Friday, 30 August 2013

The Romance and Surprise of the League Cup

For football fans it has been less than a fortnight since the EPL season kicked off in vibrant and ferocious style. The season’s first domestic cup competition is shaping up to double the helping of frenzied football excitement.

The League Cup is a knockout single elimination competition open to all 92 clubs from the four English League competitions. (EPL, The Championship, League 1 and League 2). The Cup has lost plenty of its luster as clubs shift their emphasis on league promotion or a coveted place in the playoffs. EPL clubs tend to field below par squads instead focusing on high profile competitions like the Champions or Europa League. Teams earning qualification in Europe, FA Cup and League Cup titleholders receive a reprieve for the first two rounds and join the action in round three commencing on 23 September.

Last season Premier League surprise packets Swansea City progressed all the way to the final to run out eventual winners against League 2 side Bradford City in a record final margin of 5-0. This season the road to their title defense could be a rockier and uncertain given their slow start to the League season and juggling Europa League aspirations. They certainly boast the firepower needed upfront with the likes of Michu and recent signing Wilfried Bony.

The League Cup always delivers on the potential for the colloquially phrased “banana skin” games. These are games where teams expecting to progress often don’t and slip up along the way much to the pleasure of opposing fans. This is the romance of the League Cup and ensures that even minnow clubs with grossly inferior wages and stars starved team sheets can surprise to walk out in front of a capacity crowd at one of the most sacred of football amphitheaters, Wembley Stadium. 

The Cup has suffered a popularity decline in recent years but given some of the lifeless draws over the weekend in the EPL, the drama and the promise of a big upset can spark renewed interest. Many top-flight managers wax lyrical at insignificance of such a competition, usually at post match interviews giving reasons for their hasty elimination. The value of silver always remains high in the footballing stock market and can never be short sold in a club aiming to climb ladder both on and off the pitch.

Most results go the way of the stronger sides but a handful of second and third round games can change the course of a club’s fortunes or ring alarm bells for some of the football management elite in the days following.

Liverpool has the finest record of any club in League Club, lifting the trophy on eight occasions and deserve early consideration. As a general rule when each round ends the disappointment for some is matched by the massive influx of passionate lower league fans clambering onto the bandwagon of trophy glory.

Article appears courtesy of the ongoing support and encouragement of the following cracking football website:

Check them out and follow their Twitter handles: @bpfootball

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Do Arsenal Need More Firepower?

The EPL season kicked off in earnest last Saturday evening, but much of the talk has been dominated by Arsenal’s defeat at the hands of a youthful Aston Villa side. A committed Villa deserved their away victory, but the post match commentary has been squarely focused on the Manager and Board of Arsenal.

Arsene Wenger has served the North London club proudly since 1996 and delivered success both on and off the pitch. Patient fans are now pleading with the club to spend the riches they have so prudently saved to help deliver some much-needed silverware to an empty trophy cabinet.

The corporate governance and a healthy balance sheet maybe one thing but ultimately it is pitch success that draws fans through the turnstiles and has young fans begging their parents to invest in a club shirt.

It has been eight years and two months since Arsenal last won a trophy and there are websites and twitter handles dedicated to poking fun of the silverware drought. Following the Villa loss, the Arsenal players were spared of the criticism with it squarely directed towards Wenger. Chants of “Spend the Money” and “You don’t’ know what you’re doing!” echoed the fan’s displeasure around the stadium. The treatment may seem harsh for a team only one week into a nine-month season, but the wave of discontent had been building and finally hit the beach like Hawaiian winter point break.

As the EPL transfer window draws to a close at midnight September 2, the question remains, will Wenger bid for a high profile striker with a proven track record of goal success? The Liverpool club has stated publicly that Luis Suarez is not for sale and Manchester United boss David Moyes has echoed the same intent for Wayne Rooney to stay put at Old Trafford. Rooney is clearly unhappy at his treatment despite his club’s dominant display in disposing of Swansea City 4-1 at wet and windy Liberty Stadium.

Despite the doom and gloom of Arsenal’s early on field woes, they are still the envy of many clubs striving for Champions League qualification and the lucrative economic windfall. With a healthy international talent pool boasting the likes of Lukas Podolski, Olivier Giroud, Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, the problem does not lie with the “for” column of the stats sheet. Rather than chase the market for a high priced striker, it could be argued that the defensive strength requires the most attention. Assistant-manager Steve Bould replaced the long serving Pat Rice last season and it was thought his presence would add muscle to a defensive spine that underpins the Arsenal core.

Once a proud English club attracting the best European playing talent, Arsenal is in danger of their global brand being tarnished as the balance of financial success outweighs the need for silverware. The shift is evidenced by Bayern Munich’s defensive midfielder Luiz Gustavo signing with Wolfsburg in preference to playing Champions League football with Arsenal.

