Racism Epidemic is Still Very Much Alive in Football Today

Say No To RacismSo here we are in 2013, a modern society where people are brought together by the beautiful game of football. But unfortunately, checking the football headlines when I woke up the other day, an old problem that is becoming far too familiar in the game was once again in the news. To no one’s surprise, there were 2 new incidents of fans and clubs being punished for racist behavior at matches.

1 of these incidents involves a man of 53, Gerrad Scanlon from England, who has been fined a mere £425 and banned from The Den (home of Millwall) for racially abusing Leeds United striker El-Hadji Diouf. The other involves Lazio, who have been ordered to play 2 games behind closed doors and fined pittance in terms of a £35,000 fine for racist behavior amongst their fans following a Europa League match-up against Borussia Monchengladbach.

Now, unless you’re have been hiding under a football stadium for the last few years, racism and football used in the same sentence won’t be something you are unfamiliar with hearing in today’s game unfortunately. What worse for Lazio is that they have already been involved in familiar incidents this season, let alone the needless self-tagged “ULTRA” hooligans that seem to be going on rampages on about a monthly basis.

So UEFA have given them their punishment and everything will be fine from now on of course; I think not. The embarrassing thing is that in both cases, the punishing verdicts issued by a Magistrates court in England (which has nothing to do with the game) and UEFA is less than a slap on the wrist.

Let me use this point to remind you that UEFA, the union body of European football, have recently handed the Serbian football association a fine of £65,000 pounds and ordered their Under-21s to play a game behind closed doors. This came as a result of 90 minutes of booing and monkey chants in their game against England Under-21s in October 2012 at Krusevac.

With everybody aware of the money in today’s game, ask yourselves, are these punishments fair? Have UEFA done enough to say racism is not to be tolerated in the game, and are these punishments going to stop future occurrences?

Kick Racism OutI can easily tell you the answer is quite simply a no. The fines, for a start, just in these 2 instances with UEFA, are close to nothing, and the stadium bans for the fans are not long enough to stop future occurrences. I think the fines should be in the £100,000′s, and the bans should be half a season or longer; it’s the only way it is going to make people think before they act.

Meanwhile, some of you will be thinking about the innocent fans who are being punished. This is a necessary action, because we are essentially heading back towards the earlier years, before where the beautiful game was rife with racist and despicable behavior towards players.

I can recall incidents this past weekend, such as that of Mario Balotelli being racially abused while playing for Milan by people of the country he plays for! There have been incidents in the majority of countries leagues in the last few months, alongside a few high-profile cases involving Luis Suarez and John Terry, both of whom were punished for using racist language on the field of play. Quite honestly, the list of pages of racial punishments and incidents would shamefully be pages and pages long.

The terrible thing is that we have incidents put in front of us like these and reported across media outlets across multiple countries every day, and yet it is something that still happens in society today, 90% of which still goes unreported. In some cases, it is the poor education of accepting people outside their own cultures, but in others, its is pure naivety. They simply are not thinking straight when they abuse someone for being different than themselves, and unfortunately some people just aren’t very nice and like causing people distress.

Regarding the behavior of fans, the game has come a long way since reports of racism on the field were first written down. Many countries have some fantastic charities whose goal is to stop racism, such as “Kick It Out” and “Show Racism the Red Card.” Other charities include the European football charity, “FARE” (Football Against Racism in Europe), and individual charities in most top leagues.

The “Kick It Out” campaign in England is well known for their t-shirts, worn by players during warm-up before a match (with the exception of some individuals). Joleon Lescott, a Manchester City and England defender, has refused to wear the “Kick It Out” t-shirt since 2007 after alleged abuse of Everton teammate Joseph Yobo, and like Lescott, Rio Ferdinand, Jason Roberts, Micah Richards, and Kenwyne Jones are amongst the players refusing to join the show of support for the project.

The racism issue is not exactly receding, so as lovers of the game, let’s hope we can work together with the footballing authorities, wake up a bit, and start acting more severely. We don’t want the people who are causing this unnecessary distress to players and fans to ruin it for the rest of us.

Written by @chalkonyaboots

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2012 German Bundesliga Best XI

At the end of the day, a standard of a league comes down to it’s star players, the ones that really define the style of play and create the league’s greatest moments. La Liga has Messi, Ronaldo, and Sergio Ramos. The Premier League has Van Persie, Rooney and Kompany.

The Bundesliga is also very much at the level of Spain’s and England’s elite leagues. But who are the best Bundesliga stars? Here’s my Bundesliga team to rival the best from all around the world.

