Monday, November 3, 2014

No Nonsense - an update.

Folks, most of you or at least those of you who read the stuff I write will have noticed a steep decline in the amount of articles. This is by way of an explanation.

I started out writing this blog due to frustrations at what I felt were damn good letters going unpublished on F365. This provided a platform for my various vents/rants/and occasional piece of serious writing. However.......

The reality is that it is nigh on impossible for a mere amateur like myself to get my stuff across to a wider audience. Despite numerous attempts to widen the net it seems that getting a private blog out to a large number of people was beyond me.

In the meantime I had started posting some cricketing articles on a website called Backward Point based out of Australia, which subsequently closed down, ho hum.

A fellow white collar boxer Nick Burnham suggested I started submitting articles for The Roar in Australia. The Roar is a wonderful interactive platform that connects writers of all levels of experience with a wide and highly responsive audience.

From there, a very nice young chap called Ayo who runs Voomfootball asked me to write feature pieces for his website which I have since been doing on a regular basis.

Also, at the same time, my very good friend Julius Foo put me in touch with Andy Whitelaw at Red Card Sports Radio here in Singapore. Since first being introduced back in July I have been in the studio twice on the live show as well as several phone interviews again on the live show.

Andy and Ahmad Khan that front the show are two extremely talented and professional young individuals who I hope and believe will go on the be roaring successes in the sporting media world.

Their RedCardConnect website is now up and running also and I will be submitting regular articles there.

These platforms are allowing me access to a far wider audience than I could dream of with my own site and each of them allows a huge amount of freedom to write the pieces that you wish to.

The cricket writing has had to take a bit of a back seat for the time being and what I have discovered over time is that I lack the technical knowledge of cricket to really write about it effectively having never really played the game.

I will continue to write the odd piece here and there if there is something I feel well placed to write about.

So, No Nonsense isn't dead, far from it. I will however be continuing to write and post articles using the excellent platforms that I have mentioned above rather than via the No Nonsense page.

No Nonsense, where the name came from.

The guy in the picture, Brian Clough was probably the original and ultimate no nonsense footballing figure, he was a (flawed) genius but always told it how it was which is the aim of the writing.

The actual idea for the 'No Nonsense' tag came from an (he's actually Welsh) England cricket fan who I ran into a couple of times at the Gabba Ashes test, as I recall he resides in Perth, WA.

Throughout the Test and regardless of score, periodically throughout the day from his seat in the middle tier (usually above a huge contingent of Aussie fans) he would cup his hands and make an amazing type of hooter sound at huge volume which always got everyone's attention.

He would then stand up and hold two placard boards up, one said ''AVE' and the other said 'IT!' He would shout this at the top of his voice several times much to the chagrin of the home support below him.

On their becoming slightly boisterous in their animated response to his antics, he would whip the signs over and they now read 'NO' and 'NONSENSE' and he would make a large and exaggerated 'shush' motion with his index finger in front of his mouth ushering silence - which annoyed everyone even more. He would then sit down and wait for about an hour before doing it again, entirely priceless if you were there to see it.

So in the meantime, look out for RedCardConnect and Voomfootball, these guys deserve everyone's support for trying to do something really fan based and if you don't ever read the Roar website, it's definitely worth a look.

No Nonsense.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

It's a two - neigh a three - horse Premiership race

October is of course early days in terms of an entire season but the Premiership looks to have already taken on a shade of blue again as Chelsea and Manchester City currently lead the way.

Chelsea were backed by many before the season started with the additions of Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa. Allied to the return of Nemanja Matic in January, many of last seasons' shortcomings were seen to be remedied.

Costa's start has of course been phenomenal and if those much talked about hamstrings (Mourinho playing it up to pressurise Spain not to play him?) hold out for a season and he maintains anything like this form, Chelsea will be tough to beat.

Whilst Costa's all round play has been good, his real boon to Chelsea has been in allowing them to score the type of goals that they simply would not have last season.

He is a true predator, a 'killer' as Arsene Wenger said before he attempted a slightly pantomime impression of one himself at the weekend.

Cesc has also been immense since joining the club and it may simply be that many people had forgotten just how good he is given the players around him at Barca.

He was after all probably the outstanding midfielder in the Premiership before his departure to Catalonia.

Costa's hamstrings and Terry's ageing legs will be concerns but this looks the best Chelsea squad in years. Mourinho's tactical nous (love him or hate him) also remains a trump card. Should Chelsea improve their results against the lower half of the table then they are the team to beat.

Manchester City remain a class act and a hugely physically imposing team. The addition of Mangala at centre back looks a good one alongside Kompany.

In Toure (the interested version), David Silva and Sergio Aguero they have three supreme match winners and Edin Dzeko should also relish additional responsibility and match time.

Frank Lampard has also been a wonderful bonus as Chelsea found to their cost recently. The gap would be eight points without his late strike against his former side.

City are looking to gather momentum but they need to find a way to deal with teams more effectively that sit deep against them at the Etihad.

Pellegrini's obvious consternation against both Stoke and Chelsea show that it is possible to frustrate them by defending deep. They have far too much quality for most teams in the EPL however.

Arsenal and Wenger it seems appear impervious to any notion of change.

In the past two Summers, it would be hard to criticise a team for buying two players of the quality of Ozil and Sanchez but the reality is that none of the obvious deficiencies in the team have been addressed.

Chelsea did not need to be remotely at their best to brush Arsenal aside on Sunday and the lack of any real grit or character in the side remains a problem.

Arsenal are a wonderful team when they have the ball but they are poor when they lose possession. Wenger clearly wants to mimic Guardiola's teams but the reality is that they work just as hard without the ball, pressing all over the pitch.

Arsenal do not and are the big teams find them easy to pick off. Their results against the other top teams in the division are simply appalling.

After last season's near miss, this time around was bound to be tough for Liverpool.

The departure of Luis Suarez was always going to leave a hole but no one had possibly realised just how big and his absence has been compounded by the injury to Daniel Sturridge.

Nearly every side who sells a player head and shoulders above anything else in their team struggles the following season and the reality is that Liverpool's potent attacking play and goals scoring last season papered over a myriad of cracks.

The need for rotation around the Champions League is also a huge added burden on both the squad and Rodgers.

Liverpool should improve as the new additions integrate in to the team but the loss of Suarez and father time catching up with Gerrard mean that they are not as strong as they were last season. Qualifying for the Champions League again should be seen as a successful season.

The joker in the pack and the third horse I earlier referred to is Manchester United. They are entirely unrecognisable from almost any of their sides in the past twenty years and it is incredibly difficult to assess where they sit in the scheme of things.

One could possibly present an argument for them finishing anywhere from first to seventh such is the nature of their play so far this season but I have a feeling they are going to be closer to first than seventh for the following reasons.

Liverpool last season showed that even with a dodgy defence, the absence of European football and one star player with a good support class could sustain a title challenge.

Chelsea last season were exceptional against the top six yet flunked their title lines by not being clinical enough against the lower half of the table. Liverpool simply blew most of the league away after the Fulham match.

In Angel Di Maria, United have one of the outstanding talents in world football right now. His direct running and passing is causing havoc against the teams that United have played against so far.

With a support cast of Falcao, Van Persie, Rooney and co they will simply have too much firepower for the majority of teams.

Leicester I hear you cry (!!) as well as close run things against West Ham and Everton and they are very valid points.

United's back four are taking the lions' share of the blame but the reality is that United are horribly open when they lose the ball and this must be addressed.

My point would be that Louis Van Gaal is too good a coach not to correct this.

Van Gaal's methods require very exacting demands of his players, his planning is meticulous in terms of game strategy and instructions. It takes time for players to adjust to this style of management and he has suffered slow starts elsewhere in his career.

United will improve and have several players due to come back from injury. The likes of Michael Carrick will help United to keep the ball later in matches rather than play at the breakneck speed they only seem capable of at the moment.

United have slipped into fourth place after admittedly a mediocre start and without playing the top teams yet. Van Gaal will need to find a way to play against the likes of City and Chelsea to avoid more results like at Leicester.

If the Dutchman can find a way to keep United in touch into the new year then United may be well placed to benefit just as Liverpool did last year from better fitness, less games and more time on the training pitch.

Chelsea will hope to go deep into the Champions League tournament and Mourinho is usually loathe to rotate too much.

City's first two results in the CL leave them with the possibility of dropping into the Europa League and the seemingly hazardous combination of Thursday and Sunday football (can anyone really explain this one to me!?).

If United can maintain their recent home results and find a formula to win on the road against the lower half teams then they should at least garner enough points to make the top four even if the title seems a bit of a stretch.

Spurs and Everton have given the top four a scare in recent seasons but the reality is that neither possesses the quality to sustain a title challenge.

So it looks like Blue Ribbons (either light or royal) on the trophy once more but beware that very big (although Jose may currently refer to them as little) thoroughbred from Old Trafford, it's certainly a wild one - No Nonsense.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Should clubs really care about their country?

With the end of the transfer window and another International week upon us. There has again been lament in the English press as to the state of the national team and the prospects for squad members in the EPL.

Of course, Britain like nearly any country you could mention enjoys a large dollop of good old fashioned xenophobia when the mood takes it.

The Premiership has courted the world's wealth through TV deals, foreign ownership and by buying up the best talent wherever it can.

All of course with the FA's full blessing and not the slightest hint of irony nor hypocrisy. Let's not forget the FA was instrumental in forming the Premiership, wrestling the competition away from the Football League as they chased the money along with the clubs.

The logic that many footballing sages are deriving is that this resultant 'foreign armada' has led to a steep downturn in the fortunes of the England team.

