Ridiculous Cliches in Football Commentary

First of all, an ex-player on tv does not automatically become a ‘pundit’. Just like a squirrel at the stable doesn’t become a horse.

Every week we’re treated to some absolute pearls of wisdom from the various ‘pundits’ on TV, giving their valuable insight on all the goings on of the top leagues. Here’s a list of some of their most inane and sometimes senseless phrases.

1. “Yes John…” – This is my earliest memory of watching football analysis on TV. I’ve been scarred for life. Shebby Singh on the ESPNStar network prefaces everything he says with these lovely words. Even when asked a question by a man named Andrew. Or Paul. Or Ravichandran for that matter. I can only imagine what havoc he’s wreaking at Blackburn (What on Earth were they thinking?!).

2. “A Relegation 6-pointer” – A favorite of the mathematically inclined (or challenged, depending on which way you look at it). Generally in reference to a game between direct rivals for a spot in the League table. Probably based on the logic that when, say, QPR plays Reading and QPR win (remember, this is just an example, anything can happen) they get 3 points for the win, plus Reading’s 3 for them not winning. Might as well give them the 2 points Wigan dropped at Stoke, while we’re at it.

3. “Does the dirty-work in midfield” – Sergio Busquets does not work in sewage management and Pepe doesn’t beat up people for a living. At least not everyday. Defensive midfielders defend using their positional intelligence, reading of the game, anticipation and skill. The same as full time defenders. To call it doing the ‘dirty-work’ is terribly lazy. In fact, watching Yaya Toure cleverly intercept a pass is often very pleasing to the eye. Paul Parker needs to expand his vocabulary to more than 23 words.

4. “Finds the Back Of The Net” – Because nobody knew where it was up until that point. Thank god for Michu, or the Emirates faithful would be wondering where the net was, along with the rest of their team. Admittedly, it is a perfectly legitimate way of describing the goal, but its not the only way! Variations include “Puts the ball in the BOTN”, “the keeper has to pick the ball out of the BOTN”, “Is in the BOTN”. All equally drab and annoying.

5. “Doubled the Lead/Halved the deficit” – This only works when 1-0 becomes 2-0 or 2-0 becomes 2-1. Just say what it is. This was creative in the 90’s. Now, its tedious. Not all of us are math geniuses, so we’d like to be told what the score is please. None of this fractions and multiples crap.

6. “We’re halfway through the first half!” – This is just horrendous. If you have nothing to say at around the twenty two and a half minute mark, then sip your coffee, eat your biscuits, or call up your wife to say you despise her. Not this. Serves the sole purpose of telling the viewers that the game is as boring as Stoke vs West Ham. Or its actually Stoke vs West Ham. Also, again, fractions.

7. “Scored at both ends” – Often used by smug commentators to describe a player scoring an own goal and one for his team. They seem to think of it as incredibly creative. Until you realize that the a striker who has scored two goals, for his own team, in either half has also, in effect, scored at both ends. Martin Skrtel’s match performance reviews need to be worded differently next time.

8. “High speed game of chess” – Sound familiar? That’s because this one is universal. Every sport where the people involved start to use their brains to try and out think their opposition, becomes chess, played at high speed. By real people, on grass, with 50000 people watching. Or short men, mounted on horses, cracking the whip on the poor animal. Or men in hi-tech cars, driving very fast. Because of course, thinking is so unheard of in any sport other than chess. “High speed Age of Empires” anyone? No? Okay.

9. “That’s a stone wall penalty!” – Used almost every time a penalty is given that wasn’t in the slightest bit controversial. Quite frankly, it makes no sense. What does a stone wall have to do with the obviousness of a foul inside the box? And when did it become an adjective? Completely absurd. And who builds stone walls these days anyway?

10. “He’s lost a yard or two of pace” – A yard is a measure of distance. Not speed. That’s like saying the speed limit is 50 miles. Except you have no idea exactly how much pace he had originally and how much he’s lost. Frequently used in relation to Fernando Torres.

There’s a number of other such delights that are dished out, ‘week-in week-out’, but these are the ones that I can think of right now, which are either over-used to the point of being infuriating or are simply puzzling. But amongst all the dreary fare, there is some hope. Ray Hudson is original if nothing else and thoroughly entertaining. This one from Barcelona’s 5-0 win over Real Madrid in 2010 is especially brilliant (in as high pitched a voice as you can imagine):
“Real Madrid’s defense stretched out like spandex on Miami beach, and Casillas is left Naked!”.

