Wednesday, December 31, 2008

More tidbits

- ex-Central Coast Mariners keeper Matthew Nash has been signed on a 4-week contract as injury cover for Mark Birighitti.

- Sasa Ognenovski has reportedly agreed to terms with a K-League side, but Adelaide United is holding out as they are unhappy with the transfer fee that has been offered. Oggy is also apparently on the radar as a potential Macedonian national team player - time for Pim Verbeek to lock in the big fella for an Asian Cup qualifier, I think.

- Angelo Costanzo is very close to signing with Newcastle Jets, and is unhappy with being dropped from AUFC's first team. He refused to play for the Youth League team last weekend, which is not really the right sort of message for a senior player to be giving. My advice - suck it up, Ange, start showing what you can do again because the team needs you.

- Travis Dodd, Diego and Eugene Galekovic are also being bandied about as potential targets for foreign (particularly Asian) clubs. Let's see what happens. Any of these would be disappointing losses but, hey, money talks.

Anyway, I'm off to get hideously drunk now, so see you in the new year!

Final whistle for Ago

Another day, another Reds retirement. Paul Agostino, Adelaide's marquee player over the past two seasons, has declared that he will hang up his boots at the end of this A-League campaign.

Based on his history of injuries and limited game time in a red shirt, a more cynical man than me might say "Agostin-who? Don't let the door hit your arse and fracture your lower spine on the way out". This is understandable, to an extent: Ago joins a long and ignoble list of high-profile signings that have flopped in the A-League, from Zdrilic to the Other Wrong Aloisi (in his Sydney days at least) to Jardel to Zura to Milicevic. This sort of characterisation is very unfair to the man known to the blue half of Munich as 'Fussballgott', though - when fit, he is an extremely good player and a great asset to Adelaide's forward line. He obviously has a great passion for playing and wears the AUFC shirt with pride.

Unfortunately, of course, and through no fault of his own, Ago hasn't been fit very often at all during his time with Adelaide. His body is telling him that it's time to go, and he has chosen to leave the game on his own terms, with the grace and professionalism that has marked his time on the pitch. We didn't see the best of him at Adelaide, but he has had an illustrious playing career including stints at West Adelaide in the NSL, Young Boys and Yverdon in Switzerland, Bristol City in England, and ten years in the German Bundesliga 1 and 2 with 1860 Munich, where he became a fan favourite, before coming home to South Australia. In his prime he was a regular Socceroo, with twenty appearances and nine goals for the national team.

Australian football will lose a true gentleman of the game when Agostino retires - we can only hope that he is able to get back on the park to bang in a few more for the Reds before the curtain falls on his career.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Valkanis to retire; rumours from Rossco

The end of this season will mark the end of the road for Adelaide United stalwart Michael Valkanis. It's been coming for a while - this season he's been behind Ognenovski, Cornthwaite and Costanzo in the centreback pecking order, and most of his gametime has been in the Youth League - but that doesn't make his impending retirement any less sad. He's an ex-captain of the club, and is the last player remaining from United's sole NSL season. So, here's to you Micky V, thanks for the memories of what was a great career. Like Carl Veart before him he'll still have a presence at United, though, carrying out duties in some sort of coaching role. I hope that he's able to take the field in another A-League match this season - it would be nice to be able to farewell him properly at Hindmarsh.


Last night, Ross Aloisi hinted, implied and clumsily alluded to a couple of interesting things during his commentary in the Perth-Adelaide game:
- Ognenovski will move to an Asian club, and not a Japanese one.
- Adelaide will sign a German defender to take his place.
Let's see whether the Wrong Aloisi (a misleading title these days) is on the money, or whether he's on a bizarre cocktail of booze, drugs and readily available household chemicals instead.

Here are some other non-Aloisi-inspired rumours for your titillation, as well:
-Ange Costanzo to Newcastle Jets.
-ex-Red Fred Agius to North Queensland.
This will be a very interesting off-season indeed.

Perth 0-1 Adelaide

This was probably not a match for the purists, but it was definitely entertaining. There was plenty of running and attacking from both sides in an end-to-end encounter in front of Perth's largest crowd since the first season of the A-League.

Perth's fans have had a lot to get excited about this season, with Dadi and Rukavytsya providing an excellent strike partnership with creative support from the likes of Pellegrino, Trinidad and the now-injured Amaral in midfield. This game also saw the debut of former Dutch international Viktor Sikora, who showed enough in half an hour to suggest that he'll be a very important player for the purple shirted ones in the run in to the finals.

