Game Snowed Off? Pass Time Playing Soccer Games Online


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With the latest bout of bad weather once again hitting the fixture list up and down the country over the weekend many unfortunate football fans from the lower leagues (and particularly north of the border) have once again been hit by the devastating prospect of facing up to a painful and boring weekend without being able to watch their beloved teams in action. Faced with prospect of no live soccer games, dads and kids across the land come up against the nightmare prospect of being forced to go shopping with the wife/girlfriend/mother, or equally uninspiring tasks such as cleaning the car/their bedroom. It goes without saying; these are things that football fans must seek to avoid at all costs!

Without football, this is what your Saturdays would be like.

Luckily if you want to beat the fixture postponement blues and get your regular fix of football during bad weather you can enjoy these online football games from the comfort of your own bedroom (they are also of great amusement for anyone stuck in a boring office). Younger football fans may also enjoy these games for kids to help keep the snowy blues away or pass away one of those boring Sunday afternoons. With a whole 3 days to wait from the weekend until the next round of Tuesday night football fixtures you’ll need something to keep you occupied, so try these games online to break up the mundane existence of life without football. 

9 Year Unbeaten Home Record Makes Mourinho Truly Special


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This weekend marks another incredible landmark in the sparkling career of Jose Mourinho. The self dubbed “special one” can celebrate an incredible 9 years unbeaten at home in league football – a record that stretches across 4 countries and 4 of the world’s top football clubs: Porto, Chelsea, Inter Milan and his current club Real Madrid. The Portuguese manager has not exactly been starved of success, records, trophies and accolades over the last few years – but to go the best part of a decade without succumbing to defeat in front of your own fans is something that even he must surely have not realistically expected.



Mourinho’s Magical Home Record: –

9 Year Unbeaten Home Record Makes Mourinho Truly Special


This post is by Shellerz from English Football Banter: Latest Football News, Quotes, Chat, Debate


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This weekend marks another incredible landmark in the sparkling career of Jose Mourinho. The self dubbed “special one” can celebrate an incredible 9 years unbeaten at home in league football – a record that stretches across 4 countries and 4 of the world’s top football clubs: Porto, Chelsea, Inter Milan and his current club Real Madrid. The Portuguese manager has not exactly been starved of success, records, trophies and accolades over the last few years – but to go the best part of a decade without succumbing to defeat in front of your own fans is something that even he must surely have not realistically expected.



Mourinho’s Magical Home Record: –

  • FC Porto – Played 38, Won 36, Drawn 2, Lost 0 
  • Chelsea – Played 60, Won 46, Drawn 14, Lost 0
  • Inter Milan – Played 38, Won 29, Drawn 9, Lost 0
  • Real Madrid – Played 11, Won 11, Drawn 0, Lost 0
The last team to beat one of Mourinho’s sides was Beira Mar on the 22nd of February 2002 when Porto were beaten 3 – 2, but even then Jose’s team finished the game with only 9 men. The harshest critics would argue that Mourinho’s record is somewhat influenced by his counter attacking style and – particularly in his time at Chelsea and Inter – a strong focus on keeping clean sheets and shutting out the opposition. However, it is also a testament to the man’s unwavering desire and drive to succeed, to win trophies and prove to the footballing world that he is truly special. 

United Battle Back to Overcome Saints Threat in Cup


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A second string Manchester United side progressed to the 5th round of the FA cup after coming from behind against an exciting Southampton side. The Saints had taken a deserved lead late in the first half after Richard Chaplow blasted home an emphatic finish from inside the box past Manchester United debutant Anders Lindegaard. Much has been made of the arrival of United’s new keeper following the announcement by Edwin Van Der Sar that he will retire at the end of this season – but the Dane could do nothing to prevent Chaplow’s emphatic finish. However, instinctive second half finishes by United forwards Owen and the lively Hernandez broke Saints hearts.



     In the build up to the game there had been a great deal of hype surrounding Southampton’s young star Oxlade-Chamberlain who has already been making a big impact for the League 1 side this season – with Gunner manager Arsene Wenger publicly announcing his interest in the pacey prodigy earlier in the week and rumours having circulated that Arsenal had tabled a substantial £10 million bid for the Southampton starlet. The winger produced a competent if not spectacular display, but it was Southampton’s team performance and patience that were rewarded to give the side a warranted lead at the break. United had offered little in a first half display that had relied heavily on the lung bursting runs of left full back Fabio Da Silva – although recalled Michael Owen had earlier unintentionally struck the bar with a looping cross. With all of the club’s regular back 4 absent for the trip to Saint Mary’s it was perhaps understandable that United would look jittery but a highly competent footballing display from Southampton had put them under some serious pressure.
     After issuing the hair drier treatment to his inexperienced lineup during the break, Alex Ferguson opted to bring out the cavalry for the second half The introduction of the evergreen Ryan Giggs and the pace and trickery of winger Nani just before the hour mark had a particularly noticeable impact on the flow of the tie. After 65 minutes Michael Owen did what he does best, finishing instinctively from close range following Obertin’s cross. The former England star had been playing in a deeper role than was expected in the first half – but in spite of a quiet game proved he is still a fox in the box by drawing United level.  

