FC Barçelona On My Mind

Segun at Wembley

by Segun Odegbami © Segun Odegbami (March 2nd 2015)

Fan

I guess every reader of this column knows by now that I am a fan of FC Barçelona. I love the team because, like me, they are football purists, always winning by playing the better football, cleanly, clearly, and on the field – never in the boardroom. In the past decade, it is hard to find many lovers of football that have not been captivated by the club’s achievements, its football brand and philosophy, its youth academy and its very exceptionally gifted players.

Without question, FC Barçelona have been the team of the 21st Century, winning the world’s most coveted club trophy three times since 2000, getting to the semi-finals six times, and the quarter finals twice. Compare this to Bayern Munich and Real Madrid, which have won it twice each in that period, although, under José Mourinho, Real Madrid had a semi-final hoodoo, broken by Carlo Ancelotti winning the historic ʻLa Décimaʼ last season against cross-town rivals Atlético de Madrid.

Nevertheless, to the chagrin of Realʼs supporters, there is no question of who has played the better football and been more successful this century. It is clearly the Camp Nouʼs finest. This century the world has been treated to a brand of football that had never been seen previously in the history of the game.

The Blueprint

Tiki-Taka was a deliberate style of football conceived in Barçelona’s youth academy, complimented by acquiring some of the best players in the world – but many of Barçelona’s young players, not only held their own in élite company, they went on to play for Spain and made them World Champions for the first time in their history and the only nation to win and retain the European Championship.

Tiki-Taka became an art exhibition on display every week and everywhere FC Barçelona played. The team taught the rest of the world the ultimate art of ball possession, the quick one-two passing and movements, the short interchange of passes, back and forth and sideways, the players running and pressing when they lose possession, and maintaining a fluid but intricate organised pattern of movements all the time like a well-oiled machine.

With this style of play the team simply ran rings around most opposing teams. They were a delight to watch, even though critics of their style began to describe them as boring and rather monotonous. In the past decade, particularly, the ultimate challenge for European club managers was how to decode the team’s play. In the past three years a few have succeeded.

Real Madrid and Atlético de Madrid in Spain and Bayern Munich in Germany discovered the antidote and reduced Barçaʼs impact and dominance. FC Barçelona needed to do something different to compete to win the UEFA Championsʼ League again.

The New Era

As great players aged – not even Barçelona have discovered the elixir of perpetual youth – a new style was needed too. Barçelonaʼs captain supreme Xavi Hernández i Creus doesnʼt play so much now, but Andrés Iniesta Lujáremains an integral part of the new machine.

I have just watched Barçelona FC take Manchester City FC to the cleaners in the first leg of the round of 16. It was a very emphatic and comprehensive performance that captured the essence of a ‘new’ FC Barçelona.

What is clear is that Tiki-Taka has been dismantled and is metamorphosing into something new, something less dramatic but, potentially more exciting and more deadly when the ‘concoction’ fully matures!

The old Barça played with 7 or more midfield players without a permanent striker upfront. Now, from outside the influence of the Barçelona youth academy, the team has been experimenting with new players for two seasons. FC Barçelona may have returned to the conventional style of European club football but they have created a new headache for European club managers.

The price that Barça have had to pay for this new formation is a midfield and defence that now look less compact with more open spaces for opposing teams to play. FC Barçelona are no less exciting than they once were, are less patient in attack than they once were, are less dominant in ball possession than they were previously, and less imposing on opposing teams than they once were. But for everything that they now are in deficit over, they make up for it with a striking partnership of three of the best goal scorers on the planet in their team!

In Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior (Neymar), Luis Suárez Díaz and Lionel Messi Cuccittini, FC Barçelona now have a dream attacking formation almost unmatched by any other team with the exception of Real Madrid.

Questions

Having said all of that the question now arises: can the new FC Barçelona win the 2014/2015 UEFA Champions League? I run a betting shop so I know a good wager when I see one. This one is not. I will not put my money on FC Barçelona winning the Champions League this season.

Do not get me wrong. With a little bit of luck they can win it but the chances of that happening, in my humble estimation, are slim. Looking at how they have been playing this season, with Tiki-Taka dismantled, and a new style still developing, it may require the experience of one more season for the emerging philosophy to take a firm hold and make them champions once again.

