Monday, 14 July 2014

Personal 2014 World Cup Team of the Tournament

A month has passed by and it saddens me that the FIFA World Cup won't be around for another 4 years. What we have witnessed in Brazil in the past 31 days though, were nothing short of magic and shocks. Now the sad realization that I need to get back to Uni and start a new semester will definitely pull me down.

Many surely would have predicted Germany to be eventual champions and England having another humiliating tournament, but no one would have bet high on seeing Algeria progressing further than Spain. You never thought the Costa Rica would progress from a group with Uruguay, Italy, and England, let alone win it. But the shock of the tournament must go to Brazil losing 1-7 to eventual winners Germany in a Semi-Final in their own country. Surely that goes down to one of the most humiliating match they've played ever.

As even teams shining the competition, there were definitely players who did not do their reputations any harm, as listed below will be 11 players who personally, are those that performed brilliant in this World Cup. My XI will be fitted in a 4-2-3-1 formation because Germany used it to win the whole thing, and because I want to.

Goalkeeper: Manuel Neuer (Germany)

Surely is now the best goalkeeper in the world. In a competition where most goalkeepers took the plaudits (Keylor Navas, Guillermo Ochoa, Tim Howard, Sergio Romero, Rais M'Bolhi... and I'm just naming a few here!), the German keeper performed the best, and his Golden Glove award was well deserved. At times, he would sweep attacks like Beckenbauer, but then make saves like Kahn. The ultimate definition of the ultra-modern goalkeeper.

Rightback: Pablo Zabaleta (Argentina)

Contrary to the competition of best goalkeeper, there weren't many rightbacks to choose from. But having said that, Zabaleta was incredibly solid at defending against wingers as well as marauding the opponents box. It was a close choice between him and Germany captain Phillipp Lahm, but my choice fell to the best fullback in the Premier League as Lahm only played at this position for 3 matches, while being mediocre in midfield.

Centreback: Mats Hummels (Germany)

2 years ago, I slotted him in my Euro 2012 Team of the Tournament, and he's still a favorite of mine to date. Not only did he kept goals from coming, he managed to score 2 as well. It also doesn't kill to have a face like Orlando Bloom too. If the Ballon d'Or was based on looks, he would be a close second to France's Olivier Giroud.

Centreback: Ron Vlaar (Netherlands)

An Aston Villa defender who could actually defend, and he only showed it in the World Cup. He's one of those few cases that club form means nothing for national team as he did his best Gandalf impression for the Dutch all tournament long because no one was getting passed him that easily. Of all the players who surprised me the most in this World Cup, it had to be Vlaar and his for Feyenoord team-mates in defense (Stefan de Vrij & Bruno Martins Indi) who were sought to be the weak link in the team. Kudos to Ron!

Leftback: Daley Blind (Netherlands)

Again, everyone would have different opinions who the best leftback was in the tournament. Others would pick Argentina's Marcos Rojo or Germany's Benedikt Howedes, maybe even someone out of the ordinary like Mexico's Miguel Layun, but mine goes to non other than the guy whose name sounds like a news tabloid written in Braille. 2 assists in Oranje's 5-1 thrashing of Spain, including a goal against Brazil, on top of a cheeky smirk to boot, he definitely takes my vote (but not my heart just yet. That still belongs to Giroud).

Centremidfield: Javier Mascherano (Argentina)

The nation's best player in the World Cup by a mile. While Di Maria was injured since the semifinals, Masch single handedly kept Argentina in the game against the Netherlands. Even if he mostly plays as a defender for club, he definitely is a natural defensive midfielder as shown by his leading performances in the knockout rounds. The only thing missing was a gold medal, but he'll get a lot of them back with Barcelona.

Centremidfield: Toni Kroos (Germany)

The gap left by Pirlo in the knockout rounds was filled marvelously by Toni. He might not have the greatest performance in the final, but he was almost certainly the German's best midfielder in the World Cup with mouth-watering deliveries that lead to goals, to scoring a quick double in the semis against Brazil. If I was to give the Golden Ball to anyone in the tournament, no one deserved it more than Kroos.

