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!

African World Cup failure and the Managerial question.

The thrilling end to the Ghana – Uruguay quarter final and the praise that the gallant performance of the black stars gained did much to hide the relative failure of the majority of African sides this summer.

In the build up to the tournament the African sides were fancied by many. Their, characteristically, athletic teams were seen as potential usurpers of the regular European and South American contingent. The fact that numerous African players now play in Europe’s top leagues was seen as a technical and tactical bonus. What we actually saw was failure.

Six African teams entered the competition at the beginning, five qualifiers and one host nation. The host nation South Africa inspired during their opening day match against Mexico. The impressive finish of Tshabalala ignited the passion of a nation but their lack of ruthlessness was exploited by the Mexican’s and Rafael Marquez. Carlos Alberto Parreira’s team lacked the creative spark needed to be a truly imposing threat and the willing running of Mphela was not enough to overcome The Uruguayans. A final group game victory over the troubled French flattered to deceive as Parreira’s conservatism in the previous games eventually cost his team.

Rabah Saadane’s Algeria did not manage to win a single match at this summer’s tournament. His decision to drop the regular captain Yazid Mansouri caused controversy within the camp. Mansouri, on hearing the news, decided to pack his bags and head home. He was persuaded otherwise by the assistant manager, but with the desert foxes early exit, he would have been best served ignoring the assistant manager and taking an even earlier flight home.

Cameroon, a team boasting talents such as Samuel Eto and Alex Song, became the first team to be eliminated from the tournament. Paul le Guen’s decision to employ Eto on the right flank attracted widespread criticism. Pushing his most influential player into an unfavoured position did little to inspire his side as they were defeated in all three of their group games. Cameroon had been tipped as dark horses before the tournament but with the apparent threat nullified by Japan, Denmark and Holland its back to the drawing board for the once indomitable lions.

Oooh aaah Cote D’Ivoire, the seemingly most fancied African team were drawn in the “group of death” alongside World Cup powerhouses Brazil and Portugal as well as relative unknowns Korea DPR. The appointment of mercurial money grabber Sven Goran Eriksson did little for the fortunes of the Elephants. A blunt performance against England’s recent adversaries Portugal and then a feeble defeat to Brazil ended their tournament before it had even begun.

Lars Lagerback’s well drilled Nigeria side complete the list of African sides that fell at the first hurdle. The immediate memory of their campaign is the almost implausible miss by Ayegbeni Yakubu, but it could have been very different. Had the super eagles not ceded defeat to an otherwise unthreatening Greece side a place in the round of sixteen could have awaited.  If the foolish Sani Kaita had not childishly lashed out at Vassilis Torosidis Yakubu’s miss would have been an irrelevance and Lars Lagerback may have actually cracked a smile.

Failure for each of these teams was down to a number of corresponding and contrasting reasons, however, one thing to note is that only Algeria of all the African teams in an African World Cup actually had an African manager. The apparent dearth in African managerial stock filters into their club game.

TP Mazembe, the champions of the 2009 African CAF Champions League, employ a French manager Diego Carzzito and one of the losing semi-finalists Al-Hilal Omdurman, native to the Sudan, are managed by a Brazilian Paulo Campos. The fact that the runners up to the competition and the other losing semi-finalists are both managed by native Nigerian’s seems to have done little to impress the Nigerian football association. Even the “African club of the century” Al-Ahly are managed by a native Egyptian.

The lack of African managers in the international game hints at a lack of courage from the national footballing bodies. The widespread decision to appoint experienced foreign managers to the national sides may be due to the African national bodies attempts to westernise themselves. Seeing a lack of African mangers in Western Football resonates throughout African as national bodies could be fooled into thinking that African managers are incompetent and therefore not worthy of a chance.

Unfortunately, the lack of African managers at Western clubs could be due to the simple fact that up until recently few African players were believed to be at the top table of World football. As more and more African players are recognised as truly great players we may see a change in the mindset of the national bodies. The esteemed careers of players such as Samuel Eto carries weight when applying for managerial positions and if they then attract decent jobs a knock-on effect could continue throughout the African game encouraging the national football association’s that home grown managers are the right choice.

