Monday, October 19, 2020

Another view on VAR

 I recently watched Everton-Liverpool in the Premier League. In the dying seconds of the match, with the score 2-2, Liverpool scored a goal that would give them the victory in a well-played match. After celebrations and comments, the referee cancelled the goal, based on a VAR decision that Sadio Mane (who made the pass for the goal by Jordan Henderson) was in an off-side position.

In the reviews they showed on TV it was incredibly difficult to see that Sadio Mane was anything but in line with the defenders, and it appears impossible to refute or agree that one part of his body was a few millimeters ahead any of the defenders. In real life it will have been impossible for a referee or linesman to see, and I doubt any Everton players would have complained for a goal given; nobody would have reviewed the goal!

Maybe it was off side. But that is in my view not the point of the VAR. It is to review when the referee "has made a clear and obvious error". When the VAR referees sit in their little room and want to review errors that are not "clear and obvious", they are not adding value to the quality or justice of the game, but rather contributing just another layer to controversial decisions. 

I am not against VAR. But it should be used with a caution that the people who make decisions do not seem to understand. The point is not to make football error-proof, because it never will be, but rather to reduce the worst and most controversial decisions: a clear off-side goal; a player's dive; a hand-goal; doubt on crossing the line. Besides this, there is a problem in who decides: the entire decision process of the VAR should be entirely in the hands of the referee that is no the pitch. He or she should alone decide whether to ask for a VAR review and should be alone making a decision based on VAR for those situation that he or she considers difficult, and in off-side situation it should happen in consultutation with the linesman. The VAR referees should not be able to decide after the fact.

I know this will return pressure on the referee; the same pressure that there was before the the advent of VAR. But VAR should be a tool for the referee; just like his or her cards, the whistle or the linesmen, but if it is not a tool, it becomes just another layer of football bureaucracy to the detriment of what is best for the game.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

England-Denmark 0-1

To defeat England at Wembley will always be special, so of course Denmark's 0-1 victory for Kasper Hjulmand's team must be qualified as a great result. That said, it was lucky. When England was putting the most pressure on the Danes two events changed the match: Harry Maguire was shown his second yellow card after only 31 minutes, and Christian Eriksen's penalty goal after 35 minutes. While both yellow cards for Maguire were correct after dangerous late tackles, the penalty call by the Spanish referee remains more controversial; a duel between Kyle Walker and Thomas Delaney did not appear as much more than a soft scuffle, and was in my view a penalty at all.

These two situations changed the gameplan, and the English side never really recovered despite the fact that they created some good chances in the second half (worth mentioning is a spectacular save by Kasper Schmeichel) and the Danes seemed under too much pressure by the ten England players. But in the end the Danes carried through their victory; a lucky victory, but a victory nevertheless.

Monday, October 12, 2020

The lack of VAR controversy

 When Denmark defeated Iceland in last night's Nations League match, there was no VAR. Denmark's first goal would have needed it: After a corner kick goalkeeper Hannes Halldorson saved a header into Runar Mar Sigurjonsson, rebounding the ball into the net as Halldorson desperately pushed it out. But the referee decided that the ball had crossed the line and Denmark was in the lead.

In the TV pictures it is not easy to get a final answer, and this is one of the situations that will pass on to the pantheon of controversial decisions in the absence of VAR. Although I an unashamedly biased towards Denmark, I have serious doubts that the ball crossed the line in its totality, why the otherwise deserved Danish victory is slightly tarnished by the lack of VAR!

Danish renewal

Last night I watched Denmark defeat Iceland 0-3 in Iceland in the UEFA Nations League. This is the first competitive match victory since taking over as Danish manager in July 2020 in replacement of Åge Hareide. Hjulmand's opening match was a National League match against Belgium, losing 0-2 at home, in what was Denmark's first defeat for two years. This did not matter much though, as Belgium is by far the better side. Denmark then tied England 0-0, before last night's victory.

The victory puts Denmark firmly in third place behind England and Belgium, while Iceland appears set for relegation. But Hjulmand, who is an manager who gives chances to young and interesting players, will still be tested in two competitive matches against England and Belgium respectively, and which will be the real tests for the Danish team.

Sunday, September 27, 2020

The Luis Suarez circus

Luis Suarez has always, no matter what you think about him, been a great footballer. And he has also been prone to scandals. As FC Barcelona is renewing under Ronald Koeman, the Uruguayan striker was not to be found in the plans, so in first instance it was reported that Suarez was signing for Juventus, which was surely to be an interesting pairing alongside Cristiano Ronaldo. But in what was a truly bizarre turn of events, Luis Suarez did not sign for the Italian side: as he needed a European nationality he applied for Italian citizenship, and in what appears a truly odd turn of events, Suarez has been accused of cheating in order to speed up the paperwork application. If it is true, Suarez would really appear as an entitled rich footballer who can bypass what so many others struggle to achieve, although one has to wonder about Juventus (who appeared to backtrack on the signing) and University of Peruggia, where the exam was administered.

