Sunday, December 24, 2006

A fitting finish to a fabulous 2006

There’s a story about Sir Alex Ferguson and the Christmas season. Managers always seem to moan about the heavy fixtures during the year end (I think 4 matches in 8 days was the average over the past few years), and Fergie is certainly no different in this respect.

What is nice to note is that over the past 20 years he’s put himself under the same restrictions he imposes on his squad, particularly so over the Yuletide season where gaiety and merry-making seem to be top-priority for so many citizens of the world, with the exception of Premiership players.

Rumor has it that Fergie espouses an even tighter rein on players during this season – a bit of turkey, perhaps an extra slice of pie, but absolutely no wine or alcohol of any sort. None for the players, and none for Fergie.

A trivial point perhaps, but yet further proof of why he’s perhaps the most successful football manager Britain has ever seen.

Add another new salute to the growing list of accolades if you wish: 2,000 goals over 20 seasons (Cristiano Ronaldo’s first recorded against Aston Villa a few hours ago); an average of 100 goals a season, and an altogether excellent record!

It's a good thing when he's smiling more often than he's frothing at the mouth

And what an excellent year 2006 has been, for football, the fans of the game, and of course for my beloved Manchester United. Here are some of my observations on the year:

Time of the Year
Certainly between June 9th and July 10th, 2006, during which Germany hosted an amazing World Cup. It certainly started with aplomb, peaked earlier than necessary, and somehow lost steam in the latter stages of the tournament. But what a time it was.

Hope of the Year
The splendid Zinedine Zidane, and the slow but sure awakening of Les Blues. Zidane and the other ‘venerables’ (Thuram, Makelele and Barthez) cajoled, prodded and pushed on an otherwise uninterested French team and their uninspired manager to the heights of glory, reaching the Finals in some style. That it was to be Zidane's final football match ever was even more remarkable.

Tragedy of the Year
That damned headbutt! Paradoxically, and against all reasoning and romanticism, Zidane’s last physical action on the green was to be the one that sent him packing in shame. It is sickeningly sad that the memory of Horacio Elizondo brandishing the red card, and of Zizou walking desolately to the dressing room will forever live on in infamy whenever this World Cup is recalled.

Au revoir, Zizou
Comedy of the Year
Sven Goran Erickson, David Beckham, the hoopla over Rooney’s metatarsal, WAGs, and the farce of the English hope in Germany. Too much has already been said about this. Way too much!

Underachievement of the Year
Jose Pekerman and his prodigious Argentine team. Their swashbuckling football, a delicate mixture of aristocracy and artistry, should have brought them further than their eventual exit. A quarterfinal loss, even on penalties, was no way for this brand of football to fade out.

Revelation of the Year
My beloved Manchester United. How wrong I was time and time again. And how glad I am to admit they’re certainly as good as they are painted to be.

Ronaldo has gotten with the programme. Vidic is the rock we so badly needed for so many seasons, and with Ferdinand, Heinze, Evra, Neville and van der Sar in the form that they’re in, Man Utd are certainly doing the business on the pitch.

It’s more heartening personally to see the likes of Scholes, Giggs and Solksjaer in the fine form that they’re in. The old guard is not facing as quickly as many thought they would.

If they keep it going, we’ve got a good second half of the season to look forward to.

Departure of the Year
There are a few here: Michael Schumacher after a glittering career in Formula 1, where he’s set almost every record worth noting. Zinedine Zidane’s infamous exit from a glorious career in football. And Andre Agassi’s farewell to tennis.

Saddest of all is the passing of the irrepressible Crocodile Hunter. Rest in peace, Steve – crikey, it’s been good!

Goal of the Year
I have to say, clearly and without question, this has to be Esteban Cambiasso’s goal vs. Serbia & Montenegro in the group stages. 24 passes, exquisite touches, patience, flair, invention, guile, team-work, and a perfect finish. It was the perfect goal, and one to put alongside Diego Maradona’s stunner against England in 1986. Have a drool at it once again, here.

"They'll be playing this in training manuals all over the world"

A few hours ago I would have been tempted to name Didier Drogba’s goal vs. Everton as the 2nd best strike of the year, but then I watched Paul Scholes stun the Villa Park crowd and those of us watching at home with that fine, orgasmic volley. This is my choice for number 2. It was so good, I had to mention it.

Joy of the Year
There are quite a few to choose from. The absence of Sven Goran Erickson in our sports pages. A month of great football, where I hardly had a sorrowful word from the missus, who as a bonus also joined in the fun and excitement for a few choice matches (bless her!). Fernando Alonso edging Schumacher to his second title, when it seemed - at a point - that the German just might nick that eighth title. A fit again Maradona enthusiastically cheering his country-men on in Germany.

But for me, it certainly has to be the sight of Manchester United sitting deservedly at the top of the Premiership on Christmas. Something achieved out of hard work, industry, and in the face of an increasingly tougher adversary.

Run, Ronnie... Run!

The magic of Christmas never fades after all, I suppose.

God bless Alex Ferguson. God bless Zinedine Zidane. God bless Manchester United. God bless us all.

Happy Christmas, everybody!

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Incredible Hulkenberg!

Updates have been dismal and pathetic, I know, but would you please put the blame down on the A1GP Malaysian race which I’m doing some work on, and which has certainly taken a chunk of my time, energy and grey-cells for the past two weeks.

The rain poured and poured on race day, and to say it was torrential would still almost be an understatement. But all considered it was a good weekend, and even Jeff Ooi and Lensa Malaysia enjoyed it (thanks for the great pics Jeff and Moriazy!)

