Saturday, December 8, 2012

Translation: Olivier Giroud Interview

This is a translation of an interview in L'Equipe Magazine of 8 December 2012, conducted by Erik Bielderman. The original can be found here in readable format in French.

This is not an official translation, and I am not a professional translator - it is intended only to help out non-Francophone readers.

The asterisks show where L'Equipe added clarifying notes, and [square brackets] identify idioms or grammatical constructions I can't usefully translate, or am not sure of (where English is included) - update 10 December 2012, thanks to Belgoona for some help with that, (edits noted in text).


Have you become a true ‘Gunner’?
I became one when I heard the fans singing my name. It was at Anfield, Liverpool, at the beginning of the season. Away from home, those are the true fans who support us. In fact, they sing more away from home than at the Emirates. Imagine it, you are at Anfield and you hear Hey Jude by the Beatles, a song with your name. It gave me shivers. It gives you the will to win.
Despite that support, you had to wait until 26 September and your 7th match to score your first goal…in the League Cup, against a team from the third tier (Coventry). Were you preoccupied by that?
It was a relief. But it was necessary to score in the Premier League to grow in confidence. The real goal came against West Ham*, and better still my brothers were in the Arsenal end. It was even more important for me to score that day. Again away from home! It is also exciting to score in front of 60.000 fans at home, but, away from home, the fans will support you to the end.
English football, it’s a big shock, no?
Listening to music in the dressing room before a match, that was banned at Montpellier. In the cup, and in the Champions League, when you meet at the stadium before the match. I like that laidback approach. But Arsenal is ‘french style’. [On a souvent des mises au vert, aussi].
When you arrive at Arsenal, are you met by the culture of the club (head on) ?
They watch. They see if you want to take on the customs of the club, of the country. They let you integrate at your speed. I was well advised by former players, such as Mikael Silvestre, Robert Pires. They are full of the modern history of Arsenal. They told me above all about life at the club. I am integrating easily. I haven’t gone to the museum yet, but I will do.
You should visit it with Charlie George, he’s a legend there.
Really, in the stadium corridors or here at the training centre, you feel the weight of history.  There are so many photos of legends of the club. I often stop to look at them. The photo of Pat Vieira and the manager with the trophy in 2004…there is also the statue of Thierry Henry in front of the Emirates. And also, I feel the presence of Dennis Bergkamp, of whom I have always been a fan.
Have you passed the Art-Deco façade of the East Stand, the sole vestige of Highbury, the mythical stadium of Arsenal?
I see it when we pass in the bus when we come to matches. I see the crowd pass in front of it, that comes up out of the underground and processes to the Emirates. I see the groups of fans in front of the pubs. Really, it gets you. It makes you want to be irreproachable. The fans make you understand the honour it is to wear the shirt.
How is Arsenal different from others in England?
It’s the ‘french touch’. I’m the 23rd French player to wear the colours since Arsene Wenger’s arrival. The club is marked by the goals of Henry, the 400** matches of Pat Vieira.  Back then, the manager brought the club up-to-date. He built practically everything and gave a very pronounced style to the team. I built his team with that philosophy and not by spending millions, like others did. He didn’t buy a team ready to go. He fashioned it. Even if there hasn’t been a trophy for seven years, it has that strong identity. Every year, he has lost two or three of his best players, but the club has not abandoned that philosophy; it rebuilds. Even if that isn’t always obvious.
Is there internal disquiet, not to be winning trophies any more?
Bizarrely, no. We speak more of it in France than here. The English have a focus on looking forward, not back. It’s a real strength.
Don’t you have the feeling of arriving at a period of tension?  At a moment when the club seems to be weakening?
Yeees…(hesitation). But at the same time, that puts less pressure on me. It’s not a recent thing, that big players leave Arsenal. Now, we have to forget them / let them go, even if the (new) names are less well known. We want to bring honours to this club.
Less pressure? Really? You are following van Persie, Bergkamp, Henry, Wright…
I feel the pressure to get results, but not so much that it inhibits me, to be in the place of my predecessors. When you arrive at a big club, you will always be replacing a big attacker. It’s pointless to get hung up on it. Van Persie wasn't built in a day (corrected 10 December 2012).
With already 7 goals and 6 assists, you’ve started well.
Thierry Henry had to wait 8 matches to score in the Premier League, Bergkamp the same. So I’ve done OK, but we have to do better collectively.
What does that mean, ‘we have to do better collectively’?
We have to be more effective in all areas of the game. More realistic. More varied, also. We build the game from the back and it takes a while for the ball to reach the attacker. I have to adapt to that. When you are a striker, you hope for more crosses, as well. We aren’t very spontaneous when we’re in a position to cross. I’ve talked about that with my colleagues.
Arsenal, it’s a passing game. Maybe too much, in front of goal…
Maybe…maybe we have to impose ourselves more on the game. But wait, I’ve got no pretentions to be the manager; just I have the chance to be in a club where we can talk about things.
For Wenger, [le jeu ne depasse-t-il pas l’enjeu? - is there more at stake than the games?]
I don’t know…it’s a good question. Arsene wants to win every match. Each time we go out on the field, he says ‘believe in your qualities’, ‘play your game’. He wants us to impose our philosophy o the game. He wants us to dominate, when we have possession. Here, we don’t want to be reacting to the game of our opponents. He is very educational / informative in what he says. He pushes us to outdo ourselves, to go and get the win.
At any price?
Frankly, I don’t know…
How do you deal with the movements at the club, attacks on some shareholders for their supposed lack of ambition?
I don’t pay any attention. I’ve heard about it. Even about tensions in the management team, between the manager and Steve Bould, his assistant, but I’ve never seen any of that. Maybe it’s true, but in the dressing room I’ve never been aware of it. When you sell important players, it is reasonable to be able to ask how that money will be spent, but Arsenal is a healthy club, well-run, and if the fair-play rules came in tomorrow, they’d be one of the only ones who would be OK.
Manchester City became champions by getting the chequebook out.
And Montpellier were too, up against PSG, without getting the chequebook out. Here, we bought Santi Cazorla without spending 50 million! He’s a super player. My history proves you can win titles without being a star. I’ve spoken with players here, told them that with Montpellier, we did it without having millions.
Those who see you play every week say that your body language has changed, that you look bigger, more confident, more at home on the pitch in recent weeks. An explanation?
When you arrive in the Premier League, you have to adapt to the physicality of the game, the intensity. You have to get used to it. Once you have processed that you are an Arsenal player, that gives you confidence. Your attitude changes. You want to show how much you want to succeed.
And how does that work?
I’m more demanding of myself. More concentrated. More professional. More applied. In training, in matches. When I miss a ball, I say to myself “…You have to work on that!”. You are surrounded by players more technically adept than before, so you have to get up to their level. I know myself, I can tend to just go with it if I am comfortable. People have always said that. On coming here, I have got rid of that. I am guided by a constant desire (to be better).
When the Olivier Giroud of Arsenal is with the national team, how is he different from the Giroud of Montpellier?
I feel more legitimate / worthy. I think I warrant respect for what I do on the field. I don’t see myself as a leader. I feel more at ease. I take my place, I do what I do.
In the bus, at the table, you choose your place?
A little bit, yes. It’s more natural. You will be more at ease in a group when you are performing on the field. You feel you deserve that place. I ask myself fewer questions. I don’t look at the pictures of the legends on the walls at Clairefontaine any more. You have to stay grounded. There were many triggers. My goal, and my game, against Germany, selection for the Euros, and my equaliser against Spain.
Your profile / image has increased, and with your good looks, you are well placed to attract advertisers…
 I don’t chase contracts. I have just Puma for the moment. I look for quality brands to associate with. And I want to stay true to who I am. On my website and interviews with the media.
There is, keeping some perspective, a bit of the David Beckhams about you. Handsome, polite, you like football, fashion…and aware of all those attributes.
That’s a nice comparison! I work with a PR agent to achieve more visibility. I’m lucky enough to have a pretty decent face and I want to work with that (corrected 10 December 2012) . Without people thinking I’m someone else.
From a middle class background, you have gone for the tattoos. That’s quite ‘footballer’ in spirit.
Unlike Beckham, I’m not totally covered. I think I will stop here. I got tattoos because it was fashionable, but also, to mark that I was a man, a self-affirmation. Apart from a tribal design on my calf, the all represent me. I’m devout, so I have a Biblical psalm on my right arm: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want”. The one on my left arm is Polynesian. Every one has its significance. And remind me of my values: family, love, friends, courage, strength, honour. I am happy to have them on, and in, me.
In England, the players are often tattooed, do you talk about them a lot?
I’m not sure if they understand the significance of my tattoos. Anyway, it’s not the same style of tattooing that you find here. Here, they have more. Me, I wanted something sparser, more spaced out; which my mother prefers. I’m no ‘bad boy’…
After five months in England, what is there English about you other than the aerial game?
Tracking back to put in tackles. Making that effort. The English public is more knowledgeable for that than the French. Here they clap a defensive effort, a tackle, a pass out. I feel good here. I like the intensity of direct football, when it’s end-to-end, ‘box to box’. I like football with loads of chances. I like this country where you live, eat and sleep football. I feel at home. After all, they invented it.

