It is proving to be a fairy tale finish for last year’s almost-relegated Leicester City in the English Premier League (EPL).
Even a 1-1 draw against Manchester United last evening couldn’t dim the jubilation in their joyous fans.
And it’s not just their die-hard fans who are celebrating.
The mid-level club has made fans all over the world with their glorious run to the title this season in an unlikely topsy-turvy EPL season.
Defending champions Chelsea are nowhere in the top four and will not qualify for next year’s Champions League.
They still lurk as potential spoilers for both title aspirants. Tottenham Hotspurs play them this evening and Chelsea encounter Leicester in their final game next week.
Should the Spurs drop any points to Chelsea, Leicester will be home and dry with two games in hand.
Should Chelsea lose, a win against Everton at home should suffice for the Foxes.
Either way, it’s looking very rosy for Claudio Ranieri’s men and the Italian manager will be looking forward to a two million pound bonus in his burgeoning kitty.
A couple of years ago, it was Atletico Madrid who made believers of sceptics knocking out Barcelona and Real Madrid on its way to its first La Liga title since 1996.
Atletico are in the running this year as well— a three-way race including Barcelona and Real Madrid.
It is always gratifying to see the small guy win and as this writer put it in his mid-season piece, “It’s not about whether you play as well as you can, it’s about simply doing better than the rest.”
That happens to be the story of this year’s EPL. None of the former champion sides could lift their standards high enough to take the fight to giant-slayers Leicester.
Leicester are deserving victors unless there’s an unlikely, nasty twist in the tale.
Former doubters disbelieve no more.
Yan Dhanda may be the latest footballer of Indian-origin to sign up for a English Premier League side but he’s not the first.
Michael Chopra and Neil Taylor have been there and done that before.
Chopra featured in the inaugural version of the Indian Soccer League in 2014 turning out for Kerala Blasters.
The former Newcastle United and Sunderland player has even expressed a desire to play for India. That will however be possible only if the former Magpie renounces his British passport as current Indian rules prevent persons of Indian origin (PIOs) from representing the country unless they have an Indian passport. The government has not yet delivered on its promise of allowing dual citizenship for Indians everywhere.
This would not be a first.
Arata Izumi gave up his Japanese citizenship in January, 2013 and became the first foreign-born player to play for the Blue Tigers, by adopting Indian citizenship. The Pune FC midfielder has represented India several times since.
In June last year, Chopra spoke of his wish to become eligible to play for India.
“I was going to play for them four years ago. But at that time I was only 26 and I was too young to give up my British passport and travel around the world at that age. I just had a little boy that was born and things like that, so it would have been difficult. My boy is six now and he has grown up and understands what his dad has got to do. So I plan to move to India and give up my British citizenship and get an Indian passport to play for the national team and take them forward.”
‘Rocky’ Chopra currently plays for Alloa Athletic, a Scottish championship club.
Chopra’s father is Indian and that makes him eligible to play for India as long as he surrenders his British passport in exchange for an Indian one.
Rocky is considered unlucky to be part of a NewCastle United line-up that included the likes of Alan Shearer, Michael Owen and Patrick Kluivert.
Chopra harboured ambitions of managing and coaching his current side, Alloa Athletic, after the departure of Danny Lennon.
When Michael joined Alloa, he said:
‘I remember when I was at Newcastle and I was a young boy, I was playing with Alan Shearer, Michael Owen and Patrick Kluivert and they gave me the best experience possible.
They made me the player I am today and I’ll be looking to try and help all the young boys at the club and passing my experience on.
I will stay up here a lot of the time, although I’m going back to Newcastle this weekend because my son plays football and I can’t miss his game!
Otherwise, I will be up here training and playing, and I’m hoping to be able to train with St Mirren on a Friday if that can be finalised.
I’m also going to be coaching the kids on a Wednesday night. I want to put something back in and community coaching will be good.”
About his time at Kerala Blasters where he spent most of the time on the bench, Chopra said:
“That was a great experience. My dad is Indian, so that made it more interesting as well. Unfortunately I suffered a hamstring injury early on and then I ruptured my ankle ligaments, but it was still great seeing it all.”
Michael did not get the job. Jack Ross is his new manager.
Neil Taylor is another Indian-origin player participating in the Premier League.
He is Welsh and turns out for Swansea and the national side.
