• Saturday, 31 December 2011

    That's Conference! #5 - A Mario Gomez special

    'The home of the Mario Gomez fan club' it says at the top of the page. That's more than tongue-in-cheek - it's an outright lie. Gomez, for all he keeps scoring goals, is rubbish. If you look at him for long enough, you'll be blinded by the goals into ignoring the fact that they're all either penalties, rebounds from crap penalties or two-yard tap-ins after someone else has done all the hard work. His constant goal-scoring exploits are therefore, to us anyway, a source of both bafflement and annoyance. With all that in mind, here's a special edition of That's Conference! dedicated to the big man.

    First, three yards out, open goal. He can't possibly miss:

    Next, great work from Franck Ribéry, neat cut back. He's eight yards out. All he has to do is pick his spot:

    Edge of the area, license to shoot. Head over the ball, keep it down...

    Trip over the ball, why not?

    It would only be fair to end with an actual goal, by way of balance. Here, he bags a consolation for Stuttgart after being routed by FC Bayern (a one-yard tap-in, naturally). And what's the thanks he gets? A punch in the swingers:

    Mario Gomez: That's Conference!
    Here's to more in 2012.

    Poetry corner: More lines on Ancelotti at PSG

    So Carlo is in the place
    to give the Parisians a new face
    And to get the girls to drop their kecks
    He's going to go and sign Dave Becks
    And there's bound to be a different offer
    To which a certain striker may be proffered
    And to put more noses out of joint
    Drogba's coming to prove a point
    So all is well in with the riches
    At the stately Parc des Princes*
    With a side you could pick on football manager for the Atari
    This is actually real life for the Qataris

    * - Yes, we know. Artistic license yeah

    Friday, 30 December 2011

    Poetry corner: Lines on the PSG coaching job

    So farewell then Antoine Kombouaré.
    You may have been a decent player,
    You may have done well at Valenciennes,
    But you were never the 'name' the Qataris wanted.
    Let's face it;
    Your goose was cooked as soon as the sale was complete.
    With your team top of the league.
    That sucks.

    So hello Carlo Ancelotti
    And your permanently raised eyebrow.
    You now have to make PSG play sexy football
    Which isn't something you've ever done elsewhere.
    It may be handy to learn the Arabic
    Word for 'catenaccio'.
    You seem a likeable chap
    But it'll still be funny
    If you don't win anything.
    Sorry about that.

    Saturday, 24 December 2011

    The Euroballs review of 2011

    Over our traditional festive drink-a-thon, we've started to get all emotional and retrospective. Here's how we saw events of the past 12 months.

    Coach of the year

    There are lots of contenders for this. Young coaches with fresh ideas and philosophies - Jurgen Klopp, Thomas Tuchel - old masters still being absurd and brilliant in equal measure - Marcelo Bielsa - but it's from the first bracket we pick our man: Heiko Vogel. The former PE teacher wasn't ruffled by the departure of his boss Thorsten Fink, quietly took the reins at FC Basel and guided them to the knockout stages of the Champions League without fuss and without worrying about the club talking to other potential gaffers.

    Worst run club of the year

    What a competition we had for this award. Kettering Town went close, Portsmouth have become perennial contenders, but our winners go that bit further because they go against an entire nation's stereotypical reputation for efficiency: Neuchatel Xamax. Run by a egomaniac gangster who seems to want to rival Palermo's prolific Maurizio Zamparini in terms of sacking coaches.

    The 'shouldn't this have been sorted months ago' award

    Strong competition for this, especially over the English FA's lengthy deliberations over a pair of racism charges and the Luis Suárez bird-flip at Fulham, but the case of FC Sion dragged on past christmas before a final resolution. That resolution was the Swiss FA docking the club 36 league points for their use of ineligible players - players signed during a transfer ban. Had the Swiss FA not acted, FC Basel's tremendous run to the knockout stages of the Champions League was under threat. Nobody has come out of this well. It could and should have been apparent before the Europa League qualifiers and dealt with then. Sion's recourse to as many courts as possible looks costly and wasteful and now they're about to be relegated, 16 points adrift at the bottom of the league on a QI-esque score of -5.