The night was one of missed opportunities for the Glory, with Dadi particularly wasteful of some good chances. Adelaide, who moved to a 4-3-3 with Younis and Dodd supporting Cristiano up front and Cassio at left back once Jamieson came off injured, got the only goal of the night when Sarkies latched on to a poor Perth clearance after some neat buildup play from Adelaide. In fact Kristian Sarkies, despite my merciless rubbishing of his form a little while ago, was a standout performer throughout the whole game. He actually ran at defenders, passed well, and played with some purpose - I had heard rumours that the kid could play football but until this match I never believed them.

The goal:

The other high point in Adelaide's showing was a superb save in the last minute of injury time from Eugene Galekovic. Harnwell, only a couple of metres out from goal, nodded down a cross and for a moment it looked like a certain goal - but Gene Genie reacted immediately and dived down low to his left, dragging the ball from the goal line onto the post and to safety. Probably the best A-League save I've ever seen. You can see it towards the end of this Fox Sports match report video.

A neutral supporter would have been slightly disappointed with this game, because on the balance of play Perth certainly deserved at least a point from it, especially in front of such an impressive crowd. But I'm not a neutral supporter, so Perth can get knotted for all I care. A great way to cap off the year for Adelaide, and a win that holds us in good stead for the Adelaide Oval match against Sydney next weekend. As for winning the A-League premiership... we can dare to dream.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Happy Festivus

...the holiday for the rest of us!

There's beautiful weather here in Adelaide, I've finished work for the year, and there's a great round of A-League matches upon us this weekend:

Newcastle v Central Coast - The now-traditional 'airing of the grievances' in the F3 Derby sees bottom-placed Jets try to regain some respectability.

Perth v Adelaide -Two sides in excellent form contend in 'feats of strength', with Adelaide aiming to consolidate top spot and Perth staking a claim for their first A-League finals appearance.

Melbourne v Sydney - A clash of the big city clubs at the Dome, but Melbourne's form has taken a recent dive and Sydney are downright dire. If the Sky Blues can recover to make anything of their season from here, it will truly be a Festivus miracle.

Wellington v Queensland - Yellow Fever give every Nix home game a Festivus atmosphere, but this one should be another great game, with both sides in some pretty decent form.

Here is the table as it currently stands:

Top of the league, bitches.

So gather around the Festivus pole, pour yourself a celebratory balloon of cognac, and put your feet up safe in the knowledge that all is right in the world.

Marquee Mark for Jets

Mark Milligan is not a bad player at all. As Olyroos captain he was integral to Australia's Olympics qualification, and he was outstanding in his first year at Sydney FC. He has great talent at an A-League level, no doubt. But is he a 'marquee' player? In his own mind, he might well be. His playing career seems to have stalled, though: after leaving Sydney FC he jetted off to Europe to try his luck, trialled with several clubs, and failed to win a contract. He also played (poorly) in the ill-fated Asian Cup and Olympics tournaments, finally returning to Australia with his tail between his legs to take a playing contract with Newcastle Jets.

Milligan's behaviour has not exactly been marquee-worthy, either, with the young defender at times missing training sessions for the Olyroos and Sydney, and eventually going AWOL from his club.

So, the news that Milligan has signed on as Newcastle's marquee player for the rest of the season, filling the position vacated by Ecuadorian striker Edmundo Zura, comes as a little bit of a surprise. Surely a young guy who has played a few games for the Socceroos, admittedly a decent player but apparently with somewhat of an attitude problem, is not quite what the FFA had in mind when they designed the 'marquee' concept. A marquee player is supposed to be well known, marketable, and charismatic. Like Dwight Yorke or Juninho, he's supposed to be the sort of player whose exceptional skill and presence put 'bums on seats', as they say in the classics.

Mark Milligan is not this person. Neither is Jade North, who signed a contract to be North Queensland's inaugural marquee but has since accepted another offer to play in Korea. You can't really blame the clubs for making these sorts of moves, though - it is an opportunity to exempt one good player from the salary cap and therefore keep them in the side. In Newcastle's case, it is a way to keep Milligan on this season after the expiry of his seven-game guest stint. In North Queensland's case, Jade North was seen as an important element to the club's attempt to engage Indigenous people in the region.

The problem is that there is a discrepancy between the FFA's archetypical conception of a marquee player, and the reality, which sees marquee status applied to fringe Socceroos, overweight has-beens (yes, Jardel, I'm talking about you), and South Americans signed from DVDs. And it is the FFA that make the final call.

There are a few ways that this could be fixed. The first option is for the FFA to get far more stringent about who is afforded marquee status. This would mean that only top-quality, highly marketable players would make the cut. The problem with this is that some of the more successful of the league's marquee players (like Archie Thompson or Shengqing Qu) would not qualify, and that there would still be failures along the lines of John Aloisi at Sydney.