Taylor has been capped more than 25 times for Wales and represented Great Britain at the 2012 Olympics.
Taylor’s mother hails from Kolkata.
Speaking to Goal.com in 2012, Neil said:
“My mother comes from Calcutta and I have close family both there and in Delhi. I have visited my aunts, uncles and cousin several times when growing up and love the country.
Since I turned professional as a footballer at 16 I haven’t been able to visit India but it is a place I will return whenever I get the chance.
I think India would be a great place to stage the football World Cup. Football is a growing sport there, the Indian public is so passionate about sport (that I think) it would be an absolute winner.
It would bring football in India along in leaps and bounds; a bit like the 1994 World Cup has done for the USA.
There is no reason why there shouldn’t be a World Cup in India – if Qatar can stage it so can India.
Football in India is becoming much more developed and the vivid colours and culture of the country would make for a really distinctive event.
It is a country with the infrastructure to support a World Cup as it has proven with cricket.
Football in India is growing and improving and I think that is proved by the Venky family buying Blackburn Rovers.
The Premier League in England is the toughest and best league in the world, I think that is why it is attracting owners from around the globe.
So many of the clubs are now owned by people from other countries it really is a global brand.”
Speaking to the Independent a year later, the mixed-parentage soccer player speaking about the lack of Indian soccer players added:
“I want to know whether it is that they are not encouraged by their parents. Do they prefer a different sport? From what I remember from India, and what a lot of people say about the Indian people, it could be that a lot of the young people are encouraged to be doctors, surgeons and get pushed down the education route. I just wanted to know, is there more talent out there?
There are more Korean and Japanese players through the British leagues now but there are over a billion people in India, you know, and there’s an incredible density to the place. What I remembered of the country was that it is just cricket-mad. But when I went out this time I saw the change. It was monsoon time and you couldn’t even take your feet out of the grass. Sopping! But all the young people were playing football.
They knew Swansea and the way we played. India is perhaps the only part of the footballing world that is not tapped into. This was about finding out. For years, people didn’t know what origin I was. I’ve thought about it all. That’s all it really is.”
In June last year, Taylor renewed his contract with Swansea City signing a new four-year deal.
Later in November, Taylor whose father is English once again expounded on why he was the only British Asian player in the league.
“Well what’s the barrier? Growing up, and from what I know, for people of Indian origin, education is the number one priority.
All parents will drill their kids to be education-based, with your dreams put to one side to what will get you through life and get you a career.
The obvious question is why aren’t there any already.
I think it’s one of them things which has got a stigma attached to it and maybe players believe that they won’t get the opportunity, or that people (coaches) aren’t seeing them.
All these different types of things need to change.
I went out to India – I wanted to work with a charity along with finding if there were any players out there.
You know, there must be at least one! Looking at the amount of people out there, there’s got to be players who can play at a high level.
People say to me, athleticism. Does that come into it ? I said, I don’t think so.
I mean of course you look at the Olympics and you don’t see it littered with athletes from that part of the world. I think when I looked at it, I thought it can’t be.
People didn’t realise that I was Indian, it’s as simple as that – (from my name ) you wouldn’t know that I was Indian.
When I went to Kolkata and did a press conference, the next day, I got it. It was nice, people were saying welcome to our country, we’re glad people are coming out here.
People were then turning up to stadiums to see me after games and saying, ‘We didn’t know you’re Indian!’ It was great!
I wouldn’t have made it if it wasn’t for my parents! Every footballer you ask that plays on the pitch is unlikely to make it if their parents didn’t play a part in their making it to be a professional footballer. So you need that as well, from an early age.
My dad was big on education as well. I couldn’t go to football if I didn’t [complete] my education properly. It should be like that for everybody, unfortunately it’s not.
Everyone should get their education, everyone has got their own story, but I think that if you really believe that you can, and that’s what you want to do, then parents should always back their children to do that while still having education as a back-up if it doesn’t go how you want it to.”
Yan Dhanda is the latest to join the bandwagon(?) of Indian players in the Premier League.
The 17-year-old signed a two-and-a-half-year contract with Liverpool .
It has been his dream to become of part of the Reds since he was 14.
Dhanda’s set-piece free kick against Manchester City in an Under-18 game has drawn over 72K views on YouTube.
Claudio Ranieri is a smart man.
He must be.
He’s a crowd-pleaser.