     With the goal you could immediately sense the direction of the tie had immediately turned and suddenly Southampton looked a shadow of the side they were in the first half. United could sense the weakness and began to up their game. And it was only 10 minutes later that Hernandez put the visitors into the lead. The “little pea” timed his run to perfection after being fed by a wonderfully weighted pass from Ryan Giggs and in spite of having seemingly lost his balance at the vital moment managed to slide the ball home into the bottom corner beyond Bialkowski. 

Paul Peschisolido: why my wife did not take Richard Keys’s call


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Burton Albion’s manager says Karren Brady’s involvement in the Sky Sports sexism row has not distracted him from preparing to face Burnley in the FA CupPaul Peschisolido was with his wife when she declined to take a call from Richard Keys the other day, leaving the Sky Sports presenter unable to make a direct apology for his sexist remarks. Karren Brady, it seems, had better things to do.

“She’s been working her tail off trying to get the Olympic Stadium for West Ham,” he said today, “She’s been spending three or four days a week in London and for the past couple of weeks she hasn’t been home at all. The last thing she was going to do was take a phone call.”

Continue reading…

Asian Cup Quarterfinals Preview


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Nic530424

It’s something of a shame that there wasn’t some sort of elaborate Asian Cup bracket, because looking at the quarterfinal matches it reads across the board as though it could’ve been drawn up on paper. Japan, Australia and South Korea were arguably the three favorites heading in, with shouts from Iran and Qatar, all three have to be favorites to make the semifinals, along with the Uzbek upstart (Jordan’s miracles may have run dry) and the insane training regime which has spawned a new Asian power.

Of course, maybe splitting the final prize 5,000 ways wouldn’t be all that wonderful.

Friday, 21 Jan 2011:

Uzbekistan vs. Jordan
Japan vs. Qatar

Saturday, 22 Jan 2011:

Australia vs. Iraq
Iran vs. South Korea

Semifinal fixtures (with corrections)

25 Jan 2011: Semifinal 1: Japan/Qatar winner vs. Iran/South Korea winner
25 Jan 2011: Semifinal 2: Uzbekistan/Jordan winner vs. Australia/Iraq winner

The Blue Samurai take their continued evolution and sweet nickname into the house that Qatar built, simply because it’s in Doha. Form team/better team versus the home team.

Earlier in the day it’s Uzbekistan and Jordan, arguably the two most surprisingly impressive teams of the groups; Jordan, in fact, was most stunningly so, but Uzbekistan seems as though it may have a little bit more. Cinderella looks as though she’ll lose her shoe here.

South Korea gets Iran, a quietly good football team, but not quite as good as South Korea, while Australia gets the defending champions, Iraq, looking for a second miracle.

A brave soul would pick something a great distance from Japan v. South Korea and Australia v. Uzbekistan; the smart mind wouldn’t.

The new FHM is out now!


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FHM Nicole

I am not only a football fan but I also enjoy reading a good magazine and looking at beautiful women. You can do that also in this month’s edition of FHM, featuring Nicole Scherzinger. Yeah, I’m sure you know her, but you can also find a lot of other great articles. Find out more about that here: http://www.fhm.com/nicole

Bonus! If you buy it online from www.greatmagazines.co.uk/fhmsingleissue you get £1 off, meaning that you can get it for £2.90.

And that’s not all! With this month’s copy you will also get another magazine FREE, and that is FHM Bionic with a lot of advice from professionals in the sports world about the easy way to get in shape. One of these stars is of particular interest to me and to the football followers around the world. His name is Lionel Messi. Here is the cover:

FHM Bionis

Messi talks in an exclusive interview with FHM about the training it takes to be one of the best attackers in the world, not only in present times but in the history of football. The winner of FIFA’s Ballon d’Or (twice in a row, 2009 and 2010) will tell us what a typical FC Barcelona training looks like and how it keeps him in top notch form.

I don’t know about you but I am always interested in getting to know what the players think about the training routine they do at the big clubs in Europe, especially Leo Messi, who has been with FC Barcelona since 2000. He surely has to know all about the training school of Barca, and the way they constantly grow young and talented players to the height of international success.

In conclusion, if you want to know all the tricks of Lionel Messi and his trainer, Pep Guardiola make sure you get this month’s FHM.