However, to suggest that the England team is in decline is also utter tosh. England did not even qualify for the '74, '78 and '94 World Cups. There have also been a plethora of woeful performances at the Euros such as '88 and '92. The Premiership first season was '92-93.

Since that inception, England have only missed two major tournaments (USA '94 immediately afterwards and Euro '08) and have generally got through the group stages in the other tournaments.

The level they are at is generally the level they have performed at for the past 50 years.

What is undeniable is that English (or even British) players are playing far less minutes in the Premiership and are occupying far less of the key positions - especially for the teams at the top of the table.

Manchester United last season under Moyes were widely derided for their lack of ambition or ability in the transfer market. It was said that they could no longer compete against the Reals and the Barcas at the very top of the market.

This Summer, United have spent around 150M culminating with the signing of Angel Di Maria for circa 60M and Radamel Falcao on loan.

These two signings of a striker and a midfielder have prompted the departures of the very same, Danny Wellbeck and Tom Cleverley.

This has led to much wailing and gnashing of teeth in the press (the same press criticising United's transfer policy for not attracting the big names) that United are abandoning their traditions of developing youth.

Louis Van Gaal, whilst not possibly the coaching God that many profess him to be, strikes me as hugely pragmatic man.

He is faced with a United team staring at a horrendous decline, out of the Champions League and having suffered an awful start to the season.

Does anyone think that the two players that have been replaced have not been done so with big upgrades?

Danny Wellbeck is of course United born and bred. Teams would all love to have players who have come through their own systems born a few streets from the ground. Even removing the sentiment, it makes perfect sense for a variety of reasons.

But what if those players are not good enough? In Wellbeck's case it's maybe a touch harsh as the jury is still very much 'out'.

He splits opinion and many believe he's a fine player but the truth is he's a notch below the very best players that United covet.

English players usually carry a huge premium and the fact he went for 16M only indicates the top teams were not as a whole hugely interested in him. Arsenal will feel they have a bargain and time will tell whether Wenger can improve him greatly, if so they may well be right.

In Tom Cleverley's case, the fact that England fans arranged a petition to have him excluded from the team tells you everything as to the perception of how good he is.

Whilst at Ajax, Van Gaal oversaw a wonderful team with a plethora of Dutch talent, Reizeger, Blind, Frank and Ronald De Boer, Edgar Davids, Clarence Seedorf, Marc Overmars and Patrick Kluivert.

Whilst at Barcelona, he returned to Holland to take several of those players to the club as well as Cocu and Zenden. Barcelona required instant results and right now, so do United.

Whilst these various footballing experts rush to blame foreign coaches, foreign owners and anyone else not at least three generations English for the woes of the England team, they could consider that Johnny Foreigner actually provides the solution.

I firmly believe that the reason that English players are not flourishing in the EPL is because they are simply not good enough (and far too expensive).

That is a problem the FA needs to address through vastly improved infrastructure and coaching at a much younger level. The players are already too far behind the curve before they enter into the professional structure.

One way to attempt to combat this in the short term is for English and British players to be far more ready to move abroad. It is a singularly British issue that we are so reluctant to try anything new and the riches of the EPL make it too tempting to sit pampered on the bench.

Gareth Bale was already a wonderful player at Spurs but going to Madrid will almost certainly improve him.

Whilst in the gloaming of his career, Ashley Cole's move to Roma is a refreshing one. Far too few English players are prepared to take the great leap into the unknown. Likewise, Micah Richards' move to Fiorentina is a pleasant surprise.

I'm quite sure the almost complete inability of the Brits (I am one) to wrap their heads around a second language is a big hurdle and surely a player such as Tom Cleverley could have benefited from a move abroad.

Southampton are being lauded right now for their development of English talent and rightly so. A true cynic however could simply suggest that it is less than rocket science to figure out that concentrating on developing English talent that attracts a huge premium in the market is a very good way to run a business.

Southampton have cashed in big time this Summer selling English players such as Luke Shaw, Adam Lallana, Callum Chambers (also Rickie Lambert). They should be commended for both grooming them and the huge profits they have made.

The majority of the replacements they have duly signed are foreign. Spurs reinvested the Bale money heavily on foreign talent, to a degree Liverpool also with the Suarez fee, there is clearly a reason, or probably several.

Is it really sensible to suggest that the responsibility to develop players for the England team resides with Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger as one journalist suggested the other day?

It's a dreadful cliché but football is a results business and managers are employed to do what's best for their club.

If Van Gaal thinks United will do better this season and maybe next by employing Radamel Falcao instead of Danny Wellbeck and he has the required resources then should he really be thinking about England's fortunes in the Euro qualifiers?

Spain have enjoyed the most wonderful period in their history with a batch of players the envy of the world. Their stars populated Real and in particular Barcelona through their wonderful period of success.

A look however at the current Real and Barca line ups shows a slightly differing story.

Real's forward line boasts Rodriguez, Bale, Ronaldo, Benzema as well as a central midfield of Kroos, Khedira and Modric.

Barca's all star forward line is formed of Suarez, Messi and Neymar.

Whilst the two teams still boast the likes of Casillas, Sergio Ramos, Iniesta and Busquets, it's hardly suggesting that the situation is vastly different in Spain to how it is in England.

Both teams recruited almost exclusively foreign talent this year whilst selling Spanish players.

Spanish players however are far more open to moves abroad. The Premiership has seen Fernando Torres, Juan Mata, Xabi Alonso, Roberto Soldado, Pepe Reina, Alvaro Negredo and David Silva to name some of the best ones all to make the move to the Premiership.

Alonso has just moved again to Bayern where he will team up with the (injured) Spanish duo of Javi Martinez and Thiago Alcantara.

The Spanish are clearly taking a far more pragmatic view of things, if Real and Barca are full of top foreign talent, no problem we will go abroad ourselves. If we're good enough (and we seem to be) a top team will pick us up.

Now it is clear that just running through that list of Spanish players that the talent on offer in Spain right now is far and away beyond what is on offer in England but again, this illustrates that the problem is in youth coaching in the UK and not with the clubs being full of foreign players.

Spain has consistently taken prime young talent from South America as well as enduring the likes of Real's Galacticos policy yet still won three major tournaments back to back.

English players moving abroad would not offer a magic wand as the real issue is youth coaching and most of the damage will still already be done. It certainly couldn't do any harm however.

The young Scot, Ryan Gauld just this Summer joined Sporting Lisbon as he felt it was the best place to progress his career - he is a gifted diminutive attacking midfielder - rather than take the easy option of a big offer from the Premiership. It is refreshing but all too rare.

The English press will continue to blame Johnny Foreigner and the evils of money in the football for the woes of the English football team.

They will also extol the virtues of English football should one of these expensively assembled sides lift the Champions League.

The reality is that the problem lies at home firstly with the abject number and quality of coaches and with a marked reluctance of their players to try different footballing cultures.

Suggesting that the likes of Van Gaal and Mourinho have a moral obligation to wrong those rights smacks of newspaper selling copy through printing Nationalistic nonsense -  and we insist upon No Nonsense.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Di Maria poses tactical questions for Van Gaal

Angel Di Maria has become Manchester United's and Britain's most expensive player when signing for the Reds for just under 60M.

Di Maria is undoubtedly a fine player of huge pedigree and talent. Some may suggest that 60M does not offer value but in the context of Suarez and Bale it's arguable that he does. You could also argue he makes Fabregas at 30M look rather cheap.

Of course the value of a player cannot be taken in such splendid isolation such are the associated commercial benefits and of course the relative position of any given club.

Given United's absence from the Champions League and their poor start to the season, could they have afforded NOT to buy him?

Real Madrid may feel they have traded up with the acquisition earlier this Summer of James Rodriguez and the bargain acquisition of Toni Kroos but Di Maria's stats at Real show they are losing a player of sublime quality and influence.

For the second year in a row, Real are selling their number one assist provider. In that respect their loss is most certainly United's gain, but the big question is how does he fit into the current United team?

Van Gaal has decreed that United will play 3-4-3 for the foreseeable with the acquisition of Di Maria's international team mate Marcos Rojo presumably seen as aiding that purpose.

The 3-4-3 however has been tweaked into a 3-4-1-2 to accommodate a front three of Mata, Rooney and RVP who all crave to play centrally. Fitting Di Maria into that equation prompts several questions.

It is not entirely simple to bracket Di Maria as a player. He nominally looks best equipped as a wide attacking player with his rangy, mazy dribbling skills.

Steve McMananaman was a similar (at least aesthetically) type of player for Madrid who adapted to a more central role. Neither player however would thrive in the deeper lying central midfield role which a 3-4-3 dictates.

That leaves Van Gaal with two further options for Di Maria. The first would be as a wing back which would appear folly on two levels.

Di Maria does not look equipped for the defensive burden of that position and in turn that role would take away from the wonderful attacking intent that he possesses. He is an attacking provider and should be used as such.

The position most likely under scrutiny then must become that of Juan Mata if the three at the back system is to be persisted with (and it would prove quite a climbdown for Van Gaal to abandon it so quickly).

Di Maria offers a more energetic type of scheming to Mata with his far greater athleticism. An advanced central position may work for Di Maria and offer more energy in attack for United.

The other option is to play a 3-4-3 with Di Maria in a wide role. This presumably means that one of Rooney, Van Persie and Mata have to be played out of position with one other left disappointed on the bench.

Rooney has looked keen to fit in with Van Gaal's plans and he would undoubtedly provide honest endeavour in a wider role but it does not suit his talent best.

It also entirely marginalises Juan Mata who it must be remembered was bought for North of 40M only eight months ago.