And he knows how to grab the headlines.
The Italian manager of the English Premier League leader Leicester City had journalists in a tizzy with his statement comparing his giant-killing squad to a lovable, fictional movie character, Forrest Gump.
His team is Gumpish and intends to ‘Run, Run, Run’ all the way to the title.
“Look, I am very confident because if Leicester last season saved themselves in the last two months that means the stamina is fantastic. Why can’t we continue to run, run, run? We are like Forrest Gump. Leicester is Forrest Gump. I give you the headline there.”
For a team that was almost relegated last season, this year’s tilt at the championship has been nothing short of a fairy-tale.
Everyone loves an underdog especially when it seems too good to be true. We’re all suckers for a good story.
I don’t watch the English Premier League anymore. I used to a long time ago but not anymore.
But I still follow the championships through news reports.
This year has been fascinating reading.
Manchester United, Chelsea and Manchester City have been models of inconsistency.
While a side that was not given a ghost of a chance has continued to mock the pundits and poke a hole in any theories propounded by soccer fans.
The Christmas break is that time of the EPL season when it becomes evident whether the leaders are going to stand their scorching pace or fall by the wayside. The change in inclement weather seems to mark a change in fortunes of sides. Some teams are just better suited to take on their opponents in the wintry months.
Can Leicester City be the Christmas miracle fans need?
We shall soon know when they take on Liverpool and Manchester City in the space of days.
James Vardy and Riyad Mahrez were relative unknowns until four months ago, Hell, I never heard of them until Leicester started winning.
Now, they’re household names all across the globe.
Claudio Ranieri insists that he can make Leicester ‘Maximum City’.
Leicester have never won the EPL title. Ever.
The fairy-tale seems unlikely to go on.
Vardy and Mahrez have not been rested this season.
Their replacements Leonardo Ulloa and Nathan Dyer may just not have the same impact.
But with other sides such as Chelsea, Manchester City and United struggling to get their act together, it may just be possible for Leicester to run along.
Sometimes, it’s not necessary to be your best. Just better than the rest.
To be downgraded—an euphemism for ‘fired’—for simply doing your job on the field is egregious enough.
To be completely ignored during a so-called ‘investigation’ into the incident that led to your demotion is simply adding insult to injury.
Eva Carneiro must be wondering what hit her when the wrath of Jose Mourinho in all its ‘special’ splendor erupted on her when she treated Eden Hazard during a Chelsea game a couple of months ago.
She was labelled ‘naive’ then by the club boss; she must certainly feel that way now that she’s no longer part of the club.
Carneiro refused to accept a shunting to the backstage preferring to tender her resignation instead.
The medic is also considering legal action against her erstwhile employers.
Mourinho is alleged to have called the doctor a ‘filha da puta (daughter of a whore)’.
The allegations were denied by the ‘Special One’. He said he had actually yelled ‘filho da puta’ (son of a bitch)’.
The Chelsea honcho has since been let off by the testimony of a Portuguese lip-reader.
Carrneiro was scathing in her response:
“I was surprised to learn that the FA was allegedly investigating the incident of 8th of August via the press. I was at no stage requested by the FA to make a statement.
I wonder whether this might be the only formal investigation in this country where the evidence of the individuals involved in the incident was not considered relevant. Choosing to ignore some of the evidence will surely influence the outcome of the findings.
Last season I had a similar experience at a game at West Ham FC, where I was subject to verbal abuse. Following complaints by the public, the FA produced a communication to the press saying there had been no sexist chanting during this game. At no time was I approached for a statement despite the fact that vile, unacceptable, sexually explicit abuse was clearly heard.
It is incidents such as these and the lack of support from the football authorities that make it so difficult for women in the game.”
Football Association board member Heather Rabbatt was sympathetic to Carneiro’s cause despite Mourinho being cleared of the charge of discriminatory comments by the FA’s investigating committee.
The FA, in a released statement, claimed that they were “satisfied that the words used do not constitute discriminatory language under FA Rules.”
“Furthermore, both the words used… and the video evidence, do not support the conclusion that the words were directed at any person in particular. Consequently…the FA will take no further action in relation to this matter.”
Women In Football were not so conciliatory.
“We believe it is appalling that her professionalism and understanding of football were subsequently called into question by manager Jose Mourinho and it threatened to undermine her professional reputation.