Attacking Midfielder: James Rodriguez (Colombia)

Honestly, although he cost 45M from FC Porto to AS Monaco, he was never in my radar apart on Football Manager. But a month after, despite not being a forward, and the most debatable first name pronunciation, won the Golden Boot award after scoring 6 goals in 5 matches, including the Goal of the Tournament in a Round of 16 match against Uruguay. Probably was a shame that his Colombia side could not reach the semifinals, otherwise Hamez (or Jaimz if you prefer) might have scored more.

Right Wing: Arjen Robben (Netherlands)

In the group stages, despite being 29 and bald, no one could keep up with his pace as defenders were left for dead in a foot race with Robben. On top of 3 goals and 1 assist, he won the decisive penalty against Mexico where he graciously fell on purpose and secured a Quarterfinal berth. Despite all the controversy surrounding him, he had a brilliant tournament which could have - and should have - scored more.

Left Wing: Lionel Messi (Argentina)

Despite given the Golden Ball award from FIFA and wasn't even Argentina's best player in the World Cup (see Mascherano), there is no doubt that his country would never go through past the Group Stages if it wasn't for their beloved captain that is Lionel Messi. Four time Ballon d'Or winner just edges out club teammate Neymar and former club teammate Alexis Sanchez for a spot for his heroics and influence through out the tournament, even if he was out-marked in every knockout match.

Centre forward: Thomas Muller (Germany)

If Karim Benzema's France won against Germany in the Quarterfinals, we might not be even talking about Muller. 2010's Golden Boot winner, Thomas started the tournament with a hat-trick against Portugal in a false-nine role, eventually leaving Brazil with a tally of 5. And when he wasn't scoring, he was either making them or making space for his teammates to score. Muller's intelligence in the final to create space for Gotze to score the winner was the perfect interpretation of a false-nine you would ever see. Probably Muller would have deserved that Golden Ball accolade more than Messi does, but Muller would not mind at all if he wins the biggest prize in the end - as a World Cup winner.

SOOOOOOOOOOOOOO basically that was my team. If you made it hear, thank you for reading and wouldn't hurt listen to your opinions.

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Letting Moyes Off: Another Perspective

I've seen to many views on this situation. Whether positive or negative (mostly the latter), it seemed like everyone had their take on David Moyes' sacking from his job as Manager of Manchester United. And boy did it cause a stir.

Most of the blame for United's dismal season is sadly but understandably pointed at Moyes, but that shouldn't be the case. Not only did Sir Alex Ferguson end a magnificent 26-year-tenure last year, but highly regarded Chief of Executive David Gill also stepped down to take a job within the English FA. The guy that replaced Gill, Ed Woodward, looked like he did not know what to do and it lead to Moyes' collapse in the market. So Woodward should get the blame just as much as Moyes did.
Fig 1. A repost meme. But it sure hell is funny.
I am not going to criticize on his amazing record, or praise for the few things he has done. I am here to shed light on a few things that should have worked but actually just flopped. Pardon me, may I?

How did you only manage to sign 1 player in the summer?

David's summer activity resembles a 14 year old playing career mode on FIFA, they'll just offer anybody rated above 85 big money. The difference IRL, none of these players were available for sale and he just looked like a goof dreaming on huge players. Cesc, Herrera, Song, Bale, even Ronaldo were rumored to be a subject of a bid, and all they end up with was an inflated signing of Moyes' old employer, a hugely talented an influential Maroune Fellaini from Everton. But...

How did the same manager make Fellaini suck?
Fig 2. Marouane Fellaini, clapping the amount he cost.

I stand here say that I was a huge fan of Fellaini back in his Everton days. What he lacked in pace, he made up with strength, height, vision, and technique. Playing as a defensive midfielder for his country Belgium and an attacking bulldozer for Everton, he should have been what United were lacking.

But 8 months on, he is considered a flop. Not usually the scapegoat, but of course seen as out of his depths. The thought that the same manager could not get the best out of the same player amazes me, especially when David knows him so well.