But out of the puddle and mud emerged a winner who probably had total domination of the race weekend. Keep an eye out on barely legal Nico Hulkenberg, managed by Michael Schumacher's manager Willi Weber, and a certain star of the future.

A 19 year-old with not just incredible skill, but a chilling calm, a good head on his shoulders, and a look in his eye like faraway fires burning. Seeing him drive away from the rest of the field in the soaking wet tarmac of Sepang certainly brought back memories of his compatriot, the rainmeister.

Hulkenberg is certain to emerge as a star in the higher echelons of motor racing in years to come. It isn't a stretch to say he could go on to be Germany's worthy successor to their favourite son.
Alex Yoong finished a creditable seventh, in the same position he qualified in, but three places down from the position he started the race in, which was gained during the earlier sprint race.

Alex lost some battles, and won some battles, and with A1 Team Malaysia now third in the standings behind leaders Germany and Great Britain, the A1GP season is looking good indeed

But before all that, there is still yet another stern test for my beloved Manchester United, after the swing swung back in the UEFA Champions League unfortunate loss on Wednesday. Pick yourself up Louis Saha; we got business to attend to!

On the one hand, this yo-yoing of results would mean we I ought to be optimistic this weekend. On the other hand, however, we’re playing Chelsea. It should be a tight, cagey affair at Old Trafford and I for one wouldn't be suprised with an anti-climatic stalemate.

As long as it keeps us ahead of them, I’ll be happy for now.

Manchester United vs. Chelsea
LIVE from Old Trafford. Sunday, 26th November, 2006. 11:55pm.
Make no mistake about it: This is the match of the week.

Friday, November 03, 2006

The Manchester United swing swings both ways

Updated! WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 8, 2006
I don't know whether I ought to be ecstatic (that my views are indeed vindicated), or... er, not happy (about the 1-0 defeat to a club 43 bleeding positions below us).

Good... MU 4-0 Bolton
Not good... MU 0-1 FC Copenhagen
Good... MU 3-0 Portsmouth
Even better... Spurs 2-1 Chelsea
Way bad... MU 0-1 Southend

I am - yet again - choosing to be optimistic. The swing will swing back occasionally, and Man Utd were indeed due a crappy performance. Better it comes here than in the Premiership or the Champions League where it really matters I say.

Original post on FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 3, 2006
Without trying to overstate things, it has been a very, very long time since we saw such precision, energy and purpose from my beloved Manchester United.

Make no mistake about it, all credit should rightly to the Red Devils that at the end of the 90, Bolton - an otherwise solid Premiership team - came away with exactly what they deserved from the game, which was precisely nothing!

AIG means "Ain't I Great, innit?"

Four days after that, however, it was same ol’-same ol’ once again from United against FC Copenhagen. On a night when we should have really wrapped up further participation in the Champions’ League, we instead rested some key players, and accordingly came away with exactly what we deserved from the game, which again, was precisely nothing.

Time then to recall age-old wisdom: the swing swings both ways!

However, in spite of my tendency for cynicism, I am choosing to see the glass as half-full. I expect that the team, and Fergie particularly, will have been given a right royal Danish slap on Wednesday, which in turn should adequately give them the much needed boost to bag nothing less than three points when we host a resurgent Pompeii at Old Trafford on Saturday.

Manchester United vs. Portsmouth
LIVE from Old Trafford. Saturday, 4th November. 11pm.
This is the match of the week.

I am going to stick my neck out even further – and in doing so risk a mother of a jinx – by pointing out what I believe are the three factors contributing to United’s great start this season:

Christiano Ronaldo
Ronaldo was a real pain before the season started, but eventually got with the programme once he felt he wasn’t going anywhere.

I suspect he figured out that it is in his best interest to shut his mouth up instead of stirring problems with the club which would bring his image down deeper post WC2006, and his value together with it.

The last thing he wants is to be in the shoes of Ashley Cole. So for now, Ronaldo is going to behave. And so far, he’s behaving pretty well.

Nemanja Vidic
Rooney’s finishing against Bolton was clinical, and he scored three magnificent ‘striker goals’. And there are a number of players in the United team that are starting to really look the part.

But for me, one of the most encouraging components of late has been Nemanja Vidic. I have been heard to moan and groan over the past few years about our total mess of a central defense, but in Vidic we finally have a centreback of steel and intelligence. He is starting to really hook up well with Rio (who himself has got his act together). Its finally looking like we have found our Jaap Stam once again.

The power of S3
The 3 S’s are none other than Scholes, Saha and Solksjaer. All have been in fine form over the past weeks. Saha is starting to remind us of the striker we bought from Fulham some seasons ago, and credit to Fergie for his patience and loyalty to him, which the Frenchman is only too eager to repay.

Scholes has always been the class of the field. Understated, hardworking and averse to all the glitter and glamour that besiege modern British players, he is a typical Ferguson player (others include Keane, Robson, Bruce and Hughes) – solid, focused and interested in only doing his talking on the field.

But the class has to be our dear King Ole! Despite being injured for two years, he looks as classy as ever, and is perhaps the world’s best Super Sub. And he does it all with grace, humility and charm. No wonder he's called the smiling assassin.

Long may he live at Old Trafford!

Thursday, October 26, 2006

The toppermost of the poppermost

We have always associated being on top as something good. Being on top of the world is what an elated person might say. Being on top of a situation means being in control. Some would say the politics of the bedroom is about who is - and often who isn't - on top.

There was a famous conversation that The Beatles were reported to have had early in their career: John Lennon asked the other three, "Where are we going lads?"

They replied, "To the top, Johnny."
"How far on top?" asked John.
"To the toppermost of the poppermost," came the reply.