*7th match in the League
**actually 406, against 377 for Henry

Friday, December 7, 2012

ATP: The Nightmare Before Christmas curated by Shellac of North America

Can you ever go back? When ATP first relocated from Camber Sands to Minehead, there was muttering. The chalets were too nice, the range of eateries too commercial, it was simply too weird seeing Patti Smith performing in a food court, illuminated by light seeping out of Burger King and Pizza Hut. Then, they sorted out the venues, fixed the sound, and we all got used to being able to have a fry-up in the morning, possibly a latte later on, a haircut, maybe a massage.  Old lags would reminisce about Camber’s soul, but Minehead had facilities. 

And then ATP went back to Camber.  ‘Soul’, in this context, means spartan accommodation,  some frankly baffling logistical decisions (queuing for over an hour to check in because they were ID-ing everyone, when the median age for an ATP crowd must be 35; removing all the furniture from the Queen Vic, which puzzled even the bar-staff; instituting a ‘one-in-one-out’ policy on a side entrance used as a thoroughfare, so they were overloading the downstairs venue because the ‘outs’ were actually leaving the games arcade), cheap drinks, bumping into Kim Deal in the merch room, and brilliant music.

Queue-gate meant that pretty much everyone missed Shellac’s first set, opening proceedings on Friday afternoon, and also cellist Helen Money – one of the lucky few to make it in early enough to see the curators said there was less chat than usual, the band possibly annoyed that half their crowd was outside downing cans of lager to keep warm.  But the line-up was made up of about half the bands Steve Albini has ever produced, and he’s a diverse chap, so when everyone was finally in, the festival took off.

Scrawl were an early highlight, forerunners of Sleater Kinney with their driving riffs, shared vocals and close harmonies, Marcy Mays and Sue Harsh gently sending up their longevity – “this is from our first record , most of you weren’t born…this is our new drummer, he’s been playing with us for seven years” – in between pounding out their choruses.  Turing Machine blended guitars with a dance vibe, a drum groove under the rock, a wall of noise in a tank top.  Mono played soundtrack music, swelling and shimmery, a corollary to something but with little plotline of its own, instead working a slow build, or a fade to black.

Saturday, and Buke and Gase – a perennial problem at ATP is a back-to-back running order and bands with a non-traditional approach to songs, so it can be difficult to tell if they have started yet or are still soundchecking – “ta ta ta, hallelu-u-jah, this is just an exercise, ta ta ta, God this is embarrassing” received an encouraging round of applause before they embarked on their rolling, riffing, developing songs, and following an ATP tradition by ‘hiring’ Shellac bassist Bob Weston for one song. 

Bottomless Pit have longevity as well, formed from the remnants of Silkworm and piling on more rock, not trad, of course, but ATP-trad, with wafts of something else, maybe Battles. Then Arcwelder, on which notes say a) singing drummer and b) Pavement have a lot to answer for – they are better when they go off-piste, and a more bluesy element comes in. 

The queues start up again, to see Red Fang and Melt Banana downstairs – Wire are upstairs, heavy not poppy, featuring traditional curator-thanking, and a hardcore of devotees dancing wildly. This is now all about Kim Deal – she starts her first ever solo show with her first ever solo record (Walking with a Killer), plays a song for her father, then one for her mother – “she has Alzheimers, she asks me, are you mine?”.  She plays Oh! and Fortunately Gone from Pod, she switches guitars, plays Cannonball and does almost all the voices (the crowd helping out with in the shade…). Then, after an extended exchange, partly in Dutch, with a man in the crowd, the traditional hopeful request, and her response – initially “no, I can’t, I only played bass on it, I can’t … ah, how hard can it be?” – she plays Gigantic.  It’s a wonderful set; she’s nervous, but her voice is as beautiful as ever and the setlist a great mix of where she’s been and where she is now.

Sunday, and another ATP tradition, that the early sets are a calmer, quieter affair. Watching Rachel Grimes, the chiming sound of a heavy-sustain grand piano (does this explain the JCB outside, which we had assumed was there to hold the building up?) backdropped by the squeaking of a badly-oiled door, is a perfect way to start; this is modern classical to counterpoint the walls of noise constructed elsewhere. She plays Elements, In the Vapour, an extended selection written on a recent retreat, and then, welcoming Shannon Wright onstage, Last Things Last, the only Rachel’s song to have vocals.  Wright sings beautifully, wiping away tears – the song was written by Grimes’ bandmate Jason Noble, who died this August.

This was followed by Nina Nastasia, her spare, gorgeous folk leavened with rambling anecdotes about ‘snot-suckers’, Twinkies, and Steve Albini’s studio ice-breaker, an encyclopaedia of sexual practices (“so, you get a bag of bees…”). She is joined by Grimes, and cellist Alison Chesley, a.k.a. Helen Money, for a couple of songs, one clearly impromptu (“ah, it’s only two chords, and they’re professionals”) for another contrast. Simply beautiful.

Bear Claw amp up the noise with thumping drums, and Future of the Left have a joyous edge to their rage, a danceable flavour to their rhythmic battering – a dozen bands seen, barely scraping the surface of the line-up, and that’s without the ‘extra-curricular activities’ both organised (pop quiz, book club, karaoke) and spontaneous (chalet parties, band-spotting, a bracing trip to the beach). It’s good to be back.

A note for those attending the next event, curated by The National. Bring everything. Everything you might need. You may have been lulled into a false sense of security by Minehead. Bring mugs. Bring toilet paper. Don’t assume there will be a shower. Check if the meter moves before spending money on leccy at the shop. Bring beer and biscuits for the queue. Bring washing up liquid and a tea towel. And for the love of God, bring a sleeping bag. Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Pro-Gay Homophobia

So - Joey Barton should come out as gay because...Martin Samuel is an idiot.
Linky (to DM site, for those who try to avoid it).
Alternative with extracts.
Some years ago, there was that Jan Moir piece that basically said being gay necessarily means having a sleazy life and dying young. That was roundly and rightly ripped apart.
Now, there's a different kind of homophobia around.
Pro-gay homophobia.
Thing is, Samuel probably thinks he's written a positive article about the need for a (male) gay role model in football, with a light 'banterific' touch to show that, y'know, he's cool with teh gay and everything.  It's the sort of thoughtless, apparently positive, comment along the lines of 'gays are so cultured!' or 'every girl should have a gay best friend!' (like they're cool accessories, handbags or those little dogs, or indeed, always men) - 'intellectual and social respectability'? Be gay! Because they're all lovely, and arty, and intellectual, and all.
It's just perpetuating stereotypes, this time with a friendly smile.
Plus - eliding 'speaking in a French accent' with 'being gay', what's that about? Ooh, those French, they're all so gay (this works particularly well with the other prevailing stereotype about mistresses, I think).
This is another instance of the 'just gay enough' / 'metrosexual' thing that equates certain (putatively desirable) attributes with being gay, to the detriment of pretty much everybody. That's so gay! as an attempted compliment. It isn't. Those attributes are not inherently gay, they don't describe all gay people, they continue stereotyping, of both gay and non-gay, and it's just bloody annoying.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Continual Flippin' Changes

So - farewell RDM, thanks for all the fish.

