Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Play 'I Know The Score' with SPAOTP!

Never say we don't spoil you here at Some People Are On The Pitch.

As if our generous invitation to take part in our Fantasy Premier League competition wasn't decent enough, we can today bring you news of yet another idle pursuit we'd like you to take part in.

It's called I Know The Score and it's the FA Premier League's very own competition where the winner is the person that correctly predicts the most scores and results throughout the course of the season.

Players score points for their astuteness in guessing the outcomes of each batch of games, and the closer they get to the actual results, the more points they score.

But if you're thinking that's a synch, think again. There's a tactical element involved that brings bonus points if you play your chips right. (Don't worry - we're not talking about a new gameshow fronted by Bruce Forsyth…)

Each week you're given two casino-style chips, one called the 'Banker' chip, the other, your 'Insurance' chip. If you feel one of your predictions is a dead cert to come in, you can play your Banker chip against it. If the score matches your prediction, 'happy days' - you'll get double or even triple points.

Conversely, if you think that one of your predictions is looking somewhat shaky, you can play your Insurance chip against it. Why? Because incorrect predictions mean points are deducted from your total and the Insurance chip is a way of making sure that doesn't happen for the match concerned.

Returning to the subject of the Banker chip, you can score even more points by building up your Banker Bonus. If you place the chip correctly, your Banker Bonus will increase to five points. Place it correctly the following week and it'll increase to ten points, then fifteen and so on up to a maximum of twenty which you can maintain week in week out - as long as you correctly place your Banker chip.

So there it is - a great new competition which is fun to play and proves how good you are at predicting Premier League results. All you need to do is go along to the FA Premier League's I Know the Score website, register your details and join our Private Mini-League in the Mini-Leagues section. You'll be asked to type in a code number, so enter FCDA9-CUV to gain you entry to the SPAOTP.com League.

Once that's done, you can start thinking about those opening day fixtures and perhaps guess the results to a few of them. There's no time to lose - adulation and glory awaits, so why not take part now and see how you get on!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Some people are on the beach...

Here in London, England, it's another balmy sunny Sunday afternoon where just for once the sky is blue and the mercury in my thermometer is rising close to 29 degrees. If you close your eyes and block out the sound of passing ice cream vans and low flying aircraft, you could pretty much believe you're on a beautiful beach somewhere in the south of France, lounging around in the sun as the approaching waves gently kiss your toes.

Not that the south of France is the place to go to right now if a peaceful snooze on the beach is what you're after. You're probably quite likely to get woken up by the crowds of people gathered around to watch the Beach Soccer World Cup, especially if Marseille is your destination of choice.

Yes it's all going on down there. The fourth FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup has been underway since July 17th and for the first time ever, it's not been held in Rio de Janeiro. Arguably the home of beach football, Brazil has had the privilege of staging the competition every year since 2005 and though we can't prove it, home advantage may have been a factor as they managed to win the contest every single time before the teams arrived in Marseille earlier this month.

So what do we make of this strange and rarefied form of the beautiful game that has suddenly gone legit? Can it be treated seriously? Should it be treated seriously?

Personally, I can't watch it on TV or the web with any great sense of enjoyment or a desire to be playing it myself. For a start, there's the issue of running on sand, and we all know how hard that is. Second only to running through a swimming pool full of water, running on sand is one of the most tiring things you can do. Add to that the searing heat of the sun burning your feet as you delicately tippy-toe across the playing surface and you've got one of the most tiring and slightly masochistic things you can do.

Then there's the game play. Because passing a ball along the sand doesn't guarantee it will reach its intended recipient, players tend to resort to shooting from a long way out, thus doing away with the need to pass altogether. Even shooting isn't the easiest of things to do as players inevitably find themselves kicking into the sand in order to get under the ball to gain some lift. That's why when nearly every beach soccer game game kicks off, you'll often see one player flick the ball up into the air for the other to volley in the direction of the opposing goal.

By now you might be wondering what the attraction of beach soccer might be. It's tiring to play, potentially painful on the feat and players have difficulty passing and shooting. What's there to like? Well never fear: FIFA have ensured that all beach soccer matches adhere to a strict set of rules so that the whole thing doesn't descend into an absolute farce.

Er, actually that's wrong. The rules and regulations are where the comedy really begins. Here are some of the wonderful virtues of the world game 'sur la plage', as they say on the Cote d'Azur.

For a start, the pitch is marked out with (and here I quote the official FIFA documentation) "an imaginary halfway line", marked by a red flag on either side of the pitch. So already we're having to use the darkest creative recesses of our mind to know where the halfway point on the pitch is, but get this - "the middle of the imaginary line [i.e. the centre spot] is the EXACT position for the kick-off and certain free kicks." 'Exact' in a sort of imprecise way, then?

There are also two other imaginary lines crossing the pitch to demark a zone nine metres from each goal which effective forms a sort of penalty area. Unfortunately a healthy use of the imagination is required again to determine whether someone was inside or outside the area when a player was fouled.

Similarly there are no lines marked between the goal posts either, so if Sir Geoff Hurst was to stroll out in his Bermuda shorts and hit one of his trademark shots that thundered down off the crossbar, no-one would know if a goal should be given - not even if you were a Russian linesman by trade.

Elsewhere there are other strange curiosities that set beach soccer apart from its more traditional older parent. Games last for 36 minutes and are split into three periods of 12 minutes each, rather than two periods of 45 as is the norm. During each match, substitutes can come and go as they please and as often as they like - in fact players that have already left the pitch can re-enter it at a later stage if they want to.

One curious thing to note, however, is that when a player is due to join the field of play to replace his departing colleague, he has to wait by the side of the pitch holding his own number card to denote the player being replaced. When the referee gives his signal, the outgoing player can leave the pitch and as he does so will take the number card from his colleague and take his place on the bench - all without having to stop the game. A kind of 'do-it-yourself substitution', if you will.

And so it goes on - the more you read the documentation, the stranger it gets. Quite honestly, it all seems like a joke to me, whichever way you look at it. Perhaps it's a sport that's exonerated by its ability to appeal on a spectator level, but let's face it - whether you're watching a match in person or on TV, are you really going to be giving it your complete and undivided attention given the plethora of near-naked members of the opposite sex hanging around nearby? No, thought not.

It's a beach, for heaven's sake - a place to relax in the sun, chill out and do as little as feasibly possible. Sure, throw a frisbee now and then if you like, but don't for a moment think it's the best place to hold an international football tournament. It's not right, it's not clever, and it doesn't impress genuine football fans.

That's my opinion, and I have spoken. Now if you don't mind, I've got some sunbathing to do...

Friday, July 25, 2008

The SPAOTP.com Fantasy League returns!

Calling all Fantasy Leaguers!

If you're the type of person that thinks nothing of spending millions and millions of Pounds every summer on a group of assorted football players of varying quality in the hope they'll bring you fame and glory, we need you for our 2008/09 Fantasy League competition!

Yes, the SPAOTP.com Fantasy League is back, back, back and we're inviting you to take part once again for another nine months of points scoring and tactical outwittery against the best opposition the planet has to offer.

If you're new to all this Fantasy League malarkey, let us explain how it all works (before we ask where you've been for the last fifteen years).

First, take a trip to the FA Fantasy Premier League website and register to play. It's absolutely free and no harm will come to you.

Once you've done that, you need to pick a squad of fifteen players that you think will play well enough to score a hatful of points for you every week (more of which in a moment). From that fifteen, you'll choose eleven to play in your starting line-up whenever there's a match on and it's them that will bring you the points (hopefully).

