Posts Tagged ‘Liverpool

07
Feb
12

Honda stalls

Another transfer window has come and gone with Keisuke Honda failing to find a way out of Moscow. Things may not be all doom and gloom though, and his perfect move may still be on the cards…

Keisuke Honda has become something of a forgotten man of late.

Injury, the increasing amount of success being enjoyed by his compatriots in Europe, and the large contract he is stuck on at CSKA Moscow have all combined to shift the player – who after his move to and success at VVV Venlo was seen as something of a trailblazer for Japanese football, and just 18 months ago was undoubtedly the hottest Japanese property going – to the margins somewhat.

Every transfer window rumours circulate linking him to some of the biggest clubs in Europe, yet nothing ever materialises.

Whether many of these stories have cropped up as a result of genuine interest from the sides involved or because of clever manoeuvring on the part of Honda and his representatives is certainly open to debate, although the most recent fiasco involving Lazio did look to be a done deal.

In the end the two clubs could not agree on a fee though – he is only halfway through a four year contract so CSKA have no pressing need to sell – and, as he himself predicted, the move fell through right at the death.

“In modern football, anything can happen at the last moment,” Russian news network RT reported Honda as having told Sports Nippon a couple of days ahead of the deadline. “But my desire is clear – I want to play in the Italian championship.”

He won’t be getting to do that any time soon, and although a huge clash against Real Madrid this month will soften the blow a little, he must privately be seething to still be snowed in in Russia.

While the initial feelings will be of regret, this latest failure to change clubs may not be the end of the world though, and it still leaves the door open for him to join Liverpool – a club at which I believe he could become a big success.

It had long been assumed that Honda’s next progression would be to Merseyside, and it is a transfer that would make a lot of sense.

He has made under 50 appearances in his two years with CSKA and needs to be playing regularly and at a higher level if he wants to reach his full potential.

Liverpool, like Lazio, are a big club who would constitute a step up, without being at the very top level where competition for places is too fierce.

At the very best clubs he would in no way be guaranteed minutes, or even a place on an expensively-assembled bench. Too much time on the sidelines at this stage of his career would be a poor move to make. Especially as more and more of his Japanese teammates continue to move up through the gears.

He thrives as the main man in the team, and needs the play to be built up around him if his teammates are to fully benefit from his abilities.

His presence and strength at holding the ball up, as well as his fantastic awareness and ability to pick out a pass would be a welcome addition to Kenny Dalglish’s side, who need a focal point with £35 million man Andy Carroll misfiring after his big money move this time last year.

Honda rarely, if ever, shows any nerves out on the pitch, and would be unlikely to experience any such stage-fright at Anfield. He is supremely confident in his own ability – almost to the point of arrogance – and would thrive on the pressure of playing in front of the Kop.

He also speaks excellent English – perhaps even better than the Geordie Carroll – which would help him to quickly settle.

The 25-year-old has the potential to link up superbly with Steven Gerrard, while his measured and studious approach would be perfectly complemented by the more lively styles of the likes of Luis Suarez and Craig Bellamy.

Of course, whether Dalglish would be willing to admit defeat with regards to Carroll and be able to convince his bosses that Honda is worth another substantial outlay in the summer is unknown.

If he could then this latest hiccup may well prove to be a blessing in disguise for Honda though, and he may not have to wait too much longer to be back in the limelight.

17
Jan
12

One mistake after another

The manner in which Liverpool dealt with the Luis Suarez and Patrice Evra incident has drawn criticism from most quarters. Including this one…

Last week I wrote about the tribal nature of English football fans and the negative effect that a pack mentality can have.

The behaviour of the angry Blackburn supporters protesting against their own club illustrated how fans’ actions can sometimes be unconstructive to their team. The Luis Suarez affair demonstrates how the opposite can take place.

For anybody who has missed it, Liverpool’s Uruguayan striker Luis Suarez (he of the handball-on-the-line at the World Cup and biting-an-opponent-while-at-Ajax infamy) is currently suspended for racially abusing Manchester United defender Patrice Evra back in October.

The incident and his unprecedented eight-match ban is in itself is a big enough talking point, but the reaction of his club, and consequently some of their fans, has ensured that the issue has not been out of the news for weeks.

The first strange move by Liverpool was the decision of manager Kenny Dalglish and the entire squad to wear t-shirts in support of Suarez during the warm-up ahead of their match against Wigan Athletic – the first game since his suspension had been handed down.