So after this entire circus, Luis Suarez has joined a new circus: namely Diego Simeone's Atlético Madrid side, a team where Suarez experience, skills and passion will fit in well. In his debut against Granada, Suarez came on for Diego Costa 20 minutes before the end, and scored twice, showing that it might be another interest season ahead for the traveling entertainment that is Luis Suarez.

Saturday, September 05, 2020

A good, not a god

I actually feel sorry for Lionel Messi, despite my criticism of his attitude in football. Following the 2-8 humiliation to Bayern Munich he had officially announced his wish to leave FC Barcelona (but appears to be a result not only of that match). 

I have no doubt that Messi loves Barcelona, but at one point in life one has the need to try new things to be happy: Messi does not appear to be happy in a club that he has given everything, but where they seem to treat him as a good (rather than a "god"), with an immense economic value, yes, but not valued as a human with desires and needs. I heard in an interview today that he preferred to stay in Barcelona rather than to take the club to court; I understand that, and that shows him as a man with loyalty; a loyalty that is obviously not returned if the club-leadership, who appears who have acted in really bad faith, insinuates that his leaving can only result in a court case! 

As a football fan Messi will remain one of the best ever, and as he closes down on the end of his career, he certainly deserves a worthy exit, and I feel sorry that he can not get that in Barcelona, including the fascination it would have been to see him play in a different league!

Thursday, September 03, 2020

The Covid-19 infected

I heard that Neymar and Angel DiMaria have been diagnosed with Corona virus. I wish them a speedy recovery following the disppointment of losing the Champions League final. This just confirms that everyone can get this virus. It is increasingly frustrating that it does not seem to retreat as the world tries to reopen and we eagerly look forward to moving around freely, and for the privileged few like myself (as well as Neymar and DiMaria), to travel to Europe. That said, don't forget that many people do not have that freedom with or without a virus.

Friday, August 28, 2020

The English Game

I have just finished watching a six-part series on Netflix, "The English Game" about the early days of football in England, around 1880s. The series are very good as it includes a strong historical component beyond football on the industrialization of Britain and the enormous changes that English society underwent in the second half of the 19th century.
This was also the period when football started becoming the modern game that was to conquer the world, and this is exactly where the storyline is set: the FA Cup had always been won by aristocratic clubs, where Old Etonians dominate, including in the English Football Association (FA), setting the rules of the game. On the other side are the upcoming teams organised around industrial workers in Lancashire; despite professionalism being illegal, a factory owner "hires" two Scottish players for his team in Darwen. Jimmy Love and Fergie Suter make Darwen a competitive side, but when Suter receives a better offer from their rivals Blackburn it leads to drama and even to some of the first football violence.
With Suter as captain, Blackburn make it to the FA Cup final as the first workers' team ever. They successfully fight against the FA's attempt to throw Blackburn out of the competition due to professionalism, with the inspired help of Sir Arthur Kinnaird, Old Etonian's open-minded captain, and go on to win the first FA Cup final for a workers' club; 2-1 after extra time.

Of course, as a history and football fanatic I have looked up how far the history in the series is correct.
Lord Arthur Kinnaird was in fact the founder of Old Etonians, and still today has the record of being the man who has played most FA Cup finals: nine, of which he won five (three with another team, Wanderers, and two with Old Etonians). He was a prominent banker who also went on to become President of the FA for 33 years and was part of the 1882 Old Etonians team that won the FA Cup against Blackburn Rovers, which stands as the last time an amateur team won the FA Cup. Fergie Suter was indeed playing for Blackburn Rovers in that same match in 1882, but neither did he win or score the winning goal. It was however, as depicted in the series, the first time a workers team had made it to the FA Cup final.
In 1883 Old Etonians, captained by Kinnard, made it to yet another the FA Cup Final, this time to face Blackburn Olympic. Blackburn Olympic won 2-1 and became the first workers' club to win the FA Cup. As in the series they won 2-1, after extra time, which Kinnard had accepted to play instead of a rematch (as he does in the series). But contrary to the series, Suter did not play that match, since he was playing for Olympic's rivals of Blackburn Rovers!
Blackburn Rovers won the next four FA Cups in 1884, 1885, 1886 and 1887, with Fergie Suter on the team, but never against Old Etonians.
In the first part of the series Old Etonians and Darwen play an FA Cup quarterfinal that ends in a 5-5 draw, and later Old Etonians win a third rematch as they refuse to go into extra time, because Darwen must then travel from Lancashire twice for replays (2-2 and 6-2). This indeed happened in 1879, with Kinnaird and Suter also playing for each respective team. Old Etonians went on to win the 1879 FA Cup (defeating Clapham Rovers 1-0 in the final), but the title remains tainted by the otherwise legendary clash against Darwen.

While the issue of professionalism in the English game, as depicted in the series, was real, it was far from limited to Suter or Blackburn; many teams in industrial towns in the Midlands and northern England were at the time paying players to play for them (in particular Scots), and it had indeed become a contentious issue in the 1880s, although throwing out the FA finalists of Blackburn did not happen as described in the series. That said, in 1884 Preston North End (winners of the 1889 FA Cup and first winners of the Double) were indeed accused of professionalism by the London club Upton Park, who asked the FA to void the result. But Preston North End were a powerful club that threatened to withdraw from the FA alongside many other strong clubs that were more or less openly paying their players.
This threat also appears in the series by Blackburn and Darwen. But in real life it led to the FA in 1885 accepting that players were paid, thus opening the doors fully for professionalism in football.