The trick is to have enough decent players in your squad while not sending its overall value higher than the virtual sum of £100 million. Each player has a 'fantasy' value, and that generally reflects how good he is, so bear that in mind when you're about to pick Gerrard, Adebayor and Ronaldo as it might leave you with no money left to buy any defenders or a goalkeeper.

And how are the points scored? Well your goalkeeper and defenders pick up four points for keeping a clean sheet (providing they've played for an hour or more in any given match), plus they'll pick up an extra six points for scoring a goal at any point. Midfielders score five points for every goal scored plus one for keeping a clean sheet and Attackers score four points for every goal and none for keeping clean sheets.

There are also added points if your player's voted one of the best in a match or has assisted a goalscorer, just as there are points deducted for missing a penalty or receiving a red or yellow card. Oh and if your nominated captain scores any points, they'll be doubled - a handy tip worth remembering, if you want our opinion...

Once you've had a quick look at all the rules and regulations that are available on the site, all that needs to be done is to name your team, give them an appropriately coloured strip (utterly pointless, but it gives your team some sort of identity) and find the option to 'Join a private league'. You'll be prompted to enter a code number, so type in 362971-78175 and you'll soon be on your way to being a part of the SPAOTP Fantasy League experience.

And that's about it. All you need do then is sit back and wait for the action to begin on August 16th, assured in the knowledge that dozens of other players will soon be bowing to you as you race to the top of the league table. Well that's the theory anyway.

Last season, the SPAOTP.com Fantasy League featured 67 competing teams and of the thousands of mini-leagues going on all around the world, ours was ranked in the top 10% thanks to the high scoring antics of all of you that took part.

Feel inspired? Want to take part and help us make it an even bigger and better competition than last year? Then what are you waiting for - get along to the Fantasy League site and register your team now!

We'll be waiting for you...

The Friday List of Little or No Consequence #71

The revolving door of management
9 Managers Who Were Sacked Shortly After The Start Of The Season

1. Neil McDonald (Carlisle United, 2007) - 2 days
2. Paul Sturrock (Southampton, 2004) - 9 days
3. Alan Buckley (Grimsby Town, 2000) - 10 days
4. Alan Ball (Manchester City, 2000) - 12 days
5. Kerry Dixon (Doncaster Rovers, 1997) - 12 days
6. Peter Reid (Manchester City, 1993) - 12 days
7. Don Mackay (Blackburn Rovers, 1991) - 14 days
8. Glenn Roeder (West Ham United, 2003) - 15 days
9. Sir Bobby Robson (Newcastle United, 2004) - 16 days

...and a special mention goes to Sammy Chung who in 1996 was sacked by Doncaster Rovers on the morning of the opening day of the season.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

A local league for local people

This season sees the first campaign for Germany's 3rd Liga, a new national division for the third tier of German Football. It's nothing new for us in England - we've had a national third division for the last fifty seasons. Indeed, since the inception of the non-league conference in 1979, our league stays national all the way down to the fifth tier.

But does having a such a linear league structure help the game? In Spain and Italy the leagues regionalise at the third tier - our League 1. The Spanish league's fifth tier has 60 divisions in it compared to our one, and in Italy it's nine. It could be argued that the English League is a testimony to the strength of the game in this country, but given the repeated reminders of how weak the British game is, can we really still get away with this myth? Are teams at the top of the Blue Square Premiership two degrees of separation away from their counterparts struggling at the foot of League 1?

This is how a three division regionalised third tier could have shaped up this season coming (click image for larger version):



On the face of it, you see three divisions that still look very competitive (certainly far more so that than the uppermost tier in the country). Added to this you see heavy concentrations of local clubs together, and not just in the main metropolitan areas like London or Birmingham. Small groupings in places like Sussex, Cheshire and even Gloucestershire promise a steady stream of local derbies throughout the season.

Of course many would argue that regionalising consigns these clubs to effectively being non-league. I would argue that the term 'league' and 'non-league' are irrelevant in these days of automatic promotion/relegation and money-spinning play offs between the various levels.

It could be said that it wouldn't be as attractive to TV companies, but consider the high number of derbies together with boosted attendances from increased local away support. There is also the opportunity for each region to negotiate their own deal.

The last point I'd make on this subject is this: a removal of the lengthy league ladder would provide a greater protection for fans of vulnerable clubs. If Milton Keynes had been a regional fourth tier club, would Pete Winkelman have bothered spending all that money on moving Wimbledon there?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Bundesbag: TV Drama

A scrap has been developing in Germany between the Government and the Bundesliga over a new TV deal which has led to a national institution coming under threat.

The start of the 2009/10 season could be an important time for the Bundesliga. The current TV deal finishes at the end of this season and the league's representatives, headed up by Leo Kirch of all people, are looking to line up a multi-billion euro deal with pay-TV giants Premiere for exclusive coverage of the league. With club ownership rules making it harder to attract investment than with other major European leagues, a lucrative TV deal is seen as imperative by the clubs if they want to compete at the top level of European competition.

Unfortunately for them, German anti-trust authorities stepped in and are threatening to scupper the arrangement, and why? Well, mainly because the exclusivity of the deal which is seen to be anti-competitive. It's a similar situation to what we had here in England when the EU basically instructed the Premier League not to sell all their rights to one provider (Sky). Consequently, Setanta have entered the fray as provider of live EPL matches, albeit low rent ones. In Germany, the authorities are unhappy at the prospect of all this football in the hands of one broadcaster who could hold football fans to ransom and charge, within reason, whatever they liked. If people didn't pay, they probably didn't watch, because the start of this new deal would also mean the end of Sportschau.

Sportschau is the German equivalent to Match Of The Day… sort of. Sportschau is on Saturday early evening time-slot as compare to the late night slot for MOTD. You may recall ITV's ill-fated attempt to introduce Premier League highlights to early evenings on a Saturday and it didn't last long, largely because it was crap. However, in Germany the time-slot has been associated with football for many years.

What also binds the two programmes is that they are institutions. Imagine, then, the outcry when the Bundesliga announced that, ahead of the new TV contract negotiations, Saturday early evening highlights were to be scrapped in favour of a later time-slot, similar to MOTD. The plan was that the later slot will persuade more people to sign up for football on a pay-TV deal. Sportschau's days were numbered. Except they weren't. The German Cartel Office stepped in and gave the Premiere deal the ok if and only if they committed to a weekly free-to air highlights programme on Saturday's prior to 20:00 CET. After all the wrangling and words of warning by the DFL that their business model was under threat and after warnings from the Man that the Bundesliga was getting too big for its boots, all the argument really boils down to is the German equivalent of MOTD.

This may, of course, reduce the overall value of the deal with Premiere, although you get the feeling the Bundesliga will cope. Also, it does not necessarily mean that Sportschau will return since the channel it broadcasts on, ARD, may not win the rights (although commercial rivals RTL have said they may not bid for them). However, Saturday evening Bundesliga free-to-air highlights appear to have been saved, for now at least.

I wonder what the German for 'Tactics Truck' is?

Premier League champions - unofficially

Way back in March 2007, it was Some People Are On The Pitch's undoubted pleasure to tell you about an interesting project that was being run by Paul Brown. It centred around a simple premise and in order to remind you what it was, we have to take you back to 1872 - a time when football was in its infancy and Teddy Sheringham was a fresh-faced 36-year-old.