Now that’s what I call good prime time television.

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Roman Abramovich : Too much Vodka or Calculated Madness?

Before you read this let me just make it clear. I’m not trying to justify the decision here. I’m merely trying to fathom the reasons Abramovich might have for sacking baldie.

Much as the blues would like to ignore or forget it, the world was laughing at Chelsea Football Club yesterday. The Russian oligarch in keeping with his facial hair, made a rather sketchy decision. He called his team’s Italian manager, and told him, “Roberto, all you’ve done in the last 6 months is win the first ever Champions League trophy in the club’s history and an FA Cup. That’s just not acceptable. You’re fired”. A knee-jerk reaction some are saying, to their crushing loss to Juventus in the Champions League that left their status as Champions in tatters. But surely if you’ve made gazillions of dollars in business, you must have some rationale behind taking such dramatic decisions?

First and foremost, Antonio Conte’s men deserve massive credit. Their performance in Turin was brilliant. They outplayed the European Champions and Chelsea had no answer. For that, the responsibility must lie with Di manager (see what I did there?). The result in Turin meant Chelsea had gone 5 games without a win. Not a streak by which a manager should be judged. But this is Chelsea. Things are different at the first of the ‘sugar-daddy’ clubs. The daddy demands success, of huge proportions, in an outrageous time frame. The point is, is it justified? Most commentators of the game keep reminding people that running a football club is different from running a corporate venture. The challenges are different, the timelines are different and the personnel are wildly different from your average office go-er.

This is probably a concept that Abramovich, despite being at the helm of the Football club for the best part of a decade has not been able to grasp. But then, no individual in history has ever invested so much money in a football club. Nobody has tried to literally write their own history like Chelsea have. That, is where they are different. People of power at Chelsea, and this includes the players, are payed outrageous amounts even by their high standards. That brings with it, a gigantic responsibility which it seems few understand. Surely, the owner outlines exactly what he wants when he appoints his staff. The roles are defined, the objectives are set in stone. This applied to Roberto Di Matteo as well.

Roman Ambition

Abramovich has made no secret of his objective. He doesn’t want to beat Barcelona. He wants to be Barcelona. That means winning the Champions League, the Premier League the FA Cup, the League Cup, the respect of the world, the admiration of an entire generation. And all that in Style. Make no mistake, the team’s style of play has been just as important to him as winning. Which is why, Di Matteo might still have not been the Russian’s favorite person in the world even after that magical night in Munich.

Abramovich wants history. He wants a Legacy. Not just statistics. He wants Chelsea to be the absolute Royalty of world football and with the resources at his disposal, its more than simply a pipe dream. That is why the performance is just as important as the result. That’s the reason Inter Milan have to remind the world that they won the treble, while Barcelona are judged by the world with the Treble as their reference point. Would the 1999 Champions League final be any less special if Manchester United had equalized and won it in the first half itself? You bet! They say 20 years down the line nobody cares how you played, just that you won. But what does it tell you, when 20 years down the line, someone does remember, not just that you won, but how brilliantly you played? That is what winning is all about. That is what Roman Abramovich wants, no, demands of his team.

Right Man, Wrong Time

Roberto Di Matteo will always be a Chelsea hero, both as player and manager. After his spell at West Brom, ironically one of the teams that played as much part in his sacking as Juventus, he joined AVB as assistant when he took over at the beginning of last season. The ‘project’ never really got started and a defeat at Napoli after having benched Torres, Cole and Essien meant the Portuguese was out of a job by the end of February. In the process, he had alienated and fractured a dressing room full of fairly large ‘personalities’, which is just another word for football divas. They refused to take his philosophy on board and he didn’t help his case by being abrasive and too direct in applying it. In stepped Di Matteo and immediately knew what he had to do. He united the squad, got the leaders on board and gained the confidence of the team. He showed them how to win again and win they did. The Champions League no less. The season ended on a high, but Abramovich was now stuck. The immense pressure from all quarters meant he couldn’t help but give the Italian a permanent contract. But in the eyes of the owner, Di Matteo was not the man to take the club forward. There’s a growing belief in the corporate world that leaders who solve problems and get you out of trouble are not necessarily the right men to then take you forward. Citigroup CEO Vikram Pandit seems to be one of the victims of this philosophy. Di Matteo, might be another.