Curiously, the leftover aristocrats did form an Amateur Cup in 1893, and even a breakaway Amateur FA in 1907. But as it was dominated by aristocrats it was completely isolated and had by the outbreak of WWI broken up and been reincorporated into the FA.
A more curious expression of the glorification of the Gentleman-Amateur in football was the creation of the Corninthian Football Club in 1882, as a team for the best amateurs in England. The team attracted some of the best players in England, but refused to lower themselves to play the FA Cup, where they would probably have been competitive with the players they had (they did beat Blackburn in a friendly match in 1884). When playing matches they even refused to take penalties, and put pride in not warming up or overextending themselves. Corinthian FC toured the world and were instrumental in bringing the game to other parts of the world (SC Corinthians in Brazil are directly named after them), but by WWI had fallen out as a final leftover of a foregone time.

Considering the global billion-dollar sport that football is today, "The English Game", despite its liberties with historical facts, is very interesting and entertaining for anyone interested in the history of football. But as with any historical TV show, do not believe it at face blank!

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Bayern Munich champions

There must be a certain strangeness in celebrating with “We are the Champions” in an empty stadium. But that is nevertheless what Bayern Munich did after their 1-0 victory against Paris St. Germain in the UEFA Champions League. They deserved the victory although the Parisians had some  big chances that, were it not for the extraordinary Manuel Neuer, could have given them their first title. But the Bavarian side largely seemed in control and Kingsley Coman’s header was enough to give them the title.
In the end it was a good final, but not as memorable as expected, although we will all remember the final with no spectators!

Friday, August 21, 2020

The owners of the Europa League

Sevilla did it again: they have won their sixth Europa League title since 2006 and is surely the most dominant team in this tournament. But also consider the fact that they have won six European titles since 2006!
It was a fantastic first half with a 2-2 score in an intense match, where both sides had been in the lead: Luuk de Jong had scored two headers for Sevilla, while Lukaku had scored on penalty and Godin on a header. Despite the parity, I had the feeling that Sevilla had an edge against an Inter Milan side that seemed more nervous on the night. The second half was more controlled, with Sevilla getting the lead late in the match and cruising to the title with experience and a certain degree of cynical time wasting.
Whom I feel really sorry for in Romelu Lukaku: he misdirected the ball into his own net following Diego Carlos' wide bicycle kick, and thus, in my view, scored the goal that gave defeat to his own side (Diego Carlos has nevertheless been credited with the goal). An unlucky finish to Lukaku's great season.

I watched the match under lockdown at home. I would have loved to have someone to debate with during the match, which was very eventful. The problem of discussing with the TV is that despite the fact that I am always right (I would anyway), is that they do not seem to listen to me!

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Looking forward to a great final!

Olympique Lyon started the match well, and it could indeed have been a fantastic match against Bayern Munich, had it not been for the French side's inefficiency and the German side's efficiency. After Serge Gnabry had made it 0-2 for the Germans, the match was largely over, although one must commend Lyon's continued but feeble attempts at turning it around (Barcelona could learn something). But Bayern Munich were simply way too good, and in the second half appeared to even shift down a gear, even after Lewandowski made it 3-0.
Bayern Munich nevertheless has some weaknesses that Lyon saw in the initial minutes: a forward defense that can be outrun by fast strikers (very fast, as none of the Bayern defenders are particularly slow), which Paris St. Germain certainly has.
Something both Bayern Munich and Paris St. Germain showed in each of their semifinals that they will punish mistakes; this cost dearly to both Leipzig and Lyon, and shows that they both have to be fully concentrated throughout the match.
With these two teams this looks to be one of the most memorable finals of all time in a tournament that given all these COVID-19 circumstances has been and will remain, one of the most memorable Champions League seasons ever. I regret that I will have to watch the final alone, in my house, without even the possibility of finding a good pub to watch it; but I will try to make the best out of it of a final that I have huge expectations about!

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

PSG's first Champions League final

Paris St. Germain had learnt from its mistakes against Atalanta, and with Kylian Mbappe and Angel DiMaria in the starting lineup they never looked back. Angel Di Maria, besides scoring the second goal, set up both other goals, headers by Marquinhos and Juan Bernat, and Neymar, except for the fact that he should have scored a goal, is concentrated and participating in the buildup. Paris looks like a team that really wants to win the title, and whoever they meet in the final will have to control their outstanding attacking players.
Except for the fact that PSG played a great match, there is not much to say about RB Leipzig. They seemed a bit nervous and overwhelmed by the occasion,  and made some mistakes in defense that PSG promptly punished, in particular in Juan Bernat's goal, where the German side appeared naive. They have been a refreshing side in this season's Champions League, but today surely did not show that they should belong in the final.