We also believe that Dr Carneiro’s treatment and ultimate departure from Chelsea FC sends out a worrying and alienating message to the already small numbers of female medical staff working in the national game.”
Rabbatts, speaking to BBC Radio 5 Live, said:
“I have spoken to her in the last few days. She felt she had support and it’s very important; as you can imagine this is a terrible time for her.
Up until 8 August she was one of the most highly respected medics in her profession and at the moment she is out of the game she’s loved. I hope, with all of us learning lessons around these issues, that she will come back to the game in future.
I can’t go into what her ambitions and aspirations are but I know how much she loved her job and cares for the players. Becoming a highly-qualified doctor takes years of training, she was years at Chelsea, and I’m sure she doesn’t want to be lost to the game.
And we don’t want to lose her from the game. There are so few women in these professions that when people like her leave the game, it’s a real loss to so many other women and girls who aspire to play a role.
As I said in my statement, I was disappointed by how it was handled and I hope there are lessons for the future in how these very significant issues that affect the whole game are tackled.
There is something broader here. There must be really enforceable guidance so that no medic feels there can be any interference when they are called onto the field of play.
Remember, Dr Eva Carneiro did nothing wrong – in fact, if she had not gone onto the field of play, she would have been in breach of her own [General Medical Council] guidance.
We love the game for the strong passions but when that tips over into abusing somebody, ridiculing them, referencing them as a ‘secretary’, I do not believe that’s acceptable.”
Rabbatts’ publicly aired opinion triggered a response from FA chairman Greg Dyke.
Writing to the FA Council members, Dyke said:
“There have been some well-documented issues of late around equality and inclusion in the game, an issue where it is vital we continue to show clear leadership.
I felt the handling of the case of the Chelsea doctor, Eva Carneiro, was a good example of this. We supported Heather Rabbatts’ strong statement on the matter earlier in the month.
Personally I don’t think Mr Mourinho comes well out of the whole saga – he clearly made a mistake in the heat of a game, and should have said so and apologised.
Instead he has said very little and Miss Carneiro has lost her job.
Our regulatory team have investigated this and whilst Mr Mourinho has breached no rules it was clearly a failure of his personal judgement and public behaviour. This should be seen as such by the game.”
The FA, on their part, claim that they contacted Carneiro’s lawyers for a statement. Carneiro was still with Chelsea at the time.
FA chief executive Martin Glenn said:
“We have never received any information or complaint from Dr Carneiro.
Including in written correspondence with her lawyers, it has been made explicitly clear that if Dr Carneiro had evidence to provide or wished to make a complaint she was more than welcome to do so. That route remains open.”
Mourinho was uncharacteristically reticent at his weekly press conference.
“For the past two months I didn’t open my mouth and I’m going to keep it like this. One day I will speak and I will choose a day.
I’m quiet about it for a long time. I read and I listen and I watch and I’m quiet. My time to speak will arrive when I decide.”
Is an ISL/I-League merger on the cards?
As with any new endeavour, there are naysayers.
Former India skipper and ex-Bury FC player, Bhaichung Bhutia, is anti-merger.
He believes that a union at this stage could dilute the standards of the ISL.
To have one league is very important, but at the moment it is not right to merge ISL with I-League and I don’t it should happen also. Two to three years down the line it can be thought and be implemented but currently it should not be done.
I think the inaugural ISL season was really successful, top foreign players are coming to India and the Indian players are getting to learn a lot from them. Last year players like Alessandro Del Piero came and now Roberto Carlos and Lucio are coming in.
To make it one league, we really need to wait and watch. At the moment I think ISL has done a lot for India and it should not be merged. I think I-League should be taken to a standard where ISL is at the moment and then think about merging. The ISL has set a high standard and its level should not be pulled down. First standard of I-League should be upgraded and the merging should be thought about.
It is just because of the ISL that Indian football fans have started watching football. It is really sad when you see I-League matches being played in almost empty stadiums, and when ISL is happening in the same place, thousands of people turni.
The authorities should step up and take a note of it about upgrading the level of I-League and then focus on merging the two leagues. All the state associations also have to come forward and help in upgrading the I-League. We also have to see if the teams and players get a chance to train in better facilities, better ground.
The ISL is beloved by the players with most, if not all, aspiring to be members of the elitist league. The current format allows only six foreign players to be fielded by a club in a game. The other five have to be domestic footballers.