The development of players in Africa is reaching great heights as the recent youth championship triumph of Ghana has proved. The next step is developing managers equipped with a knowledge of the tactical aspects of the game and a respect to allow them to successfully apply for managerial posts all over the world, in turn developing the national game and the chances of a truly African side successfully competing for the World Cup.

You can’t beat great names

You can’t beat great names. Siphiwe Tshabalala knows exactly what I’m talking about. You also can’t beat great goals and great celebrations. This lad’s got the lot!

As the deafening sound of the Vuvuzela’s pulsated throughout the stadium, Tshabalala received that excellently weighted through ball knowing that millions of people up and down the country were willing him to do exactly what he proceeded to do. Lash the ball home. ITV for all their faults showed one bit of fantastic World Cup television. A family living in poverty in a poor village, who had only recently had access to electricity were watching the match through the medium of a projector projected onto a crisp white  bed sheet. The joy in that household typified the joy of a whole nation as the Kaizer Chief’s midfielder got the Bafana Bafana up and running.

The result, in the end, did not matter. Mexico equalised through the commanding Barcelona player Rafael Marquez but the party atmosphere was not dampened as the Vuvuzela’s rang aloud sending a strong beating rhythm throughout the country.

South Africa remain in with a chance of qualification to the second round of the World Cup as Raymond Domenech’s much maligned France side did not inspire against a Uruguay side who had substitute Nicolas Lodiero sent off in the second half. In a quite ironic twist, Thierry Henry’s shouts for a penalty from a handball were turned down by the impressive referee. The event may have had many Irishmen casting a wry smile in the direction of the television.

What looked apparent from the performance of France was the lack of any movement within the team. Yoann Gourcuff, usually a joy to watch, looked shackled by the 3-5-2 system of Uruguay. When he did recieve the ball a lack of confidence was evident as he displayed none of the creative verve that Bordeaux fans have become accustomed to in recent seasons.

The French full-backs Bacary Sagna and the newly instated captain Patrice Evra never posed a threat to the Uruguay back three. The marauding runs usually made for Arsenal and Manchester United respectively were nowhere to be seen. This, added to the poor performance of Gourcuff, left the french without any dynamism, meaning that the Uruguay back three could sit deep and allow the French midfield to pass the ball around aimlessly, knowing that there was no threat of a France player getting in behind Uruguay.

The negativity of the French was illustrated perfectly by the removal of Nicolas Anelka from the fold. At the score 0-0 Raymond Domenech decided to replace the Chelsea striker rather than altering his tactics and including two striker in the line-up. France will have to improve and fast if they have any hope of qualifying from group A, although they may be aided by the fact that the three other teams in the group are all capable of taking points from one another.

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Oh well Fabio, you can’t have it all.

On the 10th of June 2006 England played their opening World Cup game against Paraguay. And nobody like him. On the 1st of July 2006 England lost to Portugal on penalties and were eliminated from the tournament. And everybody loved him.

England’s star of that tournament started off as the inclusion in Sven-Goran Erikkson’s squad that people loved to hate. His name was, and still is, Owen Hargreaves. The central midfielder proved to be the key man in the England squad by the end of the tournament. His form being so impressive that Sir Alex Ferguson delved deep into his pockets to prize the English-German-Canadian midfielder from Bayern Munich. His successor to the mantle of zero to hero? Emile Heskey.

The Aston Villa striker has not been impressive over the course of this season leading to many pundits suggesting that England should play a 4-4-1-1 system with Steven Gerrard playing of Wayne Rooney. These pundits however do not see the tactical advantage that Emile Heskey brings to the England team when playing in the latter stages of the tournament. The very best defenders these days can deal with lightning pace and devilish trickery, however, brute strength and the ability to stick your rear out are two qualities that defenders in the modern age have forgotten how to deal with.

