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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Football Fiesta At Kolkata, A New Experience...

A country of over a billion people would certainly have die hard football fans in every nook and corner of the country. But with the national team which is languishing in 144th position and certainly not going places as of now, a friendly game between top two teams in the world in a neutral venue is certainly  a delight for the neutral fans. Yes I am talking about the Argentina - Venezuela game to be played at the Salt Lake Stadium, Kolkata on September the 2nd. The first FIFA sanctioned game for India  involving two of the world's top teams which would certainly be no less than a carnival in one of India's football crazy towns. Argentina are currently ranked 9th while Venezuela are 44th.

The hype around the big game can certainly be attributed to the presence of Messi , the little genius and European footballer of the year. For fans watching him each year on TV , to watch him perform his tricks right in front of their eyes will certainly be a dream come true for the ones who can make it to the Salt Lake stadium.

The result of this might be immaterial, but there is certainly one winner and that is the Salt Lake Stadium. Commissioned in 1984 the stadium has been in misery thanks to the apathy of the officials. Now thanks to this big game the artificial turf,which was laid a couple of years back, has received extensive repairs and is back in fine condition.The entire stadium,too,is being given a facelift. Broken seats in the VIP area have been replaced with new ones and the stadium looks like it has got a new lease of life .The players dressing rooms have been completely refurbished, new lockers,toilets and massage tables are now in place to meet international standards.The players tunnel,too,has been done up.The stadium now boasts two new warm-up zones and medical and dope-testing rooms.The press box is now Wi-fi enabled and the electronic scoreboard has been replaced with a brand new giant LED screen.The floodlighting system has been a source of embarrassment over the years as scores of matches have had to be halted following breakdown.

With such extensive preparation for a game which the Indians fans would have only dreamt of watching it happen in their country there cannot be two ways but that the game has to go well. Some have even gone to the extent of saying that the stadium is capable of hosting World Cup games. I wouldn't go to the extent of agreeing with that statement as preparing a host nation for a football world cup is a different ball game altogether , a tournament considered bigger than even the Olympics in terms of fan following and TV viewership.However, the successful hosting of the Argentina-Venezuela match will pave the way for soccer's national body to organise more international friendlies and AFC tournaments in future.

The September 2 friendly will no doubt help widen the fan base for football in India,but it would be a challenge for the football fraternity in the country to keep them interested in the beautiful game where Hockey is the national game and Cricket a religion. But with European giants Liverpool ready to setup their academies in India, Manchester United already tapping the commercial market with Cafe Bars and EPL Team Blackburn Rovers being owned by an Indian firm there would be an Indian footballer playing in the high grounds on an European team sooner rather than later.(Baichung Bhutia has played 37 games for Bury FC in Greater Manchester, England over a period of 3 years while Sunil Chhetri has trialed with MLS club Kansas City Wizards).

With more than 100,000 fans expected to throng the stadium and millions more glued to their television sets in 152 countries as they tune in to watch Messi and his mates,India could well emerge as a hot spot for top European clubs when they plan their pre-season tours.Indian football has nothing to lose,but everything to gain from this Messi visit.

For football viewers in India the match will be telecast on 2nd September at 6:50pm onwards on ESPN.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

A Former No.7 Moulds His New Side Around His Current No.7


It was a family feud, Pep Guardiola did not want his brother agent to have a profit and thus vetoed a deal that would take Luis Suarez to Barcelona last January, Barcelona bought Ibrahim Afellay instead and the rest as we say is history.

Suarez is growing into a Kop idol at Anfield, he is getting the love that the kopites used to shower on Fernando Torres. Joining at a time when Fernando was agitating for a move to Chelsea there were talks that he could have been talked out of it and asked to give one last try but Torres grew impatient and we were deprived of a mouth watering partnership that would have surely guaranteed goals.

Suarez meanwhile has gone from strength to strength as he has seamlessly adapted himself into the hustle and bustle of the Premier league. Technically excellent, good balance, neat quick feet and equally adept at either foot he has added a new dimension to the attacking and brave Liverpool that are taking shape under the careful eye of Kenny Dalglish.

