Mouthwatering

by Segun Odegbami © Segun Odegbami (October 24th 2014)

Segun at Wembley

El Classico – Another War

This weekend there is going to be another battle of epic proportions. It will be fought between two of the biggest and most powerful ‘armies’ in the world. The battleground is the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu, home of Real Madrid Football Club. The invading ‘army’ is, in my humble estimation, the greatest team ever – Barçelona FC!

Leading Real Madrid and Barçelona are with respect to Zlatan Ibrahimović and others the two greatest footballers of their generation – Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. At stake are the crowns of ‘best team in La Liga’ and the ‘best player in the world’. In the past 6 years these players have held the title of the world’s best player in a vice – Messi four times, and Ronaldo twice. 2014 promises to be no different; perhaps it will be the most interesting contest yet as it is far more open than previous contests where one or other seemed the clear winner.

The Battle Lines

This season there appears to be a new edge to the rivalry between the two players. Although they both deny that their rivalry fuels their performances, the truth is that both players have drawn inspiration from each other and have shared the global limelight in almost equal measure because of each other.

Ronaldo, who always seemed to play second fiddle to Messi before the last season, needs to prove a point. Many people believe that although he was brilliant last season for Real Madrid, but in my opinion he won the title of world’s best player more because the world wanted a change from Messi. The mercurial Argentine had monopolized it four consecutive times. Did Ronaldo win because he was clearly better than the little Argentinian, or for changes sake?.

I have watched Ronaldo play this season. He has not been this sharp and focused in a long time. He is playing with a deliberate single-mindedness that convinces me that he has more than just helping Real Madrid FC to win La Liga trophy on his mind. He has ‘Messi must be beaten’ written all over his game.

Messi, on the other hand, has less to prove, but he has shrugged off the rustiness and casual attitude of the World Cup and is playing now with a lot of physicality and uncommon determination. Surely the avalanche of falling records at club, Spanish, European and World levels is propelling him to even greater heights. The list of his established and near-accomplishment records is very long. What must be noted, however, is that between them they have made goal scoring an art form.

Several great players spend a lifetime chasing after recording one hat trick. Ronaldo is about to break an all time La Liga record in that regard. He needs one more hat trick to beat the late great Alfredo di Stéfano and Athletic Bilbao maestro Tello Zarra (Tello Zarraonandia Montoya) – Marcaʼs award for Spanish scorers in La Liga was named after the Athletic Club great. Ronaldo is already in legendary company, three ahead of Messi.

The Supporting Cast?

But tempting as it is to focus on these two great players, El Classico boasts plenty more great players. Gareth Bale is the most expensive footballer on the planet, Karim Benzema is rated by no less an authority than Ronaldo as the best striker in La Liga. Luka Modrić is the cog that makes Real Madrid tick and while finding his feet in a new league Colombian heir apparent James Rodríguez has immense talent and of course thereʼs Sergio Ramos marshalling the defence too. And thatʼs just Real Madrid. Barçelona had a poor season by the their standards last term. It cost current Argentina coach Tata Martino his job. But the Catalans are no one man team. Xavi Hernández and Andrés Iniesta arenʼt just club legends, they are football ones. Neymar is a precocious talent and El Classico is set to witness the La Liga début of former Ajax and Liverpool icon Luis Suárez. Meanwhile another duel with El Classico dimensions to it takes place this weekend too.

Van Gaal versus Mourinho

No roads lead to Rome this weekend and not all roads that will lead to Madrid either. In England Old Trafford is the place Iʼd like to be at as an almost equally important rivalry between two of the BPL’s great teams will be ignited. Manchester United and Chelsea will face off in what promises to be a match up between the coaches – two of the most experienced and renowned football managers in the world – as well as the teams they select.

Louis van Gaal will test his fledging Man U squad against a high riding Chelsea. In this encounter current form would matter little. It is the team that gets its tactics right that will carry the day. Van Gaal is going through a difficult period with his team struggling to find the old rhythm that made Manchester United the most successful team in the history of the Premiership and him one of the most successful coaches around.

