The Great Debate: Should FIFA Allow Ireland vs France To Be Replayed?

November 21, 2009

by Barney Corkhill… Controversy, cheating, and conspiracy.

These have been the three buzzwords this week in football’s latest soap opera as Thierry Henry’s “Hand of Frog” put France through to the World Cup in South Africa at the expense of Ireland.

Twenty-three years after Diego Maradona made enemies with every person in England with his infamous “Hand of God”, Henry seems to have done the same with the Irish.

With the ball bouncing out of play, Henry clearly used his hand to claw it back in, before poking it across the goal to William Gallas, who headed in from a yard out.

Much to anger and astonishment of the Irish, however, the referee didn’t blow for a handball, instead awarding the goal to the French.

Understandably, everyone involved not wearing a blue shirt was incensed, and the fallout has made the back pages of newspapers all over the world.

The most recent news is that FIFA, football’s governing body, has rejected Ireland’s appeal for a replay of the match.

But should they have let another match take place?

First, I will look at the argument from the side of the Irish.

Not only did Gallas’ goal rob Ireland of a place in the World Cup for the first time since 2002, but it also robbed them of history and an awful lot of money.

The price of a World Cup campaign to the economy has been quoted as being as high as £1-2 billion, money Ireland will now have to go without. Undoubtedly, Henry’s handball is the most expensive in history.

To go out in such circumstances is incredibly galling, particularly considering they had put in so much effort just to get to that stage.

But should the size of the implications of the result have any impact on FIFA’s decision? No, I don’t think they should.

A game of football is a game of football, and controversial things happen all the time. FIFA can’t sanction a replay because then it’d be one rule for matches with a lot at stake and another for the “less important” matches.

I remember having a similar feeling at the end of the Tottenham vs Manchester United game a few years ago. In that match, you will remember, Pedro Mendes had a shot from the halfway line which clearly crossed the line after Roy Carroll’s mistake.

The referee and linesman, however, insisted that it hadn’t, and Spurs were robbed of a goal.

I distinctly remember feeling a massive sense of injustice for Tottenham at the end of that game, and I strongly believed that it should have been replayed. The match was much less important than Ireland and France’s World Cup qualifier, but FIFA has to treat them both the same.

The laws of the game are the laws of the game, be it at Sunday league level, Premier League level or international level.

Did England get a replay against Argentina for Maradona’s handball? No. Unless FIFA want to set a new precedent that they will follow thereafter, they have to abide by their rules.

Under the circumstances, then, the match couldn’t have been replayed, and FIFA made the only reasonable decision. I do, however, think that a change of rules should be thought about.

A post-match panel of officials could look at any controversial decisions and decide what action should be taken. Whether this action could be extended as far as a replay in extreme circumstances is up for debate.

What it could include, though, is a citing system similar to that in rugby, where a player can be penalised after the match for incidents the referee has missed or misjudged the seriousness of.

Would this be applicable to Thierry Henry though?

Well, to answer that it must be established whether he handled the ball on purpose.

Henry has since admitted the ball hit his hand, although he insists it was accidental, and has apologised and even said a rematch would be the fairest option.

But replays suggest he did handle the ball on purpose.

When it first strikes his arm, it looks like a natural reflex action, but then he seems to scoop the ball back into play with his hand.

He knew he was cheating at the time, but I don’t think he was thinking of the consequences of his actions or the major ramifications they would have.

He instinctively tried to keep the ball in play and create a chance for his team. Yes, this is technically cheating, but it is no worse than diving or any other form of bending the rules for your own gain.

Henry is unfortunate that his actions have been magnified due to the importance of the game, and I don’t think he would have been cited had the system been in play.

Should he have owned up? In a perfect world, yes, but he can’t be expected to. Incidents like Paolo Di Canio catching the ball because the opposition goalkeeper was injured are heart-warming moments, but they are most certainly the exception to the rule.

So is Henry a cheat? I suppose that, by the letter of the law, he did cheat, but I would have done the same and so, I’m sure, would most of the Irish bemoaning the hand of Henry.

The match, it must be remembered, was as important to France as it was to Ireland. If you had a chance to slightly bend the rules if it meant going to the World Cup finals, would you do it? I know I would.

On that point, would Ireland be so accepting of a replay if it was Robbie Keane who handled and they who had progressed?

The incident also opened up the seemingly endless video technology debate, which I will be discussing in a future article.

It also caused several members of the Ireland set-up to question whether FIFA favour the bigger, more glamorous nations, an argument spurred on by the seeding of the qualifying teams.

This ensured the likes of Portugal and France wouldn’t meet each other, instead getting potentially easier ties.

Viewers in neutral countries would rather see Cristiano Ronaldo and Thierry Henry than Richard Dunne and Damien Duff, that is a fact, but favouritism cannot be spawned from greed and potential money-making.

Whether or not FIFA planned, or rather expected the bigger teams to go through will be cause for argument until the World Cup kicks-off, but for now, the Irish just have to lick their wounds and get on with it.

I sympathise with them, I really do. I can imagine the whole country is printing off pictures of Henry to stick on their dartboards, and I would be doing the same if England were in their position, but I don’t blame Henry for doing what he did and I certainly don’t blame FIFA for not allowing a replay.

In fact, the only people that can be held responsible are the officials. Ireland were just unlucky that they were stuck with a referee and linesman who, like Robbie Keane and co., won’t be making the trip to South Africa.

Greatest Ever: Football’s Top 10 Defensive Midfielders of All Time

August 9, 2009

by Barney Corkhill… The Greatest Ever series is back! In this installment I look at the greatest defensive midfielders to ever play football.

A few months ago, I wrote a list of the top 10 central midfielders of all time in which the majority of players were attacking. This led to requests to do a separate defensive midfielders list, so here I go!

Enjoy!

10. Diego Simeone (ARG)

When Simeone’s name is mentioned here in England, one’s mind is immediately cast back to the 1998 World Cup, where he deliberately got David Beckham sent-off. While this is a black mark on his career, he more than balances it out with the amount of accolades he has amounted throughout his career.