Former United defender Paul McGrath was one of the most critical of that show of support.

“If that had been someone in my time and I’d heard the comments or I’d even suspected he was guilty, and obviously there has been a tribunal, then I would not wear a T-shirt with his name on it, saying all is well and good here,” he was quoted as saying in The Telegraph.

“Maybe Kenny [Dalglish] is trying to make a statement to the FA but I just think it is in bad taste that he sent them out in those T-shirts. It would have been much better for Liverpool Football Club if they had have worn anti-racism shirts.”

Closing ranks in such a manner is not a new way for a football club to respond, but the decision to make such an aggressive stand in defence of Suarez after he had been found guilty of referring to Evra in the most derogatory of terms was very bizarre.

The executive director of European football’s anti-discrimination body Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE) was also far from impressed by the club’s conduct.

“Liverpool have been too keen to support their man and in doing so have whipped up a sense of paranoia amongst their fans,” Piara Powar said.

“The responses from Kenny Dalglish have been undignified, the way in which they have dealt with the whole matter has been unprofessional.

“For the club to so aggressively militate against what looks to most people is a considered judgement from the FA leads to a potential for anarchy.”

These comments were sadly proven to be spot on.

While I hesitate to consider comments on Twitter as a fair representation (how many people who hurl vitriol via an ‘@’ alias would do the same when stood face-to-face with the person they are abusing?), several Liverpool supporters first took to the internet to abuse Evra racially.

Then Oldham Athletic’s Tom Adeyemi was reduced to tears during his side’s FA Cup 3rd round game against Liverpool after receiving racist taunts from the Kop.

Did the club’s reaction to the initial incident lead to this second offence? In my opinion, almost certainly yes.

An ‘us’ and ‘them’ was created, and the mindless idiots who genuinely believe that the colour of someone’s skin matters felt that they had been given an opportunity to air their pathetic views.

If the club had instead apologised – and, for what it’s worth, I don’t think Suarez is racist, just stupid – and accepted the punishment quietly then the matter would have been far easier to move on from. By casting doubt over Evra’s claims and acting in such an undignified and aggressive manner they did nothing to help the matter.

Their response to the second incident has been much more productive, and the idiot responsible is facing a lifetime ban and criminal charges.

While they will be hoping that this reaction has not been too little too late, with Suarez’s potential first away game back in the side set to come away to United on February 11th it looks highly unlikely that things will settle down for some time yet.

15
Apr
11

Gotta catch ’em all…

Suits say the funniest things…

A couple of weeks ago so much of what I hate about the English Premier League was summed up by one man in a suit. Gavin Law is his name and he is the group head of corporate affairs of Standard Chartered – the bank that this year became Liverpool FC’s shirt sponsor in the most expensive deal ever (20 million pounds per season).

The combination of the words ‘corporate’ and ‘football’ instantly sends a shiver down my spine but Mr. Law’s recent comments – when he suggested that the bank would like Liverpool to sign some Asian players for commercial gain – annoyed me, even by the standards I usually set for the bilge spouted by people in his profession.

He was quoted by The Independent and Liverpool Echo as saying:

“We would love the club to have players of nationalities from the markets in which we operate. They are not going to get them from all 75 but if they could sign some – if they could get a Korean, Indian, Chinese player – look what Park [Ji-sung] has done for [Manchester] United in terms of coverage in Korea.

Oh no…

“Liverpool are more aware than most other clubs we’ve spoken to of the commercial opportunity for them. If they can sell a million shirts with another Mr. Park on the back, why wouldn’t you?” 

Mr. Law, please stop before you say something really stupid…

“The markets in Asia and the Middle East are so nationalistic, they are very proud about their countries. One appearance from a player, say from Dubai in the Premier League, and you’d have the whole of Dubai watching it.”

Ah, like that.

“The Kenny magic is all around the world, everybody believes Kenny can take the club (forward) and that means they stay focused and that means they stay in the newspapers around the world… we are looking for brand awareness.”

Let’s leave it there shall we?

Ok, the problems with these comments are fairly obvious, but let’s take a second to dissect them a little.

Firstly, there is the suggestion that the club could collect nationalities from Asia and the Middle-East, rather like Pokemon. Footballing ability appears to be a secondary concern, as long as they can catch them all (although Mr. Law seems a bit put-out that limits on squad size would prevent this becoming a reality).

