SniperTactics: Emmanuel Adebayor

This weekend sees Arsenal visiting near neighbours Tottenham in the North London derby. A little extra spice is added to this particular recipe for disaster with Emmanuel Adebayor set to line up against his former employers, whom he left to join Manchester City in rather acrimonious circumstances in 2009.

Just 4 games into his City career, he was making his very first appearance against the gunners, when in the 80th minute, he scored his 4th goal in as many games to put his side 3-1 up. In the jubilation that followed, Adebayor ran the length of the field to celebrate in front of the fans of his former club:

This was quite a bold tactical move, bringing the Arsenal fans forward and leaving space in behind for the police to exploit. Who would have thought goading the away fans like that would provoke such a response? In the end, the linesman refused to give the goal,  England lost 4-1, and David James hasn’t played for England since.

Lesson learned.

SniperTube episode 2: East Anglia vs The World; and Phil, King of the World

It hasn’t been a vintage week for English clubs in Europe so far this week; as for tonight, with 6 first-teamers unavailable for Arsenal’s match against Olympiakos and Chelsea facing a tricky tie away at Valencia, it’s probably not going to get much better, either. So we cast our eyes back to headier days.

On the back of their best ever league finish (3rd in 1992-93), Norwich City competed in the UEFA cup for the first time. After breezing past Vitesse Arnhem in the first round, they were drawn against Teutonic giants Bayern Munich. Written off and advised by the press to try and keep the score down, they turned football ever-so-briefly on its head:

Contextually, people still cared about the UEFA cup back then; Norwich drew 1-1 in the return leg at Carrow Road, but lost in the next round to eventual champions Inter Milan; Jeremy Goss’s dipping volley has since been voted the greatest Norwich goal of all time by their fans.

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Staying in East Anglia, Ipswich Town’s most famous European moment came in 1981 when Wor Bobby, Johnny Wark and Frans Thijssen inspired them to UEFA cup glory against AZ Alkmaar. More recently, the Tractor Boys finished 5th in the top flight in 2001, then their first season in the Premier League in 5 years. The following season, George Burley’s men negotiated their way past ties against Torpedo Moscow and Helsingborg, before coming up against Norwich’s conquerors in 1994, Inter Milan.

The Nerazzurri clearly weren’t expecting a tough task; they left Original Ronaldo (this one – bloody hell) at home for their trip to Portman Road in the 1st leg. However a highly lacklustre Inter were caught short by an Ipswich Team then suffering from chronic second season syndrome (they were duly relegated at the end of the season), sunk by this Alun Armstrong goal:

This sparked the Italians into life, and while they were unable to pull a goal back in the final 10 minutes of the match, Ipswich eventually succumbed 4-1 in the San Siro. Burley left early the following season, with the side 18th in Division 1 and the club in administration due to the abscence of Premier League TV money. His 8 years there are his only managerial success to date, aside from taking Hearts to the top of the SPL after 10 games but then leaving when it all blew up with Vladimir Not Mental Romanov.

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After pooping the parties of Norwich and Ipswich, it seems only fair we look back at Inter getting the rug pulled out from under them. Under the stewardship of Ron Atkinson (who once said of Jens Jeremies: “he’s got a very unfortunate face”), Villa won the League Cup 3-1 in 1994 against a Schmeichel-less Man Utd (the excuse given by Man Utd fans for the defeat at the time was the abscence of their Danish stopper; I think they expected Villa to grant a replay of the game based on having to play their reserve keeper).

In the subsequent UEFA cup campaign, Villa were handed a first round match against the reigning champions, Inter. Though they had finished just one point above relegation in the previous season, Inter’s team had a genuine superstar tinge to it; Giueseppe Bergomi, Dennis Bergkamp, Ginaluca Pagliuca and Ruben Sosa to name but a few. A Bergkamp penalty in the first leg gave the Nerazzurri a slender lead to take to Villa Park, however it was soon cancelled out by a close range strike from Ray Houghton, who must have been close to becoming Scourge of the Italians after his winner for Ireland at USA ’94.