Another way forward would be to change the concept to one of simply a 'cap-exempt player' - someone who, for whatever reason and at the discretion of the club, is paid outside the salary cap. This would give clubs the freedom to carve out their own approach, and decide whether their money is better spent on an expensive, flashy Juninho or a reliable, relatively cheap North or Milligan. I like this approach because it puts the onus on the clubs, rather than the federation, to get things right - I've written before about the need for the FFA to decentralise and divest some of their powers to individual clubs.

Other options could involve adding a second marquee spot, abandoning the marquee concept altogether and significantly increasing the salary cap, or scrapping the salary cap and allowing clubs free reign over their spending. There are definitely good arguments for each, but in a newly-formed league with public interest in each club fluctuating so much relative to results I think it's essential that some sort of mechanism remains to keep clubs on a reasonably even keel.

Regardless of how it's done, though, I do think that clubs need to be a bit more adventurous when recruiting marquees. We go to the football to see players that inspire, that have a bit of panache and flair, not slightly-above-average defenders with a good positional sense (of course these players can be just as important, but you know what I mean). Anyway, good luck to Milligan at Newcastle - even though the club is clearly taking the piss with regards to the idea of a 'marquee' player, the odds are good that he'll be the best one they've ever had.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Al Ahly 1-0 Adelaide

Cristiano's million dollar strike

This game was only televised after SBS' last-minute backflip, which came as a result of a flood of complaints by fans irate at the network's initial refusal to show it due to other programming commitments. As it was, it was only shown on the HD channel, meaning I had to watch it at my girlfriend's parents' place and missed out on the first ten minutes (which were, from all accounts, by far the best ten minutes of the game from an Adelaide perspective). Disgraceful from the network that calls itself the 'home of football' and was once lovingly referred to as 'Sex Before Soccer'. Well, they were going to shaft us on the soccer, and the naughty foreign movies aren't even as good as they used to be.

Anyway, onto the football. This match was a long, long way from being a classic. Adelaide started off brightly and Cristiano scored an absolute cracker from long range in the seventh minute, but for most of the game the Reds' performance was extremely ordinary. The real shift in the match occurred midway through the first half, when Salley came on for the injured Diego - from that point on, Al Ahly had control of the midfield. Fullbacks Jamieson and Mullen were ordinary, and Alemao played at a pedestrian pace, showing very little of the creativity that he is capable of. Younis played the whole match and provided some muscle up front, but generally didn't do all that much to convince me of his credentials as a first-choice striker.

But the negative picture I've painted so far is, of course, not the full story. The fact remains that little Adelaide United knocked off the six-time African champions, who have won the Egyptian league 33 times, to clinch fifth spot in the Club World Cup. And they did this with a matchday squad missing three of their first-choice players, Cassio, Dodd and Barbiero, and with the equally important Diego limping off the pitch after 24 minutes. Two of the substitutes were Michael Marrone and Osama Malik, Youth Leaguers who have never even taken the field in the A-League.

So, Adelaide can be proud of their against-the-odds victory, and they will come back to Australia having declared themselves to the world after two wins and a very respectable loss. And even after all their travels in the ACL and CWC, they are leading the A-League with a game in hand.

Hats off, boys.


Gamba Osaka 3-5 Manchester United

The second game shown by SBS on Thursday evening was the semi final between Adelaide's Asian nemesis, Gamba Osaka, and the world's richest and most famous club, Manchester United.

Gamba were very, very impressive. They pressed well, held their structure and played much better football through the midfield than the Mancs. Their passing and movement off the ball was an absolute pleasure to watch. Manchester United's tactics mostly involved pumping long diagonal balls to the best player in the world, C. Ronaldo (and why not!).

United were generally better than Gamba man for man (unsurprisingly, given that they are rich enough to buy basically whoever they want), and Gamba's back line struggled against the quality of Man U's set pieces and the skills of Ronaldo and two-goal super sub Rooney, but I thought that the Osakans were tactically the better side and played some beautiful attacking football, despite going down 5-3 in the end.

Endo was man of the match, for mine. He pulled all the strings for Gamba, and would not look out of place in the midfield at a top-level Italian or Spanish club.