He has been a revelation for the last three games in a false no.9 position that Messi has made so famous. Leading the line from the front, he uses his footballing brain to drop of into pockets of space with his intelligent movement to link up with teammates. His excellent close control and link up play with his teammates as shone through as he has made a blistering start to the season. His long term fitness and stamina could very well come into play in the latter half of the season when he starts feeling the after effects of the Copa America and a non-existent pre-season he has had this time around.

The midfield signings have been good, although some of them might have been uncalled for given the riches that were already on disposal. Meireles has found himself on the brink of the substitution bench for no fault of his own and must be wondering what has he done wrong to warrant this. Similarly Kuyt was very unlucky not to have started the first game of the season and could have to face similar days as those later on, as Dalglish would try to keep everyone happy. The most notable non-existent benchwarmer has been Joe Cole, its been surprising that he has not been moved on this season. A move to Spurs seemed on the cards but has not materialized yet, it could in the coming days come to fruition though. I still feel the revival Cole could make Liverpool into more of a fearsome team than they now currently are.

Defence has been a problem as has been their problem in maintaining clean sheets. Jose Enrique could well solve the troublesome left back problem and the emergence of the highly promising Martin Kelly and other academy lads Robinson and Flanagan gives everyone hope that this academy still has the capability to produce world class talents that could follow into the footsteps of their illustrious predecessors.

The squad is a very competitive one and have all the capability required in mounting a title challenge should they have a good first half and stay in contention come January after the christmas period.
It would take a lot to heal the wounds that have been inflicted onto the fans by the sheer unproductivity and the inability of their team to win a league title in 21 years. The signings look promising, the display at Bolton last afternoon gives every fan inside Anfield a reason to stay optimistic of their team's chances this season.


For all the attacking might of Barcelona, it really leaves me wondering whether they have missed a trick by not signing a centre half. That area really looks worrisome with doubts over the long term fitness of talismanic captain Carlos Puyol, surely the short Mascherano could not be the answer if the Catalans would have to make a trip to their bogey ground of Stamford Bridge.
As transfer window draws to a close wonder whether we would see another deadline day worth 100mn pounds. Nervous times for the managers ahead.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Where is Juventus heading to?

It has become familiar now that there is a 'revolution' every year at Juventus. It starts with a change possibly in every level of management. Sometimes, it's the transfer director or the CEO, even more often are the coach and the players! However, this time it is the turn of the coach and some players, and a new stadium adds to further freshness. Antonio Conte, fans' favourite during his playing days at the Bianconeri, has now been handed the responsibilty of bringing Juventus back to the glory days.

Just when his reign hasn't even started with an official match, Italian media is already buzzing with talks of Conte deploying a highly attacking 4-2-4 formation. In reality, though, it can only be played with a safe 4-4-2 as Delio Rossi, former Palermo coach, pointed out. With such little experience in managing a serieA team, there are inevitable signs of the extent Conte could succeed. When Del Neri was appointed, he stuck to a strict 4-4-2 but the transfer activity was blamed. Now, with Conte, they're all doing the same thing again: Sell majority of the players who didn't seem to be good enough, buy another set of mediocre players. It's hard to call certain players they bought this summer as 'mediocre' but for a team who finished 7th in serieA (presently, not the best league either) last season, this set of players isn't the solution to make the giant leap in quality. Not to mention the number of spots to qualify for the Champions League being reduced to just three. It's simple to illustrate, just a comparison of how complete the squad is with the other contenders fighting for the those three spots in Italy. Inter might be on the verge of selling Eto'o but there have been useful additions to a team with a proper base. Napoli have shown their intentions too, and Milan is already riding with a complete team.

August 19th isn't the best day to pass judgements on the transfer dealings as there are still 12 days for the clubs to pull off some signings. Marotta's promise of 2-3 more signings have made the news in Italy but the significant part is how big those signings will be. Interest in Emanuele Giaccherini of Cesena is exactly the fault Juventus management is committing. Last year's overhaul resulted in a squad filled with Martinezs, Pepes, Mottas! Vidal is one of the few impact makers emerged from the summer shopping.