Having just despatched a cheque for 60M, Van Gaal will of course be expected to play Di Maria from the outset and with only league football until the FA Cup arrives in January there will be little desire or need for rotation.

Di Maria would be an excellent addition to any squad such is his quality but Van Gaal's statement of playing three at the back means fitting him into the side effectively is tricky.

A 4-2-3-1 would accommodate both Mata and Di Maria but again would marginalise either RVP or Rooney. With Rooney being made captain and the need for RVP's goals, Juan Mata is increasingly looking like the odd man out.

RVP's fitness has been suspect for the majority of his career and with his advancing years Van Gaal may not see him as a long term bet. The prospect of Di Maria and Mata buzzing around behind an advanced Rooney possibly makes sense with a 3-4- formation behind them.

Van Gaal is of course renowned for his tactical nous and adaptability. How Di Maria fits in will be fascinating especially given the context of the players around him in the attacking positions and especially if everyone is fit - No Nonsense.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Little Nostalgia on offer at White Hart Lane.

It was of little surprise that Spurs despatched QPR at White Hart Lane on Sunday but the relative progress of the two belligerents showed up a growing chasm.

So big was the difference in the two teams that it was tough to spot where the line was between Spurs being good and QPR being awful.

To start with the positives, Spurs look an infinitely better side than they were last season. It is early days and there will be far tougher tests than Sunday but they now look a team with a very distinct identity.

Last season it was hard to ascertain whether the numerous players they had signed to replace the Madrid bound Gareth Bale were actually any good. Trying to figure out their best eleven was nigh on impossible and proved to be too difficult for both AVB and Tim Sherwood.

Mauricio Pochettino has mainly kept his powder dry since his arrival at White Hart Lane. Spurs already had a squad burgeoning in numbers but with little cohesion. Vast new numbers of players was not the answer.

Spurs on Sunday looked a team with energy and purpose completely aware of their roles in the side. It was hard to judge the defence with any real certainty given the paucity of attacking from QPR but the pair of Bentaleb and Capoue bristled with intent in the holding midfield positions.

They offered the platform for both Spurs' attacking full backs and the attack minded triumvirate of Eriksen, Lamela and Chadli.

Presumably far more than just a hunch persuaded Spurs to part with over 25M for Erik Lamela last Summer. His first season was of course an unmitigated disaster but his performance against QPR offered many clues as to the undoubted talent that he clearly possesses.

At 22 years of age and with a countryman for a manager, he may well yet prove to be a very good Spurs player.

Of all Spurs' signings last year, Christian Eriksen looked the best and again on Sunday he looked a midfield schemer supreme and the 11M that Spurs spent on him looks an absolute steal.

Whether Lamela and Eriksen can impose themselves in such a manner away from home and against better sides remains to be seen but with a rejuvenated (and interested) Emmanuel Adebayor up front also they should have too much fire power for most Premiership teams.

Adebayor looks a far more potent goal threat than the toiling Roberto Soldado who has only two Premiership goals from open play to his name.

For Spurs, real progress in the league will be tough as the top four ceiling is made of very thick glass and over the duration of a season, Arsenal still hold a huge psychological advantage over their North London neighbours.

But Pochettino has so far made a hugely positive start to his tenure at White Hart Lane and one must hope that Daniel Levy gives the highly talented coach the time to truly leave his mark on the club.

Harry Redknapp enjoys wonderful press in the UK, he has cultivated a relationship and status with the red tops that only Terry Venables in recent times could rival.

4 Premiership wins from 27 in his time at QPR tells another story of his latest stewardship however.

QPR were entirely dreadful on Sunday bereft of shape, energy and pace. Neither their central midfield nor their creaking backline looked capable of coping with Premiership football.

What is also less than clear is who exactly is calling the shots at QPR. The other Spurs managerial alumni Glenn Hoddle cast a very long shadow over Redknapp from his seat in the directors' box on Sunday.

The three at the back system was widely mooted upon Hoddle's arrival at Loftus Road but a trio of Caulker and the badly ageing pair of Ferdinand and Dunne hardly look equipped to deal with the quality that the likes of Spurs possess.

Richard Dunne in particular looked horribly out of position on the left side of the back three, a natural right footed player, he was left badly exposed as Nacer Chadli stole in for the opener.

Presumably Redknapp resumed the reigns at half time as QPR reverted to a back four, of course by that time the hoops were already dead and buried.

Joey Barton remains a class act for all his antics but he was offered little support by either Mutch or Fer in a midfield simply unable to cope with Spurs' high press and energy.

Mutch, Caulker and Fer were three of QPR's Summer signings. It is worth noting that all three were relegated from the Premiership last season and on this evidence, all three may become serial offenders.

Loic Remy has been the subject of much transfer talk and he must indeed be wondering what exactly the point is in his role at QPR given the lack of service he receives.

What is so galling for QPR fans is that they have apparently learned nothing from their previous Premiership stay under the ownership of Tony Fernandes.

Mr Fernandes is presumably an intelligent man given the wealth he has accumulated but his acumen at running sports teams (take a look at Caterham F1's recent history) belies a man possibly out of his depth and possibly without the financial resources required to succeed in the glamorous worlds he so craves.

The transfer window has not yet shut but QPR look a long way from being anything else other than in deep relegation trouble again this season. The situation between Hoddle and Redknapp is also one that could cloud matters further.

For Spurs however, whilst there have been many false dawns, their squad suddenly looks far more balanced - more quality at centre back wouldn't go amiss however - and in Pochettino they look to have a class act in charge.

Southampton ran out of steam last season pursuing Pochettino's high energy pressing game, Spurs have far more depth to their squad and should last the course.

It could be a bright season at the Lane, less so Westward at Loftus Road - No Nonsense.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

When football fans fall in love...........

Yes I know, Frank Lampard left Chelsea on good terms and after many years of incredible service.

Yes I know I had plenty of forewarning he was leaving to join another club and he said goodbye in the most wonderful of ways praising the fans to the highest.

But I didn't know he was going to Manchester City.

And again, yes I know it's only on a few months loan and then he'll be off to his real destination in New York for a fistful of dollars.

But there's a nagging doubt that has now appeared. If he's scored ten goals by Christmas, for a few dollars (ok pounds.....) more could Abu Dhabi extend his 'loan' to City and before I know it he's a fully fledged City player?

OK, the second part hasn't happened yet and probably won't but terrible thoughts pop into your head when a legend from your club joins a rival team, even if he is now 36 and has surely earned the right for one last big payday.

And of course he has earned that right, but only of course in circumstances of my choosing.

Manchester City are not even a historical rival of Chelsea. Before the money came along, they were both clubs with histories marked with brief glories, relegations and long periods of mediocrity. Chelsea always had a swagger but both were only really united in their hatred of well, United.

Both clubs have of course morphed dramatically with new ownership and new rivalries have been formed.

Chelsea's traditional rivals, Spurs and West Ham have been supplemented by new hostilities with Liverpool (think Champions League and Benitez and Mourinho) and an increasing one with United due to now common footballing targets.

So why should I care that Super Frank is joining City?

Well of course it's because I don't see much else other than the domestic league that my club plays in as really worth caring about. Sure the ultimate prize is the Champions League but if Lampard had joined Bayern or Real or AC Milan, I'd have wished him well.

'Look at our boy off to rubber stamp his career with one last swansong at one of the great clubs of Europe, says everything about him and us'. Job done.

Off to join Arsenal or Liverpool however? I'd have gone bonkers.

And the New York Red Bulls?

For the average Premiership fan who cares little for 'soccer' across the pond it's like something you read in the Hollywood gossip magazines (they belong to my wife, honest.....).

It is nothing more than a passing fancy, something to titillate and amuse over your morning coffee. We care little for the USA's obvious progress at the World Cup, we are far too parochial and self important for that.

If he'd gone to Melbourne I'd have cheered, here would be another shot in the arm for the A League, linking up with David Villa and bringing an already promising product closer to the boil. Three cheers for Lamps doing his bit for global football.

But joining City?

This is of course highly petty and all a bit silly. This is far from Luis Figo defecting from Barca to arch rivals Real at the peak of his career, a defection so heinous it still resonates loudly in Catalonia.

Lampard is mainly past it, City aren't even a proper rival in the truest sense, if we've 'got no history' then surely they're even worse!? But there is the rub.

Figo's defection was a simple one, you burned your no7 shirt, ripped the poster from your sons' bedroom wall and if you got really bent out of shape about it, turned up at the Nou Camp and threw a pig's head at the bloke. Simple stuff, he was dead to you.

But what do I do about Super Frank?

Many Chelsea fans have taken to Twitter and Facebook to vent their ire, calling him a traitor, wheeling out all the expected clichés and names.

Supporters from all clubs would do the same even if in this case it's a huge overreaction. We are human after all and we are hurt by these infidelities.

Fabregas has been castigated by Arsenal fans despite Wenger not wanting him back, the detail and facts matter little in these cases.

Except I can't do that with Frank. To do so would be to besmirch a memory that is too important to me.

I will simply blot out his indiscretion like so many of his fans and Nike did with Tiger Woods, it simply didn't happen, move on. They are after all similar marital indiscretions, best swept under the carpet.

So Frank, do I wish you well at City?

I'm not sure really, I certainly don't wish you any injury and I hope you are a roaring success at New York.

But I honestly can't say I want it to work out well in Manchester and I desperately hope you find a convenient thigh strain before we play you at the Etihad in September.

People just don't realise how tough it is being a football fan sometimes especially once you've found true love............ No Nonsense.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

La Liga - is Gareth Bale correct?

Times are good at Real Madrid, they have just lifted La Decima and over the Summer have added two of the shining stars from the World Cup.