In a way, I'm kind of glad that Adelaide missed out on playing this match. We would have parked the team bus in front of our goal and still let in four or five, without getting anywhere near scoring ourselves. After watching the way Gamba and other J.League sides play (Urawa v Gamba in the ACL semi-final was one of the best matches I've seen), this is what I want Australian football to be aiming for. And the J.League teams, unlike the big European sides, are mostly made up of home-grown players, products of local youth academies. It will take a long time, but if Australia ever gets to the standard of player development and domestic league quality that we are seeing from Japan, I'll be very happy.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Australia cracks top 30

No, this is not a reference to the fact that Gabriella Cilmi's 'Warm This Winter' has debuted at number 21 on the UK singles charts. Though it might well be, because that is certainly the case, if you were wondering. What I'm talking about, though, is the Socceroo's surge nine spots up the FIFA world ranking to 28, their highest-ever position:

The FIFA rankings are flawed in many ways. But they do highlight the significance of moving into the Asian Football Confederation, probably the greatest single step that Australian football has made recently. Rather than flogging a succession of tiny island nations 10-0 then losing to Uruguay or Iran, we now have a real World Cup qualifying campaign that involves a succession of tough matches against proper opposition, which is reflected in our ranking. And Australian club teams are now able to mix it with the best in Asia through involvement in the Asian Champions League. Well done Roos, and long may our involvement with Asia continue.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Centre of Excellence for Stinky Seamen

The jewel in Gosford's crown.. their three-sided stadium.

The Central Coast Mariners, in a joint venture with the Wyong RSL, have decided to build a $40 million football complex, including training pitches, a 'boutique' stadium for National Youth League and women's W-League matches, an 120-room accommodation block, offices, a gymnasium, aquatic centre, conference venue and a sports science block.

Not content with being the league leaders in junior development and local community involvement, these fishy bastards are once again showing the rest of the league how to run a football club. Here's a link to the Marinators fan forum, where there's a bit more information about what exactly this project will involve.

Once again the Mariners are thinking outside the square and pushing the envelope, engaging their stakeholders and maximising their key deliverables, or something like that. It's good to see an A-League club looking into the future and thinking: 'Ooh yes, that'd be nice', then doing something in an effort to achieve that vision - unlike the Sydney FC or Newcastle Jets method, which appears to involve sacking people one by one and then desperately rolling the dice on unfit 'stars' until the team starts winning.

This development is able to take place as a result of investment by the Mariners Trust, a newly formed entity controlled by Lyall Gorman, Peter Turnbull and Sheffield United owner Kevin McCabe that holds a controlling stake in the club. It looks like these guys are putting their money on the line and developing a real long-term vision for Mariners. Good on them, and I hope it works out well - they're the best in the league off the park, and on the park they're actually starting to play some very good football. Good for the league and good for their standing in the community.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Spagnuolo to North Queensland

Well, it seems The Flying Mullet will continue to fly in the A-League next year, with the new Townsville-based North Queensland Fury securing his signature. The poor lad will have to cope with, among other things:

-Playing in the sapping heat and humidity of the wet season in the tropics;

-Being coached by Ian Ferguson; and

-Living in a town known more for its box jellyfish than its culture.

Good luck to him, and if there's anywhere that he can really stake a claim for a spot in the starting 11, it's NQ.

Gamba Osaka 1-0 Adelaide

Match highlights

Well, it was a loss, but definitely a noble one in comparison to the meek capitulation away to Gamba in the first leg of the ACL final. Adelaide played very well from the outset, and in fact, despite the eventual result, it was some of the best football I've ever seen from Adelaide. Despite the fact that Diego and Cassio were still obviously far from 100%.

Viddie went back to the formation that Adelaide used so effectively against the Phoenix, and got Adelaide playing exactly how they should, given the players at theur disposal. Endo got on the end of a swift counterattacking move to get the only goal of the game, but Adelaide definitely had their chances, most of which belonged to Dodd: a shot just wide after a surging run on the counter, a looping header that hit the underside of the crossbar, and a glancing header just wide with 30 seconds left in the match. Cassio also had a near miss with a goalmouth scramble, and subs Younis had a decent long-range pop at goal near the death.

There were plenty of positives, including Jamieson's performance (once again) and the general hunger that the team showed, which was a vast improvement from the game against Waitakere. Our centre midfield of Diego, Reid and Barbiero were a little off their game, though, and failed to really contain Gamba's obvious class in this part of the park.

The only real criticism I have of Vidmar's performance is that Hitman Younis should have come on much earlier than he did. Although he hasn't had much time on the field he's been starting to show a bit of what he can do. In this match he injected a presence and hunger into the forward line that was sadly missing from Cristiano.

The substitution of Osama Malik at the expense of Cassio was an interesting one. Interesting, because it speaks volumes that Viddie was willing to take a punt on an 18-year-old that hasn't even played an A-League game, putting him on in a high-pressure environment in front of 40,000 mostly hostile fans rather than going for the more experienced Spagnuolo or Sarkies. And Malik held his own well enough with a couple of forward runs, a long-range crack at goal and no mistakes. Sarkies is goneski at the end of this season, one would think.

