Tuesday, December 19, 2006
Many factors have contributed to Hammers' poor placement in the league table this season: a lack of contribution (prior to Sunday's win over Man Utd.) from key players such as Paul Konchesky and Nigel Reo-Coker; Alan Pardew's alleged personal missteps regarding his marriage; and the protracted takeover saga that saw Eggert Magnusson and his Icelandic backers wrest control of the club away from the much-maligned Terry Brown.
But in my view, the complete misuse of Argentine striker Carlitos Tevez ranks above any of the aforementioned factors. Simply put, Tevez is the best Hammers player since Paolo Di Canio. He is the only one in the current squad who can make you leave your seat (or stand up from the sofa) when the ball is at his feet. Football is as much about the magic as the results, and Carlitos is the real deal. I hope his greatness eventually shines through and he becomes a proper Hammers legend.
Thursday, December 14, 2006
BY JAMES CLARK
(originally appeared in EX Magazine)
Shaka Hislop, at the ripe old age of 37, took a decision last summer that required the kind of bravery one would expect from a man who makes his living as a goalkeeper.
Coming off a tremendous – and unexpected – performance for Trinidad & Tobago during the group stages of the FIFA World Cup in Germany, Shaka left the comfortable environs of English football and dipped his toes in the waters of America’s Major League Soccer.
Loyal West Ham servant Shaka signed a multiyear deal with FC Dallas on July 5, joining a club that plays in state-of-the-art Pizza Hut Park in Frisco, Texas. However, things did not go quite as Shaka would have hoped. Joining the club in midseason, Shaka was bedded in by coach Colin Clarke instead of being given a chance to claim the No. 1 goalkeeping jersey straight away.
Shaka started just four matches, winning two and losing two while surrendering 10 goals and making just 13 saves. Shaka was left on the bench for FC Dallas’ two-leg playoff loss to the Colorado Rapids in the round-of-eight. That postseason elimination cost Clarke his job.
“It was always going to be a difficult circumstance coming in at the middle of the season,” Shaka said in a half-hour telephone interview from his home in the Dallas suburb of McKinney on November 10. The playful sounds of his four young daughters made for an interesting and warm audio backdrop to the phone call.
“I had a long season with West Ham, then played a lot of football for Trinidad & Tobago at the World Cup. I hadn’t had a proper break for 15 months. It didn’t go as well as I would have liked, but I’m looking forward to a proper offseason.”
Clarke’s firing has caused Shaka to take a wait-and-see approach ahead of the 2007 MLS season.
“It is a bit strange, because I came here on the recommendation of Colin Clarke,” Shaka said. “I also came because of goalkeeping coach Alan Knight, who I played for at Portsmouth. Like everyone else at the club, I will be monitoring the coaching situation.
“But I am also optimistic, as it’s a good chance to rest physically and recapture my form for next season.”
Despite his lack of playing time, Shaka is confident he made the right decision to join MLS for two reasons – the quality of the American top flight and the top-notch facilities.
“When I left (Washington, D.C.-based) Howard University in 1992, there was no top American league,” Shaka said.
“The standard has improved immensely since then. You can see that by the USA regularly qualifying for the World Cup, and also by the number of American players contributing to clubs throughout Europe.”
Pizza Hut Park, which has hosted the last two MLS Cup finals, has made quite an impression on Shaka.
“It’s a fantastic place to play,” he said. “The club has a great set-up and dedicated fans, and that bodes well for the future of the sport in America.”
But no matter how much Shaka has come to appreciate his new surroundings, he will never forget regularly being named in the starting 11 at Upton Park and the unique matchday experience on display at East London’s temple of football.
The Hackney-born, 6-foot-4, 214-pound Shaka made 25 appearances (including Cup matches) for Hammers during the 2005-06 season. It was his second stint with the Irons, whom he played for from 1998-2002. He will always treasure either period of his professional career.
“There is a wall of noise at the ground, and I think the West Ham supporters sometimes get an unfair label as being a harsh crowd,” said Shaka.
“The club has a specific tradition of playing good football, and the supporters won’t settle for anything less. They won’t condone long ball tactics, even if it means sacrificing results. As a player if you can accept that, you will get on well with the West Ham crowd.”
Shaka then made an observation that would surely guarantee him free beers for life in any East End or Essex pub.
“I prefer playing in front of a team that is committed to playing the West Ham way, which makes a pledge to be exciting and play the ball on the floor,” he said. “Even if it means you are beaten four-nil on occasion, well, that comes with the territory.”
Shaka was asked for his reflections on the two most-fabled matches of his West Ham career: last spring’s FA Cup final loss to Liverpool, 3-1 on penalties after a 3-3 draw AET in Cardiff, and the 1-nil win over Manchester United at Old Trafford in the fourth round of the FA Cup in January 2001.