First Toni Kroos and now the 80 odd million Euro capture of James Rodriguez. Barcelona too have added Luis Suarez to their already glittering array of attacking talent.

Gareth Bale, who himself joined Real last year for a world record fee has stated that this proves that La Liga is the best league in the world, such is the concentration of the world's elite players.

The question is, is he correct?

By several measures he most probably is. A straw poll of who global football fans think are the top few dozen players in the world would certainly include Messi and Ronaldo every time.

It is probably safe to say that a majority would also pick several from names such as Bale, Neymar Jr, Iniesta, Di Maria, Benzema, Khedira, Busquets, Ramos and now Kroos, Rodriguez and Suarez.

The names ooze quality, class and in most cases a whole lorry load of silverware to back up those claims.

The only issue with all of the above names is that they play only for two teams out of the twenty that contest La Liga.

Andy Whitelaw posed the question on Red Card Sports Radio this week as to whether La Liga was just a (far more) glamorous version of the Scottish League and it is a very valid question to ask.

Atletico of course pricked that bubble to a degree by winning La Liga this season. A collective sigh of relief was heard from all corners.

Many people - including myself - love the football on show in La Liga but find it slightly monotonous watching Real and Barca rack up huge wins week in week out. Atletico's triumph restored some faith in the product. But what happened next?

Barcelona have since recruited Luis Suarez and Real have snapped up Kroos and Rodriguez as they celebrate La Decima whilst Atletico have simply been decimated.

From 2010 until last season, the points totals for first second and third were '10 - 99, 96, 71, '11 - 96, 92, 71, '12 - 100, 91, 61, '13 - 100, 85, 76, '14 - 90, 87, 87.

If we are trying to argue that it is a competitive league then these are some pretty tough numbers to digest until last season when Atletico's presence put pressure on the big two as all three stumbled towards the line in the last few rounds of fixtures.

However, if you consider European success as a measure of a competitive league then Spain offers some more compelling numbers.

Barca (3) and Real (1) have won four of the last nine Champions Leagues. Had Real not won last year's final then Atletico would have done keeping the trophy in Spain and diversifying from these two serial winners.

A look at the Europa League however offers an even more compelling argument. Spanish clubs (Sevilla 3, Valencia 1, Atletico 2) have won six out of the last eleven finals. Spain's current European coefficient far surpasses that of anyone else.

Yes one can argue that English clubs do not always prioritise the Europa League but it is nevertheless a hugely impressive performance by the Spanish clubs showing that spending huge swathes of cash is not always a better way than sound coaching and shrewd scouting.

So where does all of this leave the English Premiership in comparison?

Well by several other measures it is of course the biggest and best league. It has unrivalled global television audiences, is awash with money throughout the game (with accompanying levels of debt to match the Spanish it should be noted) and often produces exciting football and close fought title battles involving several teams.

Or does it?

Since the inception of the Premiership, there has been one single dominant team, Manchester United. Blackburn and Newcastle offered resistance in the 90s before Arsenal again rose to their rightful place at the summit of the English game under the fresh stewardship of Arsene Wenger.

As Arsenal lost their way, new money arrived in the English game in the shape of Chelsea and then Manchester City. The emergence of this nouveau riche changed the face of English football as the two clubs short cut their way to success (as did Blackburn).

The establishment of course did not like this and one suspects that these upstarts (add PSG to the mix) are the ones responsible for the birth of FFP rather than the clubs that imploded such as Fiorentina, Leeds United and Glasgow Rangers.

The irony being Chelsea would have almost certainly joined that list had Abramovich not appeared on the scene.

The point to all this is that whilst the Premiership appears as a highly competitive league with frequent close title races, the reality is that in the absence of what many call 'financial doping' and with Arsenal distracted by building the Emirates, we may have faced a United procession for several seasons now.

All of this of course has been played out at a time when the overall quality in the Premiership looks to be on the decline with arguably its' best players being cherry picked by either Real or Madrid several times over, Ronaldo, Bale and Suarez have all headed South.

Manchester United supposedly dropped their interest in Toni Kroos or so we are told. Here is a team with almost limitless resources (we are again told) in desperate need of a top quality midfield general of which a stand out performer (and World Cup winning one) in that very position is available for around 20M.

Can someone tell me why exactly they dropped their interest?

One could of course come to the conclusion that Kroos' agent told United that he didn't fancy the Britannia on Wednesday night in January and fancied hooking up with Bale and Ronaldo with a bit of Champions League action thrown in.

United are a huge draw and arguably the biggest club in the world, but it appears that the likes of Ronaldo, Bale and Kroos prefer Madrid and the weather can only be part of that equation.

Where the Premiership does trump La Liga soundly is in the incredible marketing of its' product and in its' massive advantage in Asia of the English language.

Throw in Spanish stubbornness on kick off times and you have a huge TV audience paying handsomely to tune in to see Danny Wellbeck instead of Neymar with revenues far outweighing the paying audiences in the Americas.

Real and Barca of course compensate for this disparity in television revenues by creating their own imbalance by taking the lions' share of Spain's media revenues.

A more equitable split would ensure a more competitive league by bringing up the rest and hampering the big two's ability to hoard the world's very best. Or would it?

Spain's Europa League results and the success of Atletico in the Champions League last year would indicate that the quality of team on offer in La Liga is anything but inferior, just ask Chelsea who were seen off by Atletico and have looked to dismantle them for their own benefit this Summer.

Is it just that the big two in Spain in these days of globalisation are simply too hot to handle for the Premiership? It is of course not United's fault that they have Mancunian weather and not that of Madrid or Catalonia.

Spain's big two have for the most always been dominant domestically and have regularly employed the world's best, Di Stefano, Puskas, Maradona, Michael Laudrup, Romario, (the real) Ronaldo, Zidane, the list is too long to even contemplate.

They and Spain however had endured a seriously lean period in the previously known European Cup. After Real won it in '66 it would be another 26 years before Spain triumphed again when Barcelona won their first title. In that period, a single Spanish team (Barcelona) only once even made the final.

During that period, there was a huge English dominance preceded by periods of both Dutch and German lordship. Heysel ended the English period as Serie A became the dominant league accompanied by the rise of one of the great AC Milan teams.

All of this proves that football moves in cycles of course and even in the face of rising globalisation that should always be the case.

The Bundesliga is not often mentioned when discussing which country has the best league yet it boasts economically viable clubs. Full, vibrant and modern stadia and a league that can boast no less than five separate winners in the past eleven seasons.

Yet, other than Bayern and the odd season from Dortmund, progress in European terms has proven tough for the German clubs.

The fact that Bayern have been able to take so simply both Mario Gotze and Lewandowski from its' closest rivals in the past two seasons also renders the competition poorer.

Again however you could point to the same happening in England where Arsenal have lost several high profile players to both the Manchester clubs. Most Spanish clubs are also rendered impotent when Real or Barca come knocking.

None of which really helps us decide on whether Gareth Bale is right or wrong.

For the time being, nothing looks to be able to stop Barca and Real collecting the world's very best players. The Premiership in turn will continue to pay huge salaries and transfer fees sometimes indiscriminately - are Luke Shaw and Adam Lallana really worth a combined 55M?

This season's La Liga looks to be almost certainly a two horse race whereas whilst both Chelsea and City look very strong in the Premiership, Liverpool, Arsenal and possibly even a resurgent Man Utd will wish to have a strong say in matters.

The Premiership may have the greater overall marketing glitz and saturation television coverage but one thing is for sure, record numbers will be turning in for El Classico this season - No Nonsense.

Friday, July 18, 2014

The EPL - so who's winning the transfer war?

The EPL, the mundane old transfer season, remember that?

I'll preface this piece by stressing 'at the time of writing' as the transfer market is a fast moving animal which provides a fix for us football fans struggling to cope with the end of the World Cup and the weeks until the new season starts.

As seems to be the way, clubs seem immune to any kind of financial austerity and we are yet to see to the long term implications of FFP although PSG and Manchester City have certainly felt its' teeth in the short term.

For the English clubs, a couple of factors are working in their favour again in European terms. A few years ago Spain did away with the tax breaks that footballers enjoyed meaning only really Barca and Real can afford to pay the 'net' that the top players thirst for.

France also has issued an exorbitant tax rate for earners above 1M Euros meaning that whilst Britain which also has a pretty high tax rate (maybe not quite Aussie high......!) is at least on a level playing field again.

Another factor is that the Pound has regained much of the losses it suffered against the Euro and although still some way below it's pre GFC levels, it is around its' strongest for 5 years meaning the English clubs have more buying power again relative to their European neighbours.

Throw in a new EPL deal and some huge sponsorship numbers such as the ones Manchester Utd have just posted with Adidas and General Motors and there is plenty of loot for the clubs to spend. So who's splashing the cash best?

My own club Chelsea, appear so far to have stolen the march. Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa both look quality signings and two that were required by the club.

Fabregas is a proven player in the EPL even if Barca (and apparently Spain at the WC) deem him surplus to requirements.

The balance in Chelsea's midfield looked all wrong last season with a disconnect between the holding and the attacking players leading to some very pedestrian football at times. Fabregas should bridge that gap and up the tempo of play.

Diego Costa is for me a slightly less clear cut home run but nonetheless an important signing.

Looking at his record up until last season and it was far from spectacular although the same could be said when Mourinho signed Didier Drogba. The Portugeezer has again clearly seen something that he likes.

Costa scored a lot of goals last season but the vast majority came in the first half of the season and he appeared to fade badly as the months progressed.

He is however a hugely physical and street wise centre forward who should thrive in the Premiership. Chelsea will certainly hope so as they simply cannot afford another high profile striker who turns out a turkey.

