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FIFA Announce Ballon d’Or Shortlist

7 Dec

Were you expecting anything different? FIFA whittled its list of nominees from 23 down to 3 leaving Barcelona’s trio of Xavi, Iniesta, and Messi to compete for the prize on January 10th.  For the second year in a row, the Ballon d’Or will remain in Catalunya. It’s hard to argue with the results – Messi having tallied 54 goals this calendar year, Iniesta scoring the winner for Spain in the World Cup final, and Xavi just being Xavi.

The most obvious omission is Wesley Sneijder, who scored five goals during the World Cup to lead The Netherlands to their first ever final. Not to mention arguably the best club season of his career, as he pulled the strings for Inter Milan’s romp to a historic triple. The problem is, who would he supplant?

Sneijder’s 2010 campaign has been flawless. Inter would have never secured three trophies including the Champions League without Sneijder’s vision and lethal play in the middle. His five goals over the summer, in a low scoring tournament, sparked the Dutch squad to unprecedented heights. Iniesta barely played the last half of the season due to injury and arrived in South Africa not fully fit. However, his work with Xavi cannot be underappreciated, even if he hadn’t scored the winning goal.

You could debate this for eternity, and I think you can make an excellent case for Sneijder being a finalist instead of Iniesta. And if you’re really childish, you could rant about the corruption at FIFA and this being another example of it. Or you can exhibit some rational thought and admit that all four men have just as much right to be a finalist as the other. Someone had to be left out, and were it anyone else, we’d be having the same conversation.

But I think FIFA got it right here. Barcelona and Spain would be nothing without the two most important and influential midfielders in the world, and in recent history at that. Messi – well – no need for superlatives here. He’s pretty darn good.

As to who deserves the award? Because of the World Cup performance – that extra star on his armor for commandeering the best team in the tournament to its very first title. Because Barcelona is nothing without his brilliance year in year out. There has never been a time more appropriate than now for Xavi Hernandez to be recognized. With all the flair and arrogance and headlines modern-day superstars possess, Xavi continues to go about his business humbly and quietly. In the process, he has cemented his place as one of the greatest creative, central midfielders in history.

Maybe it wasn’t enough to anchor Guardiola’s Barcelona force, making it the machine it is today.  Maybe it wasn’t enough to conquer one continent with Spain two summers ago. But now, he has conquered the world with his country. It is time to award him for it.

(Photo courtesy of Sport.es)

Platini claims goal-line technology will lead to "PlayStation football"

27 Oct

Michel Platini is an idiot. Plain and simple. His remarks regarding the use of goal-line are completely irrational inasmuch as they are rooted in a prehistoric mentality that football has been, and always should be decided by human error. Platini told the Scottish FA’s website on a visit to Glasgow that should FIFA initiate the use of video replay, “then we will have PlayStation football.”

Platini believes that two extra officials on the end line are more than enough to assist the referees. He continued:

“The referee has to be helped by the clubs, the fans, by players, by the media and also by the authorities – everyone has a responsibility. It is why we have added two assistants for Champions League games this season. It is a logical step with so many cameras that can pick up incidents: the more eyes there are to assist the referee, the better the chance of spotting those incidents.”

Did anyone else not catch the bullshit here? The “logical step” with such advanced and extensive video capabilities is to add another referee?! If it is the duty of everyone to help the referees, shouldn’t we allow video evidence to prevent their screw-ups, which sometimes lead to death threats and violent reprisals by fans?!

Apparently not. Platini wants to save these officials by simply adding more, so that when they miss calls, which they inevitably will, we can still say we did everything possible to help them. Got it.

Now forgive me for my ignorance, but that extra referee on the end-line is an extra pair of eyes? If you’ve watched Champions League and Europa League matches then you will know that the extra officials do absolutely nothing. They don’t even have flags on their sticks!! (In the case of the official pictured below, he doesn’t even have a stick…) Clear cut fouls or dives in the box go completely by the wayside with these extra officials. They stand there like statues. And if their role is simply to see if the ball has crossed the end-line, then what exactly is the point of their existence on the field? What are they doing that video replay can’t?

At least Playstation gets the calls right.

FIFA’s Newest Hypocrisy

4 Aug

At least the French players deserved their reception upon returning home from the World Cup. The same cannot be said about North Korea who, although getting blown out by a combined score of 12-1 over three matches, gave a valiant effort in arguably the toughest group. According to US-based Radio Free Asia, after returning to Pyongyang, the entire team was summoned to an auditorium at the working people’s culture palace where they were criticized and lambasted for hours by over 400 people. Among other things, They accused the team of betraying Gen. Kim Jong Un, heir to Kim Jong Il, and now the coach’s safety is in danger (rumor has it he’s been forced into hard labor).

No need to discuss the issues of communist dictatorships and Cold War-era nuances. It is utterly moronic that the party leaders in North Korea truly expected this team to return home from South Africa with the trophy. What troubles me most is the response, or lack there of, from FIFA.

Don’t their own laws dictate that government interference in football matters is forbidden? They didn’t shy away from threatening the French Football Association after the government launched inquiries into what actually happened down there. And what about Nigeria? FIFA threatened to ban the entire country from world football after President Goodluck Jonathan did it himself following the team’s elimination. In both instances FIFA prevailed and the governments backed down.