Who next? Twitter abounds with the usual suggestions (Pep, Harry, JT, Roman himself, having a raffle) but there's some other possibilities to consider.

1) A Workers' Collective
John Terry as manager? Way too obvious. Instead, in a neat inversion of the ultra-capitalist approach of the ownership and recruitment at the club, things could settle down if all decisions were taken collectively, one player one vote.  Team selection to be decided by single transferable vote.

2) A Senior Female Figure from the Church of England
After yesterday's vote, there is a significant talent pool arguably over-qualified for the highest position that they can currently take on, so why not? My experience of churches is that all clergy have to deal with petulant childish whining quite a lot of the time (when dropping into Sunday School, at Stewards' meetings, and in any dealings with organists) so man-management shouldn't be a problem. This could also, at a time in which many are growing disillusioned with the Church, reach out to a new potential congregation. More fans in the stands = more money for the transfer kitty.

3) George Entwhistle
He appears very easy to get rid of.

4) A Workfare Placement
Even given RA's massive wealth, this manager turnover must be hitting the bank balance hard, so Chelsea could follow the lead of many well-known high-street names in getting somebody in for free for an 'employment-readiness-training' period of 2-3 months, which frankly would be more than enough.

5) Didier Roustan
Because that would just be superb.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Women Bishops, etc and so on.

So, the Church of England (mostly, their house of laity) have voted against having female Bishops. In advance of the vote, some asked for calm - in the aftermath, there was anger, reflectionjokes, and some apparent point-scoring. I got in on the last, I'll admit.

But that wasn't really point-scoring; it was more a long sigh. I was brought up in Methodism - my father went to Wesley College in Bristol in 1980 (I think - I was young) and was ordained in 1982. We were posted to Marlow then, and then to Cheltenham in 1987, then Finchley in 1992 - and I took an interest in what was going on, administratively as well as spiritually, because, well, when you get shifted around every couple of years, you kinda want to know why.

So I was told, when I met my first Deaconness, that women had been ordained in Methodism since the early 1970s, which, as it was before I was born, was 'forever'. And Kathleen Richardson was installed in 1993 as the first female President of Conference (aka top dog), and that was just normal because women had been installed as District Chairs (aka bishops-ish) for ages, so it was nothing strange at all.

And while there is an evangelical wing of the Church which has some 'issues' with some 'people' (and the lovely acronym VOMet - not sure they hold much sway any more) there was, also in 1993, the statement that:

"Conference recognises, affirms and celebrates the participation and ministry of lesbians and gay men in the church. Conference calls on the Methodist people to begin a pilgrimage of faith to combat repression and discrimination, to work for justice and human rights and to give dignity and worth to people whatever their sexuality" 

'Recognises, affirms, and celebrates' - sounds a heck of a lot better than 'tolerates'. Sounds - despite the cautious language elsewhere about marriage and avoiding promiscuity - like they actually mean it. I know, from the experiences of some gay Methodist clergy, that the path for them has not always been smooth; but they have not been fighting the dogma of their own denomination. 

Because - a little like a ban on gays in the military - it always seemed odd (meaning, counter-productive, and not a little rude) to reject those who actually wanted to serve; who felt a vocation for that. Because it always seemed to me that if somebody said they were prepared to die for their country that said country should say 'thank you, thank you' - and treat them with respect. 

And that that respect would not be limited to NCOs, but to all ranks. That it would not stop at a defined point like - well, a stained glass ceiling.

Because - as a girl then a woman, a feminist, concerned with the place of women in the world, and as a gay person, growing up...we all have to deal with the judgment of strangers, and sometimes the thoughtlessness of those close to us...but I never heard anyone I respect calling me bad, or wrong, or ill. That made a difficult journey easier. I am thankful for that.

I like the approach of the Quakers - the silence appeals to me, the quietly activist principles, the lack - ironically, as this is largely an argument about 'levels' - of hierarchy. Sometimes I would think, "well, if I hadn't been brought up in Methodism, I would be a Quaker" - but then the reality is that if I hadn't been brought up in Methodism, but in a more strident and stringent Church, I probably would have sacked the whole thing off, and rejected 'the Church' entirely.

So, no point-scoring, just a sigh. A sigh for people like me, kids like I was, trying to square what their Church is saying to them about what is acceptable with what they feel, what they believe, is more than acceptable.  A sigh for those oppressed, depressed by it - and a sigh for those who get the hell out, when they might not really want to do that.  And a really big sigh for those who don't get that saying 'OK, you can do this job but we're watching you and you'll never get promoted' doesn't exactly score high on the affirm/celebrate scale.

And it is genuinely very cool that Stockholm has a lesbian bishop. God moves in mysterious etc and so on.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Montpellier Selection (again) etc and so on.

With 13 matches played in the Ligue and 4 in the Champions League (CdlL excluded because that was very much a 'kids and reserves' situation) I have had a look at the selections so far to test my theory that lack of consistency here is posing a problem.

There is no actual benchmark for this on the current season, and I've lost the spreadsheets used for the PSG / MHSC selection pieces last season when my old computer blew up, but some context:

  • The PSG team pre-Christmas last season used 21 players, 18 of whom got at least 1 start.
  • 7 of those players played in more than one position, mostly across the defence (4 CBs also deployed at FB at some point, one FB on both sides, one occasionally as a winger).
MHSC preferred positions last season:
  • 2 keepers, Jourdren and Pionnier (who covered for Jourdren when injured at the beginning)
  • 3 CBs, Mapou, Hilton and Stambouli
  • 2 RBs, Bocaly and Jeunechamp
  • 1 LB, Bedimo
  • 4 DMs, Saihi, Estrada, Marveaux, Stambouli
  • 2 CAMs, Belhanda and Cabella
  • 3 RWs, Camara, Dernis and Cabella
  • 2 LWs, Utaka and Ait-Fana
  • 1 CF, Giroud
From which can be seen that Stambouli and Cabella were the main players with multiple roles.

Now. So far, 22 players have got a start, 11 of whom have started 9 times or more (so, over half the games in question). Positionally there have been (and these are starters, we will come to the mid-match tinkering later, italics show options only take once so far):

  • 2 keepers (this time due to arguments)
  • 4 CBs - Mapou, Hilton, Congre and El-Kaoutari 
  • 3 LBs - Bedimo, Jeunechamp, Stambouli
  • 5 RBs - Bocaly, Jeunechamp, Stambouli, Congre, Mapou
  • 5 DMs - Saihi, Estrada, Marveaux, Stambouli, Pitau
  • 2 CAMs - Belhanda and Cabella
  • 4 LWs - Ait-Fana, Cabella, Utaka, Mounier
  • 4 RWs - Ait-Fana, Cabella, Camara, Mounier
  • 4 CFs - Camara, Charbonnier, Herrera, Utaka

From this, admittedly small and lacking benchmark, sample, we can see some issues. These will also likely continue, with Ait-Fana possibly out for the season with anterior-cruciate-ligament-knack, Stambouli still recovering from glandular fever, Saihi having been sent off again, and Jeunechamp inevitably going to cop quite a ban if he really did hit a journalist in the face last night.

Cabella and Stambouli have both started in three positions, and while for Cabella that has been a general deployment across the 3 of Montpellier's 4-2-3-1, for Stambouli this has not involved his usual back-up position of CB, per last season, but playing in both fullback positions as well (where he has done a good job). Wing-switches look common, and Girard still hasn't settled on his preferred CF, although Charbonnier may have played himself into that on recent form.  Overall, ten players have been deployed in more than one position.

So far, of the 17 Ligue/LdC matches, 10 have involved a mid-match positional shift - my theory is that given the initial squad selection issues of injuries/suspensions/arguments, the starting eleven normally involves at least one player playing out of the position, and this is only exacerbated by making substitutions.