The glory of being crowned European Champions, masked the fact that they actually regressed in the League under Di Matteo. Of course, it could just be because they focussed all their attention on the top prize in Europe. But even after a summer of big spending that began with the signing of Marko Marin (yeah, remember him?), Chelsea still seemed to be lacking some form of solidity. They started very well, with the awesome threesome of Oscar, Mata and Hazard managing to combine well once they started playing together. But Di Matteo never looked like a manager who had the confidence of the boss. He would have to have a near perfect season to stay in the job till the end of the season.

The ideal solution would have been for Abramovich to risk the ire of fans and appoint a long term solution, or someone he was happy with at least, in the summer itself. This sacking has brought it upon him anyway. But hindsight is a wonderful thing and any number of things could have gone wrong with that. Having taken the decision despite not being entirely convinced, Abramovich was never going to need too much incentive to get rid of him. Poor young Robbie never stood a chance.

The timing of the decision is more than questionable, and the Londoners and their fans around the world have now got even more reason to dislike the man after he’s appointed Rafael Benitez as the interim coach. But the spoilt Chelsea fans need to also remember that nine years back, Chelsea weren’t even in the Champions League. Roman Abramovich has done a lot wrong, but gets very little credit for what he’s done right. He’s the man who b(r)ought them success after decades of being in the shadows of their more illustrious neighbors. He has spent millions on his project and frankly, having spent that kind of money, he’s entitled to expect results a bit faster than most others. For people to say that the team is still in ‘transition’ and that they need a few more signings is quite strange. A look at squad and having watched their games, its easy to see that they’re at par in terms of quality with the best in the world. In Turin, after going 2 down, they seemed deflated and defeated. Its not ability that they were lacking, it was belief. That is something that the manager needs to correct. It cannot be acceptable for players of that quality to accept defeat even after the final whistle, far less before it.

There is a method to his madness, which may not be entirely obvious or even popular, but Roman Abramovich might actually know what he’s doing. At the time, sacking Villas Boas too seemed like a harsh decision, but no one’s complaining about that anymore are they?

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Why can’t Arsenal win the League?

Because of Gervinho obviously.

But no, seriously, its a question that has been bothering me for a while now. Since the 2005-6 season, Arsenal’s highest league finish has been 3rd. Their lowest has been 4th. Over the same period, Manchester United have only won it or finished 2nd. Arsenal seem to have hit a glass ceiling and floor, much like Valencia in Spain. So what did Valencia do? Their supporters expect more than just 3 consecutive 3rd place finishes. Na├»ve as it may be, they want to compete with the Big 2. Unai Emery was thus sacked at the end of last season and Mauricio Pellegrino was brought in to try and turn their fortunes around. Not that he’s done a great job so far, with Valencia still winless away from home. But the point is, they’ve shown ambition.
This is something Arsenal lack. Maybe it’s not so much ambition, as their portrayal of it. I’m sure Arsene Wenger is just as motivated as before, but its just not something that filters through the club to the players and the fans. I’d said earlier, that they need to hang on to Robin van Persie in order to at least project the image of a strong club that is in contention for titles every season. Alas, almost immediately they sold him to Manchester United and he is doing an absolutely splendid job for the Red Devils. When Nasri said last season that he hopes the Arsenal faithful are watching him lift the trophy, it was crass and in very poor taste. But what he said must have hurt the fans, no doubt. All said and done, it is vindication of the Frenchman’s decision to leave London. Most fans that I hear from, have a tone of exasperation rather than hope these days and that is dangerous for the club. They aren’t catching up with the top two or three teams, but the chasing pack of Tottenham, Everton and even Liverpool, have caught up.

Mentality

The weekend showed the difference between the Championship contenders and the mere pretenders. United and City both had to come from behind to claim victory. The important thing is, they did it. Arsenal too, had to come from behind and resist a Fulham come back to claim the draw. It was the familiar story of seasons past where they’ve played well in parts and created chances but simply could not take them and paid the price. Arteta’s last minute penalty miss summed it up. But it has happened all too often to be put down simply to them having bad luck, or a bad day.