For now the pressure is off the Gunners after an impressive mid-week Champions League 3-0 away win against Turkish Club Fernerbahce. Yesterday they traveled to Craven Cottage and played a spirited outfit in monsoonal type conditions. Giroud and Podolski repelled the notion that Arsenal requires more firepower upfront. Theo Walcott and Santi Cozorla also teamed well together with plenty of damaging forward runs that challenge plenty of sides this season. Podolski’s is displaying plenty of early season promise following on from the German International‘s indifferent first season in the EPL. However if a loss is recorded against North London rival Tottenham next weekend, the intense media scrutiny and insatiable desire of Arsenal fans to see the club lift a trophy will snowball. Sadly to this point in time Arsenal will remain in the social media wilderness, never before having their success broadcast on Facebook or Twitter.

Article appears courtesy of the ongoing support and encouragement of 

Check them out and follow their Twitter handle: @SoccerSouls

Friday, 23 August 2013

Premier League preview: Manchester United retains favouritism in post-Ferguson era

The English Premier League delivers on so many levels but this season will see the biggest in its 22-year history when the competition kicks off on Saturday night.

Photo: Andrew Yates, AFP

The largest television deal, the widest audiences, and a league without Alex Ferguson beckons for football fans in 2013-14.

This will be the first Premier League campaign without him. All eyes will be fixed on Manchester United's new manager, David Moyes, as he imprints his own style on one of the world's most recognisable sporting brands.

With no big signing to date, he may opt for a wait-and-see approach before reaching for the chequebook.

United is favourite again, but this year will share the honours with cross-town rival Manchester City and London-based Chelsea as realistic prospects for the title.

North London rivals Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur will continue to push their claims for a top-four berth and the large financial reward that comes with a Champions League qualification.

The main off-season topic of conversation is the transfer battles for two of the game's most influential players: Luis Suarez and Gareth Bale.

Liverpool's star striker Suarez is never too far from the spotlight (usually for the wrong reasons) and wants out of the Anfield club.

Reds manager Brendan Rogers is adamant the club will not sell the Uruguay national, but a toxic and discontent-playing group may loom if his dream of playing in the Champions League is not realised.

The Gareth Bale-Tottenham signature drama continues to bubble with Spanish giants Real Madrid now baulking at the huge transfer fee of 86.7 million pounds ($146 million) that would make the Welshman the most expensive signing in world football.

The test for Spurs is what talent they secure to replace a midfield player who delivered 21 goals last season.

An equally busy conversation for fans centres on the league's cellar dwellers - the teams hoping to avoid relegation.

Relegation is by no means the death of a club, as it pockets a healthy "parachute" sweetener in the vicinity of 48 million pounds ($81 million) over four years.

The clubs firming as favourites for the disappointing return to the English Championship are newly-promoted Crystal Palace, Hull City and Cardiff City.

Other contenders Sunderland and Norwich City have endured a healthy summer reshuffle of their playing squads.

Both sides will find the going a little tougher this season as they try to maintain a healthy balance between youth and experience.

International talent on display ahead of World Cup
Photo: Pierre-Pillippe Marcou, AFP

The international talent on display in the Premier League promises to be a perfect precursor to next June's World Cup in Brazil.

Jesus Navas (Manchester City) is one player to watch. The blue-eyed Spanish international from Sevilla has a wealth of experience and trophy success and will add an extra dimension to City's attacking flair and speed.

If given the chance, West Brom's Diego Lugano - the ageless Uruguayan captain - will strengthen the Baggies' defence and could make life difficult for teams visiting The Hawthorns.

Liverpool's Iago Aspas joins the Reds from Spanish League side Celta Vigo. His speed and ability to find space alongside the redoubtable Steven Gerrard and Raheem Sterling will add a further sting to Liverpool's attack this season.

Link to the story as it appeared n ABC Grandstand Sport Online:

This article appears courtesy of the ongoing support and encouragement of:

ABC Grandstand Sport (Football)

Please follow their Twitter handle: @abcgrandstand

Debbie Spillane @DebSpillane also broadcasts the "English Premier League Show" each week on ABC Grandstand Digital

Click on Link to ABC Digital Radio Player:

Monday, 12 August 2013

John Burridge – The Greatest Goalkeeper The World Has Never Seen

Hard to Budge from between the posts 

When you talk of players that play the game for the sheer love of it then John Burridge stands out like a well-lit beacon. Not many have laced on a boot more times or worn more goalkeeping kits than the goalkeeping legend known simply as “Budgie”. He would need an entire wing of his house dedicated to displaying the countless shirts collected over the nearly 30 year playing career.