Mourinho has donned his armour of confidence and loquacity, and is daring any other team in the premiership to break down his defensive tactics and, at the same time, stop his rampaging forwards. He has been trophyless for two seasons – he doesnʼt like it and seems set to take it out on opponents this season, although he insists that it is far too early to talk about titles. So, this weekend the battle line is drawn between them.

Chaos Theory

It simply would not be Nigerian football if there were no crisis, or at least one around the corner. I truly believed that with the start of the era of Stephen Keshi as manager of the national team Nigeria has seen the last of a foreign coach handling its national team. While Clemens Westerhof was a great success, letʼs not forget the disastrous appointments of Berti Vogts and Lars Lagerbäck, which cast Nigerian football into the doldrums.

We turned to local coaches, eventually settling on Keshi. I thought that Keshi’s generation, with their experiences in Europe and a little training in the coaching techniques, would kick-start the period when only qualified Nigerians would handle Nigeria’s national teams. It should have happened and it still can.

Keshi may have failed in his human relations, and may also have been slightly deficient in some of his tactics, but he surely did better than most of the foreign coaches that Nigeria hired since Westerhof. Success as a coach is measured only with the results of a team. Keshi delivered the African Cup of Nations – the first Nigerian to do so. For that he has our respect and a lasting place of honour in Nigeriaʼs football history.

It would be interesting to see which foreign coach would be hired of all the names being dangled by the media. We are waiting to see, hoping that if it happens it is not Berti Vogts Mark II. Keshi, with all his failings won laurels and went beyond what any coach, local and foreign, had ever done for Nigeria. Of his generation there are a few that could have been challenged to come ‘try their luck’.

Sunday Oliseh is an interesting proposition. His limited experience in handling a big team notwithstanding, his intellect and analytical prowess, which are acknowledged worldwide, should more than be a compensation. Check out several of the best coaches in the world at the moment led by Pep Guardiola, and you would see a trend that swings away from old, retired and tired coaches, local or foreign.

So, a foreign coach? Without great players any coach would ‘fail’. Unfortunately, Nigeria does not have exceptional players in this era. Mark my words: Nigeria would soon be back to square one, looking for an indigenous coach from amongst our own.

Spurs Trounce Asteras

by Satish Sekar at White Hart Lane © Satish Sekar (October 23rd 2014)

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Rabona

Tottenham Hotspur warmed up for this weekend’s match against Newcastle United wit an emphatic display. Mauricio Pocchetino’s team demolished Group leaders Asteras Tripolis 5-1 and it was Spurs rather than the Greeks that came bearing gifts. With misfit Roberto Soldado confined to the bench Harry Kane showed the former Valencia idol how it’s done, scoring a hat-trick.

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Argentine Érik Lamela scored a brace – the second and third. Lamela’s first was one of the best goals you could hope to see – an absolutely awesome strike. With just over 12 minutes played Kane was supplied by Moussa Dembélé 35 yards out. He drove forward before scoring off goalkeeper Tomas Kosický’s right-hand post. Lamela’s goal was sweeter still as less than a minute earlier Thanasis Panteliadis was through on goal. He was partially thwarted by Hugo Lloris, but collected the rebound on the right of the area and shot. He hadn’t reckoned on Europa League winner Federico Fazio’s magnificent block. Spurs counter-attacked. Kane passed to Emmanuel Adebayor and it broke to Lamela, who scored a rare left-footed rabona – kicking it with the foot wrapped around the standing leg – to Kosický’s left. The Slovakian keeper stood no chance. The last rabona was scored a month ago by Olympique de Marseille’s Ghanaian international André Ayew against Stade de Reims in France’s Ligue Un.

