Sunday, 29 June 2014

World Cup Thoughts

At the midway point of the World Cup and with the group stage now over, I thought I'd share some of my thoughts on the tournament so far.

Best thing about the World Cup

The goals, the great games. but most of all having a World Cup in South America. It's something many fans have never seen before. It's not just a Brazilian World Cup but a Latin American one.

Any game featuring Chile or Argentina have become almost home games for those countries. Their supporters have been amazing.

Most disappointing thing about the World Cup

Brazil is the most ethnically diverse country I've ever been to but this isn't reflected in the stadiums.

FIFA's ticket prices have priced out many ordinary Brazilians from attending and this has meant the crowds have been largely white reflecting the significance race and class have in Brazilian society.

Here's a great article on the subject.

Best Match

There's been so many, but I'm going to go for Holland's destruction of Spain. It was so dramatic seeing a footballing empire collapsing right in front of your eyes.

Best goal

I loved Messi's goal against Iran. Just when his country needed him, he produced something truly special.

Biggest surprise

Like many people I'd totally written off Costa Rica. In no scenario could I see them topping a group featuring Italy, England and Uruguay.

In the end they deserved to finish top. Costa Rica's success shows there are no minnows at the World Cup and that football is becoming a truly global game.

Best player

He's a familiar face and has been around for years, but I think Arjen Robben has been brilliant for Holland.

Star players performing

I said at the start of the tournament that I wanted to see the world's star players turn up. This is exactly what's happened. Neymar and Messi have both carried their teams so far.

Neymar in particular seems to love being the main man for Brazil and is thriving on the pressure.

Most entertaining team

I always enjoy watching Chile, but I'm going to go for Colombia. First time they've reached the last 8 of the World Cup. Great achievement for them.

Unknown star to emerge

Has to be Colombia's James Rodríguez.

How have I missed this guy? He was sold to Monaco from Porto for huge money but still seemed to remain under the radar for many people. Not now though. 5 goals already including this amazing strike against Uruguay.

The team is greater than the individual

We've seen the likes of Neymar and Messi shine despite rather uninspiring performances from Brazil and Argentina. Star players will always have the quality to win a match with a moment of brilliance.

However, we've seen many teams such as Chile and even Holland who have what on paper seem to be fairly average international players but collectively they're forming strong teams.

Having a collection of good individuals isn't enough - this World Cup is showing that you have to have system and a style of play in which you form your team around.


If going out in the first round isn't a wakeup call for England and English football I don't know what is. At every tournament we keep saying things will change, things will get better but I'm not so sure.

There's needs to be a real revolution with English football. We need an identity, a system and style of play that all levels of England teams play from under 19, 21 and the full squad.

We need more tactically aware players and we have to accept that unless we're prepared to change our philosophy and identity, then just reaching a World Cup final is as good as it will get for us.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Will England ever learn? #World Cup 2014

Following England's 2-1 defeat to Uruguay on Thursday, that effectively ended England's World Cup campaign. ITV's cameras panned onto some England fans looking shocked and bewildered over what had just happened.

I thought to myself, what exactly are you shocked about?

Here's what happened. A rather average mediocre side lost to a slightly better side that had a truly world class striker upfront who scored two goals.

England's exit from the World Cup - the first time they've failed to get out the group stage since 1958 hasn't upset me too much.

We have some good attacking players, an average midfield and possibly one of the weakest defences I've ever seen from an England side.

Like a number of England fans I've seen too many failures over the last 25 years to realise that England are never going to achieve anything at international level until there are major changes in the structure and organisation of English football.

Will this happen? It's hard to say, but as things currently stand England will keep on failing at every tournament.

It should be remembered that England were in a tough group with Italy and Uruguay and nobody expected Costa Rica to have the success they've had.

England played reasonably well in both games but lacked the know how to get a result. Going out in the first round is always humiliating for the big football nations.

Spain, Italy, and France have gone out at the group stage in recent tournaments. The difference between them and England is that they bounce back immediately getting to major finals. You know with England that's not going to happen.

Before writing this blog I looked back at the post I wrote four years ago after England got knocked out by Germany in South Africa

What's most depressing is that many of the reasons for England's failure then still apply now. Lack of English players playing in the Premier League, poor technique, lack of tactical awareness, poor coaching at youth level.

Expectations were low this time round, but with a good crop of promising young players coming through expectations did start to increase.

You can't expect young players to carry a team to the latter stages of a major tournament. As Gary Lineker said, excluding Wayne Rooney we don't have enough quality players aged between 25 - 30 to really make an impact.

As for the future, should Roy Hodgson resign? No, he can only work with the players available. He may have gone against his natural cautious instinct in his tactics but realistically there's nobody else available. We don't have enough English managers coming through and managing at the highest level.

We do have a promising group of young players but it's just promise. There's no guarantee they will all come through and because the Premier is full of foreign players, English players get hyped in way that does them no favours.