If the team looks like this at the start of this year's championship, what was the point in changing the coach at all? Marchisio cannot play at the left and changing his playing positions constantly is hampering his development already. Michel Bastos was the ideal player that was linked with the Bianconeri for a long time. And for good reason. His pace, skill and workrate could have been the spark what Juventus needed with Krasic on the other wing. His performance on the crucial Champions League qualifier against Rubin Kazan was outstanding and would have increased his market value if he decides to move out of Lyon. If Juve buys anyone other than Bastos, or a player inferior to his caliber, is a huge step down. No Calcio fans want such a great club walking backwards every season.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

EPL 2011/12 : Chelsea all set to get the ball rolling

A new season, a new manager. This has been the story for Chelsea for quite sometime now and you wouldn't be surprised if you see a new manager as quickly as next season. However I personally believe that Andrés Villas Boas is here to stay, to build a team which the opposition will envy and drive away the question as to what if Roman Abramovich were to quit. The answer might just start with Andrés Villas Boas.

With a poor last season, the sacking of Carlo Ancelloti and the arrival of AVB induced more interest in the fans, a hope that Roman would splurge money and AVB quick to cash in, having the brightest stars at his disposal.  But with only 3 buys at the moment which include Oriol Romeu, Thibaut Courtios and Romelu Lukaku, AVB has dashed Chelsea fans' hopes of having a high profile player at the Bridge this season. The hunt for Modric still seems to be on with Pastore having snubbed the Blues for a chance to play at PSG. But will this move even materialize is a question on everyones minds, especially with Tottenham's stubborn approach with regard to Modric.

The 3 new arrivals though are young, bright stars, they lack the big game experience. The timing of the move though points to be an investment for the future than the present, giving the youngsters more time to gel and adapt to life at Stamford Bridge. AVB has surely identified Courtios to be Petr Cech's successor and his immediate loan stint at Athletico Madrid will do him a world good playing against some of the best attackers in the world. Oriol would be used to identify his place in the squad and Lukaku who is dubbed 'The new Drogba' will have time to learn to step in the shoes of the big man. However the immediate question is 'Has AVB done enough to build a successful team, his predecessor couldn't , a team which failed miserably in all competitions even when they finished 2nd in the league behind champions Manchester United.'? The answer to that would be, AVB is threading the safe path. His belief that a team cannot be built only by fitting players into an incomplete puzzle is driven by the fact that he was successful at even relegated threatened Portuguese side Académica de Coimbra and then at eventual Portuguese and Europa League champions Porto. 6 friendly games may not be enough to judge how good the team is, but without a doubt AVB has inherited players who can make life easy for any manager if each one of them play to their potential.

With many players on the wrong side of 30 and also injury striking some of them at the wrong time, it would be interesting to see how AVB handles his men. A young manager, new to the PL, and handling big egos is always a challenge. But AVB would consider these secondary to the challenges he will have in selecting his match day 11, a headache but a good one. Without any major signings Chelsea are no less a threat. They are a well settled unit and seemed to get more fiercer with each game in the friendlies(However friendlies are no measure as they are more for game time and practise). With the core group still around and the right balance of youth and experience Chelsea are definitely one of the the contenders for a title and just because there haven't been wholesale changes in the same squad from last season, to dismiss them would be foolish.

With the core team still available, January signings Torres and Luiz now settled in the side and the meaningful signings of 3 youngsters, all seems good for the Chelsea squad. With Drobga and Anelka still showing the hunger for success, Torres coming out of his injury which he last sustained just before he moved to Chelsea and Sturridge coming of age after a successful loan spell at Bolton, the omens are good for the team. The midfield might be missing Essien for a long spell after his injury in training, but this might be a boon for Mikel and Josh McEachren to fill up the gap and increase their chances of a regular starting spot. This would especially be a great opportunity for young Josh who is touted to be the next 'true' star in an England squad which has a lot of self proclaimed stars. The defence looks settled with Luiz and Terry holding the backbone while Cole and Ivanovic have always threatened. Bosingwa and Alex are quality defenders who can keep up the pressure even with one of them missing.