While he was considered something of a journeyman at club level, never playing more than 100 league games for any one club, at international level he was a fixture in the Argentinian side.

He won 106 caps, breaking a record previously held by Diego Maradona, on his way to helping Argentina to two Copa America titles. He also won a La Liga title, a Serie A title, a Spanish Cup, an Italian Cup, and a UEFA Cup during his illustrious career.

9. Dunga (BRA)

Dunga faced stiff competition from fellow countrymen Mauro Silva and Zito for his spot on this list, but his overall importance to a star-studded Brazilian side just gave him the edge.

Another player who featured more prominently at international level than club level, Dunga won 91 caps for Brazil, captaining them to World Cup glory in 1994 and another final four years later.

Despite facing critics for his “Un-Brazilian” style early on in his career, Dunga’s continued effort, determination, and desire won over his sceptics as he became a vital member of a team containing Romario, Ronaldo, Cafu, and Roberto Carlos, among others.

8. Graeme Souness (SCO)

Ask any Liverpool fan who the key players were during the Bob Paisley era and Souness’ name will always be one of the first mentioned. The tough-tackling Scot provided vital presence, intimidation, and quality in the Liverpool midfield.

Throughout his career, Souness won five First Division titles, three European Cups, four League Cups, and an Italian Cup in addition to 54 Scotland caps.

As well as being one of the best midfielders to play in English football, Souness was also one of the hardest. You could be sure when you faced him that there would be no quarter given or asked.

7. Edgar Davids (NED)

Edgar Davids is one of the most instantly recognisable players of all time due to his dread-locked hair and protective glasses. He didn’t waste the spotlight that came with this attention either.

He quickly gained a reputation as a typical defensive midfielder, breaking up the play before launching an attack for his own team. Such was his tenacity in doing so that he was nicknamed “The Pitbull” by Ajax manager Louis van Gaal.

In a trophy-laden career, Davids won three Eredivisie titles, two Dutch Cups, a Champions League, a UEFA Cup, three Serie A titles, and an Italian Cup. Internationally he won 74 caps for Holland.

6. Didier Deschamps (FRA)

Didier Deschamps was the “water-carrier” of the French side as they embarked on their “golden generation”. Every team needs one, and Deschamps carried out his task to perfection, doing all the unseen, dirty work before giving the ball to the headline-makers such as Zinedine Zidane, Eric Cantona, and Thierry Henry.

Despite this, his value to the team wasn’t ignored as he was named as captain for the successful 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000 campaigns. At the time of his retirement from international football, Deschamps was France’s highest capped player ever, with 103.

His club career was laced with silverware too, as he helped his respective clubs to two Ligue 1 titles, two Serie A titles, an Italian Cup, an FA Cup, and two Champions Leagues titles.

5. Patrick Vieira (FRA)

However good Deschamps was individually, he was ably assisted by two other great defensive midfielders, the first of which was Patrick Vieira. The lanky Frenchman offered everything the shorter Deschamps didn’t, forming a formidable partnership.

Vieira went on to eclipse Dechamps, however, winning 107 international caps thus far, as well as being part of the same World Cup and European Championships winning squads.

At club level, Vieira came to prominence with Arsenal, winning three Premier League titles, including captaining the “Invincibles”, and four FA Cups. Elsewhere, Vieira has won four Serie A titles, although one of these was revoked due to Juventus’ match fixing scandal.

4. Claude Makelele (FRA)

The third Frenchman in a row on this list is the token unsung hero. For years, Claude Makelele was under-appreciated, so much so that Real Madrid let him go to Chelsea instead of increasing his wages.

It was at Chelsea that everyone saw what a quality player he was. In many ways he was the perfect defensive midfielder, simply winning the ball and making a short pass to keep possession. He was so successful in this position that it is now known as the “Makelele role”.

During his career, Makelele won a Ligue 1 title, two La Liga titles, two Premier League titles, an FA Cup, a League Cup, and a Champions League. He made 71 appearances for France, including helping them to the 2006 World Cup final.

3. Roy Keane (IRE)

Few men encompass the phrase “fighting spirit” as much as Roy Keane, who became a talisman for Manchester United during the most successful period in the club’s history.

His duels with fellow great Patrick Vieira are legendary, as are his crunching tackles and short fuse. Behind all the aggression, however, was a player of immense quality, with Sir Alex Ferguson acknowledging him as the greatest player he has ever coached.

Under his leadership, United won seven Premier League titles, four FA Cup titles, and a Champions League. He later won a Scottish League title and Cup with Celtic, as well as winning 66 Republic of Ireland caps.

2. Frank Rijkaard (NED)

While Johan Cruyff led the first era of “Total Football”, Frank Rijkaard, along with Ruud Gullit and Marco van Basten brought it back. This Dutch triumvirate became the dominant force in both international and club football.

His time at AC Milan and role in the 1988 European Championships brought him to worldwide acclaim as he fast became regarded as one of the best players on the planet.

During his club career he won five Dutch league titles, three Dutch Cups, two Serie A titles, a Cup Winners’ Cup, and three Champions League titles. He made 73 caps for Holland, including playing an integral part in the triumphant 1988 European Championships.

1. Lothar Matthaus (GER)

Matthaus was the only defensive midfielder to make it on to the original central midfielders list, and it’s not hard to see why. His five World Cup campaigns remains a record for an outfield player, as does his 25 World Cup appearances.

During his club career, Matthaus won seven Bundesliga titles, three German Cups, a Serie A title, and two UEFA Cup titles. Internationally, he helped Germany to the 1980 European Championships, and led them to World Cup success ten years later.

Matthaus went on to win 150 caps for Germany, a record which still stands today. He was also awarded the Ballon d’Or in 1990 and became the first player to be named FIFA World Player of the Year one year later. At the age of 38, Matthaus proved his immense longevity by being named the German Player of the Year for a second time.

Lothar Matthaus—the greatest defensive midfielder of all time!

Who Was Bigger: Cristiano Ronaldo or David Beckham?

