven....

Saturday, May 06, 2006

"We haven't had a strategic free kick all night. No one's knocked over attackers ad lib."

TDH doesn't usually report on a Friday night, but Eddie Lewis's splendid free kick that sent Leeds into the second leg of their Premier League playoff at 1-1 has to be worth a mention. He really is the American David Beckham!

By the way, TDH contacted US Soccer to find out why Lewis was listed as a defender on the national team's roster. Apparently, though he plays as a winger for Leeds (and always has, while at Preston and Fulham as well), he's been slotting in at left-back for the US. Well, all the more useful, then.

TDH has also verified that England will receive three, not four spots in the 2006/07 UEFA Cup automatically. Strangely, the only FAs that get four are Greece and the Netherlands. So the seventh-place team in the Premier League will go to a two-leg Intertoto playoff for the UEFA Cup. It's still better than nothing, and worth fighting for on Sunday.

Friday, May 05, 2006

"I am not surprised by anything that happens in football but still felt profound shock when it actually happened last night."

TDH had to mirror some of Stevie Mac's endless smiles
today after the signing of his new contract. Whatever
you may think of his coaching ability, you can't doubt
that he's a nice guy. And as TDH has said, he may just
have the combination of amiability, no-nonsense coaching
and respect for the players that England will need in the
next four years.

There were two bits of good news from today's Gooners v
Mooners match, and their names were Sol Campbell and
Ashley Cole. Both looked fit, active and, at times, even
dangerous. That said, Cole is lucky Ebouye plays on the

Other notes: 1) The underwear model's opener was clearly
offside, though it was a neat little bit of play. 2)
There was absolutely no excuse for giving Earl "The
Pearl" Reyes so much time to tee up the third goal that
he might as well have been on the practice field. 3)
Samaras is so much better than Vassell that the former's
insightful passes took Empty completely by surprise. How
did he ever manage to get hold of that England jersey in
the first place?


It was a good night for Argentine teams in the Copa
Libertadores. Estudiantes managed to squeak past Goias
into the quarterfinals by the narrowest of margins,
obtaining a 3-3 aggregate win care of a single away goal.
Somehow the goalkeeper got Man of the Match despite
conceding all three strikes, the last one a softie as
injury time was beginning. Still, not bad for a small
team from La Plata.

How big was the Corinthians v River Freight second leg?
Well, The Especially Itinerant One was in the audience!
Yes, let's hope the little jaunt will sabotage his
preparations for Sunday's match at St. James's Park.
(That, er, comprehensive scouting report he used earlier
this season has nothing - NOTHING - to do with the
current squad.)

But back to the result, and a strange one it was. Paper
Plate had most of the ball in the first half, but the
Columns managed to steal a goal on a nice header by
Nilmar. For the moment, that gave them another 3-3
aggregate win with two away goals from the first leg.

Quiver was clearly (like Jell-O, get it?) the better and
fitter side, though, and it wasn't long before the tide
began to turn. First, Coelho looked plain old Ionic as
he headed a cross backwards and into his own net. Then,
that little prick Gallardo used a nifty pass to give
Higuain an easy finish. Moments later, in the 82nd
minute, a mess in front of the home side's goal gave the
visitors a third.

And then, the local support got angry. They started
rushing the fences around the pitch, forcing the police
to beat them back with batons. The photographers
snapping shots of the front line may actually have been
the more effective deterrent, but two fans still managed
to slip through and tried to attack Coelho. Within a few
minutes, after at least one cop was injured, the
situation was under control. By then, however, the game
had been abandoned.

This kind of behavior has no place in sport. TDH has
often wondered why American stadiums don't suffer the
same plague of violence. Is it because of the higher
entry prices, the presence of seating or the fact that
games are seen as a family affair? Perhaps. Some people
say Americans don't care as much about their teams, but
TDH would respond that they go just as wild - only with
merchandise and statistics, though, not with missiles and

Is it socioeconomic? Do young men who support
Corinthians have less to hope for in life than young men
who support the Chicago Cubs or the Golden State
Warriors? Are they more frustrated? Could be, but TDH
is betting there are other factors at work, too. Any
ideas, loyal readers?

Thursday, May 04, 2006

"In football two days is a long time, and a week is a very long time."

That's what Wine Hrooney's foot is wishing, anyway. For
the idle Magpies, though, a week is a very long time

Loyal readers of TDH will have already predicted TDH's
level of satisfaction with last night's result at the
Reebok. Credit to Stevie Mac's men for getting a tough
point on the road when they could easily have let this
one slide. But now it's up to the Toon.

Here are the scenarios that give us an easy trip to
Europe. 1) Bolton loses against the Brum Bums. 2)
Bolton draws against the Brum Bums. 3) Bolton beat the
Brum Bums and our glorious Magpies beat Chelski. Alas, a
draw against Chelski is not enough in this last case,
since Sam's Army have the advantage in goal differential.

It really could go either way. Let's hope Brucey's mix
of miscreants and Chelski rejects have the bottle to
extract a point away from home as their last Premier
League hurrah. The matches will be played
simultaneously. TDH will be praying at the altars of
Saint Seamus and Friar Mikael.


Roeder is now 3-5 on at Betfair to be the next manager.
Apparently the powers that be have been talking to Faria
Alam's boyfriends about whether his enrollment in a UEFA
training program is sufficient for him to qualify as a
full-fledged manager. Again, TDH will register a
complaint against this ridiculous restriction of the
labor market. We brave souls of Tyneside should be able
to hire Bozo the Clown if we want (and indeed we have
done so on occasion).