The signing of Filipe Luis is possibly the highest risk of the signings given his fee and age. The days of Chelsea's carefree spending appeared to be gone with the club sticking to signing younger players with potential or being on the cusp of their peak, i.e. with higher resale value and longevity in these times of FFP.

The Brazilian left back is a fine player but he turns 29 next month and will have little resale value. Not all players who come late to the Premiership in their careers prosper, just ask Andriy Shevchenko.

It is however undoubtedly a further signal from Chelsea indicating a full scale assault on the Premiership title.

One wonders however whether the 60,000 a week deal that Ashley Cole just signed at Roma may have offered far better value. He is still a fine player.

Manchester United have spent big so far but one must really ask whether they will see immediate returns.

Luke Shaw looks a fine prospect but United have spent a huge amount of money on a teenager with only one season's Premiership experience. Whether he will prove an immediate improvement on Patrice Evra is up for debate.

Ander Herrera has again arrived for big money from Atletic Bilbao. He is undoubtedly a good player but he is moving to a far bigger club and an entirely different environment in the NW of England.

United clearly believe he will work out given their investment and lengthy pursuit but it is not without risk. A central midfielder was however an absolute priority for the club.

Manchester City have FFP constraints to deal with but it has not stopped them from being quick out of the blocks securing the transfer of Fernando to bolster their central midfield. It looks a shrewd move as it will give them far more tactical flexibility and free up Yaya Toure if he indeed stays at the club (remember his birthday cake this year guys.....).

Eliaquim Mangala is strongly tipped to join the club in the coming days for a big money move. A central defender was another priority for the club but it looks a lavish deal to say the least. Sagna will provide competition and back up at full back and looks a tidy free transfer.

Arsenal as ever have been slower than most but the capture of Alexis Sanchez looks a fabulous one. He is undoubtedly a player that should flourish at the Emirates, he has pace, technical ability and is wonderfully flexible on where he plays. He is top class addition.

He should link up very well with the likes of Ozil and it is a transfer that has certainly caught my imagination.

Mathieu Debuchy is another fine player who must have been wondering how he ended up on Tyneside in the first place. Whether he is a level up from the departing Bacaray Sagna we will have to wait and see.

Arsenal's squad still lacks numbers and quality so expect to see more action and the rumoured transfer of Sami Khedira would be another major coup for the Gunners.

Whilst it baffles to a degree why Real would sell (his partnership with Toni Kroos looked a fabulous one at the WC) it would catapult Arsenal toward being genuine title contenders.

If Real do look to offload the wonderful German then it also sounds like Chelsea may have something to say about things, we will watch this space.

The most complicated story so far resides on Merseyside with Liverpool. They moved early in the market for both Rickie Lambert and Adam Lallana.

The biggest story of course is the outgoing Luis Suarez. There is little doubt that Liverpool wished to keep the player but given his World Cup ban - the English press would have savaged him relentlessly on returning - and a whopping 75M bid from Barcelona, they had little choice but to sell him.

The Lambert transfer on face value looked to raise the odd chortle but it may prove a shrewd signing for a team which had no Plan B last season and lacked numbers.

Lallana is a decent player but Liverpool have like so many before paid a huge premium for an English player. Given that Fabregas is only a year older and cost only 5M more does Lallana represent good value and is he markedly better than the players Liverpool already have?

It is hard to really pin down Liverpool's prospects next season. Both Emre Can and Lazar Markovic look exciting prospects but their success in the Premiership is not assured.

Many people looked on and admired Spurs' squad last Summer after they finally agreed to sell Gareth Bale and signed a host of fresh talent.

There is little reason to criticise Brendan Rodgers given he is coming off the back of an excellent season but one area where he has experienced mixed success is in the transfer market.

Liverpool did not want to sell Suarez but regardless of this fact, without him and even with these new players, it is unlikely they can turn out a first eleven better than last season's whereas the same cannot be said of the clubs around them.

Liverpool's central defence was also considered their Achilles heel and that has not as yet been addressed.

Spurs it must be said have been incredibly quiet and this may be a good thing. Their squad was a complete mis-match last season and Pochettino so far has kept his counsel as he assesses the squad other than a muted attempt to recruit Lallana.

The addition of one or maybe two quality players would not hurt but additional squad numbers are not the priority.

Further down the table there are a plethora of transfer ins and outs featuring an entire host of misfits for undisclosed or free transfers.

As always with Newcastle United, it appears to be feast or famine. The departure of Debuchy has been offset by the arrival of several continental players. Newcastle's scouting has been relatively shrewd of late it must be said so there may be cause for optimism again on Tyneside after last season's travails.

Both Southampton and QPR have lost many players and in Southampton's case a couple of their very best ones. Both clubs need to invest wisely if they are not to face a long hard season.

Everton also have effectively gone backwards with only the permanent move of the ageing Gareth Barry being transacted so far and the loss of Romelu Lukaku.

Funds as ever will be tight at Goodison and with a stronger challenge expected from Old Trafford and White Hart Lane, Everton face a tough season to challenge at the sharp end again.

Aston Villa's transfers look rather scatter gun and uninspiring other than the capture of Kieran Richardson which may prove a shrewd one. West Ham have added numbers but it is impossible to garner whether any of those signings are an improvement on what they already have.

Stoke have added some Premiership know how in the shape of Bardsley and Sidwell and Hughes is slowly moulding them into his own team.

I have to admit to not being a fan of Steve Bruce in any shape or form but they look to have bought well with the permanent signing of Jake Livermore and the additions of Robert Snodgrass and Tom Ince. 

They may well have another season after this in the Premiership to look forward to, there are certainly worse teams than they.

We still have around 6 weeks until the transfer window 'slams shut' as Sky Sports love to remind us so we can expect much more, especially possibly at United where Louis Van Gaal is now in place to survey his squad and surely cannot like much of what he sees.

Impossible therefore to pick a winner so far other than the agents of course - No Nonsense.

Monday, July 14, 2014

My World Cup in review

I'd written previously about my desire for a World Cup to re-ignite my passion for the event and I surely got one.

One caveat I would add is that I have watched the past two Western hemisphere events from Asia and to be honest it's a slog that people in this part of the World (Australia I feel your pain) will understand perfectly.

This time however I was lucky enough to spend around 3 weeks out of 4 in the European time zone and there is little doubt that watching the World Cup in a social environment and with a beer in your hand makes it a far better experience than in the middle of the night and on your TV at home alone.

That aside, I think this was a tournament to remember for a myriad of reasons. Clearly it's still fresh in the mind but I think this WC is one for the shelf along with my other favourites, '82, '94 and '98.

The group stages were exactly what everyone wanted. Upsets, goals, drama and controversy. We had woeful performances from England, Italy and Spain, Brazil stepping on to their rollercoaster (those always finish at the bottom), Suarez's teeth and magic from Messi.

What was very interesting was how the tournament took shape. The European teams looked to suffer in the opening round with only really Holland (with France and Belgium looking good against lesser opposition) convincing as even the Germans were run close by Ghana and USA.

The pleasing displays came from Colombia, Chile, Mexico and even the excellent Costa Rica came to the party. Adding to the Latin beat was the belief that just maybe Messi or Neymar was going to attempt to win the tournament on their own.

Spain's exit looked to be the big story early on as they were thrashed by the Dutch in their opening game before being dumped out of the tournament by the excellent Chileans.

Luis Suarez of course then took centre stage demonstrating the two traits he has been recently famous for, scoring against English defences and biting opponents.

His punishment was swift and severe but he has a 75M transfer to Barcelona to cheer him through his extended holiday.

Everyone expected the goals to dry up once the knockout stages began and they duly did. The drama however increased with game after game providing bitten nails aplenty.

First Brazil edged past Chile in the most tense of penalty shoot outs. Brazil appeared to be existing in a bubble containing adrenaline, hope, nerves, euphoria and Neymar.

France and Colombia were relatively comfortable but Argentina, Germany and Holland all toiled before securing passage to the quarter finals.

The quarters again saw Brazil living on their nerves as they saw off Colombia courtesy of David Luiz's howitzer but unfortunately losing Neymar in the process.

Germany were far more comfortable against a timid France than the 1-0 score line suggested.

Louis Van Gaal has been embraced by the English press (nothing to do with him joining ManYoo....) as a tactical genius. Of course, after a tedious 0-0 they required penalties to see off  Costa Rica. There would be little respite in the following match.

Argentina beat the much fancied and vaunted Belgians as they continued their progress in unspectacular fashion courtesy of Gonzalo Higuain.

It was the semi final between the hosts and Germany that of course produced the most shocking result that at least I think I have ever seen given the context and venue of the match.

Thinking back to the game, I still find myself shaking my head at just how badly Brazil lost the plot.

There is little doubt that this was a limited Brazilian team and that Scolari felt the need to galvanise them in any way that he could.

It's hard to know what was really going on inside the Brazilian dressing room but the air seemed to be one of desperation rather than some kind of steely resolve that you would expect from a well fostered siege mentality.

I would never criticise anyone for whichever way they wish to display their own faith - unless it involves hurting others - but I cannot help but think that Brazil's players took things far too far. The Neymar shirt waving was possibly the last straw.

They looked like a team with no plan and no structure tactically. I am sure the discussions in the German dressing room prior were mainly of a tactical nature making sure everyone knew their roles.

Given what I saw in that match, I cannot for one moment believe that anything like that went on within the Brazil changing room.

Faith and prayers were not going to stop Kroos and Mueller, organised defensive tactics were what was required to effect that.

The other point to make was of the fragility of the Brazilian mentality. They played in such an expansive manner in the first ten minutes only to utterly implode on conceding Mueller's goal.