Imagine if Guy Whittingham’s chip had gone in…anyway, after missing in the shootout, he was sold to Sheffield Wednesday for £700k that December. Phil King’s finest hour came after one of only 20 starts he made for the club in 3 years. Also worth noting Nigel Spink playing in goal, due to the 3 foreigners rule in force at that time – Irishmen Steve Staunton, Andy Tactics Truck Townsend and Ray Houghton keeping Mark Bosnich out of the team. Villa subsequently lost on away goals to Trabzonspor in the next round; Atkinson was sacked 10 days later.

No Indian summers at Chelsea?

I’ve written previously about England’s Golden Generation and the innate technical definiciencies that have prevented them from succeeding on the world stage, versus the consistent domestic success many of the players have achieved. This dichotomy is perhaps perfectly embodied by Frank Lampard.

After 10 seasons of being ostensibly untouchable as a 1st choice, Lampard is starting to look increasingly surplus to requirements at Stamford Bridge. In his time there, he has scored 116 goals in the league alone, and is close to racking up 350 PL appearances. His record as a goalscoring midfielder is a tremendous one, and his longevity is admirable.

Lampard, though, has always had his critics. Since Jose Mourinho introduced 4-5-1/4-3-3 at Chelsea, and through the diamonds of Scolari and Ancelotti, the team has very much been tailored to suit his needs; he likes to arrive late in the box, he likes to pick the ball up on the edge of the area, he enjoys shooting from long range. And all through Chelsea’s period of success, he has had more technically gifted midfielders around him; not just a water carrier, but someone to silently pull the strings while Lampard makes all the headlines.

From 2003, Claude Makélélé was the relatively unheralded heartbeat of the Chelsea team, (at least until he had gone; abscence makes the heart, etc), while in Mourinho’s first season, Lampard was accompanied mostly by the oft-forgotten Tiago, or occasional stand-in Alexey Smertin. Michael Essien followed the season after, Michael Ballack has been and gone, Jon Obi-Mikel remains a perennial stand in. And all this time, the fulcrum of the midfield, Lampard has remained.

Now, while it seems he has finally fallen out of favour, it is by no means a vindication of his critics. It’s often been said that Lampard has “made the most of his talent,” technically lacking but possessing the unlearnable gift of being in the right place at the right time. It’s irrefutable that Lampard has been blessed by playing alongside incredible talent, and under managers willing to set the team up around his strengths. For his supporters, it’s playing alongside such players that has allowed him to fulfil his potential. For his detractors, it’s the proof that he has always been carried by his more gifted team mates, his achievements over-glorified by a fawning media and a raucously vocal Chelsea fan-base.

For me, his limtations have always been exposed when playing for England. He and Steven Gerrard must take equal blame for the national team’s recent failings, for the inability to adapt their games to make a central midfield pairing, for having egos so big they coudn’t rein in their gung-ho instincts. I’ve always suspected the main reason Gerrard and Lampard couldn’t work together was because they didn’t like each other very much, but that’s a discussion for another time.

This is no obituary, and Lampard is by no means on the scrapheap. But at the ripe old age of 33, it remains to be seen whether he will accept a more peripheral role at Chelsea, or if his need to be the main man will force him to look for pastures new. At that age, and with the pace of the Premier League, he simply can’t be the same player he was. Does he have the nous to re-invent himself as a player, step aside from the limelight and change his game, in the way that Paul Scholes did in his twilight years at Man Utd? Or is he so driven to “be the man” that he will search for success elsewhere? If that were to be the case, he would almost certainly have to take a cut in his reputed £140,000 a week wages. For now though, Lampard’s career remains in an unprecedented state of limbo.

Top 10 full-back songs

“Right-backs, they never score | Right-backs, pass on the floor” is how the song goes. I can’t remember exactly what song it is, but that doesn’t matter, as we celebrate the Top 10 full-back songs.