    Teaboy of the year

    Paul Dickov, handing out refreshment on a freezing Oldham afternoon - one chap had to be taken to hospital with hypothermia - as Latics fans queued for tickets for the big FA Cup tie at Anfield.

    The 'you didn't want to do that' award

    The lad that got booted by Esteban Alvarado at the Amsterdam ArenA. Sore bollocks and a six-month sentence. And while Bas Nijhuis was probably correct to send Alvarado off, the red card has been rescinded. Common sense reins at the KNVB.

    Dick-swingers of the year

    Strong showings here by Barcelona, Chelsea, even Liverpool. New boys PSG and Anzhi Makhachkala rose to the task, but in posting a £195m loss for the year, it's a retention of the title by transfer-market distorters extraordinaire, Manchester City.

    Man Of The Year

    Well it should probably be someone who has given us huge amounts of pleasure like Lionel Messi, Dimitar Berbatov, Bryan Ruiz or Esteban Alvarado. Instead, we'll take the cynics route out and say Sepp Blatter. A Machiavellian delight, he survives by smearing all potential opposition as corrupt while continuing a cosy arrangement over World Cup rights sales through his nephew's company. Which is quite an impressive trick to pull off when you think about it.

    Here's hoping for more strong contenders in these categories in 2012.
    Best wishes to all (both) our readers and keep it here for the best in football nonsense.

    Wednesday, 21 December 2011

    Unbelievable Jeff! #3

    So, tonight's Dutch Cup match between Ajax Amsterdam and AZ Alkmaar was abandoned after this incident when an idiot fan ran onto the pitch to attack the AZ goalkeeper Esteban. The fan comes running on with a flying kick at the Costa Rican stopper who manages to avoid the idiot before landing a couple of hefty boots himself. Esteban was subsequently sent off by Jeremain Len's best friend Bas Nijhuis after the incident, so the whole AZ team did the decent thing and trooped off behind. The match was suspended and subsequently abandoned.

    As we thought, the YouTube video got pulled so here it is on the BBC Sport Website

    Unbelievable Jeff!

    Unbelievable Jeff! #2

    The wonderfully named Kevin Harbottle of Universidad Católica in Chile comes up with one of the all-time great nutmegs and then backs it up with a second, slightly more orthodox one.

    With thanks to Rupert Fryer who bought this to our attention via the CONMEBalls Twitter feed

    Unbelievable Jeff!

    Tuesday, 20 December 2011

    Unbelievable Jeff! #1

    This is actually a bit harsh for That's Conference! But it's unbelievable and needed sharing with the wider world so we decided to create a new feature into the bargain as well.

    This one comes from the the Hong Kong First Division game between Sunray Cave JC Sun Hei and Citizen AA at the weekend. Citizen were three nil up thanks to a hat-trick from Yuto Nakamura when, with ten minutes left, Nigerian import Festus Baise decided to be a bit fancy dan with a clearance and only succeeded in looping it over goalkeeper Tse Tak Him and into the back of the net. It gave Sunray Cave JC Sun Hei some hope and five minutes later they reduced the gap to one goal but couldn't complete a remarkable comeback to go down 3-2.

    Unbelievable Jeff!

    Sunday, 18 December 2011

    Barcelona dominate in Yokohama

    Barcelona dominated the Club World Cup final from first to last and handed Santos a lesson into the bargain as they added yet another trophy to the frankly ridiculous collection they're building up in what will no doubt become known as the Guardiola era.

    The Catalans dominated from the off and it proved something of a surprise that it took a full quarter of an hour before they took the lead. They did with a quite outstanding goal; Xavi with a sublime touch and Lionel Messi with a delightful, cheeky, impish, just plain sexy chip over the stranded Cabral. Xavi turned finisher a few moments later as the Blaugrana carved open their South American rivals, Dani Alves prominent on the right. There was so much space on the flanks, the ball came in from the right and Xavi was on the edge of the box to sweep it home.