The second goal instilled blind panic even though they had ample time to regroup, tighten things up and get back in to the game. Maybe deep down they knew how poor they actually were, especially without Neymar and Silva.

Professional football teams at this level are not 5 down after half an hour and lose 7-1 (it could easily have been 8-0) unless there is something far wrong at the core.

Such was the destruction, it is almost impossible to tell what was German brilliance and Brazil being entirely abject but I lean towards the latter even if feels harsh on Germany.

The last 14 shots on target in the tournament against the hosts yielded 11 goals. That's quite staggering and shows the ease of the chances they allowed.

The other semi final was very different with another extra time 0-0 involving Holland, this time without even a shot on target from the Oranje. Argentina held their nerve in the penalty shoot out to come through to contest a third World Cup final against Germany.

The final itself was not a classic - they rarely are - but it wasn't a bad one either with the first half in particular very entertaining. Argentina's finishing was woeful and they eventually paid the price with Goetze's wonderful extra time winner taking the trophy for Germany.

Argentina will point to challenges from Neuer and Howdes that maybe deserved red cards but it would be churlish to suggest that Germany were anything but worthy winners.

On the subject of refereeing I think the whistlers at this World Cup deserve a mention. There were of course a plethora of bad decisions and there always will be in a sport played at that pace without recourse to the technology that the watching world has.

But I do think that the directive that I presume was given to let the games flow was welcome and made the matches and football far more enjoyable.

It was definitely a tournament of two halves with an almost care free group stage of matches followed by an incredibly tense and tight knockout stage (Brazil's spanking aside).

It is also worth noting that Europe has just won its' third tournament in a row (they don't win in Latin America remember) despite their earlier woes in the group stages.

Unfortunately, both Africa and Asia seem to be going in the wrong direction right now and one must hope that this trend reverses to keep it a truly World Cup. Come on lads, the talent and passion is there!

The USA it should be mentioned are also showing that they are starting to take a real and genuine liking to the World's tournament and their progress from here will be interesting. They performed admirably in Brazil.

As always it is over too soon and it is far too long to the next one but that's also why we love it so much. Time and reflection as well as personal opinion will decide whether it becomes a 'classic' but for myself, I enjoyed it thoroughly - No Nonsense.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Heavyweight clash to dispel the national stereotype

When the World Cup comes around, national stereotypes tend to abound in terms of footballing heritage and how the various teams play.

The Dutch will of course play technical possession based football, The African teams will be big and strong, the Italians will regularly win 1-0,  England will be a bit naff (ok, it's a cheap shot), Brazil will dazzle and of course the Germans will win.

How times have changed.

Should Germany fail to win in Brazil, they will go to the next Euros without a major tournament win in twenty - count them - years.

For someone who grew up with them winning tournaments in my lifetime in '74, '80', '90 and '96 as well as seemingly being the losing finalist in most other occasions, it feels a little difficult to compute.

Of course, Europe has gone through a paradigm shift politically since the Berlin wall came down and Germany has been at the centre of all things.

It is hard not to feel that the entire character of the German team has changed to reflect the new reality of modern Europe. 

The Brits in particular - I am one - love a German stereotype, that of a robotic (think Arnie in the Terminator movies) footballing powerhouse, showing no emotion as it steamrolls team after team on its' way to yet another inevitable victory.

What is much more endearing about this current German team is the football that they play but also a sense of vulnerability which I had never sensed in bye gone times. 

The Germans have endured their own period of introspection  and national sorrow as their team has come up short time and time again including on their own patch in 2006. These are very different times for Germany.

There is no doubt that the opening of borders in Europe has helped several teams to change their identities. The likes of Ozil, Khedira and Boateng for instance, whilst I'm sure feeling not one iota less German than any of their compatriots undoubtedly bring new and different gifts to what was an already very strong footballing nation.

Looking at the midfield and seeing the likes of Ozil, Goetze and Kroos in tandem, it can border on footballing porn when they get it right. Add in the likes of the steel of Schweinsteiger and the hugely talented Thomas Mueller and you have a team to both fear and enjoy.

This is the strongest German team since Euro '96 and it is one that is much easier to like and to follow.

And so to Brazil, hosts of the best finals in years even if the goals have dried up a bit in recent matches, that was to be expected.

One of the let downs at this tournament however is well, Brazil themselves. They are of course both eternally blessed as a footballing nation but also cursed by the ghosts of '70 and '82. Even their '02 victory had Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho in tandem, not too shabby.

That a team that has reached the semi finals and has not been knocked out yet can be seen as grossly inferior to a team that failed such as the '82 team shows the impossible standards they have to live up to.

Personally, I like this Brazil side, even if it just for the emotion and drama that they bring. The team however is far from great. A decent keeper, fullbacks who can't defend, a highly combustible centre back paring, unspectacular holding midfielders, a below par Oscar, a now injured talisman in Neymar and of course the hapless Fred up front.

Did anyone mention they're in the semi finals?

Most fans would give their right arms to have a team to support as bad as Brazil supposedly are. They have of course lost their leading light in Neymar and it is a shame for the tournament that he will not be there for the climax, everyone loses from his absence.

Scolari is of course a wily old fox and will use this to foster even further the siege mentality he has been unashamedly building in his squad. They have lost their greatest hope but will gain even more togetherness.

Brazil have looked short of energy up front and it is possible that some tweaks to the line up and possibly the introduction of Willian could cause problems for the Germans. Losing Neymar doesn't have to mean the end.

The other question is what is up with Oscar? He had a poor season after Christmas for Chelsea and his form has continued despite plenty of rest later in the season. He may be carrying an injury, but if it simply loss of form, then it is both long lasting and concerning.

Brazil of course carry the hopes of their nation like no other given their status as hosts and their unrivalled World Cup history. The prospect of Messi lifting the trophy at the Maracana next Sunday must be one that is causing sleepless nights throughout this mighty nation.

Many predicted they would not get past Chile and then said the same about Colombia game and now of course Neymar is gone, they should pack up and head to the beach.

Except of course that Brazil keep winning. 

They have developed a steeliness, not quite the Teutonic stereotype - it is far too full of emotion for that - but they have found a way to win whilst not playing great football or being at their best. The Germans and possibly more so the Italians would be proud.

So, here we have a slightly fragile yet wonderfully technical and gifted Germany team and a big strong Brazil team with tough centre backs scoring all their goals it now seems.

All change?

Tuesday will be a night of high drama, that is for sure but in a world that appears to have gone full circle, no one can predict the outcome - No Nonsense.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

My World Cup so far

My previous article was hoping and preying for a great World Cup, lamenting the previous few tournaments and possibly an event in decline, a victim of global football media overkill.

Fear not, Brazil '14 to the rescue.

The first couple of weeks have provided a wonderful, heady mix of stylish attacking verve, established nations going out and no shortage of drama.

There have been a myriad of subplots, Brazil's nervous progress, Messi's magic, some wonderful South and Central American performances and some lamentable European ones.

So who looks like a likely winner?

Brazil the hosts were the first team in to the quarter finals but they look fragile. The defence is full of attacking panache but lacks solidity, Thiago Silva apart.

The midfield lacks energy although Fernandinho looked an improvement on Paulinho. My own Chelsea's Oscar looks a prime culprit for Brazil's toils however given the continuation of his listless recent club form. His place must come into question.

Brazil also have problems at centre forward with neither Fred nor Jo of the required calibre. Possibly pushing Neymar further forwards and bringing Willian in to the team would give Brazil more urgency and movement. It is time for Scolari to earn his salary.

Argentina, similarly look short of balance within their team. Lionel Messi has however shown up and how. Should he continue in this vein, echoes of Maradona and '86 will come to the fore. Could he drag them to the title almost single handed?

With the hugely attractive Chile and Uruguay now out of the tournament, South America's other great hope remains Colombia. They will certainly fancy their chances against Brazil and whilst they remain an outsider, they are certainly part of the discussion, especially if they go on to knockout the hosts.

The European challenge has proven very lopsided. Belgium and France have progressed unmolested but only really Holland and Germany have impressed in any great way.

For the Dutch, Arjen Robben is rivalling Neymar and Messi for individual feats and the Oranje will be preying he keeps his fragile body fit.

Germany possibly look the most complete team with strength in depth and quality in all departments.

Thomas Mueller is having a fine tournament and with the likes of Goetze and Kroos around to unlock defences, they are a major force. Khedira and the returning Schweinsteiger add solidity in front of the back four.

There was much talk of Belgium before the tournament and it is hard to gauge them properly so far as their group was so benign. Tough tests away this promising side with the acid test of a potential quarter final against Argentina should they progress.

The big disappointments so far.

Spain's instant and lamentable exit was the first big story of the tournament. Reminiscent of France's defence in '02, Spain crashed out after losing their first two games to admittedly good opposition in Holland and Chile.

For several players, Casillas, Xavi and even possibly Andres Iniesta, it looked a tournament too far. The team lacked energy, cohesion and ideas and with far too many individual mistakes.

Whilst this current 'tiki taka' generation has come to an end, Spain should not panic. The likes of Thiago Alcantara and Isco still offer a bright future for the deposed World Champions.

Italy's problems look possibly a little deeper as they exited the World Cup at the group stage for the second successive time. Whilst they reached the final of the last Euros, the mantra that 'Italy always find a way' seems to now be yet another stereotype.

For England, the reality is that other than through history, population size and the strength of the Premiership, they are no longer a world football power. Their problems are deep rooted in the youth system and the lack of numbers of top quality coaches at that level.

Their players lack the ability to compete technically at this level nowadays with the likes of Costa Rica looking far more comfortable with the ball at their feet. Throw in basic issues like an inability to defend simple high balls and it is a sorry tale.