  1. Boyce of summer – Don Henley. Emmerson Boyce came to prominence in the 2004/05 season at right-back for Crystal Palace in the Premier League. After slumming it the following year in the championship, he moved to perennial top flight water-treaders Wigan Athletic. Eagles man Henley reached #12 with his most memorable solo effort.
  2. Neville gonna give you up – Rick Astley. Before surprising everyone with his (relatively) erudite opinions and un-annoyingness as a pundit, Neville G was first choice right-back and trundler-in-chief at Man Utd for about 38 years. Rick Astley might not ever give you up, but he retired from music in 1993, aged 27, after selling 40 million albums. Get rickroll’d here.
  3. Too man Dixon the dance floor – Flight of the conchords. Okay, band meeting: Tony, present; Steve, present; Nigel, present; and Lee, yes, present. The definitive Arsenal back four were all brought to the club by George Graham in 1987-88, catching people offside together for the following 10 years. Only two seasons of Flight were made, but “always leave them wanting more” is the saying, and that’s just what they did. See here.
  4. Beglin – Frankie Valli. Jim Beglin’s career was shorter than it should have been. He won the double in 1986 with Liverpool, but after he broke his leg in a Merseyside derby in a challenge with Gary Stevens, he was never the same player. Now he is mostly heard alongside the insufferable Peter Drury on ITV, or on the excellent Pro Evolution Soccer (“Oh no!”). The song features in Act 2 of the hit West End musical Jersey Boys.
  5. Fade to Blackmore – Metallica. After 8 years and a Cup Winners Cup medal at Man Utd, Clayton Boyo Blackmore had spells at Middlesbrough, Notts County and Bangor City (amongst others). Guitar World magazine ranked the song as having the 24th best guitar solo of all time. It’s pretty damn awesome. Metallica are notoriously laid-back in their attitude towards file sharing.
  6. Breakin’ the Lawrenson – Judas Priest. Mark “Irish” Lawrenson was part of the all-conquering Liverpool team of the 1980′s. Though he was mainly a centre back, we’ve shoehorned him in here so we can mention his schizophrenic Radio/TV personality split. On the telly, he is blasé and annoying. On the radio, he is insightful and interesting. Sort it out, Lawro! Judas Priest were pioneers of the British heavy metal scene.
  7. Bouma! Shake the room – Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince. Freddy Bouma sandwiched 5 years at Aston Villa in between his PSV career. He was unfortunate to dislocate his ankle in an intertoto cup match in 2008, and was never really able to reclaim his place in the team after a long spell on the sidelines. Will Smith’s first UK #1, on the back of his very popular Bel-Air sitcom, started him off on the road to A-list superstardom.
  8. Saux here we are – Bloc party. Living proof that going to university and reading The Guardian doesn’t make you more intelligent or interesting, Graeme Le Saux had a brief spell on the MOTD sofa before my online petition convinced the BBC to remove him. (Probably). Bloc party never quite managed to hit the heights of Silent Alarm in subsequent efforts.
  9. Panucci Booty – Ultimate KAOS. Christian Panucci was a cultured Italian full-back who played for AC Milan, Real Madrid, Inter, Roma, Monaco, and managed to squeeze in a few games for Chelsea as well. Perhaps the definition of “meh” mid-90′s boy bands, Ultimate KAOS reached #17 in the chart with this effort.
  10. More than a Phelan – Boston. Terry Phelan’s only major honour was winning the FA cup with Wimbledon in 1988, though the pinnacle of his career came in a 14-game loan spell with Crystal Palace, at The Home of Football, Selhurst Park. Boston’s epic 1976 song took Tom Scholz 5 years to compose. Though recently soiled by a Barclaycard ad campaign, it still remains one of the all time classic rock tunes.

SniperTube Ep. 1: Hargreaves’ return and other crackers

Reading the comments section of most youtube videos is like voluntarily wading into a nightclub brawl and placing your head in between the flying fists of two louts; you always end up with a sore head and a whole morning of regret. The video below (presuming it isn’t swiftly removed for copyright reasons) shows Owen Hargreaves scoring a belter from 25 yards on his Manchester City debut, after roughly 2 years out of action with knee-death:

[EDIT: original clip removed due to copyright claim. Cheers lads]

Triffic stuff. The top comment, from mnnh1, reads as follows:

Every goal he scores he should pay back £10 000 in wages to Man Utd. And for ever assist, £5000. If he scores against Utd, should double those figures! We payed his medical bills all those years!