Emphatic

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Despite creating opportunities Lloris was hardly tested prior to Lamela’s goal. Twenty minutes into the second half Lamela made it safe. A give and go with Kane created the first opportunity which was blocked. He reacted quickly to beat Kosický at his right-hand post. Asteras tried to respond. A lovely chip pass found Fernando Usero in the area, but his volley was magnificently turned aside by Lloris at the expense of a corner.

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As the match approached its final quarter of an hour Kane completed his brace – a tap-in. Lamela played a short corner to Dembélé. His shot was parried by Kosický to Kane who Kosický scored easily. Lamela was replaced by Christian Eriksen. He received a deserved ovation.

With less than 10 minutes of normal time remaining Kane completed his hat-trick. His first effort was blocked, but Fazio reacted quickest, collecting the rebound and crossing for Kane to nod in. About the only negative on a night when a deserved tribute was paid to Spurs – no football – legend, Bill Nicholson at half time, came in the last minute. Despite being well beaten the Greeks still chased an opportunity. It came late. Through with just the keeper to beat Gasos Tsokanis was cynically upended by Lloris just outside his area. Slovak referee Ivan Kružilak had no choice but to brandish the red card. The stage was set for Kane to cap off a truly memorable night as the striker donned Lloris’ jersey and the captain’s armband – all three permitted substitutions had been made.

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Substitute Jerónimo Barrales stepped up to take the free-kick. He struck it more in hope than expectation, but Kane let it squirm under his body to give the Greek’s a consolation. He knew he had had a good night as the Spurs faithful – a disappointingly low crowd – chanted ʻEnglandʼs number one at Kane after the blunder. After the disappointment of draws against Partizan (Belgrade) and Beşiktas, Pocchetino’s team has responded in style.

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Imperious Chelsea Crush Maribor

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (October 21st 2014)

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Unbridgeable Gulf

Albeit with some decisions going their way Chelsea thoroughly outclassed Sloveniaʼs champions and conquerors of Celtic, Maribor 6-0 at Stamford Bridge tonight. The injuries woes piled up as Loïc Rémy scored, but immediately succumbed to a groin injury that will keep him out for a fortnight. Diego Costa is also injured, meaning that veteran striker Didier Drogba in his second coming at Stamford Bridge will most likely start against Manchester United on Sunday.

Maribor certainly didnʼt have the rub of the green. Two debatable penalties against them and a goal that ought to have been disallowed never help, but Mariborʼs coach Ante Šimundža made no excuses. The better side had deservedly won. “It was obvious that was a team that is a serious candidate to win the title in this yearʼs Championʼs League and the quality of the players was out of reach for us – their individual quality also”, Šimundža said. “Chelsea was just the better team and deserved to win all there points”.

CIMG9333José Mourinho was more circumspect. “We played well”, Mourinho said. “The best way to respect is to play the best possible way and I think this was a good thing of the team. From minute one to the last minute we tried always to play and to play well and even defensively we respect the opponent. We know the qualities they have. The strikers are good players and the wingers are dangerous players. They deserve our respect and we respect them so much and because we respect them so much we manage to have such a solid performance in both ways with or without the ball… We won three points. We have seven. We are happy. We are top of the group. We played very well”.

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Demolished

With less than 15 minutes played Rémy opened the scoring after latching on to John Terryʼs pass on the right flank. It was Rémyʼs last touch after looking sharp. The former QPR man made way for Chelsea legend Didier Drogba. To the cheers of the Stamford Bridge faithful Drogba stepped up to take the penalty ten minutes after Rémy had given Chelsea the lead.

Slovenian international Aleš Mewrtelj was adjudged by Dutch referee Danny Makkelie, making his Championʼs League debut, to have handled Willianʼs pass at close range. To Mourinhoʼs disapproval Drogba was allowed to take the penalty by regular penalty taker Eden Hazard. “I donʼt like it”, Mourinho said. “They have the freedom to do it. They can do it, but he has score”.