Sponsored Post

Blackpool Heap More Misery on Liverpool


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The latest chapter in the ongoing terrifying saga of humiliation and mediocrity for Liverpool football club unfolded last night in front of a jubilant crowd at Bloomfield Road. The Seasiders – enjoying the first taste of top flight football in their history – completed an improbable double over their North Western counterparts to pile further misery on Kenny Dalglish and his beleaguered side, winning 2 – 1 in front of their home fans.
     The match had started well for the visitors when Fernando Torres showed Liverpool fans what they had been missing in recent weeks – clinically smashing the ball home after being put in the clear by one of Liverpool’s hopes for the future; Martin Kelly. The full back has showed promise in recent games having stepped in for England international Glenn Johnson who’s form has seemingly deserted him in recent weeks and with the opening goal coming inside 3 minutes it looked as though Liverpool had perhaps started to turn a corner under new boss Kenny Dalglish.
     However, after such a promising start, things went rapidly downhill for Liverpool. Shabby defending allowed Gary Taylor-Fletcher to level matters for the home side. Liverpool looked shell shocked and as the match wore on the confidence and self belief that had been instilled in their players from their early lead soon evaporated as they descended into the kind of abject performance they have subjected their fans to on numerous occasions away from Anfield this season.
     Liverpool’s misery was complete when more abysmal defending allowed DJ Campbell to head hoe from close range in the 69th minute, with the result condemning the Merseysiders to a 5th successive away defeat – unthinkable for a club of such stature in English football. Even with an Anfield legend at the helm having replaced Roy Hodgson, it seems on the evidence of recent displays against Blackpool and Manchester United there is little to suggest that Liverpool will improve significantly on their lowly 13th position in the Premier League.

2011 Asian Cup Deserves More


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Got up and watched the opening match of the 2011 Asian Cup last night and was very glad that I did. Fantastic game and one that deserves more attention from the media here in Australia.

If you ever needed more evidence that Australia is yet to embrace our move into Asia you only need to scan through the news stations today and witness and the total lack of reporting about the Asian Cup.
It’s a pity because it got off to a cracking start last night with Uzbekistan running rings around the tournament hosts Qatar. The first half was all one way traffic with the White Wolves dominating possession and terrorizing Qatar down the left. The Qatari right back had no answer to the skillful and quick Djeparov. It was a joy to watch.

Qatar was extremely fortunate to head into half time 0-0. But it was only a matter Continue reading “2011 Asian Cup Deserves More”

2011 Asian Cup Deserves More


This post is by againstthecrossbar from Against The Crossbar


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Got up and watched the opening match of the 2011 Asian Cup last night and was very glad that I did. Fantastic game and one that deserves more attention from the media here in Australia.

If you ever needed more evidence that Australia is yet to embrace our move into Asia you only need to scan through the news stations today and witness and the total lack of reporting about the Asian Cup.
It’s a pity because it got off to a cracking start last night with Uzbekistan running rings around the tournament hosts Qatar. The first half was all one way traffic with the White Wolves dominating possession and terrorizing Qatar down the left. The Qatari right back had no answer to the skillful and quick Djeparov. It was a joy to watch.

Qatar was extremely fortunate to head into half time 0-0. But it was only a matter of time before the Uzbeks broke the deadlock. In the end it took a outstanding long range strike from Odil Akhmedov to give Uzbekistan the lead. It was a cracking goal and it will be difficult to image it not being the goal of the tournament (though we have a long way to go).

The result and the disappointing performance by Qatar does not bode well for the remainder of the tournament. The fans could be seen on TV leaving their seats by the thousands with 10 minutes to go in the match. Whether they will continue to support the other matches remains to be seen. The true test will come tonight when Kuwait takes on China in the other Group A opening match.

I for one will be be tuning in.

Brendan

Can Manchester United be Stopped?


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In one of the best starts in history Manchester United is leading the pack in the English Premier League in a stylish manner. 
What brought them there? Probably the efficiency of the team. Eleven wins and eight draws brought them 41 points. They showed consistent strength for a long period of time, as opposed to Chelsea who only managed to bring home 7 point in the last 8 fixtures. Liverpool isn’t doing very good either, with 25 points they are far from the top spots in the league.
At the time the only real contenders for the Red Devils seem to be Manchester City and Arsenal, but the season still has a lot to go and everything is possible. Let’s hope they can produce some good quality football to make the Premier League a little more interesting.

Drifting Towards A Winter World Cup


This post is by chris from International Football News - World Cup Blog


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schnee-11186122-262kgOne of the major concerns, if not the major concern, of the World Cup in Qatar has been that pesky issue of its location – a very, very warm location. The summers are scorching and though their big promise to world football was air conditioned stadiums, as many have said: you can’t air condition Qatar. Though they damn well might try.

With this in mind, figures have been popping up advocating a winter World Cup, touting its possibilities. Only they’re not just figures, they’re powerful figures, with titles and clout behind them; names like Beckenbauer and Platini.

And, much as we may not like him, the most powerful name of all: Sepp.

Blatter told a press conference in Abu Dhabi where the club World Cup is taking place that he too supported a winter World Cup.

“It is important to play when the climate is appropriate and I’m thinking about the footballers, not only the fans but the actors,” he said.