Already you feel like you’re drowning in the dreaded quicksand of “Big 4″ fan-entitlement. The uploader goes on to mention that Hargreaves may have been insured whilst at Man Utd, and this may have helped cover the cost of his wages. Then, just as you feel yourself coming-to with a whiff of reason, you are veritably bludgeoned over the head with:

Insured, you dumb f**k, Manchester United paid his wages and his medical bills for his enture duration at the club. And instead of acting like a chavved up c**t, try and understand, Man City only grabbedhim to p**s us off, so his loyalty should have stepped in but because he’s such a little t**t, he’s over at the s**t end of Manchester, a club trying to buy titles, a blue exploiting football with billionaire owners, a club with no history, a club without the players that got it there.

Of course it’s unreasonable to expect any logic from a football fan. It’s just the Man Utd fan’s incredible sense of paranoia, that Hargreaves only wanted to annoy his former club, that Man City signed him only because they wanted to annoy their neighbours, that’s so terrifyingly ridiculous. And a Utd fan criticising City’s owners is not just the pot calling the kettle black, but forcing it to stand trial for being a kitchen implement.

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It’s unlikely you haven’t seen it, but even if you have, this deft piece of acrobatics from Spanish U21 international Inigo Martinez is always worth revisiting.

Like all the best own-goals, it’s a combination of unscriptable farce and nonchalant body-popping, leading to an epic faith-restoring climax: A 30-yard, look-the-other-way back-volley. The perfect tonic after reading the comments of the almost unfathomably self-righteous Man Utd fans.

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Staying with the own-goal theme, next we visit Hungary. The next clip doesn’t quite reach Martinez-levels of genius, however it’s a great example of close control in the box, and finishing under pressure:

You always expect him to hit the target from 8 yards out, but he’s about to be closed down, and if you look carefully, you can see he’s off balance as he lashes it home – a difficult skill for any striker, never mind defender.

It’s worth watching the replay to see a balder-than-I-remember-him ex-Bee Gee Robin Gibb looking calmly on from the touchline. There’s no visible reaction, but he must be fuming inside. Also on show is a 10 ft-high Orange Juice bottle in the stands, which is surely interfering with lines-of-sight.

If they were a cartoon character…

Certain footballers and certain others in football have certain eccentricites. Small character traits which to them, may seem harmless or endearing, but to the rest of the world are infuriating, laughable, or some combination of the two. And so, purely in the interests of scientific comparison, 30 Yard Sniper has analysed some of their personalities, and found out who they would be if they were a cartoon character.

  • Joey Barton – Scrappy Doo. “Let me at ‘em, let me at ‘em!” was the famous catchphrase of the former Newcastle midfielder. Universally hated by everyone except those on their own team. Although I doubt Barton is too pally with Ousmane Dabo.
  • Nicklas Bendtner – Brain. Sunderland’s on-loan forward is in no doubt of his abilities. “I’m one of the best strikers in the world,” he once said. But, like Brain, his attempts to take over the world will always be unsuccessful because he’s a lot more rubbish than he believes himself to be.
  • Jermaine Jenas – Casper the friendly ghost. You can see him, you can hear him, but he’s just not actually there. The phantom of the midfield.
  • Ken Bates – Stavros Garkos. Apart from teaching us that 12 year-old girls can’t play professional football with men (but that they make great owners of clubs), and that a team of robots can be overcome if your hard-nosed Scottish manager reads poetry at half-time, The Hurricanes introduced children everywhere to the concept of the über-villain chairman.  “Uncle” Ken Bates’ plans to install electric fences to deter hooligans at Stamford Bridge were rejected by the Greater London Council in 1985.
  • Arsene Wenger – Master Splinter. Arsenal’s defensive problems have been well documented so far this season, though I’m sure having a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle alongside Per Mertesacker would be better than Laurent Koscielny. Teaching his young mutant brethren from the sewers and living solely off a diet of take-away pizza, it’s little wonder Wenger’s Arsenal have such a terrible injury record.
  • Winston Bogarde – Carmen Sandiego. Signed on a free transfer from Barcelona in 2000, Bogarde collected a tidy £686,666 for each of his 12 appearnces in a 4-year stint at Chelsea, though all but one of those occurred in his first season. I’m not sure if they ever found Carmen Sandiego, but it’s possible she was hiding in Winston’s wardrobe. If you’re still looking, dudes, check there.
  • Garry Cook – Captain Planet. He’s a hero. Gonna take, er, Financial Fair Play down to zero! (Lyrics written by Phil Collins, according to lyrics007.com. Never trust lyric websites). Combining Earth, Fire, Wind and Water, the only thing stopping our man having a blue face and green hair is a distinct lack of Heart, though he could buy their greatest hits here.
  • Alan Shearer – Inanimate Carbon Rod. Rather than give Homer the employee of the month award on The Simpsons, Mr. Burns awards to it to an inanimate carbon rod. Shearer is the centrepiece of the horrific MOTD old boys club, the embodiment of the BBC not only appealing to the lowest common denominator, but giving it a plum job on their flagship football highlights programme.