Goalkeeper – Manuel Neuer

Manuel Neuer

Bayern Munich’s big German stopper has a claim to be the best keeper in the world. His shot stopping is tremendous and it is rare that the ball goes past him without it being a quite spectacular goal.

Right Back – Lukasz Piszczek

Dortmund’s Polish right back impressed me particularly with his impressive performances for his country at Euro 2012, and his performances at Dortmund over the last year have been even more sensational. A marauding right back who can make goals and stop them, he would fall straight into most La Liga and Premier League sides.

Center Back – Mat Hummels

This is possibly one of the easiest choices to make. Hummels is one of the most exciting defensive prospects in the world at the moment. Big teams will certainly have their eye on this man.

Center Back – Benedikt Howedes

Howedes is an underrated defender. Big and strong, Schalke’s main man at the back was one of the reasons they have been so impressive in the Champions League this season.

Left Back – Philip Lahm

Another easy choice. Lahm has been top of the full back game for many years now, and whether he’s in Bayern Munich colors or German national team colors, the versatile full back always comes good when needed.

Defensive Midfield – Bastian Schweinsteiger

Bastian Schweinsteiger

It doesn’t matter where this German midfielder is playing, he always runs the game. His composure on the ball and range of passing make him a valuable asset to Bayern and Germany.

Central Midfield – Rafael Van Der Vaart

Having only recently moved back to Germany from the Premier League, Van Der Vaart is still readjusting to life back in the country’s top division. His playmaking skills and powerful shots have already proved valuable this year, with the Dutchman scoring some impressive goals in the process.

Center Midfield – Juan Arango

This final central midfield spot was incredibly difficult to call. Gotze, Kroos and many more could have gone into this slot, but from what I’ve seen of Juan Arango this year, he is placed into the squad on a sort of wildcard calling. Gotze and Kroos may be better overall players, younger and more exciting, but Arango’s range of passing and incredible technique is undeniable. His shooting powers are second to none, with him scoring some quite sensational goals this year. All of the central three in the midfield have the ability to blast the ball in from range or pick a fantastic pass, making this team very dangerous when the midfield moves forward.

Right Winger – Arjen Robben

The Bayern Munich and Holland winger has been criticised for being a bit of a diver over his career, but without his injury problems I truly believe he’d be up there with Messi and Ronaldo. A dazzling left foot combined with amazing pace and dribbling skill makes him a defender’s worst nightmare.

Left Winger – Frank Ribery

Ribery is the other Bayern Munich winger and has similar traits to Robben. The Frenchman’s lightning pace and dangerous right foot make him a problem for left backs all around the world.

Striker – Klaas Jan Huntelaar

Klaas Jan Huntelaar

This was the hardest pick of all of the positions: Huntelaar or Lewandowski. I chose Huntelaar because of his tremendous season last campaign. 48 goals during the previous season was a tremendously impressive record and his competition for the starting striker spot in the Dutch team with Robin Van Persie is tantalising to watch.

Other names I wish I could include:

  1. Mario Gomez
  2. Thomas Muller
  3. Robert Lewandowski
  4. Marco Reus
  5. Toni Kroos
  6. Mario Gotze
  7. Mario Mandzukic
  8. Jefferson Farfan
  9. Neven Subotic

I hope you enjoyed my article on FutbolPulse! Check out my football blog Rematch of the Day and follow me on twitter @rematchoftheday.

The Bundesliga’s Assault on La Liga and the Premier League

After the big debate about FIFA’s Team of the year, and how it was a disgrace that there were only La Liga players and that the Premier League should definitely have featured some of their own, many people started to draw up Premier League elevens or world elevens that could challenge FIFA’s choice.

BundesligaFair enough, I do believe there should be both Premier League and La Liga players in that team, but no one seems to have spared a thought for the Bundesliga. The Bundesliga is possibly one of the most up and coming leagues in modern-day football, and in terms of stadia, fans and match day experience, the top German division can certainly challenge the Spanish and English top leagues.

The question about the Bundesliga has always been the quality of football and players, but I don’t think this is a problem anymore. There is a definite case for a couple of the best Bundesliga players being in the FIFA team of the year, and I believe a Bundesliga eleven would certainly be able to challenge any La Liga or Premiership eleven you could pick.

Over the past few years, the quality of German football has improved from just an organised defense and hard-working team that grounded out 1-0 or 2-1 victories to a league that feature seriously impressive football.

