Romania – “The collapse of football: Greed and Corruption.”

Dumitru Dragomir

The year is 1998, the location is Toulouse, France. Romania and Chelsea right-back Dan Petrescu receives a high ball from the left hand side, out muscling England left-back and Chelsea team-mate Graham Le Saux before delicately placing the ball through the legs of England’s ‘keeper David Seaman and into the gaping net. The Romanian players, and fans, go wild as a 2-1 victory over one of football’s traditional powerhouses is achieved. The baying hoards up and down Romania, from Bucharest  to Craiova, had little idea that, by 2010 they would still be waiting for another taste of World Cup football.

The sorry state that Romanian football now finds itself in could not have been foretold in the 1930’s as Romania were one of only four teams to compete in the first three World Cup’s. The journey from founders of competitive international football to the crumbling bastion of flair is a long and arduous process that would be better described in a historical volume. One of the main reasons for the decline in Romania’s national game, in recent years, is the corruption within the national game and the way the game is run in the former communist Country.

The degree of corruption has been highlighted recently by the Romanian daily ‘Adevarul.’ The daily published, on Monday, a detailed and damning analysis of the state of Romanian football holding the ominous title “The collapse of football: Greed and Corruption.” The heavily critical analysis of the current Romanian plight pinpoints Mircea Sandu, president of the Romanian Football Federation (FRF), and Mitica Dragomir, president of the Professional Football League (LPF), for vehement criticism.

Part of the analysis reads: “Everything started immediately after the revolution when the legitimate issue of taking this sport out from under any government, hence political, influence was raised. The Romanian Football Federation was organized as a non-governmental association; however those that created it made sure to basically ensure their “immortality.” Mircea Sandu was the beneficiary. A few years later, Dumitru Dragomir, another “man of football,” requested for his share of the pie and received the leadership of the Professional Football League (LPF), the entity that manages League I. Under their reign any worthless person was able to become a football club owner. In recent years the Sandu-Dragomir duo watched as some amazing cases of corruption were revealed in the system that they have led for two decades: money laundering, bribing referees, bribing players. They said and did nothing. Now they sit and watch, just like us, the draw against Albania”

Sandu was a renown goal-scorer in his day’s as a player, netting 169 goals in 442 appearances, although he made little impact on the Romanian national team. He was elected to the presidency in 1990 and has since been reelected twice, his past pales in significance to his colleague Dragomir. With a nickname like “Corleone,” you can immediately see the portrayal of the League’s president in Romania.

Dragomir is not a footballer, he is a politician who entered the world of football in 1977, aged just 31 when he became president of, the now disbanded, Ramnicu Valcea. So that’s his induction into the football world, now for his induction into the murky world of crime and imprisonment. in 1976, yes so that means Ramnicu allowed him to preside over footballing matters even though he had a criminal record, Dragomir was handed a three-month sentence for illegal gambling, but his criminal jaunts don’t stop there. Whilst president of yet another football club, Victoria Bucharest, Dragomir was handed another prison sentence. The politician was handed a seven month sentence for “abuse of office” in 1990, making that ten months in total. Surely a candidate to become deputy in the national parliament and president of the national football league…

As well as a politician, it transpires that Dragomir is a xenophobe and anti-Semite. These, less than startling, revelations came after the collapse of his sports newspaper, Romanian Sport, after the editorial team of the newspaper left to create a rival institution. Dragomir then launched these attacks through the national tabloids until he was given a “warning” by Sepp Blatter and his pals at FIFA.

Just to put this into a little bit of perspective for English readers, this is like Richard Scudamore, head of the Premier League, being a twice convicted criminal with xenophobic and anti-semitic tendencies and when these tendencies became apparent, him being given a slight slap on the wrist by the men leading the world game. Ho hum!

Can the persistent failings of a nation be down to the foreigner in charge?

In the wake of the humiliating defeat by the Germans and the “goal that never was” the one question many blundering pundits are failing to answer is: why do England always lose?

Since the spanking dished out to us by the old enemy, the so-called experts of British football have each cast their damning verdicts on the state of the manager, the players, the F.A and just about everybody involved with England.