Lionel Messi – Back and Better

Lionel Messi’s lethargic performance at the World Cup cost him a great deal. All he needed to do was alter his mindset and commit one hundred percent to the cause and lead Argentina to win the World Cup. That feat would have earned him the highest honour in the history of football – the best footballer that ever lived.

But something happened to him during the World Cup that I still cannot fathom. He did not play with the spirit of one that wanted to win very badly. He ‘strolled’ through the matches, and even got to the final playing without conviction and fire in the eyes. When Argentina lost Messi lost even more.

As a result, no one raised an eyebrow or complained when a few months later the hard-working, but obviously less talented Cristiano Ronaldo stole the show again and took away the crown of World’s best player from him again. Ronaldo thoroughly deserved it and it appeared as if the spirit to win had left Messi.

Now here comes a new season and suddenly, for the first time in a long while, Barçelona FC and Messi are back. Lionel Messi is playing spiritedly again. It is quite apparent in the way he plays these days, chasing and running around, joining in defending when his team loses possession, getting involved more than ever before during play, and playing his team from the front through physical effort.

It reminds me of the Messi of the early days of his career. He anchored Barçelona FC’s unique brand of football that dominated world football in the past decade. At that time there was no disputing the fact that in Barçelona and Messi the world had the best team and the best player respectively.

For Lionel Messi there is no doubt in my mind that he is the greatest to have ever played football. He may not have the complete range of skills like Pelé, or almost singled-handedly led his country to win the World Cup like Maradona, but in terms of sheer natural ability and affinity with the ball at his feet, there has never been a better player.

There is a magnetic relationship between his left foot and the ball that makes him do almost anything with it at will, almost effortlessly. It is hard to put into words his ease and comfort on the ball, his dribbling ability even in the tightest of corners, how he wriggles between defenders, how he rides tackles, how he glides and races past defenders, how he makes difficult shots look so easy, how he makes goal scoring a habit.

From what I have seen of Messi this current season, if all goes well and he remains injury free, he is set to extend his grip on world football. He will likely win the World’s best player award again for an unassailable 5th time. And probably the world will now accept, as I have claimed over and over again, that there has been no player like Lionel Messi in the history of football!

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Tatters

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (January 10th 2015)

Reputation

Carlos Velasco Carballoʼs reputation may never recover. Having refereed against type at Fortalezaʼs Estádio Castelão in the controversial hackfest of Brasil v Colombia, Velasco Carballo was savaged by Diego Maradona and given FIFAʼs equivalent of a vote of confidence. FIFA refused to give Juan Camilo Zuñiga Mosquera a retrospective red card or rescind Thiago Silvaʼs yellow card.

Zuñiga should have been sent off, but so should several others. It was baffling that a referee with a reputation as a disciplinarian had refereed this match as if he had forgotten his cards in the dressing room. It is also a great pity as Velasco Carballo, contrary to Maradonaʼs opinion is actually a very good referee – one who had steadily earned the top matches with stellar performances. That reputation is all but undone by one match.

He officiated his first top flight match a decade ago – Barçelona v Sevilla. Velasco Carballo decided to concentrate exclusively on refereeing in 2010. He had quietly built up a reputation as a firm but fair referee – one who managed to combine a disciplinarian streak with letting the game flow. This was quite an achievement.

Careful

He was a studious referee too – one who knew the foibles of those he was refereeing. Nobody pulled the wool over his eyes, so what happened to him on July 4th 2014? Did the occasion get to him? The refereeing of that match took some explaining then – it still does. There is no evidence that he was fazed by big occasions.

Velasco Carballo refereed his first international match in 2008 after earning the appropriate FIFA badge. The 2010-11 season was his first refereeing past the qualifiers for the Championʼs League. He ended that season with a high profile match – the Europa League Final in Dublin. Radamel Falcao – then playing for Porto – set a Europa League (UEFA Cup) record for goals scored in the competition.

Falcao, who would strongly criticise Velasco Carballo over the match in Fortaleza, scored the only goal of that match. It was a match punctuated by fouls and cards. 42 fouls resulted in eight yellow cards. This was typical Velasco Carballo. The native of Madrid is not allowed to referee any match involving Madrid teams, but his performance in that season marked him as one to watch.