It is too easy to simply blame the Premiership (yes it doesn't help) as the reality is that the majority of teenage players that are reaching the professional clubs are already not good enough.

Major changes are required are they to regain their place at the top table. Raheem Sterling was a single bright light but unless the issue of coaching at youth level in the UK is addressed then the status quo will remain.

Whilst we are talking about the negatives it is probably appropriate to mention the biggest individual story, that of Luis Suarez's actions and his subsequent ban.

The media in the UK has deemed his punishment appropriate or even lenient. There is clearly no place for biting in any walk of life and given that he is a serial offender then it is correct to throw the proverbial book at him.

However, having spoken to some South American friends who have a keen interest in football, it is clear that the incident is viewed very differently there and their opinion is not without merit.

In 1994, Mauro Tassotti broke Luis Enrique's nose, causing him to lose a pint of blood with a wildly violent elbow to the face. He was banned for eight games.

Now whilst Suarez as mentioned is a repeat offender, his vampire like actions result in little more than flesh wounds. It is quite simply 'weird' rather than especially violent or likely to result in serious injury.

Roy Keane admitted (in his book) to pre meditatively ending Alf Inge Halaand's career with a horrendous tackle. He received a three match ban for ending the career of a fellow professional.

Now whilst not excusing any crime on the basis that 'somebody else did something worse', it does seem that Suarez has received a punishment inconsistent with other players.

I personally don't like Luis Suarez (fine player that he is) and find his behaviour distasteful but this is a person with clear problems, someone who reverts to a pattern of behaviour during times of stress. Whether it is a childhood trauma that emerges or something else, only a professional could help.

Surely the offer of a reduced ban (possibly two months) in return for him entering some kind of counselling or therapy to modify his behaviour would have been a better and more humane solution.

It's a decision that will polarise opinion. There is clearly no place in football for biting but then surely we should be just as harsh on other acts of violence that do far more to threaten the careers of other players. The debate will rumble on, Suarez will sit things out in Montevideo.

Goals, goals, goals.

Back to the happier stuff and it's been a tournament for goals and some very good ones. Arjen Robben and Van Persie have provided some crackers. Lionel Messi has provided a one man video montage but for me, the best came from Tim Cahill with a sublime volley to reel the Dutch back in temporarily.

Messi's injury time winner against Iran for me encapsulated everything that the World Cup should represent.

A wonderful performance from an underdog against one of the tournament favourites, indeed for much of the second half, Iran looked the better team.

And then, in injury time, one of the all time great players stands up to be counted cutting inside and bending a winner into the corner, queue wild celebrations from the massed Argentine fans and despair from the Iranian contingent, it's the kind of drama that only a World Cup can truly provide.

Sitting here in Singapore, one point that should be addressed is the apparent lack of progress from the Asian nations. Both South Korea and Japan had in previous tournaments looked well poised to raise the bar for the Asian associations but their challenges have faltered badly at the first hurdle.

There is much to consider as to the reasons for this and how Asia harnesses the incredible passion and numbers that it possesses for the game.

At the time of writing, we have seen Brazil and Colombia progress and there is little doubt that we are now at the sharp end of the tournament.

The goals and free flowing football may well dry up to an extent from here  but the drama will not as the pressure and tension rises. Brazil and Chile's shoot out last night was almost unbearable and that was for a neutral.

Given that the matches could come down to the finest of margins, one must hope that the likes of Robben, Neymar and Messi can step up and really make this a tournament to remember.

As far as who is my most likely winner, I am probably more confused than I was at the start. Take your pick and sit back and enjoy what has so far been the best World Cup in years - No Nonsense.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

So who should I support at the World Cup?

As mentioned in my previous World Cup post and as will be glaringly obvious to all, Scotland shall not be there. So now the burning question, who do I support?

There is of course nothing wrong with being a good old fashioned neutral and just enjoying the show but that kinda reduces the fun for me, so it's time to assess the runners and riders and reasons for finding a back up horse
I guess as a Scot, it's polite to start with the English. I'm a Chelsea fan myself having lived most of my younger adult life in London. I've always had a soft spot for benign harmless teams such as Crystal Palace and in that respect that could be a good reason to go for the Auld Enemy this time around.

Jokes aside, unlike many Scots, I like to see England do well (except at rugby, Will Carling anyone?) and many of my best friends are English.

For once this time there is far less of a circus and sense of entitlement surrounding the team, they even have some fresh young players. Would I actually want them to win it? No, but they won't so they are worth consideration.

As a kid, I was lucky enough to spend a lot of time in France. Back then, Platini was in his pomp (as opposed to just pompous). Good French teams have always been easy on the eye and they've been through a fairly tough few years since Zizou's headbutt, worth a shout? Possibly.

For some reason, wonderful though they are I simply haven't connected with this great Spain team. There is no doubt that they are a fantastic side but I've grown a little bored of the whole 'tiki taka' and 'false 9' gig.

A fourth straight tournament win would be staggering and whilst I would hold them in great adulation for doing so, it would be with a nod and not a cheer.

Teams in blue have always held sway with me, Scotland, Chelsea, Glasgow Rangers, France as mentioned above which brings us to the Azzurri.

Italy of course won my favourite World Cup back in 1982. Whilst they don't always have a reputation for the most exciting football, they have provided wonderful drama in my life time with the likes of Rossi, Tardelli, Schillaci, Baggio and even Marco Materazzi.

Italy are limping at the moment, shorn of their captain through injury and drawing just this week with Luxembourg. When the chips are down, sometimes that's when they are at their best?

For the Brits, the Germans have always been the bogeyman for stereotypical and historical reasons. For the Scots however there was always the exception of when they played the English.

Regardless of (petty) historical differences, German football was also always hard to like as it was also just so ruthlessly efficient, a bit like why so many people prefer Ferrari to Porsche.

The Porsche is far less likely to break down at the side of the road or kill you by going sideways through a corner but somehow just leaves you a little cold. Where's the fun?

Well the answer is in the current German team which plays a far more expansive brand of football and for me were head and shoulders the best team to watch at the last World Cup.

The Germans have been the perennial bad guys who everyone loves to lose but is it maybe time to break the preconceptions and cheer on a team that is genuinely trying to play exciting football?

The Dutch have always been an attractive team. The combination of the famous Oranje shirt, the production line of fabulous players (seemingly without end) and the wonderful technical football they play makes them in many ways, the European footballing aristocrats.

This Dutch team however doesn't quite seem to be of that ilk so maybe we'll pass on the Oranje this time around.

Is there an African team worth pinning my hopes on? Both the Ivory Coast (complete with Chelsea legend Didier Drogba) and Nigeria are in groups that they could qualify from. Ghana and Cameroon's groups do look a little tougher to me.

The African nations rarely play negative football and can often surprise even if 2010 was a slight let down in that respect. Definitely worth a thought.

Lastly of course the hosts, complete with four (soon to be three) players from my club Chelsea. Brazil are of course the undisputed kings of the World Cup with no less than five in their trophy room.

A sixth at home would go a long way to healing some of the wounds this vast country has endured simply building the stadia and infastructure for this tournament.

This is not a vintage Brazilian team in the vein that so many of us wish for and in that respect much of the burden falls on the young shoulders of Neymar, how they pray he will outshine Messi.

He does of course have a tidy support cast with the likes of Willian, Dani Alves, Oscar, Thiago Silva and a wiley old fox at the helm in the shape of Scolari. If they get some momentum and the Maracana is bouncing, they could be tough to stop.

Of course, finding a team to support is not about who is necessarily most likely to win. As mentioned above, everyone loves an underdog story and we all want to see good football along the way. It is indeed a very tough call.

So maybe I'll just stay neutral after all.............. No Nonsense.

Monday, June 2, 2014

The World Cup - please be a good 'un......

For a Scotland supporter the requirements for a World Cup are pretty simple nowadays, a good tournament with great games and moments.

Now I'm probably already sounding like a grumpy old man. but for me the World Cup has been in decline as an event for a while now.

There are of course many things in life that change as you get older and your perception of things is a large part of that.

I do however feel that there are many other factors at play meaning that recently for me, the anticipation has been far better than the actual event.

My first dim memories of the World Cup were in 1978 where as a 5 year old I recalled my father and older cousin in some kind of paralysis of belief as Scotland were beaten by Peru - I can still recall the white strips with the red diagonal stripe on the TV.

I then had my most basic introduction to supporting Scotland, that of the concept of glorious defeat as everyone went barmy when Archie Gemmill scored one of the great World Cup goals to defeat the Dutch 3-2. It of course meant nothing and we went out.

1982 for me was the best World Cup of my lifetime but again, it may be something to do with your memories as a nine year old. Everything was magnified to such a huge degree.

In those days, unless you went along to matches - I was lucky enough to get taken often to see Alex Ferguson's Aberdeen team - you basically got two thirty minute sections of football highlights every weekend on TV and the occasional thirty minutes on a Wednesday night if I was allowed to stay up late.

The vast majority of my TV football was Scottish with a few snippets from England's Division 1 and very infrequent European games.

So when 1982 came along and Scotland were drawn to play Brazil, the names Socrates, Falcao, Zico, Eder, Junior, well you can imagine what that meant to a 9 year old football daft boy.

Scotland did their usual, got stuffed by Brazil, beat New Zealand and then bowed out with a credible draw with the USSR.

We cared not, Espana '82 looked wonderfully glamorous and there were still the Brazilians, Italy, the French (under the spell of Platini, Tigana and Giresse) and Argentina had some chap called Maradona who looked a bit handy. West Germany weren't half bad either and Poland even had Zbigniew Boniek.

