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Brazil friendy in Palestine, not Israel 21, June 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.
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Two Brazilian clubs are going to play a football friendly in Ramallah in the Palestinian Territories. However, the Israeli Ambassador is complaining that they are not going to go at all to Israel. As Abu Khalil, the Angry Arab says, it really is like the rich, unpopular kid in the class with no friends, moaning at the other kids to let him play. Such bahaviou is, it seems to me, quite undignified for an Ambassador.

On Newcastle’s oh so sad demise 27, May 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Random.
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This is my first and in last post on football (or soccer, if you’re so inclined). Newcastle, for those that aren’t aware of recent events, have just been relegated from the top division in the UK. This is despite spending untold millions of pounds for a decade now on players, coaches and in turning their stadium into the third largest in the Premiere League. The club carries with it something of an arrogant aire based on the (pure)  mythology of how the Geordie (someone from Newcastle) is ipso facto the greatest, most loyal and most fierce supporter in all the land. This is grating for supporters of other clubs, to say the least. This is why, on hearing that Newcastle slipped out of the Premiere League last weekend, most supporters in England would have smiled with a deep sense of schadenfreude.

Even if you’re not interesting in football, you ought to read this piece by The Times of London’s Matthew Syed, a plainly gifted writer who sums up the situation eloquently and with no little wit and – again – perhaps a touch of schadenfreude. Here’s his article in its entirety.

“Newcastle United needs to be filled with people who love this club”, Alan Shearer [the manager and former star player]  said on Sunday and in that one, endlessly banal, hopelessly misguided sentence the latest would-be Messiah laid his finger on everything that has gone wrong with Newcastle’s football club and why it would be madness for Mike Ashley to appoint the former centre forward as full-time manager.

This is a club that have had far too much love: the love of the fans, the love of their various managers, the love of other supporters who, until now, have been happy to rally behind Newcastle as their second team.

This is a club that have basked in an orgy of self-infatuation, living on myths, dreams, brown ale and anything else that could numb the senses to the catastrophe that has been ticking like a time-bomb all season.

And now they want to turn to a man who has an excess of love but who has no qualifications to lead the club out of the mire into which they have jumped, feet first, except an ironed shirt and an occasional turn of phrase. A man who ticks no boxes whatsoever except possession of a Geordie accent and a legendary status on Gallowgate that is so patently irrelevant to the club’s present predicament as to be almost laughable.

This club do not need love; they need to be stripped clean of all sentimentality. They need a man who feels nothing but contempt for the position Newcastle now find themselves in and who is prepared to ignore the mass of fans and their hare-brained schemes.

They need a man who can state the truths the supporters do not want to hear; who can perform reconstructive surgery on a team that have lost all semblance of unity and coherence; a man who is hard-headed, hard-nosed and has spent hardly any time on Tyneside and is thus untainted by the delirium.

They need a man with a proven track record of management; a man who can finesse an understandably panicky owner; above all they need a man with the deep and long experience capable of persuading the good players to stay (and, let’s be honest, there are not many of those), who can get rid of the dross without the whole thing descending into a fire sale, and who can go into an infinitely complex global marketplace, identify a new crop of talented youngsters and persuade them that Newcastle are not a busted flush, but a club that can ride high once again.

And the new manager needs to do this with a close eye on the rapidly deteriorating finances, a deep awareness of the long-term contractual implications of his manoeuvrings in the transfer market and with a nose for how his string of new signings will cope with the unique demands of the Coca-Cola Championship, a league that is different in style, pace, philosophy and tempo from the Barclays Premier League.

Shearer, it hardly needs stating, is qualified for none of these tasks and it is symptomatic of the delusional contagion in the North East that so many supporters think he is.

Perhaps the most darkly comic aspect of Shearer’s initial appointment was how often we heard the phrase “the mood on Tyneside has been transformed”, as if the fans might be able to emote an awful team out of the relegation zone; as if the level of intoxication inspired by the great man’s appointment was a good thing rather than a distraction from what was, even then, a formidable challenge; as if sentiment has any bearing on success and failure when a team are plummeting towards calamity like a man in a concrete overcoat.