Substitution timings:

  • First half (usually for injuries / covering sendings off) - 4
  • 45-60 mins - 11
  • 60-70 - 11
  • 70-80 - 14
  • 80-90 - 8
Put that next to the timings of the (27) goals conceded - 
  • First half - 11 
  • 45-60 mins - 2
  • 60-70 - 2
  • 70-80 - 4
  • 80-90 - 8
Substitutions, often involving a positional switch, look to be unsettling an already unsettled selection, rendering the last 20 minutes of games rather shaky and frankly terrifying to watch.  Recent performances against PSG, equalising and then holding onto the draw, and VAFC, again holding onto a draw when down to ten men, have been more positive, but the selection does not look likely to get any more consistent given the points above. This seems to have delayed the development of last season's automatisme and leads to losses of concentration late on, which is largely to blame for the slow start to the season. Things do look to be picking up (in-fighting and, well, actual fighting, notwithstanding), so hopefully they can get their heads down and continue to improve.

Arsenal on Wednesday. Ah.  

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Montpellier - Predictions for January. Quiet month.

Bottom of their CL group after chucking away last night's match against Olympiakos, and currently 16th in the Ligue after nine games with only two wins (Sochaux and Nancy, both in the relegation zone), the defending champions aren't doing a hell of a lot of defending at the moment.

Back in July, I assessed their squad situation after the departure of Olivier Giroud, and concluded (briefly):

  • replacing Olive at CF would be key (obviously) 
  • they needed cover at left-back 
  • otherwise, there were options in every position
So, how's that panning out? Erm...

Two CFs were brought in over the summer, Emmanuel Herrera from Chile and Gaetan Charbonnier from Angers. Herrera has failed to make an impact and has dropped to the bench, Charbonnier has been sparsely used and I think last night was his first competitive start. He scored, and it's useful to have a hulking presence somewhere in the team, but he's very raw still. And that's not a dig at his complexion. 

So, Souleymane Camara has been used as the CF. He's done a decent job, but that then leaves a vacancy on the right (he's also played there, and, somewhat surprisingly, on the left against Schalke after Tinhan was stuck upfront).  Cabella can cover that, but he can also be needed in the centre, when Belhanda was out, and also to play with him.  And on the left. 

Winger Anthony Mounier came in from Nice, but has been a bit underwhelming - usually playing on the left, he was put on the right against Olympiakos where he was frankly shocking.  The left-wing berth looked to be a little crowded, pre-season, with Mounier, Utaka, and Ait-Fana all having that as their preferred position, but the first two were injured early in the season, and Ait-Fana is now out for six months with a knacked anterior cruciate ligament, so fingers crossed that John Utaka doesn't trip over anything and do himself a mischief.

And Daniel Congre came in from Toulouse - a CB to cover for Mapou and Hilton, also able, allegedly, to play RB. Yup. That hasn't really worked out either - Bocaly was injured in the Ligue, and then suspended in the CL, and Girard preferred first Jeunechamp (a walking booking) and then Benjamin Stambouli (mostly used last season as a defensive midfielder but who has also covered at LB for Bedimo as Jeunechamp managed to injure himself trying to do that too) against Olympiakos.

So - summer signings were two strikers who haven't been used much, a winger who routinely gets subbed off because he's not doing very well, and a defender who hasn't really managed much at either centre- or right-back with the result that he's dropped behind a 36-year-old hatchet-man and a 22-year old defensive midfielder in the pick-list.  What looked decent business on paper has turned out to be a bit problematic on grass.

A couple of people have said that Montpellier need to buy in the January transfer window, and that would be a very good idea, but there's a few problems with that.

1) In the summer, they were French Champions, offering CL football - pretty attractive.  Now, they're looking in trouble in the Ligue and almost certainly out of European competition after shanking the Olympiakos game, where a win would have been a big step towards a third-place finish - the January window is an odd beast at the best of times, but it seems even more unlikely that quality will want to move in a Mosson direction under the circumstances.
2) I'm not sure they have any money.

3) Some of the rotation employed by Rene Girard has been enforced, due to a spate of injuries and disciplinary issues, but some has been plain weird. The manager looks to have reacted in panic to bad performances by constant dropping, tweaking, shifting, and generally buggering about with the selection so - by the looks of things - the players don't know where they're going to put from one moment to the next (some of the 'in-play' changes have been wing switches, etc). The lack of consistency in both selection and position seems to be blocking the team developing the automatisme that served so well last season.  Slagging your team off in public is also, while understandable, not massively helpful.

The next match is at home against Nice, also down in the danger zone, where it will be interesting to see the backline. Mapou is suspended, so will Girard risk Congre in the centre or put Stambouli back there? Up-front, will we see Charbonnier get a second start, or will Camara be used (or even Utaka, now he's back)? It seems unlikely that Herrera will get the nod but hell, anything seems possible. On which - benching your goalkeeper for criticising the rotation 'policy' might have been meant as strong management but ended up looking rather petty, and just proving Jourdren's point. We're not even sure who'll be in goal.

Possibly Stambouli, he's played everywhere else in defence.

Ho hum.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Three Envelopes.

So, as the kit deal clearly wasn't enough, Liverpool are currently 'Being' on the television. I haven't seen it - it's not on here. But an extract has been published that shows manager Brendan Rodgers waving around three envelopes while telling his team that he has already written down the names of three people "who will let us down this year...the cause, the fight, everything".

So far, so middle-management-sent-on-a-sales-course.  It's book-ended with his belief that "the sky's the limit for you", punctuated with "we need to be together" (slightly ironic, under the circumstances), qualified with "maximum three will let us down", but, inconsistently, as there are three envelopes, finished with a repeated pressure, "make sure you're not the one" (my emphasis).

Three envelopes is rather clever, actually - just one could encourage the team to band together to find and shun the Jonah - three adds to the edge of unease. Whether or not Rodgers has nicked this idea from Alex Ferguson matters little - the speech should be taken on its own merits, which are few.

In late 2009, German goalkeeper Robert Enke committed suicide; he was suffering from depression. Enke had hidden his illness for at least six years, his wife saying that he feared their child would be taken away if his illness became public knowledge.

Bit of a leap? Maybe not. If someone in that room was already struggling, what message would those three envelopes send to them? Obviously the intention would be to gen everyone up, to not be one of the guys in the envelope, to spur them on, yadda yadda yadda; the usual teambuilding stuff.

But for someone struggling? The fear of being one of the guys in the envelope - in fact, being 'the one' that Rodgers refers to several times - could be crippling; could be deeply counter-productive; could even be dangerous.

And for somebody really struggling? Well, they might already know that it's their name on one of those pieces of paper in one of those envelopes.  They'll know it, nothing will convince them otherwise - not that they'd discuss this with their team-mates, as now everyone's been alerted to the three (or possibly one) Jonah(s) who are going to let us down.  Even though there is sure as damnit nothing written on any piece of paper in any of those envelopes, even if the envelopes have paper in at all.

With a bit of luck, the players in the room will all be happily on the level and/or will have recognised the stunt for the management-speak hooey it is; they are, after all, highly paid and adulated players for a big football team.  But Enke was a successful goalkeeper, capped for his country, with a wife and a young child, and he still ended up standing in front of a regional express train.

That stunt was deeply irresponsible and rather unpleasant. If it works, he'll be hailed as some sort of man-management genius. Let's hope it works, rather than the alternative.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

European Championships 2013 – the unfashionable uneven years #2

Part two in the series - ladies first, natch.

Under-21 European Championships – Israel 2013

The second qualifying tournament coming to a close in October (12th and 16th) involves slightly more risk than the three berths yet to be decided for the Women’s Euro in Sweden – everybody has to play-off.  After a qualifying group round that kicked off in March 2011, and could mean that some players at the finals are pushing 30, ten group winners and four best runners-up are thrown into an all-or-nothing two-legged play-off to determine who will join hosts Israel in the finals.

Having ten qualifying groups but only two groups at the tournament seems a little odd, but given what’s going on with the CAN qualifying at the minute, perhaps this isn’t so bad.  The seedings for the playoffs are more arguable, as these are based on coefficients generated from performances getting to and at the 2009 and 2011 tournaments, as well as the currently qualifying campaign, which given the age-limit on the competition, may not be massively representative.