Against His DNA

His performance in Fortaleza was incredible. There were 54 fouls in that match – well penalised ones. He brandished four yellow cards and no red cards. It required more than 40 offences bbefore he showed his first card and that was not for a violent challenge. There were also offences that were not penalised despite being under his nose (see Pockmarked at https://empowersport.wordpress.com/2015/01/10/pockmarked/).

The failure to enforce the rules also contributed to a serious injury suffered by Neymar. Zuñiga ploughed into Neymarʼs back. Whether he intended serious injury or not is immaterial. It was a ludicrous challenge – one that would never have been tolerated, or most likely even tried, if Velasco Carballo had been allowed to referee as he normally would have.

Zuñiga quickly apologised. The players have no problem with each other, but anxious to reach the ball or not these are the challenges that must not be allowed or encouraged even tacitly, as lack of consequences does. When Brasil played Colombia in a friendly in the USA, they embraced each other, but that match was scarred by the quarter-final in Fortaleza – a dirty business. Juan Guilermo Cuadrado Bello was sent off.

Form

The Europa League Final was far from the only match that Velasco Carballo refereed in his strict manner. He has a habit of showing cards, including sending players off. During the 2011-12 season in Spain he issued 16 red cards in 19 matches that he refereed. He was Spainʼs representative at Euro2012, refereeing the opening match between co-hosts Poland and Greece.

Sokratis Papastathopoulos received a second yellow card for fouling Polandʼs Rafal Murawski just before half time. Even that card was harsh, but the previous one beggared belief. Just before being sent off he received his first yellow card for allegedly fouling Robert Lewandowski, but the replays showed that Papastathopoulos had actually won the ball cleanly and fairly.

It was no foul and therefore it could not have been a yellow card. If he did not receive a yellow card then, he would not have been sent off for fouling Murawski and Greece would still have had eleven players on the pitch.

To paraphrase the great author Oscar Wilde: “To give one yellow card wrongly or harshly may be considered a misfortune. To give two is carelessness”! He also sent off Polandʼs goal-keeper Wojciech Szczesny in the same match.

So what happened in Fortaleza? Why had he abandoned the habits of a lifetime and done so on an even bigger stage? We are yet to get a satisfactory answer. Tolerating over forty offences before brandishing a single yellow card resulted in a display that was alien to the Spaniardʼs DNA.

And what of Velasco Carballo himself? FIFA say that there was no directive to referees to spare the rod and spoil the spectacle. But why would a stern referee officiate so against type? They also failed to take any sanction against the Spaniard for his bizarre performance that surely would have followed if it was all his fault. Would he return to form free from the ʻdirectiveʼ or was Fortaleza a taste of things to come?

Pockmarked

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (January 9th 2015)

Licence Revoked

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Colombiaʼs Golden Boot winner James Rodríguez Rubio – a joy to watch during Brasilʼs World Cup – was denied the right to play when Brasil and Colombia met in the quarter-final. Rodríguez was targeted as was Juan Guillermo Cuadrado and also Neymar in retaliation later. A match that should have been a mouthwatering tie was pockmarked by a tournament record 54 fouls.

Arguably the challenge that ended Neymar’s tournament would not have happened if control had been taken by the officials and maintained. This was a match that illustrated the need for the rules of the game to be respected and enforced. Without it matches like this descend into chaos.

Rodríguez and los Cafeteros lit up the World Cup previously with their delightful attacking play and infectious joy they were experiencing while playing. They were up to that point the only team to have won all their matches in that tournament in regulation time. They and football fans were robbed as their licence to entertain was revoked and cynical fouling and other cheating rewarded instead.

Responsibility

But Colombia bears responsibility too. In the first 20 minutes they outfouled Brasil, but the nature of those fouls was interesting. They were nowhere near as cynical or brutal as what followed. Brasil deserved their lead in that period, but their fouling even then was cynical and it was no coincidence that the main target throughout was Colombiaʼs star Rodriguez with the entertaining Cuadrado not far behind.

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When asked about their World Cup experience Sevilla striker Carlos Bacca said “I am happy”. Despite their best performance ever in the World Cup Finals, this team was capable of more. They were genuine contenders. They did very well, but they were robbed of the chance to do even better. And football was the ultimate loser – cheated of a good example leading to success, just four years after the disgraceful exhibition in the World Cup Final of Africaʼs World Cup.