First off, before Steven Gerard’s wonder goal, did he think Hammers had the FA Cup final in the bag?
“Oh, as the game goes on you start counting down the minutes,” Shaka said with a slight laugh. “When we were winning 3-2, you could sense Liverpool were starting to tire. Both teams had started to cramp up. The players had given their all and had run out of steam.”
Shaka then got a bit more philosophical.
“In the end, you resign yourself that it wasn’t meant to be,” he said. “Especially when we hit the post (through a Nigel Reo-Coker header) in extra time. I didn’t want to watch Liverpool accept the trophy, but I ended up looking on anyway. As strange as it sounds, watching them – not us – lift the Cup will be an image that stays with me for the rest of my life. It was surreal at the time.”
Delving back to that famous win over Man United, Shaka laughed aloud when he was reminded that Stuart Pearce took the goal kicks that day.
“Ha-ha, that was a phenomenal afternoon,” Shaka said. “I had an injury – a cyst on the back of my knee – and I was told to have two complete weeks of rest. But Harry Redknapp, who always showed a lot of faith in me, came to me on the Thursday morning and asked me to play just one more match before taking the rest period. It proved to be an inspired request. That is a day I will remember for a long time, for sure.”
Shaka played for two quite different managers during his two tours of duty at the Boleyn Ground, and he was more than happy to shed light on the delineation between the two.
“Harry Redknapp was one of the old heads, a sort of sergeant who was good at putting teams together and then letting them play,” Shaka said. “He showed those same qualities at Portsmouth, when he assembled a team that knew how to play winning football.”
The subject then switched to Alan Pardew.
“When I came back to Upton Park for my second go-round, everything had changed,” Shaka said. “Alan was much more scientific in his approach. He is very methodical and strategic. I thoroughly enjoyed my time at West Ham under both managers, and I learned a lot from them.”
One high point of Shaka’s stints with the club was the chance to work with goalkeeping coach Ludek Miklosko. This is one instance where the protégé won’t forget the influence of the teacher.
“With Ludo as my coach, I certainly grew and matured,” Shaka said. “He was responsible for getting the best out of me. When I came back to West Ham in 2005, I was not at my physical peak. I was 36 going on 37. Ludo managed to keep me playing at a high level.”
I reminded Shaka of a performance he gave when he definitely was at the top of his game. In the only Hammers away match I have been to in person (I have seen the club play five times at home), he secured a nil-nil draw at Derby’s Pride Park with a series of top-notch saves in September 2001. I sat in the first row behind one of the goals, and was privy to a spectacular performance by the Trinidadian shot-stopper.
What stood out the most was his extreme calm, even as Derby approached the final third with the ball in a threatening position. To Shaka, such an even keel seems par for the course.
“As you get older, there are a lot of things you can’t do anymore,” he said. “You have to adjust and stay calm without getting flustered. You send a message to the crowd and the opposition with your body language.
“You try to play on a striker’s mind. In a one-on-one situation or on a penalty, the pressure is on the attacker to score. If you make the save, it’s a bonus. If you go into a game with that mindset, you will survive the pressure of being a goalkeeper.”
Never was that mantra more in effect than before Trinidad & Tobago’s World Cup match v. Sweden in Germany this summer. The younger Kelvin Jack was slated to start in goal for T&T, but an injury to his calf meant Shaka, who qualifies for the Caribbean country through his parents, was given a chance to shine on the world’s biggest stage.
“I felt Kelvin would be able to play through the injury,” said Shaka. “It was touch and go for most of the week, but then I got the call.”
And did he ever make the most of it! An acrobatic performance by Shaka and the rest of his fit and committed teammates saw T&T draw nil-nil with highly-rated Sweden.
Needless to say, Shaka was delighted with the result.
“It’s odd that our biggest footballing result as a nation is nil-nil, but it took a bit of the sting away from losing to the USA 1-nil in 1989, when we were one step away from qualifying for the 1990 World Cup.”
The fairy-tale nearly continued when Hislop and T&T held England scoreless for 80-plus minutes in the second group match in Germany, but England eventually prevailed 2-nil. Shaka was not pleased.
“Peter Crouch scored a controversial goal for England in the 83rd minute, and Steven Gerard popped up in injury time to get a second,” Shaka said. “We definitely gave the England team a couple of scares, and I thought we were a bit unlucky.”
At this point, you can hear the desolate nature of Shaka’s voice when it comes to T&T. Despite him being, along with Dwight Yorke, the nation’s most famous footballer, he is still a fan at heart.
“I remember being at Howard University in 1989 when the USA kept us from going to the World Cup,” Shaka said. “I was just a fan at that point, but I felt so much heartbreak as a Trinidadian. To be able to make up for that in Germany in some sort of fashion was especially pleasing.”
