Saturday, March 31, 2012

Remembering Roberto Baggio 'The Divine Ponytail'

Many people have already forgotten about Il Divino Codino, the nickname given to soccer legend Roberto Baggio, but true soccer fans still dream about the many memories he gave us all during his playing career. Baggio was nicknamed Il Divino Codino-The Divine Ponytail, in part due to his trademark ponytail and for turning to Buddhism. Baggio is widely regarded as one of the greatest footballers of all time, and is the only Italian soccer player to score in three World Cups. Baggio played his entire career in italy, enjoying his finest success at Juventus, where he played from 1990 until 1995. In 1993 he won his only European Club Trophy, helping Juventus to the UEFA Cup Final, in which he scored twice. His performances earned him both the European footballer of the year, and the Fifa World Player of the Year titles in 1993. However, the International Career is what Baggio is most remembered for, for the good and the bad. Baggio's first World Cup was the 1990 World Cup, and although he was mostly used as a substitute, he still managed to display his greatness, highlighted by the goal of the tournament against Czechoslovakia. In the 1994 World Cup in America, Baggio was the cornerstone for an Italian squad that made it all the way to the final. However, in the final match, with the game going into a penalty shootout, Baggio missed Italy's last penalty, as his kick went over the cross-bar, resulting in the Brazilians winning the World Cup. He was hailed as a tragical hero, despite the fact that he finished second in scoring in the tournament, and was named one of the top 3 players. Baggio played his last World Cup in 1998, scoring twice in that tournament, as Italy was eliminated in the quarterfinals against the eventual champs France. Baggio would finish his career in 2004 with little known Brescia, and played his last match for Italy on April 28th, 2004 against Spain. Roberto Baggio was remembered for his flashy style, both on and off the field, but flashy in a good sense. True soccer fans will never forget Il Divino Codino.

Friday, March 30, 2012

UEFA Getting Annoying With Their Constant Bans

In the light of Arsene Wenger receiving yet another touchline ban from the UEFA overlords, I feel it necessary to reflect on a few items that are deemed silly and childish regarding the entire process and punishment.

UEFA typically administers bans and fines in response to cries of outrage by managers in the wake of their defeats. For example, following Arsenal’s exit from the Champions’ League last year, Wenger verbally reprimanded the referee who had dismissed Robin van Persie from the match against Barcelona. Van Persie had taken a shot after a whistle for offsides had been blown and received a second yellow card. The tie had about 30 minutes remaining and was well poised to be a dramatic and fascinating ending. Arsenal was reduced to 10 men and had lost their prolific striker to a ridiculous sending off.

Then Wenger had to give a post-match interview directly upon walking off the pitch. What do you think he’d say? He received a one match ban. This season, Wenger again felt the need to speak his mind after AC Milan flopped all over the pitch to nurse a slender lead in London. His charge this time resulted in a three match touchline ban, as if to say the man needed a sterner warning for questioning all that the eye could see in the heat of losing the year’s biggest encounter.

There are a few reasons that these bans upset me. First, his comments are correct. The referee in the Barcelona match should never set foot on a football pitch again. UEFA should be punishing these referees for their horrendous impacts on matches. Second, why must you insist on interviewing managers right after a match. We know that the football world loves the drama, but if you’re going to get so angry when someone speaks his mind, perhaps you should wait half an hour for the manager to cool off following a heart-wrenching defeat that he felt was wrongfully imposed upon him by a referee.

Then UEFA has the whole issue of the touchline ban itself. A manager will have to watch his team that he has assembled and coached and prepared for this match from the sideline, and he may not utter a word onto the pitch. And if he tries to perform his job, another ban! Excuse me, but isn’t this rather ridiculous. The manager has been hired to assist the lads on the pitch. And to strip this role of him because he has uttered a disagreement with your petty refs after they repeatedly screw teams over?