I sat in that opening press conference, heard Shearer’s repeated protestations of devotion to “the football club” (as if we doubted that), watched the fans outside taking off their shoes in an apparent show of fealty to their new saviour, and then got the train home wondering if this tedious soap opera will ever end. First Kevin Keegan, then Shearer; give it a couple of seasons of failure in the Championship and they will doubtless turn to the ghost of Jackie Milburn for managerial redemption amid yet more scenes of jubilation outside St James’ Park, yet more dreams of a return to the glory days, yet more whimsy and surrealism.

For the record, Shearer’s tenure has been a failure in almost every possible way, bar his ability to deflect criticism from his own inadequacies during post-match press conferences. He managed a derisory one win in eight games, executed tactical shifts and machinations that made Claudio Ranieri, the Tinkerman, seem like a rock of stability, but, most damningly of all, the St James’ Park hero failed even to inspire the passion and resolve in the players in what was the whole point of the exercise.

In retrospect, Newcastle needed only a point from their last two games to retain Premier League status, but failed to manage even that; their meek, passive, antiheroic surrender in the final quarter of an hour away to Aston Villa symptomatic of a club that had expended all their reserves of emotional energy on irrelevant happenings off the pitch; a club that have, in truth, spent so long navel-gazing that they no longer had the wit or the wish to look to the fights — the real fights on the pitch — that needed so dearly to be won.

As Alan Hansen said on Match of the Day (which is where Shearer should have stayed, firmly on the couch) on Sunday: “Even then, in the last ten to 15 minutes there was nothing, absolutely nothing. You know their life depends upon this and yet we spent 15 to 20 minutes waiting for some sort of effort [which never came].”

Some will point to Keegan, who as a virginal manager brought Newcastle back into the top flight 16 years ago.

They will dare to believe that this sets some kind of precedent. That inexperience can be some sort of blessing in club management.

But what about Sir Bobby Charlton, who took Preston North End down from the old second division in his first season in charge? What about the dozens of other precedents that show that experience matters in football management just as it does in every other area of life?

The reality is that, lumbered with Shearer, things are likely to get a lot worse for Newcastle, a club that face a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reinvent themselves from top to bottom.

But has Ashley got the balls to ditch him, to make a decision based on the kind of hard corporate logic that has served him so well in amassing a fortune in the sports goods market? Would the fans even let him?

And with that last, rhetorical question we hit the bull’s-eye of Newcastle’s travails. Until the club have an owner who can ignore the myopic short-termism of the nation’s most capricious fans, there will be no bounce for Newcastle United. I am not saying that all supporters are burdened by overinflated expectations, but can it be seriously denied that Newcastle are weighed down by a critical mass of unrealism? That this is the underlying reason for the lack of a single major trophy in 40 years?

Shearer’s appointment would symbolise everything that is wrong at St James’ Park, past and present. Expect him to be unveiled by the end of the week.

And the world’s most popular footballer is… 1, February 2008

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Random.
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So who is the world’s most popular footballer? Ronaldo? Ronaldinho? Kaka? Remember, this isn’t who is the best footballer in the world, just the most popular, so at this point David Beckham no doubt comes to mind. But you’d be wrong on all counts. I’ll give you a clue, he’s playing at the Africa Cup of Nations now. Ahh, then it must be Eto’o or Drogba, maybe Essien as a long shot. But, alas, you’d still be wrong. It is…cue drum roll…Mohamed Abu Treika, the Egyptian forward.

The International Federation of Football History and Statistics holds the public vote annually and Abu Treika garnered over 1 million votes to take the honour. Kaka finished in seventh place, Ronaldo in 15th and Ronaldinho in lowly 18th place. With this new found fame, I’m sure he can expect a call from Bryan Robson at Sheffield United who likes such bizarre thermometers of talent as a means to choose his players – remember he tried to sign Rene Higuita, the Colombian goalkeeper, seemingly solely on the basis of his scorpion kick at Wembley back in 1995…