Now comes another case of a team returning home disgraced from the World Cup and the government stepping in immediately to let them know about it. Don’t doubt for a second that football is not important to the North Koreans – if anything it’s one of the few opportunities the communist regime has to flex it’s muscles to the world. In other words, the success of the team creates a crucial piece of propaganda.

I think it’s safe to say that after years of ignoring sanctions by the UN and international community, anything coming out of FIFA’s mouth would be laughed at. But failure by FIFA to open its mouth in the first place is appalling. How can they stand idly by while another government gets involved with the football association? And why on earth are they choosing to pick their battles? France, Nigeria, Iraq, Kuwait, Poland, Yemen, and Ethiopia to name a few. All were suspended or at least threatened for government interference in the past. North Korea’s transgressions are no more or less egregious than the others (forgetting the human rights issues of course).

Inconsistency, hard-line stances and slaps on the wrist. Threats, suspensions, and staying mum. How FIFA expects to legitimize itself moving forward is beyond me (this column hasn’t even mentioned video replay ad goal line technology). Football’s governing body is becoming a laughing stock.

The hypocrisy must end.

FIFA’s Hypocrisy

29 Jun

I guess it was a only a matter of time before you heard this rant of mine. I was only waiting for a good opportunity to bring it up and in light of recent developments in France, this is a perfect time.

It revolves around football’s relationship with governments – or rather their attempt to distance themselves from it. As I’m sure you all followed the disgraceful exit of France from the tournament, you no doubt heard that President Sarkozy asked for a review of French football and was even planning to meet with Thierry Henry to discuss the Nicolas Anelka fiasco. Not surprisingly, big bad FIFA intervened the other day and has warned the French government of interfering with football affairs with the risk of being thrown out of future tournaments.

FIFA’s stance is quite simple – government and football are separate, independent entities. Article 13.1.(g) of FIFA’s laws explains that national federations are obliged “to manage their affairs independently and ensure that their own affairs are not influenced by any third parties.” The laws go on to dictate that third parties, “include politicians, governments, states, media, etc.” As the governing body for world football, these laws pertain to the continental confederations as well.

Since football and politics go hand in hand in every single country on this planet (except the United States of course), these types of laws are necessary to prevent interference from the highest levels. They were enforced in 2008 against Iraq. Greece, too, suffered in 2006.  Even Iran faced a suspension. While I applaud FIFA for having these statutes in place, it’s not enough. At the end of the day, FIFA (and the WTA for a time) backs off the BIGGEST issues around. Oh the hypocrisy…

Euro 2012 Qualifying Draw: Held on February 7th in Warsaw, UEFA (Europe’s governing football body)selected the 9 6-team qualifying groups to compete for entry into the 2012 tournament to be held in Poland and Ukraine. Prior to the draw however, UEFA took it upon themselves to publicly fix the draw. Due to political issues, Armenia and Azerbaijan could not be drawn against each other nor could Georgia and Russia. Sooo wait a minute. Let’s say Armenia and Azerbaijan were drawn in the same group. And then the Armenian government said it wouldn’t play in Azerbaijan – well then from what we know wouldn’t that result in a suspension???? Of course not. UEFA are cowards.

Which brings me to the issue at hand – Israel. As you can no doubt see here, Israel is geographically part of the Middle East and greater Asia. For years Israel competed in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) – qualifying for the 1970 World Cup and winning the Asian Cup in 1964. They came in 3rd place at the next Asian Cup which was held in Iran. Then, of course, war broke out in 1973. Emerging victorious yet again, Israel would eventually send a team to compete in the 1974 Asian games in Tehran. However, this is where things started to unwind. Kuwait – and every other Arab state in the tournament – refused to take the field against the Israelis. Rather than dock Kuwait points or suspend them from the tournament, Israel was booted by the AFC not simply from the Asian Cup but from the entire confederation.

As a result Israel was forced to, and please excuse the obvious metaphor, wander the footballing wilderness. For a time in the 1980s they competed in Oceania with the likes of Fiji and New Zealand. They were also given a chance to qualify for tournaments via Europe. Then in 1994, UEFA granted Israel full membership into Europe.

Fairytale ending? Not quite. It’s time for a change. It’s time for Israel to return to where it belongs in Asia. We are only talking a couple games a year – if that. If Kuwait or UAE or Bahrain or Iran won’t agree to play Israel in a qualifying game for any tournament, then THROW THEIR ASSES OUT OF THE COMPETITION!! I mentioned above that Iran was suspended at one point – that’s because Mahmoud Ahmadinejad put his own man in charge of the national football federation. Well if that same Holocaust-denying idiot would be the man to put his fist down to say Iran won’t play Israel, then issue another suspension! Dock points! Forfeit games!

If a country can’t guarantee the safety of the Israeli national team, then FIFA must step in. Why, after clamping down for years against government interference, does FIFA do nothing about this?

Just think about the repercussions of throwing Iran (4 WC appearances including ’98 and 06′) or Saudi Arabia (4 WC appearances – ’94, ’98, ’02, ’06) or Qatar (bidding to host a World Cup) out of competitions because of refusal to play Israel.  You really think the public wouldn’t mind? I promise you they would take to the streets.

In the meantime though, we’re left with a fool’s hope. Until Sepp Blatter, President of FIFA, grows a sac and makes some serious decisions (not least of which is allowing video replay), Israel will be left to fight it out with the big boys of Europe and miss endless opporunities of success in Asia. Why can’t Blatter step in and make a decree? He’s Swiss. Go figure…

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