With Heskey in the team Rooney has the freedom of South Africa, he can make his marauding runs to right back to retrieve the ball knowing that, when he gets there, he will have a target to aim a delicious long ball at. Heskey scares defenders, and it is not due to any great ability on his part is purely the fact that they don’t know how to contain him. Pundits cite the fact that Heskey is not a proven goal scorer, but does he even need to be? England’s best attacking display in recent years came in Zagreb and Heskey had a hand in all of the goals. His excellent positioning allowed the space for Walcott to penetrate and his ability to keep possession will be crucial in the biggest of big games.

When on the attack he pushes the back line of the opposition closer to goal, allowing England’s midfield added time on the ball, giving them the chance to create a goal-scoring opportunity. The triumvirate of Rooney, Gerrard and Lennon/Cole at this summer’s World Cup will be aided by the presence of Heskey when heading towards the opposition’s goal.

Defensively, Heskey is also of great benefit. Not only does Heskey’s positioning allow Rooney to go on those mad runs into defence, but his overall fitness and mobility allows England to press the ball at a greater velocity than if the languid Crouch or the uninterested Defoe leading the line. Retrieving the ball can be the key to a World Cup match and, well, if pressing works for Barcelona surely it will do for England. As Chelsea fans will bear testament, having a powerful striker can also be an advantage when defending set pieces. I’m sure Georgio Chiellini and Per Mertersacker would rather be marked by Jermaine Defoe than Emile Heskey when attempting to score from a corner.

The debate goes on and the man whose opinion really matters happens to look like the depiction of Mel B off Bo Selecta. Oh well Fabio, you can’t have it all.p.s Come on Twitterland: NotBadOnPaper

Clubland Revisited

Clubs? Oh, you mean those weekly sorts of things that players play for during the gap between World Cups? Yeah, I remember them now.

With the media circus now (quite rightly) lavishing the World Cup with attention, NBOP has decided to take a look at some of the key issues affecting club Football right now. Well three to be specific: the adventures of Crystal Palace, Rafa the gaffer’s European get-away and West Ham making a canny signing.

So, first, the trials and tribulations of Palace, the club that refused to die. NBOP does not pretend to have a good knowledge of what has gone on at this club but it seems to me that, if anything, the events down in London have proved that however, financially, ruined a club appears to be a well supported team will never go out of business. Over the past few years we have seen clubs teetering over the edge, Portsmouth have provided the immediate example of that but it is worth noticing that no “big” club has actually fallen into the deep pit of no return. The situation at Portsmouth has become ridiculous, highlighted when the guardian published detailed accounts of Portsmouth’s debts, showing unfettered amounts of money being owed here, there and everywhere. They even owed meagre amounts to a local amateur club and Pukka Pies! With Palace now having reached a deal with the consortium deemed their saviours they have finally escaped the threat of liquidation. Anyone for a pie?

Rafa, Rafa, Rafa. Sacked by the scousers whilst on holiday. He must be bemoaning his grand misfortune, exiled from the lustrous haven of Liverpool and forced to endure the rest of his days in the squalid surroundings of Milan! How will he cope? My guess is he will drown his despairing sorrows with Italy’s finest ham ‘n’ pineapple and a cool glass of vino tinto, wondering if Lucio and Diego Milito can really be that much better than Sotiris Kyrgiakos and David N’Gog. My condolences go out to the lonely traveller. Could Rafa be on the threshold of taking the mantle from current cash-cow Sven-Goran Erikkson?

Finally we end with a trip down to Upton Park where German international midfielder Thomas Hitzlsperger will now be labouring under the beady eyes of those two delightful owners. Hitzlsperger is a fine player, being a winner of the German Bundesliga with Stuttgart as well as being well-travelled with spells at fellow claret and blue wearers Aston Villa and ,the romans, Lazio. I always thought Hitzlsperger would go on to play for one of Europe’s elite when he left a promising spell at Villa but his career has stalled over the past few years and, after being released by Lazio, has decided to return to England. The man nicknamed “the hammer” should be at home playing for the hammers but with these owners in tow one has to wonder whether the signing of Hitzlsperger is just a gimmick to get the fans going. I hope not.

p.s why player’s names getting so hard to spell?

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