Blatant

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James Rodríguez was denied protection from referee Carlos Velasco Carballo, normally a strict no-nonsense official. Brasil flouted many rules, including distance on free kicks without consequence or sanction. Colombia naïvely largely observed them until they cottoned on to the fact that Rodríguez in particular had been targeted by a cynical Selecão, lacking Rodríguezʼ ability with few exceptions.

The ultimate insult was Rodríguez being booked for a tackle that bore no comparison to the hacks he had endured. David Luiz scored a fantastic goal from the resulting free-kick. Interestingly, Colombia had observed the rules on that free-kick. Their wall stood behind Velasco Carballoʼs white line and did not encroach.

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Compare that to Brasilʼs conduct at a free-kick taken by Rodríguez in the first half. The free-kick – admittedly controversially given against Fernandinho over a 50-50 challenge with Victor Ibarbo Guerrero with both players potentially at fault. That decision went Colombiaʼs way, but once given the rules seemed to be discarded.

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Note the position of officials as Rodríguez strikes the ball and those of the two defenders who had plainly rushed out of the wall long before it was taken. Even the line drawn by the referee was invisible as the wall had encroached anyway. Some payers never stood on the line, let alone behind it. The encroaching began as soon as the referee turned his back on Brasilʼs wall.

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Nevertheless, it was obvious that there had been massive encroachment when it was taken. Both Velasco Carballo and his assistant referee cannot have failed to see it. So what were the consequences for this blatant cheating? Nothing. Not a yellow card – not even the free-kick being re-taken. Not even talking to. Play continued as if nothing had happened.

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The Shameful Precedent

And it wasnʼt Brasilʼs first offence of that nature. Fernadinho had brought Rodríguez down near the half-way line previously. Rodríguez wanted to take the free-kick quickly, but was prevented from getting up by Fernadinho and more so Paulinho, who had to be pushed out from in front of Rodríguez.

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The much-maligned Fred – less than a yard away – tried and failed to intercept it when it was taken. Ibarbo received it, but seeing the referee running towards him thought that Velasco Carballo had called play back. The result of such unsporting play? Brasil got possession and counter-attacked from it. All of this unsporting conduct took place under Velasco Carballoʼs nose. He did nothing. No card, no talking to, no warning – nothing. Small wonder it was repeated.

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And then there was Thiago Silvaʼs shameful shove on Cuadrado with the ball yards away – unsporting conduct to put it mildly. The Brasilian captain should have been booked then with less than 40 minutes played. He was far from the only player to deserve a card by then. Worse was to follow – far worse.

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Setting the Scene

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (January 8th 2015)

Beautiful?

In what should have been a festival of Samba football celebrating the Beautiful Game, the second World Cup that Brasil hosted will be remembered partly for the wrong reasons. Germany deserved to win and tempting as it is to take some satisfaction from the drubbing that Luiz Felipe Scolariʼs anti-football received in the semi-final, it proved cold comfort.

ʼJosé Pékerman Krimenʼs Colombian side, missing their predatory striker Radamel Falcao, were a joy to watch, playing attacking flowing football. Their joyous football was infectious. But they fell victim to cynical anti-football in the quarter-final (see https://empowersport.wordpress.com/2014/07/05/the-beautiful-game/). The inheritors of Samba Footbball went home to soon and so too did Chile.

Content?

But Colombia must bear some responsibility too. Sevillaʼs striker Carlos Bacca summed up the mood regarding Colombiaʼs World Cup and performance. “I am happy,” Bacca told Empower-Sport. He speaks for his nation, but should los Cafeteros and their supporters be content?

They were robbed by a display of cynical fouling by Brasil and ineffective refereeing by Spainʼs Carlos Velasco Carballo – an experienced referee who had handled big matches previously and had a reputation as a disciplinarian never shy to brandish a card or seven or eight. But the signs of a far too lenient approach were there earlier and that all it could ever achieve was lead to a licence to hack.

Precedents

Some referees are thought to be too lenient. Howard Webb was awarded the World Cup Final in 2010. He tried to let it flow, famously allowing Nigel de Jong to remain on the pitch after a kung-fu style kick on Xabi Alonso. The final soon degenerated into a spectacle of anti-football. It should have provided a stark lesson, but didnʼt.