It was the year of the very first international football match, and the two competing teams were England and Scotland. Technically speaking, whoever won the match could claim to be the unofficial football champions of the world, given the fact that there were no other countries with a team back then. It was a historic game, an auspicious game and sadly a goalless game too. Not the best of starts for international football, it's fair to say.

The following year, however, saw a second match between the two teams and this time England were the victors by four goals to two. The English were able to laud themselves as the best team on the planet, but when the Scots beat them for the first time in 1874, the notional title went to them.

And so it went on with more and more countries taking part in international football and more and more countries claiming the title of Unofficial World Champions. It was this constant to-ing and fro-ing that led Paul Brown to study the results from the ensuing hundreds of friendly and competitive matches around the world in a bid to establish who the current champions were.

The answer can be found on Paul's website - http://www.ufwc.co.uk/ - and the fruits of his extensive research can be found in his book, The Unofficial Football World Championships: An Alternative Soccer History which you can still get from Amazon.co.uk if you hurry along there quickly enough.

A wonderful thing, we're sure you'll agree, and it got us thinking: if you applied the same approach to last year's Premier League campaign, who'd be the Unofficial Premier League champions now? Without further ado, we grabbed a pencil, whetted the end and started frantically scribbling some calculations on the back of a signed photo of Robbie Savage. We now know the answer.

Before we go on, a couple of things you need to be aware of. Firstly, we began our exercise with Manchester United as they were the official Premier League champions going into the start of the 2007/08 season. We could have traced back through the records to see who won the first ever game of football played at club level and started with them, but that would have taken too long. You have to be reasonable about these things, and there's only so much scribbling you can cram onto the back of a signed photo of Robbie Savage.

Secondly, draws. Using Paul Brown's system, if the 'challenging' team fail to beat the current title holders, they fail to take their title. Even if they draw, that remains the case. It's a bit like a boxing title fight - if you don't beat the man with the belt, you can't take it off him.

With all that in mind, we begin with Man United striding out onto the Old Trafford pitch to play Reading on Sunday 12th August 2007. Just as in that England v Scotland game earlier, this one finished 0-0 as well so United retained the Unofficial Premier League (UPL) title going into their next game away to Portsmouth. The result of that: another draw - 1-1.

So far, so shaky, and it was no surprise when United's run came to an end on August 19th when they made the short trip to near neighbours Man City. A 31st minute goal from Brazilian Geovanni ensured the UPL title would head to the blue half of Manchester and out of the clutches of Sir Alex 'What is this UPL nonsense anyway?' Ferguson.

Sadly for City, they didn't hold the title long, for in their next match they faced Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium and lost 1-0. An embarrassingly short run perhaps, but this was the first in a thirteen game unbeaten run for The Gunners. During this four month spell, Arsenal would remain UPL champions despite challenges from Liverpool, Man United, Tottenham and Portsmouth right up until December 2007.

In the end it was Middlesbrough who wrestled the title from Arsene Wenger's side in a 2-1 defeat at the Riverside, but they in turn handed the baton to West Ham who dished out a 2-1 defeat of their own against Gareth Southgate's men just before Christmas.

Keeping up so far? Good - just checking...

West Ham's run as Unofficial Premier League champions lasted for just three games, although one of them was a 2-1 home win over Manchester United. The Hammers' undoing came at the hands of Arsenal in a 2-0 win at the Emirates, so back the title went to North London where it stayed for another nine games.

By the time Arsenal played Chelsea on March 23rd 2008, Arsenal had been UPL champions for 23 of the first 31 games, but Chelsea had other ideas. A 2-1 win featuring a brace of goals from Didier Drogba meant Arsenal would lose the title again, but could Chelsea hang on until the end of the season?

With The Blues hitting top form, only Man United could realistically stop them when the two played on April 26th at Stamford Bridge. There was just a week to go before the Champions League final that would feature both teams but Chelsea would not be distracted. This time Michael Ballack popped up with a pair of goals to beat United 2-1 and that effectively secured the UPL title for Avram Grant's men.

A win over Newcastle and a draw on the last day of the season against Bolton enabled Chelsea to end the season as Unofficial Premier League champions. Sadly there was no trophy for winning, nor any medals for the players, but after losing to Man United in the Champions League final, Chelsea would've needed something to crow about. What better, then, than this great virtual honour we've created?

So there it is - something for Chelsea fans to brag about down the pub... and just think what might have happened if they'd lost that last game to Bolton?

It would have made a complete mockery of the whole concept...

Monday, July 21, 2008

World Cup 2010 Qualifying Update (Part 2)

It's now time for Part 2 of our comprehensive update looking at the World Cup qualifiers that which took place during May and June. Having dealt with the African section last week, we now turn our attention to what's happening in…

South America

Overview
Once again, all ten South American teams play each other twice in a single big round robin group. When all the dust has settled, the top four teams go through to South Africa 2010 while the fifth-place team goes into a home-and-away play-off with the 4th placed team in the North and Central America section.

News
During June 2008, the national teams of South America entered battle once again for the first time since November 2007. When play came to a temporary halt seven months previously, the group table looked like this…

As you can see, Paraguay had a narrow lead over the chasing pack of three teams, but what was apparent from this early stage was that none of the ten taking part had managed to keep a 100% record after just four games. Such inconsistency would be a continuing theme throughout the June double header, especially on the part of those three teams trailing Paraguay at the top - Argentina, Brazil, Colombia.

Paraguay showed they meant business with a 2-0 win over Brazil on June 15th, the goals scored by Roque Santa Cruz and Salvador Cabanas. Brazil were sorely lacking the ingenuity and skill of Kaka, was recovering from recent ankle surgery, while Ronaldinho's current lack of form didn't help the five-time world champions either.

Paraguay, on the other hand, seemed much more capable of taking the game to their opponents, although defender Dario Veron nearly jeopardised their position when he got sent off for a second bookable offence after the second goal went in. The home side, however, held on and were no doubt delighted to see their lead at the top of the table grow to three points when Argentina could only draw 1-1 against Ecuador.

Alfio Basile's men almost came a cropper against the Ecuadorians and were it not for Rodrigo Palacio's equaliser four minutes into injury time at the end of the game, Argentina would have suffered their first defeat in a qualifying match since 1993.

As it is, they should have wrapped the game up much earlier. Though lacking any real spark, the Argentineans had plenty of chances to score but failed to hit the back of the net. Ecuador, meanwhile, managed to bide their time well and when Joffre Guerron and Carlos Tenorio linked up skilfully to set up Patricio Urrutia, the away side found themselves 1-0 up.

Sadly for them, Argentina never gave up and Ecuador's goal only served to wake them up when they most needed to. Finally when Ecuador appeared to have done enough to hang on for an historic win, goalkeeper Roberto Abbondanzieri launched a long goal kick which beat their defence and landed neatly for Palacio who promptly scored. Argentina had survived but Paraguay were now further ahead in the group.

Elsewhere on Matchday 5, Colombia leapfrogged Brazil into third place with a 1-1 draw against lowly Peru while Chile beat bottom-placed Bolivia 2-0. Uruguay and Venezuela completed a trio of 1-1 draws in Montevideo to ensure the middle order stayed much as it was.

Three days later, Matchday 6 threw up a few surprises. For a start, Paraguay lost their first match of the campaign against a Bolivian side that had lost four of its first five games. Once more, the issue of altitude came to the fore as Paraguay looked a shadow of the team that had recently beaten Brazil 2-0, but the pitch in La Paz was also a hindrance as Bolivia took control of the game.