July 24, 2009

by Barney Corkhill… “Who is the best player in the world?”

This question is often asked in footballing circles, with the candidates changing on a regular basis. The current nominations include the likes of Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Kaka.

However, when it comes to who is the biggest footballer in the world, the candidates are few and far between.

First, what do I mean by “biggest?”

No, I’m not talking about the tallest, before I get any smart comments on this piece saying, “Cristiano Ronaldo’s bigger, he’s over 6′!

I’m talking about the most well-known, commercially viable footballers—the footballers who have taken their stardom and created a worldwide brand.

Only a handful of players have ever reached the very highest level in this field. In some ways, this commercial success can cement a player’s legacy and cause them to live long into the memory of everyone who knew about them.

For example, Pele was seen as commercially viable, and as such was sold as a massive draw-card and a global superstar.

Garrincha, on the other hand, was far from commercially viable. His low IQ, his defects, and his sheer naivety made him a no-go for many of the commercial aspects of the game.

Despite being considered on a par with Pele in terms of his ability, he is often forgotten from the elite in football history, merely because he wasn’t as well known.

However, this commercial success could arguably be a detriment too. David Beckham is considered a celebrity now, leading many to forget what a fantastic footballer he was and still is.

Beckham’s big-name status was confirmed when he left Manchester United for Real Madrid in 2003. The £23 million transfer fee was repaid within days from shirt sales in Asia alone.

Similarly, the exceptional reception at Cristiano Ronaldo’s Real Madrid presentation on Monday seemed to confirm his joining of this elite group.

Over 70,000 fans are reported to have turned up to see his unveiling, more than Beckham, Zinedine Zidane, Figo, or any of the other Galacticos.

In fact, the only player to have drawn more fans to his presentation is Diego Maradona, when he drew 75,000 after signing for Napoli.

It is safe to assume, then, that Ronaldo is now the biggest individual sporting entity in the world.

But is he as big as Beckham was when he left Manchester United?

I don’t think so.

A week or so ago, while at Glastonbury Festival, me and a few of my mates were asking who was truly an A-list celebrity, known all around the world, and we came up with a surprisingly short list.

Michael Jackson was in there, a choice cemented by the reaction to his death later that day, as were the Beatles, Barack Obama, and Beckham.

Ronaldo was not, and to be honest, I can’t see him coming anywhere near that level.

Will there ever be a film making cultural references to Ronaldo that even non-football fans would understand, like there was with Bend It Like Beckham? I doubt it.

Neither Curl It Like Cristiano nor perhaps the more appropriate Cry Like Cristiano have the same ring to it.

The reason I ask this question is because of the importance it holds to Real Madrid.

Many may not see the commercial aspect as important, but for Florentino Perez’s master plan, it is vital. Somehow, he has to make £80 million back from Ronaldo’s transfer.

A lot of that will be made through shirts, merchandise, and other factors that will only become relevant if Ronaldo is commercially successful as Beckham was.

However, even if Ronaldo was as big as Beckham, the sheer scale of the transfer fee, and the subsequent wages, would mean a lot more fans would have to buy into the Real Madrid franchise.

This, coupled with the need to recoup Kaka’s enormous transfer fee as well, could prove difficult, even for someone of Perez’s business acumen.

The Galactico idea is as much about success off the pitch as it is on it, and Ronaldo has a huge billing to live up to in both aspects.

Is he up to it? Time will tell.

Does he have the same appeal as David Beckham? Not in my opinion, but their careers have taken very similar paths up to this point, and if that continues, Perez may have struck gold once again.

Ronaldo, Kaka, and Barry Leave: Now Arsene Wenger Must Move to Chelsea!

June 12, 2009

By Barney Corkhill… As you all would have heard by now, Manchester United have accepted a world-record £80 million bid from Real Madrid for Cristiano Ronaldo.

That’s right, Cristiano Ronaldo is apparently only worth £20 million less than Newcastle United!

Unless Ronaldo does something miraculous and actually sticks to his word after saying he was happy at United and will be there next season, Madrid would have added another Galactico to their ranks just days after securing the transfer of Kaka.

The deal would mean that Madrid have broken the world record transfer fee twice in the last three days, a definite exclamation of intent.

These transfers come a little over a week after Gareth Barry left for Manchester City, meaning that, by the 11th June, the three biggest transfer sagas of recent times are already over.

Last summer, the main talk was about Ronaldo and Barry, while in January it was Kaka that filled the most column inches.

So the question that raises is…what on earth are the journalists in the papers, or indeed the budding journalists here on Bleacher Report, going to write about this summer?

With Ronaldo out of the question, Barry out of the question, Kaka out of the question, and Real Madrid’s manager out of the question, there is nothing left to write about for the speculative writers!

Unfortunately, this will probably lead to more sensationalist rumours and sagas than usual.

No doubt Liverpool will have to sell Steven Gerrard, Fernando Torres, Javier Mascherano, Xabi Alonso, Pepe Reina, Jamie Carragher, Daniel Agger, and their half of the Mersey river simply to stay afloat and not “do a Leeds.”

Rafael Benitez will also become Chelsea’s new manager after Carlo Ancelotti was sacked for losing his first preseason game in charge, before Benitez himself gets the boot for failing to win the prestigious Community Shield.

Speculation will be rife to his successor before Arsene Wenger, who has meanwhile been linked to the vacant Liverpool post and the not-so-vacant Real Madrid, Tottenham, and France posts, steps up to the plate.

Wenger won’t last long, though, as defeat in his fourth match means Chelsea lose their most prized possession, the UWCC title.

Emmanuel Adebayor will have agreed personal terms with AC Milan, but then the horrible realisation that he will actually have to move, something he doesn’t take too kindly to, would creep up on him, prompting to offer his services as an Emmanuel Adebayor tribute statue outside the Emirates.

Finally, Cesc Fabregas, David Villa, and Chuck Norris (in that order) would have been added to Real Madrid’s Galactico list, each breaking the new world-record transfer budget before they realise there is a recession going on.