The self-confessed hyperactive “bee in a bottle” football addict, Burridge has fought many demons that control a mind and body that has an insatiable need to wear the boots and gloves for all of time. Most footballers look forward to the day when they can finally hang up the boots and move to the next chapter of their life beyond the soggy, cold and dank pitches, not John Burridge. He is drawn to the game like a moth to a large fluorescent light bulb.

Burridge began his career in 1969, the year when Neil Armstrong’s Apollo 11 Lunar module made history by landing on the surface of the moon. Burridge’s first steps were hardly synonymous with that mission, but his own football journey to the moon and back took off in gusto after moving to Blackpool from his local Cumbrian club Workington. He enjoyed a long and successful stint with “The Seasiders” and managed to lift his first trophy, the now defunct Anglo-Italian Cup.  The Blackpool club and their loyal fans recognised his commitment years later by inducting Burridge into the “Hall of Fame” along with five other players from each decade.

His club resume reads more like a League ladder rather than a list of teams played for. Most records require a solitary screen whereas Burridge commands the reader to scroll down and down deeper than a submarine mission to the bottom of the Atlantic.  To briefly summarise, he played in 771 games in both the English and Scottish leagues and countless many more at non-league level. He played in no less than 15 football league sides, which is a record yet to be broken by any player. In total he played with 29 clubs in a career, eventually winding up after a brief stint as a player/manager with Blyth Spartans AFC in 1997.

Burridge wore his heart on his countless jersey sleeves and is one of the true characters of the game. His on field antics brought an entertainment and humor to football that is rarely seen in the “modern” cutthroat world of the giant football leagues of today. He has been credited as bringing the celebratory somersault to the pitch and was once caught wearing a Superman costume beneath his Wolves goalkeeping kit. Although fiercely competitive the fun side of the sport seldom left his demeanor as he crossed the white line into the sixteen-yard box he called home.

 He was so brutally honest in his assessment of what the game meant to him in an interview he gave back in 2011 with Michael Walker in Dubai where he now resides and works.

 “Ninety-nine percent of players do it [Football] for the money. They pack it in at 29, 30 now, because they don’t love it.” “I love football. I’ve got no interest in golf or horses, no other interests. My life was football, training for football. All my life was built around football. When it ends, nothing. What else is there to live for… seriously?”

 It’s hard to question his passion for the game, especially when you dig a little deeper into his tough coal mining town upbringing.  It is obvious that football began as an escape but transformed into a new beginning and an obsession that still remains today.

John “Budgie” Burridge may have long retired from the game and it is his Twitter handle profile that best describes the true journeyman of football.

 @TheBudgieTweets “The greatest goalkeeper the world has never seen – I should still be playing”

Watch John Burridge in action as he warms up before a game!

John Burridge Warm-Up

Article appears courtesy of the ongoing support and encouragement of 

Check them out and follow their Twitter handle: @SoccerSouls

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Clean Sheet 23

Return of the Keepers

Well it is almost back. The EPL off-season break is finally drawing to a close which means the return of late nights, early mornings and the constant need for caffeine to get you through the next 38 weeks give or take a few due to international, league and FA Cup commitments.

There have been some comings and goings around the clubs with respect to goalkeepers, so I will keep things brief and to the point on the teams that have been strengthened and the ones that maybe a little vulnerable in the six-yard box as the season takes shape.
One of the big summer moves has been Simon Mignolet from Sunderland to the hallowed surrounds at Liverpool. With Pepe Reina’s exit on loan to Napoli, Mignolet will most likely take the starting role at Anfield ahead of Aussie Brad Jones. Conversely, Sunderland will struggle this season and coupled with the split personality management style of Paolo Di Canio, will do well to avoid relegation.
When the going gets tough look for the sideline fireworks as Di Canio’s grip on the dressing room starts to slip. Incoming squad member Vito Mannone joins Keiren Westwood and it appears experience at the top flight could be given that Mignolet played in every fixture for the “Black Cats” last year.
Of course the other big move was Mark Schwarzer down the road from Fulham to Chelsea. José Mourinho has been ensuring Chelsea fans that he will secure some game time. If Petr Cech’s form and fitness continues in the same vein from previous seasons, Schwarzer will find the going extremely hard to dislodge Cech from atop the pecking order. Cech recorded 14 clean sheets last season in addition to playing in six Champion League fixtures. Things didn’t work for Chelsea at Champions League last season but with Mourinho’s returning to Stamford Bridge, he has the option of playing Schwarzer in some of the “easier” early rounds and keep Cech fresh for the big EPL clashes. Only one person will know what the plan will be and that will be left to the “Special One”.
The “New Kids on the Block” this season are Cardiff City, Crystal Palace and the Hull City clubs. In terms of keeping talent it will be a big test for them as they join the football elite.
For Cardiff City, David Marshall will be the first choice keeper and will relish the return to the top flight after a stint with Norwich City a few seasons back. His performance last season was a stand out with 18 clean sheets recorded in the Championship. However I think he will be doing extremely well to reproduce those sorts of numbers in the EPL this season.
Crystal Palace will see club favorite and stalwart Julian Speroni continue wearing the number one in the starting eleven. He has been Palace’s player of the year on three consecutive occasions and an instrumental figure in their recent success. I for one look forward to tracking his results closely and his ability to step it up behind a squad boasting Aussie mid-fielder Mile Jedinak.
Last but be no means least is Hull City. Steve Bruce has bolstered the defensive line at “The Tigers” by acquiring the services of Scottish international Allan McGregor. The controversial McGregor will add some sting at the back for the newcomers, but the forward line is somewhat ”toothless” and lacking the big gun strike power needed to continue their existence in the big show that is the EPL.
With the return of José Mourinho back to the EPL I thought I would dedicate this week’s quote to one of the deepest/strangest thinkers in world football:
It is like having a blanket that is too small for the bed. You pull the blanket up to keep your chest warm and your feet stick out. I cannot buy a bigger blanket because the supermarket is closed. But I am content because the blanket is cashmere. It is no ordinary blanket.
- José Mourinho