“Personally I think it would be better that it is played in the winter … but it’s not easy to realise.”

I’m fascinated by this for one reason and one reason only; one which has nothing at all to do with heat, but rather one of the more underrated aspects of the World Cup: midseason form.

It’s not some fallacy or media-derived buzzword; it’s very, very real. Equally as real as the fact that the majority of the best players in the World Cup, those plying their club trade in Europe, partake in the World Cup after a gruelling domestic season, many of them with little left in the tank but adrenaline and their childhood dreams. Often enough, but less than ideal.

Now imagine you take those players, the best in the world, and toss them into the World Cup at peak fitness, peak form, and with a topped-up tank with which to dazzle the world. The summer World Cup may be tradition, but once, just once, we have to see a winter World Cup, for the sake of football itself. It may be unlike anything we’ve ever seen before, on a number of fronts.

Tearaway Tevez should get the boot


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Manchester City fans were left spluttering into their cups of tea on Sunday as revelations that Carlos Tevez wants to leave Eastlands emerged.

‘Doing a Rooney’, the Argentinian handed in a public transfer request, before then blasting his club’s handling of the situation, before denying he had a problem with everyone at the club. Why can no high-profile player just be happy in Manchester?

In a fairly uncompromising attack on Tevez, Sam Wallace at The Independent is among those in the press urging City to stop appeasing and mollycoddling their captain and just let him go.

“When Carlos Tevez joined West Ham on the last day of the 2006 summer transfer window with Javier Mascherano – in arguably the most extraordinary episode of illegal transfer-dealing of the last decade – it fell to Alan Pardew, who was the manager at the time, to try to explain it.

“When I met the players I didn’t have to sell West Ham United to them,” Pardew said. “They knew all about our success last season and our style of play as the Premiership is shown on TV in South America every week.”

Unfortunately for Pardew – who it turned out was just as bewildered as to what Tevez was doing at Upton Park as the rest of us – he could not have sounded less convincing had he been standing in Green Street market behind a suitcase of reconditioned mobile phones.

Tevez has made a habit – sometimes unintentionally, sometimes not – of making managers and clubs look daft. In his wake as he has shimmied and feinted his way across English football in the last four years is a trail of rows and fall-outs. Yes, he is a good player but he also comes with a health warning as to his potential effect on a club’s sanity.

West Ham? The club had to agree £21m in compensation for breaching the third-party rules on player ownership over Tevez’s deal. Manchester United? His provocative gestures to the Old Trafford directors’ box were followed shortly by the most rancorous cross-Manchester transfer in history. Manchester City? He wants out.”

Pardew the loneliest man in Newcastle


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The not-so-shock appointment of Alan Pardew as Newcastle manager was confirmed yesterday and the former West Ham and Charlton boss cut a very lonely figure in his first press conference. Perhaps fearing an in-person backlash from the media, having already been roundly lambasted as murmurs of Pardew’s arrival grew louder, the Magpies hierarchy were notable by their absence at St James’ Park on Thursday.

It is a position Pardew is likely to experience more frequently should Newcastle face rocky times ahead, and Henry Winter at the Telegraph believes that the new manager’s most important task is getting a group of players on side who are still distraught by the departure of the cruelly axed Chris Hughton.

“The man that the Newcastle United fans simply do not want as manager walked up to St James’ Park, knowing the uphill battle he faces to win friends and games here.

After signing a 5½-year contract, Pardew sat in the room where Sir Bobby Robson used to hold court, where the words of Kevin Keegan once had audiences spellbound, and where Alan Shearer articulated the dreams of a Geordie nation. It was a room where the popular Chris Hughton detailed Newcastle’s steady progress under him until he was so callously dismissed.

Entering a chamber packed with so many memories of adopted and local heroes, Pardew must have felt he had walked into an ambush. Brutally, he made the walk alone. Neither the Newcastle chairman, Mike Ashley, nor the managing, director, Derek Llambias, bothered to ride shotgun for their controversial new appointment. They left Pardew to take the heat. Alone.

Having overseen 527 games, the 49 year-old is no ingenu but rarely can a member of his trade have stepped into a dug-out that so resembles a bunker. The former manager of Reading, West Ham, Charlton and Southampton has no chance of succeeding on Tyneside unless he first gets a resentful squad onside.

Knowing the players mourn for Hughton, Pardew has already phoned Kevin Nolan, the captain and heartbeat of the team, and will address the players this morning. “It’s very important I calm their fears down,” Pardew said. “I’d like to think the players will grow to respect me.”

Players are professionals, employees on lucrative contracts and their anger over the treatment of Hughton will eventually subside, especially if Pardew handles dressing-room sensitivities adroitly. Mispronouncing his predecessor’s name as “Houghton” drew sotto voce sighs from the small band gathered in the room.