While at Howard, Shaka earned a degree in mechanical engineering – no small feat. He also, as a freshman (first-year student), led the Bisons to a College Cup final appearance against perennial power Indiana. Howard lost 1-nil, but the dye for Shaka’s future in football was certainly cast.
Prior to MLS, most American soccer players aspired to play at universities. Shaka was asked if his academic qualifications (after all, so much has been made of ex-Crystal Palace and Charlton manager – as well as former Hammers player – Iain Dowie’s university degree being the exception to the norm) created a gulf in English dressing rooms.
Once again, Shaka let out a long and genuine laugh.
“I started out at Reading, a club where there were no airs and graces,” he said. “I was very fortunate in that respect. They were a good bunch of players and a good set of people.”
While we fans will always claim Shaka as a Hammer, truth be told he played as many productive seasons in the black-and-white of Newcatle as well as the blue-and-gold of Portsmouth. He has fond memories of both places.
“Playing at St. James’ Park, the one thing that struck me was that the noise was always louder when Newcastle conceded than when we scored,” Shaka said.
“The crowd would immediately turn up the pressure on the opposition, and the only club that could cope with that was Eric Cantona and Manchester United, and they were used to big crowds and big noise. We won 17 out of 19 of our home games one season. That was a testament to the supporters.”
While at Portsmouth – the land of chimes and “Play Up, Pompey!” – Shaka became a convert to the South Coast cause.
“With all due respect to West Ham, Portsmouth have some of the greatest fans in England,” he said. “My time at Fratton Park was one of the high points of my career. It was an amazing old stadium. We achieved so much for a club that had fallen off the radar. We gave them a taste of top-level football again.”
Shaka still keeps in touch with former Hammers goalkeepers Craig Forrest and Stephen Bywater, as well as ex-England winger Trevor Sinclair, who now plays for Manchester City. In that way, he maintains close ties with one-time friends and colleagues. And, fortuitously, satellite technology has allowed Shaka to follow the Hammers’ fortunes while Stateside.
“I watched the Blackburn game, which was a result the club desperately needed,” Shaka said. “And, now playing in a team made up of mostly Americans, I must say that (right back) Jonathan Spector had a great game for West Ham that day. When I was still training with the club before my move to FC Dallas, Jonathan was injured. But he has asserted himself in the first team.”
Okay, that’s all well and good, but we must ask Shaka a truly important question – which makes for better television, the British version of “The Office” with Ricky Gervais or the equally-hilarious American version starring Steve Carell?
Once again, Shaka lets out a deep, booming laugh.
“I haven’t watched any adult TV in the USA yet,” he says. “I’m sure I’ll get around to it. I loved “The Office” when I was in England.
“In the meantime, do you want to ask me about the purple dinosaur ‘Barney’? Keep in mind, my daughters are still very innocent. That’s all I’ve been watching of late!”
Sunday, July 09, 2006
As good as Fabio Cannavaro and the rest of the Italian defense has been, I think Zidane, of course, and Franck Ribery -- known as Scarface -- will unlock the Azzurri today as Les Bleus lift the Cup with a 2-1 victory. The French are a better attacking side than Italy, who rely on the counter. Makelele and Thuram will snuff out Toni, Totti and substitute Del Piero. Italy will score when one of Barthez's gambles leaves the goal exposed, but goals from Henry and Zidane will cement France as one of the games great sides: 1998 and 2006 World Cup champions, as well as Euro 2000 winners. Don't be surprised if David Trezeguet comes on late for France and troubles Buffon with a few shots. France as worthy winners and the main storyline of a Cup that had threatend to go off the rails with diving, poor refereeing, etc. Bring on South Africa in 2010!
Friday, July 07, 2006
Having completed his £500,000 transfer from Manchester United last month, Jonathan Spector is preparing to meet up with his new team-mates upon their return to pre-season training later this week. We spoke exclusively with the USA international defender about his move to Upton Park and hopes for a successful future in the claret and blue...
Q: First of all, Jonathan, you must be excited about the challenge that now lies ahead for you at Upton Park?
A: Of course, I can't wait to begin playing for the Club. It's a great feeling to have everything completed now. It can be a lengthy process, what with the medical and everything, but I was impressed with the way West Ham handled the whole situation and I'm now very excited about the prospect of playing for the team. It's a great young Club with a real opportunity to go places and there is a lot to look forward to next season - the UEFA Cup and the chance to improve on the success of last year in the Premiership and FA Cup.
Q: Did you watch the FA Cup final back in May?
A: I did watch it, and I really thought that West Ham were going to win. For the most part, they were in control and in the closing stages of the 90 minutes it didn't seem as though Liverpool had it in them to come back. It was so unlucky the way it all ended. It was a great performance, though, and watching it was just one of many factors that persuaded me to sign for West Ham. When I played for Charlton at Upton Park last season, I thought the atmosphere among the fans in the ground was fantastic and of course there is a squad full of top class players here too. I'm looking forward to meeting all the lads when we start pre-season and I'm sure I'll be made to feel welcome. I don't think there will be any problems settling in. I spent a year in London last season with Charlton, and I love the city. I'm from Chicago, so I know what it is like to live in a big city, and I know I'll be happy here.