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And he did. Drogba sent keeper Jasmin Handanović the wrong way to score his first goal for Chelsea since winning the Championʼs League two years ago under newly appointed Schalke coach Roberto di Matteo.

A magnificent counter-attack from a Maribor corner put the table-toppers three ahead. Drogba cleared to Hazard who dribbled into the heart of the Slovenians defence before releasing Cesc Fàbregas on the overlap. Terry made up the ground to score from close range from Fàbregasʼ cross. It ought to have been disallowed for offside, but didnʼt really affect the result.

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After the break Chelsea pursued more. Willian fed his compatriot Filipe Luis on the left wing. Some neat footwork bamboozled the defender, but the cross went across the goal to Hazard whose cross clipped Mitja Vilerʼs heel for an own-goal after 54 minutes. Ten minutes later Agim Ibraimi went down under Nemanja Matićʼs challenge. Summing up Mariborʼs night Ibraimiʼs penalty hit the post with Petr Čech beaten.

With less than 15 minutes remaining Branislav Ivanović won a penalty for a shove in the back by Marko Šuler. Again it looked a bit soft, but the Serbian international could have gone down under a previous challenge if he had wanted to for a clear penalty. Hazard scored. Just before that goal Willian a nice run and shot from distance by Willian beat everyone, but the crossbar. Still Chelsea were not satisfied. In injury time Hazard got his second after latching onto a raking pass from substitute Nathan Aké and making space to beat the disconsolate Handanović for the sixth.

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The Legend

Strikers like to score goals”, Mourinho said. “He [Drogba] was not for a long time on the pitch in previous matches. He just had a start against Schalke. His last goal for Chelsea was the most important in the history of this club, so to be back and to score again at Stamford Bridge is nice for him. Good”.

Drogba is far from up to the pace of English football yet, but the injury crisis that has developed seems to leave Mourinho with little option but to play the Ivorian against Manchester United on Sunday.

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I was not expecting him to play 75”, Mourinho said. “I spoke with him yesterday and we spoke about 30, but circumstances, he had to come on and the game went in a direction where he could manage the intensity and he could manage his range of movements and he was comfortable to play 75 minutes, so in the end it was very, very important for Didier, because the best thing for a player to improve his condition is to play, so very good for him”.

Mourinho thought it too early to think of being contenders for the trophy. “We are in the group phase”, he said. “We played three matches. To be in the final we have to play 12 and qualify for the final. Long, long way to go. I think itʼs premature to speak about that. We are not even qualified for the next phase, so step by step. First objective is to qualify, second objective is to finish first in the group, so letʼs go step by step”.

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A Sporting Chance

By Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (October 13th 2014)

Injustice

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Over a quarter of a century ago Michael OʼBrien was wrenched from his family. He suffered a grave miscarriage of justice that robbed him and his family of more than a decade of his life. He always knew that he was innocent of the robbery and murder of Cardiff newspaper vendor, Phillip Saunders – it should have been obvious to others too. During the dark days of his wrongful imprisonment – he was wrongfully convicted along with Ellis Sherwood and Darren Hall – OʼBrien needed an outlet.

He found it in football. He was a Cardiff City and Wales fan. For 90 minutes every weekend he could forget his woes and support his team. In his mind he was on the terraces willing his team on. It helped him cope. OʼBrien was one of the main inspirations for both the Fitted-In Project and Empower-Sport launching our project A Sporting Chance of After-care.

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Inspiration

Football had given OʼBrien hope when he needed it most. He survived the miscarriage of justice and he fought tirelessly for others – he still does through the Dylan OʼBrien Foundation.1 Victims of miscarriages of justice are largely forgotten about by society. The euphoria of their release, even in high profile cases quickly wears off. Support and assistance was hard to come by. Many retreat into their shells again unwilling to engage with people who do not and cannot understand.

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But football had helped once. Perhaps it could again. Not only had it helped OʼBrien, but anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela and his comrades on the infamous Robben Island, too.