The tournament threw up some fantastic games, the 3-2 Italy v Brazil remains for me the greatest match I have ever seen and the semi final between France and Germany was simply epic ending in French tears after being on the wrong end of both penalties and Harold Schumacher's assault on Patrick Battiston.

Marco Tardelli's celebration in the final after scoring will remain in the memories of all who saw it. A truely timeless World Cup moment that you can play over and over.

On to 1986 and back on a more parochial note, more Scottish failure, beaten by West Germany (Gordon Strachan couldn't even hurdle an advertising hoarding) and Denmark before drawing with Uruguay to send us on the first plane home yet again, ho hum.

But Mexico was of course another fine tournament which belonged simply to Diego Maradona who scored two of the greatest goals ever in the World Cup - both against England - and a not half bad effort against Belgium in the round that followed.

The quarter final between Brazil and France was another fine match ultimately decided on penalties but the tournament was ruled and won by Maradona who came the closest ever to turning a team sport into an individual one other than Sir Don Bradman - who had a far better support cast.

1990 was a pivotal year for me (if you'll indulge me for a moment) as at the age of 17 I left home, school and Scotland and moved to and started working in London.

That Summer was a slightly odd one in that respect and may be the reason I have such vivid memories, or maybe it's the fact that Scotland reached new lows by losing to Costa Rica, both left imprints on the character.

Anyone watching in Scotland will remember the TV presenters' expression as he turned to the pundits after we returned from the adverts post mach, it was priceless. Of course we then beat Sweden and then lost out to Brazil (yet again) and went home (yet again).

For me, other than the classic BBC intro sequence featuring Nessun Dorma (worth a look on youtube), Italia '90 was far from a classic tournament.

There was of course high drama with Gazza's tears and England's defeat on penalties to Germany in the semi final.

There were also moments of pure inspiration from Roberto Baggio and Toto Schillaci illuminated the tournament with both bulging nets and eyes.

Dragan Stojkovic enjoyed a wonderful cameo against Spain whilst Maradona tried to drag a less than great Argentina to another unlikely triumph. A poor final finished off a fairly mediocre tournament - at least for me.

Germany led by Lothar Matheus were worthy winners but they weren't a team that inspired me despite having many great players.

1994 saw me start off in very grumpy form. First of all, for the first time in 16 years, Scotland had failed to qualify and now as a fully fledged adult with a responsible job, the kick off times in the States were highly inconvenient, indeed downright inconsiderate.

Scotland were not the only footballing powerhouse not to be represented as both England and France also missed out.

It was however a marvelous tournament and was the story of some great mavericks starting with the greatest of them all yet again, Diego Maradona.

Enjoying a wonderful renaissance, Maradona seemed reborn and performed a goal celebration against the Greeks that would scare most young children.

Unfortunately it emerged that Diego was enjoying himself a little too much off the pitch and he was banned for drug use. He would sadly never grace another World Cup match.

On a more positive note, four other great individual performances lit up the tournament, those of Roberto Baggio, Hristo Stojkovic, Georghe Hagi and Romario.

Baggio took Italy nearly all the way with a series of excellent performances and five goals after the shock of losing to Ireland in their opening game and scraping through their group.

Stojkovic inspired Bulgaria through a wonderful tournament seeing off Germany in the process and Hagi marshaled a hugely attractive Romania team that played some glittering football. Their second round match against Argentina was a true World Cup epic.

Romario however stole the show with a wonderful goal scoring display as Brazil won the trophy for the first time in 24 years. It wasn't a vintage Brazil team but it had been a great tournament.

The final itself was dreadful as Italy and Brazil cancelled each other out. But as ever with World Cups they never fail to provide drama and one felt terribly for the great Franco Baresi (who had played despite having knee surgery during the tournament) and Baggio who both missed in the shoot out, one felt they both deserved better.

Brazil were worthy winners however even if we've had to sit through Bebeto's baby rocking celebration for the ensuing twenty years after the tournament. It was great the first time lads.......

France '98 was for me the last World Cup I can say I really enjoyed in a footballing sense. It had a wonderful French team which grew as the tournament went on. A rampant Brazil spearheaded by Ronaldo through the early rounds as well as strong challenges from fine Dutch and Argentina teams.

It was also the first World Cup I attended in person and indeed for the opening match as Scotland lost (yet again) to Brazil. We cared not and had a wonderful day and many beers in the Paris sunshine, life was certainly good that day.

We also drew with Norway before losing heavily to Morocco in what would prove to be our last match in a major final to date. (Yet again) on the first plane home, but at least this time we could take the train.

There were other great stories at '98 such as the supremely talented Croatia team of Suker, Prosinecki and Boban. Jamaica provided some light relief also in the early stages.

Argentina were on the receiving end of a World Cup wonder goal from Michael Owen before finally beating England on penalties in a yet another English night of high drama with David Beckham being sent off.

Dennis Bergkamp then bettered Michael Owen's effort in the next round against Argentina again with a goal of sheer artistry assisted by a wonderful Frank De Boer pass, it was classic stuff. They would eventually be unlucky to go out to Brazil.

France of course provided the perfect end in Paris as they swept to a 3-0 win in what was a hugely compelling yet ultimately anti climax of a final. The circumstances that led to Ronaldo sleep walking through the final are still not known but the game provided Zidane with his coronation.

From there, the World Cup has gone downhill for me. I had moved to Asia by the time Japan and Korea '02 came around so I was perfectly placed time wise to watch the matches, the stars should have been aligned.

It was fantastic to see the joy that a World Cup brought to countries and to a continent outside of Europe or South America for the first time. The only problem for me was that many of the big teams and players appeared as if they have stayed on their own continents.

South Korea as co hosts provided a huge story as they rode their luck to make the semi finals. Senegal also provided huge romance by beating France in the opening match and making the quarter finals before being knocked out by the other big story, that of Turkey who also made the semis.

But here was the rub, these great stories of giant slaying were not actually what I wanted to watch. I wanted to see Zidane, Figo, Batistuta, Totti and co at the peak of their powers. A tough European season appeared to have shorn the tournament of many of its' leading lights.

Brazil of course did show up and won the tournament with an irresistible forward line of Ronaldinho, Rivaldo and Ronaldo. A hugely talented Michael Ballack had also arrived for Germany and they were the two best teams in a tournament that other than for pure shock value, failed to catch fire.

2006 remains fuzzy for me for some reason, maybe too many beers watching late night games is the reason but again many of the big teams and players flattered to deceive and despite it being one of the most recent, it remains one of the most distant in my memory.

Argentina had one astounding performance against Serbia and Montenegro, Germany looked hopeful and bright but not much else, Brazil were lousy (by their standards), the Dutch were out early and Portugal left you somehow unfulfilled even with the burgeoning talents of Cristiano Ronaldo.

So it was left to France and the old war horse of Italy to provide the eventual drama. The scene was of course set for Zinedine Zidane to bow out from football on the highest of highs as the 34 year old played his final game in another World Cup Final.

Marco Materazzi however had other plans for Zizou and the resulting headbutt from Zidane led to one of those live TV moments when you turn to the person next to you and ask 'did that just actually happen?'

Zidane was duly sent off, Italy won the shootout and the rest as they say is history. Somehow however that moment in some way didn't seem to diminish Zidane's legend and even made it greater.

And so to the last carnival of football and Africa's first with South Africa 2010 complete with vuvuzelas, a novelty that soon wore off for me but then again I wasn't there in person.

Italy provided the story of the opening round by being simply appalling and in the process allowing New Zealand to return home undefeated.

The eventual champions Spain lost in their opening match to Switzerland before gaining momentum and winning every match apart from their next against Honduras by the odd goal, the last four matches being won 1-0.

If Spain were efficient, then in a complete about turn, Germany were wonderful to watch as they swept away England and Argentina before falling to the metronomic men in red.

Again, in a complete change around, Holland who are usually Europe's answer to Brazil's style of play offered football of the most pragmatic nature.

Only the wonderfully talented Wesley Sneijder seemed to break the shackles as they made their way mundanely to the final disposing of another sub par Brazilian team on the way.

The tournament was light on romance with Messi managed by the dishevelled Maradona failing to shine.

Whilst Uruguay were a great underdog tale, Luis Suarez's handball against Ghana hardly endeared them to many neutrals.

It was a wonderful occasion for Africa and refreshing in that respect but it was hardly a World Cup to remember otherwise.

Right now I am currently experiencing my usual state of growing agitation and excitement as we grow near to the tournament. I will even be in the European time zone for much of the group stages meaning my evenings will be wondrous.

My advancing years and the reality of the modern day media mean that the excitement cannot however reach the fever pitch of previous tournaments.

We all get to see Messi and Ronaldo week in week out if we so choose rather than clamoring to catch a glimpse of Zico or Maradona in 1982. In that respect there are fewer surprises or shocks and I am no longer 9 years old. There are however many sub plots.

Can Lionel Messi finally do for Argentina what he has done for Barcelona? Could Cristiano Ronaldo  drag Portugal singled handed to an unlikely win? Could Spain win a remarkable fourth major tournament in a row? Could Wayne Rooney score a goal?

And of course the hosts Brazil with Neymar and co. Brazil for many will always be the team we want to watch other than our own and there is no doubt that a home win would be a popular one.

Preparing for the World Cup has been hugely divisive for this footballing powerhouse of a country so a Scolari galvanised triumph would be a hugely welcome one.

Scotland shall of course not be there and our prospects for future tournaments look bleak. So for me, all I want is for the great players to play to the peak of their powers, for some fantastic goals and matches and for not all the excitement and drama to come from penalty shootouts.

That for me would be a great World Cup.......... No Nonsense.