It's hard to object to Roeder given his revitalization of
the team. But his experience at The Academy of Frank,
Joe and Rio doesn't speak too highly of his durability.
TDH says give him a one- or two-year contract with big
bonus clauses and possible extensions. The more
incentives, the better.

Mac Daddy's odd on the England job are now down to 1-14
on. TDH has already tried (hard) to offer a sanguine
appraisal of his chances as manager, so enough said for


Was Dan Smith's tackle on Diaby worthy of legal action?
Well, let's just say some frustration is understandable
among the detestable Mackems after their record-setting
season. But TDH saw it happen, and it was more than

The former U-16 international made the lunge in a
decidedly deliberate, immature and unprofessional
fashion. But calling it an assault could turn the world
on its head. Would players who make similar tackles with
less-dire consequences then be subject to prosecution for
"attempting to injure"? You'd have an arrest every week.

The outstanding thing in Smith's case was the obvious
link between his frustration and the viciousness of the
tackle. It showed that he was not ready for top-flight
football. His two yellows and one red in less than three
matches' worth of playing time adds further proof.

The FA should ban him from football for a year, so he can
grow up a bit. That punishment would put players on
their guard much more than a prosecution, which would
cost the taxpayers plenty with only a marginal chance of

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

"When you come tomorrow, bring my football boots. Also, if humanly possible, Irish water-spaniel."

Well, the scales have definitely fallen from TDH's eyes,
in the words of a certain dedicated sportsman.

Several waves of thought passed over as TDH watched
Chelski and Fight Club:

First, as TDH was getting comfortable on the couch, "Ah,
Chelski will be fielding the B team today. Well, Fight
Club may have a chance. Fortunately it doesn't matter to
the Toon. Come on, Friedel."

Second, upon seeing the team sheet, "Gosh, it's really
true, isn't it? Even the B team costs more than most of
the full squads in the Premier League. Well, this should
be a good bit of football, anyway."

Third, as the minutes ticked along, "What are these
muppets playing at? They can't string three passes
together. And if Terry's resting, why in hell is Fat
Frank on the pitch? And what's this, Young Joe coming
on? Sven must be having a coronary."

Finally, fourth, as the game died away, "Well, that was
supremely stupid. Maniche is a fat little piece of
garbage, but even with Lamps, Eidur and Crespito on the
pitch there was nothing doing. Either they're exhausted
from the season, or Jose's as useless as his fellow
Portuguese. Good on you, though, Brad the Lad!"

So there'll be no gazing in wonder at the Brats of the
Bridge anymore. Sir may be right when he says the Red
Mist have a shot next year - they'll probably want it
more, if anything. But let's hope someone else pips them
to the prize. Yes, TDH can see it now, a team wearing
black... and white... and black... and white....


The US named its team for the World Cup today. Yes, we
Yanks aren't waiting around like the rest of the world.
Consistency in squad and coach is what got us this far,
after all. And here's the roster:

Hahnemann, Marcus (Reading FC)
Keller, Kasey (Borussia Moenchengladbach)
Howard, Tim (Manchester United)

Bocanegra, Carlos (Fulham FC)
Cherundolo, Steve (Hannover 96)
Conrad, Jimmy (Kansas City Wizards)
Gibbs, Cory (ADO Den Haag)
Hejduk, Frankie (Columbus Crew)
Pope, Eddie (Real Salt Lake)
Onyewu, Oguchi (Standard de Liege)

Beasley, DaMarcus (PSV Eindhoven)
Convey, Bobby (Reading FC)
Dempsey, Clint (New England Revolution)
Donovan, Landon (Los Angeles Galaxy)
Lewis, Eddie (Leeds United)
Mastroeni, Pablo (Colorado Rapids)
O'Brien, John (Chivas USA)
Olsen, Ben (D.C. United)
Reyna, Claudio (Manchester City)

Ching, Brian (Houston Dynamo)
Johnson, Eddie (Kansas City Wizards)
McBride, Brian (Fulham FC)
Wolff, Josh (Kansas City Wizards)

The US can field a pretty classy defense with Keller,
Bocanegra, Cherundolo, Gibbs and Onyewu. In midfield
we've got Reyna with Beasley, Convey and either Lewis or
O'Brien, who's been recovering in the US from an injury
in the Eredivisie. (Lewis was listed as a defender on
the US website, but Leeds has him in his correct
position, as an attacking midfielder.) Then TDH would
put Donovan - he never did fit in at Leverkusen, but he's
still dangerous and only 24 - with McBride up front.

What a team! Of course, it'll all probably be for
nothing. Even if we manage to eke out second place
against Italy, Ghana and the Czechs, we'll almost
certainly have to beat Brazil.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

"I'm going to make a prediction - it could go either way."

Not much in today's results. TDH is hoping that Boro's
ability to hold off Manure augurs well for their
performance against Bolton on Wednesday. Schwarzer's
stand-in made 11 saves, so maybe there's a chance.

The Whammers' win doesn't matter to the Toon, since
they're already going to the UEFA Cup. And Va-Va-Voom
showed that, yes, he can score free kicks from that
left-hand corner, too.

Even if our UEFA Cup dreams don't come true right away,
we'll have the comfort of seeing Scumderland break their
own record for fewest points in the Premier League. They
may also become the first team never to win at home in
the league, with their only victory at the Stadium of
Shite coming in the FA Cup... against Northwich
Victoria... from the Conference! Oh, the comforts of