Why stick with underperformers?
Fig 3. Tom Cleverley, scapegoat for United's torrid season.
Young, Valencia, Cleverley, Smalling (you can add Fellaini as well on that list). The BPL defending champions better performances this season when these players weren't playing actually, yet somehow the new Scot at the helm keeps insisting to field these one-dimensional players, and leaving talents like Shinji Kagawa, Javier Hernandez, and wonderkid Adnan Januzaj on the bench. English winger Wilfried Zaha looked promising in pre-season but instead was loaned out to Cardiff, presumably he fell out because of rumor he was sleeping with the boss' daughter. If that was true, it was probably the only reason why David Moyes still found a spot for Ashley Young in the team.

Didn't Ferguson have a worse first season than Moyes?

Yes he did. But Ferguson was not taking over a team of Champions. In fact, the 1980s were bad for United, seeing Liverpool dominate the nation, and, the continent twice. United weren't a good side back then, but Sir Alex made them good in a few seasons after that.

Davey here however, is taking over a side that has just won the title for the 20th time in history - the most for any club. He's taking over a squad filled with medals around their necks and the reputation to equal. From being defending champions to no European football the next season takes some effort, but Moyes here seemed to do it with ease.

Should the gaffer's tactics be criticized here?

Yes, but that isn't my biggest concern. Even if the tactics were lame and up until the end of April, Moyes still does not have a real template on how he wants his team to perform, the blame should be pointed to every player in the squad, equally. They have not only let the manager down, but the club, the fans, and of course, theirselves. In the big games, most of the players did not seem to bother and play to the occasion and let the other title rivals win against them with embarrassing ease. I'm not much of a tactics guy, but how David is lining his players week in week out, they are never going to win anything. I thought it would be sorted out January, but up until April, it never looked like it was going to improve or neither did Moyes looked bothered to try.

Did Sir Alex Ferguson make the right choice?
Fig 4. The messiah.
He did - for his personal gain. I am no conspiracy theorist, but has it ever occurred to you that maybe, just maybe, Sir Alex personally chose Moyes so United sucked on purpose? Because if United were going to play bad without him, everyone will think Fergie's a God. And face it, Ferguson always wanted everyone to know that he's the boss around Old Trafford. Just don't let him overtake the helm again to detract from any Post-Power Syndrom and doing a 'Dalglish'.

Who will manage next?

I don't know. You tell me. For now, living legend Ryan Giggs will caretake up until the end of the season. After that, it is anyone's guess.

But did Davey make any good decisions during his tenure?

If you are talking about mid-game substitutions, not a chance. His best decisions were made off the field. He made sure Rooney was keeping put after rumors of leaving, and it showed how much of an influence he was first half of the season. He also signed Juan Mata in January, a talented Spaniard somehow unused in Chelsea's new Mourinho regime. The coaching staff saga is debatable, but having the balls to bring his own team of trainers is a plus for me.
Fig 5. One of the few lights in this season's management, and Wayne Rooney.

I don't hate Moyes, it just did not work out. If he had time, he would probably have his own style of play with his type of players, yet it probably would not lead to success. After the Fellaini and Mata signings, the United board could not let this man waste their money again, and even though that is harsh, business wise is totally understandable. Moyes might have a good career in the future, and his Manchester United stint will only go down as a taint. Good luck for you David Moyes, we know you tried, but your tries weren't good enough.

Monday, 31 March 2014

10 Football Opinions You Would Never Say 3 Years Ago

In 2011, Robin Van Persie was on the verge of being an Arsenal hero, Andrea Pirlo getting booted from AC Milan in what seemed to be the end of his career, Sir Alex Ferguson looked like he was going to manage Manchester United for another 20 years, and Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber were just another of those 'innocent child stars'.

Three years later, how wrong were all of those were? I would have looked like an idiot if I stood by with my opinions I made 3 years ago. Then there are these 10 opinions in the present that would have sound ludicrous in 2011. Imagine back then you heard this come out from someone:

1. Iker Casillas spot for Spain in 2014 World Cup is under threat.
Fig 1. Iker Casillas in his seat
Captain of La Roja's successful Euro and World Cup campaigns, the legend only 32 years of age, is sweating over his place at the next World Cup in Brazil.

