Los Ches; Liverpool FC and Les PSG

Valencia CF is riding the waves of uncertainty yet again.

I’m not really a fan of Quique Sanchez Flores – his style of coaching the team, while strict and unforgiving, lacked the mutual kind of understanding (remember his spat with Vicente Rodriguez and his lack of empathy for Fernando Morientes); his tactical strategies appeared to stagnate between the boring 4-4-2 and the 4-5-1 formations which resulted in boring 1-goal advantage wins; and his lack of glamourous  approach for player fit to play for ‘Los Ches’ can only mean that the team,while still having Ruben Baraja and David Albelda (2 of Valencia CF’s best players in my opinion) in their books do not have the sort of image which can attract top players to join the club. To the last point, Simao Sabrosa, a top Portuguese winger now plying his trade for Club Atlético de Madrid rejected ‘Los Ches’ for 2 seasons and has opted for the maverick capital club, ‘Los Colchoneros’. Of course, Valencia CF’s impressive early 2000s’ record meant that not too many players would hesitate to commit pen to paper to join the club but Valencia do need top names such as Simao.

Regrettably, ‘Los Ches’ has already severed their ties with Sanchez Flores. It’s clear that the club chairman, Juan Bautista Soler isn’t one to possess the most admirable of patience but I suspect that Flores’ departure from the club had more to do with the team’s lack of convincing victories and their lacklustre performances of late in the Champions League. Losing to Norwegian club, Rosenborg BK was particularly embarassing. A humiliating 2-0 away loss to one of the darker horses of the competition should have invoked the ire of the impatient chairman. A clumsy loss to Espanyol at home 2-1 and the huge 3-0 loss to currently-managerless Sevilla CF drove the point home that Sanchez Flores is no longer the best person for the job.

To be fair to the Valencianista, he took over the club after Claudio Ranieri’s horrible work at the club in the 2004/2005 season and made them respectable again, though nowhere near championship material. It was testament to Flores’ work at Getafe CF that he purged out the Italian defensiveness out of the club’s system and introduced his own dour style of play, with David Villa the key protagonist of scoring goals. Aside from that, I can attest the fact that Valencia CF do not win in style. They rode their luck well, relying on the young David Silva to power the midfield and the usually dependable Joaquin to create something of note in terms of flair and opportunities.

The truth is – the club has not been celebrating any form of success for close to 3 years. After the 2004 European Super Cup triumph under Ranieri, ‘Los Ches’ has seen their performances fluctuate faster than your average Spaniard’s natural disposition (or a Hainanese person’s in the Asia context).  Being runners-up in the UEFA Intertoto Cup in 2005 is not a major achievement. Being 4th in the table for the 2005/2006 season was probably not something good for the club. Valencia CF exists to win titles.

So,  Valencia CF has already made known that the club would hire a top coach to win over the fans and to win superbly. Their summer signings have not yet convinced – goalkeeper Timo Hildebrand; Nikola Zigic and Manuel Fernandes came with slight expectations but they have not been very persuasive. At the very least, the club is still at 4th place in La Liga with every chance to still go for the title.

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Now, back to the Arsenal.

I can accept that it must have been palpable relief that the Gunners salvaged more than a point when they drew with Liverpool FC 1-1 last Sunday in a pulsating match which even neutrals can exhilarate.

The team had many positives to draw on – superb attacking flair; a disciplined and stolid performance;  no fear of away opponents and also the ability to score.

Having said that, (and with all credit to such a young team) I find it somewhat embarrassing that the Arsenal team are suddenly awash with title chances and all the confidence in the world to win coveted titles. I’m ordinarily proud of the team for possessing so much confidence in themselves. But to say that after a hard-fought 1-1 draw, that the team possess such admirable aspirations is rather heavy-handed. William Gallas claimed that after the draw,their title opponents should be ‘afraid’. Wenger also provided a piece of his wisdom by saying that the team is ready for a title tilt. Gael Clichy offered – Arsenal has passed their first test.

I’m not writing off Liverpool’s title chances just yet. Their shock 2-1 loss to Turkish side Besiktas consigned them to the bottom of their European Champions League group. I’m pretty certain that their attacking ferocity at the early stage of the Sunday’s game is an outburst of their pent-up frustration. But what I’m suggesting is that Liverpool’s form hasn’t hit the higher notes as shown by Man Ure thus far. The results don’t lie – Man Ure lost only one game this season but they have won the others and are chasing the Arsenal right down their necks. I’m not saying that Liverpool,being unbeaten in the Premier League so far does not possess a good formbook. It’s just that these 2 teams offer 2 different propositions to the Arsenal. After all, the Man Ure from the North are hitting the right kind of notes by scoring although their defence are also rather shaky at times, but the strikeforce of Rooney and Carlos Tevez is something to drool about; at least with Sir Arsehole Ferguson who enjoyed salivating over forwards.

Arsenal should have just canned it in and practise a little humility. In this respect, Tomas Rosicky and Cesc Fabregas have obviously given this aspect some consideration. Cesc was angry about not winning and why not. It’s not like the Arsenal overturned the ‘pool 5-1 or thereabouts last Sunday. If that were the case, the Man Ure would have a clear reason to be soiling their shorts. In fact, the Arsenal defence looked exposed in the defensive midfield spot and the final 3rd areas; exposing danger to setpieces and other deadball situations. William Gallas was in the groove that day, though and was rightly fighting for the side’s cause. Kolo Toure was ok as usual, but is still susceptible to open up spaces for enemy forwards.