Indeed, this is typified by the German national team’s performance at the 2010 FIFA World Cup, where a young team containing the likes of Sami Khedira, Mesut Ozil, and Thomas Muller played attractive football and were one of the most exciting squads in the tournament. The quality of the national team has received international acclaim, with players who impress in the German set up, such as Mesut Ozil, gaining moves to high-class teams such as Real Madrid.

The improved quality of the national team has been reflected in the improved quality of the national league. Dominated primarily by Bayern Munich and Borrusia Dortmund, the Bundesliga possesses several top quality sides and many, many top quality players.

Bayern MunichIndeed, over the last three years, Bayern have been in the Champions League final more times than Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester United, Chelsea, and other top sides. Earlier this year, Germany’s other big team, Borrusia Dortmund, finished on top of a Champions League group that contained Real Madrid, Man City, and Ajax, proving that it is not only Bayern Munich that can call themselves a truly world-class German team.

In recent years, many top players have left Germany for the ‘grander’ leagues, with the likes of Sami Khedira, Nuri Sahin, Mesut Ozil, and Lukas Podolski moving to either La Liga or Premiership teams.

I question why La Liga and the Premiership are held in such higher regard than the Bundesliga. I watch a fair chunk of Bundesliga football on ESPN and know that the standard of play is highly impressive.

Admittedly, there are no teams in Germany that rival the likes of Barcelona, but over the whole league, there is a wealth of good quality football on show. Indeed, I believe if you look at some of the teams in the bottom half of each of the respective tables and compared them against each other, the Bundesliga would far outstrip La Liga in terms of quality and could give the Premier League a run for it’s money.

I hope you enjoyed my article on FutbolPulse! Check out my football blog Rematch of the Day and follow me on twitter @rematchoftheday.

Road to Ballon d’Or 2012: Lionel Messi

2012 was a hugely successful year for Lionel Messi as his incredible feat of 91 goals in a calendar year shattered Gerd Muller’s previous record of 85 in 1972.

Messi’s performance has only been improving with time, and he never fails to astound his fans with his undisputed talent. The Argentine’s amazing skills simply cannot be put in words. Football fans need only watch him for 5 minutes to recognize he possesses remarkable talent on the pitch.

The way he controls the ball, dodges pressure from the opposition, and then elegantly shoots the ball at the net continue to draw people such as myself right back to him. Even without the ball, I find Messi very interesting to watch, and every footballer, playing either recreationally or proffessionally, can learn at least something from how he plays the game.

I know for a fact that I and the rest of the football world continue to find ourselves dumbfounded as a result of his performances. No one can rival his talent.

Messi is Undeniabely the Best Footballer in the World

And that is exactly why he won his 4th consecutive Ballon d’Or, yet another record set by the Argentine. Messi became the 2012 FIFA Player of the Year over rivals Cristiano Ronaldo and Barcelona teammate Andres Iniesta on Monday.

Barcelona have released a fascinating infographic of Messi’s unprecedented and record-setting 2012. Click on the image below to enlarge.

Lionel Messi's 2012

Messi clearly favored his left foot, but was almost equally as productive at home and away.

He scored the most goals against German side Bayern Leverkusen and La Liga squad Malaga, with a total of 6 versus each. Meanwhile, it didn’t come as a surprise that Iniesta made the assists for about 10% of Messi’s goals with Barcelona.

Here is what Gerd Muller said in response to Messi’s 91 goals:

“My record stood for 40 years - 85 goals in a year - and now the best player in the world has broken it, and I’m delighted for him. He is an incredible player, gigantic”

Messi had a great start to 2012, leading Barcelona to a 4-0 victory and scoring 2 times himself away against Osasuna on January 4th. By the end of the season, 25-year-old Messi recorded yet another 45 more goals for his club and country.

In March, Messi became the 1st player to score 5 times in a single Champions League game. The game, which was contested against Bayer Leverkusen, ended in a 7-1 victory for Barca. Before the end of the season, he managed to score hat-tricks against Granada and Espanyol.

His last goal of the season was a simple left-footed strike against Athletic Bilbao in the final of the Copa del Rey, which ended in a 4-0 win for Barca. Unfortunately for them, it was the only trophy they were awarded during that campaign.

Despite his enormous successes, Barcelona brought back few awards from the 2011-2012 season. Real Madrid edged Barca in their La Liga run by a margin of 9 points. Meanwhile, they were knocked out of the Champions League semifinals by Chelsea, who had eventually emerged winners.