However – the seeded teams were the seven group winners with the highest coefficients: Spain, Czech Republic, England, Netherlands, Germany, Italy and France. Unseeded – the other group winners Sweden, Russia and Serbia and the best runners-up Switzerland, Denmark, Slovakia and Norway.  There is of course one anomaly in that unseeded Switzerland at 34.034 are ranked higher than France and Italy in the seeded pot, but it wouldn’t be a coefficient system without something peculiarhappening.

Overall the group stage featured fewer ridiculous results than the women’s qualifying; there are minnows, of course, but of a more traditional sort – San Marino, Andorra, the Faroe Islands, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg. More surprising wooden spoons went to Iceland (3 pts), Latvia (2) and Estonia (1), but overall things were pretty recognisable and nobody got to double figures, the biggest hammerings being a couple of 8-0s (Czech Republic v Andorra, and Germany over San Marino) and the funnest-looking match an epic Denmark 6 – 5 FYROM.  How hosts Israel will fit into this is unclear – as the U21 coefficients are only calculated for the playoff contenders, they don’t have a specific ranking, but the senior team is 75th in the current overall FIFA rankings, so…

For the home nations, Wales were shaded into 4th in Group 3 by Montenegro in not a very tricky group, Northern Ireland tanked a bit in Group 4, only one point above the Faroe Islands in last place, and Scotland were runners-up to the Netherlands in Group 10 but didn’t make the cut.  The Republic of Ireland put a decent shift in, coming third after Italy and Turkey, and above Hungary.  England, described rather dourly as “perennial qualifiers“ on the official website, won Group 8 finishing ahead of Norway (also through), Belgium, Azerbaijan and the aforementioned Iceland.

The play-off draw threw up some tasty-looking ties:
  • Spain (holders) v Denmark
  • Italy v Sweden *
  • Czech Republic v Russia *
  • Slovakia v Netherlands
  • Germany v Switzerland
  • England v Serbia *
  • France v Norway

*ties involving two group winners

England’s matches against Serbia should be tight affairs, as both have a good record in the competition.  Germany v Switzerland should also be a good match, their rankings almost the same; Germany only dropped two points in the group stage (a 4-4 draw with Bosnia Herzogovina in the last match, when they presumably had a bit of a rest), but Switzerland were in a group with defending champions Spain, losing to them 3-0 then drawing 0-0 in the home game – although they also drew 0-0 with Estonia in their opening match (the Estonian's only point…). 

The play-off approach for everybody means there is still an air of uncertainty over the tournament, with several matches too close to call.  My undoubtedly unsuccessful accumulator would be: Spain, Italy, Czech Republic, Netherlands, Switzerland, Serbia (probably on penalties) and France.  The finals will be held in Israel from 5-18 June 2013.

For a good round-up of the French team’s qualification and chances, see this article from Coffee House Football:

Sunday, September 23, 2012

European Championships 2013 – The Unfashionable Uneven Years #1

While the world looks on avidly as the qualification process for Brazil 2014 (now featuring endangered armadillo) gets under way, some other qualifying campaigns are drawing to a close.  Next summer will see the Women's Euros in Sweden and the U21 Euros in Israel, both of which are at the play-off stage.

Women’s European Championships – Sweden 2013

Already Qualified:

  • Sweden (hosts) – FIFA Ranking 6 – winners in 1984
  • Italy (group winners) – 10 – only team to have appeared at all 10 Championships
  • Germany (g.w.) – 2 – current holders, have won last 5 tournaments, 7 in total (1 as W Germany)
  • Norway (g.w.) – 13 – winners in 1983 and 1987, secured qualification in last game v Iceland
  • France (g.w.) – 5 – only team with a perfect record in qualifying
  • Finland (g.w.) – 18
  • England (g.w.) – 8 – secured qualification in last game by beating Croatia
  • Denmark (g.w.) – 12 – secured qualification in last game by beating Portugal
  • Netherlands (best runners-up) – 14

Play-offs (October 20/21 and 24/25):

Scotland (22) v Spain (17)
Scotland are looking for a first finals appearance, but they laboured a bit in what was not a very tough group, and have a toughish draw to proceed after being beaten 5-0 by France in their last qualifying game, and barely managing a shot.  Spain have only appeared once before, in 1997 (losing in the semi-final to Italy), but they were in Germany’s group for qualifying, and were the only team to take points off them, in a 2-2 draw at home (lost return leg 5-0).  
Predict Spain to qualify.

Ukraine (23) v Iceland (16)
Iceland were topping their group until the final match, a decider with Norway, which they lost 2-1.  Ukraine went into their final match v Finland 6pts behind, but managed a 1-0 win away.  Both were in reasonably competitive groups (i.e. at least 3 decent teams and only one hopeless case), and look fairly evenly matched. 
Predict Iceland to qualify, but it could be tight.

Austria (35) v Russia (20)
Russia have three previous appearances, in 1997, 2001, 2009 but didn’t make the knock-out stages. They were in a group with Italy, Poland, Bosnia Herzogovina and Greece, which kept things reasonably tight, FYROM providing the traditional cannon fodder element.  Austria have never qualified before and are the lowest ranked team still in this, but gave Denmark a scare with a 3-1 win in their last match – Denmark dropped to second but had a game in hand, and went back top after beating Portugal 2-0.
Predict Russia to qualify.
Seven matches saw one team hit double figures, the highest tally being Germany 17 – 0 Kazakhstan (in second place, Spain 13 – 0 Kazakhstan). (Poor Kazakhstan). Honourable mention also to Italy for beating FYROM 9-0 in both legs, which shows a pleasing symmetry, although possibly not if you're on the receiving end.  

The goal difference figures in the standings tables give you an idea of the gulf in class between the best teams and the rest, and one has to wonder whether it does either group any good to see those kind of scores so frequently; the best teams are rarely tested outside actual tournaments, so face few loseable games, while the newcomers spend most of their time picking the ball out of the net and have few winnable opportunities. The Euros do feature a preliminary stage, in which the scorelines looked much more reasonable (OK, Luxembourg shipped some, but also beat Latvia) and which put Armenia and FYROM through to the main qualifying competition; it might be an idea to expand that next time as Kazakhstan, Turkey and Bulgaria all went straight in - and all were on the end of two double-figure routs.

The resulting three-group format of the finals leads to a slight ‘all must have prizes’ aspect to qualification for the knock-out rounds, as the winners and runners-up of each are joined by the two best 3rd-placed teams.  Expanding to 16 teams would seem sensible to make the group stages more interesting - as above, the real minnows are not going to get through, and the highest-ranked non-qualifiers Switzerland, Belgium, Poland and Republic of Ireland, and of course the losing playoff-teams, are all decent enough.  

While Sweden have qualified as hosts so haven’t had to go through qualifying, they have three key points on their side – home advantage, having players in the top leagues in Europe getting CL experience, and appointing Pia Sundhage as their new coach.  Only Germany and France are above them in the rankings, and while the defending champions will be the favourites, probably by some distance, Sweden could well get to the final.

The tournament will take place from 10 July, the final scheduled for Sunday 28 July at the Solna Arena.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Friendly Rivalries and Footballing Reasons

After the Euros, and at a time when L'Equipe is running breaking news items on the number of Ligue 1 teams' Academy players to have passed their Bac, it can feel like there is a lack of football.


There is an actual tournament going on right now, the U19 European Championships, where today's semi-finals will see England meet Greece (15.45 CET) and Spain meet France (19.00 CET) - and the Olympics are coming (more on that later, please try to avoid bringing a bag); but there's an absolute riot of meaningless lopsided match-ups going on as teams try to run off the holiday weight, integrate new players, in some cases new managers, and make everyone feel better about themselves before the serious stuff kicks off in August.

Yesterday, in a pre-season friendly, PSG beat Austrian third division side Sportverein Stegersbach 9-0, in one of those matches that tips over from being sport to outright bullying.  Austria is currently playing host to several football teams fond of airmiles and Sachertorte, with Manchester City and Lyon also in place, having people over to stay such as CSKA Moscow, Al-Hilal, Dynamo Dresden, Beskitas etc.