Two goals in three minutes from Joaquin Botero and Ronald Garcia meant the home side were nicely settled after half an hour and Paraguay seemed stunned. No reply of any sort came until the 66th minute when Santa Cruz scored for the second successive match, but even then the Bolivians hit back hard with another brace, this time scored in a seven minute spell thanks to Botero (again) and Marcelo Martins.

The Paraguayans scored a consolation goal through Nelson Valdez eight minutes from time, but by that stage they were well and truly beaten. Lucky for them, perhaps, that two of the teams trying to catch them up in the group, Brazil and Argentina could only draw 0-0 in Belo Horizonte.

Though Argentina played the better football, they were forced to settle for a second draw on-the-trot while Brazil also suffered a second consecutive game without a win - a fact not appreciated by their home fans who jeered throughout the contest and even applauded Lionel Messi when he was substituted late on.

That result meant Chile were able to take fourth place in the group above Brazil thanks to a 3-2 away win against Venezuela. A ding-dong battle resulted in all five goals being scored in the last 35 minutes, the first of which went to Chile's Humberto Suazo from the penalty spot before Venezuela's Giancarlo Maldonaldo equalised five minutes later.

Gonzalo Jara got on the end of a Chilean free kick to put his side back in the lead with 17 minutes remaining, but Juan Arango squeezed home another equaliser seven minutes later. Venezuela pressed hard for a goal to give them the lead late on, but it was Suazo again who claimed all three points for Chile two minutes into stoppage time with a low, accurate shot.

So, Chile now find themselves level on points with third-placed Colombia who could only manage a 0-0 draw away to Ecuador. Brazil are also now feeling the heat from Uruguay, whose 6-0 home thrashing of Peru means they're just a point behind the 2002 world champions, too.

What next for Brazil, then? Ah yes - a nice trip to Santiago on September 7th to play in-form Chile. That should be nice… A day before that, the top two are in action as Argentina play host to Paraguay while Uruguay hope to catch the Brazilians by beating Colombia in a tough match in Bogota.

We'll have all the news on that in about six weeks time, but we'll be back with our next continental round-up of all the recent World Cup qualifiers in a few days time as we turn our attention to the North and Central American Zone.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Childhood Football Kit Amnesty

It's that time of the year when lots of new football kits are being released in readiness for the new season, and SPAOTP will be bringing them all to you very, very soon - never fear.

In the meantime, we'd like to conduct a short interactive survey on a not dissimilar topic - that of football kits. More specifically, we'd like to unearth your personal shameful memories on those football kits you wanted to own when you were a kid - the ones belonging to teams other than that which you supported.

The more shameful your secrets are, the more we want to hear them! Did you always want that Man United home strip in 1984 despite being an ardent Liverpool supporter? Was it always your ambition to get your hands on that silver Newcastle away kit even though you were a Sunderland fan?

Step into the SPAOTP confessional and tell us all! We promise to keep your identity secret (if you pay us enough money) and you'll be making the rest of us feel less guilty about those hoped-for (or even paid-for) purchases we had when we were young and carefree.

Speaking personally (as a West Ham fan), I always secretly hoped to get the Norwich City home kit for my birthday or Christmas when I was about eleven years old. Adidas were just starting to bring out their new wave of pinstripe designs, and that yellow and green one worn by The Canaries had a certain 'je ne sais pas' about it to my mind.

Sadly, my local sports shop didn't have it in stock at the time, so I had to make do with my second choice instead - the Liverpool home kit made by Umbro around the same time.

(You can see I had a thing for pinstripes, can't you?)

My parents duly bought it for me with what little money they had at the time, and I felt suitably grateful. The fact that I was arguably showing turncoat tendencies against my beloved West Ham didn't enter my head back then - it was all about wearing a kit that looked resplendent in its 'cutting edge' design.

So there it is - I admit: I once owned and proudly wore a Liverpool home strip back in 1983 despite being an ardent fan of The Hammers. Forgive me, Mooro, for I have sinned.

Care to own up to any of your own fleeting childhood desires (in terms of football kits only, please)? Leave us a comment and get it off your chest - you'll feel a lot better for it…

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

More grapevine grousing...

We start today with news that David Villa is leaving Valencia to join Newcastle United in a £14.5 million deal.

Actually he's not really. That was just a lie, but it's exactly the sort of thing that makes up so many of the transfer rumour and gossip columns seen these days on the web and in your daily newspapers.

The people that purport this utter tosh seem to think that we, the level-headed football fans of this world, can't get enough of it. Needless to say some people can't, but we at SPAOTP show nothing but the utmost contempt for this useless tittle-tattle and prefer to read that old-fashioned stuff which used to be known as 'fact'.

It's a subject we've covered before
at Some People Are On The Pitch and needless to say we don't feel the need to go over it all again, but if like us you're constantly wound up by this ever-increasing proliferation of gossip and conjecture, salvation is at hand. The football clubs are getting their own back.

This week we received news that PFC Kuruvchi from Uzbekistan were proudly announcing the capture of none other than Barcelona's Samuel Eto'o. Their website said (in broken English):

"In addition, invited and signed contract with Cameroonian forward Samuel Eto'o from Barcelona. Striker will arrive in Tashkent on July 17th and will play in the second half of championship of Uzbekistan."

Quite a scoop, you're probably thinking, but don't get scratching your head too much. The story was quickly dismissed by a Barcelona spokesman who was keen to tell reporters "I don't think it's very likely."

The PFC Kuruvchi website has also now changed its proclamation to say that Eto'o has been invited to undertake contract negotiations, but that's all by the by now. The deed, it seems, has been done: lazy journalists from all over the world were momentarily led to believe that a big star name was about to sign for an unlikely club, and they fell for it.

We think this is nothing short of wonderful. What a glorious way of showing how the rumour-mongers and tuppeny-ha'penny fantasists can be beaten at their own game. If it were up to us, we'd encourage even more of these spoof announcements so that every bit of rubbishy transfer gossip doing the rounds is rendered completely worthless.

PFC Kuruvchi - we salute you. Your place in football folklore is now assured.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

World Cup 2010 Qualifying Update (Part 1)

While the eyes of your average European soccer fan were squarely focused on Euro 2008 recently, other things were, remarkably, going on elsewhere in the world.

We speak, of course, about the qualifying competition for World Cup 2010 and this May and June has proven to be a busy period for every continent except Europe, so let's catch up with what's been going on, starting with...

Africa

Overview
It's currently Round 2 of 3 here, featuring 47 teams split into 12 groups. The winners of the groups, along with the eight best runners-up, will proceed to Round 3. That will leave 20 teams from which only five will progress to South Africa 2010.

News
It's hats off to Nigeria as they become the first team to book their place in the Third Round. They beat Equatorial Guinea 1-0 away and 2-0 at home to maintain their 100% record and stay well clear of the chasing pack - including South Africa - at the top of the Group 4.

Six goals scored and none conceded means the Super Eagles will be one of the teams to beat in the next round, as will Cameroon. They picked up ten points from their first twelve in Group 1, remaining unbeaten against the Cape Verde Islands, Mauritius and Tanzania. The Islanders, ranked 85th in the world, look set to be one of the best runners-up when the dust settles and are currently only one point behind the Indomitable Lions.

Elsewhere, Burkina Faso are keeping Tunisia off the top of Group 9 with four straight victories, one of which was a 2-1 victory over the Carthage Eagles at the start of June. The Tunisians, however, are only a point behind and will be looking to overtake Burkina Faso with a win on September 6th when the two teams face each other again.