Football Unites

We decided that perhaps football could help again. We approached the Football Association of Wales to provide the practical support that our project needed. They readily agreed. It was fitting that OʼBrien was the first person to be helped under our scheme. Along with a trusted person – an essential part of the scheme – OʼBrien was provided with seats to support Wales against Cyprus. He enjoyed the experience greatly including the result as Wales beat Cyprus 2-1 to remain top of Group B. It helped him too.

Satish should be commended for setting up this project, which can benefit those who have suffered a miscarriage of justice”, OʼBrien said. “I thoroughly enjoyed the Wales v Cyprus game and I am extremely grateful to Satish and the FAW for taking part in this project and hope they continue to support this in the future”.

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1 The Foundation was established in memory of OʼBrienʼs son whose death aged two could and should have been prevented. Together with his wife Claire, they campaign for greater awareness of the condition that Dylan suffered from and to help others. Dylan suffered from a rare, but tragically undiagnosed condition Mucopollysaccharidosis (see www.thedylanobrienfoundation.com for further information on the Dylan OʼBrien Foundation).

Wales Stays Top

by Satish Sekar at the Cardiff City Stadium © Satish Sekar (October 18th 2014)

The Dragons Deliver

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A sublime team goal finished off by Readingʼs Hal Robson-Kanu was the winner as Wales – reduced to ten men early in the second half – held on to beat Cyprus 2-1 in Cardiff tonight. A first minute injury forced Simon Church from the pitch. He was eventually replaced by Cardiff Cityʼs David Cotterill. It proved to be an inspired substitution by Walesʼ manager Chris Coleman.

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With 12 minutes gone Cotterrillʼs cross from the left flank eluded everyone. There is a reason that APOELʼs keeper Tasos Kissas is not Pambos Christodoulouʼs first choice. If there was any doubt it was removed by an absolutely awful performance between the sticks. He spilled far more than he held, or even parried and almost deserved an assist on Cotterillʼs goal, failing to make any contact. To his embarrassment it went straight in.

If the first had traces of the ridiculous, the second was superb – a goal worthy of winning any match. It began deep in Welsh territory with skipper Ashley Williams finding Andy King in space. Kingʼs pass to Gareth Bale was flicked on exquisitely by the worldʼs most expensive footballer for Robson-Kanu to latch onto and shoot between Kissasʼ legs midway through the first half.

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Errors

Wales dominated play, but an uncharacteristic blunder by Crystal Palaceʼs Wayne Hennessey after 36 minutes brought the Cypriots back into the game. Vincent Labanʼs free-kick from the right wing had echoes of Cotterillʼs goal, although Labanʼs effort went in off Hennesseyʼs hand. It also had a small dose of irony as it was Cotterillʼs challenge that gave the free-kick away.

Meanwhile, some rustic Cypriot challenges, especially on Bale were going unpunished. Cards were brandished, but Bale was denied protection. Four years earlier Wayne Rooney blasted the refereeʼs performance in Englandʼs match against Montenegro. He claimed that the German referee Manuel Gräfe failed to protect players from ʻagriculturalʼ challenges. It was a similar story tonight as Gräfe refused to protect Bale adequately. Coleman wasnʼt aware of the precedent, but he didnʼt seem surprised when we informed him about it.

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Within three minutes of the restart a poorly timed challenge by Andy King on Cyprusʼ captain Constantinos Makridis gave Gräfe the opportunity to brandish a red card. Bale protested vociferously and Gräfe booked him. It made for a nervy second half. It was far from pretty football, but it was effective and the points were the priority – mission accomplished.

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Inconsistent”, was Williamsʼ one-word summary of Gräfeʼs refereeing tonight. Coleman went further. “The referee”? Coleman said. “Iʼm not going to … Iʼm disappointed, not because Gareth Bale is our star player, but he needs – players need protection. The Cypriot players need protection if weʼre going to go in heavy. The refereeʼs there to say that, but thatʼs not happening and vice versa, but we never felt that we got enough protection, no”.