The general approach for French teams seems to be like a lot of people's holiday plans for a year - one 'proper' trip away (probably to Austria), a couple of weekend breaks, and some days out in the local vicinity.  On the day-trip front, there's a Corsican mini-league featuring AC Ajaccio, Bastia, Calvi and Gazelec before Bastia nip home to put the kettle on in case Liverpool do actually show up on 4 August (nothing on their website); MHSC are also saving up the travel budget with short jaunts out to Mende, Avignon and Nice before the big trip to the US, where they will prepare for the Trophee de Champions by playing Kansas City Sport (24 July) while Lyon will be seeking to have an impact on Montreal.

However, as with the difference between tourists and travellers, the hardcore pre-season tour now has to include at least three continents, with China and the US preferred destinations purely for footballing reasons.  Manchester United are hitting South Africa, China and Scandinavia; Arsenal are throwing in Malaysia (where they will play MCFC) and Hong Kong; and PSG are popping over to America, presumably miffed not to be part of the Trophee de Champions match between MHSC and OL, which this year will continue the tradition of being played in a Francophone country by taking place at New York's Red Bull Arena.  Liverpool, Spurs, Villa and Stoke are all heading over the US as well.

Pre-season friendlies can be a double-edged sword - the footballing reasons behind the multi-continent tour are clear but there's a decent chance the whole team will be suffering from jetlag and earache after all that flying around and won't know where the hell they are from one day to the next; also, while beating anyone 9-0 must be a nice feeling, that result will (rightly) be seen as meaningless, as the top team is expected to be, well, top - but an unexpected loss to the minnow of choice can be taken more seriously.  OK, Guingamp and Istres are in Ligue 2, they're not mugs, but those 0-1 losses are still a bit embarrassing for Evian and Toulouse respectively.  This could explain why the first friendly is usually a gimme - Stegersbach, for example, or Arsenal kicking things off with a gentle 45 minutes against Southampton - if you are the first team on the calendar for one of the big boys, you're considered to be cannon fodder. 

But there are some intriguing match-ups in there - some in the far-flung footballing reasons part of the tour, such as the aforementioned Manchester City v Arsenal (China) and Chelsea v PSG (New York), but also in the European City Break category; Benfica are taking on both Lille and Marseille, Lyon play Athletic Bilbao, MHSC go to Espanyol Barcelona, while Stripey Barcelona will take on PSG and Manchester United.  There's maybe some 'U and Non-U' going on here - purely for footballing reasons, of course.  

Yesterday also saw Les Bleues beating Russia 3-0 in a pre-'lympics friendly; a slightly more testing occasion than their previous match against Romania (6-0), as Russia did actually manage a couple of shots on goal. National team friendlies can suffer from the same problems as club ones - flying around all over the place (Spain), meaningless hammerings (see below), worrying defeats (Switzerland v Germany), visiting South Americans getting used to the weather before the 'lympics (Denmark v Brazil, Russia v Uruguay), and footballing reasons (Spain again, playing South Korea and China).  There is also the added issue that such matches are factored into the totally logical FIFA Rankings, which currently have England in 4th and Brazil in 11th. 

Pre-Euros, the same unqualified names turned up time and again to act as pacemaker for the teams heading for Polkraine, such as Estonia, beaten in turn by Croatia (3-1), Ukraine (4-0) and France (4-0).  Estonia, of course, only lost out on a place at the Euros by losing a play-off to the Republic of Ireland, so the tournament collectively dodged a bullet there.  Also, we learned something very important from England's two 1-0 wins against Norway and Belgium, namely that Cahill can't play football with a broken jaw.

But when there is nothing else on, we will watch - and in France, as Canal+ scrabbles around in vain for some football to show before being Ligue-less next season, and Direct 8 continues its cheerful support of the women's game, we can watch - and have that conversation again...

England: We beat Spain!
Spain: It was a friendly.
England: But...we beat Spain!
Spain: It was a friendly. We don't care.
England: But...we beat Spain!
Spain: Kiss our silverware, losers.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

PSG - A Tale of Two Selections

Lavezzi in, Ceara out, Chantome going, Sakho sulking; PSG's mercato can only get more interesting.  Having looked at Montpellier's preferred starters for 2011/12 with a view to assessing their situation for next season, doing the same analysis for PSG was a bit more complicated.  The managerial change during the winter break gives a clear cut-off at the halfway point of 2011/12, in terms of selection and formation.

Data comes from L'Equipe's teamsheets and formation graphics, so may not be 100%, but you get the idea.

Kombouaré set his team up in a 4-2-3-1 (barring a 4-4-2 in the opening game, Hoarau's only start in 2011), his preferred starters shown in the graphic:
In defence, Ceara got 15 starts, also covering at LB, Camara 12, Sakho 10, Tiene 11, with alternatives provided by Bisevac and Jallet (8 - Jallet also appearing on the RW), Lugano and Armand (6).

In midfield, Matuidi had 12 starts, Bodmer 12 (mostly in a holding role but initially in the attacking three) and Sissoko 9.  The front four was very consistent over the games Kombouaré was in charge - Nene 18, Menez 17, Pastore 16, and Kevin Gameiro was the only outfield player to start all 19 games.

Then came winter, and Ancelotti - there's a Christmas tree joke in here but I'm damned if I can find it - his preferred formation a 4-3-3, and starters per the graphic:
 It was the back four that changed the most - of Kombouaré's preferred starters, only Sakho held on, with 10 starts (and is muttering darkly about doing one if another central defender arrives, a view with which we may have some sympathy if the rumours are true and that CB is EBJT) - Jallet was promoted to first choice RB (with another two starts on the right wing), and January signings Alex Costa (15) and Maxwell (13) were immediately installed as fixtures. Bisevac stayed fairly level with 9 starts, but Camara was downgraded to 5 and Ceara to 2; his contract has now been terminated.

Another new boy strode confidently into midfield, Thiago Motta getting 14 starts, but the change in formation meant less disruption here, Matuidi and Sissoko both holding steady with 13, and Bodmer managing 9 as cover.  Clément Chantôme, who had got 7 starts at the start of the season under Kombouaré, started only once under the new boss, and now looks to be on his way to Lyon.

In attack, the usual suspects Nene (17), Menez (16) and Pastore (14) were regulars, with rotation employed if Ancelotti actually picked a striker - the big difference was that this was not, as before, always Gameiro; he got only 8 starts in 2012, Guillaume Hoarau (who I was surprised to find is 28) got 6, and was the preferred sub option (10 as opposed to Gameiro's 6) when Ancelotti changed things up.

Ancelotti has hinted (warning - includes auto-start video) that Gameiro will have more joy next season but the poor guy looks a bit crumpled - as well as causing frustration week-to-week, Ancelotti's formation change probably killed his chances of going to the Euros; 9 goals in 2011 (he was competing with Giroud to be top scorer) collapsed to 2 in 2012.

The purchase of Lavezzi is interesting - it could mean that Ancelotti wants to be able to rotate more with the CL to play, but what effects this will have are unclear; it could dislodge Nene, or push him into the centre if the strikerless 4-3-3 is retained; or Menez could suffer, with his manager recently stepping away from the FFF disciplinary panel issue and also saying, rather exasperatedly, that he'd rather Jeremy didn't pick up "12-13" cards a season for arguing with referees. That number was not picked out of the air - his Ligue record was in fact 12. Cover seems the most likely explanation if PSG are to make a better job of competing in Europe than they did last season, but the window well open and the frique there to be spent, this will not be the end of the story for PSG.

Click here for a visualisation of the selections throughout last season (another visual that works as well as a pillowcase cover design as for information purposes).  

Note: the formation creator used above is and also allows for the creation of fantasy teams; Death Metal Rovers? Check. Coalition Cabinet DisUnited? Check - if you can name more than four of them.  Have fun.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Whither Montpellier?

The transfer window is swinging gently in the breeze, Giroud has relocated to the Francophone enclave that is Arsenal FC, LouLou has come over all sensible (for now) about the target for next season, and René  Girard is seeking to apply the rumoured €15m received for Ligue 1's best striker last year in doubling up in a couple of areas to prepare for fighting on several fronts in 2012/13 including, alleluia, the Champions League.