    A goalmouth scramble - Barca can even make those look amazing - saw the third goal come on the stroke of half time. A wonderful back-heel from Messi played in Alves down the right and the ball found it's way, via half a dozen other feet, to Cesc Fabregas, unmarked on the back stick, and he passed it across goal and inside the far post. Santos trudged off the field, heads on chests, already a beaten side.

    The second half started as the first ended with Fabregas starting the move and the eventual shot grazing the outside of the post via Cabral's fingertips. Andres Iniesta was almost a peripheral figure in the first half, but he too went close after a stereotypical passage of intricate passing, but aside from that, Barcelona were content to keep the ball away from Santos and preserve the lead they'd built. The third goal had killed the game.

    A fourth eventually arrived with eight minutes to go, Alves playing Messi in whose initial control was poor, but it served a purpose in drawing Cabral out of his goal allowing the little Argentine to take the ball round him and pass it into the net.

    This was as comprehensive a win as it's possible to see. Barca, with a staggering 72% of possession, starved Santos. They were clinical in the first half, pragmatic in the second. Xavi's control and pass for the opener was pure porn and Santos were a beaten side from there on in. It's difficult to be too critical of the Brazilians: they were just beaten by a far superior side.

    Earlier in the day, Asian champions Al Sadd won the third-place play-off against Kashiwa Reysol on penalties after a dismal 0-0 draw.

    Saturday, 17 December 2011

    Brainless - slight return

    Earlier this week, we brought you what we thought was the most brainless red card in football history when Jeremain Lens was booked twice within the space of a few seconds.
    Well whadda you know? It's been beaten already. While the ball was in play for a fraction of a second between yellow cards for Lens, Franck Ribéry managed to pick up two yellows without the ball ever coming back into play. We've said it before and we'll say it again - massively talented player he may be, but Ribéry really does come across as a mega-tool. And this came on a day when he'd already lost a couple of million to a former agent who'd taken him to court.

    Friday, 16 December 2011

    That's Conference! #4

    Now, we just bought you Robinho missing from about four feet. Werder Bremen youngster Lennart Thy takes this a stage further by blazing it over the bar from in front of an open goal from all of about three yards takes some beating. It’s not even just over. He’s cleared it by yards and put the Jabulani into Row Z.

    That's Conference!

    That's Conference! #3

    After a nomination from our sister site at CONMEBalls, we were looking for a miss by Masakatsu Sawa in the Kashiwa Reysol v Santos game on Wednesday which would have graced this feature nicely.

    So after a search on that well known video site came up with nothing, it bought us this little pearler instead from one Robson de Souza. More commonly known as Robinho, this one took place last year, while he was on loan at Santos from Manchester City, in a Brasileirão game against Fluminense at the Vila. He's basically missed an open goal from a yard out, it was harder to miss than score. As they old saying goes, my Grandmother could have scored from there.

    That's Conference!

    That's Conference! #2

    Now we kinda skipped over this in the match report yesterday, but we though this was comical and stupid enough to become number two in our new series of That's Conference!

    Nadir Belhadj ended up passing the ball back to Al Sadd keeper Mohamed Saqr, who in a total act of lunacy that would be mocked at Sunday League level didn't know if to pick the ball up or boot it. By the time he'd decided to kick the ball, Adriano had turned up on the scene and Saqr more or less passed it into the Brazilian and it ended up in the back of the net.

    We get the feeling this may not be the last time Mr Saqr will feature in this spot

    Thursday, 15 December 2011

    Sion Saga Resolved

    The long-running saga over FC Sion's expulsion from the Europa League - as detailed in our 'Glory nights return to Scottish football' article - has finally met a resolution at CAS, the upshot being that their spurious appeal was chucked out.

    It's quite apt that it's taken exactly the same amount of time as the group stage to reach this conclusion, with a series of pointless exchanges in far-flung parts of Europe with little to no interest paid by the vast majority.
    In some ways, it's something of a shame that they've lost as the Europa League is a farce anyway and trying to parachute Sion back in - and Celtic back out, presumably - would add a level of nonsense that would be hard to satirise. UEFA, should they have felt a rare need to be consistent, could have dropped them straight into the knockout phase without having earned the right to be there, just like they do with the unhappy losers from the Champions League.