OK, so maybe things won’t get that speculative. After all, we still have Carlos Tevez, right?

Why Is The Sink Still in Newcastle’s Kitchen? Where It All Went Wrong

May 26, 2009

By Barney Corkhill… Yesterday afternoon saw the end of an era for the Premier League and, in particular, Newcastle United.

After 16 years as a top flight club, in which they had challenged for the title, Newcastle’s fate was sealed with a 1-0 loss to Aston Villa, condemning them to Championship football next season.

Newcastle’s Premier League era began with a legend, or rather, a “Messiah” and finished in the same vain.

Kevin Keegan’s first reign as manager brought with it the golden age of the modern era, as they came within touching distance of a first piece of silverware since the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup of 1969.

The thought that Alan Shearer could have repeated those heroics by achieving safety was wishful thinking by those still clinging to the days when Shearer was their goal-scoring hero.

A few weeks ago, B’R’s David Gore coined the phrase “Messiahs before managers” and I can’t sum it up better.

Since Mike Ashley lost the fans’ support, that has been the philosophy he has stuck by.

When Sam Allardyce was leading Newcastle to a now enviable 11th place in the league, the confusingly spoilt fans chanted “You don’t know what you’re doing” to him.

I say confusingly spoilt because they have no reason to be so. Yes, they have a rich history with players like Jackie Milburn, Paul Gascoigne, and Alan Shearer himself, and a great stadium, but, when it comes to a bragging contest, they haven’t had any ammo for 40 years now.

In fact, before Allardyce they had Glenn Roeder and Graeme Souness in charge, neither of whom excelled Allardyce’s achievements.

Why, then, did those brainless fans berate Allardyce so readily?

Simple. Newcastle fans are among the worst in England.

Let me explain that statement before I cause uproar amongst any reading Geordies.

Newcastle fans are often considered among the best fans in the country, along with those of Liverpool and Portsmouth. And, at times, this is more than justified.

However, it all depends on whether or not they take a liking to the man in charge. If they do, then they will be the most loyal fans you come across. This has been seen in recent times with the second coming of Keegan and currently with the management of Shearer.

If they don’t like the man in charge, see Allardyce, Souness, and to a certain extent Joe Kinnear, although I think he won them over a bit, they can be hugely detrimental.

During his tenure at Newcastle, Allardyce won 34 points in 24 games, an average of 1.4 per game. This would have given them a total of 54 points this season, a tally that would have been enough to secure them European football.

Sam Allardyce did know what he was doing.

In comparison, Keegan won 24 points in his 21 games, an average of 1.1 point per game (enough for a 13th place finish), while Shearer won just five points from his eight games in charge, an average of 0.63 points per game, which would have secured them just 24 points over a whole season, a bottom place finish.

Alan Shearer is the man who doesn’t know what he is doing.

So why don’t the Newcastle faithful get on his back?

Messiahs before managers.

I truly believe Mike Ashley only hired Alan Shearer to get the fans off his back following Keegan’s departure. The fans can be Newcastle’s biggest help, but also their biggest hindrance.

So does the blame lie with the fans?

No, for the most part they have been superb. You cannot blame them for backing their manager, but you can criticise them for not backing a better manager.

The board could have resisted the supporter’s pressure and stuck with Allardyce, but they gave in. Mike Ashley in particular seemed hell bent on getting rid of Allardyce from the moment he bought the club.

Is it Mike Ashley’s fault then? Well, a large portion of the blame can be attributed to him, but I think his naivety is as much to blame as his decisions.

I have already discussed his hiring policy, but the most glaring mistake wouldn’t be sacking Allardyce, it would be hiring Shearer.

What made Ashley think that Shearer, a complete novice in the world of management, would be able to halt a decline five years in the making in just eight games when Keegan and Kinnear, both established managers, had failed before him?

A lot of chairmen want too much to do with the manager’s job in football nowadays, but I think Ashley wanted too little. I think he saw his naivety in this instance and let the managers, the men who knew football better than him, get on with it.

That is fair enough, but he put his trust in managers who made the wrong decisions, bought the wrong players, and ultimately he has paid the price of hiring the wrong managers.

In this continuing installment of the blame game, the next to have the finger pointed at him is Alan Shearer himself.

There has been some debate as to whether Shearer took the Newcastle job with selfish intentions. Personally, I think it was the complete opposite.

In hindsight, he probably knows he wasn’t the right man to lead Newcastle out of the relegation mire. At the time he was offered the job, however, all he saw was his beloved Newcastle, and the supporters who had adored and idolised him for years, in deep trouble.

He wanted to help and tried to.

However, I do think he made some bad decisions in his time at St. James’ Park.

The most notable one, for me, was the suspension of Joey Barton. It only seemed to attract more negative attention to the club, and piled even more pressure on the team to get results.

Joey Barton is one of the few Newcastle players to actually show passion, which brings me to the point of this article.

Why, when all they needed was a goal anytime in the second-half, did Newcastle, and Shearer in particular, leave the kitchen sink in the kitchen? Why didn’t he throw everything at it.

Yes, you could say he finished the game with four up-front, but what good is that when no-one is chasing the ball, no-one is putting any effort in, and no-one is showing any desire to keep Newcastle in the Premier League?

Barton could have been that player.

After the match, Jamie Redknapp said that it wasn’t a matter of “lack of effort”, a message re-inforced by Shearer who stated that he “can’t fault them for their effort.”

Was I watching a different match? In fact, was I watching a different season?

From start to finish, Newcastle players didn’t put enough effort in. Even when their impending doom started to turn from a nightmare into reality during the last few months and weeks of the season, they didn’t seem to up their effort level.

And, most worryingly of all, even when one goal would be enough to save their Premier League status, the effort was still lacking. They didn’t throw the kitchen sink at it.

They seemed content to go down, almost like they had accepted the inevitable weeks before.

There was no fight in them, particularly in the last ten minutes or so.

This must make you question the commitment of the players. Do they play for the shirt? If you look around the Newcastle dressing room, I think most of the answers would be a resounding ‘no’.