He's not even playing for his club besides Copa del Rey and Champions League ties, and that could harm his confidence. No disrespect to Diego Lopez, he's done brilliantly as well in the net. With Pepe Reina and Victor Valdes on the verge of breaking the understudy status, Santo Iker will have to make way.

2. Jordan Henderson over Jack Wilshere and Tom Cleverley any day.
Fig 2. Jordan Henderson with Liverpool 
3 years ago, we would have thought Jack and Tom would be the future of England, while Jordan Henderson would be another overpriced young English midfielder back in 2011 when he moved to Liverpool for 20M. 3 years later, he's a mainstay in the Reds XI with Captain Steven Gerrard having the best season of his career so far.

Jack Wilshere hasn't developed as well as expected, while Cleverley has probably 'declined' to an extent even his own clubs fans are amazed how he's still getting picked with the form he is in. If these 2 players are picked ahead of Jordan for England's World Cup squad, plenty of critics will be heard for Hodgson.

3. Manchester United is going to finish outside the top 6.
Fig 3. Moyes Haters get creative
United are having a wreck of a season. Even if Sir Alex handed David Moyes a squad that was failing, certainly no one expected a campaign as bad as this. The team are filled with seasoned champions, yet they just can't seem to win more than 3 games on the bounce.

As a United fan myself, I must admit that Moyes' handling of the club has been atrocious this season, and it is fine to admit flaws in things you care about so much. But how most of his decision makings always seems to obviously disappoint. He needs to change his mindset, otherwise he goes.

4. Daniel Sturridge is a gifted goalscorer.
Fig 4. One of Daniel's signature choreography
Well, I always thought Sturridge is a #BEAST of a striker, I'm just surprised why Chelsea never gave him a fair chance and always played him wide and out of position. They rather spend 50M on a morale-ridden Fernando Torres than give him a start up front. To be fair, he always seemed selfish on the pitch, deciding to shoot rather than pass, and looked low on confidence.

However 3 years and a 13.5M Liverpool move later, things have changed. As of writing this post, he's second in the goalscoring charts only behind teammate Luis Suarez - who is having the best football he's ever shown. Would be a definite surprise if he was not to be included in the World Cup squad for England.

5. Pep Guardiola is nothing without his Barcelona team.
Fig 5. Pep predicting the number of goals Bayern will score in a game - 11?
The media and those peoples who consider themselves "experts" did not acknowledge Guardiola's influence on Barcelona too much during his tenure at Nou Camp where the Catalans basically destroyed every single team in sight and were the team everyone was afraid of. Most said he was lucky because he already had the best players in the world anyway so it would be easy for him and of course, Lionel Messi.

And then he moved on to Bayern Munich. Sure, he's taking over a team who won the Treble the proceeding year, so it was a big challenge to emulate - or even surpass - the previous team Jupp Heynckes built. And he has with some style. He's wrapped up the Bundesliga in March, unbeaten, and are front runners to defend their Champions League trophy. Barcelona? Well, they aren't as dominant post-Pep era. Next challenge - take a neigh-average club and turning them into world beaters in a season.

6. Massimo Moratti will be looking to sell his club.
Fig 6. Erick Thohir (left) and Massimo Moratti.
Ex-Internazionale owner, Moratti was always connected to the name of the club. He loved this club. Everything he did since he took over in 1995 was in the best interest of the Milan-based team. Under his presidency, Inter has won numerous titles, including 5 Scudettos and 1 Champions League medal.

18 years later, he has sold most of the club to an Indonesian businessman, Erick Thohir, and stepped down from his presidency. 3 years ago, you would have never thought of Inter Milan without the eccentric Moratti. Yet again, if Jordan Henderson could change, so can Inter Milan.

7. AC Milan is a club in crisis.
Fig 7. Silvio Berlusconi
Back in 2011, you would never see AC Milan being in mid-table 3 seasons ahead. A team with so much history, so much glory in past players, now suffering underachieving status. AC Milan, as we know it, is having an even worse season than what Manchester United is suffering.