Coleman went further. “I think players like Bale, Messi and Ronaldo, more often than not, theyʼre in possession, theyʼre running into trouble,” he said. “If youʼre going to get kicked and youʼre expecting to get kicked, thatʼs football, but the refereeʼs there to make sure that people are punished and if theyʼre not being punished – if too many things are going to be left alone – then the defenderʼs going to come back and do the same thing more and more if heʼs not being punished, so that shouldnʼt happen”.

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Cometh the Hour

Not since the heady days of Gary Speedʼs reign as Wales manager have team and fans shared such belief that the Dragons will qualify for the finals of a major tournament again. His legacy is in tact. After a difficult start Coleman clearly has his players playing for him and wanting to represent Wales.

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Wales remain top of Group B. Andorra remain rooted to the bottom, but the nature of their pitch and tactics mean they are harder to beat than many expected. Despite their heroics at the World Cup Safet Sušićʼs Bosnia-Herzegovina are under-achieving. Belgium on four points have a game in hand against Israel, who are in second place to Wales a point behind with a game in hand and Cyprus have three, but have now lost to both Israel and Wales.

While everyone expected Belgium to win the group, the battle for qualification is proving far more open than expected. Before playing Wales, Cypriot manager Christodoulou offered these prophetic words. “I think Belgium is a very strong team and favourite for the first place of the group”, he said. “The rest of the teams will fight for the second and third place. With the results we have seen so far I think all the teams have the right to dream, have the right to fight for the second or third place in the group”.

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Coleman agrees it is an open group. “Weʼve said, letʼs get half way through the group and letʼs be up there – there or thereabouts to make sure we keep the excitement going, keep the public interested in it and weʼre doing that, you know, topping the group after three games”, he said. “Thatʼs good. Now weʼve got to go into the lionʼs den next month in Belgium. Iʼm looking forward to it. It will be a good game and weʼve got go there and get something and then players will relax after that, so itʼs all to play for”. An appointment with history appears within their grasp.

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The Ides of October

by Segun Odegbami © Segun Odegbami (October 10th 2014)

BPL – Under Starter’s Orders

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There are two things on my mind this weekend – the Barclays Premier league and Nigeria’s match against Sudan! I am thinking and looking closely at the real contenders for this season’s BPL trophy already. Just one week into the league season I noted that Chelsea FC looked very seriously like the team to beat this season – not much insight needed there. But Manchester United was proving an enigma. Was last season just a blip, or is there a bigger problem?

Until last week Manchester United looked out of sorts with the much travelled and successful Louis Van Gaal wondering whatever happened to his football magic wand. Van Gaal conceded that this has been his worst and most challenging experience since he started coaching and he acknowledged how difficult it now appeared to be for the club to rise again and play like the champions of old.

Although it is still morning in the league, the signs don’t indicate a typical Man United resurgence. Whatever happened to Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie and the new mercurial on-loan striker, Radamel Falcao? Colombia’s talisman looks lost in the team, although he and United have the class to demand not to be written off. Falcao has scored goals wherever he [plays, but ominously United don’t play the way that he has thrived on.

English football’s most expensive player, the Argentinian Ángel di María, may well become the Joker in the pack and alter the fortunes of Man U for good if and when he hits full throttle and finally starts to play as well as we all know he is capable of doing. There’s no doubt that United have bought class players and paid well for them. It remains to be seen whether they will deliver and what place if any will be found for the club’s previous record signing Juan Mata.

Fluctuating Arsenal

The Gunners spent heavily this season, but results show that they still need to spend some more to get the perfect combination going. The Chilean winger Alexis Sánchez arrived from FC Barçelona sporting great credentials, but for me, he has been a great disappointment.