The tabloids have followed the usual line of blaming the unfortunate foreigner. The Mirror ran with the dubious headline “Fabigo,” calling for the dismissal of the rueful Italian. But, can the persistent failings of a nation be down to the foreigner in charge? Can the manager, who has won just about everything there is to win in the modern era, have become implausibly inept overnight? Well, my answer to that question is a resounding no.

The problems in the English game run far deeper than a few tactical mishaps from an otherwise very talented manager. The problems even run deeper than the abject failing of the so called “golden generation.” The real problem lies with the grassroots of English football.

The fact that on any park on any miserable Saturday morning you can hear shouts of “get stuck in” and “nobody scores from row Z” just about illustrate the true reasons for our failings as a footballing nation. A country where physical endeavour is regarded as a greater asset than raw technical ability will never win the modern World Cup. Not until we start to coach our youngsters the art of possession football and the value of technical brilliance will we see a ship change in the fortunes of the national team.

If you were to walk along a Spanish or German park on a Saturday morning the scene would be staggeringly different to that of a British park. For one, the pitches would have been adequately funded by the efficient national footballing bodies of each nation, meaning that possession football is possible. The coaches would not be screaming at the kids and the parents would not even dare to abuse the referee from the sidelines. There would, however, be noise. The coaches and parents in such countries offer support to the young players. The freedom to express themselves would be granted by coaches who would not lambast their players should a rare mistake occur. The emphasis on these football pitches would be enjoyment and skill rather than the winning at all costs mentality advocated by the English footballing “experts.”

The footballing culture in these countries is different to that of our own. We find humour in the fact that eighteen and nineteen year-olds arrive at games still nursing a hangover from the night before. The acceptable image of the Newcastle fan, top off, tats on and moobs out, would not be found in the more cultured European nations. To ever attempt to reform our national football landscape we need to reform the way we view the beautiful game.

Remember that old saying: “The Beautiful Game?” Well why don’t we treat it as such? The British are always keen to portray themselves as the big-hearted gallant loser and if that doesn’t work we seek someone to blame. First there was Sven, then there was Fabio, but the truth is we need to look inward if we are to apportion any of the blame.

France won the World Cup of 1998 and the European Championships of 2000 after a couple of years in the international wilderness. After the Michel Platini and John Tigana era of the 1970’s and 1980’s France took stock. They assessed their shortcomings and planned for the future. A national academy for coaches and players was established at Clairefontaine. The Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has longed preached to the English media the value of having player and coach development based in one efficient and mercurial compound. The willingness of the French later reaped full reward as numerous members of the World Cup winning side found their footballing feet at the national centre. Until the English government and the F.A invest into making the proposed plans for a national football centre at Burton a reality, the English game and the English national side will not progress on the international stage.

“What’s with this drip drip thing?”

So, Capello has decided. As each of England’s provisional squad waited, nervously, hands clutched around their precious mobile phones, Sky Sports waited, vulture-like, ready to offer the public scavengers the feast of knowledge they required.

Walcott out. The most controversial decision of ol’ Fabio’s twenty-three alludes to a sense of frustration with the young Arsenal winger. Blessed with devilish pace and a powerful shot the former Southampton man promises much but delivers little. His pace can be all but matched by Aaron Lennon and his poor final ball is far inferior to the two right midfield players included in the England squad. Shaun Wright-Phillips offers a threat of goals and is experienced at international level, the only tragedy with his inclusion is that Mr Ian Wright will be given air time to deliver his “valued” opinions.

The only other surprise is the omission if Leighton Baines in favour of Aston Villa’s Stephen Warnock although, witnessing Baines’ less than grand performance against the Mexican’s we really should have seen that one coming. Warnock is both a reliable defender and a reasonable athlete, and whilst not being in the same class as Ashley Cole, will offer a steady backup. Please though, Ashley, don’t get injured!

Today’s events show England and the FA in a rather shameful light. How the Manager’s decisions on who to omit and who to include were leaked to the national press at least three hours before the official announcement at 4pm is by-the-by, the real issue is why the announcement was allowed to reach the outstretched paws of Sky Sports and the masses on Twitter.