Arms, heads and spirits are starting to rise at Old Trafford

Three months ago I would have never thought my beloved Man Utd would be sitting on top of the table at this point of the season. As all Man Utd starts go, this season saw the Red Devils sprint off the blocks with a near perfect start. The draw against Reading and the loss against Arsenal notwithstanding, Man Utd certainly aren't doing as badly as I initially thought they would be.

The pre-season threw up all measure of doubt: I was cynical at first, then I started believing, then my faith faltered again... and again, then I suddenly started believing.

I'm starting to believe big time now. Watching them blow a hapless Liverpool out of the waters of Old Trafford - and make no mistake about it, Liverpool were thoroughly outclassed last Sunday - was certainly very, very easy on the eye.

If its true what they say that this Man Utd team are yet to hit their peak this season, then the fans have got much reason to be optimistic. The old boys like Scholes, Giggs, Solksjaer and Neville are remnants from seasons gone when this team know nothing but winning; it is deeply encouraging to see them lead the charge this year.

Rooney hasn't found his form yet, but despite this seeming 'crisis' people are scoring from almost every position. Ferdinand, Vidic, Fletcher, and even dear ol' Johnny O' Shea have pipped in with goals.

Contrast that with a Liverpool or Andrei Shevchenko, why don't you?

A Reebok pumping
Still, the true test for Premiership or Champions League aspirants awaits Man Utd this weekend: away to Bolton. Any team who wants to stand up and be counted must be able to come away from the Reebok with a result.

More than Old Trafford or Anfield, and certainly more than Stamford Bridge, it is a Bolton team at home which have scuppered the ambitions of probable league leaders before. They have been the bane / Archilles heel / banana skin of many a good team. This game will be no different.

Bolton Wanderers vs. Manchester United.
LIVE from the Reebok Stadium. Saturday, 28th October. 10pm. This is the match of the week.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

An opportunity to focus

...not for the sportsmen who will hold my attention for the next few days, but rather for myself, since I'm planning to devoting much of my time over the next week's holidays tuning in to enjoy some very exciting sporting occasions:

1. Man Utd v Liverpool - here's hoping the table topping winning streak continues, or failing that, a bloody good game for all of us to savour;

2. The F1 Brazilian GP - I have profound respect for Michael Schumacher, but I'm not looking forward to seeing him on the top step of the podium this weekend. He's certainly good enough for it though, mind you... but I'd rather see him go off quietly, than bask in the a glow of glory that he has frankly overstayed. Statistically the best driver the sport as seen; whether he is the greatest is certainly up to debate, and I certainly count Senna, Prost and Fangio above him.

Ta-ra Mikey... I'll try not to miss you
Enjoy the festival of lights, and eid-ul-fitr!

Thursday, October 05, 2006


Amsterdam, as expected, was a blast. It was a welcome difference watching a Champions League match over dinner, instead of waking up in the dead of the morning as we do over here.

The match in question was Liverpool v Galatasaray, and the Turkish and Greek community in Amsterdam turned up in full force to vent their worldly frustrations on the British team (any British team will do, I'm told). At 3-2 though, I thought Istanbul - Part Deux was on the cards. Sadly, Liverpool and Peter Crouch deeply disappointed us all that night.

There is obviously more to Amsterdam than the Red Light District, and the Noveau Hash Bars ("Hash is legal there, right?" "Yeah, it's legal, but it ain't a 100% legal..."). The cycling crowd, for example, is a sight to behold. It is estimated that 150,000 bicycles enter Amsterdam every day. Bank managers in their Italian suits cycle. Prada-wearing blondes off to their designer jobs cycle. Policemen, postmen and other Dutchmen cycle. Anyone heading within 5 miles of their destination cycle - daytime, or after sunset. It simply is the most efficient way of getting about town.

A common denominator of all things Amsterdam is that most everything is narrow - houses, streets, buildings, walkways, alleys... everything but their state of mind(which is evidently very broad). Buildings that look no more than 50 feet in breadth look like this on the inside:

Still, spending afternoons strolling parts of Amsterdam with its canals, churches, bicycles and windows aplenty was an experience indeed. The A1 GP race at Zandvoort was a real blast, with 85,000 Dutchmen in their orange garb adding a bit of tangy zest into the atmosphere. And to top it all off, we had invites to the swankiest club in town on one of the nights, to watch folks like Danni Minogue, Jay Kay of Jamiroquai, and Ruud Gullit shimmer by (with their 6'6" Dutch bodyguards).

So all in all, it was a 'Dam' nice trip. Of course, no post is complete without a cursory reference ti my beloved Manchester United, and boy, isn't it awesome to see this fella scoring again!

Thursday, September 21, 2006

The life and times of the annoying Ashley Cole

I don't know about you, but this Ashley Cole is seriously starting to get on my nerves. Someone once told told me I look very much like him - I disagree, of course - which naturally made me resent the bugger even more.

Add to that the fact that he played for Arsenal at the time of the said comment, which is really no big problem with me, except that I associate him with a period of swashbuckling, breath-taking football wizardry at Highbury that many of us Man Utd fans (and some lesser others) were grossly envious of, even of many of us don't have the heart to admit it.

Also, he is a total and utterly shameless brat. Just like almost that entire Arsenal team (above) were a bunch of first-rate, thorough-bred whiners, whingers, and w***ers (7 letters, rhymes with anchors).

The guys in charge of the Chelsea kit couldn't tell the difference between their Cs and the Hs

But what really gets my goat these days is the continuing footage and print real estate given to his so-called illustrious career, all neatly put together in a ridiculous periodical otherwise refered to as a 'biography'.