I think the pigheads up at UEFA need a spanking. My thinking is that they love it all. It’s all about the drama, it’s all about the controversy. It’s the same reason they won’t adopt replay technology. The controversy creates headlines, the headlines get people talking, the talking sparks interest, and the interest means more people tune in to watch, and that means more money for UEFA and the clubs involved. So I suppose I should just stop talking about it altogether now…

Monday, March 19, 2012

FC Barcelona's Pep Guardiola Deserves Alot of The Credit

The Football World is currently ruled by Fc Barcelona, not just for their dominance on the pitch, but also because of their dominance off the pitch. Every fan of soccer no matter if they are a fan of Barcelona or not admires their style of play, an open style that stresses precision and technicality. Every team wants to model their style after Barcelona, and fans continue to yearn for their teams to be more like Barcelona. So what makes Barcelona such an ideal representative of world football? Clearly, their resume is impressive, as they are the reigning champions of the Champions League, and are again the clear favorite's the win it this year. They clearly also have a very formidable lineup with perhaps 3 of the top 5 players in this sport in Lionel Messi, Xavi, and Iniesta. However, rarely does Pep Guardiola get the acclaim that he perhaps deserves for building this powerhouse. Guardiola's success as a manager is unquestionable; He is in his fourth season at Barca and has a great chance to win his third championship in top European competition. The knock on Guardiola, as was with Phil Jackson when he was the top coach in basketball is couldn't anyone do this with this collection of players. However, his players and past greats all say it is the free rein that Guordiola gives to his players, the open and free style that he allows them to play with is what makes him great. Soccer, like other sports is not only about making plays, it is also about managing personalities and perhaps no one is better at this than Guardiola. Now the question is for how long can he and Barcelona keep this dominating streak going for?

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Remembering Zidane

Very few people talk these days about Zinadine Zidane, the former great French player, mainly due to the fact that he only recently retired, but the game just doesn't feel the same without him. Zidane played the game with an air of invincibility, a presence that other players, even greats simply just don't have. While his scoring or assist numbers were never on par with other greats like Pele or Maradona, and some might argue that he was a bit overrated, others point to his incredible on court patience, timing, and leadership as what separated Zidane. Perhaps, no other player commanded the field like Zidane did in his prime. There was something magnetic about Zidane, the way he captured people's imagination by simply being on the field; Patrick Vieira once said of Zidane, " We always have a chance to win with him in the lineup." Zidane's quiet confidence and patience somehow separated him from his peers, because he was often seen as mysterious, and even enigmatic, but in reality those that knew him best often describe him as simply being a very shy man. His career ended on a very sour note as his temper got the best of him, when he headbutted Marco Materazzi in the 2006 World Cup final leaving many to wonder how can Zidane do such a thing in one of the biggest games of his career. While his temper did get the best of him in some instances in his career, it does not take away his other accomplishments, most notably winning the 1998 World Cup for France in their one and only title. Zidane left an impression on everyone, and it will be a long time before the game will see anyone like him again. The only thing we have of Zidane is those great memories he left us with.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

How Far Can APOEL FC Go In The UEFA Champions League?

Rarely does a minnow like APOEL FC make any noise in the UEFA Champions League. Teams from small nations like Cyprus enjoy dramatic qualifier matches and then are brutally brushed aside by the likes of Barcelona and Arsenal in the group stages. However, this club with a stadium that seats only 23,000 spectators has not only emerged from their group, but they have now defeated Lyon and are in the last 8 of the tournament.

I must confess that I had yet to know a thing about APOEL FC before this year, but now their quest seems nothing short of a dramatic underdog story fit for a movie. APOEL was actually in Champions League two years ago when they finished last in their group that included Chelsea, Porto, and Atletico Madrid. Although they did not win a single game, they did draw three (one at Stamford Bridge) and each of their three losses was only by a single goal. They proved to themselves that they could be competitive against serious opposition.

This season has been far more impressive. They finished top of their group, beating both Zenit St. Petersburg and Porto. In the round of 16, they overturned a 1-0 deficit against Lyon and won in dramatic style with a penalty shootout. They are making history and defying all odds in their current run.

The run will become much more difficult at this point, however. Teams like Lyon and Porto are Champions League regulars, but they are rarely on the level of contenders. It will be curious to see how APOEL FC fares against a Real Madrid or Bayern Munich. Eventually, they will have to face a major team. But they have proven that they are at least up to the challenge. Although their home stadium is small, it is loud and the team performs brilliantly. Their home fans energize the team and they play extremely organized football where they take their few chances as they come and make the most of them.

How has this after-thought of a team managed to pull upset after upset this year? It starts with the management. The club is run like a successful business. There is no manic owner or ridiculous transfer fees. The club runs on an $11 million annual budget. They have invested in foreign talent which includes a plethora of Brazilians. They have developed the club from the ground up and have now advanced further in the tournament than Manchester City. Such occurrences boggle the mind but do show that soccer is played on a field with hard working men. No matter how much money you throw at the best talent, the teams that fight and truly want to win are often the teams that do.