Lionel MessiCristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi have both had lots of ‘not doing much for their country’ criticism fired at them over the past couple of years. Portugal suffered defeat at the semi-finals of the Euro Cup against Spain, which ended in a 5-3 loss after penalties following a goalless game (Ronaldo consequently was set to take the last penalty but never got the chance).

But Messi has being doing ‘more’ for Argentina in the past year than anyone has for their country, and the criticism seems to be receding. June of last year saw Argentina take on Brazil in a friendly match, in which Messi completed a fantastic hat-trick and sealed a 5-4 victory.

In addition to Brazil, Argentina cruised past Germany and Ecuador during the summer months before the start of the 2012-13 season.

Even with the change in managers, Messi blossomed under Tito Vilanova’s leadership after Pep Guardiola decided to take a brief break from coaching football. By the end of August, Messi already scored 6 times for his club.

Ever since then, Messi has been a goal-scoring machine. Messi netted 35 goals in 26 appearances in all of Barcelona’s competitions before 2013, adding up to a grand total of 91 in 2012.

In the October Clasico versus Real Madrid, Messi striked twice to secure a 2-2 draw in the La Liga match-up at home. Aside from that game, Barcelona has gained the maximum 3 points from all their La Liga opponents in the current season. They currently have 17 wins and 1 draw from their 18 matches in the Spanish League, the best start a team has ever had to La Liga. They currently stand in 1st on the table, 11 points clear of Atletico Madrid and 16 points ahead of Real Madrid.

Unsurprisingly though, Messi has had a fairly decent start to 2013 as well. He contributed 1 goal to Barca’s 4-0 victory against Espanyol, while he watched from the bench as they cruised past Cordoba in the Copa del Rey quarterfinals. Now, the biggest contender to breaking his newly-set record of 91 goals in a calendar year is Messi himself. I still believe his peak has not yet come, and he can only continue to improve with time.

Messi Wins 4th Successive Ballon d’Or Ahead of Ronaldo and Iniesta

Argentina and Barcelona striker Lionel Messi was awarded his 4th consecutive Ballon d’Or at a ceremony held in Zurich, Switzerland on Monday.

Messi Wins Ballon d'OrMessi crushed the world record last year, scoring 91 goals for his country and his club in a single year. Those goals broke Gerd Muller’s long-standing record of 85 goals for Bayern Munich and Germany in 1972, making the Argentine the clear favorite to win the award after such a successful season. Of those 91, Messi scored 79 for Barca and another 12 for Argentina in a total of 69 games in 2012.

But despite all of his goals, Barcelona did not have a very successful season. They conceded La Liga to arch-rivals Real Madrid by a margin of 9 points, and lost to Chelsea in the semi-finals of the Champions League.

Messi was part of the 3-man shortlist selected to be voted on for the prize. The other two players contending for the Ballon d’Or were his Barcelona teammate Andres Iniesta and Real Madrid striker Cristiano Ronaldo. National coaches and captains as well as selected media cast their votes for who they felt was best suited for the award.

The final results polled:

  1. Lionel Messi-41.60%
  2. Cristiano Ronaldo-23.68%
  3. Andres Iniesta-10.91%

Messi became the first player to win the FIFA Player of the Year Award 4 times in a row. With 3 titles, Messi was previously tied with former France international striker, and now UEFA president, Michel Platini. Now that he has surpassed that benchmark, it can now be confidently said that Messi is the best footballer in the world.

At a news conference following the results, Messi said:

“To tell you the truth this is really quite unbelievable. The fourth award that I have had is just too great for words.”

“I would like to recognize my other colleagues from Barcelona. Andres, it has been great to train and play alongside you.”

“I would also like to recognize all of my friends in the Argentina national team, everyone that has worked with me, coaches and staff and my family and my friends. Also my wife and my son. Thank you.”

Meanwhile, a slightly downcast Ronaldo congratulated Messi with the award:

“Whether I win or not it doesn’t matter, it’s a privilege to be here.”

Messi Wins Ballon d'OrBut in case you have forgotten, Ronaldo had also won the Ballon d’Or. The Portuguese was named FIFA Player of the Year once before, seemingly decades ago in 2008, before Messi’s prime. He wore a New York Yankees cap to the pre-gala conference in which he participated.

In the meantime, US international Abby Wambach was named FIFA Women’s Player of the Year. Also, Spain coach Vicente del Bosque and US Women’s coach Pia Sundhage were both given the coach accolades after leading their teams to a Euro Cup and Olympic victory, respectively.

Real Madrid manager Jose Mourinho and former Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola finished behind del Bousque. At the news conference, Guardiola confirmed that he plans to resume coaching at the start of next season.