His performances during the World Cup for Chile were so fantastic that even I believed that any club would be lucky to pry him away from Cataluña. Instead, he has looked rather slow and uncertain about how to play in Arsenal, just as the team also continues to display great vulnerability when defending. He may just need time to adjust to a new league and team and his team-mates to him, but football is not known for patience.

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The team’s performance has kept oscillating between mouth-watering brilliance and the abysmal. Arsenal also, like Manchester United, have not played like potential champions. Arsène Wenger still needs to make use of the next transfer window for players that can to shore up the team’s defence. Otherwise, despite celebrating 18 years at Arsenal recently – the longest serving manager in the BPL currently – this may be his last season with the Gunners.

Liverpool face different problems. They have just not struck a great rhythm yet. They have played with the promise of great things, but have failed to be firm in their delivery. There is more bottled up in side the team than being displayed so far. Despite new signings led by Mario Balotelli, along with Dejan Lovren and Adam Lallana, world class is hard to replace. Warts and all Luis Suárez is world class and proving hard to replace. Liverpool may find a way to click, but in my opinion they are unlikely to walk alone with the crown this time even if on paper they have the capability.

Impressive Defence

Manchester City FC have been impressive. They are improving with every match, and may indeed have the best front line in the Premiership this season with several attacking options upfront led by Edin Džeko, Sergio Agüero and Stevan Jovetić.

Yaya Touré continues to inspire with his week-in week-out textbook demonstration of how to play in central midfield. When in top form he is the perfect bridge between defence and attack. He surely must be in contention for the best central midfield player in the world, and a leading contender for Africa’s next Player of the Year Award again this December!

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But it is Chelsea FC in England (not in Europe where they have looked boring and have been played tamely) that have shown quite clearly their intention to win the Premiership. The team has played every match with the signature of José Mourinho written all over it. The shoving spat between Wenger and Mourinho last weekend, when Chelsea beat Arsenal with consummate ease, really confirmed Chelsea’s strength and determination this season. They are the team playing with the spirit of potential champions.

Stephen Keshi, Super Eagles and the Ides of March!

The last thing on my mind as we approach this weekend is the most discussed issue in Nigerian football at the moment. As Nigeria Super Eagles of play away in Sudan the match could determine Stephen Keshi’s fate as manager of the Super Eagles.

Undoubtedly, while not plumbing the depths of Berti Vogts’ Super Chickens, the Super Eagles have been anything but super since after the World Cup. Before then Keshi could do no wrong. He had amassed the most successful record for a Nigerian in the history of football in the country. Then he took Nigeria to the World Cup where he put up a fairly good performance until some immature behaviour by the players, that many people have said he encouraged and benefited from, crept in to ruin everything he had worked for.

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With a new Executive Committee that appears not to want him but cannot get rid of him easily, he now faces the biggest threat to his stay as manager of the national team. For now he is hanging on to the job by the skin of his teeth and is likely to be laid off should the Super-Eagles fail to impress this weekend.

The biggest thing going for him is the absence of any alternative to him as coach of the Eagles. In this era of ex-internationals, no other Nigerian ex-international has his rich football management credentials. So, to consider anyone amongst a list of the few in his category is difficult. It can’t be justified.

Samson Siasia, whose name is being mentioned as a possible replacement, would be a hard sell. Nothing has happened in Siasia’s career since he was replaced by Keshi to indicate that he is now a different and better coach. Perhaps, Sunday Oliseh? He looks the part, but can he walk the walk?

I do not like the setting of this weekend’s match at all. I wonder why CAF would allow a match of this magnitude to be played on artificial turf. This could well spell doom for the Super Eagles.

I do not like it one bit! The Super Eagles and Stephen Keshi must beware the Ides of March, or should that be the Ides of October. But good luck to the Super Eagles.