Most of the blame must be down to owner and President, Silvio Berlusconi, has his focus divided with personal political ventures, and his love for young women. Rossoneri will hopefully improve next season, though. With a core players of Kaka, Balotelli, Montolivo, and El Sharaawy should be enough for the club to bounce back in campaigns to come.

8. Arsene Wenger is spending his money.
Fig 8. Arsene getting a bit angry
Le Monsieur was tight with his budget. Not because the club was in need of money, he just didn't feel entitled to spend it. He was on a project to develop players from scratch in the space of 5 years to become world beaters. But things have changed when that didn't work out. 

In the past 3 years, Wenger has spend big on players such as Lukas Podolski, Olivier Giroud, Gervinho, and the biggest of them all, German playmaker Mesut Ozil. Sure, they haven't won anything yet, but for the last 9 years, they haven't gone without trying, and this year might be different. If they still don't win a trophy, the Arsenal manager would not hesitate in buying again.

9. Seamus Coleman is the best right back in the league.
Fig 9. Seamus Coleman giving away kisses
This is highly debatable now, but you can't say that this season he has been one of the better performing right-backs this season, challenging Glen Johnson and Pablo Zabaleta in a best right-back category. This Irish wing-back 2 years ago couldn't even get into his national team Euro squad, and now he's giving Leighton Baines a run for his money in who's the better fullback in the team.

If I said that Coleman was the best right back in 2011, I would probably get a lot of "who's Coleman?" responses. But look at him now. He's getting forward, defending well, providing, and chipping in a few goals as well to his repertoire. Seamus has come a long way since his Sligo Rovers days.

10. It is gonna be their year.
Fig 10. PFA Player of the Year-bound Luis Suarez
It has been a running gag for about a decade, but it seems to me that this year may well be Liverpool's year. The scene is set perfectly for them to be a fairytale season. A World Cup year, captain Stevie G has won all but one trophy that he has craved for so long. Main striker Luis Suarez missed 8 opening fixtures but he's now the league's top scorer, and partner Daniel Sturridge is helping out well. Not to mention boy wonder Raheem Sterling showing why he's old enough to be a father of three and be a regular for a Premier League team. Not to mention rivals Man United having a stinker of a campaign.

Its April and with 7 games to go, they are on top of the table as of this post. Sure, Chelsea and Manchester City are not going to give up, but the only thing that can hurt a United fan the most this season is to see Liverpool lifting that trophy in May. That enough would be enough motivation for Reds to go on and win it.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

The Five Player Requirements that will Go to the World Cup.

Note: This article was posted earlier in the month (February 4th) at @PanditFootball (click here). The passage was posted in Bahasa Indonesia, but here I will post the original written article, in English, the way the writer originally intended it to be.

What does Theo Walcott, Javier Zanetti, Ronaldinho, Nani, and Mario Balotelli have in common? They all once were controversially not selected by their national coach.

Fig 1. World Cup
Sure, even with the large number of 736 players called up to represent 32 different countries in the World Cup this summer, the number of players that will not participate is an even higher number. Even stars that have nailed their names in the biggest leagues of Europe, including the names above, has been in that position.

These players' exclusion could be cause by different reasons, namely; injury, internal conflict with the head coach, or simply because the coach thinks "he's not good enough". However, the nations from the five aforementioned players had a disastrous World Cup campaign four years ago. Sure, it could be caused by a horrific team performance overall, but it could due to the lack of contribution of these players.

The 2014 World Cup will be no different. There will be surprising inclusions and exclusions. For every Emile Heskey, there will be great inclusions such as Angel di Maria. And for every Karim Benzema, there will be considered 'better' exclusions like Raul Gonzales.

Then, what components are in there in a squad? What types of players will be called up for their respective nations? For your pleasure, I have categorized them into five different criterias.

Criteria #1: Reputation

Reputation is the first trait in every single national squad. Players with a huge reputation will always be called up by their head coach strictly because they are considered to be the star that will guide the nation towards success. He could go through a dismal season, or just healed from a injury, but if he is known to be one of the best in the country, no way he will be left out of the a tournament this big.