Monday, August 17, 2020

Sevilla-Inter Milan final

Sevilla and Inter Milan are the two most successful sides in the UEFA Europa League/Cup since its creation in 1971: Sevilla has been in five finals, and won them all (2006, 2007, 2014, 2015, 2016), while Inter Milan have been in four finals, and won three (1991, 1994, 1998).
Sevilla has made it to their sixth final as if the cup belongs to them. While Manchester United had its moments in the semifinal, one never felt that Sevilla was nervous or that they would not be able to turn around being 0-1 behind, and indeed, they made it with a well-deserved 2-1 victory.
But they will not have it easy against an Inter Milan side that under Antonio Conte appears confident and plays with discipline and organization. In their 5-0 victory against Shakhtar Donetsk was achieved by these qualities as well as a superb attacking due in Romelo Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez (each one scored two goals) that Sevilla's defense will have to control to have a chance.
Although I never bet, I think that Inter Milan has a small edge to take the Cup that Sevilla has won so often!
Don't miss it!

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Ha ha ha Bartomeu

I just read that Barcelona's President rejected signing Alphonse Davies because he was Canadian:
https://ar.marca.com/claro/futbol-internacional/barcelona/2020/08/15/5f380746268e3e216b8b45b2.html?intcmp=MODCLAR01

With a leadership like that, no surprise that Barcelona is doing like they are!

Magnifique Lyon!

There was another surprise today as Olympique Lyon defeated highly-rated Manchester City 1-3 to make it to the Champions League semifinals, where they will be facing mighty Bayern Munich.
Although it is a surprise, the French side were far better than Manchester City. They were extremely organised and concentrated, in my view the best organised team of the 4 semifinalists, and their counterattacks, after Manchester City seemed on the verge of scoring where deadly, as Moussa Dembele scored the two winning goals after Raheem Sterling had missed the biggest goal in Champions League history!
There was some refreshing non-VAR controversy regarding Lyon's second goal: The Argentine commentators on ESPN were not fully in agreement as a player in clear offside jumped over the ball to let Dembele alone through to score. Did he influence the play or not? The goal was given, in my view correctly, and I am happy to say that the great Mario Kempes agrees with me!

Friday, August 14, 2020

Super Bayern Munich

8-2 is never a score you expect in a Champions League quarterfinal, but it was the score today, when Bayern Munich took apart FC Barcelona in what some people had called the "pre-final" of the Champions League.
The Bavarian side was 4-1 ahead at halftime in what reminded me of the infamous 1-7 World Cup semifinal match in 2014, and of the 2013 Champions League match when Bayern defeated Barcelona 4-0.  And surely Bayern Munich never put a break on their attacks, and eight goals was, if anything, not enough. The German side was simply outstanding; all their players performed to the highest level, with good ole' Thomas Muller, scoring two goals, truly at his best. The 19-year old Canadian, Alphonse Davies, also made a huge impression, in particular his build-up for Bayern's 5th goal (by Coutinho). Anecdotally, young Davies has an interesting life-story, as he was born to Liberian parents at Budumburam refugee camp in Ghana, moving to Canada in 2005. I was living in Ghana in 2005 (and have visited Budumburam a few times) and later lived in Liberia. I am sure that Mr. Davies is starting a glorious career!

And about Barcelona: you prove your greatness in adversity, and this Barcelona side is not great. They never looked as if they believed in a result (even when they equalized to 1-1, one had the feeling that Bayern would overrun them), and they were disorganized and slow. Sergi Roberto was probably substituted because the match was supposed to be played without spectators, and he was, alongside many of his teammates, a spectator.
Regarding Lionel Messi, we are used to him being petulant when things are against him (we have seen it with Argentina), and not doing anything to pull his team up, and this was also the case today; he looked as if he had given up by Bayern's second goal. That is no way to behave for a captain, but even less for a player who is supposedly the best in the world.
Barcelona will probably undergo massive changes in the next months, and in the meantime this will be the first Champions League semifinals since 2007 without any Spanish teams!

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Historical RB Leipzig

Only 11 years after the club was founded, RB Leipzig just made it to the Champions League semifinals after defeating Atletico Madrid 2-1.
Atletico Madrid are hard to like because of their defensive awaiting style that almost seemed a bit sad today as Leipzig moved the ball around and was really the only creative team on the pitch. In the second half Dani Olmo finally brought the Saxon side ahead, which forced Atletico Madrid to wake up. The young Joao Felix entered the pitch and he gave Atletico Madrid some "happiness" ("alegria", as Mario Kempes said, commenting the match on ESPN), and he was also the architect of the equalizer, as he scored on a penalty against himself. Atletico Madrid continued pressing against a Leipzig side that looked tired, but on a counterattack three minutes before the end Tyler Adams was a bit lucky to have his shot deflected into a 2-1 lead and eventual victory.
RB Leipzig will face Paris St. Germain, and the French side will be favourites. But RB Leipzig have certainly shown they are a competitive side and will play without pressure, so they should certainly not be discounted yet!
I will be supporting them!

