No real reason for this, but then it’s not every day you came across footage of an obscure Japanese midfielder scoring a goal from sixty yards.

His name is Mitsuo Ogasawara, he’s 5 foot 8 and he plays for Kashima Antlers. The goal was scored in a friendly against Finland in February last year.

In the ranks of halfway-line lobs, I’d put him above Xabi Alonso and on a par with David Beckham and Rivaldo. None of them, however, come close to this breath-taking OG from Frank Queudrue.

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Golden Ball-scratching

July 22 2007

I didn’t catch David Beckham’s typically overhyped and underwhelming debut for LA Galaxy against Chelsea yesterday, so I had a look for the match highlights on YouTube today. This is what I found.

You’d think he’d have learnt about the perils of constant media scrutiny by now. Those golden balls are obviously more troublesome than previously thought.

David Beckham is back in the England squad. He deserves to be there. I can’t think of another English right-sided midfielder who has been as consistently effective over the last few months.

But in spite of this, I don’t think he should be in the squad.

Suppose Beckham comes back, plays a blinder against Estonia and gets England’s Euro 2008 qualifying campaign back on track. What then? There is clamour for him to be included in the next squad, and, in all possibility, the squad after that and the squad after that.

Having dragged everyone through the rigmarole of his decision to step down as captain following England’s World Cup exit last summer, he won’t allow himself to be dropped again without putting up a (doubtless heavily publicised) fight.

All of which will set back England’s progress as a team. McClaren was right to drop Beckham in the first place. He was looking to the future. So bringing Beckham back is a backwards step, even if he is the in-form right-sided midfielder at the moment.

It’s unfortunate that players like Aaron Lennon, Shaun Wright-Phillips and David Bentley haven’t been able to stake a claim for the number seven berth in Beckham’s absence, but the decision to recall Beckham suggests McClaren has no faith in them.

Beckham is not England’s future, no matter how well he’s playing. He is England’s over-hyped, gratuitously self-important past.

Furthermore, putting him in the team means the side has to be balanced with a left-sided player who will provide similar width. As a consequence, either Joe Cole has to play as a traditional left winger, or the typically ineffectual Stuart Downing is brought into the side, and if England’s first choice strike partnership is Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney, there is no need for wide midfielders whose principle asset is their crossing ability.

McClaren must experiment. He must be allowed to experiment. He will lose matches. He will get huge amounts of flak. But the future of English football depends on it. The 4-4-2 must be abandoned. Players like Joe Cole and Aaron Lennon and David Bentley must be given the freedom to play their natural game, not tied to the touchline like 1950s-style wingers.

And Beckham must be allowed to go to America to finish his career without constant speculation about whether or not he merits a place in the England team.

Many players could be said to ‘deserve’ a place in the England team. But the team should consist of the best eleven players capable of playing together in a particular system, not the eleven most deserving.

Shaun Wright-Phillips - a unique talentFrom a purist’s perspective, it’s hard to get that excited about the football that Chelsea play. But there is one, occasional redeeming feature. And that’s Shaun Wright-Phillips.

He was in scintillating form in last night’s impressive 4-1 victory over West Ham, and his two goals were exceptional. The jinking footwork of the first goal and sublime volleyed finish of the second demonstrated an alliance of devastating speed, close control and supreme technical accomplishment.

Wright-Phillips is one of the few English players who make you think something exciting is about to happen every time he is on the ball. And the hiatus imposed upon his career by the time he has spent on the bench at Chelsea is a crying shame.

During his time at City he was one of the most consistently impressive players in the Premiership, with his soft, slightly knock-kneed mastery of the ball and a thumping shot that belies his tiny frame.

His ability to exploit gaps and spaces in opposition defences sets him out as a unique talent, and with his ability he really should have established himself as the long-term successor to David Beckham in the national side.

Cesc Fabregas - a season to remember?No real surprises in the list of nominees for this season’s PFA Player of the Year Award, although Michael Essien is unlucky to have missed out, and Cesc Fabregas hasn’t exactly been in scintillating form since the turn of the year (although his goal against Bolton at the weekend finally justified his continued inclusion in my fantasy football team).

My only gripe with the PFA Awards is that they are announced so early. This season the gongs will be handed out on April 22nd, before the destinations of the Premiership, FA Cup or Champions League have been decided. Suppose Didier Drogba scores a further ten goals to secure the Quadruple for Chelsea, but Cristiano Ronaldo has already received the award?

It’s happened before. In 1999 David Ginola won it, despite the contributions of players like David Beckham and Roy Keane in securing United the Treble. In 2002 Ruud van Nistelrooy got the nod, but it was Arsenal’s Patrick Vieira and Thierry Henry who plundered the silverware as they inspired Arsenal to Arsene Wenger’s second Double.

The big problem with the PFA Awards is that the players vote for them months before the end of the season. I think I’m right in saying that the votes are gathered around the turn of the year, which gives a massive advantage to players who start the season strongly (such as Fabregas) but fails to acknowledge the contribution of players such as Dimitar Berbatov who find their form in the second half of the season.

It’s also interesting that Wayne Rooney has once again been nominated for the PFA Young Player of the Year Award – an award he’s won for the past two seasons – but has missed out on a nomination for the senior award. Ronaldo and Fabregas have both stepped up. Let’s hope Rooney uses their example to spur him on to greater things next season.

Mirror, mirror…

April 10 2007

Stumbled across this rather interesting video on YouTube this morning.

It depicts a number of very famous goals but in mirrored form, as if they had been scored at the opposite end of the ground and with a different foot.

It’s a funny idea, but makes for interesting viewing, if only because it suggests what it would have been like if players like David Beckham and Alan Shearer had been left-footed.

The only goal which doesn’t strike you as being odd is Zinedine Zidane’s sublime volley against Bayer Leverkusen in the 2002 Champions League Final, because he struck it with his (supposedly weaker) left foot in the first place.

Row Z or postage stamp? I'm not sure he knows...Cristiano Ronaldo has a unique style of taking free-kicks. Whereas established dead-ball experts like Ronaldinho and David Beckham take a sideways run-up and then whip the ball up and over the wall, Ronaldo’s run-up is straight.

The Brazilians Roberto Carlos and Juninho Pernambucano address the ball in a similar fashion, but both strike the ball differently. Carlos hits the ball with the outside of his foot, in an attempt to impart as much swerve on the ball as possible, and when it works – as it did so famously against France in the 1997 Le Tournoi – the results are breathtaking. Juninho hits the ball with his instep, which requires him to adopt a very difficult position when he strikes the ball. And yet he thumps the ball, like Ronaldo, rather than curling it, like Beckham or Ronaldinho. The result is an irresistible combination of power and accuracy.

Ronaldo strikes the ball with the top of his foot. And he – like Carlos – hits the ball on the valve. The aim is to disturb the air inside the ball as much as possible, in order to make it move in the air. But whereas Carlos knows what kind of shape he wants his shot to assume – the well-known right-to-left ‘banana’ swerve – I don’t think Ronaldo does.

Rather, Ronaldo knows that, if he makes the right connection – if he can hit the ball right on the sweet spot and ‘stun’ it – neither he, nor the goal-keeper, nor anyone in the stadium, will be able to predict how it will move. He knows that the current Nike ball is so light it can be made to move two or three times in the air.

All this means that a lot of his free-kicks fly high and wide of their target. But when he gets it right – as he did in last night’s charity game against a European XI – no goal-keeper in the world can repel him.