Don't think of names like Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo because they have proven their large rep. Try names like Wayne Rooney or Lukas Podolski.
Fig 2. Lukas Podolski
Rooney is regarded as England's best striker, while Podolski is the golden boy of Deutschland for a long time. Even if they have gone through a torrid season, they will not fear for their place in their respective national team set-up.

Don't believe me? Ask David Beckham in World Cup 2002, or Fernando Torres in Euro 2012.

Criteria #2: Form

In the last on or two seasons before an international event, the consistency and performance of a player will influence strongly to getting a nod for a team spot. But not all in-form players will be called. Because unlike the first criteria, if you don't have a big reputation, you probably won't go. Just like the case for Darren Bent in South Africa 2010.
Fig 3. Pedro (left) and Sergio Busquets
Yet, teams that fill their team with in-form players will help the team greatly to achieve success, or at least reaching the finals. Cesare Prandelli's choice to bring Antonio Di Natale and the Juventus defensive trio of Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci, and Giorgio Chiellini guided Italy in a run to the Euro 2012 final. The back-in-the-day not-so-famous Barcelona contingent with the likes of Sergio Busquets, Gerard Pique, and Pedro Rodriguez played a part in Spain's 2010 World Cup triumph.

Criteria #3: Merit

They don't have a rising rep, and their form is nothing special, but because of a low stock in a certain position, he gets a chance to play for their national flag. It doesn't mean that they're bad or they don't deserve it, but there must be a reason why they aren't as popular like the first type or as consistent as the second type.

This attribution will usually be associated with an understudy goalkeeper like Victor Valdes. He may not be famous like Iker Casillas, but his record in Barcelona's net (albeit not entirely on his own) is impressive. So I say he strongly deserves his spot.
Fig 4. Victor Valdes (right)
This case might be slightly different to Robert Green's case when he was recruited by Roy Hodgson in the Euros 2 years ago. Even though at the time he was playing in the Championship with West Ham, his inclusion wasn't much of a surprise because there wasn't any other 'keeper who merited a place.

Even so, the case of deserving or not deserving of a player's inclusion to a squad usually isn't such a big problem. National team coaches knows better than us mere mortals.

Criteria #4: Young and Talented

Fig 5. Pele (center)
This type is usually rare, but could come in handy. Players that are eligible for this category are those who are under 23 y.o., and has not become an integral part of either club or country. Players in this category are usually called up to have competition experience, like Ronaldo in the 1994 World Cup and Theo Walcott in the 2006 edition.

Besides gaining personal reputation, the players of the fourth type could actually become a secret weapon. Examples include Michael Owen back in 1998, Thomas Muller in 2010, even Pele in 1958 version of the competition.
At such a young age, these three players became stars for their nations. Even at the tender age of 17, Pele alone helped Brazil win at his first international competition. Not bad for a kid.

Criteria #5: Wacky Wildcard

The fifth type is usally the devil of every team. His inclusion to the team is considered so absurd because he does not fit into any of the four types above. He doesn't have the fame, he's not young, his performance for his club is considered bad, and there are many more players that deserves to be called up above him from his country.

But for what ever reason, the coach brings him anyway. Some say that his inclusion could be caused by a conspiracy or an something out of an illuminati theory. But deep down we know, it was all down to the manager's error of judgement. The less from this category, the better the chance of a good tournament.

A good example for this type would be Vincenzo Iaquinta back in 2010. He only played 15 times and scored 6 in the Serie A in the season prior to the proceeding World Cup, but the Italy manager at that time, Marcelo Lippi, called him anyway and started all 3 games. He did score a penalty, but Italy were knocked out in the group stage.

The newest example from Euro 2012 could be the inclusion of ex-Liverpool winger Stewart Downing. In the 2009/2010 season, Downing did not score or even assisted. But whatever Roy Hodgson saw in him, it was enough to call him up to represent England. "Luckily" Downing never left the bench at the competition, but England went out in quarterfinals anyway.
Fig 6. Vincenzo Iaquinta
I would assure you that every national squad in Brazil 2014 will have at least four of the five categories of players mentioned earlier. I reckon in June, when all teams are finalized, there will still be controversial coach selections. This article's main purpose was to make you to prepare for any surprise. But you'll never know, right?