Somebody should tell these youngsters it's usually fit to release a biography having achieved a lifetime of success, and having accumulated a certain measure of wisdom, lessons and even regrets.

Not something people like Ashley Cole know anything about, certainly. As it is, I am highly doubtful that he might even know the real meaning of several words quoted so eloquently in the book in question, such as:

1. camaraderie
2. duplicitous
3. loyalty
4. the

Biographies for people like the great Matt Busby and Bill Shankly are warranted, welcomed and bring absolute joy to the downtrodden masses. So too stalwarts like Sirs Alex Ferguson and Bobby Robson.

Even stuff on other Brits like Neil Kinnock, Jeremy Clarkson, George Harrison, or Sting. Certainly for giants of the game like Roy Keane and Kenny Daglish. Even Ian Wright (both the former Gunner and the Discovery Travel & Adventure host - he's the bomb!). And I'm definitely on the look-out for those on retiring geniuses like Agassi, Schumacher and the late Steve Irwin @ Crocodile Hunter.

But Ashley Cole? WTF?

Your thoughts, please. Discuss.

I know recent updates on *Dish* *Bish* have been quite slow. Apologies, I've just been saddled with a truckload of work.

As it is, I'm off next week to Amsterdam, to attend the season-opening race of the A1 GP in the famous beach circuit of Zandvoort, that sadly took the life of the great Gilles Villenueve (Jacques' daddy). Coming along with me are two good guys from The Star and New Straits Times.

Look out for updates in 15 days.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

A city, a punk, and a crazy guy

The trip to London may have been short, but rewarding nonetheless. I have returned safely to my beloved Kuala Lumpur with:

One... A sudden surge of enthusiasm for the work that I do, knowing that there new opportunities opening up right at my doorstep, and the fact that I work with some really nice people;

Two... A new-found respect for Alex Yoong and team Malaysia at the A1 GP;

Three... Very fond memories of Silverstone. To be honest, it was a bit overwhelming standing on the same piece of tarmac where greats like Senna, Mansell, Hakkinen, Schumacher and some of the older buggers did the ‘bees-knees’ (business)... but I did try conceal my excitement, just so my colleagues from the other offices around the world wouldn’t see what a total nerd I was.

The trip reminded me that there are many beautiful places in the world, as much as there are beautiful people. The folks in London do a pretty good job of selling the metropolitan-ness of the city: Heathrow is manned by whites, blacks, browns, yellows and some other colours in between (please spare me the grief / stares / spankings on this non-PC comment).

There are ‘brothers’ there who sound like they’ve been around since the Victorian times, but who look like they’ve just stepped out after a good meal of home-cooked rice, curd and fish curry.

Right round the corner from our hotel was this eatery proudly advertising their ‘Penang and Oriental Cuisine’. Vans transporting frozen kebabs here. A tandoori outlet there. Everyone and their brother from every corner of the globe, all trying to make a buck or a million, riding the underground, Daily Mirror tucked under arm, looking uninterested / unshaven / like Bob Geldof.

I wish I could have spent a few more days there. Maybe soon.
"The scoreboard says I have lost but what it doesn't say is what I have found... you have given me your shoulders to stand on to reach for my dreams. In my last 21 years I have found you and will take the memory of you for the rest of my life."

So goes Andre Agassi, in a retirement speech that much of Hollywood would envy.

I remember first watching Agassi win Wimbledon many years ago. Up until that point, the worst a tennis player looked like was Bjorn Borg, Boris Becker or Martina Navratilova (if not for her first name, I wouldn’t have guessed the gender; even now I’m not too sure).

Then comes this dude, looking like a blend between a junkie, a surfer, and a tomcat, and he totally blew the Tennis world away.

Blew. Them. Away.

Along the way, he helped himself to 8 Grand Slam titles, and still found a few minutes to bag a pin-up babe like Steffi Graf.

Ta-ta Andre, thanks for the memories.
And it’s goodbye too to Steve Irwin @ Crocodile Hunter, who single-handedly made the Animal Planet channel watch-able for thousands of folks around the world.

I was chatting with an Aussie friend this morning, and he told me that most of Australia feels the same way the British people felt when they heard of Princess Di’s death, and pretty much the way the whole world felt when Mother Teresa passed on.

Because he was such an ‘out-there' person, with so much life and energy, it’s even a double blow that he won’t around anymore. Surreal. Bizarre. Even dream-like.

What I will remember most about him is that he was probably the sort of man most chldren will want for a dad – fearless, witty, up for it, and so generously endowed with a sense of ‘can-do’. His heart was exactly where he said it was, and that makes him pretty tall in my book.

Crickey, mate... It’s been really good, innit?

All right, luv? Isn't she just bee-yoo-tiful!

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

An unlikely hundred percent

My goodness!

I would have never expected this from even my beloved Manchester United... but what the heck, you take what you can get, I guess. My instinct tells me never to gloat, because I know from years of experience - especially in recent years - that karma is a bitch that bites your bollocks bloody hard (fellow MU fans, please say this enthusiastically, emphasising the Bs - and mean it!).

So, we're a bit rough around the edges, but with a bit more growing up, and a little less f**king up, we might just see the end of the season with a bit more optimism than we did before we started it.

Good luck, fellas!

Allow me to welcome and old friend and fellow colleague who has just joined us in blog-o-land. Boys and girls, say hello to Senor Sreejit - a "tell-it-like-it-is", "keepin-it-real" kinda dude. And he writes a good tale.

