Our European guru educates and enlightens
What did the first UEFA Champions League matchday teach us?
1. That ‘Big’ Sam Allardyce is a “great man” (according to Blackburn’s new galactico Michel Salgado).
2. That Pep Guardiola’s remodelling of Barcelona is a work in progress. Though Barça had more chances at the San Siro, 0-0 was, given the influx of new players, a tactical victory for Inter. Indeed, at an entertaining press conference, Mourinho joked that keeper Julio Cesar was exhausted after touching the ball three times against Barcelona. That was probably twice more than Victor Valdes touched the ball.
3. That if most football club owners tried to join a jazz band they’d fail the audition because they have no sense of timing. The biggest upsets happened off the pitch last week. Peter Kenyon’s replacement as Chelsea chief executive by Ron Gourlay was strangely timed but not as bizarre as Temuri Ketsbaia’s exit as Olympiacos coach on the eve of their first group match.
Since 1999, Olympiacos have hired 15 coaches and one caretaker in their search for who knows what. Ketsbaia, hired in May, left after taking seven points out of nine in the Greek league. Fans were upset by a 5-0 friendly defeat in the summer and the players reportedly didn’t take to him.
Olympiacos fans’ joy surely turned to abject terror when it looked like Bryan Robson might take over. The rumour that Robbo is your new coach is the second most chilling news any fan can hear (the scariest rumour being a credible whisper that that your manager, in a bid to end the team’s goal drought, has signed Francis Jeffers). Luckily, Zico, fearing imminent eviction at CSKA Moscow, stepped in for Olympiacos. Even with players left in the dark about their new coach, they beat AZ 1-0.
4. That some dinosaurs refuse to become extinct. Somebody should tell Pippo Inzaghi the days of the fox in the box are over. Now 36, Inzaghi still seems boyishly, absurdly delighted to score.
His ability to lose a marker and his ruthlessness from close range remain undimmed by age. Pippo is the new Gerd Muller: he scores ugly goals, poachers’ goals, opportunist goals… offside goals. Glorious 30-yard screamers just don’t interest Inzaghi.
Gordon Strachan trained his strikers by showing them videos of Pippo. The Italian, Strachan noted, is a master of the diagonal run away from the ball. He is probably a better lurker than Lineker and tries to ensure he is the last player to touch the ball. More often than not, when he does touch it, he scores. As he did twice against Marseille.
5. That Bayern have a new Muller. He may be called Thomas, not Gerd, but this attacking midfielder scored twice against Maccabi Haifa. Anybody who saw his goal against Borussia Dortmund will know these strikes were no fluke.
IM Scouting’s verdict, written in the style of a professionally unimpressed headmaster finishing an end-of-term report, praises his off-the-ball movement and finishing but notes he “needs to improve his passing ability”.
Thomas looks more like a footballer than Gerd, whose squat, stout body prompted one Bayern president to declare: “I will never allow that bull amongst my thoroughbreds.” Fortunately, the president was overruled and Der Bomber’s goals laid the foundation for Bayern’s greatness.
Thomas probably won’t change history in that way. But after 10 years at Bayern, this may be his season of opportunity. With Louis van Gaal able to pick Klose, Gomez, Olic or Luca Toni (now launching a comeback with Bayern reserves), Muller can’t let his form dip.
6. That Alan Dzagoev is as good as the hype suggests. The CSKA star’s goal was a sublime moment in a dismal performance against Wolfsburg. Already hailed as the “future of Russian football” (no pressure there then), Dzagoev has the ability and intelligence to play as an attacking midfielder or second striker.
Only 19, he may be the next Russian starlet to defect to the West. Dzagoev’s favourite club, Chelsea, can’t buy players until 2011 but playing alongside boyhood idol Frank Lampard would be a dream come true.
7. That Rangers can probably make the last 16. The draw was kind and a draw against Stuttgart was kinder still.
Though Rangers shone in the second half, they would have been down and out if Stuttgart’s strikers had been less selfish. Brazilian forward Cacau (who, to be fair, did make the goal) summed up the rampant egotism by trying to shoot past keeper Allan McGregor from the byline.
Jerome Rothen’s quality means Walter Smith can dispense with the “anti-football” that won so few friends on the road to the 2008 UEFA Cup Final. The Frenchman showed enough to suggest that, at 31, he – with Pedro Mendes – could steer Rangers to the knockout round.
8. That the team who dares wins. Standard Liege coach Laszlo Boloni was right: Alex Song did handle the ball when Arsenal equalised. But Liege fans must have wondered what baloney Boloni told his players at half-time. Only 2-1 up, against one of Europe’s most fluent attacks, the Reds tried to sit on their lead. And lost.
Still, as Kevin McCarra noted on The Guardian’s football podcast, Arsenal are probably the only team in Europe who would go a goal down because their centre-forward tried an overhead chip near his own penalty area.
9. That behind some successful footballers is a career in waste. When he was 22, Grafite scored 22 goals in 27 games for Ferroviaria in the Sao Paolo league. But the Brazilian striker was sometimes so broke he sold bin-liners.
Since he joined Wolfsburg in 2007, his progress has been exponential. Grafite was top scorer last season with 28 goals in 25 Bundesliga games and he has now capped that with a hat-trick against CSKA on his Champions League debut.
Grafite’s part-time job prompted me to recall other footballers with rubbish careers. I could only think of Uruguayan striker Walter Pandiani, who always insisted his stint as a dustbin man kept him fit. Feel free to suggest others.
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