Last week, they played Manchester United, and failed to impress. The 2-1 scoreline was very generous to the Gunners and it could have been worse. If you compare the starting line-ups of the two teams there isn’t a very wide gulf in class.

Arsenal XI: Mannone, Santos, Vermaelen, Mertesacker, Sagna, Arteta, Wilshere, Cazorla, Podolski, Ramsey, Giroud.

MUFC XI: De Gea, Evra, Evans, Ferdinand, Rafael, Cleverly, Carrick, Rooney, Young, Valencia, RVP.

The goal keepers and centre back pairings are more or less as good (or bad) as each other, Sagna is probably better than Rafael except he’s coming back from injury. Even Emile Heskey would make a better left back than Andre Santos, who should just go back to playing Eva Longoria’s husband on Desperate Housewives. The Arsenal midfield is in fact of a higher quality than United’s while RVP is head and shoulders above Giroud up front.

Still, Arsenal don’t command the fear that their rivals from Machester do. Wenger needs to really shake things up. His has been a project in the making for far too long now. 7 years without a title is too long for a team of Arsenal’s stature and tangible success must come soon.

The Way Forward

Arsenal Football Club need change. They have stagnated in an endless loop of building a team only to watch it fall apart, over and over again. Unlike Valencia, they are in great financial shape, and must put that to use. Whether that change has to be simply in mentality and attitude, or something more obvious in terms of a change of guard on the bench is something the powers that be at the club will have to decide.

Winning the League is about consistency more than anything. The kind that comes from a mentally strong group of players who are motivated enough to go out and get the desired result every week. Right now, Arsenal have the squad. A few intelligent signings in January will make them stronger. But again, all that is only on paper. They need to take a leaf out of the Manchester United book of how to win titles. A lot depends on Arsene Wenger and his motivational skills. If they fail to win anything again this season then it might seriously be time to consider the option of asking Arsene Wenger to leave. Its a painful decision for everyone. In 16 glorious years at the helm of Arsenal Football Club, Wenger has etched his name into the history books. The Invincibles, that great run to the Champions League Final, the FA Cup victories. He has done it all. Now, he needs to come up with another master stroke to reignite the spark that his side have well and truly lost.

Very few managers are capable of pulling off the turn around that needs to happen at the Emirates. Thankfully for the Gunners, Arsene Wenger is one of them.

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Falc-WOW!

Radamel Falcao. Say it, and it just rolls off the tongue. “What a brilliant name!” you think to yourself. Its not a goalie’s name or a defender’s name. Its a striker’s name. There’s just something about it. You could name a S.W.A.T. team after him. He was put on this Earth to do one thing, and one thing only and that is to score goals. Across 2 continents and 3 countries, Radamel Falcao has scored 124 goals for club and country. And he’s only just begun.

In the 44th minute of a fairly even contest, Freddy Guarin sent a deep cross into the box, and El Tigre rose above his marker to make it 1-0. The stage was the Dublin Arena, the occasion, the 2011 UEFA Europa League Final and Radamel Falcao had announced himself to the world. That goal was enough for his side to win the trophy and when the final whistle blew to mark the end of the tournament and the season, Falcao had finished the tournament with a staggering tally of 17 goals. Andre Villas Boas’ side had gone unbeaten for the entire season on their way to claiming the Portuguese League title. What they had achieved was phenomenal.

AVB as we all know was quickly snapped up by Roman Abramovich, but in hindsight maybe he thinks he picked up the wrong star from that night in Dublin. Of course, there isn’t much the Russian can’t do and the speculation is rife that having already splurged on an (ex) Atletico Madrid striker in January, he might do the same again. Having moved to the Spanish Capital, Falcao took little time adjusting to La Liga and turned in a handsome return of 36 goals for the season. A club record for a player in his first. In the process, he once again played a significant part in carrying his team to the Europa League Title, scoring a magnificent double in the Final against a Bilbao side who had been very impressive until that night in Bucharest.