In Group 12, current African champions Egypt are level on points with the Democratic Republic of Congo ahead of Malawi and Djibouti. The Egyptians scored a valuable 2-1 win over Congo DR in Cairo just over a month ago, but have since lost 1-0 away to Malawi. For The Leopards of Kinshasa, however, it's been maximum points ever since and they now occupy top spot on goal difference as a result.

Once again, irony plays its hand as the next game for both teams will see Egypt and Congo DR face each other in Kinshasa on September 7th. Out of the two, Congo DR will be the more keen to grab a win as their last match in the group against Malawi will undoubtedly be trickier than Egypt's against Djibouti. Either way, both teams should earn a place in the last round of qualifying as (at the very least) one of the best runners-up.

Guinea currently lead Group 2 on goal difference ahead of Kenya although both teams have already dropped five points from their first twelve and may have to keep an eye on Zimbabwe who are just two points behind them in third.

The Zimbabweans have already earned a draw against the leading two and will play Guinea in their next match on September 7th. Should Guinea lose, they run the risk of missing out on a top-two spot in the group as they'll have to beat Kenya in their final match while Zimbabwe play bottom-place Namibia.

Group 5 looks to be heading for an intriguing finish even though Ghana and Libya have clearly had the best starts with nine points taken from a possible twelve. Looming not far behind them are Gabon who have already beaten Ghana earlier in the campaign, but Gabon's remaining matches are against bottom-placed Lesotho and Libya.

Libya's only defeat came in the group opener against Ghana (3-0) and they'll play host to Ghana in the next Group 5 match on September 5th. If Libya lose to them again and Gabon beat Lesotho as is expected, it'll be a straight fight for the second place in the group between Gabon and Libya on October 11th.

Angola's star may well be on the wane as they only managed to pick up one point from a possible six in their last two games. It leaves the Angolans second in Group 3 behind Benin - yes, BENIN - and level on points with third-placed Uganda.

Benin admittedly have a tough pair of final games to come against Angola and Uganda having already waltzed past group make-weights Niger in two games already, and their place at the top of the group looks decidedly uncertain. Angola travel to Benin in their next game having beaten them at home back at the start of June, and with a home tie against Niger set to close their campaign, Uganda could yet sneak into second spot to usurp Benin's lofty aspirations.

While Ivory Coast enjoy a comfortable three point lead over Botswana at the top of Group 7, Morocco are under pressure to keep their top billing in Group 8. The mighty minnows of Rwanda are just two goals behind them and are level on points with an easy away match against Mauritania next on the agenda. Morocco, however, lost 3-1 away to Rwanda during June before reversing the result in a 2-0 win in Casablanca a week later.

Key to who goes through in this group, then, is Ethiopia who have only so far managed to pick up a couple of wins against Mauritania. A victory over Morocco or Rwanda is perhaps too much to ask for, but the amount of goals they can prevent against both teams will no doubt have an effect on what will surely be a very important 'goal difference' column at the end of the campaign.

Coming up in Part 2 of our World Cup Update... all the action from South America...

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Obscure Kits From British Football History #7

Aberdeen (home)
1976-1979

When you go into business as a football kit manufacturer, the chances are you'll produce some designs that prove very popular with the supporters and some that will turn out to be absolute stinkers. No maker of football kits can ever claim to have hit the bullseye with every design, but if they at least come up with something original, they'll at least have achieved something.

This is effectively what Admiral did in the mid- to late-1970's. Having secured the contract to supply kit to the England team under Don Revie, Admiral were keen to flex their design muscles and show the world what they were capable of.

What followed was a series of kits smothered in a rash of Admiral logos on the shoulders, sleeves, shorts and anywhere else they could fit them in, but before that came a brief period where the company logo took second place to some genuine unashamed invention.

With Adidas starting to roll out their distinctive 'three stripe' motif all over the world, Admiral tried something similar but with an interesting twist. For Aberdeen, they'd put initially five and later four white stripes all the way down one side of their red shirts and shorts. Not down the sleeves, not down both sides of the shorts, but down one side of the shirt and shorts.

As is perhaps the sign of a true design classic, it's never been repeated since but Admiral did lend the four stripe motif to one other club back then - Manchester United, for their away kit. Theirs featured a white shirt with four black stripes, but it was Aberdeen's all red strip with those white tramlines running from shoulder to thigh that had the biggest impact.

I'd have to say it's one of my favourite kits from that era as it shows how a simple device like a bunch of consecutive lines can be used to make a football kit look that little bit different from all the rest.

Whether or not you like any of Admiral's other efforts from the 70's such as the brown Coventry City kit or the plethora of logo-infested designs foist upon everyone from West Ham to Norwich, this one stands head and shoulders above them all.

Well done, Admiral. This was one of your finest.

(Our thanks go to John Devlin at True Colours Football Kits for giving us kind permission to use the above kit design image.)

Friday, July 11, 2008

The Friday List of Little or No Consequence #69

Seven-figure signings
20 Players Who Were The First To Be Signed For £1 Million By Each Premier League Club (In Order Of Purchase)

1. Manchester City: Steve Daley, £1.438m from Wolves, September 1979
2. Arsenal: Clive Allen, £1.25m from QPR, June 1980
3. Manchester United: Garry Birtles, £1.25m from Nottingham Forest, October 1980
4. Liverpool: Peter Beardsley, £1.9m from Newcastle, July 1987
5. Everton: Tony Cottee, £2.2m from West Ham, July 1988
6. Tottenham: Paul Stewart, £1.7m from Man City, June 1988
7. Aston Villa: Tony Cascarino, £1.5m from Millwall, March 1990
8. Chelsea: Dennis Wise, £1.6m from Wimbledon, July 1990
9. Blackburn Rovers: Mike Newell, £1.1m from Everton, November 1991
10. Newcastle United: Andy Cole, £1.75m from Bristol City, March 1993
11. West Ham: Joey Beauchamp, £1m from Oxford, June 1994
12. Middlesbrough: Neil Cox, £1m from Aston Villa, July 1994
13. Bolton Wanderers: Gerry Taggart, £1.5m from Barnsley, August 1995
14. Sunderland: Alex Rae, £1m from Millwall, June 1996
15. West Brom: Kevin Kilbane, £1.25m from Preston, June 1997
16. Fulham: Paul Peschisolido, £1m from West Brom, October 1997
17. Portsmouth: Rory Allen, £1m from Tottenham, July 1999
18. Wigan: Nathan Ellington, £1.2m from Bristol Rovers, March 2002
19. Hull City: Caleb Folan, £1m from Wigan, August 2007
20. Stoke City: Leon Cort, £1.2m from Crystal Palace, January 2008

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Bostock & Bondage

If John Bostock ever goes on to fulfil his promise, he may find himself associated with similar headlines to the above but in an entirely different context. Bostock is a 16 year old wonderkid. A midfielder held in the same esteem as Rooney, Walcott and Ramsey. The kind of player destined for greatness. When such a player comes through to a club like Palace they rarely stick around for very long before they're off to a bigger club to fulfil their destiny/rot in the reserves. In such a situation, the role of the club is to cash in as much as possible by getting the player on a contract, putting them in the side and waiting for the offers to roll in. Palace have been blessed in that they have a number of such players in Victor Moses, Lee Hills and Sean Scannell who, all being well, will become permanent fixtures in Palace’s first team next season before inevitably moving on, probably for big money. Unfortunately, for the club at least, Bostock will not be joining them.