Four years on Webb took charge of Brasilʼs first match in the knock-out phase (see https://empowersport.wordpress.com/2014/06/28/brasil-beat-chile-just/). Chile, inspired by Alexis Sánchez Sánchez, now carrying Arsenalʼs challenge in England, stood in their way. Less than a minute into that match Brasilʼs captain Thiago Silva went into Arturo Vidal Pardoʼs back. It was soft but there was no attempt to play the ball.

No card was shown – it deserved a talking to, but that is not Webbʼs style – he at least was consistent. Less than two-and-an-half minutes into the match Fernandinho clattered into Charles Aránguiz Sandoval, sending the Chilean midfielder, who plays for Brasilian club Internacional flying.

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Dirty

Webb had a perfect view of a dirty challenge that deserved a yellow card. Instead Manchester Cityʼs enforcer got no more than a talking to. The match had barely started, but Chile had already suffered more fouls than minutes had been played. Aránguiz caught Neymar within a minute. It was already threatening to become a hack-fest. The fouling continued with penalty shouts turned down.

Despite an awful foul by Vidal on Neymar and Fernadinho racking up the offences – two in less than a minute – half an hour went by without a card emerging from Webbʼs pocket for Manchester Cityʼs defensive midfielder.

Typical

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The second half wasnʼt as entertaining, card were shown. Hulk scored, but was penalised for handball and booked by Webb. Later substitute Jô was shown the yellow card for dangerous play, catching goalkeeper Claudio Bravo Muñoz high – Xabi Alonso could be forgiven an incredulous double-take or even two.

The match went into extra time. Webb brandished yellow seven times before Brasil scraped through on penalties, as for the second time in the match the woodwork saved Brasil. Five were shown in normal time. Brasil got four and Chile three in a match that set the record for fouls in a World Cup match – 51 – but somehow Fernandino escaped sanction and continued where he left off against Colombia in the next round. It was typical Webb. Worse would follow – far worse.

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.

Brasil Fail Again

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (July 12th 2014)

Controversial Start

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Despite denouncing the match at Brasiliaʼs Estádio Nacional Mané Garrincha as pointless, Manchester-bound Louis van Gaal sent a strong team out to contest the penultimate match of Brasilʼs World Cup. Luiz Felipe Scolari, also named a strong team, but the Seleção got yet another awful start, although it should have been worse.

Just over a minute into the match the Netherlandsʼ captain Robin van Persie out-muscled Paris Saint-Germainʼs Thiago Silva. He controlled it, turned and passed to Arjen Robben. Bayern Münchenʼs winger out-paced Silva who pulled him back.

As Silva was the last man he plainly should have been sent off, but the Algerian referee Djamel Haïmoudi only brandished a yellow card. It plainly ought to have been a red card – yet another example of the ludicrous leniency that has plagued this tournament, especially in Brasilʼs favour.

Pointless

Júlio César Soares de Espíndola was easily beaten by van Persie from the spot to give the Dutch the lead – a lead they never surrendered. It soon got embarrassing. Danny Blind will take over managing the Dutch team in two years time. His son Daley – a defensive midfielder – has never scored an international goal previously.

The Ajax player found Brasilian defending – a misnomer if ever there was one – to his taste. Swansea Cityʼs Jonathan de Guzman crossed from the right wing after being released on that flank by Robben. David Luiz inexplicably headed the cross towards the penalty spot rather than over the bar. Blind could hardly believe his luck. He brought it down, set it up and placed it carefully out of Júlio Césarʼs reach to double the Netherlandsʼ lead.

White Elephant

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Brasiliaʼs stadium was well attended tonight. Sadly that is unlikely to be repeated. Last years manifestations (demonstrations) against the corruption that had permeated Brasilian society from top to bottom began in Brasilia. Its stadium is state-of-the-art. The facilities are top notch. It is an excellent stadium, but there is no chance of it being anything but a white elephant of gargantuan proportions.

Brasilia doesnʼt have a team that is capable of filling the stadium after the 2014 World Cup. Their top team is in the fourth division of Brasilian football. They do not have the slightest chance of filling this stadium week in week out and everyone knows it. It is a colossal waste of money and worse still the promises that public resources would not be spent on stadiums has not been kept.

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The protesters have got every point”, the BBCʼs South American football expert Tim Vickery told Empower-Sport last year. “Firstly because they were explicitly lied to and they were told in 2007 that all of the money to build stadiums would be private money with public money being used for infrastructure. Hasnʼt happened at all”.