Then the example of Park Ji-sung; a player who’s popularity in Korea – and Manchester – is such because he is a key member of Sir Alex Ferguson’s squad. He was not signed because of how many t-shirts the club can sell in Korea – or Manchester – (they sold plenty without him), but because of what he brings on the pitch.

To assume that “Kenny” would gladly sign any old “Mr. Park” to increase shirt sales implies that Mr. Law is not as close a confidante of the Liverpool caretaker-manager as his casual first-name-terms approach would suggest.

Next up, the declaration that “the markets” – I guess in non-corporate-speak you could refer to them as “people” – “in Asia and the Middle East are so nationalistic”.

Mr. Law, let’s call him Gavin, not only suggests here that he is more than willing to exploit the fans in this part of the world, but he is also foolish enough to declare it publicly.

Furthermore, while supporters here are perhaps slightly more enthusiastic consumers than elsewhere, they are also becoming more cynical of the European clubs’ motivations – because of idiotic statements like those made by Gavin – and tend now to wait until a player achieves success before they get too excited.

Unfortunately, comments like these from people with no understanding of the game can only hinder the steady progression of Asian players’ in Europe. Just as the likes of Shinji Kagawa and Yuto Nagatomo begin to establish themselves in the top leagues, attention has been rediverted to their commercial potential.

Rather than opening the door to the likes of Keisuke Honda – who is reportedly angling for a move to the Premier League – I would advise such players to perhaps take these views into account before deciding their next move, and to maybe join a club which exhibits a genuine interest in their abilities on the pitch rather than the impact they can have on the profits off it.

23
Jan
11

Commercial Breakdown

TV coverage of football in Japan, as I have touched upon before, has many problems. Cutting to commercials during a penalty-shoot-out was not something I had ever expected though.

The constant repetition of the same commercials at halftime and inbetween games I can make my peace with (I have grown up watching the English Premier League and UEFA Champions League after all). The irritating slogans that keep popping up to remind me who is sponsoring the show – as if it needed reinforcing – are also something that I have now come to expect of football coverage on TV in Japan. Cutting off in the middle, actually, just before the very end of, a penalty shoot-out for the ad-break, however, is absolutely ridiculous.

For anybody who missed it (although perhaps that’s the wrong turn of phrase, we all missed it), let me provide a brief recap.

Risshodai Shonan and Takigawa Ni had played out a tense semifinal to see who would join Kumiyama in the final of the 2011 All Japan High School tournament and, just as in Kumiyama’s semifinal with Ryutsu Keizaidai Kashiwa, the game had progressed to a penalty shoot-out.

Unlike the first match – which had produced four goals in regulation time and was concluded efficiently before Kumiyama had to take their fifth penalty – the second did not feature the sharpest of shooting. Takuo Ikeda and Taiki Katou had both missed open goals in the final five minutes for Risshodai and although they had gone someway to making up for those errors by converting their penalty kicks, neither side was able to end the match.

With the score still tied after the eighth round of spot kicks I was on the edge of my seat (well my bed), engrossed in the natural drama of the shoot-out.

And then it disappeared. First the pictures were submerged under an advert for a copy company (I mean, how many copy companies are there? Do they really need to advertise anyway?), and then, with the commentators still jabbering excitedly away, they cut entirely to a commercial break.

‘You’re kidding, right?’ I said (although I think I used slightly rougher language), before leaping up and frantically changing the channels. Nothing. The game hadn’t been shifted to a different channel, it was just gone. With, as it turned out, just two more kicks to go. What’s that, 60 seconds, perhaps?  All because the schedule dictated that the show must take a break at that point.

Now, I am often frustrated by television coverage of football in Japan (something I will undoubtedly discuss here at a later date). My most frequent complaint is that it all too often refuses to discuss controversial events – with penalty decisions, red cards and diving rarely, if ever, addressed. While this is annoying, to cut a live sporting event off right before its conclusion is just incredible. Why not delay the commercials until the game had ended?

Something similar did happen in England a couple of years ago, when Everton youngster Dan Gosling’s extra-time winner against Liverpool in an FA Cup replay was missed by the viewing public as the channel, ITV, cut to an advert for tic-tacs.