Bostock joined the Palace academy at the age of seven. He's a local lad and a season ticket holder. Last season, at fifteen, he made his first team debut. He was offered a professional contract by club chairman Simon Jordan and a place in the heart of the team by manager Neil Warnock. According to Palace, he said yes. However, by the time it came to putting pen to paper, he'd done what teenagers are prone to do, and changed his mind. Tottenham Hotspur offered him a better deal and as a youth player not on a professional contract he was perfectly entitled to move north of the river, so he did.

The reaction from Palace was predictable and perhaps understandable. Jordan was livid. He cancelled Bostock's season ticket and refunded his money. As the club who brought him through the youth ranks, Palace were entitled to a transfer fee. Since an amount couldn’t be agreed with Spurs the decision went to a tribunal, a system notorious in its conservatism. Tottenham were instructed to pay £700,000 rising to £1.25 million subject to conditions. Jordan went mad, appearing on Sky Sports News ranting and raving. Aaron Ramsey, a year older and with only a few more games experience behind him went to Arsenal for £5 million. Bostock could conceivably have gone for millions more than the tribunal determined had he been sold on the open market. Where, he asked, is the incentive for smaller clubs to develop talent if they are going to get stitched on the price? It’s difficult, particularly for me since I'm a Palace supporter, not to feel sympathy with them and other clubs in the past and future who have and will lose out like this.

The problem fundamentally is the transfer market itself. Some of the prices paid for untried talent beggars belief. In that respect, you can't blame a tribunal for refusing to get involved in all this senseless price-taggery. At the same time, the transfer market exists and clubs like Palace rely on it as a revenue stream. It may be crazy but it’s there. Southampton (Gareth Bale and Theo Walcott) and Cardiff City (Aaron Ramsey) have garnered huge transfer fees by combining the market with a strong youth policy. Shouldn't all clubs who nurture quality players expect to reap similar rewards?

On the surface, it’s difficult to come up with a solution, short of ditching the transfer market and shifting the way the game is financed and its players exchanged to another system and there doesn’t seem to be much of an appetite for that course. People are entitled to sell their labour to whoever will buy. Bostock's clearly an ambitious lad in a hurry who believes that his prospects will improve in the Tottenham reserves rather than in the Palace first team. I'm sure he's being paid more as well. But at the same time, it hardly seems fair on Palace that they have invested in this lad and not be able to profit where other clubs have. There must be plenty of stories that don't occupy headlines all over Europe of clubs who have lost out in this way.

Ideally, a system should be devised where youth players who, irrespective of signing a professional contract with their club, can move on while the clubs get compensated according to the market rate. Two ways of doing this spring to mind:

Change the rules to compel the Transfer Tribunal to take the transfer market rate into account when determining a valuation.

Bond the player to the club until the age of 18 or 21. That way a player is contracted by default and would guarantee a fee based on the market rate.

Both ideas are problematic.

Taking the tribunal route still leaves lots of room for dispute. Clubs are always disagreeing about player valuations (Gareth Barry) and there will always be problems establishing the criteria for determining what the correct market rate is supposed to be.

The second option sounds medieval doesn't it? Yet the practise of bonding trainees to companies from an early age continues to this day. A couple of years ago I visited a firm in Cambridge who supply aircraft for the RAF (don't ask). They took 16-year-olds on straight from school and trained them up to perform highly skilled and specialised work. They were bonded to the firm for 10 years to stop them from upping and leaving for a rival firm who offered them more money. "We don't want to spend all this time and money training them up only to see them f**k off to the competition" I was told. They would be free to move on while still only in their mid-twenties when there bondage period ends and the more I thought about it the less oppressive an idea it seemed.

It may be that bonding players to a club is a more elegant solution (although ten years seems a very long time). There is existing Government legislation to cover this form of employment which would have the benefit of restricting the involvement of bungling football officials in drafting new rules. There will need to be adequate protection for young players against exploitation from clubs but in a culture of poaching and tapping up, bonding young players to their clubs may help secure revenue for that club while stopping bigger clubs and avaricious agents from agitating for a move before they have to shell out for a whopping transfer fee. At the same time the player is given the security of a contract at a critical stage of their development.

In all likelihood nothing will change. The current system suits the big clubs. How long it will be though before lower division clubs decide that their resources are better spent on strengthening their first team rather than wasting time and money on players who are just going to “f**k off to the competition” as soon as a decent offer comes along? It’s got to be easier and cheaper than going to all the trouble of employing coaches and recruiting youngsters, right?

Monday, July 07, 2008

Kaka to sign for Blues?

AC Milan's Vice-President has reported that Chelsea have made an 'astronomical' bid for playmaker Kaka. According to reports, the Italian side would be wanting a fee in the region of £50 million for the Brazilian star and with former national coach Luiz Felipe Scolari getting the backing from Roman Abramovich to begin a super-sized Summer spending spree coupled with any possible transfer going a long way to wiping out the Rossonieri's debts, a deal would appear to suit both parties.

If Kaka does sign for the club, he'll arguably become the biggest star ever to sign for Chelsea but what's the betting the club is being forced into paying far too much money for players - in other words, are their valuations inflated purely because the Blues come a'knocking?

For the Brazilian star himself, I would rush to deny this as for me he is one of the game's true greats at the moment and is playing at his peak right now. Let's face it - there is no way right now that Chelsea (or any other English cub) could ever prize Ronaldo away from Old Trafford if the club themselves had anything to do with it and I highly doubt that the player himself would be willing to move to another Premiership side, this is one reason why betting on United to retain their title is so strong right now.

Lionel Messi is a great player but the same can be said about his chances of making a switch right now in his career, Barcelona have already stated that it would take an offer in the region of £80 million for them even to consider a transfer. After spending much of his early life in the Catalan region it is unlikely that the player would want to leave Barca so early in his career either.

There are other players who could be named such as Torres or Gerrard, players which are highly sought after but becoming increasingly difficult to sign. Perhaps Kaka is a rare breed, a player who is close to his peak and available – if the price is right.

Galliano himself has spoken out about the transfers of both Kaka and Andrea Pirlo stating that "all we would need to do in order to wipe out our debts is sell Kaka and Pirlo". This could be mind games for the Blues as they search seemingly to create the most potent midfield quartet in world football after signing Deco shortly after this summer's European Championships. On the other hand it could be an untimely slip of the tongue from Milan's Vice President and the catalyst for Chelsea to move in and make an offer the Rossonieri - to quote the Godfather - 'could not refuse'.

If The Pensioners do entice the 26-year-old to the club it could also trigger moves for other potential transfer targets in David Villa and David Silva such is Kaka's value to these forward players. To have the Brazilian delivering delightful ball after sumptuous pass must be as appetising as a cold pint on a hot Summers day - not that we get many of those in Blighty!

Chelsea fans themselves must be licking their lips at the thought of seeing potentially an attacking line consisting of Silva, Kaka, Deco, Essien, Ballack and Villa, not to mention Joe Cole, Shaun Wright-Philips, Kalou and, if still there in August, Frank Lampard. Nor too must those against Chelsea want to see the likes of those mentioned above flowing forward towards the opponent's goal.

What is certain (if you believe everything you read in the paper) is that this season's Premier League campaign looks set to include an array of talent never seen before on these shores. Seems like we say that every year...

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Is Turkey quickly becoming a powerhouse?

They have performed well in the last two tournaments that they've featured in but are Turkey on the verge of becoming the next great football league in Europe?