So what has happened? The oligarchy that has brought Brasillian football to the brink of disaster has overtly lied to the people. “Almost all of the money being used on stadiums is public money and so many of the transport infrastructure projects never got off the page and there are some projects that should have been in there that arenʼt anyway”, Vickery says.

Their Fiefdom

Brasilian football was run as a personal fiefdom by the former President of the Brasilian Football Federation Ricardo Texeira. His successor José Maria Marin is no better. In some ways Marin is even worse. Brasilia will have no World Cup legacy, just citizens saddled with enormous debts to maintain a stadium they never wanted. Vickery supports the protesters.

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I think two of the cities that youʼve been to that I was at – Salvador – Salvador is paying for an underground since the year 2000”, Vickery said. “Itʼs not operational. You know, why? Belo Horizonte has an underground that kind of links somewhere not very interesting to somewhere else not very interesting”.

This was a terrible wasted opportunity. “What an opportunity the World Cup was to make the underground the main platform of the public transport system”, Vickery says, “so these opportunities werenʼt taken”. The transport system and other essential infrastructural projects fell by the wayside. The priority was stadiums and more stadiums and even those had glitches.

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Quite apart from the fact that of these twelve stadiums four of them have limited viability – I mean you mentioned Brasilia”, Vickery says. “You could certainly throw in Cuiabá and Manaus as well and possibly Natal, so the protesters have every point”. But itʼs too late. Resources Brasil could ill afford have been squandered on a stadium that cannot support itself, which should never have been built.

Pride

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After the shameful capitulation in Belo Horizonte Luiz Felipe Scolari knew that his team owed Brasilians a performance. Chelseaʼs Ramires and club team-mate Willian too in a far more competitive line-up. Fred – the scapegoat for most of this teamʼs woes is second only to the injured Neymar in scoring – was dropped and Hulk too.

How quickly they forget. Just a year ago the afore-mentioned Fluminense striker started slowly and ended the Confederationsʼ Cup as the tournamentʼs top scorer. It made no difference. The 64 year wait to avenge Alcides Ghiggiaʼs destruction of Brasilian hopes had ended in shameful failure, leaving nothing but restoring pride to play for.

With seven minutes of the first half remaining Paris Saint-Germainʼs Maxwell should have received at least a caution and probably red for elbowing Dirk Kuyt in the head. Kuyt and his Dutch team-mates were unimpressed. The leniency shown to Brasil for their persistent and niggling fouling made a mockery of the tournament and helped an inadequate team not only to overachieve, but deny better teams a fair chance.

The Beautiful Game

Within ten minutes of his introduction at half time Fernandinho fouled Robben and got himself booked for one on van Persie. Minutes later Hernanes clattered Robben. He should have been booked. It took almost an hour for Ramires to get the better of Aston Villaʼs Ron Vlaar, but the Chelsea midfielder pulled his shot wide of Cillessenʼs goal.

But halfway through the second half Óscar was booked for simulation. As a result of his challenge Blind had to be stretchered off. Meanwhile, Ajaxʼs Jasper Cillessen hardly had a save to make and was replaced in injury time by Michel Vorm.

Swanseaʼs keeperʼs hardly got a touch. Moments before he came on Daryl Janmaat overlapped Robben on the right wing and crossed for Georginio Wijnaldum to make it three – a convincing win that suggests there are still very serious problems to address in Brasilian football.

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Germany Humiliate Brasil

 

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (July 8th 2014)

Unprecedented

Shorn of the talents of Neymar (injured) and Thiago Silva (suspended) Joachim Löw’s Germany dismantled the host Brasil 7-1. It was the worst defeat in a semi-final of the World Cup ever, beating the three joint best 6-1 – Argentina v the USA, Uruguay v Yugoslavia in 1930 and West Germany v Austria in 1954.

Five nil up within half an hour Germany could have notched a cricket score, but at half time they withdrew Mats Hummels in favour of Arsenal’s Per Mertesacker, having taken a decision not to humiliate their hosts. For ten minutes it was an even contest, but the bane of Brasil’s performance soon became evident as Germany cut through Brasil’s defence with consummate ease.