If there's one thing I notice about football compared to 20 - 25 years ago, it's how tactical football has become - even intellectual.

In England we've traditionally looked for virtues such has hard work, passion, giving 100%. This is becoming outdated and can only take you so far.

England has to produce more tactically aware players with greater footballing intelligence. Until we do so we'll keep on failing time and time again.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

12 June 2014 - A day like no other in Sao Paulo

I came across this short video documentary yesterday looking at one day in the city of Sao Paolo.

But the 12 June was no ordinary day in Brazil. It was the start of the World Cup. Interesting to see what was going on in the city that day.

Monday, 16 June 2014

"Brazil is not for Beginners" Tom Jobim

So far I have to say I'm loving this World Cup.

The games have been great, even England entertained me against Italy, but what I love is that this World Cup isn't just about the football.

It's about getting to know Brazil as a country. This was something I had a chance to do last year when I spent two weeks in Brazil, firstly in Rio before heading north to Salvador.

Brazil's always intrigued and fascinated me. Before I went, I felt like I knew a bit about country. It's history, the people, of course its football and music.

For some reason I naively thought Brazil would be like a South American version of Spain or Italy, perhaps just a bit more exotic. When I look back I couldn't have been more wrong.

Brazil wasn't quite what I expected. Yes in Rio I experienced the popular images of sun, beaches, football and samba, but I slowly began to realise that I didn't know Brazil at all. That actually when you go beyond the cliches, Brazil is a real unknown quantity to many people.

I've come to the conclusion that Brazil is unique; you can't compare it to anywhere else in the world. That uniqueness comes from many different sources. Firstly the language - they speak Portuguese while the rest of Latin America speaks Spanish. The ethnic mix is incredible. It's not a white country, a black country or a mixed race country it's just Brazil.

It's the size of a continent and as much as Rio represents the face of Brazil to the rest of the world. One city can never truly represent the whole country. For all my previous interest and knowledge about Brazil it's more complex and contradictory than I imagined.

This World Cup is giving people a chance to rethink all the stereotypes and preconceptions about what Brazil and Brazilians are all about.

Things started to change during last year's Confederations Cup competition. The world saw thousands of Brazilians take to the streets to protest about the cost of hosting the World Cup.

It came as a surprise to many. We're told Brazil is the spiritual home of football but suddenly we were confronted by Brazilians who were more concerned about government corruption, poor healthcare and education and a failing transport infrastructure. These things were far more important than a football tournament.

What happened to he happy go lucky party people we like to imagine Brazilians to be?

I've heard a lot about how many Brazilians would like their country to be known for more than just football, samba and a great place to party. I can understand that frustration of a vast and complex nation being defined by a few tired cliches.

The Famous Brazilian Bossa Nova composer Tom Jobim once said about Brazil:

'Brazil is not for beginners'

I heard this quote twice in the space of two days last week. Firstly by the BBC's South American football correspondent Tim Vickery and again in an article in last weekend's Sunday Times.

What does this quote mean? Brazil isn't what you think it is. It's more complex, more confusing, more contradictory, more challenging than a few basic assumptions.

Perhaps by the end of this World Cup, none us will be beginners anymore when it comes to Brazil.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

World Cup Predictions and Hopes

It's 7:00 and there's only 2 hours to go before Brazil kick off against Croatia to start the World Cup.

With that in mind it's about time I revealed my predictions and hopes for this year's tournament.

The highest level of football is now found in the Champions League and not international football. With 32 teams in a World Cup the quality is going to suffer. The standard in some of the group games isn't particularly great.

But in saying this, International football and the World Cup are both still special.

Unlike club football, it's not about who's spent the most money on the best players and managers. It's about each country making the most of its footballing resources, culture and organisation, then bringing it together to produce a national team.

So what am I expecting, what do I want to see?

Who's going to win it?

I'm expecting a Brazil/Argentina Final.

Brazil are obviously favourites and have a squad capable of winning the tournament but they're under huge pressure from the Brazilian public. Can they handle it?

I have this feeling that Argentina might cause an upset. It's a big World Cup for Argentina as well.

For all his brilliance for Barcelona, there's a question mark over Lionel Messi. He's never produced that form or had that impact at this level with Argentina. Will this be his moment?

Argentina have underachieved in recent years. I heard an amazing stat this week. Since reaching the final in 1990, Argentina have only beaten Mexico (2006 & 2010) in knock out World Cup matches!

That's unbelievable when you think of some of the talented players they've had over the years.

I want iconic moments

When I think about the World Cup, I think about iconic moments.

Brazil's 4th goal against Italy in the 1970 Final. Maradona's second goal against England in 1986. Marco Tardelli's goal and celebration against West Germany in 1982. There are so many to choose from.

I want some iconic moments from this World Cup, a goal, a performance a game that stays in my memory for years to come.