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Paris in the semifinals

I felt sorry for Atalanta, who played a great match, and seemed headed for a historic semifinal after Mario Pasalic had given them a first half lead. But in the last minutes of the match the lead fell apart as Marquinhos equalised and Eric Chuopo-Moting gave them the victory goal after a build-up by Kylian Mbappe.
Mbappe and Chuopo-Moting both came in in the second half to give more power to an attack that completely depended on Neymar (who had two enormous misses in the first half), and it helped against an Atalanta side that seemed more and more tired as the match advanced, despite them playing an excellent match throughout.
But in the end I feel that Paris deserved the victory after they have kept on pressing against a difficult opponent, but surely they will have to play better to advance to the final: why not start with Mbappe?
It will be Paris St. Germain's first CL semifinal since 1995, so they have already improved from all their previous years!

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Monday match

I don't like Mondays. And today's Europa League Monday match between Manchester United and FC Copenhagen was a disappointment worthy of a Monday.
The historical part of the match was that two Norwegian managers who had both played on Norway's 1998 World Cup side faced one another: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer for Manchester United and Staale Solbakken for FC Copenhagen.
The Danes started well, but as the Argentine commentator on FOX Sport said: they need to score on their chances. And they certainly did not, and as time wore on they became slower and took no risks. Despite this, they were a better side than a very bad Manchester United side, which only seemed to depend on occasional bursts by some of its star players. It had to go into extra time for Anthony Martial to be awarded a very small penalty (I guess that the referee just wanted it all to be over with as well) that Bruno Fernandes converted against FC Copenhagen goalkeeper Karl-Johan Johnsson, who was without a doubt outstanding in an otherwise tiring match.
Manchester United will face the winner of Wolverhampton-Sevilla.

Sunday, August 09, 2020

Champions League 2019-20 Quarterfinals

I must admit that I hugely enjoyed watching the round of 16 matches the past week, and watching Europa League and Champions League quarterfinals and semifinals for the next two weeks will be great. And as they are only played as one match knock-outs, on a neutral venue, there should be extra excitement!
The quarterfinals are as follows:

  • RB Leipzig-Atletico Madrid: Both of these teams knocked out last years' finalists, Tottenham and Liverpool respectively. Atletico Madrid shocked the defending champions, and will be looking for yet another shot at the title that has always eluded them despite three finals.
  • Paris Saint Germain-Atalanta: Atalanta are probably the surprise side in this years' CL, but have in my view not really been tested against one of the best sides. We should expect this to happen now as PSG has their eyes firmly set finally being able to have a shot at the title; they have only been in one semifinal (1995), and their last previous quarterfinal was in 2016. I would bet on them making it to the semifinal, at least.
  • Manchester City-Olympique Lyon: Two teams who have a decent Champions League record over the last 20 years, but have never been in a final, but each have been in one semifinal each (Manchester City in 2016 and Lyon in 2010). Manchester City took out mighty Real Madrid, highly deserved, while Lyon eliminated the elderly Juventus side (and cost the Bukowski- loving banker, Maurizio Sarri, his job). Manchester City has always had ambitions to get a CL title, and will see this as a great chance. At the same time a young Lyon side will play without pressure in a surely exciting match!
  • FC Barcelona-Bayern Munich: This is certainly the match most people are waiting for. FC Barcelona has not had a good season, and will look to redeem itself in the CL. Lionel Messi was again outstanding in the 3-1 victory over Napoli, and people seem to expect him to carry the side. In the meantime, Bayern Munich totally cruised to the final via Chelsea, and are perhaps slight favourites to make it to the quarterfinal. However, with Messi and in a knock-out, anything can happen!
Be sure to have some beers if you, like me, are watching these matches alone and locked down at home!

Saturday, August 08, 2020

The importance of Jurgen Klopp

I just heard this BBC documentary about Jurgen Klopp, and would greatly recommend it:
https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/w3ct0q0y
It shows that he combines incredible football intelligence and work, with a unique personality. It does not surprise me, but it makes my admiration all the greater for Mr. Klopp.
The world, even beyond football, needs more people like him.

Thursday, August 06, 2020

The Europa League 2019-20 quarterfinals

During this past week I have enjoyed watching the Europa league last-16 fixtures that were seriously delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I am in fact somewhat glad that football can provide a little relief in this my sixth month of lockdown, although I would love a pint in a pub while watching....
We now have the following EL quarterfinals:

  • Shakhtar Donetsk-Basel
  • Inter Milan-Bayer Leverkusen
  • Manchester United-FC Copenhagen
  • Wolverhampton-Sevilla
Both the Europa League and the Champions League will, due to the pandemic, take place as mini-tournaments over the next couple of weeks, in Germany and Portugal respectively. For fans (who will nevertheless be able to attend the matches), this will be a replacement for all the tournaments we have missed this summer, and maybe the format will be a success. More interesting will be whether these tournaments will lead to different outcomes than what would be expected from the more traditional format: teams focused completely on this and playing only one match, without spectators, after such long breaks. It would appear that this format will be more open for surprises, why it will be very interesting to follow!
UEFA appears to have taken strict measures regarding COVID-19. Beyond playing without fans, teams are completely isolated in their hotels (even from their management, which is perhaps only pleasant...), and players are routinely tested. But some measures appear more symbolic, such as not shaking hands before the match (appears redundant considering how close contact that players undergo during the match) or prohibiting the exchange of shirts after each match (after 90 minutes of close contact and the need to wash the shirts anyway, this appears redundant). 
In any case, someone recently told me that the virus spreads over a distance of 600 meters, which would make any measure redundant anyway, except for every human living in sealed bubbles 600 meters apart...