Those who know Sreejit know what a top bloke this guy is, except for two very pertinent points:

1. His obsession with fitness, (and I believe that fitness is a serious impediment to a social life); and

2. He's a Spurs fan. Only 1 of 4 that I know of. In the world.
I'm off to London, England tomorrow. Some glam autosports project, which includes a day at the famous Silverstone, in the pits, paddock, observing a test, and a possibly elaborate attempt on my part to plant a kiss on the famous tarmac where the greats of the sports laid rubber.

If I should return with charred lips, don't ask why.

Will I kiss the hallowed tarmac?

Friday, August 18, 2006

There's your lot, Fergie

Quite a bit you can do with Powerpoint, innit?

So then, are they good enough to keep pace with the likes of Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal, and keep the likes of Spurs, Newcastle and Blackburn well behind you?

Can you toss 'em up, week in-week out, and still drum up the right results? Can you sustain it the entire season through?

Are these boys capable of being motivated? Do you still have it in you to still motivate them?

I don't mean any disrespect, Sir Alex - but frankly you have become a victim of your own success. This whole club has become a victim of its own success. We the fans expect a lot, even those of us shirt-grabbers in the Far East who have never been through an Old Trafford turnstile...

The way I see it, you'll have fans who will chin up and say, "Thanks for the memories, Fergie... now please bugger off!", or fans (like myself) who are impatient as hell simply because we give a damn, and who are more likely to want to see you fix this problem, enjoy one last moment in the sun, they wish you well as you head off to yer wee village in Govan with yer grandchildren.

Many will be watching the game against Fulham, already resigned to the fact that we'll at least be challenging for the last Champions' League spot. Can we even make it there, Fergie? We would like to believe we could, and perhaps nick a cup or two somewhere.

But things are really not good as far as fan-fidence is concerned. And I do mean not good. There are too many questions Fergie. So you be sure you get the answers out on the field.
Previous musings on my beloved Manchester United:

Friday, August 11, 2006

The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away

This quick photoshop job means there surely will be new jerseys next season

With all the flak that Manchester United has had to take lately, surely, the last thing the club needs are its own fans turning up the volume on them.

But let's face it, this is a club in serious trouble. After a dozen or so years of glory (the treble, doubles, and thophies and titles aplenty), this is an institution coming apart at the seams.

Roy Keane is gone. Never to return. And we have replaced this legend with caricatures, at best (Neville as captian, Carrick in the midfield role).

Alex Ferguson will never be at his tactical and strategic best again. He is even polite to journalists these days, much less to Jose Mourinho.

David Gill is no fit top-hat for a club this big. We have become impotent on the transfer market, and unwittingly have let good players go for far less than we we're willing to pay for mediocre replacements. He belongs in a Malaysian GLC.

The team is is shambles. Rooney and Ronaldo. A questionable defence. A unsorted midfield. An almost toothless attack. No depth on the bench.

All that record season-ticket sales will only mean that the fans are expecting much of the club. An expectation that sadly doesn't look close to being met.

Instead, we gaze enviously at Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal, and even Spurs, as we dream about the stuff we could do if we could just pinch player from each of those clubs.

Yes, I know I am one fickle minded bugger. First I said the emperor was naked. Then I thought I saw his clothes. Then I realised it was a fig leaf after all.
I can now see all his wringkly bits. Ain't that a sight!

Friday, August 04, 2006

A stump for the chumps of England

When I started this blog, I had an idea of I could talk extensively about football and sports in general, meet and greet some other like-minded bloggers and friends alike, and wax lyrical about my beloved Manchester United.

I wanted to keep this spot clean, clever, informative and discussive, and steer clear of trivial gossip and rants.

But things have not gone the way I thought it would, and if I may paraphrase my favourite cartoon character Popeye: "I has taken all I can takes, and I can't takes it no more!"

What the fuck is up at Old Trafford?
We have become impotent on the transfer market. All hope rekindled last week has fizzled out like the last hiss on a soggy twig in the furnace. Hiss 1. Hiss 2. And Hiss 3.

No Gatusso signing, in spite of more than a year's worth of romancing. No pride-swallowing Vieira. No Ballack. No Obi Mikel. Not even Kuszczak from West Bromwich bloody-Albion! And now certainly no Javier Mascherano.

Instead, we get this near-retirement geriatric.

Alex... WTF?

Friday, July 28, 2006

Saviour Mascherano

It has been all busy, busy, busy these days, but in the midst of all the excitement, a colleague sent me an SMS yesterday, which simply said: “Dude, you got your wish. REUTERS just reported United’s bid for Mascherano.”

Oh boy! That was news indeed. Even the recent newsbreak on United's Michael Carrick signing doesn't top it, and all indications are that SAF believes Carrick alone may not suffice.

Make no mistake about it: midfield names do not get any bigger than Javier Mascherano these days, the pivot on which the entire Argentine team swiveled at this year’s World Cup, and whose named was making the rounds all over Europe even before he signed with Corinthians from River Plate barely a couple of seasons ago.

Maradona calls him a "monster of a player, destined for great things."

I rate JM very, very highly. Here is a defensive midfielder who seems to know his job very well, and sticks to it. He probably sleeps with a copy of The Midfielder’s Manual under his arm.

You hardly see JM away from the middle third of the field when his team is in possession. He has the solid discipline to orchestrate play from within the centre circle while his more adventurous colleagues foray upfront, but capably buckles down to defensive duties when possession is conceded. Efficiency with a capital E.

Word has it that the company that backed his signing to Corinthians for 10 million pounds simply have an agenda of maximising their return on investment. That is good news for United indeed.

Now that Ruud is out, and monies seem to be available from the potential sale of C. Ronaldo (plus the acquisition of Simao from Valencia), it is not just possible, but very probable.