Easy Hater

You have to admire Christiano Ronaldo’s recent response to an evening of Croatian insults. I mean, ‘I’m rich, handsome and a great player.’ At least it reassures the world those nasty Zagreb fans haven’t dented his precious confidence. But is he right? Let’s have a look.

1) Yeah he’s got a few quid, something to the tune of the (alleged) $38 million he earned in 2010. Certainly not to be sniffed at; 2) Handsome? Well, that’s more difficult for me, a paragon of heterosexuality, to give an opinion on this but, yeah – I’ll admit he has a certain oily charm. But then, so does a bag of chips, but ok, I’ll give him a tick here too. 3) Is he a great player? Well…yes, he is. He is a massively wealthy, good-looking arrogant man. I mean really, really, really arrogant…but yeah, lets face it – he’s a great footballer.

So what’s that, er… three-nil to Mr Ronaldo, the hat trick, the old three for three. Turns out that he is indeed rich, handsome and a great player. A kind of adonis of a human being, a glowing example of footballing achievement. But is this the sole explanation of why he is oh so easy to hate?

Actually, yes. Very much so. You see, with your average football fan, you can find the perfect microcosm of the human animal at large. And that animal at it’s petty heart, despite all protests to the contrary, is of course a jealous, jealous thing. Yeah, of course we dislike you for your success, and yeah of course its our flaws and not your brilliance that’s the problem. Its just…do you have to be such a dick with it?

Fanfare of the Modern Fan

Towards the end of last season, Football Focus were interviewing two old boys of the game (Jimmy Anderson (not the cricketer) and one other I can’t remember), and as the interview came to a close, the interviewer (I forget who – there seems to be a theme emerging here) asked the two old boys whether they would trade in their glory days of the past for the wages of today (I may be twisting it slightly but stick with me here). To my surprise, they said, resoundingly, “yes”. This was a shock. Primarily because I had come to assume the old cliché about everything being “better in the old days” was what everyone believed. I think the interviewer was also a little taken aback.

Of course, the focus was on wages, where few would opt for the relative poverty of old compared to the Scrooge McDuck piles of money of the modern professional but this got me thinking, what else have we to be thankful for in the modern game? What can we look at in today’s football world and say “it has never been better than this”…

  1. Stadiums – No longer does the average joe have to paddle through streams of frothy piss whilst cheering on his heroes from the stands. The relative comfort of today’s stadiums may not be everyone’s cup of tea but I’ll have a nice big potful, thanks. They also mostly have roofs. Except if you’re an away fan at Bristol Rovers soon to be demolished Memorial Stadium, of course. And finally, you can even see the pitch at most modern stadiums. No longer do you have to leave at half time to go eat a Big Mac, missing Dwight Yorke scoring a penalty in the process, because you’re only 7 and you can’t see past the big fat guy in front.

  1. Media Coverage – Back in the day, before the advent of the internet, when people used to wear braces and work down mines, the summer used to be the reserve of cricket and its fans. No longer! Now we can get 24 hr updates on the latest clogger our teams are going to sign, you can get a 1000 word essay on the meaning of Joey Barton’s latest tweet or you can read a few hundred words about what some guy you don’t know thinks about modern football. It may not sound like much but when you’re addicted, you’re addicted. Now, if we can just get James Richardson to host all football shows on TV, then we’ll be sorted.