Paolo Maldini is about to hang up his boots after a glorious career at AC Milan. In each of his 901 appearances in the red and black of Milan, he has given unparalleled commitment and dedication.

He would do anything to help his team.

There was none of that on Sunday. To be fair, however, almost every player on the planet would pale into insignificance when compared to Maldini in that way.

So what about some other players who have recently said their farewells?

Sami Hyypia at Liverpool gave his all in every match, and has been a fantastic servant. Even Tugay at Blackburn did his utmost for his team’s cause despite his advancing years.

Very few Newcastle players could be classed in the same category, with Steven Taylor and perhaps Steve Harper being the only ones who immediately spring to mind.

It is this lack of ambition, lack of determination, and lack of passion which has played a massive part in Newcastle’s decline, a point particularly surprisingly considering Alan Shearer is their manager, and he possessed the above qualities in abundance during his playing days.

You can blame a lot of factors for Newcastle’s demise. From their refusal to put everything on the line to win to the appointment of Alan Shearer, or from the sale of Shay Given to the suspension of Joey Barton.

You could even go back a few years and blame the dismissals of Bobby Robson and Sam Allardyce.

Whatever, or whoever you blame, the fact remains that Newcastle will be playing in the Championship next season.

And you know what? They deserve it.

Quiz Question

Four of the top ten all-time Premier League goal-scorers have played for Newcastle - who are they?

Maybe Next Year: Liverpool Made to Wait For Elusive Premier League Crown

May 17, 2009

By Barney Corkhill… For nine months and 86 minutes I was hopeful, if not expectant, that Liverpool’s long wait for a Premier League crown would finally be over.

At certain times during the season, it seemed as if the perennial underachievers would finally do what many said they would never do again and win a league title.

In the 19 years since a Liverpool player last lifted the top division’s trophy, the fans, players, and staff alike have suffered much disappointment. Sure there has been a couple of FA Cups, a League Cup, a UEFA Cup and even a Champions League along the way, but, as every year goes by, the one we want most is the one which keeps getting away.

The desire to see Steven Gerrard lift the trophy above his head grows stronger every year, and it finally looked as if our dreams had been answered when, at one point, we were sitting pretty seven points clear at the top.

Then Manchester United came back.

A fourteen point swing within the space of a month or so meant that Liverpool were now the team seven points behind, and United were looking unstoppable.

Then they slipped up.

Would they, for all the talk of their experience of being involved in a Premiership title race before, throw it away?

It almost seemed that way, until Federico Macheda got that late goal against Aston Villa. Make no mistake, that goal won Manchester United the title.

Deep down I definitely believed that, but I still harboured some hope on the surface. I thought that Man City would get a point in the Manchester derby, and that Tottenham would also hold United.

Then all my hopes rested on Arsenal getting a win against the Red Devils.

One by one, however, these lifelines were ruthlessly cut by Sir Alex Ferguson’s machine. They came from behind to beat Tottenham, and went on to beat Manchester City.

It was then more out of hope than expectation that I watched the Manchester United vs. Wigan game the other night.

Wigan took the lead, and the flame of faith valiantly flickered on. United, inevitably, equalised, and the flame was dimmed somewhat.

It wasn’t until the 86th minute, however, that it was extinguished. For the first time this season, I had conceded the title to United. Michael Carrick’s late strike seemed to mock Liverpool fans across the country.

All season, indeed for the last few seasons, Liverpool have been known for their never-say-die attitude, fighting to the last second, and often getting late goals.

Now, the two most important goals of United’s league season, Carrick’s and Macheda’s, had come with barely any time left on the clock.

It was a bitter pill to swallow, but I realised that, for the first time in my life, I actually got the opportunity to taste it. Never had I had the first-hand experience of seeing Liverpool so close to claiming a league title.

The mere fact that, with just two games to go, we can still, mathematically, win the title, is something that should be celebrated, and something that will stand us in good stead for next year.

Although I fully expect the Premier League trophy to be loaned out to Old Trafford for a third consecutive season, it is still possible for them to blow it. They face Arsenal next, who will be looking to bounce back from their humiliation against Chelsea, and then face Hull on the final day, who could be a wounded Tiger fighting for survival.

The chances are slim, after all, United only need one point from those two games to secure the title.

Will Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher complete the set of trophies possible to win as an English club footballer? Unfortunately, we know that Sami Hyypia won’t, the Liverpool legend will leave the club at the end of the season.

As for Gerrard and Carragher, while it may not happen this season, there is always next year.

After all, the 20th time’s a charm.

The Top Ten Goalkeepers of All Time

May 1, 2009

By Barney Corkhill… This time I look at football, and the top ten goalkeepers of all time! Enjoy!

10. Bert Trautmann (GER)

Throughout his career, Trautmann didn’t just have to compete with opposition strikers, but with endless taunts from the terraces due to his being in the German army during the Second World War. After the war he settled in England and began playing football.

It says something for the quality of his performances that he eventually became accepted and even idolised by some fans, particularly those of Manchester City, where he became a legend.

The strongest sign of his acceptance came in 1956 when he was named FWA Footballer of the Year. Not long afterwards he helped City to win the FA Cup, playing the last 15 minutes of the final with a broken neck a remarkable feat of bravery made all the more impressive by the fact that he made some important saves in that time.

9. Pat Jennings (NIR)

One of very few players to have played for, and maintained the respect from both Arsenal and Tottenham fans, Pat Jennings played over 1,000 top level games in his 22-year career, and is Northern Ireland’s highest capped player with 119 appearances.

Jennings is also a two-time FA Cup winner, a two-time League Cup winner and won a UEFA Cup in 1972 while playing for Tottenham. On an individual level, he was named the FWA Footballer of the Year in 1973, and the PFA Players’ Player of the Year in 1976.

8. Gianluigi Buffon (ITA)

By the time his career is over he could well be in the top five, but for now Buffon has to settle for eighth. After impressing at Parma he moved to Juventus, where he showed exceptional loyalty in staying with the club when they were demoted to Serie B.