“Chris is a gentleman,” said Pardew, tackling head-on Geordie Grievance No 1. “I’ve not spoken to Chris but I probably will put a call in. I’ll give it some time because he will be hurting. I know he would have been genuinely well liked in the dressing room. I have to follow that. But there’s a different personality in that dressing room now. I wouldn’t say I am more confident. I just have a manner that can sometimes upset people. I’ve upset players in the past.”

Usually a self-assured character, Pardew was almost deliberately humble. He understood the supporters’ anger just as he did the players’. “If there are protests for Chris on Saturday against Liverpool, I have no problem with that – that’s the fans’ right. I hope any protest doesn’t last too long. It’s not about me after all, it’s about the club. We’re going to need a lot of help against Liverpool.”

No honeymoon for Pardew


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Alan Pardew is not likely to get a very warm welcome in the cold north when he is paraded in front of the Newcastle fans and the Times‘ George Caulkin warns that he won’t have a very long honeymoon period in charge either.

Alan Pardew is already facing a battle to win over players and fans at St James’s Park after an appointment that has surprised many.

Alan Pardew will be confirmed as Newcastle United’s manager this morning, but his will be a marriage without a honeymoon. After a brutal few days that have left players and supporters bruised and bemused, the club will make their latest tilt at the long term, yet they can expect only short-term hostility.

If this is the answer, many will wonder at the point of the question. The abrupt dismissal of Chris Hughton, a man who retained the respect and affection of the dressing room and was instrumental in repairing a fractured relationship with the fans, has threatened everything.

Newcastle have been a delicate coalition since their relegation from the Barclays Premier League last year and now it has been disbanded. What is more, it has been disbanded willingly.

That, of course, is not Pardew’s doing. The 49-year-old was at Slaley Hall hotel in Northumberland last night for discussions with Newcastle’s hierarchy and, given his association with Mike Ashley and Derek Llambias, it is safe to assume that there was little to fret over. His contract with be lengthy — stretching for five years — and a £500,000 salary will be heavily incentivised for avoiding relegation.

Newcastle are fond of Peter Beardsley, the reserve-team coach, but Pardew hopes to name Ray Lewington, Fulham’s youth development manager, as his assistant and Andy Woodman, of Charlton Athletic, as his goalkeeping coach. Their first task would be to re-energise a first-team squad that coalesced and rallied at Hughton’s prompting. Footballers are pragmatic, but the unit has been shaken.

In a recent interview with The Times, Andy Carroll, the Newcastle striker, spoke about Hughton. His words were effusive and sincere. “Chris has brought everyone together,” he said. “It’s like you’re coming in to see your best friends every day, everyone’s so close. We go to the cinema together, share lifts, go for food. It’s down to him. He changed everything around.”

It was born of adversity, but as Newcastle strained for promotion, supporters witnessed something rare: players who, whatever their ability, brought honour to their shirts and fought for the cause. A team. At last, a team. In turn, it restored a link between pitch and stands, which had been frayed by the failings of too many athletes of deep wealth and shallow commitment.

Hughton was liked. He brought patience and a sheen of stability. It meant that after demotion, the treatment of Alan Shearer and Kevin Keegan, the plan to hawk the stadium’s naming rights, Joe Kinnear and Dennis Wise, and so many other miscalculations, despair at the owner could be put to one side. That was the coalition. That is what has been jeopardised.

Ashley and Llambias, his managing director, are not demons. They are three-dimensional figures who have intriguing ideas about football and this week’s events should not be viewed as wanton destruction. They have a logic – they had concerns about Newcastle’s home record under Hughton, who they viewed less as a natural manager than a coach – but it is a logic that can feel desperately illogical. In a season that, as far as Hughton and most rational observers were concerned, was all about consolidation, they have invited pressure upon themselves. It must be remembered that Ashley’s funding has kept Newcastle solvent and their aim is to create a self-sufficient business, but their timing is perplexing. Football may be a business, but emotion still lies at its core.

His colleague Oliver Kay also thinks the appointment is a bit odd, and actually gambles with the stability of the club.

Legend has it that when Sir John Hall made the call in early 1992 that shaped the most uplifting period in his club’s history, he told Kevin Keegan that “there are only two people who can save Newcastle United and we’re speaking on the telephone right now”.

Somehow it is hard to apply the same sense of poignancy to the tawdry series of events that is expected to conclude today with Mike Ashley appointing Alan Pardew as the sixth manager of his 3½-year tenure at St James’ Park.

Whether their eyes met across a crowded blackjack table or it was something altogether less seedy, this is not a last desperate tilt at salvation but a gamble that has already turned the air toxic on Tyneside.

The best managerial appointments are those that energise clubs in need of inspiration. That is what happened when Keegan went to Newcastle nearly two decades ago, with the side facing the threat of relegation to the old third division. It is what happened when Sir Bobby Robson arrived in September 1999 and restored the credibility and sense of excitement that had been lost in the immediate post-Keegan era.