The Turks amazed many to reach the semi-finals of the 2002 World Cup in Japan and Korea - going on to claim third place over South Korea in a play-off - and then went on to secure another semi-final spot in last month's Euro 2008 and have been enticing many big names to join their league in the process.

Already at the top clubs in the Tukcell Super league before this Summer were the likes of Roberto Carlos, Mateja Kezman, Edouard Cisse, Colin Kazim-Richards, Tomas Sivok and Tobias Linderoth with former World Cup winner Zico managing at Fenerbache. Their recent record in European competition has been rather impressive given the apparent lack of depth in their league with Galatasaray claiming the UEFA Cup in 2000 and Fenerbache reaching the last eight of the Champions League last season.

It can hardly be said that the league hasn't produced teams which can compete at the highest level but it is only recently that the likes of the aforementioned players have made the move across Europe to the very edge of the continent itself in order to ply their trade and it is likely that the Turkish league will feature heavily in football betting in the future.

This may have something to do with the exploits of the national team or it may be down to the influx of money from foreign ownership sponsorship rising in the league. It could be a mixture of the two but what is certain is that we are in the midst of the Turkcell Super League gaining not only in exposure but also in credibility.

On the 5th July Galatasaray announced the signing of Harry Kewell from Liverpool on a free transfer and although this now ends the possibility of the former Leeds winger being named as one of Australia’s over-aged players for the Olympics this Summer, the Aussie obviously believes that a move to Turkey is the right move in his career. After signing for the domestic Champions Kewell said of the league:

"There's a lot of talk about the Turkish league, it's coming up in the world. The national team has done well in the last couple of international tournaments and there's a lot of young talent here"

And the 28-year-old is not the only one who believe this. Someone much older has also made the move to Istanbul.

Newly crowned Euro 2008 winning coach Luis Aragones has been named as Zico’s replacement after the former Brazil international left the club earlier this Summer. What is interesting about the move is that the 69-year-old in theory could have chosen any club in Europe to manage given his new found credentials yet he, like Kewell chose to open a new chapter in his career where West meets East.

Aragones said of his two-year contract with the national league runners-up, "I am here both with my brain and heart to work for Fenerbahce."

"I know I have come to a good and strong team. I can tell you that I am very happy to be here. This season we want to win every possible title."

Many critics will say that the likes of Kewell, Kezman and Carlos - who are heading very quickly into the dying embers of their careers - signing for Turkish sides proves that the league is a graveyard for former stars but the appointment of Aragones, fresh from European success will go a long way to quashing their statements.

These two are the latest in a trend to make the move to the very Eastern point of Europe and at this rate you can bet their international side will improve further still and the likes of England, Spain and Italy must keep one eye on a league which appears to be slowly building up to something which should be taken very seriously indeed.

Friday, July 04, 2008

He waves his nunchuck... he scores

Konami's Pro Evolution Soccer 2008 on the Nintendo Wii is the best football video game ever. There, I've said it. Its gameplay is a quantum leap in the genre moving the game away from two decades of pass, run and kick towards a true flowing, tactical experience.

Modern football sims, essentially, began in 1989 (19 years ago!) with the release of Dino Dini's Kick Off on the Amiga and Atari ST. Since then the market leaders, Sensible Soccer followed by FIFA and PES, have followed a fairly similar route: one button for passing, one button for shooting, move the highlighted guy with your joystick.

The key to this game's success is its use of the technology built within the Wii - instead of steering one player with your control stick on a mazey run - you now point to where you want him to go and he runs there. Need a player to make space for himself to receive a cross? Just drag and drop him and he'll run to the spot, ready to pass first touch if needed. The result is more than the games of glorified pinball from the past and even go over football management sims - it achieves the holy grail of football games - it allows someone on the stands to fully dictate play.

And like most amazing things, you wonder why no one had ever thought of it before. PC-based RTS gamers will be familiar with controls like those on display here, though usually controlled by a mouse rather than the witchery of Nintendo's Wiimote. But as far as my memory serves no one has applied it to a football sim.

It's not perfect in any sense: it looks dated (when compared to what's achievable of the PS3 and 360) and it's stripped to the bone as far as the now usual whistles and bells of kit editors and player creators are concerned. But the possibilities offered to the armchair fan far outweigh any short-comings. It promises a lot for the future, and I for one can't wait for the inevitable PES2009.

The Friday List of Little or No Consequence #68

Overplayed and over here...
20 Non-English Footballers Inducted Into The English Football Hall of Fame

1. Dennis Bergkamp (Netherlands)
2. Liam Brady (Repubic of Ireland)
3. Billy Bremner (Scotland)
4. Eric Cantona (France)
5. John Charles (Wales)
6. Kenny Dalglish (Scotland)
7. Ryan Giggs (Wales)
8. Alan Hansen (Scotland)
9. Mark Hughes (Wales)
10. Alex James (Scotland)
11. Roy Keane (Repubic of Ireland)
12. Dennis Law (Scotland)
13. Dave Mackay (Scotland)
14. Billy Meredith (Scotland)
15. Ian Rush (Wales)
16. Peter Schmeichel (Denmark)
17. Graeme Souness (Scotland)
18. Bert Trautmann (Germany)
19. Arthur Wharton (Ghana)
20. Gianfranco Zola (Italy)

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Bundesbag Prologue

Bundesliga fixtures announced

No sooner have the Mannschaft returned to a heroes welcome (the Germans have acquired a taste for gallantry - Good PR) but the Bundesliga have published their fixtures for the season. What better way, then, for the Bundesbag to introduce itself to Some People Are On The Pitch than with a look ahead to the first weekend of the season?

The big kick-off begins Friday 15th August at the Allianz Arena when Champions Bayern face Martin Jol's Hamburg (and I hereby promise never to call them "Martin Jol's Hamburg" ever again... honest). Hamburg had a disappointing end to the last season and only sealed a UEFA Cup place on the last day when they spent most of the campaign in the Champs League places.

The honour of representing Germany in the European elite is Bayern (naturally), second place Bremen and (subject to pre-qualifying) Schalke. Bremen's injuries were shocking last time out and if they can keep hold of Diego while not troubling the medical men then they may yet challenge Bayern for the title, although the Bavarians will still be heavy favourites to repeat their title success under new coach Jurgan Klinsman. Schalke sacked their coach Mirko Slomka towards the end of last season and realistically Fred Rutten's new club should be looking to establish themselves as Germany's third Champions League club. Royal Blues fans may disagree. The Gelsenkirchen club host mid-table Hannover on the first day while Bremen travel to relegation battlers Bielefeld.

There's always an extra frisson of excitement for anyone heading into a new league (unless you've been relegated of course) and for promoted clubs Borussia Monchengladbach, Koln and Hoffenheim this will be no different.

'Gladbach should never really have been relegated the season before last. They won the 2 Bundesliga at a canter and must be confident of survival, perhaps even doing a Karlsruhe (starting really well before falling back to mid-table at the end). Their first match is at home to the 2006/07 Champions Stuttgart who may have lost Mario Gomez by then.

FC Koln were the inaugural Bundesliga Champions back in 1964. Latterly they've become a yo-yo club. They face a tough trip to Wolfsburg who surprised everyone by doing something quite interesting last season and qualified for the UEFA Cup. Felix Magath seems to have galvanised the Volkswagen owned Wolves and may splash the cash before the season starts. Wolfsburg may be a team to keep an eye on.