Uzbekistan won the fair play award for their outstanding disciplinary record, while Franz Beckenbauer won the FIFA presidential award.

The World XI All-Star team, which was chosen by FIFPro group of players’ unions, was made up completely of players contesting in Spain’s La Liga. All 3 contestants for the Ballon d’Or were on that list, while the other 8 consisted of players from Barcelona, Real Madrid, and Atletico Madrid.

The goalkeeper was none other than Real Madrid’s Iker Casillas, accompanied by teammates Sergio Ramos and Marcelo as well as Barcelona’s Dani Alves and Gerard Pique who all made up the defense. Iniesta stood alongside teammate Xavi Hernandez and Real’s Xabi Alonso in the midfield. Messi led the attack, with Ronaldo and Atletico’s Radamel Falcao at his sides.

The team saw little change from the one created in 2011, with the only changes being Marcelo and Falcao for Manchester United’s Nemanja Vidic and Wayne Rooney.

Goal-Line Technology is Coming to Soccer!

The first intelligent soccer ball in the world, called the Select iBall, has finally been approved by FIFA.

FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) and IFAB (International Football Association Board) held a meeting in Zurich, Switzerland on July 5 and announced that goal-line technology has finally been approved following a vote. The technologies will help referees make goal-related decisions during the game. It was decided that this technology will be implemented in the Club World Cup in Japan (2012), the Confederations Cup in Brazil (2013), and the World Cup in Brazil (2014). The English Premier League also welcomed the decision and stated that it has been a “long-term advocate of goal-line technology.”

In many instances, goals were not given because none of the referees thought that the ball passed the goal-line, even after goal-line referees were established (see Goal-Line Technology). After Ukraine’s denied goal against England in Euro 2012, FIFA president Sepp Blatter voiced his opinion on twitter. He tweeted, “After last night’s match (GLT) is no longer an alternative, but a necessity.” In order to end the problem, two systems, Hawk-Eye and Goal-Ref, have been approved after going through intense testing that they finally passed in March of 2012.

Hawk-Eye uses 6-8 rapid cameras that take many images of the ball. The photos are then analyzed to determine if the ball actually passed the line. If it was indeed a goal, a signal is sent to the referee in roughly half a second that displays the word GOAL on their watch. Watch Hawk-Eye Explained for a visual explanation.

Goal-Ref utilizes electromagnetic antennas that are placed about the crossbar and goal posts as well as the new Select iBall Smart Soccer Ball (also approved by FIFA). When the ball has completely passed the goal-line, another signal is sent to the referee that also shows the word GOAL on their watch. Watch Goal-Ref Explained for a visual explanation.

UEFA president Michel Platini is among those of who oppose the technology. He stated that he preferred using 5 match officials, which was first put into effect in Euro 2012 and was also agreed on during the meeting on Thursday. During an interview with CNN in May, Platini said “I’m against the technology. If you say okay to goal-line technology, then it is offside technology, then penalty area technology, and we stop the football.” IFAB was sure to make clear that the technologies will not aid referees in making other decisions, though.

Goal-Line Technology

The English were deprived of a goal in the second round of World Cup 2010 against Germany.

There is an ongoing debate between soccer fans about utilizing goal-line technology. We must keep in mind the importance of introducing these technologies. In a second round game in World Cup 2010, England was deprived of a goal that was clearly over the line. At the end of the 1st half, Frank Lampard kicked the ball from just outside the penalty area which hit the crossbar. It then bounced down into the goal, and spined back into the hands of Manuel Neuer, the Germany goalkeeper. Although in replays, the ball was seen to have crossed the goal-line by more than a foot, referee Jorge Larrionda was unable to call it a goal. Germany later went on to win the game with a score of 4-1, but if the goal had been called, it could have easily changed the outcome of the game. With a 2-2 score, England would have been more hopeful and could have scored more goals by the end of the game. After this event, FIFA tried to fix the problem by having goal-line referees stand on each side of the goal. This too proved to be ineffective. In Ukraine’s last group stage game against England in Euro Cup 2012, history evidently repeated itself. After Wayne Rooney’s goal, Ukraine was denied an equalizer against England when Marko Devic’s shot was kicked from inside the goal by English defender John Terry. Even with referees standing right at the goal-line, they did not see the goal. After watching replays, it was concluded that there was daylight between the ball and the line, but the score stayed put and the goal was still not given to the Ukrainians. Although many traditionalists argue that we must stick to the way the game was played for so many years, it is not fair to deprive any team of a goal that they deserved.