The Newcastle of 2010 were not in obvious need of invigorating but they do now after Chris Hughton’s unedifying dismissal on Monday. Ashley needed to produce a rabbit from the hat, to pull off a coup that would restore the optimism that followed Hughton out of the door, but instead he has pinned his hopes on a mate who was sacked by Southampton, of npower League One, this season.

To paint Pardew as a managerial misfit is unfair because, during his time at Reading and the vast majority of his spell at West Ham United, he worked wonders. However, you fear for him now. If Roy Hodgson feels that he has had to overcome prejudices at Liverpool this season, the scepticism that awaits Pardew on Tyneside is on an altogether different scale.

Why is so much of this about what the supporters think? Because, at Newcastle of all clubs, it matters. The chemistry at St James’ Park is in some ways similar to that at Anfield, where passion, fervour and anxiety transmit themselves from the pitch to the terraces and back again. Their supporters ask for nothing but commitment and the possibility to be able to dream.

Newcastle’s performance levels have fluctuated wildly as expectations and self-belief have ebbed and flowed over the 18 years since Keegan’s arrival. Perhaps that was Hughton’s problem, that things threatened to become too stable and predictable in mid-table, but Pardew’s immediate challenge will be to banish the air of negativity that the events of this week have brought.

When Hall signed Keegan 18 years ago, Newcastle had nothing to lose. The appointment of Pardew is a far bigger gamble.

Mike Ashley: A disgrace to football


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The press are up in arms about Newcastle’s decision to sack Chris Hughton on Monday, and rightly so.

Universally respected by his players, Newcastle supporters and figures from across the world of football, Hughton has been cast aside despite leading the club to the Championship title last season and taking them to 11th place in the Premier League.

The general disgust for the behaviour of Newcastle owner Mike Ashley is best expressed by The Guardian’s Richard Williams, in a piece entitled “Just another dismal decision from Mike Ashley, a disgrace to football”.

“So Mike Ashley has now seen off five managers in just under three years as the owner of Newcastle United. Perhaps he is in a race with Milan Mandaric, who went through six managers in his three-and-a-half years at Leicester City. These people are a disgrace to football.

“To suggest that trust and continuity once bound a club and its community together is to sound like a hopeless romantic, drunk on nostalgia. And of course managerial sackings are not something that started to happen only after the Premier League came into existence. But all the available evidence suggests that the ability to make a decision and stick to it, maintaining faith even in difficult times, is more effective than a restless desire to use decent, gifted, experienced men like Chris Hughton as disposable lightbulbs.

“Ashley can, of course, do exactly as he likes, having been willing to sink more than £200m of his own money into the club. But it is probably fair to say that had Ashley run his Sports Direct business in the way he and his cohorts have run Newcastle, there would never have been the £200m in the first place.”

Williams concludes:

“Perhaps the hardest to manage of all England’s leading clubs, Newcastle are built on legends and myths. Sometimes the owners and the fans find it difficult to differentiate between the two, and the task for a manager in the current era is complicated by a dressing room that has long given the impression of resembling the Augean stables. Given the club’s inherent volatility, Hughton performed a great deal more creditably than his employers, whose bad decisions are now so numerous that it is hard to imagine them ever making a good one.”

Taking back the World Cup


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After England’s abject showing at the World Cup vote on Thursday, the recriminations continue in the national press.

Writing in The Observer, the ever-excellent Paul Hayward produces an impassioned piece that lambasts FIFA and longs for a more romantic appreciation of a once-great competition.

According to Hayward, FIFA’s conduct in awarding the 2018 competition to Russia and 2022 to Qatar has sullied the World Cup.

“A lot of us loved the World Cup a bit less by Thursday night. The bond we thought would survive all shocks and violations slackened. Without the store of glowing memory we might feel like letting go.

“Old world arrogance is not the love wrecker. As FIFA delivered their double coup of Russia (2018) and Qatar (2022) football’s communal carnival was cast as the private possession of 22 plutocrats. The World Cup has been stolen: appropriated by unaccountable empire builders who pick it up and drop it across the world for reasons that have nothing to do with custodianship and plenty to do with Fifa gain.

“Have I been cryogenically frozen for the last 30 years, you cry? Is this news? Well, yes. The ‘football family’ has never been one you would be glad to see moving in next door. The world governing body long ago mutated from administrating to deal-making as federations and their continental clusters snatched at the vast new wealth from television deals and commercial ‘partnerships.’

“But this is something else. This is FIFA demanding detailed technical reports and then ignoring them. This is Russian political influence and Qatari petro-wealth smashing aside all considerations of fairness and fan participation in favour of hidden agendas. None is harder to fathom, by the way, than Geoff Thompson, England’s representative in Zurich, whose glassy passivity was so aptly juxtaposed by the conniving all around him.”

Hayward concludes:

“What is the World Cup meant to mean? The shirts, the fascination with each country: the buttercup yellow of Brazil, the dark brilliance of Argentina, the new Spain, English ineptitude, French mutinies, the excitement of pinning up a wall-chart, camper van tours, making new friends, watching games in bars in the host nation and feeling a small part of the unfolding narrative. This is the World Cup – not FIFA. One day we will take it back.”