So far, MHSC have added winger Anthony Mounier (€3.5m) from Nice, striker Gaetan Charbonnier (€1.5m) from Angers, and defender Daniel Congré  (tbc) from Toulouse.  Several loanees are back, the most likely of which to feature next season should be Bengali Fode Koita (4 sub appearances before going to Lens in January), and there are rumours that striker Emmanuel Herrera will be coming in from Union Espanola in Chile.

Having trawled through the full list of L'Equipe's team formations by match, the usual starting team (number of starts in brackets) for MHSC in 2011/12 was:

With apologies for playing the RB so far forward, but I couldn't fit them in on a single line. And the holding mids might be the wrong way around a bit. Anyway.

The key position to cover will of course be the CF - Camara and Utaka stood in once apiece when Olive was on the naughty step, but both have their own preferred positions, and with Dernis having moved on to Brest, Camara's claim on the right would presumably solidify.  Charbonnier claimed on signing that he would be happy to be a back-up striker, but that was before the Giroud deal was closed; if Herrera comes in, and/or Victor Hugo Montaño comes back (another rumour), that would look like a shared position. The purchase of Mounier, a left-winger, might suggest that Utaka could move to the CF position but it seems more likely that they will cover the left between them; a further covering option for either side would be Karim Ait-Fana (5 starts left, 2 right, 5 subs at both), and Montpellier's very own Lolcat Remy Cabella can slot in as well (5 starts right, 13 subs across the park).

In central midfield, Belhanda is the obvious first choice but Cabella has covered there in CAN / ban situations.  Girard has also, where necessary, moved to a 4-3-3 playing all three of his most-used holders (Estrada, Saihi, Marveaux) as the middle three.  Stambouli's versatility comes in useful here, starting and subbing on both as holding mid and centre back, and Romain Pitau (35, having agreed a one-year extension) is available also.

At the back, the go-to four are Bedimo, Hilton, Yanga-Mbiwa and Bocaly; Hilton moving across to cover for his captain, Stambouli / El-Kaoutari slotting in for him, and Cyril Jeunechamp covering both full-back positions as necessary.  The purchase of Congré gave rise to concerns that Mapou might be off to pastures new - nothing is confirmed as yet, but rumour has it he has signed an extension on his contract (otherwise due to end next year): if he stays, this would allow for more rotation in multiple competitions; if he goes, Congré is a good replacement, and can also play at right-back.  If Bedimo goes, as is also rumoured, despite only signing last summer, that could be a bigger problem - Jeunechamp has extended his contract for another season but he's not getting any younger (36), so having an alternative at LB would appear necessary anyway. 

LouLou recently set out his suspiciously reasonable targets for 2012/13 - top five or six in the league, 'pourquoi pas une petite coupe', finishing third in the CL group and going into the Europa League.  Given some of his previous pronouncements, this restraint is a little surprising, but having actually gone and bloody won the title, MHSC are no longer the annoying kid kicking the big boys on the shins and running away; they've got something to defend - and lose - now.

So, while most focus is rightly on replacing Giroud up front, I would also like to see alternative back-up at the left side of defence - if no more preferred starters leave, that would give options in every position and the flexibility of younger players such as Stambouli, Cabella, and Ait-Fana who have not been, until now, majority starters will be very useful.

I will now stand by and watch as the midfield is sold as a package deal to Newcastle, if my predictions history is anything to go by.  When does the window close?

Saturday, June 16, 2012

pleese look after this og

So, having repeatedly stressed that his contract with Montpellier runs to 2014, flirted with Bayern Munich, dreamt of the Premier League, it looks like Olivier Giroud is, indeed, about to 'fait un', and that Arsenal is his most likely destination.


Now, my friend Busty assures me that "he will be going to a new home where the children will love him and care for him", but I can't help worrying a bit, so here is a handy owner's guide to assist whichever club ponies up the (rumoured) €12m necessary to acquire Ligue 1's top goalscorer 2011/12.

Plays well with others

Goals may or may not be over-rated, but he scored 21 in the league, equal with Nene but pipping him to the title as only 2 came from penalties, and 4 in the cup.

(On this specific point, he also missed two penalties, which indirectly led to the epic narls-up against Evian in game 35 when he didn't want to take the last-minute spot-kick awarded, leaving Belhanda - who had scored the first - to go slightly off on one when he saw that Souleyman Camara was about to take instead; a fight broke out, Belhanda got sent off and suspended for the rest of the season, Camara missed, MHSC drew. So, no need to change the penalty rota.)

You have probably already seen the round-up of his season (with appropriately plaintive music) but there's more to him than the goals; he also got 11 assists (9 in the league) so do please stay to the end (these start at 3mins 50).  He put the chip in for Belhanda's wonder-strike against OM, made the run and cut-back for Ait-Fana's crucial last-minute winner against Lille on day 37; more recently for France, there were two assists in the friendly against Iceland, a one-two with Ribery and then a cushioned header knock-down for Rami's thunderous winner (something he has specifically worked on for Montpellier), and a backwards toe-poke to set up Menez for the fourth against Estonia.

To note, on that last one - Evra's low cross came in slightly behind him, as he barrelled forwards - a lot of strikers would just have over-run it and then given that rueful 'cheers' gesture in the direction of the left-back; Giroud managed to check his run sufficiently to nudge it back to where Menez was waiting.  This is key - he makes smart decisions.  His one weakness, arguably, is a lack of pace, but he is aware of this and tailors his game accordingly, as with the Ait-Fana goal (5mins in on the video); with the score at 0-0 and Lille desperate to win to stand any chance of winning the league, they had pushed everyone up for a last crack at the Montpellier goal - Giroud spots this, hovers just inside their half, so when the ball comes over, is a couple of yards ahead of the defenders but still onside.

He said afterwards that he knew he 'didn't have the gas' to score himself but that's clearly what Lille were expecting him to try, so they follow him; instead he heads for the goal-line, pulls Chedjou out of position, and cuts the ball back for the much more rapid Ait-Fana who has sprinted the full length of the pitch and has nobody on him.  This honesty was also displayed after his beautiful goal against Nancy (1 min in) - interviewed on the pitch, when asked if he meant it, he started laughing; later, in the dressing room, he described it with a smile as "un centre-lob-tir" (a "cross / lob / shot") and admitted that he hadn't.

So, he may be used to playing as a sole striker, but despite his importance to Montpellier's victory, he is no one-man-band.  Play him upfront with a more mobile support striker off him, say, ooh, RVP (as we are apparently not going to see him and Benzema sharing the pitch in the Euros, boo) and that could be a killer combination - not a case of punting it forward to the big man, but one-twos, chips, cutbacks, and overlapping attackers.


Anyway...also important to note:

Good with kids - he is patron of Solid'art, a charity that provides performances and activities for seriously ill children, and involved with ELA (L'Association Europeene contre les Leucodystophies), and local medical charity Karma, raising awareness about defibrillators.  So he should be a solid performer in any oh-shit-a-player's-been-arrested-quick-look-cuddly trips to children's hospitals that are on the club's community outreach / PR schedule.

Affectionate -

He is French. Just bear that in mind.


Props to him for being the first professional footballer to appear as the cover-boy for Tetu, a gay magazine, saying that he'd be delighted if this helped to change opinions.  You can also see from those photos something else he will bring to the party - ink.

The league-leaders in the Premiership in this respect are probably Liverpool; obviously Walcott is trying his best, but it just looks wrong.  One quasi-ethnic sleeve, check, and one Bible verse (L'Eternel est mon berger - the Lord is my shepherd), check.  Useful for any title challenge.

And he's a clothes-horse, of course.  Perfect man-crush material.  Also likes cigars, good red wine, and cheese.

Likes a long run-out in the park

He played 36 league games this season, all starts, and a total of 3201 minutes, which means he almost always lasts the distance.  One of the games missed was due to suspension - 6 yellow cards, given the noticeably harsher refereeing in Ligue 1 than the Premiership, is not actually that bad.