Of the three promoted teams it's 1899 Hoffenheim that will raise the most eyebrows. As recently as 1990 Hoffenheim were a non-league team. Then former player and Software billionaire Dietmar Hopp bought the club. Under the management of Ralf Ragnick they were promoted to 2 Bundesliga for the first time in 2007. Not content with this extraordinary rise they capped off an historic first season with promotion to the top flight on the last day.

Hopp has also financed a new stadium which will seat 30,000 people. The trouble is it won’t be ready until 2009 so until then they’ll have to stay at their current ground which only seats 5,000. Hopefully the club and its supporters will stay realistic and acknowledge that building a football club is a long process. As it is, they start with a winnable trip to Cottbus who performed a Houdini act to get themselves out of trouble last season.

The other two UEFA Cup qualifiers (Intertoto notwithstanding) Bayer Leverkusen and Borussia Dortmund face each other on the first Saturday. Leverkusen will play in Europe because of their league position last season. BVB qualify as runner-up to the all-conquering Bayern in the German Cup. Less worthy qualifiers are harder to imagine and their "success" was not enough to save manager Thomas Doll from the chop. More is expected from the new manager Jurgen Klopp and his amusing name will only take him so far.

As the Bundesbag did last season, Some People Are On The Pitch will bring you a round up of the action every week. It won't make you an expert (we're not) but you will be able to bluff your way through a conversation with Rafael Honigstein... for about ten seconds.

Rank out of order

FIFA have just published their latest World Ranking table and one thing is immediately obvious - the effect of Euro 2008 and some of the recent World Cup qualifiers has given the global pecking order a major shake up.

To begin with, European champions Spain (sorry, that still makes us laugh) are the new leaders following last weekend's win in the Final over Germany. They were third last month, but now take top spot from Argentina who drop to SIXTH following two draws in the recent South American qualifiers for South Africa 2010 (more of which follows soon).

Italy move up one place to second, deposing Brazil who drop to fourth (they picked up only one point out of the six available in their recent pair of World Cup matches) and Euro 2008 runners-up Germany climb two places to third.

Of the other teams that featured prominently in Euro 2008, the Netherlands leap from 10th place to 5th, Croatia jump eight places to 7th and Russia surge their way up from 24th to 11th. Turkey are also big winners in the July 2008 rankings, moving up from 20th to 14th.

Naturally enough, those teams who failed to impress (and we're looking at you, France, the Czech Republic and Greece) all fell further down the pecking order. Greece, European champions in 2004, suffered particularly badly after their First Round exit in 2008, falling ten places to 18th.

But for a team that wasn't even involved in Euro 2008, it's England that's stolen all the headlines. They're now ranked 15TH having played only friendlies since November 2007 - a drop of six places. That puts them just one place above Scotland, who move up a position, and just five above Ghana.

A special mention this month, though, goes to Suriname, the small South American country who rose 58 places to 87th in this month's FIFA World Rankings. A recent win in both legs of their recent World Cup qualifier over Guyana means Suriname (population: 470,000) are now ranked just four places below China (population: 1.3 billion).

Fabio Capello, you've seen how it's done...

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

What next for the Euro finalists?

Euro 2008, one of the most enthralling international tournaments in living memory from David Villa's hat-trick - one of only eight in the competition's history - to Turkey's great late shows against the Czech Republic and Croatia, the early departures of once great nations in Italy and France to the eventual crowning of Europe's new power - Spain. This tournament which, as highlighted in an earlier post by one of my colleagues, began at a rather laboured pace when the Swiss took on the Czechs but quickly became illuminated by performances of the highest quality, is now sadly over.

Of the 22 which took to the field for the final on Sunday night, just three plied their trade in the English Premier League which begs the question, 'Of the remaining bright lights, should we be expecting any to jump ship and head to Blighty?'

Of course it would be a great shame to see either of the aforementioned trio leave this Summer but at the same time I personally cannot see Ballack, Fabregas or Torres going anywhere anytime soon.Let's start with the players of the tournament.

A nine-strong panel selected Xavi Hernandez as their key man and the Barcelona man will no doubt be attracting the attention of Europe's elite. This guy is Barcelona through and through after spending his entire career at the club. Although his contract does carry a buy-out clause, it is set at a massive £100 million - a price which will not be met for this 28-year-old midfielder.

What about the transfer rumours, though? Although there were whispers abound that Avram Grant's Chelsea were keen to sign the Barca star back in March, since then there has been very little in terms of movement. Be that due to Grant's departure or the apparently imminent capture of Deco by the Blues no-one really knows but it looks as though classy Xavi will be staying with Barca with his agent Ivan Corretja claiming that:

"Xavi has a deal until June 2012 and is happy at Barca. The decision about a possible exit is Barcelona's."

Okay so the player of the tournament looks like he will be staying put but what about the best of the rest?

Well we should check out the transfer odds firstly and it looks as though there has been heavy movement for Liverpool to clinch a double signing of club-mates David Silva and golden-boot winner David Villa although their performances over the past month will surely have boosted their transfer value regardless of Valencia's current financial strife.

Let's start with Villa (right) because this guy looks as though he's had more clubs sniffing round him than a dolled-up poodle at the Crufts after-party.

Their have been rumours that Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham, Liverpool and Manchester United have all shown an interest in the striker with figures from £17 million - the supposed asking price - to £30 million being thrown around.

It is likely that Villa will be moving this Summer. His club side Valencia didn't exactly avoid the drop by the skin of their teeth but the Spanish striker will be looking for Champions League football next season and Valencia cannot offer him this.

In my opinion this means that Spurs are out of the running to land the players but with Luka Modric and Dos Santos already joining the North Londoners, I could be proved wrong as Juande Ramos continues to attract big names to the capital.

A sum around £23 million for this guy would be a bargain for any of the top teams in England and a joint bid in the region of £40 million would surely seal his buddy Silva's signature into the bargain too.

The rumour mill has been extremely quiet on the Silva front but both The Sun and The Mirror in England have claimed recently that Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez is after the highly-rated attacking midfielder. I believe a clever footy bet should be put on this guy heading over from the Med with Villa in tow.

What about their German counterparts then? Well Werder Bremen playmaker Torsten Frings has been making waves - actually more like ripples - in the market after being named as a surprise target for Arsene Wenger. At the ripe old age of 31 he is much older than many of the Gunner's usual options but it is believed that Wenger wants the German to replace Flamini in the heart of Arsenal's midfield and at £4 million it could prove to be the bargain of the Summer. Mind you many said that about Mateja Kezman...

One of Germany's most consistent performers in this tournament was one Bastian Schweinsteiger (right), after being sent off against Croatia the influencial midfielder came back with a bang, scoring the opening goal of their quarter-final encounter with Portugal and scoring their equaliser against Turkey in their semi-final.

The bottle blonde was out of favour for Bayern Munich last season with the likes of Tim Borowski and in-form Franck Ribery further up the pecking order.

He may not be the biggest of players but his strength on the ball and ability to pick out the killer pass would be something which any team in the Premiership would be more than welcoming to his skills and I believe this would greatly improve their odds of success next term. Following his fall from grace with Munich his valuation has dropped significantly from the £30 million mark bandied about a couple of years back and even after a great Euro campaign an offer around £16 million should force the German clubs hand.

There are of course plenty of other names which could feasibly make a move to England this Summer but I can't really see the likes of Puyol, Podolski or Ramos heading our way before the start of next season - unless that is, Roman Abramovich has, let's say, a spare £100 million down the back of his luxury lazy-boy?

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