  1. Pitches/Quality of Football – Leaving aside any argument about the technical quality of most of the teams in England, the improvements in pitches have unquestionably improved the quality of football on show. Modern inventions like the lawnmower, garden fork and sunlight, mean groundsmen all over the world no longer have to stand knee deep in muddy pitches nurturing a single blade of grass to life with a rusty spoon and a handful of magic beans. And I for one am glad.

  1. Live Matches – The final nail in my ‘real football fan’ coffin. I like watching football from the comfort of my own settee (or your settee, or anyone’s really). I admit it. It’s not that I don’t like going to stadiums (see no.1), it’s just that the TV experience provides so much more value for money and there’s always some football on somewhere (even if it is a U16’s game from Peru). Not to mention being able to drink a beer whilst sitting on your own sofa. Unless, of course, you spill it and make a mess, and therefore get sent to bed without dinner.

There are of course many other things I could point to, the loss of stigma of being a ‘football fan’ for instance, but I think that list will do for a start. Feel free to add to the list below or, perhaps more realistically, let me know why I am talking utter gonads. Ta.

30 yard sniper’s guide to…The Ultimate Premier League Footballer

Whether it’s mazy dribbling, electric pace, foxishness in the box, lots of deflected shots from midfield, or all-around brilliance, 30 yard sniper takes the best bits of players from the last 20 years and transmogrifies their composite parts into The Ultimate Premier League Footballer.

Section 1: The Head
Beginning as all things should, we start at the top. The ultimate cerebral footballer was of course, Teddy Sheringham, able to gain a mystical advantage over his opponents, since he had “the first yard in his head.” Apparently that rendered the other 10 or 20 yards he trundled along at irrelevant. David Beckham is well known as having a great “football brain”, whilst it would be remiss of me not to mention definitive 90′s target man John Hartson.

All things considered, we will choose to decapitate Niall Quinn for the purposes of this nefarious experiment, king of the flick on and able to compose a sentence or two in the real world as well. Not to mention those  Disco Pants.

Section 2: The Upper Body
A difficult selection, this, since there are so many excellent torsos out there. The extra girth carried by Frank Lampard hasn’t hampered his glittering career of over 150 goals from deflected free-kicks and penalties. D-Beck also must be mentioned again, along with fellow former Gillette alumni Thierry Henry.

There can be only one, however, and once you think about it, it’s a no brainer. The fastest player over a yard. The ‘tache. Micky Quinn. I wonder who’d win in a 1 yard race between him and Teddy Sheringham?

Section 3: The Legs
Crucial to any player. Legs. Before Owen Hargreaves turned into a good player at the 2006 World Cup, England lost a qualifier to Northern Ireland 1-0 at Windsor Park. Explaining the ineffective introduction of Hargreaves, manager Sven-Goran Eriksson said: “We needed more legs…. Hargreaves has legs.” Unfortunately he doesn’t have knees anymore, and they’re important.

In a similar vein, 30YS’s own Jez MacBlain lauded Aston Villa’s recent signing of Jermain Jenas on our first podcast, saying they “lacked legs” in midfield. Peter Crouch’s long legs are impressive, whilst pre-geriatric Michael Owen was super-fast. But for all-around pace, grace and general leg-tastic excellence, Thierry Henry gets the gong.

Section 4: The Feet
Possibly the hardest category to choose from. The genius of Dennis Bergkamp. The wizadry of Gianfranco Zola. The wankery of Cristiano Ronaldo. Kanu in his late 90′s prime even made Martin Keown chuckle. Plus there’s Paulo Di Canio, Paul Gascogine, L’Oreal’s David Ginola, one-foot wonder Georgi Kinkladze…I could go on.

But it comes down to one man, one man who defines feet. He kept Southampton in the Premier League for years. He was quite literally amazing. Matt Le Tisser, take a bow.

Section 5: The Result

The ultimate footballer.