So, no game against Manchester United, which is a bit of a disappointment (THAT would have been huge), but a great performance and one that the players can be proud of. Next up: Egypt's own Red Devils, Al Ahly, in the fifth-place playoff.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The immovable brick wall of stupidity

Gustave Flaubert once said: "Stupidity is something immovable; you can't try to attack it without being broken by it." This is sound advice. This week, Rebecca Wilson came out with yet another anti-football article, this time bleating about the $45-odd million the Federal Government has pumped into the World Cup bid. There are, of course, plenty of sensible arguments against spending such a large amount of money on a sporting event. The problem with Wilson's article is that her arguments demonstrate a (deliberate?) ignorance of the issues at play, and stem instead from an emotional reaction informed by her own obvious dislike of football, the "terrible A-League", and its "fanatical fans".

Thus, I will not get angry - I will yield like a reed in a rapidly-flowing stream, recognising the immovable stupidity of trying to compare a bid for the World Cup with sports like swimming and Rugby League. The difference, of course, is that the World Cup cash promise is not just 'sports funding' - it's a well-thought-out political move to bring the biggest event in the world to Australia. It's our country flexing its muscles in the same way that it did when bidding for the 2000 Olympics. It's an exercise designed to increase Australia's international soft power standings, whether successful or not, and the economy will receive a huge boost if we actually host it. It's a win for the FFA and a considered gamble by the Federal Government. In all likelihood, if this $45 million was not going towards the World Cup bid, it probably wouldn't be spent on sport at all. It's not an either/or proposition.

I'm not angered by the fact that she is complaining about football's relative gains when other sports are missing out on the gravy train. Why? Because, to put it simply, it's an idiotic argument. Football is the most popular participation sport in Australia, by far, and is played by males and females of all ages and backgrounds. For years it has been the ugly sister, missing out while millions have been ploughed into the more fashionable cricket, Aussie Rules, and the Rugbies, as well as Olympic sports like swimming and rowing. Now it's time for a bit of equity, bitches. Why shouldn't football get more than other sports?

I can sense some righteous outrage building in my liver at the moment so I will move onto another point: her decrying of the fact that money will be spent on schmoozing FIFA bosses and other football bigwigs. Well, how else are we going to get the frigging thing? As if Australia didn't do exactly the same thing when bidding for the Sydney Games (and in fact a lot more than that: the words 'Olympics', 'Sydney', 'IOC' and 'corruption' make for an interesting Google search). Does Wilson complain about money being spent on the Olympics? Of course not. Would she rather see the World Cup bid money be put into Rugby League, a sport that is more or less unknown outside NSW and Queensland, the bulk of whose income is sourced from the wallets of pensioners and single mothers through poker machines, and whose 'World Cup' final failed to attract enough interest to fill Suncorp Stadium? Obviously, yes. Maybe I'm being unfair to Rugby League, though: its 'Rapists of Tomorrow' program for juniors has clearly been a successful initiative.


At this point I feel like I'm angrily beating my head against the immovable brick wall of stupidity, so I'll stop talking about Rebecca Wilson. Let's turn our attention to Geoff Roach's column in yesterday's Advertiser, shall we:

What the hell has Australian soccer done to deserve a $45 million handout from
Santa Rudd's Federal Government?
That one's easy, we've covered that: a) it's decided to bid for the world's biggest sporting event; and b) it's the most popular participant sport in Australia, bar none. Next.

voluminous stomachs of the conga line of lobbyists and power brokers
zzzzzz. Once again, show me another way to get anything done anywhere without anyone powerful getting a free lunch out of it. C'est impossible.

How does the AFL, the SANFL and the other Australian football codes feel about
such booty being thrown to foreigners, marketers, PR companies and other
assorted leeches rather than Australian kids playing the unique Australian game?
Well, if Mr Roach is representative of their opinions, pretty bitchy and borderline xenophobic, I'd say. An interesting exercise would be to count how many times Roach uses the word 'Australian' in the article. A cynical person might think that the use of the term is a deliberate device to paint football as an immoral foreign pastime indulged in by shady foreigners (probably black ones, too!) as opposed to our pure Australian game played by Australian kids. In Australia. Not that I'm accusing Roach of this: he's just a proud Aussie worried about Pies v Hawks having to be played elsewhere when the MCG's playing surface is invaded by a bunch of diving longhaired pansies and the stands are filled with hooligans that would stab you with a sharpened boat flare as soon as look at you.

It's fair to say that I got a bit angry reading Geoff Roach's article, as well. But there are little touches of stupidity in there alongside the fearmongering and implied racism. Calling the Football Federation of Australia 'FA', for example. It's FFA. FFS. If you're going to write something nasty about an organisation, and it's going to get published in a major newspaper, at least do the minimum amount of research to make sure you don't come off looking like an ignorant fool (like, you know, finding out the name of the organisation in question).