With Alan Smith healing well (and I know this fler can really be fired up when he wants to be), with Scholes and Giggs back in some scintillating form, without distractions of national duties (ditto Smith), and with the potential signing of Michael Carrick on the cards, the midfield looks pretty decent and sorted.

But the point of this post – and my premature awakening from a self-induced stupor – is to celebrate the possibility of Javier Mascherano. Perhaps the emperor has nice clothes after all.

I so want this guy in the red shirt. Get me his signature, Alex!

Monday, July 24, 2006

Fresco fiasco #2

Aisay, man...

I don't know how old this is (that's beside the point)... but after Fresco Fiasco #1, now this?

And we thought this was a club above such cheap theatrics?

Koppers, pray tell what the rest of us humble masses are to make of it.

Monday, July 17, 2006

See, the emperor is naked

The truth – like it or not – is often the downfall of men.

We often try to make the truth an ally, and look for times when it reflects our sense of status and aspiration. We seek solace in the truth, as often as we try and seek shelter from it.

When it sides with us we spare no effort in ensuring our adversaries are made well aware of it. When it exposes us, we hang on to its trailing coat-tails for the slightest shade against the harsh sun.

The plain truth about Manchester United
... is that we’re in for a long season, perhaps even a very long decade of feeding on footballing scraps. A Worthington Cup here. A UEFA Cup qualification there. Perhaps one or two FA Cup semi-finals along the way. Klebersons, Djemba-Djembas and Dongs aplenty.

It’s all starting to look like 1986 to me vis-à-vis Liverpool. Curse the scouser bastards!

The truth is that - despite his best intentions - Sir Alex Ferguson, like an aging Tessio (re: The Godfather), simply doesn’t have the wit, cunning and venom he generously deployed in commanding the troops these past two decades. Time and success have eroded his enthusiasm. The loss of his authority inside the Old Trafford dressing room is inevitable.

The truth is that Carlos Queiroz simply isn’t Steve McLaren circa 1998/99, or Brian Kidd, circa whenever.

The truth is that try all he may, Gary Neville simply isn’t half the captain Roy Keane or the great Bryan Robson was. In fact, he isn’t even close to Steve Bruce.

The truth is that players like Rio Ferdinand, Wayne Rooney, Park Ji-Sung and Gabriel Heinze (for all his ability and single-minded determination) simply do not have the maturity or discipline to sustain a winning campaign in any competition, much less the increasingly competitive EPL.

The truth is that while there is no substitute for class, there certainly is little that the likes of Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and the venerable Ole-Gunnar Solksjaer could do to this end. Alan Smith, I won’t even mention.

The truth – as evident during the pre-season game against the Orlando Pirates - is that John O’Shea, Darren Fletcher, Patrice Evra and Keiran Richardson are at best, mid-table material.

And here’s the truth about Cristiano Ronaldo, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Liam Miller (Oi! There's only one Keano!).

And we all know hope simply isn’t truth. Not when it comes to Patrick Vieira, nor Genarro Gatusso, and probably not for a player like Javier Mascherano.

I am a Manchester United fan, and while I won’t be dishing out the hard-earned Ringgit for the new AIGgly strip, I will still be cheering them on from the comforts of my living room and the occasional pub this season.

But the truth is, they look like they’re headed back to where they were when I first started supporting them: 1986, mid-table rubbish!


Friday, July 14, 2006

All-time greats: Remembering Enzo Francescoli

If we regard Zinedine Zidane as the guru, then I wonder what most of us must think of the guru’s guru?

That man is Enzo Francescoli. A fler so spectacular, Zizou was not just influenced by his playing style, but even named his first son after him.

Francescoli was one of the best footballers to have ever graced the planet. More importantly, he helped us understand why Uruguay could once have been a footballing powerhouse.

If the Netherlands can be regarded as “the best country to never win the World Cup”, then I think I’d call Francescoli “the best player to never actually win anything we can recall without a quick reference to the Internet”.

It’s a long title, I know... but it fits him well.

Francescoli was the complete striker. He could get past a defender with maximum ease and minimal fuss. He was also an extremely accurate passer, and like all good strikers, could hold the ball on his own in the opposition’s half as his teammates set up shop for attack.

Twice he was voted South American Player of the Year, and such was his durability that he won those titles 11 years apart (in 1984 and 1995). An immensely likeable individual, he is still known as el principé (the prince) in River Plate, a moniker that stuck when the Olympic Marseille fans christened him le prince.

It is fair to say that anyone gifted with the guile of Pelé, the ruthless efficiency of Shearer, and the timing and positional sense of van Basten must have been one helluva striker indeed.

What I really respect about him is that he was a highly graceful individual, who aspired to give his best in whichever club he played for, and took enormous pride in what many modern players would consider mediocre accomplishments. In his own words...

"The truth is that I achieved much more than I ever thought I would when I turned professional. I played at two World Cup finals, and I'm proud to say that I gave my all every time I took to the field. I know I didn't play for clubs like Juventus or FC Barcelona, but it would be wrong of me to complain about that after everything football has given me."

I scoured through YouTube, and found this clip from a River Plate game:

Those are just three reasons why Enzo Francescoli is number 10 in my list of all-time great footballers.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The eternal paradox of Zinedine Zidane

When we tuned in to watch the World Cup finals on Sunday, we expected to see the great Zinedine Zidane end his splendid career elevated to a god-like status, hovering perhaps just a step below Pelé and Maradona.

What we got instead was a crushing reminder of his red-blooded mortality. And it threw us down to a very hard earth.

For 110 minutes of scintillating football, Zidane continued to show us why we regard him so highly, even placing him in a select category above Cryuff, Beckenbauer, Best and his compatriot Platini.