Sid Lowe, via his Twitter feed, derided the FA asking “What’s going on? Why can’t they just give us the list? What’s with this drip drip thing?” The truth is that the FA should have either announced the squad to the media at the same time as the announcement to the players or the players should have been forced to remain tight-lipped around the issue until the official announcement at 4pm. Let’s hope the rest of England’s world cup campaign is slightly better organised than today’s press releases.

p.s Will poor Theo end up here on his summer travels

The Chelsea Boys

Mexico, Brazil and Portugal all did it. Croatia did it first time round and then inadvertently slumped during round 2. All these nations showed the English how to keep the ball.  The 3-1 result did much to paper over the cracks of a team who looked, surprisingly, fearful in possession. Each not wanting to make a mistake. The mindset was typified by the central midfield pairing of James Milner and Michael Carrick in Fabio’s 4-2-3-1 system.

The performance of Carrick left much to be desired. Given a starting role with the voluntary absence of what, ITV repeatedly refered to as, “The Chelsea Boys” making Messrs Cole X2, Terry and Lampard sound like a substandard West end act. Carrick gifted possession to the Mexican’s time and time again and looked to have lost any of the grace, calm and composure that premier league fans attribute to the man from Gateshead. His partner in midfield, Milner, gave a solid if unspectacular performance. He looked weighed down by the occasion of playing in front of 88,00 fans. The growing speculation over his future may have had a further effect on the youngster and it may prove vital for England that his future is sorted before the highly anticpated World Cup opener.

NBOP has noticed, through twitter, and various other media outlets, that many deduced from last night’s events that Capello has discarded Heskey. Not likely. We saw yesterday that England’s previously fluid 4-2-3-1 system became stagnant and immobile. The presence of Crouch hinders the flow of the team. Heskey is more mobile than the goalgetting Crouch and holds the ball up more effectively and more efficiently.

When Theo Walcott grabbed a hat-trick in Zagreb England’s goalscorers and creators gained the plaudits. However, the key to England’s system that night and the tactical key to many other victories is Emile Heskey. He acts as a pivot for the attacking trio of Gerrard, Rooney and Walcott. NBOP guarantees that if you asked Maza Rodrigues, last night, or Josep Simunic, that night in Zagreb, whether they would find it tougher marking Heskey or Crouch the answer is always Heskey.

So why didn’t Heskey feature last night? Simple. Heskey is a consistent performer and the manager knows exactly what he is going to get when he puts Emile’s name on the team sheet. So unfortunately for many of the country’s football “experts” Heskey will not be discarded, thrown away, dumped or anything other than played.

p.s was it the night of garish fashion choices last night? Those horrendous orange and silver boots that they all had on and Joe Hart/ Rob Green’s bananramafied yellow ‘keepers shirt!

Don Fabio’s Seven Man Guillotine

So, NBOP was in fact wrong over Ivica Olic. Not to worry.

Diego Milito’s well taken second goal at the Santiago Bernabeu last night did not only end the Champions League final as a contest but also signalled the irreversible climax of the European club season. Heralding the dawn of the insane media circus that is the World Cup finals. Well, for English journalists anyway.

We now find ourselves taking an inward look at our home grown starts each nervously awaiting Don Fabio’s seven man guillotine on June 1st. Will Dawson, after a bright end to the season, make the cut? Will Gareth Barry shrug off injury concerns and emerge defiant and ready to wear the three lions? What we do know is that England are in the elite group of six or seven teams who have the ability to pose a serious threat at this summer’s tournament.

Much may depend on how El Diego’s team decide to behave. They certainly have the ability. Messi, Higuain, Milito, Aguero the list go’s on. The general feeling is they will score goals aplenty but with the shaky Demichellis looking increasingly flummoxed at the back they may also conceed plenty of goals. The Argentine’s matches will certainly provide rich entertainment for the neutral but could prove unsustainable as the tournament goes on.

Refering to the success of NBOP’s last prediction the Argies will probably win the tournament having conceded the least amount of goals. Let’s just wait and see.

p.s Diego Milito looks remarkably like a Womble