I'm not angry about what these people write. They're biased and ignorant, and they're clutching at straws in an effort to undo all the progress that our sport has made. I'm angry that so many people will get to read their stupid articles. And now I'm angry at myself for having spent the past two hours writing about those stupid assholes. Time for a cup of tea I think.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Adelaide 2-1 Waitakere

Waitakare United, a bunch of part-timers from West Auckland, weren't given a chance against Adelaide prior to their opening Club World Cup match in Tokyo. Not surprisingly. They were put to the sword 7-0 by Wellington Phoenix, the team that Adelaide humiliated 6-1 last Friday.

As soon as the match kicked off,though, you could tell it was going to be a strange night for Adelaide. The boys in red looked nervy, and when they weren't looking nervy they were just trudging around the pitch with blank expressions on their face. Waitakare, as could probably be expected, parked their whole team in their defensive half, aiming to smother Adelaide and catch them on the break.

Given the unavailability of Cassio, Diego and Ognenovski, Vidmar had toyed a bit with the starting formation. Rather than the 4-3-3 that worked so well against Phoenix, with Cassio and Dodd acting as wide forwards, it was back to the usual conservative 4-2-3-1, with our very own Dead Ball Specialist TM Kristian Sarkies slotting into the midfield in front of Reid and Barbiero, and Spagnuolo taking Cassio's usual spot on the left wing.

It could have worked if the midfield were a bit more willing to show some endeavour and creativity and work to break down the defense, but no - Adelaide ended up just knocking the ball around a lot, owning possession, then getting impatient and lumping it up to an extremely isolated Cristiano. Or streaming down the wings to put a cross into the box. Both options were dealt with, in general, pretty well by the Waitakere backline, featuring 37 year old ex- NZ Knight, Neil Emblen.

We dominated the match, definitely - the corner count at the end was 19-1, and we had plenty of balls into the box. But, still, the Kiwis scored first, with Paul Seaman knocking it in after Galekovic failed to gather a high ball. Rubbish shit fuck shit. Pretty much straight afterwards Mullen equalised with a nice header off a corner, and Trav got the winner with about 10 minutes to go with a glancing header off a Reid free kick. In Dodd We Trust.

This game, on paper, should have been much easier than this. Complete tripe, really, against a bunch of semi-pros. Waitakere actually had some handy young players - Roy Krishna and Dane Vincent in particular - and an equaliser was definitely not outside the realm of possibility.

Adelaide hung on, but just about every player on the pitch (with the notable exceptions of Jamieson and Mullen) were below average. And I never want to see the Dead Ball Specialist TM in a red shirt ever again. It was ACL away-leg-final-esque, except Waitakere just didn't have the ability and experience to punish us like Gamba did.

Hopefully this game provides enough of a kick in the arse for Adelaide to play well in the next match (Gamba Osaka again, of course) and set up a date with Man U. If we get turned over by those Osaka bastards again, I will weep.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Lowy18 - Yes We Can!

Frank Lowy, like most people in influential positions, splits opinions. You may admire his business acumen, his passion for football and his tendency to throw sacks of his own money into the game. Or you may be wary of his slightly less-than-spotless business history, which includes the odd allegation of corruption, and the conflict of interest that came in his dual role as FFA Chairman and owner of Sydney FC. Or, you could be a raving anti-Semite that thinks that Lowy, like all Jews with money, is behind September 11, the credit crunch, climate change, and teenage pregnancy.

One thing that can't be denied is Lowy's huge influence on the resurgence of Australian football post-Crawford Report. It's hard to imagine that the A-League would have had such an impact were it not for Lowy's vision, investment and guiding hand. Likewise, his presence as a key FFA figure lends enormous weight to Australia's dealings with the wider football world. He's not the richest man in Australia for nothing: he knows how to schmooze and how to cut a good deal.

News came through this week that Frank Lowy has sold his majority stake in Sydney FC to Russian billionaire David Traktovenko, ex-owner of Zenit St. Petersburg, and healthcare magnate Paul Ramsay. Lowy claims that this is an ideal scenario - under Sydney's new ownership they will remain financially secure, Traktovenko and Ramsay will be able to inject new life into the club, and Uncle Frank will be able to devote his time and considerable influence to his other roles within Australian football. Goodbye conflict of interest, hello shady Russian billionaire sugar daddy (now that's not entirely fair: I'm just assuming he's shady by virtue of being a Russian billionaire).