But one nipple tweak and a (terrorist?) comment later, and he lets the footballing world, his fans, France, and mostly himself terribly down. It was perhaps one of the saddest images to ever be seen in a football game, that of a dejected Zizou trudging alone and desolate to the tunnel of Berlin’s Olympiastadion, walking past the polished trophy that millions expected him to hold aloft at precisely that point in the evening.

It was a devastating moment, and dealt a shockingly sick hammer-blow which many will never get over. What was worse was that nobody in the world – Zizou included – could hope to argue against the validity of that red card; on the contrary it would have been a travesty had he not been shown one.

We could expect and even foresee such a folly coming from the petulant likes of Rooney or Beckham, or even Luis Figo... but Zidane? Not in a match like this, surely?

It really wasn’t supposed to end like this.

But the red mist is like that: Sometimes when you’re caught in it, the mind calculates so many permutations of possible actions and resulting consequences, and in spite of the heightened awareness and a crippling sense of clarity, you conspire against your own will to take the worst course of action.

The red mist is not a loss of self-control. It is in spite of all self-control.

Either team could have won the final. Trezeguet’s missed penalty really wasn’t that bad, in fact it was probably better than most scored penalties in a shoot-out. The Italians were clinical in taking their spot kicks, but so were the French. Both teams had their chances to finish it off in normal and in extra time.

All the same, France could have lost even with Zidane on the pitch. Italy could have won even without Zidane on it. The speculations are endless. And might I add, pointless.

The point is that we will all perhaps never come to terms with why Zidane committed that heinous act, in full view of the world and the best cameras the Euro could buy, and on the sport’s biggest stage, in what was the last competitive match of his life.

We will never understand how a man could summon all the calm in the world to take the penalty that gave France the lead in Berlin’s smoldering cauldron – scoring with ruthless, cheeky efficiency – and within the same game bring a crushing end to his journey, with a foolishness of such epic proportions it even borders on being English.

Let nothing detract from a professional life well lived, though. Frenchmen wondering what they will tell their children of Zidane after this incident need only cast their eyes back for about 15 years to see how much he has contributed to French football. For all that and more, they should – as should all football fans – clap a collective “Merci, Zizou” at anytime he is remembered.

And it is thoroughly fitting that FIFA chose to look beyond that to offer him the 2nd best accolade of the tournament, that of being acclaimed its best player. Once again, judging on his Real Madrid form this last season, who on earth would have foreseen that?

Oh, Zizou... will we ever understand?

Friday, July 07, 2006

Dear Zizou

By the time you read this, you probably would have written yourself into the annals of sporting immortality. Once again.

All because of a voice that spoke to you early one morning.

Whatever it was, we’re glad you made that decision to come back for one last voyage. We’ve all been truly blest by your second coming. In the years we’ve known you you’ve shown us that you are king at everything fundamental in the game: control and passing. That you are blessed with such sublime skill only underscores your rightful position at the top of football’s pantheon.

Our abiding memory of you will always be of that Sunday in Paris eight years ago, when you rose above a sea of green and gold to score those two magnificent goals. You were always described as a highly intelligent player, and on that day you really used your head. In more ways than one...

We remember learning of your prodigious genius while you were still at Cannes and Bordeaux, in those years when France conspired to stay in international football wilderness for so long. Those were strange days when your compatriotes seemingly preferred cooing over Alain Prost and David Ginola instead. We understand the case for Prost, but Ginola? Perhaps they like some measure of follicle strength in their idols. We never quite understood.

How ironic that your adversaries this Sunday turn out to be your hosts who first propelled you to greatness, and that Signor Lippi, your old mentor at Juventus, will be occupying the space in the opposite dugout. Surely it couldn’t have been that long ago that you both set about your business terrorizing Serie A and Europe with such élan and aplomb.

Still, these Italians are affable wallahs and we expect we’ll be seeing satellite images of either one of you giving the other a consoling cuddle when the curtains finally fall on a remarkable Germany 2006, whichever way the whistle blows.

The last occasion you faced the Italians in the World Cup resulted in a dour stalemate, and penalties, which France eventually won. How telling that it was indeed another penalty that got France into what must probably now be the biggest game of your life. We also imagine they haven’t actually forgotten the Euro 2002 episode two years on, when the carpet of victory was pulled from beneath their designer feet. It all makes for a great climax on Sunday.

And who could forget that magnificent goal at the Champions League final of 2002, perhaps the greatest memory of you in the white of Real Madrid. We all expected to see much more of the same in the weeks that followed in Japan and Korea; alas, that wasn’t to be – the seasons took its toll, and what ensued was so much less an embarrassment for France than it was an unkind blemish on your impeccable résumé.

Come Sunday, even that episode will serve as a mere turning point in your astonishing career.

Witnessing you defy the passage of time in those games against Spain, Brazil and Portugal these past two weeks reminded us once again just how great a player you are.

Seeing you put fire back in your teammates’ bellies, and lightning back in their veins, reminded us once again of how great a leader you are.

Watching you lead your country out for one last time in Berlin this Sunday will remind us once again exactly how great a man you are.

You are already immortal, Zizou... but that glint in your eye tells us that you may yet give us one more memory of your immense greatness.

God speed, and God bless you wherever you go after that.

Le seigneur, moi donnent juste un plus momente

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

The four horsemen

Ronaldo is gone. So is van Nistelrooy and Robben. And Torres, Raul, Fabregas and Villa.

While we're at it we might as well acknowledge Beckham's resignation from the captaincy (a good thing for English football). Oh, and he's gone too, along with Rooney.

Ronaldinho didn't bother showing up (was he there?). Riquelme did, and will be remembered.