Article appears courtesy of the ongoing support and encouragement of the following cracking football website:

Check them out and follow their Twitter handles: @bpfootball

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Liverpool FC – Analyzing The Goalkeeping Situation

After countless appearances for Liverpool in the EPL, Pepe Reina’s exit to Napoli looks set to trigger a fierce battle for the starting spot in the six-yard box.  Reina’s loan deal will almost certainly end his long association with the Reds in favor of a possible return to his beloved Barcelona. Reina’s exit now presents a wonderful opportunity for Aussie Brad Jones to cement his spot in the starting eleven. The only impediment standing between him and a consistent 90 minutes of game time is the arrival of Simon Mignolet from Sunderland.

Mignolet’s impressive stats speak for themselves and he also enjoys the public endorsement from Manager Brendan Rogers who rate him as “One of the top keepers in the League.” In 2012-13 he played in every minute of every game for the “Black Cats” a feat only matched by Joe Hart, Asmir Begovic and Jussi Jaaskelainen. Jones was firmly entrenched on the comfortably heated bench seats and managed just seven starting appearances, but did impress in recording a healthy average of 70 minutes between goals conceded.  For Brendan Rogers, he is in the enviable position of having two world-class keepers at the peak of their powers in the same dressing room. The real worry for Rogers isn’t his keeping roster but the continuing uncertainty surrounding Luis Suárez’s future at the club. 

This piece was supposed to focus solely on the keepers so I will leave the talk of strikers and transfer talk where it belongs, deep into the abyss of a football website homepage. Keepers may spend a majority of their time alone in the football wilderness on the pitch, but their efforts, skill and heroics at the back warrant far more attention then a clangers highlights package.

Jones was lucky enough to play a full match in Liverpool’s recent clash with A-League side Melbourne Victory at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in front of a record 95,446 passionate fans of the round ball.  A two-nil win and clean sheet was his reward after completing some memorable saves back on home soil. Mignolet is known for his upfront and aggressive keeping style and is instrumental in shutting down the attacking advances of opposition forwards. The biggest adjustment for Mignolet will be the constant comparisons drawn with Reina and the in depth microscopic analysis that comes with his career defining move to one of the world’s most loved and respected clubs.

This season is a huge test for Liverpool FC and more importantly Rogers. For a club so steeped in trophy and ladder success, fans have placed their trust in a manager they think has the balance of youth and experience right. Unfortunately in the cut throat world of the EPL it will come down to Champions League qualification as evidenced by the Kenny Dalglish exit despite him delivering the League Cup and an FA Cup final berth during his tenure as manager.

For the time being Jones will play a second fiddle role for Mignolet due to the sheer weight of minutes played coupled with his international experience. That said Jones has often been thrown into the cauldron at short notice with great success. As the long season rolls onwards and if form wanes in the Mignolet corner, the choice could be an easy one for Rogers. As an totally unbiased Australian, I would love to see the likeable Jones get more time on the pitch as the recruitment process continues to find the ultimate replacement for the ever reliable Mark Schwarzer when the sun sets on the World Cup in Brazil.  Given the large pool of local and international based goalkeeping talent on offer, the decision may prove much tougher to work through than cheap second-rate cut of steak. 

Article appears courtesy of the ongoing support and encouragement of

Check them out and follow their Twitter handle: @SoccerSouls