Monday, March 12, 2012

Less than ten seconds

In a game of football a lot can happen in the few short seconds when a forward picks up the ball and looks to move. 

The right corner forward will more often than not gain possession with his back to goal. He can try to fake left, hoping to fool his marker into committing a fraction more of his body weight in that direction, which can result in a slower push off the left foot as the defender try’s to readjust, so that he remains on the forwards shoulder. The forward will know almost instinctively if he has gained an advantage from this move. If he has he will quickly have to play the ball either to himself or to attempt a pass to a team mate. Our forward though, like so many of his ilk, feels that he waited long enough to get his hands on the ball and is not going to give up his chance so easily.

After playing the ball to himself he still feels the pressure from the defender as he attempts to slap the ball out of the forwards hands. Blows land in or around the forwards hands, and indeed some of them land closer to his ribs, as the defender furiously endeavours to knock the ball out of his grasp. The synopses in the forwards brain are firing and he knows that he is going to have to do something or he is going to lose the ball. He has travelled maybe two yards closer to the goal since the ball was passed to him. The line he is running is being excellently hampered by the defender. The first trick attempted did not work but any good corner forward worth his salt will have a least a few tricks to call on when needs be. 

He drops the ball onto his left foot and plays a quick toe-tap to himself. The defender uses this moment to position himself between the forward and the goal whilst also sticking out a paw in the hopes of disrupting the flight of the ball as it briefly leaves the hands of the forward. The attempt to knock the ball away fails so the defender repositions him-self and gets his foot work right. In that spilt second of readjustment the forward has taken a quick two steps away from the defender, who has the goal at his back. The defender reads the body language of the forward and is quick to move to his left as the forwards leans in that direction. The forwards arms are stretching out and his left foot has planted itself firmly in the ground. The defenders instincts fire and scream at him that the forward is attempting a kick. While experience has taught the defender that a kick might not always be occurring, in this moment the instinctive pull of his mind forces his body to commit once again. He leans forward onto his left foot in an attempt to fall and block the ball if the kick is occurring. But almost as soon as the effort is made he knows he has made a mistake. 

The forward dissected the defenders body movement and knew straight away that the defender was going to attempt to block the kick. But kicking the ball was the last thing that he was going to do. Instead of swinging his leg in an arc that would bring power and force together to kick the ball a great distance, he stalled the swing, dropped the ball down onto his toe, tapped it back into his hands and the turned once more in field. The defender realising his mistake too late tried to reach out to pull or drag the forward back but as he was off balance he could not get his body weight behind him and the forward warded him off with an arm. 

The forward finally had his opening to look up. Immediately his mind took in the players around him and what was happening. He could see that other defenders were closing in on him and he knew that he didn’t have the strength or skill to beat them all. But as he took in the position of his own team-mates his mind began to calculate the possibilities. The full forward, who was perhaps ten yards away, was beginning to move towards him. He could sense and feel the physical abuse threatened from the defender who was perhaps only half a yard behind him. The full forward was free so on his fourth step, when the laws of the game force a play, he punt passed the ball straight at him. The ball had hit straight on the laces of his boot and as it left his foot he was fairly confident that it was heading in the right direction.

The full forward caught the ball squarely on his chest and took his four steps which carried him away from the goal. The right corner forward was coming towards him at speed. He ran across the front of him from left to right. A quick pop pass and the corner forward is back in possession. More synopses were firing off in the mind of the corner forward. On the peripheral of his vision he could see that the right corner back was closing him down, narrowing the angle of his line towards goal. The full back had read the pass from the full forward and repositioned himself so that he would tackle the corner forward in the next second. With two defenders closing in the forward decided promptly that he would have to shoot. 

The full back was too close to his right foot so he had to shoot off his less favoured left.  He always felt awkward whenever he kicked with his left and the technique he had developed meant that although his accuracy was not the worst distance was a problem. But at this stage he had made up nearly twenty yards since receiving the ball and was just approaching the apex of the “d”. He would have to go for it. One last thought of the ball flying over the black spot and then he let fly. The ball sailed high but did not look as if it would have the distance. But as it dropped, gathering speed, the opposition goal keeper  began to shake his head and start a foul mouthed tirade against the full back line which let them know exactly how he felt, if ever there was any doubt, about the standard of their play and even questioned the legitimacy of their parental lineage.

The corner forward meanwhile was gleefully turning and jogging back towards his position, no mark of his inner joy written across his face, except perhaps for the faint curling of a smile itching to develop. But this was no time for smiling the game was not over yet.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

A tale of two managers - Trap vs. Psycho

 A tale of two managers in last night’s international friendlies, but who learned the most and who stands in a better position as the countdown to Euro 2012 continues.

The Ireland match against the Czech Republic was a boring, virtual non-event where very little surprises awaited the 37,000 odd supporters in the Aviva stadium or the thousands of people watching at home. Even the much called for debut of James McClean was slightly tainted by the fact that the former League of Ireland man was only brought on for the last ten minutes. Typical of a style that we have come to expect of Trapattoni there were very few surprises for this game.

Across the water Stuart Pearce had taken the helm of an England squad that was not just bereft of stars due to various degrees of injuries, but also suffering a crisis that many commentators of the English team seem to be wilfully ignoring. Fabio Capello’s departure being greeted with an almost sigh of relief by all interested parties who have taken Harry Redknapp to their hearts proclaiming him the saviour reborn. So England fielded a very inexperienced team with a big question mark (looking remarkably like the Spurs crest) hanging over their collective heads.

The Irish team of seasoned campaigners, who have played nearly three years under Trapattoni, managed to secure a draw after going a goal down. The goal was a dreadful one for the defence as they all seemed to drift across towards the left leaving Milan Baros with enough time and space to finish smartly past Shay Given.  Later, after the introduction of a scatter of Irish substitutes, Simon Cox took a well won ball from Keith Andrews, fooled a Czech defender with a nice nutmeg and finished smartly into Petr Cech’s goal.

In the England match Pearce’s team of fresh faces, with an even fresher captain, fell behind two nil to a classy looking Dutch team. A very brave and well taken goal by Klaas-Jan Huntelaar ended up with the Dutch man having a bite of Wembley turf and leaving the game after a brief but fruitful cameo. Arjen Robben’s first goal came from a vintage counter attack which left the English boys panting. But in fairness the boys became men and in typical Psycho fashion they never gave up and looked at least of having secured the draw after first Gary Cahill scored and then a late effort from Ashley Young .  But Robben , the man who was not good enough for Chelsea,  popped up a couple of minutes later to slot home the winner .

The Irish game was a slow dogged affair with absolutely no life in it. It was like being forced to watch a DVD of your dad’s favourite comedian over and over again. At the start you get the jokes, find them funny and see why your dad likes it but after the fourth or fifth time of watching you are starting to wonder why he doesn’t put something else on or worse yet maybe he just doesn’t know about anything else.

Psycho’s performance or interview as England manager was decent enough. The game was entertaining, he had the players seemingly play for pride and love of flag and country, and there was a bunch of fresh faces given a chance to show what they could do. A lot of the young men on the field  should have long and, who knows, maybe even successful international careers. Different tactics were tried and as I said the game was entertaining.

The main difference between the two is that Trapattoni came away with a result while Pearce did not. The question that I will now ask is which is more important? Trappatoni’s insistence on competing fully in each game to maintain a series of results in the hope of building up morale and self-confidence which might give the Irish squad enough momentum to pull off a few shocks this summer. Or the English system of bedding in players so as the new manager can decide which players are suitable and have the calibre to become successful top-class international superstars who can actually go on to win the tournament.