The Indian Premier League is much more supportive of home-grown talent.
The rules state that each squad will have:
The ISL rules allow up to 17 domestic players , four of which could have been purchased in the players auction. The rules also require that each club have at least two domestic players under 23 years in the squad. The minimum squad size is 22 and the maximum is 26. Indian players can be either free agents or loaned from from the Hero I-League.
FC Goa co-owner Dattaraj Salgaocar also does not believe that a fusion of the two leagues is a possibility.
Speaking to Times of India, he said:
Certainly not in the short term. The dynamics are different, especially with I-League teams qualifying for AFC tournaments. Add to this, we have to look at the financial implications of a merger … A longer league will adversely affect the financials of a team, unless the revenue model changes and all franchisees get a proper share of the sponsorship and broadcasting revenues.
Desh Gaurav Sekhri, a sports lawyer, blogging for the Economic Times, has his own viewpoint about the proposed unification.
While he agrees that the ISL is too abbreviated a league to do the sport in India any good and an extended season is the need of the hour, he does not believe that a joining of forces is the solution.
The I-league has been a product of the team-owners’ passion for football, and an outlet for stirring the loyalties of die-hard football enthusiasts for their respective teams.
The ISL on the other hand is a commercially driven entity, promoted and supported by the experience and monetary clout of its promoters. It has focussed on a more international flavour, and in its short window, excites the fan-bases who are as likely to flock to the stadiums to see their favourite international stars of the past as to become die-hard city-team loyalists.
A merger of both leagues would not work, because teams in each are established with different ideals. The I-league teams are bankrolled by their promoters, and are rarely profitable. Most would be valued at significantly less than a comparable ISL team, due to the latters’ entry price, a cap on the number of franchises in the league, and the guaranteed sponsorship money that the ISL teams receive.
A combination will add six-seven teams to the mix and may still not allow teams to make profits or turn the finances of the existing I-League teams around quickly enough.
Sekhri suggests a series of playoffs between the I-League and ISL champions. Also, a series of games featuring all-star teams from both leagues that would play each side in the opposing league is another option.
The ISL as the sole flagship league in India would be a folly, and one which could be attributed to the false optimism that the Indian Premier League has given to Indian sports. The IPL is only able to succeed because it is backed by a complete domestic season to develop cricketers, and the successful Indian national team has a huge following by itself.
Football, if it loses the I-league won’t have the former, and given its current state, the national team is very far from the latter. Unless the ISL becomes an extended league along the lines of the Premier League or La Liga, a merger of the two will not only be a failure commercially, it will also set Indian football back another decade or so.
Sekhri has a point. Indian football requires a league that goes on for at least five-six months and featuring 90-120 games for it to match the best of European leagues.
The Chinese Super League has 16 teams. It begins in Feb-March and ends in November-December. The top three teams plus the winner of the Chinese FA Cup qualify for the AFC Champions League. The bottom two teams are relegated out of the competition to the China League One and the top two teams are promoted up. The I-League,which is somewhat analogous,functions similarly with relegation and promotion with the I-League second division. However, no club has till now participated in the AFC Champions League.
The J-League has an even more interesting format. The year is divided into two halves—two seasons—with each half crowning a champion. At the end of the two stages, each stage’s champion and the top two-point accumulators in each stage take part in a playoff to decide the league champion.
The above is similar to what Sekhri recommends except at least three more teams in the fray. That could be another possibility. This is also the format followed by many Latin American leagues who term it ‘Apertura (opening)’ and ‘Clausura (closing)’.
The I-League and ISL could be treated as two different stages. Standards across the I-league would have to be raised though. This could also be the blueprint for a melding in the future. It certainly calls for more teams and a longer season. The J-League features 18 teams.
This makes a case for a non-merger of resources and teams given the current scenario.
What are your thoughts? Over to you.
What he said:
“It’s the Dog and Duck versus The Red Lion.”
Former Manchester United player and skipper Gary Neville likens the upcoming match-up between Liverpool and Manchester United to a game between two pub sides.
Neville was commenting on United’s poor show against Southampton where they won 2-1 and had them sitting pretty at third spot in the English Premier League standings on the back of five consecutive wins.
“United got away with murder tonight. They look shot of confidence. United will be delighted to sit third and think they will get better.”