We haven't really had those iconic moments in recent World Cups and I'm hoping a World Cup in Brazil will inspire some stand out moments.

Star players to perform

If you want iconic moments then you need the biggest names to perform. This is becoming more and more difficult, it's hard to recreate the same player understanding you find at club level in international football. And players are normally so tired after a long gruelling season.

We all hope and want to see the likes of Messi, Ronaldo and Neymar really perform to the best of the abilities. Lets hope it happens.

Dark Horses

Dark Horses never win World Cups!

This World Cup is unlikely to be any different. People are looking at the likes of Belgium who have produced a real golden generation, and I enjoy watching Chile. However, one team that's gone under the radar slightly is France.

They always produce good players, they have a talented squad and they'll be desperate to make up for the debacle that was their 2010 campaign in South Africa.

I want to see a break out star

Being a World Cup purist, I want to see a player emerge who we don't really know much about.

In Italia 90 I remember Toto Schillaci becoming top scorer, there was also Roger Milla from Cameroon.

In our modern era of football, nothing is really unknown anymore. The top European Leagues are multi national, we can watch games from all over the world every week. We have social media particularly Youtube and by the time the World Cup comes around there are few surprises for us.

I hope there's a player out there who will seize the moment and announce themselves to the rest of the world.

Top goal scorer

This is always difficult to predict. In previous World Cup's the player who ended up as top goal scorer was never someone you would have thought of.

However, a good bet would be Argentina's Sergio Aguero. Argentina on paper have the best attacking line up and the draw is relatively kind for Argentina.

Young talents to look out for

There's one young player from Europe who I've been really impressed by whenever I've seen him and could have a real impact in this World Cup.

I'm talking about France's Paul Pogba. This is a guy who left Man Utd because he wasn't getting enough opportunities and took himself off to Juventus in Italy and has been a huge success. I think he could be a real star.

What about England

I'll tell you what I want from England, I want to be entertained.

I haven't enjoyed an England game in a World Cup since Japan and Korea in 2002. I know, that's a long time.

There's no expectation on this team, suddenly going out in the Quarter Finals would be considered a success. We've got a good crop of young players, which you couldn't see emerging two years ago.

I want to see England play without any inhibitions, it's a World Cup in Brazil, I want England players to enjoy the experience and see what happens.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Great expectations: Can Brazil avoid a second Maracanazo?

Not since Italy in Italia 90 has a home country faced so much pressure to win the World Cup as Brazil.

I expect Brazil to get to the final and it won't be a surprise if they emerge as winners. But can they handle the pressure and expectation from the Brazilian public.

Brazil is an emerging country. When I was there last year I felt that feeling of being in a country that's on the way up.

There are still huge problems to overcome. Poverty, inequality, corruption, lack of public services and government provisions but there's so much potential for Brazil to be a major world power.

If there's one area where Brazil has never been up and coming it's football. They're world leaders - no country has won the World Cup more times than Brazil. If they win in their own country it will make it 6 world titles.

What's amazing is that for all their success, nothing (except perhaps a victory next month) can make up for the national disaster that was the 1950 World Cup Final.

That was the last time Brazil held the World Cup and just like this year's tournament, the competition was about Brazil announcing itself to the world as a modern, progressive country.

Winning the World Cup was meant to be a statement to the world to show that Brazil had arrived.

But it all went wrong!

World Cup 1950 final the MARACANAZO

I'm reading a great book at the moment by Brazilian football correspondent Fernando Duarte. It's called: Shocking Brazil - Six Games that shook the World Cup.

The book looks at 6 crucial World Cup campaigns that altered the face of Brazilian football. The book begins with arguably the biggest failure which was the 1950 World Cup. The parallels with today are striking.

The defeat by Uruguay when Brazil only needed a draw seemed to leave the country in an psychological crisis. They hadn't arrived, they failed and the pain of that defeat still lingers on.

Can this World Cup make up for 1950?

I hope and want Brazil to do well. I'm one of those people who always like to see Brazil do well. But I don't think there's ever been a World Cup where failure by the host nation could have such repercussions, both culturally, politically and from a sporting perspective.

A World Cup in Brazil is not an ordinary World Cup

The World Cup finally begins tomorrow, with hosts Brazil opening the tournament against Croatia.

I don't think there's been a World Cup I've looked forward to more in my adult life than this one.

Why do I feel this way? It's Brazil, there's a romance about a World Cup in Brazil. England might be the home of football, but Brazil is the country that we associate with most when we think about what makes football such a beautiful and amazing game.

There's also the fact that I went to Brazil last year, spending time in Rio and Salvador. I got a chance to discover and get a feel for the country. It's a unique country, I realised there's so much more to Brazil than the cliches of sun, beaches, football and carnival.

The World Cup is a chance for the world to really discover what Brazil is all about, and this is something I really want to see.