    But sense has, probably, reigned. Back in the day, Stuttgart were turfed out for a breach of player eligibility rules after knocking out Leeds, so UEFA are doing the right thing. Sion's action through the courts first and CAS second must have cost them a fair wedge and for what? It's said that any publicity is good publicity and we certainly know more about FC Sion than we did previously. While the whole sorry episode gave us a chance for a laugh at Scotland's expense earlier in the season, we find it difficult to see what else the Swiss club have achieved.

    Barça Cruise Through To Final

    Al-Sadd 0-4 FC Barcelona

    Barcelona have booked their place in the FIFA Club World Cup final an easy 4-0 victory over Qatari side Al-Sadd. It was be nothing more than a training session for the reigning UEFA Champions League winners as two first half goals from Adriano set Pep Guardiola's team on the road to victory. Second half strikes from Seydou Keita and Maxwell wrapped up the vitory but it was marred David Villa's broken tibia.

    With Lionel Messi, Villa and Pedro leading the charge, Barcelona dominated possession but with twenty five minutes gone they were gifted the lead. Former Portsmouth man Nadir Belhadj passed the ball back to goalkeeper Mohamed Saqr and the keeper simply blasted the clearance into Adriano and the ball ended up in the back of the net.  Then six minutes before the break, came the injury to Villa as he appeared to catch his studs on the turf and fall to the ground in agony. A blow not only for his club side but his national side with UEFA Euro 2012 only six months away. It didn't deter Barcelona as Aadriano doubled the lead just four mnutes after the departure of Villa. Belhadj switched off and allowed Thiago Alcântara to gain possession his suiperb pass found the well timed run of Adriano and the Brazilian full back smashed the ball home passed the helpless Saqr for his second of the game.

    It was business as usual in the second half as the Catalan giants dominated possession and made it seem like the Al-Sadd side, clearly out of their depth, were constantly chasing shadows. Just after the hour, Lionel Messi set up Seydou Keita for the third with a fantastic through ball from the Argentinian superstar. The with eight minutes left substitute Maxwell capitalized on a super through ball from Thiago Alcântara and some more generous defending and goalkeeping from the Qatari side as Mohamed Saqr did best to avoid the ball rather than stop it from going into the net. Santos now await Barcelona in Sunday's final, who will hopefully provide better opposition than the AFC Champions League winners. Al-Sadd will face Kashima Reysol in the 3/4th place play off, a game they are likely to lose unless they play a hell of a lot better

    Wednesday, 14 December 2011

    Careful what you wish for

    Life hasn't been kind to Monaco fans recently. Dumped from Ligue 1 last season after a year-long struggle to do anything other than draw, they now find themselves bottom of Ligue 2 with one win from 18 games. But, lo, is that a light on the horizon in the shape of Russian fertiliser magnate Dmitry Rybolovlev? Well hold on and make sure that it's not a train coming the other way.

    There are plenty of Russian owners around. By contrast to many, Roman Abramovich seems to be one of the best - well, he did right up to the point at which he forced Andriy Shevchenko on Jose Mourinho. It's been a bit of a mess since. Then there's Ramzan Kadyrov at Terek Grozny, the Chechen leader, noted warlord, ballot stuffer and overseer of gross human rights abuses. Still, he got Hilary Swank to go to his 35th birthday, so he can't be all bad, right? Ruslan Chagaev takes the biscuit though. Another Chechen, he took over at Neuchatel Xamax - a solid enough if unspectacular club - and started with a bang, sacking the entire coaching staff a mere month after hiring them to replace the previous lot. Today, reports come in that Neuchatel have had four league points deducted for non-payment of wages. The club's former president, Gilbert Facchinetti, said at the time of Chagaev's takeover of the stricken club "We are not familiar with these people. But we have to be honest with ourselves: we have no other way".