United manager Louis Van Gaal warned Neville to “pay attention to his words”.
The Dutchman said:
“He can say everything because he is an ex-legend. But as an ex-legend … or as a legend, you have to know what you are saying. You can interpret that [as you like]. It’s not difficult. He has to pay attention to his words.”
Van Gaal singled out fellow countryman Robin Van Persie for praise following his brace against Southampton but conceded that United were not up to par.
Van Gaal said:
“He was one of the three players on the pitch of Manchester United who were good or maybe very good. He had a great influence on the result. Very positive.
Until now it was his best performance. I hope but I have to say I was very pleased with his performance and also his goals. His second was not so easy because the ball was coming towards his right foot and he connected with his left. A nice touch. Normally you have six, seven, eight players who are good. But today there were too many not good, I believe.”
What Neville really meant:
“If that’s the level of play Liverpool and United are going to bring to the table, I’d be better off catching up with some Sunday League game instead or playing in one myself.”
What he definitely didn’t:
“You do know that the Dog and Duck and The Red Lion are two of my favourite sports bars, right? That’s where we should watch Sunday soccer, not in some bloody sanitised studio. Soak up the atmosphere, eh?”
What he said:
“When you are such a long time in football as I am, you don’t understand any more what crisis means. I must get to the dictionary and look at it well again.”
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger responds to majority shareholder Alisher Usmanov’s critical remarks about his team management.
“My opinion – and I tell it openly – we need to strengthen every position to play on the level of such teams in (the) U.K. as Chelsea and Manchester City, in Europe like Real (Madrid), Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain, (Bayern Munich) and other clubs.
Arsenal is a dream that sometimes becomes a mirage and sometimes a pain as every dream.
(The) potential of the team is there, but there is no critical evaluation of mistakes and they need to need to acknowledge them. Because no genius can retain the same level of genius if they do not acknowledge mistakes. It’s only when you admit your mistakes that you can get rid of them.”
“Arsene Wenger is one of the greatest coaches not just of European but of world football.
But we have a Russian proverb which goes: ‘Even an old lady can have a roof falling on her.’ Everybody makes mistakes. He can make mistakes and I know as you age that it is more difficult, more challenging to accept one’s mistakes. Maybe it’s a problem today.
I like Arsene for his principles, but principles are a sort of restriction. And restrictions are always lost possibilities. That’s why sometimes coaches even without principles became the coaches of great teams and some coaches with principles lose because some positions in team are vacant because of ethical, moral or personal views.
Does he have money or not? There is officially money in the club. How does he spend [it]? This decision investors have left with him. I wish them victories, because their victories are the victories of investors, including myself, and of great Arsenal fans, which deserve these victories.”
Arsene Wenger dismissed Usmanov’s remarks:
“During the 18 years I have been here I have shown that I can take criticism. Everybody has the right to have an opinion, having said that, we have values at this club.
The first one is when we go through a difficult patch, we show solidarity. That is a very important one. The second one is that, when you have something to say to each other, we say it face to face. We don’t need to go to the newspapers.
I don’t take [Usmanov’s comments]personally at all. It is an opinion I respect, but when you are from this club, you are from this club. You are in or out, you cannot be both.
I am long enough in the game to know that when you play well, but lose the game, you get flooded with critics, however, if you play a very bad game, but you win it, everyone says how great you are.
It is our job to take a distance with that and see what was right and what was wrong. The rest is part of the game.
What is important is how close we are together inside the club and how much we can respond to people who question our quality. I personally feel there is a very strong bond inside the team and the club, and that this team will have a very strong season.
I believe in what I do and I especially believe in my players, and in their quality and spirit. I question myself every day and I hope you do that as well.”
What he really meant:
“Hmm… now should I look up sub-heading ‘team crisis’ or ‘personal crisis’?”
What he definitely didn’t:
“I’m going to be studying Russian proverbs instead—specifically the ones with old women in them.”
Lukas Podolski would rather be substituted than be a substitute.
What he said:
“I am happy at Arsenal and happy in London but the only thing is I don’t play. I don’t get the chance to play. I play always 10 to 15 minutes. I cannot be happy with this.”
German striker and Arsenal forward Lukas Podoloski is hardly happy with Arsene Wenger for keeping him warming the bench in the Premier League. Podolski has barely played 46 minutes in four games this season. In Euro games, he has a total of 26 minutes in three matches. (That’s less than 90 minutes—the length of any football tie.)