Some angry men


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It’s no surprise that now England does not have the chance to host the World Cup until 2030 at the earliest, attention has turned to FIFA. Daily Mail journo Martin Samuel kicks things off in usual fashion:

The World Cup is a competition that is, essentially, forged in corruption, which is why it goes to countries that are essentially corrupt. Countries that will over-ride their tax system, their money-laundering laws and, in the case of South Africa, even ride roughshod over their constitution.

It is almost amusing that the lickspittle leader of England’s bid, Andy Anson, now rails at the duplicity of FIFA executive committee members, having spent the last year selling reality down the river by by calling any criticism of football’s governing body unpatriotic.

Now, reading between the lines, the England 2018 message is that the FIFA ExCo is populated by chisellers, liars and, quite possibly, crooks. We know, thanks. This is what we have been trying to tell you.

The Sun employed former England boss Terry Venables to write a scathing attack on world football’s governing body. He just about managed it without breaking into song.

MAYBE we should not be that surprised Russia got the vote to stage the 2018 World Cup. After all, FIFA and the KGB are just about the last two secret organisations on the planet.

Because when it comes to a political intrigue, espionage and a good old-fashioned bit of cloak and dagger, those in charge of football’s governing body would certainly give Russia’s secret service a run for their money. How else do you explain yesterday’s announcement in Zurich?

If you had given the script to the director of the new James Bond movie, he would have turned it down and accused it of being too far-fetched.

England beat The Living Daylights out of their rival bids, but were still met by Dr No. Unbelievable. And, if we’re being honest, unjust.

The Daily Mirror went for Robbie Savage, who made good use of the word ‘gutted’ when putting forward his opinion over the decision.

They played the Fifa anthem when Sepp Blatter strode out on stage yesterday. But they really should have played the Neil Diamond song that starts: “Money talks…” The best bid has lost. The billionaire oligarchs of Russia and the oil billionaires of Qatar have won.

I’m gutted for your kids and my kids that they won’t get to see the greatest tournament on earth staged here until at least 2030.

I’m gutted that English (and hopefully Welsh) fans who want to go to the World Cup will now have to travel to two of the most expensive countries on Earth to do so.

I’m gutted for my old Manchester United youth team-mate David Beckham, who spoke so eloquently on behalf of his country.

I’m gutted that Becks, the PM and the future king only lasted one round. Even Audley Harrison did better than that.

I’m so gutted I can’t even get excited by the thought of topping up my tan in the Middle East in 2022.

Probably the only one not so gutted is Kate Middleton, who now won’t have to include Sepp Blatter and Jack Warner on the front row of the wedding photos.

Even the Daily Telegraph‘s Henry Winter claims FIFA should be ashamed…

“We were stitched up,” confided a member of the England bid team. “The Prime Minister was stitched up. He thought he had a number of votes locked down.” He didn’t. For all the hours put in by David Cameron, for all the glad-handing by David Beckham and Prince William, England managed just one vote, along with that of Geoff Thompson.

England went out in the first round; even Fabio Capello’s side reached the second World Cup stage in the summer. The annus horribilis was complete.

Recriminations abounded on a day of dismay for England and shame for Fifa. Some within the England team pointed to Fifa’s ire over Monday night’s Panorama, believing it to be the reason why the accused Jack Warner turned against them. Others just fulminated privately about Fifa, about the decision to go for Russia in 2018 and Qatar in 2022.

Some logic can be detected in Fifa thinking over the land of the Great Bear, which has never hosted the World Cup and boasts a past footballing pedigree in Lev Yashin and current stars like Andrei Arshavin, whose emotional speech here on Thursday was genuinely moving.

Yet the real scandal in Fifa-ville was the decision to award the 2022 tournament to Qatar, a soulless, featureless, air-conditioned, cramped place with so little connection to football it required hired hands like Pep Guardiola. It was as if Fifa was saying “to hell with the fans”. Qatar 2022 will be a joyless experience for supporters.

Wenger’s mad, mad world


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Love him or hate him, Arsène Wenger has commanded the respect of the Premier League for what he has done at Arsenal. However, the Guardian‘s Barney Ronay wonders if there is a feeling abroad that the Arsenal manager may have gone – or may be on the verge of going – a bit mad.

Something important seems to be happening at Arsenal and, like everything else there, it seems to be happening around the towering centrepiece of the manager, Arsène Wenger. Wenger has been emitting puffs of cautionary smoke for some time now and fresh tremors appeared again this week after the unfortunate – but also strangely unsurprising – Champions League defeat by the Portuguese third‑raters Braga.