During his club career he has won the UEFA Cup, the Italian Cup, and two Serie A titles. His greatest achievements, however, have come at international level where he currently has 90 caps and is a World Cup winner.

Individually, Buffon has been named as the Serie A Goalkeeper of the Year seven times, and the IFFHS Best Goalkeeper four times, more than any other ‘keeper.

7. Peter Shilton (ENG)

As a Leicester youngster not yet proved at the highest level, he forced then England No.1 and World Cup winner Gordon Banks out of the club by threatening to leave if he didn’t get game time. Such was his potential that the club agreed.

Shilton went on to enjoy a 31-year career, playing 1005 league games, and 1237 games overall, more than any other player. He was 47 when he hung up his boots. He also played a record 125 times for England, despite competition from the likes of Banks and Ray Clemence throughout his career.

Shilton was part of Brian Clough’s all-conquering Nottingham Forest side, and won one League title, a League Cup and two European Cups. Individually, he was named the PFA Players’ Player of the Year in 1978.

6. Oliver Kahn (GER)

Oliver Kahn is one of the most decorated German players of all-time, and it’s no coincidence that wherever he went, he won trophies and accolades. While at Bayern Munich, Kahn won eight Bundesliga titles, six German Cups, six League Cups, a UEFA Cup, and a Champions League.

The story of success continued with the national team. His 86 caps included being part of the team that won Euro ‘96. Individually, he has been named German Footballer of the Year twice, IFFHS Best Goalkeeper three times, and Best Bundesliga Goalkeeper seven times.

5. Dino Zoff (ITA)

Zoff is the oldest player to have ever won a World Cup, having done so at 40 years old, while still captain of the Italian team. He once went 1142 minutes without conceding in international tournaments, a record which stands to this day.

His 112 Italy caps is the third highest of all-time and includes the success in the European Championships of 1968, in addition to the 1982 World Cup mentioned earlier. At club level he won six Serie A titles, two Italian Cups and one UEFA Cup.

Zoff was named as the third greatest goalkeeper of the 20th century in a poll done by IFFHS and, in 2003 was named as the best Italian player of the last 50 years.

4. Sepp Maier (GER)

The third German ‘keeper on this list, Maier was a one club man who played alongside the likes of Franz Beckenbauer for years on end. As a key member of this golden age for both Germany and Bayern Munich, Maier became one of the most decorated players of his era.

He won the Bundesliga and the German Cup four times each as well as a Cup Winners’ Cup, and three consecutive European Cups. At international level, his 95 caps included both a European Championships winners medal (1972), and a World Cup winners medal (1974).

He also won the West German Footballer of the Year award three times. Much of his success was due to his consistency and good health. Between 1966 and 1977 he played 422 matches in a row. That’s 11 years without missing a game.

3. Gordon Banks (ENG)

Banks will be forever remembered for that save against Pele in the 1970 World Cup. Although his career wasn’t exactly laden with trophies, his quality was recognised as the best in the world during his career.

Banks holds the unique distinction of being the only English goalkeeper to ever win a World Cup. His career was brought to a premature end when he lost the sight from his right eye following a car crash. He tried to continue but was never the same player again.

He finished his career having played 73 times for his country and was named as the second best ‘keeper of the 20th century in the IFFHS poll.

2. Peter Schmeichel (DEN)

The imposing figure of Peter Schmeichel between the sticks was a key reason for Manchester United’s dominance throughout the 90s. Before then, however, he was a success at Brondby, helping them to four league titles and a Danish Cup.

He came to international acclaim throughout the European Championships of 1992 as his performances helped Denmark to surprise everyone by winning the tournament. With United, Schmeichel won five Premier League titles, three FA Cups, a League Cup, and a Champions League title.

The Great Dane’s last match for the club was the 1999 Champions League final, which they won, completing an unprecedented treble. Another league title in Portugal soon followed. Individually, he was twice named as the World’s Best Goalkeeper by IFFHS.

1. Lev Yashin (USSR)

Nicknamed the “Black Spider” because it seemed like he had eight arms to save everything, Lev Yashin was a fiercely passionate goalkeeper with amazing reflexes and jaw-dropping athleticism.

He was a one club man, playing only for Dynamo Moscow. During his career, which also included 74 caps for USSR, Yashin saved over 150 penalties and kept almost 500 clean sheets, a remarkable record for someone who played 812 career games.

He was part of the European Championships winning team of 1960, four years after helping USSR to Olympic gold. Yashin, a three time winner of USSR’s Best Goalkeeper award, remains the only goalkeeper to have been named the European Footballer of the Year, an award he picked up in 1963.

In 2000, he was named as the greatest goalkeeper of the 20th century in a poll conducted by IFFHS. I’m going one better, and naming him the greatest goalkeeper of all time.

Greatest Ever: Top Ten Strikers of All Time

March 29, 2009

by Barney Corkhill…In this list I have included out and out strikers and support strikers. This was probably even harder to whittle down to ten than the central midfielders list!

Enjoy!

10. Romario (BRA)

The fact that a player with over 1000 goals to his name only comes tenth on this list speaks volumes about the quality of the others who make up the top ten. There have been few, if any, better goal-poachers in football history and perhaps no-one is better deserving of the “genius of the goal area” tag bestowed on him by Johan Cruyff.

A journeyman at club level, Romario is perhaps best associated with Vasco de Gama, where he started and finished his illustrious career. In between those times, Romario picked up a whole host of silverware, namely four Rio de Janeiro State Leagues, three Dutch Cups, three Dutch leagues, and a Spanish League.

At international level he was a key part of the 1994 World Cup winning Brazil squad, and he went on to win 85 caps, scoring 71 goals. Along with the World Cup success in 1994, Romario was awarded the Golden Ball for Player of the Tournament, and later was named the FIFA World Player of the Year.

9. Arthur Friedenreich (BRA)

The King of Football” is a tag that has since been taken away from him by a certain fellow countryman, but Arthur Friedenreich was a deserving recipient of that title before the world have ever even heard of Pele.