“I never say that I am unhappy with the club or with the players or with the city but I want to play.I think when I am ready and 100% I could play in the first XI. It is the decision from the coach, it is not my decision. Every player wants to play, every player wants to play in the middle, every players wants to score goals. But it is Arsène Wenger’s decision. He picks the first XI and he picks the tactics. When you ask players they say: ‘I want to play up front [or] as a No10,’ but the decision is his. I cannot change the style or tactics of the team.
I don’t say that I want to leave or that I leave in winter. I just think about my situation and my situation is unhappy. It is like anyone who is not getting a chance at doing their job. I know that only 11 can play but when you always play 10 or 15 minutes and it happens every week then you cannot be happy. I am happy with the team and the coach and the club but I don’t play. That is the only thing.”
Alexis Sanchex, the Chilean forward, has been doing extremely well for the Gunners and it does not appear that the German will have his chance any time soon.
“The Premier League is good for him (Sanchez). He is a physical player. He is fast and powerful and the Premier League suits him. He is battling in every game and running a lot and he is making the difference at the moment at Arsenal.”
On Arsenal’s chances of winning the English league:
“In the Premier League you have a tough game every week. It’s not like other leagues where you only have three top games in a season. You can always speak about problems but the season is not finished. The Premier League is the best league in the world. It is not like in Spain where you have two teams or in Germany where you have [only] Bayern Munich. You see it every week, that every game is tough. Home and away every team is hard to play. You can never say that the three points are easy to get.
There is always pressure when you are at a big club and you are not in the top four. So we have to start winning games and start picking up points. We lost our last game and it’s a big match against Manchester United [this weekend] so we have to win it and then we have a big game against Dortmund straight after that. [Mesut] Özil can’t help us now because he is injured. When he comes back he can help us because he is a great player. We have start winning games now.”
What he really meant:
“Am I playing or not, coach Arsene? Can I play, coachie? I need match play to keep me match-fit and in contention for the German side. Can I get a transfer or be loaned out, perhaps? There’s no maybe, maybe not. It has to be definite. I want to play. Period. I’m a professional.”
What he definitely didn’t:
“I’m happy where I am. It does not matter whether I am played or not. I’ll enjoy London and its surroundings. I could just play foosball, pool or craps instead as long as I’m paid.”
Emmanuel Adebayor chased a ball for his first ever walk-about.
What he said:
“Anyway, I was in the church laying down and, around nine or 10 o’clock on the Sunday morning, I could hear children playing outside.Suddenly somebody kicked a ball into the church and the first person to stand up and run was me because I wanted to get that ball.”
Togolese footballer and Tottenham Hotspur forward Emmanuel Adebayor recounts how he was a late bloomer when it came to walking as a child. The young Adebayor had not toddled yet in his fourth year. His mother travelled all over the Dark Continent seeking a cure.
What he really meant:
“Believe it or not, I was meant for soccer and soccer for me. Ask my mother.”
What he definitely didn’t:
“Actually, I couldn’t stand the long-winded sermon by the priest on the pulpit and I simply grabbed the first opportunity to go walk-about.”
What he said:
“The same thing as ‘a project’. The project has to be flexible. The project is never the same from when we start to when we end. It’s like at my house. You change, I don’t like this door, you change. The windows.”
Jose Mourinho compares his footballing strategy to a project. He believes that players and tactics have to be flexible and adaptable.
“I prefer my team to press in a low block, but if the opponent prefers to build from the back, and they are fantastic, it gives them huge stability in their game – I’m going to press there. Liverpool wanted to play with Suarez behind the defenders, Sterling the same thing, and Steven Gerrard in front of the defenders. So I go there, I play Lampard on Stevie G, I play my block completely low. I win. And I’m criticised because I [am not allowed to] play that way. So I am the stupid one. I’m not fundamentalist. And I think some people in football are becoming a bit fundamentalist.”
What he really meant:
“Just like the scope of a project changes with every iteration, the way my team plays depends on the opponent’s style of play. I adapt to the situation accordingly. I am not rigid.”
What he definitely didn’t:
“Of course, I have to keep my stakeholders and especially my sponsor happy. And did I mention that I can always jettison players when the transfer window comes around? That’s how flexible I really am.”