This was down to a technical fault rather than having been a conscious decision on the part of the programme-makers though – and it caused quite a stir, provoking over 1,000 complaints within 24 hours and drawing an apology from the executive chairman of the channel, who said:

“As a football fan myself I was glued to the match and was as disappointed as anyone to miss the goal. [The] glitch was inexcusable and we are awaiting the results of our technical inquiry so we can put in place stringent procedures to address this.”

Gosling’s goal, like the conclusion to the Takigawa-Risshodai shoot-out, was shown in replays once coverage continued, but this is just not the same as seeing it live, especially when you have become so gripped by the action.

I am sure nobody from NTV – who were airing the game – has declared the decision ‘inexcusable’, and it is disappointing that such an exciting day of football was spoiled by something that could so easily have been prevented.

I certainly learned a lesson from my semifinal experience and didn’t take any risks with the final; instead of sitting in front of the TV I headed to Kokuritsu where I enjoyed all eight goals live and uninterrupted.

17
Jan
11

Cup of Kings

There may no longer be a huge amount of prestige attached to winning the English FA Cup – largely because there is no real benefit of winning the tournament – but the winners of the football association cup in Japan certainly have an extra incentive.

Although many see the Emperor’s Cup as little more than a consolation prize, I am happy that the winners get Japan’s fourth and final Asian Champions League spot. As far as I’m concerned, winning a trophy is more of an achievement than finishing fourth in the league and the ‘Champions’ league should be contested by champions.

Speaking after Kashima defeated Shimizu on New Year’s Day, Oswaldo Oliveira was delighted to have won the competition for the second time and his comments highlighted the importance of adding the extra incentive of a Champions League spot to the competition.

“I was worrying about this (qualifying for the Champions League) because it will be our fourth time to play in the tournament since 2008. If we missed out on 2011, I would feel very sad.”

“I couldn’t allow myself to end the year without winning a title so this victory means a lot to me.”

Match-winner Takuya Nozawa also reflected on the value of the victory, commenting that, “We really wanted to qualify for the Asian Champions League and we got it done. Although we weren’t able to win four straight J.League titles I feel that in part we made up for it by winning the Emperor’s Cup.”

This hits the nail on the head, and while a strong league finish demonstrates consistency over the course of the season it does not bring with it the same thrills and tensions as a cup run. Players should want to be winning trophies rather than finishing in third place in the league.

Last weekend was the third round of the famous English FA Cup – the tournament on which the Emperor’s Cup is based. Despite the history and tradition attached to this trophy however, very few of England’s big teams are really too concerned with the competition any more, with fourth place in the Premier League offering more financial gain and the chance of Champions League football. The FA Cup does not currently provide a gateway to that continental competition.

In last year’s third round – when Premier League teams enter the draw – Manchester United lost at home to Leeds United, who are now playing in the third tier of English football, while Liverpool fell to defeat against Championship side Reading at Anfield; both teams had bigger fish to fry.

This lack of interest in the cup was then contrasted by the depressingly over-the-top celebrations by Tottenham Hotspur when they beat Manchester City to secure fourth-place in the Premier League.

Champagne corks were popping and the manager, Harry Redknapp, was showered by a bucket of iced water as the players celebrated their achievement.

Redknapp, who had won the FA Cup with his former side Portsmouth in 2008, made it abundantly clear which success he valued more greatly, exclaiming that.

“It’s even better than winning the Cup. The Cup you can win with some lucky draws. You all know that if you can get some nice draws, three or four wins and you are there. But I think this a better achievement.”

He then continued by claiming that, having secured a qualification spot for the European competition, his team’s final league position didn’t actually matter too much.

“I just wanted to finish fourth but the chairman has just asked me who Arsenal are playing on Sunday and I think he wants to see if we can finish above them. I’m just happy with fourth.”

This is a sad indication of the plight of modern football, with finishing fourth in one competition – not even a medal position in other sports – being deemed of greater value than coming first in another.

Unfortunately, such an attitude is understandable though, and, while it would be great for teams to want to win a trophy for nothing more than prestige and glory, the financial pressures on professional clubs these days mean that is just not realistic.

By having the final ACL position tied up with victory in the Emperor’s Cup, the JFA is doing better than the English FA in keeping its teams interested in its cup competition though, and as long as that bonus is attached to lifting the trophy, J.League teams will have to keep treating the tournament with respect.




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