Segun at Wembley

An Open Group

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (October 13th 2014)

Strange Times

Thereʼs no doubt about it – strange things are happening in Group B of the Euro2016 qualifiers. Fresh from appearing in their first ever World Cup finals Bosnia-Herzegovina appear to be nursing an enormous hang-over, despite the denials of their manager Safet Sušić. “[The] Boys want to go to European Championship and they are very much motivated”, Sušić said.

Voted Paris Saint-Germainʼs greatest ever player and also the best foreigner ever to have played in Ligue Un, Sušić has an uphill task already. A shock defeat to Cyprus has Bosnia-Herzegovina in a precarious position fifth out of six. Only rank outsiders Andorra have a worse record.

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Cyprus have already shocked Sušićʼs team 2-1 before losing by the same score to Israel. Group favourites Belgium routed Andorra. All three have a win under their belt and trail leaders Wales by a point. Not only is the group far more open than expected, but Sušić finds his team needing something from the toughest match – on paper at least – Belgium on Monday night.

Nevertheless, Sušić found a positive outlook. “I donʼt think the score [0-0] was bad for either team”, he said of the draw against Wales. “We are direct opponents for second place. We took a point and obviously there is the rematch. After our defeat against Cyprus that is the case, but in football you never know. Our aim is to be among the first two teams – whether [we come] first or second doesnʼt matter”.

Other Ideas

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Cyprusʼ newly appointed coach Pambos Christodoulou delivered the upset over Bosnia-Herzegovina. Not surprisingly, he was having none of it. “I think Belgium is a very strong team and favourite for the first place of the group”, Christodoulou said. “The rest of the teams will fight for the second and third place. With the results we have seen so far I think all the teams have the right to dream – have the right to fight for the second or third place in the group”.

Christodoulou found an ally in Welsh manager Chris Coleman. “I think thatʼs a little bit presumptuous from Bosnia if Iʼm honest”, Coleman said. “This could be one of those groups where – well it is – Cyprus have beaten Bosnia; Israel have beaten Cyprus. I think maybe Belgium are the team thatʼs going to be top. Then itʼll be a scrap and I donʼt expect it just to be between us and Bosnia”.

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Despite his denials the results of Sušićʼs team suggest a World Cup hang-over. Coleman suggests it could worse. “Bosnia have got to go and beat Belgium now, because we could be going into after this game because if Bosnia donʼt beat Belgium, Bosnia could find themselves six points behind us, which with seven games to go, still a lot of points to play I know, but six points is a gap”, Coleman said before facing Cyprus on Monday night. “It hasnʼt happened yet, but itʼs a possibility”.

Group B could open further. Despite the state of the pitch Israel will expect to overcome Andorra. Bosnia-Herzegovina need a result, despite playing the favourites Belgium and a win for either Wales or Cyprus could open a gap not just to the winners of that match, but probably Israel too.

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I donʼt see it as clean cut as that [Sušićʼs opinion]”, Coleman said. “Cyprus will have something to say. Israel will have something to say. It wonʼt be just between us and Bosnia. I think thatʼs presumptuous”.

Belief

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Meanwhile, the Welsh camp believes in their abilities. “Well like youʼre saying Belgium will be the favourites, but why canʼt we be up there as well”? Asks Wayne Hennessey. “Like Iʼm saying, Iʼm sure Belgium will be looking at us now thinking, ʼWeʼll be a tough place to come toʼ”.

Hal Robson-Kanu is convinced that Wales have come of age. “I think in our last campaign we had Belgium again and away to Belgium we drew 1-1 and we showed that we can compete at that level”, he said. “Again teams like Bosnia, theyʼre top teams – been to World Cups and weʼre showing that weʼre ready to compete at that level now. I think weʼre going to take each game at a time and if we pick up enough points, then weʼll see what happens”.

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So what about Group B itself? “Obviously I think itʼs an open group”, Robson-Kanu said. “In international football anyone can beat anyone, but they [Bosnia-Herzegovina] obviously lost their first game. It was important that we continued our momentum today which we have done and now we look to Monday”.