There remains some confusion over his goalscoring achievements, but either way, they are outstanding. Some sources claim Friedenreich scored 1239 goals in 1329 games, while others suggest it was 1329 goals in 1239 games.

Both are records any striker would die for, and are comparable to the man who took his “King of Football” crown.

8. Marco Van Basten (NED)

Had his career not been cut short by an ankle injury aged just 27, Marco Van Basten could very well be higher up in this list. His all-round play won him many admirers, and also helped his teams win many trophies.

During his career, he managed to win a Cup Winners’ Cup, three Dutch League titles, three Dutch Cups, three Serie A titles and two European Cups. He was also an indispensable figure in Holland’s 1988 European Championships success, scoring a spectacular volley in the final to help secure the trophy.

Individually he was voted FIFA World Player of the Year in 1992, and on three occasions (1988, 1989, and 1992) was awarded the prestigious Ballon d’Or. No player has won it more times, with only Cruyff and Michel Platini being able to match his tally.

7. Fernando Peyroteo (POR)

If you are looking for the greatest goal-scorer of all-time, you need look no further than Fernando Peyroteo. No other player in history can match Peyroteo’s goals to game ratio.

While playing for Sporting, Peyroteo scored 331 goals in 187 games. Yes, you read that right. His record of 1.68 goals per game is unparalleled in world football. He often scored multiple times in a game, once scoring nine times in one match.

He also scored eight goals in another match. On three occasions he netted six times in a match, while he hit five goals on twelve occasions and four goals seventeen times.

6. Ronaldo (BRA)

Yes, “the Phenomenon” Ronaldo only makes it to sixth place, such is the quality of the players ahead of him. During the late ’90s and early ’00s, Ronaldo was the most feared player in the world, and for good reason.

His time at Inter Milan was hampered by injury, but he still did enough to secure a move to Real Madrid’s “Galacticos”. During his career, Ronaldo won a Brazilian Cup, a Dutch Cup, a Cup Winners’ Cup, a Spanish Cup, a UEFA Cup and two La Liga titles.

The success continued at international level, where he was part of the Brazil side that won the 1994 and 2002 World Cups. It is widely regarded that Ronaldo’s lack of fitness was a key factor in Brazil losing the 1998 final, such was his importance to the side.

He has twice been named the European Player of the Year, and three times named the FIFA World Player of the Year, a record only Zinedine Zidane can match. He is also the record holder for most goals scored in World Cup competition, getting his 15th during the 2006 tournament.

5. Gerd Muller (GER)

“Der Bomber” Gerd Muller was as important to the success of Bayern Munich and Germany as “Der Kaiser” Franz Beckenbauer. His prolific scoring elevated both sides to be the very best in the world.

At club level he won four Bundesliga titles, four German Cups, a Cup Winners’ Cup and three consecutive European Cups. He scored 582 goals in 669 games throughout his club career, and was even more prolific at international level, scoring 68 goals in just 62 caps. Those caps included success at the 1972 European Championships and the 1974 World Cup.

Individually, he was awarded the Ballon d’Or in 1970, and in 2000 he was named World Football’s Greatest Goalscorer of All Time. Before Ronaldo overtook him in 2006, Muller was the World Cup’s top goalscorer with 14 goals in two World Cups.

4. Eusebio (POR)

Eusebio is the biggest name in the history of Portuguese football. His speed, power, and deadly finishing made him one of the most prolific goalscorers in history, and he led Benfica through their golden period.

While at Benfica, he won the Portuguese League 11 times, the Portuguese Cup five times, and the European Cup twice, reaching another three finals. By the end of his career, he had scored 727 goals in 715 games, although some statisticians claim he scored as many as 1137.

He led Portugal to the semi-finals of the 1966 World Cup, a year after being named European Footballer of the Year. He went on to play 64 times for Portugal, scoring 41 goals.

3. Ferenc Puskas (HUN)

Ferenc Puskas was part of two of the greatest sides ever assembled: Hungary’s Magical Magyars, and Real Madrid’s all-conquering side of the early ’60s. Some may argue that his Honved side, who provided many of Hungary’s golden team, could join that list.

Throughout his club career, the “Galloping Major” won five Hungarian League titles, five Spanish League titles, and three European Cups. He scored 514 goals in 529 matches and is widely regarded as the best shooter in world football history.

For Hungary, Puskas scored 84 times in 85 matches, helping them to a gold medal in the 1952 Olympics, and a place in the final of the 1954 World Cup. He also played four times for Spain.

2. Diego Maradona (ARG)

Love him or hate him, you cannot deny the quality Diego Maradona possessed. His pace, dribbling skills, and unpredictability are matched by very few, if any, in the annals of football.

This helped his club teams to much silverware, including an Argentinian League title, a Spanish Cup, two Serie A titles, an Italian Cup and a UEFA Cup. The latter three were with Napoli, a team he almost single-handedly made into a major European force.

Internationally, he inspired Argentina to success in the 1986 World Cup, with the infamous “Hand of God” and sublime “Goal of the Century” coming along the way. He ended up scoring 34 times in 91 appearances for Argentina.

An internet poll conducted by FIFA to determine the Player of the Century saw Maradona claim over 50 percent of the votes, but a FIFA panel decided he should share the title with this man…

1. Pele (BRA)

It may not be an entirely original choice for the greatest striker of all time, but there is a reason why Pele is considered the best player to ever kick a ball - because he is the best player to ever kick a ball. The “King of Football” ruled his empire from the second he laced up his first pair of boots to the second he hung them up for the final time.

He played for Santos for the vast majority of his career, winning silverware almost every year. His trophy haul makes him, together with former Portugal ‘keeper Victor Baia, the player with most career titles.

He is the only player to have three World Cup winners medals, playing a huge part in 1958 and 1970 in particular. He went on to play 92 times for Brazil, scoring 77 goals, a record which still stands today.

His 1281 goals in 1363 games is the highest FIFA recognised tally by any player in history, and he has been voted as the Footballer of the Century and Athlete of the Century by numerous sporting organisations.