In conclusion; Chelsea have bagged the best player in Ligue 1 by getting Eden Hazard on board (L'Equipe average ranking 6.06, and L'Equipe are stingy, only EH and much put-open Brest goalkeeper Steeve Elana had 6 or over - Giroud got 5.94).  However, whoever picks Olive up have a reliable, adaptable, quality player at their disposal, and for much less money.

Just please - look after him. La Paillade are going to miss him.


Friday, June 8, 2012

Olympic Preview - the XX XIs

The Euros start today, but in attempt to distract myself from my sad lack of a proper wallchart (cultural differences), am also getting excited about the Olympic football competition, kicking off in July.  I am nothing if not prepared.

The format of the competition is a bit 'all must have prizes' as there are three groups of four, with the top two in each group and best two third-place finishers progressing to the quarter-finals.  Thus, while Team GB have a tough group, they should get through, either in 2nd or 3rd.  The groups (with * predictions for progression):

Group E: Brazil*, Team GB*, Cameroon*, New Zealand
Group F: Japan*, Sweden*, Canada*, South Africa
Group G: USA*, France*, Columbia, North Korea

It's a pity Germany aren't going, but there's some very good teams in there - ten of the twelve were at the 2011 World Cup although four of them got knocked out at the group stage, and Canada didn't get a point, stuck in the toughest group - I might be going out on a bit of a limb predicting them to go through, but they are a solid team who just had a dreadful time at the WWC.  Plus their captain is nails.

Cameroon and South Africa were the exceptions, but both only narrowly lost out on qualification in the 2010 African Women's Cup, which was used as the WWC qualifying tournament, with the two finalists going to Germany; South Africa (hosts) got 6pts from their group losing to Nigeria, the eventual winners, and then Equatorial Guinea in the semi, Cameroon drew with EG in the group and then got slightly pummelled 5-1 by Nigeria in the next round.

Happily there looks to be at least one cracking game in each of the group rounds.  My picks would be:

  • Day 1, 25 July at 5pm BST: USA v France 
  • Day 2, 28 July at midday BST: Japan v Sweden
  • Day 3, 31 July at 7.45pm BST: Team GB v Brazil

It's not clear how the knock-out stage draw will work given the format, but I am assuming it will be a hat-based situation but with nobody playing someone from their own group.

Things to watch out for:

1) Whether France have dealt with the lack of confidence shown at WWC 2011 - they got the most shots per game off of any team there (20), but tended to shoot too early / far out, perhaps fearing that they didn't have the strength to hold off defenders; they have the skill, if they can go another couple of yards before pulling the trigger, they could be a threat.  With a bit of luck, they'll have worked on their defence too...

2) Whether teams have worked out how to play against Japan - they play a patient, possession game (average 56% at the WWC) and so have inevitably been called 'Barcelona-esque', but it was a very different style from the more direct approach of the other teams in 2011 which the traditional big teams found very difficult to deal with, and they ground it out, winning on penalties against the USA, who had a shocker in the shoot-out.

3) Whether Brazil will embrace the Olympic spirit and stop rolling around on the floor feigning injury (who says the women are nothing like the men?) and just play the bloody ball, in which case they can be lethal. Their quarter-final against the USA in Germany was probably the game of the tournament, with retaken penalties, late goals, a last-minute equaliser, and Hope Solo.  I love Hope.

4) Whether Team GB can put in a good performance - they should get out of the group, but then may struggle.  Hope Powell made some bad decisions last year, both on and off the field (criticising her players publicly, making substitutions too early which left England limping and basically down to 9 players in the quarter-final with France), so hopefully that will not re-occur.

A dashboard of the stats from the WWC 2011.  You see what I mean about the French defence.

I reckon the answers are 1) maybe, 2) yes, 3) and 4) probably not, so will be tipping USA! USA! to take the gold medal.

I may also cast an eye at the men's competition to see how Belhanda gets on for Morocco. But obviously that's a side issue. Go ladies.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

FIFA Ronkings

So, the latest FIFA rankings are out, to take account of the latest round of pre-Euro etc friendlies (am presuming the table includes all calculations, the team-by-team breakdown seems to be a missing a few things. Like matches. And points awarded. Don't quote me).

England are 6th. Roar.

The FIFA Ranking calculation is really very simple:
  P = M x I x T x C
"M" is the result of the match
"I" is the status of the match
"T" is the value of the opposing team
"C" is the value of the confederation they play in
(for further details, follow the link above)

The points are averaged per game for each twelve-month period up to the rankings release, depreciating over time, so 100% of the average is taken for the period to the current date, 50% to June 2011, 30% to June 2010 and 20% to June 2009.  These annual averages are added up to get to the total points.  I have some problems with this mixture of addition and averaging, but overall it does include important variables to prevent complete rigging of the points by putting 29 past Andorra while your neighbours are off at a tricky tournament.

The depreciation issue also makes sense due to the changing personnel in national squads due to retirement, injury, form, charges pending etc, although there is a vicious circle effect; if a team does badly and does not qualify for a tournament, for example, they will then not have the same level of higher-rated games available to them as a result so subsequent matches will be 'capped' in value.  A comparison of the average unweighted points per year gives a slightly different picture from the overall rankings. 

Comparing weighted and unweighted points

A brief look at the current situation going into the Euros can be seen in this dashboard.  Pick a team to see their results over time, or CTRL/CMD to multi-select for comparisons.  We can also see clearly that the presence of the hosts, with their lower rankings, skews the situation (compare the average - mean - versus median situation in the grid view).

As the rankings often come in for criticism (obviously, England are better than Brazil), in an attempt to address that, I would suggest that there are at least two additional elements would be helpful in properly assessing each team's chances going into the Euros.  I propose adding an "F" and an "E".

F is for Fatigue

Many commentators have pointed out, fatigue could be an issue at the Euros, and have a listen to the recent Red White and Blue podcast where the esteemed Jonathan Wilson explains how that isn't just a problem for the players.  

A variable is needed to reflect this, which would best be made up of two initial factors: the number of games played for both club and country by each member of the squad, and the number of miles travelled in the course of that (thus taking care of the additional fatigue factor on the Spanish squad being dragged all over the world to play friendlies in their cash-cow capacity as world champions).  

Obviously there will still be some drawbacks to this, as each 23-man squad will include some players who will mostly be doing crosswords in dugouts, but bringing in weighting for 'expected starting eleven', when players in the England and French camps in particular are dropping like flies, seems a bit too tricky to factor in.

The Fatigue Factor will be a reducer on the usual calculation, I would suggest:

1 + ((10,000 - ((Average games per player) x (Average miles per game per player))) / 10,000) = %

10,000 representing an arbitrary standard of 40 games a year with average travel of 250 miles as a starting point. Games here being FTEs with a benchmark of 70 minutes, and miles being all travel, whether or not minutes are played, calculated from the training ground to the stadium and back to the usual drop-off point, and with no allowance for frequent flyer miles.  Thus, if one team has average games per player of 40 but average travel of 300 miles, that would be:

10,000 - (40 x 300 = 12,000) = -2,000 / 10,000 = -.02 so the applicable factor is 80%

See? Easy as.  

E is for Expectation

Again, this would be a reducing factor - expectations being high means an inevitable crash out in the group stages, expectations being low means England could just bloody win the thing. Or something.  As each country may have different expectations of both its own and competing teams, this could get very complicated, so these are simply some suggestions for how the English Expectation Element ("EEE") could be calculated (to then be averaged with other national elements eg FREE, GEE, SEE etc).
  • FE, the Iron-y element - number of times 'ROAR' has been used unironically on Guardian football threads, less number of times used ironically (posters to confirm at time of posting);
  • ASDAQ - the number of player in a team who Alan Shearer could recognise in a supermarket;
  • PREMium - the number of players playing in the Premier League;
  • PODium ranking - has the team been written off by two or more contributors to Football Weekly?  This is usually a good sign for the team in question;
  • Under-under-estimation estimation - can this team traditionally never be underestimated? Again, a good sign;
  • Horse-darkness quotient - a straight reducing factor;
  • Levelling factor - how does Zonal Marking rate their chances, he's usually right.
FIFA Rankings: the Fairly Informative Form Assessment.