Lowy's a wily old fox, though. What, we were supposed to just think he would slip away from Sydney and just quietly go about his business with the FFA? Of course not. There was something big in the pipeline.

And today, that big thing in the pipeline exposed itself: the Federal Government announced a $46 million commitment to Australia's bid for the 2018 World Cup. Yep, now we're cooking with gas. It's definitely an uphill struggle - we'll be smack in the middle of a new-Cold War wrangle between superpowers like the US, Russia, China and England - but, whatever, Johnny Warren told us so, and who am I to argue with the great man's ghost.

What this pledge means is that the Government really does recognise the importance of football as a political tool and a means through which Australia can project its image to the world. The World Cup is huge, and hosting it would be the biggest thing that has happened in Australia since Donald Bradman came home from Gallipoli and built the Opera House.

Let's hope that this news spurs the SA Government into getting its head out of the sand: $100 million for a few corporate boxes is not going to turn Footy Park into a World Cup-worthy venue. Screw the SANFL (they've been screwing everyone else for years) - Adelaide needs an up-to-date stadium with a rectangular configuration, close to the city, that's worthy of big football matches.

AUFC Chairman Dario Fontanarosa has been talking about the need for a new stadium for a while now. There are rumours that, indeed, the majority of the corporate backing needed for Estadio Dario has been secured. In an ideal world, Adelaide United would be able to build its own 25-30,000 capacity stadium under its own steam, with the Federal & State Governments kicking in the funds to increase it to necessary size for World Cup group matches, should Australia's bid be successful. I'm not holding my breath, but stranger things have happened.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Sick Reds & the Mysterious Mr Tahara

Adelaide United are now in Japan for the Club World Cup and, according to this article, getting sick. Apparently Ognenovski, Cassio and now Jamieson have caught a nasty virus (although I dispute the assertion that Oggy would just 'catch' a virus: he probably gave it a sporting headstart before chasing the bastard down).

The most interesting part of this article, though, is the fact that Adelaide are having a long hard look at Kyoto Sanga FC and former Japan U-21 striker Yutaka Tahara.

All that can be gleaned from this guy's profile on Wikipedia is that he is tall, hairy, scores a goal every four games or so, and plays for the world's second-most awesome team. They're my favourites in the J.League because some old guys in an izakaya in Kyoto gave me free whisky and beer and told me they were good; plus they wear a rather fetching purple strip. Needless to say, a striker would be a pretty handy addition to the team, so I hope he's decent and Adelaide can lure him with the sort of incentives that he couldn't get at a Japanese club, like pie floaters and a laissez-faire attitude to work.

According to MTT82 on the AdelaideReds forum,

His coach Hisashi Kato refused to play him in summer because he said that Tahara
was addicted to sugary drinks (like Powerade) and he could only get one half of
football out of him. No joke.

That leaves me feeling quite optimistic. Powerade has certainly been known to give people the Energy Edge TM . And a half of football is still a half of football more than we have really ever managed to get out of Ago this season.

Oh, and Adelaide's CWC matches will be shown live on SBS - how good is that? Waitakere on Thursday night should be awesome... Adelaide have a taste for Kiwi blood. Game on mofos.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Adelaide 6-1 Wellington

Hoo-ah! Goals thanks to JayFCAK47

This game was supposed to be a stern test for Adelaide. The Boots were the A-League's in-form side, coming off a 2-1 win over Melbourne last weekend. Their attack, featuring the league's most lethal goal poacher in Shane Smeltz, and Fred, the hero of Victory's Championship-winning season, were expected to wreak a certain amount of havoc against United, who struggled for a draw against the Jets last week. United was also without the ever-dependable Costanzo in defense, with a certain Mr Flakes taking the Angry Ponytail's spot at centre back.

As the title of this post suggests, it didn't exactly pan out that way. The crowd in the north end were in good spirits at the start of the match, waving an inflatable sheep around and singing some amusing, mainly sheep-oriented, songs: 'Dirty deeds, DONE WITH SHEEP!' was one of the tamer ones. 'We're Going To Win Sux-Nil' also got a work out - at that stage, nobody could have guessed how close that prediction would be.

The game actually started off pretty evenly, with the Nux launching some enterprising attacks via Fred, Smeltz and Leo Bertos. It wasn't long though before United's defense got the measure of the visitors though, with Ognenovski winning every ball that came near and Jamieson and Mullen turning defense into attack beautifully on the wings.

The first goal came from a corner that pinged around the box for a while before the Ogmonster swung a leg at the ball and bludgeoned it into the back of the net. Third goal in three games for the big Maco. Charlie 'Cristiano' Runkle added a second when his big bald Brazilian scone steered a lovely Reid corner into the net. Half time and Adelaide was looking pretty good for the win.