There is no doubt in my mind, then, that Pele is the greatest striker ever!

Soccer: Top Ten Left-Backs Of All Time

March 20, 2009

vy Barney Corkhill… In this series I will look at the greatest talents to grace various sports. I continue to look at soccer, this time counting down the top ten left-backs of all time.

Enjoy!

10. Emlyn Hughes (ENG)

The former England and Liverpool captain, nicknamed “Crazy Horse” for a now infamous rugby tackle on Newcastle’s Albert Bennett, was one of the key members of Shankly’s, and later Paisley’s, great Liverpool team of the ’70s.

Predictably, then, his trophy haul is rather impressive. He won four Division One titles, an FA Cup, two UEFA Cups and two European Cups in his twelve years at Anfield. He later added a League Cup to that list with Wolves.

He was named the FWA Footballer of the Year in 1977, and played for England 62 times, leading them out on 23 occasions.

9. Denis Irwin (IRE)

A lynch-pin of the great Manchester United team of the ’90s, Denis Irwin experienced a long and successful career. He was a deadly set-piece taker who often challenged even David Beckham when it came to free-kick duties.

In his 12 years stint at United, he won a lot of silverware, including seven Premier League titles, three FA Cups, a League Cup, a Cup Winners’ Cup, and a Champions League. He was a key part of the 1999 treble winning side.

For the Republic of Ireland, Irwin made 56 appearances before he retired after he was told to “go out and prove himself.”

8. Bixente Lizarazu (FRA)

Despite his lack of height, Lizarazu made a name for himself as one of the best attacking full-backs of recent times. His time at Bayern Munich and in the “Golden era” of French football helped him become the most decorated player in French football history.

At club level he has won two French league titles, six German league titles, five German Cups, four German League Cups and a Champions League, while at international level he helped France to success in the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000.

In all, he made 97 appearances for France. Another trophy he won was the Intercontinental trophy in 2001, which made him the first player to be a European champion and World champion on both international and club level at the same time.

7. Jose Antonio Camacho (SPA)

Camacho made his debut for Real Madrid aged just 18, and then made his final appearance for the same club 16 years later. In all he played over 400 league matches for them, cementing his place as one of the best defenders in their history.

In his time there, he won nine La Liga titles, and four Spanish Cups, as well as appearing in two World Cups and two European Championships for Spain. Overall, he made 81 appearances for the national team.

6. Andreas Brehme (GER)

Brehme could hit a free-kick or spray a long pass as well as anyone in world football and, whats more, he could do it with both feet. He was a great attacking full-back who scored for every team he ever played for.

In his 17-year career, Brehme won two Bundesliga titles, a German Cup, a UEFA Cup, and a Serie A title at club level, while at international level he won the 1990 World Cup and was part of the team that came runners-up four years earlier, and then again two years later in the European Championships.

He scored the winning goal in that 1990 World Cup final, just one of his eight international goals in 86 matches for Germany.

5. Paul Breitner (GER)

Narrowly beating his fellow countryman into the top five is Paul Breitner. As a free-roaming left-back, Breitner was often seen in unfamiliar places for a traditional left-back.

Although controversial off-the-field, he knew how to get the job done on it. He won five Bundesliga titles, two German Cups, a European Cup, a La Liga title and a Spanish Cup during his club career. He was even more successful on the international stage, however, winning the European Championships of 1972, and then the 1974 World Cup in which he scored Germany’s opening goal.

His goal in the 1982 World Cup final, which Germany lost, made him one of just four players to have scored in two World Cup finals. He was named the German Footballer of the Year in 1981 and made 48 appearances for West Germany.

4. Giacinto Facchetti (ITA)

Facchetti was one of the first great attacking full-backs, helping the role of the left-back progress to what it is today. He spent his whole career at Inter Milan, a club who retired his number three shirt following his death.

During his time there, he won four league titles, an Italian Cup and two European Cups. He also finished as a runner-up in two more European Cup finals. In 1970 he was once again a runner-up, this time in the World Cup with Italy, a country with whom he had won the European Championships two years earlier.

An all-round great player, Facchetti made a then record 94 appearances for Italy.

3. Nilton Santos (BRA)

Another great attacking full-back, Nilton Santos has been part of four Brazilian World Cup squads. In the 1958 and 1962 tournaments, he collected winners medals and worldwide accolades for his play.

He is especially noted for a goal against Austria in the 1958 tournament when he dribbled past almost the whole team before sticking the ball in the net. He went on to make 75 appearances for Brazil in a 23-year international career.

His club career, however, lasted 36 years, all for one club. His loyalty and longevity means he is one of very few outfield players to have played over 1000 games, and perhaps the only one to do so for one club.

2. Roberto Carlos (BRA)

Roberto Carlos took attacking full-back play to a new level. His marauding runs down the left-flank often followed by a thunderous shot have thrilled football fans for two decades, and continue to do so.

In his club career he has won the Brazilian league twice, La Liga four times, and the Champions League three times. He helped Brazil to the ultimately unsuccessful final of the 1998 World Cup, and the more successful final in 2002. In all, he played 125 times for Brazil.

Perhaps his most famous moment came against France when he hit a free-kick which was seemingly going a long way wide before it unfathomably swerved and ended up in the French net. It remains the most remarkable free-kick I’ve ever seen.

1. Paolo Maldini (ITA)

Who else? I think most people around the world have run out of superlatives to throw at this man. Legend just doesn’t seem enough. He has played for AC Milan his entire 25-year career and is subsequently the highest appearance maker for the club, for Serie A, and for Italy.

His list of achievements seem never ending. In his remarkable career he has won seven Serie A titles, an Italian Cup, and an unbelievable five European Cups. He has appeared in eight finals of Europe’s premier competition.

For Italy he was part of the side that came runners-up in the 1994 World Cup and Euro 2000. Unfortunately, he missed out on the 2006 World Cup win after retiring with a record 126 caps.

Paolo Maldini - the greatest left-back ever!