Hansen scores from 45 yards

September 8 2007

Pierluigi Casiraghi’s Italy Under-21s had a lucky escape when they only just managed to scrape past the Faroe Islands with a 2-1 home victory in an Under-21 European Championship qualifier in Trento last night.

The senior side may currently lie bottom of European Championship Qualifying Group B, but they’re not the wretched whipping boys they once were. The gap between the top teams and the weaker teams in Europe is certainly closing.

The highlights of the Under-21 game are worth watching if only for the Faroe Islands’ equalising goal, when defender Einar Hansen ambled into the Italian half and, spotting Italy keeper Andrea Consigli absent-mindedly straying from his line, swept the ball home from fully 45 yards.

It’s always a shame when a young player has to leave the Premiership before he’s had a chance to really shine, and that’s certainly true of Giuseppe Rossi, particularly as he’s left a club famed for putting its faith in youth.

The thrilling thing about Rossi is that he is a very highly rated young Italian footballer who chose to play in England. Italy usually does a very good job of keeping its most exciting young players under wraps on native soil, and had Rossi stayed at United and been successful it would have represented a ringing endorsement of English football as a real breeding ground for international talent.

This may seem an anomalous observation at a time when the number of English players graduating from the Premiership’s academies is under intense scrutiny, but had Rossi remained in England it would have sent out a clear signal that the Premiership is as good a league as any for the game’s future superstars to earn their spurs.

His departure suggests that even managers like Alex Ferguson will only go so far when it comes to giving youth the chance it so desperately deserves.

Fabio Who?

June 15 2007

The player touted as the man most likely to follow Owen Hargreaves, Nani and Anderson through the door at Old Trafford is the mouthful that is 23 year-old Sampdoria striker Fabio Quagliarella.

He scored two sensational goals on his debut for Italy in a 2-0 Euro 2008 qualifying win over Lithuania last week, but this video – combined with rather modest goal-scoring statistics – suggests he is more a scorer of great goals than a great goal-scorer.

The 45-yard half-volley at the end is the goal that really catches the eye (and bears a striking resemblance to Christian Vieri’s goal against Siena this season), but the deft left-footed chip at 1:20 is absolutely exquisite.

A twenty-first century Mark Hughes, perhaps…

Kiev's Olympic Stadium - potential venue for the 2012 FinalI didn’t see that one coming. Italy were the overwhelming favourites, but the decision to allow Poland and the Ukraine to jointly host the 2012 European Championships sends out a stark message that Italy has to sort out the problems currently plaguing their domestic game.

But if UEFA think keeping the tournament out of Italy will negate potential hooligan problems, they should think again. Poland’s supporters have an unenviable reputation as some of the most violent in Europe, and with the political problems currently plaguing the Ukraine, both countries have their work cut out.

The news is obviously a blow for the other joint bid from Croatia and Hungary. In an article on the BBC Football website this morning (which has annoyingly just disappeared), one of the men behind the bid declared he was thoroughly confident of success owing to the fact their dossier was considerably thicker than those of their rivals.

It’s good news for England though. Average summer temperatures in Poland and the Ukraine are considerably lower than in the inhospitable furnaces of Germany, Portugal and Japan which played such an enormous and not remotely overstated part in their elimination from the last three major tournaments.

At least they’ve got five years to dust off some new excuses.

Ahead of the pack

March 9 2007

I imagine a lot of people are familiar with Jared Borgetti’s sublime headed goal for Mexico against Italy in the group stages of the 2002 World Cup.

But I hadn’t realised quite how good the build-up was. A diggle on YouTube produced this video, which shows a sumptuous 15-pass move beginning with an impeccably timed penalty area tackle and culminating in surely the most artful header ever scored.

I reckon it must be up there with Carlos Alberto and Esteban Cambiasso in the list of the greatest ever World Cup team goals.

Shame their coach had such sweaty pits though.