There was a sharpness to reports of Wenger’s testiness afterwards. Among some Arsenal fans there is even the same sense of bunched and tearful frustration you might feel with an increasingly stubborn and militant aged parent who inexplicably refuses to understand about the internet or mobile phones or to be twinkly and unflappable and discreet like the aged parents in daytime TV adverts for low-interest loans that can consolidate all your debts into one low monthly payment. The phrase “lost the plot” has even been cautiously trotted out. So far we have danced around this, but I might as well be the first to say it openly. There seems to be a feeling abroad that Wenger may have gone – or may be on the verge of going – a bit mad.

This must be introduced with the obvious caveat that all football managers need a bit of madness in them. After his retirement as Liverpool manager, Bill Shankly would leave his matchday seat in the stands 10 minutes early and take up a raised position near one of the empty stairwells, perhaps on a ledge or a set of railings, in order to declaim and wave and gesture in pious fashion more effectively when everybody else came filing out. This was considered entirely normal. Alf Ramsey celebrated Ipswich’s league title by sitting in furrowed silence until everybody else had left and then performing a solo late-night air-punching lap of honour around a darkened Portman Road. Don Howe would train Arsenal’s 1971 Double winners by repeatedly shouting the word “Explode!” at them while they ran up the steps of the Highbury stands – and yet he remains a porkpie-hatted emblem of sobriety.

These days it isn’t so much managing that brings out the madness. It is going on television. Roy Hodgson was once notable for his air of calm. Greater exposure at Liverpool has left him looking strangely wild-eyed and haunted, prone to leaping about wearing an oversized padded sports coat with teeth clenched and hair flapping, like some habitually-imploding rogue 1970s detective in a Granada TV series called Roy’s Game or Hodgson!

Every manager reacts to these pressures differently. Before this season Ian Holloway would often pretend to be mad for tactical reasons, an affectation that has now dissolved into something more rabidly convincing. At Wolves Mick McCarthy flaunts a certain telegenic madness, affecting the thrillingly windblown hairstyle of a quixotic New York tug-boat captain.

It is different with Wenger. There has always been a suspicion, even during his early flush of success, that madness would one day claim him, that this would be his flaw. It is partly a physical thing. Wenger has peculiarly long arms and legs. Aloof in his touchline rectangle, cloaked in his floor-length quilted gown, he seems to be always on the verge of some burst of frighteningly angular expressiveness. There is also a sense that we have never quite forgiven him for turning up and making us all look so dim and retrograde all those years back, parading his oversized spectacles, inventing pasta, and suggesting a single glass of sparkling mineral water as an alternative form of recreation to leaping up and down in a lager-fuelled circle inside a wine bar called Facez.

The thing about Wenger’s low-level madness is that it is very specific. This is the madness of the ascetic and the idealist, one that narrows with age. Wenger has only one way, interpreting all he sees through the prism of frictionless, nimble-footed, free-market Euro-Wengerball. Life has become very simple. If his team loses this is now due to some imperfection in the footballing universe, a failing in his opposition or in the game’s administrators that has allowed this ideological catastrophe to occur. Such all-consuming zeal can be deeply seductive. There is a sense that his opinions on everything – on whimsical west coast acoustic coffee shop music, or supermarket own-brand yoghurts – will all be robustly, even angrily infused with this galvanising belief in supra-national sideways-pinging soft-shoe spreadsheet football.

There is a beauty, as well as robust economic good sense, in his absolute one-note convictions. Wenger has gambled all on being right, on refusing, for example, to spend jarring sums of money on an essentially unexciting, non-shirtsleeved, unspiky-haired goalkeeper with a tedious expertise in catching footballs. He remains convinced that the world will ultimately bend his way. And perhaps it already has a little. Wenger will take the journey into the promised new world of Fifa fair-play rules and revenue-based austerity with an ideology in hand and a set of self-drawn maps. He may or may not be allowed to get madder from here. But for the mad-curious neutral it would fascinating if he could be proved right just one more time.

A tale of two cities


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The amorphous mess that is the Champions League group stage is now taking shape. Most of the usual suspects are through, give or take the collywobbles being suffered by Arsenal, and, with one matchday left, we will soon be mothballing the competition until February.



Real Madrid celebrate after Cristiano Ronaldo scored in Amsterdam. © Getty Images

This week has allowed me the welcome opportunity to view a pair of the big contenders to be playing at Wembley in May. Tuesday saw me in Amsterdam to see Real Madrid mark everyone’s card with a rather impressive 4-0 despatching of Ajax. I was there as a guest of one of the competition’s sponsors, and must thank them for their hospitality, part of which included a never-ending supply of their product, a premium lager familiar around the world.

Despite the associated haze of mass consumption of that heady brew, it was clear to me that the Jose Mourinho version of Real Madrid should not be expected to go out in the second round, as their predecessors have done every season since 2003. To follow the pattern of much of the season, there was grit to match the flair, and there looked a hard, professional edge that evaded them for much of the galacticos era. Ajax did not offer much but they were swatted aside with perfunctory ease, with all four goals taken with some aplomb.