Real Madrid midfielder Sami Khedira won a corner off club colleague Marcelo. It was taken by Bayern München’s departing attacking midfielder Toni Kroos. The marking was abysmal as Kroos’ team-mate for club and country Thomas Müller was unmarked at the back post to volley in from 8 yards. Luiz Felipe Scolari’s teams are normally solid at the back. Tonight they were dismal.

Ten Minutes that Scarred a Nation

Brasil conceded the next four goals in less than ten minutes. Manchester City’s Fernandinho may wish that Spanish referee Carlos Velasco Carballo had stayed true to form and remained a fussy disciplinarian referee against Colombia – this proved a good match to be suspended for. Fernandinho ought to have intercepted Müller’s pass to Kroos, but failed to do so. Kroos found Miroslav Klose whose shot was parried back to the German poacher – all his World Cup Finals’ goals were from within the box. Klose pounced on the rebound to become the record-holder with 16. Six minutes later Germany were 5-0 up as Brasil capitulated.

Within two minutes Germany cut swathes down the right flank. Kroos found Arsenal’s Mesut Özil who released Philipp Lahm. Germany’s captain squared for Müller to score der Mannschaft’s third. A minute later a comical defensive lapse by Fernandinho gifted another. Fernandinho made a mess of Dante’s pass, allowing Kroos to pinch possession, surge forward and a one-two with Khedira beat Júlio César Sores de Espíndola, even though the keeper got a hand to it. That was three in as many minutes.

Three minutes later the rout became embarrassing. Khedira was bossing the match and bagged himself a rare goal. David Luiz’ pass was intercepted and after exchanging passes with Kroos, Khedira bagged the fifth with less than half an hour played.

Disgraceful

Captaining his country Luiz’ should never have completed the half let alone match. He elbowed Klose in the face twice. The first time Klose did him a favour and ignored it – the second time he went down. Replays confirmed that Luiz had indeed elbowed Klose twice. Both times referee Marco Rodríguez – the Méxican official who had ignored Giorgio Chiellini’s efforts to show him that Luis Suárez had bitten him – failed to take action.

What do Brasilians have to do to get sent off in this World Cup? In fact even yellow cards are rare. Just over a quarter of an hour into the match Marcelo went to ground wanting a penalty. Lahm’s tackle was well-timed, but Marcelo had dived. He should have been booked. Minutes earlier the same player had cynically blocked Müller and Bernard did the same to Kroos.

Hulk got in on the simulation later as well. Yet again no cards were brandished until after an hour even after the fiasco of the previous match. Luiz should have been shown the yellow card for clattering Müller right in front of the referee. And then there was his reaction to a later foul by Müller. Luiz kicked out at him, but didn’t connect. Germans fouled too, but far less. Luiz Gustavo deserved at least a card and both Fred and Óscar tried to buy penalties cheaply without success.

Consolidation

Both managers made changes at half time. Ramires and Paulinho replaced Hulk and Fernandinho at half time. Defensive frailties persisted – Luiz had a very poor game, but Müller couldn’t profit from his error. Paulinho almost made a quick impact, but Neuer’s double save from point blank range. A minute earlier he denied Óscar. With just under an hour played Júlio César tipped Müller’s shot from just outside the area over the bar.

A couple of minutes later Maicon became the latest to try to con a penalty. He failed, but yet again no card was shown. Finally – after three quarters of the match Rodríguez brandished a card in Dante’s direction for clattering Müller from behind. Chelsea’s André Schürrle had replaced the record-breaking Klose twelve minutes before he put Germany six up.

Lahm and Khedira exploited the weak defending on Brasil’s left. Lahm pulled it back for Schürrle to tap in. The carnage was still incomplete. A quick throw down the left wing found Müller. His reverse pass to Schürrle was sublime. Schürrle continued down the left of the area before lashing it past Júlio César at his near post for the best of Germany’s seven.

With a minute of normal time remaining Özil wasted a golden opportunity to make it eight, pulling his shot wide of Júlio César’s far post. To Neuer’s disgust Germany conceded as added tie approached. Neuer – the sweeper-keeper failed to come and clear the danger as Óscar latched on to Marcelo’s long pass to the left of Germany’s area. He cut to the right and beat Neuer to the keeper’s right. The look of disgust on Neuer’s face was priceless.

It was Brasil’s worst defeat in a tournament for almost a century – a 6-0 drubbing by Uruguay on September 18th 1920 in the Campeonato Sudamericano de Football, which is now known as the Copa América.