England expects…

March 8 2007

The top teams in France, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Scotland and Spain have all now been eliminated from the Champions League.

Germany’s highest representatives are fourth-placed Bayern Munich. Spain’s leading team is third-placed Valencia. Roma fly the flag for Italy, despite being sixteen points behind runaway Serie A leaders Inter Milan.

England, by contrast, are represented by the top three teams in the Premiership. What price an all-English final now

Champions League quarter-finalists:

AC Milan (6th in Serie A)
Bayern Munich (4th in the Bundesliga)
Chelsea (2nd in the Premiership)
Liverpool (3rd in the Premiership)
Manchester United (1st in the Premiership)
PSV Eindhoven (1st in the Eredivisie)
Roma (2nd in Serie A)
Valencia (3rd in the Primera Liga)

England coach Steve McClarenEngland 0-1 Spain. A dismal home defeat against the notoriously underachieving Spanish, and calls for Steve McClaren’s head. There are big problems with English football. But they have nothing to do with passion or ‘balls’ or desire, and everything to do with coaching.

Chris Waddle makes some valid points in this article for the BBC from October last year. England just isn’t producing exciting players. And it’s a problem that stretches all the way down to grass roots football.

As soon as a boy shows any interest in football, he is given a shirt, put into an 11-a-side game and told that he is a goal-keeper, a full-back, a centre-half, a central midfielder, a winger or a centre forward. And he will play that position all his life, because the 4-4-2 formation always prevails. And it prevails to such a ridiculous extent that when an England manager dares to experiment with his formation, we hear stories about groups of senior players lobbying him to change his mind. A top player should be able to adapt to a change in formation.

Look at the last World Cup. Germany were the only team that achieved any kind of success playing 4-4-2. Finalists Italy and France both played a variation of the 4-4-2 that was closer to 4-2-3-1. England were the only ‘major’ nation who did not consistently employ at least one dedicated holding midfielder.

One problem is that England doesn’t produce dedicated holding midfielders. It produces all-action, box-to-box marauders like Lampard and Gerrard, but not patient, composed ball-winners like Claude Makelele and Javier Mascherano. And nor does England produce classic deep-lying centre forwards (with Wayne Rooney being the obvious recent exception). Why? The 4-4-2. If a player is a good all-rounder, he becomes a central midfielder. If he is pacy and skilful, he gets stuck out on the wing.

And the blame for this lies with the coaches. Look at the disdain with which a lot of managers regard coaching badges. Look at the mass support that Glenn Roeder and Gareth Southgate received in their battle with the League Managers Association. We in Great Britain like to think that our players know the game so well they don’t need to be taught how to become coaches. And so we allow players to go straight into management, and then decry their ineptness when their tactical limitations are inevitably revealed.

It is not so in Italy. It is not so in France. It is not so in most European countries. They understand the importance of injecting fresh thinking into the game. In Italy there is the Coverciano coaching school, where trainee coaches are taught about a plethora of different tactical systems, and encouraged to bring their own ideas to bear on how they coach. Giovanni Trapattoni, Fabio Capello, Claudio Ranieri and Marcello Lippi are all Coverciano graduates, and look at the success they have achieved.

And now look at the Premiership. The top clubs are all managed by European or Scottish managers. But there are very few genuinely innovative English managers. Too many are slaves to the 4-4-2, to the old, English way of doing things. Even Steve McClaren – a very highly regarded coach during his time at Derby County – appears to have lost his way. At least the influence of Jose Mourinho has encouraged a few more managers to experiment with the counter-attacking 4-3-3.

English football has to realise that it is no longer a world leader. The Premiership may be “the most exciting league in the world”, but that’s only because we have so many foreign players who can make up for the technical deficiencies of their homegrown colleagues. English coaches need to realise that there is no shame in being coached. And only when England learns to follow the example of places like Italy and France will it break the stranglehold of the 4-4-2 and begin to produce more players capable of producing that little piece of inspiration that is the difference between moderate success and greatness.