A Dying Breed – Save the Tiger

With world football fast moving towards a system with only one striker, and more recently a ‘false’ striker, the breed of pure number 9s is an endangered one. With a lot of managers asking their strikers to drop deep to receive the ball and press the opposition, Falcao is one of the few who has very little defensive responsibility. Diego Simeone understands that to be at his best, the Tiger needs to be close to goal. That is probably the only criticism you can level against the attacker. He doesn’t care much for defending. But like I said, he was born to score goals. He is one of the few players in World Football who can be compared to the traditional number 9, playing a role similar to what Didier Drogba, another prolific goal-machine when at his peak, did at Chelsea. With the high stakes in football games these days, a lot of coaches now feel their primary objective should be to avoid defeat and sacrifice a striker in favour of a midfielder. The success of Lionel Messi and Spain in the use of a ‘false 9’ has further strengthened the tendency towards dropping an out and out striker in favour of someone who can contribute in different ways. But Radamel Falcao (again, what an awesome name that is!) holds out as the beacon of light for the pure striker. Of course, you have to be ridiculously good for the coach to build his team around you, and Falcao, is ridiculously good.

The Complete Striker

In addition to his exploits in the Europa League, he also humbled the European Champions Chelsea in the UEFA Super Cup at the beginning of this season. A fantastic hat-trick had even the Chelsea faithful in awe of his absolute brilliance, and ‘brilliant’ doesn’t even fully describe that performance. As the season has progressed, he has assumed the lead role in Atletico’s best start in a long time, seeing them joint top of the table along with Catalan giants Barcelona. For a change, the Rojiblancos find themselves leading their more illustrious neighbors in the league standings and by quite a margin too.

Falcao has been in scorching form. Over the course of his time on the Iberian peninsula he has gotten progressively better. Before he can be called the complete striker, it should be understood that the complete striker is not just two-footed and strong in the air ( because even Peter Crouch once scored the perfect hat-trick: right foot, left foot, head, for Liverpool). He’s much more than that.

The Colombian has a strong right foot, supplemented by near-perfect technique. His left foot isn’t bad either, and he doesn’t lose too many aerial duels. But it is the intangible aspects of the game where the 26 year old truly amazes. There is probably nobody in the game today who has a better awareness of where the goal is, even when he isn’t facing it. This specific talent, of knowing exactly where the target is, is an exceptionally important one to have for a striker. It means that he cuts down on valuable fractions of seconds to get his bearings in a tight situation. It means he can receive the ball with his back to goal, turn and shoot, and get the desired result on most attempts. Positioning and anticipation is another aspect of the game where he excels. You don’t score a bucket full of goals without having the ability to read the game well enough to know where the ball is going to end up. Inside the box, there is nobody that challenges the authority of the goal keeper like him. A powerful physical presence, coupled with pace, intelligence and precision, this man is a defender and coach’s worst nightmare.

One aspect of game that he hadn’t developed was scoring from free kicks. Until a couple of weeks ago, he had never scored from a free kick. Then, at Anoeta, with the game tied 0-0 after 90 minutes, he stepped up to take one. 1-0. Game over. His team mates weren’t surprised. He’d been practicing them in training and knew he could score.

That is probably the one factor that sets him apart. A single minded focus on improving and getting better at everything. People observing him on match days perfectly illustrate this point. He is in a jovial mood in the morning, but by lunch, you can see from his face, that he is beginning to think about the game, and by the time they enter the dressing rooms, he is completely in the zone, visualizing the entire game, and making plans for his next victims.

When he’s in the zone, you don’t mess with the Tiger. The single, most devastatingly complete predator in the World.

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Preview – Tottenham v Chelsea : Revenge, Vindication and an Orange Beard…

Its a plot that would make a wonderful story-line for the quintessential Bollywood flick. There’s bound to be truck loads of drama wherever Chelsea go, not least because John Terry’s on the prowl. But when he’s not busy (not) racially … Continue reading

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Let the Party Begin! Real Madrid v Man City – UCL Preview

If the Champions League was the hottest club in town, Man City are the guy that got in by slapping the bouncer with a wad of cash. There’s no judgement there. Just a fact. And the slapping had been going … Continue reading

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The Wizard on Grass : Andres Iniesta

At 5 foot 8, he isn’t the tallest guy around. At around 63 kilos, pale faced with a receding hairline, he isn’t someone you’d even look once at, in a crowd. Pretty much your ‘Average Jose’, as the Spanish would … Continue reading

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