    Rybolovlev may be the saviour that Monaco are looking for as he promises €200m of investment. But for crying out loud, Monagasques, do some due diligence. It'll be worth it in the long run.

    Tuesday, 13 December 2011

    That's Conference! #1

    Reviving a theme from the blog of one of our contributors from some years ago, a celebration of things that make all of us feel better about not being professional players.

    First up, Edgar Prib of Greuther Fürth in a top-of-the-table clash away to Eintracht Frankfurt in what is becoming a really good tussle in 2.Bundesliga. How has he missed from here?

    That's Conference!

    Monday, 12 December 2011


    When you get sent off, after coming on as a substitute, for being booked twice in the space of ten seconds.

    Stand up, Jeremain Lens of PSV Eindhoven who acheived this in his sides 1-0 victory over NAC Breda on Sunday. Booked needlessly for kicking the ball away after conceding a free kick, Lens then compounds this by not retreating ten yards from the resulting free kick and he's promptly shown a second yellow and dismissed by referee Bas Nijhuis.

    The fun and games being in this video about 4 minutes and 30 seconds in.

    We also recognise and acknowledge the KNVB as the rights holder in this video.

    Sunday, 4 December 2011

    The Languid XI

    You know the sort. The player who looks like football is just a bothersome task that gets in the way of looking effortlessly cool. Like exerting oneself is the worst thing a person can do. Like they could take to the pitch with a cigarillo and a brandy, do something amazing without spilling a drop or knocking the ash off the end.
    Here's our Languid XI, lining up in the formation of languidity, 3-4-3:

    Vitor Baia
    Goalkeepers are normally highly strung individuals, bawling and shouting a lot, flinging themselves about and blaming everyone but themselves for their failings, which made our search for a suitable custodian difficult. But the former Portuguese number one gave off such an air of calmness that he was the obvious choice. No histrionics, no pretending he was really a midfield general but was just helping out by going in nets, economy of movement and stylish hair.

    Paolo Maldini
    Mats Hummels
    Gerard Pique
    All three of our defence exude casual brilliance. It's one thing to be brilliant, quite another to be brilliant while looking like you just don't care, like the fact you're better than the rest is actually quite banal. Hummels being flagged for offsides is not uncommon, and we all love a centre-back being offside, though his obvious delight in the Netherlands falling apart in front of him betrayed his lack of inner languidity. Pique is very similar - a midfield stroller trapped in a centre-back's body.
    What else is there to say about Maldini? Just look at him...

    Andrea Pirlo
    Juan Sebastian Véron
    Rui Costa
    Sócrates is the coolest person ever to pull on a pair of boots and the captain of the coolest team the game has ever seen. His grace of movement was completely at odds with his gangling frame, but it was off the field that he became cooler still with the drinking, smoking, philosophising and democracy activism. What a guy.
    The renaissance in Pirlo's career since leaving Milan has been quite staggering. The movement has become even more economical with age, but if anything that's made him more dangerous as a player. Feared, respected, admired, bearded. It doesn't get much better than that.
    The latter pair exemplify the archetypal midfield stroller. Socks half-way down shins, pads flapping, cruising around the middle of the park like they owned it and spraying passes around for fun. Those are the guys young lads aspire to be, the players that make you fall for this often stupid game in the first place.

    Giorgios Samaras
    Dimitar Berbatov
    Bryan Ruiz
    Sleeves down below hands? Check. Lank-haired (or formerly lank-haired) masters of the stroll? Check. Routinely shouted at by fans for not doing enough and then go and do something totally bloody amazing? Check. If you want any more than that from your front three, you have a heart of stone. Of course, Ruiz and Berbatov are now team-mates, regularly competing for the award for doing the most brilliant thing while also looking a bit bored by it all. And they have that dreamy away kit - the black with the white and gold sash. All properly languid teams should wear the sash, the kit of cool.
    Samaras is a lot better than people give him credit for. Like many of our team, his apparent lack of effort weighs against him in terms of image, but he's alright, y'know, and stylish with it which is, of course, far more important.

    Would this team win many games? Who cares.