Wednesday, August 05, 2020

Gracias Iker

Iker Casillas is retiring. He is certainly one of the greatest goalkeepers of all time, and one of the gentlemen of the sport, of which there are few left. He won it all with Spain and Real Madrid, and it is therefore terribly unfair how he was treated when his career was on the wane. They should have thanked him forever for what he gave them, but Mr. Casillas was never a bitter man, and has, as always, shown more grace than the people who criticized him! Thanks for everything Iker Casillas!

Saturday, August 01, 2020

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Breaking the curse for Cruz Azul?

Tonight I watched Cruz Azul defeating Santos Laguna 2-0 on a rainy night in Mexico City. Cruz Azul played well, deserved the victory, and this was their first match in a season in which many experts consider them as favourites to take the Mexican title. Cruz Azul is the fourth most winning club in the Mexican league, but their last title was in 1997, why some say they are under a curse. They were leading the previous Clausura season which was cancelled due to the Corona virus, but that is also why they are considered to be in the best position to take the title. They surely have a strong and experienced side.
Cruz Azul has thus taken a first step, but it is worth noting that their star striker, Jonathan Rodriguez, received a red card in this first match.
To break the curse will still require a lot of work!

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Mexican League opening

I am in my fifth month of lockdown. I have spent it alone in my house, privileged and under good conditions. But that does not take away that it is affecting me. I keep busy, but have a really difficult time staying positive as I read nothing but bad news of a world going to hell, miss friendly company, and feel I have really nothing to look forward to.
Football used to be something I looked forward to, and I guess with the suspension of football worldwide a lot of people have been looking forward to the weekly semi-religious ceremonies of football restarting.
Yesterday I was browsing around the TV when I came across the opening match of the Mexican "Guardianes" (the new name of the Mexican top League) season between Necaxa and Tigres UANL. UANL, who are vying for the title, were far superior, winning 0-3 with a two goals by the French striker Andre-Pierre Guignac and one by the Chilean Eduardo Vargas. But the star was the 19 year old Uruguayan Leonardo Fernandez, who appears to be touted as a future star.
Although Tigres were far superior, I enjoyed watching the match, which was without spectators. And perhaps I need to look forward to something. Tonight there is another match between Cruz Azul and Santos Laguna, two teams that are contenders for the title. And on August 7th the Champions League is starting again, so I think I will try to look forward to these matches, and perhaps use football to feel that I am a part of something!
And a few beers!

10 + more footballers that have made a lasting impression

Someone recently nominated me on Facebook to post pictures of ten footballers that have made an impression on me. It was not easy, and got me thinking about the many footballers that I admire and respect. Although I posted ten, there are so many more, so, here is an expanded list of fantastic footballers:

  • Diego Maradona: for me he remains the best there ever was; he was largely the reason I fell in love with the game. I moved from Argentina to Mexico in 1986, and the 1986 World Cup was thus very special for me, and he shone for the team that I supported.
  • Michael Laudrup: The greatest footballer Denmark has ever produced was a young man during the World Cup in 1986 when I also became a fan of him. I moved to Spain some years later, when he was playing in FC Barcelona, and being from Denmark immediately led to comparisons to Laudrup, who was deeply admired and respected. Besides his qualities, he was also considered a gentleman as a player, although he seemed out of touch, for instance when he changed to Real Madrid
  • Ronaldinho: Perhaps the best footballer I have seen play; I saw him in Barcelona against Zaragoza in 2006, in a match where he scored two goals. He was splendid in everything he did and was hugely entertaining to watch in any team that he played.
  • George Weah: In the 1990s I had barely heard about Liberia. And suddenly there was this fantastic footballer from Liberia scoring amazing goals in Serie A for AC Milan! I particularly remember a goal he scored against Verona. Many years later I moved to Liberia, and the first thing I thought about was not its awful civil war, but as the country that created such a fantastic player!
  • Ruud Gullit: I first became a fan of Gullit during Euro 88, when he led the Netherlands to a fantastic triumph. He then moved to AC Milan which became a fantastic winning side with him, alongside players such as Rijkaard, Van Basten, Baresi. That Milan side was for me one of the most memorable teams I have watched, and Gullit, with his characteristic dreadlocks, the best.
  • Jorge Valdano: Jorge Valdano was one of the players alongside Maradona in the 1986 World Cup triumph, and I also became a fan of him, despite him playing in Real Madrid (I am not a fan). But besides his skills, Valdano is one of the greatest thinkers about football in the world.
  • Kim Vilfort: In 1989 I watched the Danish Cup final between Ikast and Brondby. I supported Ikast, but as the team ceased to exist and I moved, Brondby became my team. And Kim Vilfort was one of the pillars of the team. He was not brilliant, and a bit slow, but he was humble and hard working, the two most important qualities. In 1992, on the Danish national team, he scored the second goal in the legendary Euro victory against Germany, something I will always be fond of remembering!
  • Marta: Until Marta came along I was not a fan of women's football. I found that they lacked skills and were too focused on the physical part of the game. But Marta changed that, bringing Brazilian skills and flair into the game. She was a spectacular player with skills far above most men, and changed women's football, despite all the discrimination she has had to endure from a male chauvinistic sport.
  • Didier Drogba: Since I first heard about Drogba, while he was playing in Marseille, I became interested in following his career, which became glorious, both at his time in Chelsea and also with the Ivorian national team. The reason to support either side was basically Drogba, who besides his goalscoring abilities also was a man committed to improving things in his country.
  • Peter Schmeichel: In my view the greatest goalkeeper there ever was, but of course, I am also biased, as he started in Brondby and was so important in Denmark's 1992 Euro triumph! 
  • Carles Puyol: Puyol captained two of the best sides in history; Spain's 2010 World Cup winners and FC Barcelona's Champions' League and La Liga winners. And in both teams he was the solid and talented defender that provided the space and confidence for the teams to be victorious. He is likely one of the best defenders of all time. 
  • Wayne Rooney: He was not the best player ever and he played for England and Manchester United (two teams I do not support), but I realized that I had closely followed his career, and had few bad things to say about him. 
  • Zinedine Zidane: Although he played for Real Madrid I am only full of admiration for Zidane.  I got to know him from his time in Juventus, but he went into history when he led an incredible French team to the World Cup title in 1998. I cannot even blame him for his famous headbutt in the 2006 World Cup final! And his perfect 2002 Champions' League final goal against Bayer Leverkusen is legendary!
  • Gaizka Mendieta: In 2001 I went to study in Castellon. That year I became fan of Valencia, who made it to the Champions League final as I was among the spectators cheering, and they were led by a splendid Gaizka Mendieta, who happened to be from Castellon!
  • Carlos Valderrama: The first time I cheered like crazy for Colombia was in 1990 when Colombia played West Germany, and Valderrama leading the Colombian midfield with his characteristic hairstyle. He had a glorious career with a Colombian side that sadly underperformed for years, but also had a good career in Europe.
  • Ronaldo: I am talking about Ronaldo Nazario, the prolific Brazilian goalscorer who in the 1990s and 2000s scored goal after goal for Barcelona, Inter Milan and Real Madrid. I remember watching him so often on TV, scoring again and again, that it seems that period of my life was defined by his goals! While his 1998 World Cup was a memorable disappointment he belongs in the history book with Brazil's 2002 World Cup victory, when he also became the most scoring player of all time!
  • Miroslav Klose: Not the most memorable striker, but after the 2014 World Cup he became the most scoring player of all time in a World Cup. But more than this, he was always a gentleman, one of the most fair players at a time when one saw this less and less.
  • Eric Cantona: I admired him because he was an outstanding individualist in a team sport. A personality like his can be problematic in a team, but people like him are necessary for football.
  • Zlatan Ibrahimovic: Basically for the same reason I admire Eric Cantona, I admire Zlatan Ibrahimovic. I watched him play for Sweden against England in Euro 2012, and although Sweden lost, Zlatan was the best of the match.
  • Xavi: The midfield general of FC Barcelona and for Spain's World Cup winner was the brain behind both winning teams. In my view he should have been the FIFA World Player of the year at least once during those years!
  • Iker Casillas: Any brilliant team has a great goalkeeper and so did Spain in 2010. Iker Casillas was a gentleman and a fair player who was marginalised from the club he gave it all for, Real Madrid. I feel he is one of the most underrated goalkeepers in history.
  • Nadia Nayim: When Denmark did well in women's football at the 2017 Euros, Nadia Nayim was an outstanding player, but also an admirable person who has excelled in and outside the pitch despite the odds of her being a woman and a refugee.

The list is getting long, and there are in fact more footballers to whom my little homage here is a small gratitude to the joy they have given me.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

RIP Ahmed Rahdi

I just learnt that Ahmed Rahdi passed away from COVID-19. Ahmed Rahdi was the only player from Iraq I really know; I remember watching Belgium-Iraq in the 1986 World Cup where he scored Iraq's only World Cup goal in history.
Mr. Rahdi was made Asian player of the year, and had a long career in different Iraqi clubs in a country that underwent huge difficulties: firstly under Saddam Hussein, wars, and the US invasion. Iraq is a country where they love football, and a player like Mr. Rahdi is a legend a country that already performs well given all its challenges (remember their victory in the Asian cup in 2007).
Ahmed Rahdi was the only Iraqi player I remember, but there will hopefully be more in the future.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Racism in football

Besides Corona virus the most talked about theme during the last couple of months has been racism. And just as with Corona virus, the world of football is also influenced by this. In fact, racism (and xenophobia, nationalism, homophobia and misogyny) has been a problem in football for a long time; and as with the rest of society, a problem that has never been addressed for real by football authorities.
The German-Ghanaian football Kevin-Prince Boateng has written an excellent article about how he has experienced racism in football, and the immense hypocrisies: "Nothing has changed. Nothing. If anything, racism has gotten worse".
Think about that....