After the break the Nux looked to have regrouped a little, and they were rewarded when Fred poked home after a goalmouth scramble. 2-1 and Ricki Herbert sent the message: "That's enough football for tonight boys, now let's just run around the pitch thinking about what we'll do for the rest of the weekend. How about we go to Crazy Horse after the match, bourbons on me."

Cassio then did to sub keeper Glen Moss what any self-respecting NZ farmer would have done when encountering a frightened sheep stuck between two posts: scored. A beautiful left foot pile driver from an acute angle. Then, just in case anyone missed it, he did it again. Pretty much exactly the same goal, from the same spot, into the same corner of the net, leaving Moss wondering how much razor blades retail for in $AUD. 4-1 to AUFC at this point. It may have been somewhere around this point that Ferrante smacked the crossbar for Welly with a sweet curling shot from outside the box - points for style, no goal.

Adelaide's fifth goal came from Runkle again, when Cassio attempted what would have been the greatest hat-trick in the history of the world by trying to beat Moss again with a strike identical to his previous two. This time he didn't hit it as sweetly, Moss got a hand to it and knocked it into Cristiano's path.

Viddie brought Sarkies on, in the knowledge that the boy can generally only score when his team is up five goals at the end of a match, but he did pretty much zilch except blow a free kick into the stands. Into extra time and Dodd put a cherry on top of the match with a sixth goal, which came as a result of some hilarious Wellington 'defending' (i.e. pass back to the attacking player).

Party time in the stands. All in all it was a stirling performance for most of the team. Barbiero and Mullen, who haven't exactly been regulars, were outstanding, and Jammo/Cassio owned the left side as usual.

Great match and a good send off for the Club World Cup next week.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Where's the crowds at?

There's a lot being said at the moment about A-League crowds. More specifically, about the fact that they are shrinking. It's true: attendences have slipped throughout the league this season, as this table (sourced from that fine research tool, Wikipedia) can attest:

Average attendance of A-League games excluding finals

After the giddy heights of last season, every single club has experienced a downturn in home crowds. True, attendances usually pick up at the business end of the season, but even so numbers are sitting lower at this point of the year than usual. So, what's the reason for the apparent drop in interest?

  • The standard of football is dropping.

Bollocks, it's much better now than it was when the A-League started. No more New Zealand Knights, for a start. Perhaps it's not quite Barcelona v Arsenal just yet, but it's only been a few years. Patience, my children.

  • Boring tactics.

This I agree with, partly. With only 8 sides, the same teams play each other three times a year, plus pre-season and finals matches. Teams know each other inside out, and the short season gives coaches little incentive to tinker with formations and tactics.

  • Over-control by the FFA.

The FFA have done great things for football in Australia, no question. But, while the highly centralised approach they have taken to the management of A-League clubs is exactly what was needed at the start of the league, it's actually becoming counter-productive to ongoing growth.

The FFA need to relinquish some control to the clubs themselves and allow them to build their own identities organically. Fans want their clubs to have some character; we want to feel like we are part of something that represents us, rather than being a 'target demographic' for a cookie cutter franchise.

One part of this is allowing clubs to take control of their own image with regard to advertising, kit design, merchandise, website design, and so on. It's also important that clubs have more say over dealings with their own supporters, rather than the FFA attempting to implement a one size fits all approach, as is the case with the ill-conceived 'Home End Membership' system.

Oh, and don't get me started on those awful phony CGI ads. The robots were better, and that's saying something. 90 minutes, 90 crappy mocked-up crowd scenes.

  • Crap refereeing.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: the refereeing in this league could certainly improve, but show me a league where this is not the case. I think it's not too bad, on the whole. Who'd be a ref.

There's a whole host of other issues I could touch on: the global economic downturn, ongoing lack of free to air TV coverage (although Fox Sports ratings are up for the league), dire form of Sydney FC, Queensland Roar's Suncorp curse, World Cup-mania drying up, retirement of Richie Alagich, et cetera - there is no single reason for the drop-off in crowds this year.

Basically, the A-League is going through the same flat spell that other start-up leagues like the J.League and MLS have gone through after their first few years, before continuing on their upward trajectory. Football is very well positioned in Australia, and the introduction of North Queensland and Gold Coast next season, and two further teams the season after, will counteract some of the apparent staleness that has crept into the league. The future's still looking good.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Newcastle 1-1 Adelaide

Well I missed watching this one, but it really doesn't sound like I missed much aside from some comical defending from The Angry Ponytail, timid Vidmar tactics and a whole lot of thrusting without much penetration. Ooh er. Ognenovski rescued the team for the second time in 2 weeks. Who needs strikers anyway.