Who's left? And importantly, who's gonna make an impact the next few days.

*dish* *bish* thinks it'll be these four (but what the fifi do I know anyway, right?):

Miroslav Klose
5 goals and he still looks likely to score some more. I say this because he also looks the most likely to get a penalty against the man-marking Italians. Apart from scoring, he can hold the ball up while waiting for the cavalry to arrive; ask Podolski who got two goals from this.

I expect the Italian I name below to almost blot Ballack out of the game (if MB's injury doesn't do this already); with Frings out, the German midfield is going to take some sorting out.

Klose could be the best chance they have of unlocking a chetti-like Italian defence. Germany need him more than ever.

Andrea Pirlo
I expect this game too will be a tight, cagey affair. The catalyst for an Italian victory will rest on the successful shackling of Michael Ballack.

I imagine Lippi is more likely to use Pirlo instead of Gennaro "The Snarl" Gattuso for this task, simply because at this stage you can't afford losing a player through suspensions, or worse, being reduced to 10 men; with Gattuso, that risk is always present.

Pirlo is a delicate enforcer against Gattuso's rugger-bugger, "take no prisoners" approach. And he can hit a sweet spot from set-plays too. If he's on song, the Italians will be singing.

Much will be made about the return of Deco and Costinha, and of Figo and Christina Ronaldo.

But for sheer unspotted mayhem, enter Maniche. I imagine Scolari would use him to good effect simply because the French may be paying too much attention to the above players. Maniche makes dangerous runs, passes well, does the spade work in defence, and makes a menace of himself going forward.

He's got an experienced minder in Claude Makalele (who'll also have an exciting 90 minutes looking after the interests of Deco and Figo), but one slip and Maniche will be troubling the French back four.

Whichever way the game against Portugal goes, the voices were right, and Zidane did well in reversing his retirement for one last swan song with les Blues.

Against Spain and Brazil he was a monster. Against Portugal we may yet see his best performance in the blue shirt.

It is plainly obvious that everyone in this French team wants to win this World Cup for Zizou as much as they want it for France and for themselves; they all look prepared to fight till the death, just like Diego and the 10 Argentines in '86.

And nobody in the footballing planet will begrudge this gentleman of the spotlight.

Plus, I like Zidane.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Oh woe is me... Argentina is gone!

... and that doesn't even begin to explain this whole miserable weekend.

First the anxiety of seeing Riquelme and Crespo off for Cambiasso and Cruz, after the goalie injury which further compounded / limited the substitutions. Then the agony of the botched penalties. And the unfortunate melee.

Heartbreaking. I'm still reeling from the pain.

As expected, Italy came through against Ukraine. I believe I've not watched a full 90 minutes of any Ukraine game, and this was no different. 1-0 up at half-time, and I was off to bed. I was suprised to find out the Italians actually bothered scoring another two goals.

I don't really care to talk about the England game. Watched every minute of it, and strangely England played better with 10 men than they ever did with 11. Lampard couldn't have scored with 10 penalties. Rooney is getting on my nerves, and C. Ronaldo isn't that far behind him (and this coming from a MU fan, mind you).

Then came the Brazilian shocker (or French delight, depending on your p.o.v.). In all fairness, the French deserved a bigger victory against the hapless seleciao, who never looked likely to score / win.

And I couldn't be happier for Zidane, whom I rank very highly as a footballing legend. He single-handedly held siege on the Brazilian goal throughout the game; I put my money on them against Brazil in '98, and I'm doing so again this year.

Plus, Zidane makes me feel bloody good about my receding hairline.

Ouef! Don't you laugh at ze bald spot again, mon ami!

Sunday night rolls by and I can't sleep because I've gotten used to these late nights. The US Grand Prix is on, and to compound the injury further, it looks like the pariah flers at McLaren are fast becoming the Frank Lampard of Formula 1, with Montoya and Raikonnen making a mess of their season.

As if to round off my miserable weekend, this bloody fool up and wins it.

The pain. The pain...

Friday, June 30, 2006

Ésta es inmotalidad

Maradona thinks about playing the long ball and goes "Naaa..."

"Harimau mati meninggalkan belang..."

As was the case with this small, stout senor. Exactly at this stage of the competition 20 years ago. And this was against a respectable, decent enough England team!

I'm sure as hell hoping for more of the same as we move into the quarter-finals tonight. If that is too much to ask for - and I think it probably is - then something really memorable would suffice.

20 years ago the world was at the tip of Maradona's toes; he receives the ball in his own half and with the poise of a ballet dancer (and seemingly without needing to move more than a few feet) he turns to lose two Englishmen (and a lethargic third giving chase), accelerates past another two, rounds off the on-rushing Peter Shilton, shrugs off a last-ditch chop-down by Terry Butcher and one man in the near post, and with the flick of a boot writes himself into the annals of football immortality.

Whose name do the Gods of football call this year?

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

So glad to be wrong

Never was I happier about being wrong on so many counts.

I was wrong about France. One spoonful of humble pie.

I was wrong about Brazil and Ronaldo (bless you, fatso!). Two spoonfuls of humble pie.

I was wrong about Mexico going further than Portugal.
And about Holland and Marco van Basten. And about the Czech Republic. And about England playing Germany and losing (I wish I was right here, though).

But I'm very happy about the quarter-final line-ups. 6 world champions in the final 8 - although 1 of them have a team where nobody was born when they last won the blessed thing!

Oh, what the heck... leave the whole damn pie!

Monday, June 26, 2006

Fresco fiasco!

Can you bloody believe this? I'm not even going to say a damn thing about it.

Please Portugal... please help us!