Arsene Wenger could do no more worse than warn his side that Liverpool lost their talismanic striker Fernando Torres early, and that Xabi Alonso was also out of the match at more than half-time. It was surprising that Torres had a relatively quiet game, with Dirk Kuyt and Peter Crouch fashioning most of the chances. Steven Gerrard enjoyed a better game than the one against Besiktas but Cesc Fabregas’ determination drew the match for the Gunners.

Owen Hargreaves did launch an early salvo of mind-games this week but I should concede that the former Bayern man is spot-on even though he’s Man Ure. Arsehole Ferguson had a spate of money to blow on the fleet-footed Nani, with the Portuguese midfielder scoring some strange goals and is evidence of his flair. The short partnership of Tevez and loony Roo also tore holes in a puny Middlesbrough defence.  Man  Ure’s  defence is somewhat shaky at the moment,with the Arsehole relegating the rather impressive Kuszczak to the bench in place of the error-prone Edwin van der Sar.

Whatever that has been said and done – last year’s double over the Man Ure whores was the sweetest thing to happen all season long and this season is no different. This would be the game of the season. In the Arsenal’s favour.

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Now over to Ligue 1 in France.

I support Paris Saint-Germain since a long time ago. No kidding. Like 7 years ago?

It’s my point to support at least one team from every major league in Europe. But the French club of my choice has dropped to another all-time low.

As I type these lines, Les PSG is languishing at 15th spot with 12 points from 12 games. That’s an average of 1 point per match,folks.

The Paris club hasn’t been in scintillating form for the past 2 seasons. The capital club last played in the Champions League in the 2004-2005 season and was woeful at best under the controversial Bosnian coach Vahid Halilhodzic, who enjoyed the support of former chairman Francis Graille. Vahid was influential in attracting the moody but talented Jérôme Rothen to switch from Champions League finalist AS Monaco in 2004 to the underachieving capital squad. Well, Rothen’s choice was made easier due to the fact that PSG is the club closest to his heart anyway.

But PSG has fallen into internal turmoil which saw the chairman’s position switched 2 more times after Francis Graille was dumped by the club – Pierre Blayau (the man who roped in the confused Guy Lacombe) and now, Alain Cayzac. Lacombe has since left the club,to be replaced by his equally stunned compatriot, Paul le Guen, who had worked wonders with Olympique Lyonnais but found the going in the capital, decidedly more difficult to sustain.

Part of the reasons may be money. PSG has hardly strengthened their side with new,inspired talents. Péguy Luyindula is the best-known recruit in recent times but he hardly looked the proper man to change the situation at the club. Pedro Pauleta, a long-time PSG stalwart also endured a trying season in 2006-2007 and had commented that he was afraid that the club might have been relegated the previous season. PSG ultimately survived, and their current position doesn’t do much wrong to their image by reaffirming their present relegation-battle which could be a long, protracted one.

The question is – would names like Amara Diané, Jérémy Clément, David N’Gog, Granddi Ngoyi take the club to clearer skies? Their pre-season tournament, ‘The Emirates Cup’ saw them beating Valencia CF 3-0,the first of many 3-0s which would eventually cost Quique Sanchez Flores his job. That, while being a ‘friendly’ game, does not mean that the competitive spirit would be missing. This proved that the team had potential,but essentially, the hardest part should be the responsibility of Monsieur Le Guen and not me.

The famous Paul le Guen had screwed up his Scottish venture with Rangers FC. He stripped team captain and Rangers favourite Barry Ferguson of his captaincy on New Year’s Day 2007 and later parted company with the Glasgow giants 3 days later. Certainly, it was not one of the most logical decisions he has ever undertaken but they all count and he was ported back to France.

He saved the capital club from inevitable relegation in 2006/2007 and many PSG fans would have no doubt that better things would be in store. At the very least, he has returned to the country where he weaved his magic with Lyon, winning 3 back-to-back Ligue 1 championships (Lyon’s 4th in a row back in 2005). Ironically, Lyon has never won the Ligue 1 title before 2002  whereas PSG had tradition with the Ligue 1 title, winning it in 1986 and 1994. That would probably indicate something as to Le Guen’s managerial powers, at least in France. And let’s not get into the part that the French Ligue 1 is inferior to some of its fiercely-competitive European brothers.

So far, le Guen has received his first dreaded ‘vote of confidence’ and the declaration of his job as being ‘safe’ from his chairman. Armchair managers like yours truly and other fans of the Football Manager series as well as the popular Championship Manager football management games would know that such a reminder is not the most condescending that any football manager would expect. He may be surviving on borrowed time at the club,with the new season barely 3 months gone and which has witnessed some high-profiled sackings of Martin Jol, Quique Sanchez Flores, and of course ‘Special One’ Jose Mourinho. Glancing over his thick,copious shoulders may also be Carlo Ancelotti who has led the fearsome AC Milan team to unfamiliar territory in 13th place with 10 points from 9 games. Silvio Berlusconi, the chairman of AC Milan, had declared that he has chosen to motivate his own team and has told his coach to do the same. AC Milan could be better off retaining the European Champions League winning-coach and defend him in times of dire crisis. After all, there has never really been a more consistent performer in the Italian club in recent history. Good managers are hard to come by, after all.

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So far, in the German Bundesliga, Bayer Leverkusen is not faring so well,but the entire passion of the team has already been long doubted that its ambitions would hardly shock anyone. Maybe sometime else.

PSV Eindhoven has done rather well in the Eredivisie with a squad I’d probably have absolutely little confidence with, and having lost their maverick striker Arouna Kone to Sevilla CF; but have replaced him with the consistent Danko Lazović and the underrated Denny Koevermans. Their captain Timmy Simons and their own lucky charm, Jefferson Farfán still play for the Dutch giants and there’s only more suggestion that the more lucrative English Premier League beckons.

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