If I were Andrés Villas Boas
 A missing piece in the puzzle is the playmaker. Chelsea have of late struggled in this department and have looked out to acquire the services of many of them most recently being Pastore who snubbed Chelsea to join PSG. What are the options for Chelsea at the moment? Their pursuit of Modric doesn't seem to yield any pressure on the Spurs higher ups and with United giving up on their pursuit of Sneijder, it cannot come better than this to sign one of the world's best players who is available for transfer. If AVB could pull a bunny out of the hat in this regard, there would be no reason why Chelsea shouldn't win the competitions they play in especially the ever elusive Champions League.

3 youngsters in Romeu, Courtious and Lukaku is a perfect sign that AVB is here to stay. His ideology of mixing a little old and a lot of young is certainly the first in the Roman Era. The likes of Josh, Bertrand , Van Aanholt, Chalobah are certain to have more games under their belt with AVB at helm as he prepares the dawn of a new era. If Jose started building a puzzle with his own ideas, AVB will enhance it which would be a challenge for the opposition to decode. The burning desire for titles certainly will push every fan to extend their support to AVB. Will he end up being a Chelsea legend? 2012 might just answer that.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Wembley Showdown : Battle Of Manchester : Preview

Almost 2 months of no competitive football would have been driving the fans crazy, and  with the season already having begun in some parts of Europe the English fans would be hungry for football, if not exciting football.  The game tomorrow, The Community Shield, the curtain raiser for EPL season 2011/12  is certain to draw a great deal of interest as the season is about to begin . The fact that it's being played  by two bitter rivals, Manchester United and Manchester City, a derby and the chance to thump the opposition to the ground is an incentive which will certainly make the start to the season all the more interesting.

It was only in May 2011 that United last played a game at Wembley where they lost the Champions League to Barcelona whereas City will have happy memories of their last outing on this ground where they defeated Stoke to end their title drought and win the FA cup. It is hence imperative that City would want to continue on their winning run whereas United would wish to wash away their Wembley wounds. One team with a successful history against another piling up it's armoury with exquisite players from around the world, the game between the red and blue half of Manchester will be Battle Royale. The bad blood between the two teams from last season is threatening to spill over into this season which is wonderful for the neutrals if they are guaranteed an exciting 90 minutes.

The retirement of Edwin Van der Sar and Paul Scholes and the sale of John OShea, Wes Brown have made a dent in United's chance of running away to glory this season. Through the arrival of Phil Jones, David De Gea and Ashley Young, Sir Alex has tried to up the ante , but the ammo is gonna run out sooner rather than later if there will not be further additions to the squad. On the other hand "the noisy neighbours" as City are called by the United fans, have strengthened their squad with the arrival of a few big names. With the availability of a host of players in the squad who could win a game with their individual brilliance the arrival of Aguero and Clichy has definitely given them an upper edge over their rivals.

With last season's FA cup triumph, and also the elimination of United in the semis, City did more than end their 35-year old drought. They announced their arrival on the big stage with a warning to all other clubs. 19 League titles might be far away for the Citizens to catch up, however the game tomorrow might just decide who is the new number one in  Manchester for the time being. The Community Shield may not be worth a penny, but  you can be certain that Sunday's match will be one clash United and City wouldn't want to lose.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Fantasy Premier League : Twitfootie

Do you wish to manage a team of 11 players? Have you always dreamt of this? Here's is your chance. And what's better , you get to choose over a wide range of players balancing your budget and choice. What are you waiting for ? Rush and register on Fantasy Premier League before 13th of August to enjoy the game to the fullest. Don't forget to join the "TWITFOOTIE" league where you can compete against opposing teams and fellow managers. CODE: 204846-63534

The winners will get a mention on the blog here along with loads of goodies already kept aside.. ;)