Saturday, May 02, 2020

Ramblings

I have been alone in my house for more than one month. I am ok at spending my time alone; I am Generation X - we were built for this! I am not bored (I frankly do not understand how people can even get bored), but I have been feeling increasingly like a Robinson Crusoe with internet connection.
And with too much time, that someday will feel like too little time.
Talking about football, I have now become much better at FIFA19, and won the Serie A with Napoli in awesome style, and winning the Danish Superliga with Brondby. While I perhaps need to play online, I have to say one thing that makes the game very realistic: the referee totally and completely suck.
Also talking about football, among the so far 11 books I have read these days, Tom Holland's "The Shadow of the Sword" mentioned the 532 riots in Constantinople, when rival fans of two different teams in the popular chariot races nearly destroyed the ancient city. In the end the Emperor had to send in his most elite troops to crush the violence, leading to up to 50000 deaths.
The tradition of hooliganism lives on today; so a reflection is what in the world have we learnt from history?!?
Talking about history, besides the two online project management courses I have been taking courses in ancient archeoastronomy and modern world history. I guess football does not figure prominently (in fact none at all), but at the same time one can say that history is in everything, even as it happens all around us.
Have you ever read comic books? I have read all my old comic books. I always loved Asterix, but also had a few versions of Natasha, a sexy Belgian flight attendant that had plenty of crazy adventures. I had totally forgotten it, but inspired me to draw; despite all my drawing being crap, I have truly enjoyed drawing as I listen to a bunch of Ted Talk podcasts.
Ted Talks: they are great, even though some people talk a lot of shit, and are more full of themselves than their subject. I will never be able to talk like someone in a Ted Talk, so I greatly admire people who can talk so smoothly and without nerves.
Practice is not enough; I tell you from experience!
I have baked bread (it tasted like dry turd after one day) and I would like to learn to crochet. I looked at a video online (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Q7vKB3ENws) but the problem is that I can't get hold of any materials in my current home imprisonment.
I also made a lego movie: https://vimeo.com/413379220/1cafbe54a7
In this way I am contributing to the world of entertainment which is the one that will further explode with this crisis.
Really, football may be suspended; but did the world fall apart?
I am supposedly "working from home". But more than ever there is time to question one's own work; having read a book on "pseudo-work" by two Danish anthropologists, this entire crisis must surely be leading to questioning the meaning of and depth of a lot of people's employment and their contribution to wider society. At least we may have finally and thoroughly confirmed that utility is not rewarded in this world. Rich celebrities who are good at acting, singing and looking good, have been telling us how to "live through" the quarantine, just as they have been telling us for years what it means to be successful, how to look, what to eat, listen and watch; what is worth living, and even dying for. And when this whole shit is over, Messi, Ronaldo and many other second-rate entertainers like them will all be rewarded with the millions of Euros that will never go to the doctors, nurses, drivers, cleaners, delivery boys and girls, who save lives and make the world turn.
So... when is this thing ending? I am surely not the only person waiting eagerly, but at the same time one is also developing a fear of the "restart". All these media are telling us that the world will not be the same, but frankly, are we not just going to look for the pleasure of normality? Am I weird for hoping things to be as before? And what if things are not the same? How can I lock myself up again n into this imprisonment where I am not responsible for anything but myself? Quarantine is making is making us afraid to live beyond our currently limited horizon.
Anyway, when this whole thing is over we can continue consuming and destroying the world, and feeling good about what some hot celebrity tells us to do.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Two weeks....

In two weeks of quarantine I have read four books, eaten 12 pizzas, watched 2 full series on Netflix, and read so many news I that I have gotten sick and worried from them. And I have also played FIFA19 on Playstation, and have become quite fond of it: it took time to get the controls, and I am still not good enough to play on the highest level, but I have managed to win the Champions League playing with Valencia (I won the final on penalty kicks against Liverpool), the Danish Cup (with Brondby), and currently on second place in the Danish Superliga, with Brondby (behind FC Midtjylland).
I have only played online with a good friend (who was the main reason for me getting it), but I like the game a lot. It is much better than the original football sport. On Playstation there is Artificial Intelligence, which at least denotes some intelligence that real football totally lacks.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Football suspended and Corona Virus

While I have not watched any football for a long time I could not help to notice that even the arrogant world of football, untouchable and innocent, has had to take into account the arrival of the Corona virus. Football all over the world has been suspended, with people not even knowing if the major leagues can be played to the end, or whether we will even have a Champions League final this year (so far it has been postponed one month). Both national team tournaments, the European Championship and the Copa America, have been postponed to 2021.
Maybe it will be possible to get tickets in UEFAs totally weird ticketing system....

Football is the least relevant of the victims of this virus that is hitting hard on the entire world. Personally I am stuck alone in a big house, alone in a country where I have no friends nor even a moment of comfort or a good laugh. I am frankly already sick of it, and have started daydreaming of the day when I will jump on a plane, see family and friends, and forget this period of my life.
In the meantime, as other people, I try to make time pass (I have even written again on this near-dead blog....!!), reading a lot of books and playing Playstation. I have even taken up Fifa19! (wow, maybe that will lead to another post in a few days!).

Stay safe and cool out there if anyone ever reads this.