Q: How impressed were you by what Alan Pardew had to say about the Club?
A: I met Alan face to face to discuss the transfer and that also played a big part in my decision to join. He was very up front with me and honest about everything, and I respected him for that. I think he has done a great job at West Ham in the time that he has been here and, when you look back at last season, he deserves a lot credit for everything the team achieved. I've been fortunate to have worked under two fantastic managers in Sir Alex Ferguson and Alan Curbishley, and I'm sure Alan will help me to progress and improve as a player here at West Ham.
Q: You've been over in England since the age of 17 - was it a big wrench to leave home and head to the other side of the world at that age?
A: Not really, because I had already been living away from home for two years as part of the US soccer federation's residency programme. All the players lived, trained and went to school in Florida, so I was already used to being away and, when the opportunity to move to England and join Manchester United came along, it wasn't a difficult decision to have to make.
Q: How did the move to England actually come about?
A: I was spotted playing in a youth tournament for the US under-17 side in Ballymena, Northern Ireland. A Manchester United scout was there, apparently watching a player that I was marking, and they asked me to come over for a trial. It was a fantastic honour for me and almost like a dream, to be honest. I learned so much in the time I spent at Old Trafford and I will never forget my time there. I felt it was time to move on, though, in order to take my career on to the next level, and West Ham just seemed like the perfect fit for me.
Q: Injury forced you to miss out on a possible trip to the World Cup finals with the USA this summer, that must have been a huge blow?
A: Of course, that was a major disappointment, but I didn't let myself get too down about it. I was never guaranteed to win a place in the squad and sometimes you have to just accept that things aren't meant to be. I prefer to look forwards rather than backwards, though. I'm still only 20, so hopefully I will have the opportunity to play in World Cups with the national team in the future. At the moment, though, my only priority is getting myself fit and making a good start with West Ham. I'll have some work to do when I begin pre-season training, but I'm looking forward to the challenge.
Alan Pardew insists that new signing Tyrone Mears has the character and ability to be an immediate hit in the right-back spot at Upton Park. The 23-year-old signed from Preston North End on Wednesday evening in a deal worth a potential £2million, and the Hammers boss admits he is looking forward to unleashing the ambitious defender on the Premiership at the start of the new campaign. "Tyrone is a player we have tracked for some time," says Pards, "and we believe that he is now ready to make the step up to Premiership football. "I like to think that we have a good record in bringing in players from the Championship - as the likes of Reo-Coker, Gabbidon, Harewood and Mullins have proved - and Tyrone can be just as successful as those guys. "The ball is in his court now, he has got to produce and I believe he will. I'm not looking for another right-back - Tyrone will get the chance to make the position his own, but he knows that he will face stiff competition from Jonathan Spector and Christian Dailly. "However, if his hunger, ambition and enthusiasm is an indication of how he will adapt to and cope with Premiership football, then we definitely have a big player on our hands. "We have inserted a clause in his deal that covers an international call-up with England, because that is the level of potential we believe he has. I am very excited about bringing Tyrone to the Club, and I am sure his quality and style of play will be a big hit with our supporters."
With all the scandal surrounding the Azzurri and Serie A right now, a great way to catch up with the covoluted history of Italian footy would be to read this book, which is written by British historian John Foot. It's a breezy read, and its 500 pages (!) are filled with everything you need to know about calcio's pull on the peninsula. It's interesting to see how Rome's derbys compare to those of Turin and Milan. We also get a solid summary of the British influence on the Italian game, from nomenclature to organization. An essential read for any serious student of the Beautiful Game.
Sunday, July 02, 2006
Anyone who watches the English Premiership on a weekly basis would say, without question, that Arsenal striker Thierry Henry has been the best player in the league the last few seasons. He makes football look easy -- which it isn't -- and routinely turns in sublime performances. With his Gallic shrugs, electrifying pace and Nuryev-like grace, Henry alone is worth the price of admission. But he always looked a different (and lesser) player for France. His runs often seemed labored, and the tactical constraints of the international game seemed to take away some of his va va voom.
But against Brazil on Saturday, the Henry we see on display in England was out there on the pitch. Yes, he scored the goal, but he took the game by the scruff of its neck with his exuberant runs and energetic grace. If France win the World Cup (and it will be Les Bleus vs. Germany in the final), Henry might just earn his place in the pantheon of the game's true greats.
Saturday, July 01, 2006
Even if he spends his later years toiling for the likes of Stoke City or (back-down-from-The-Premiership) Reading, who won't lift his glass to the accomplishments of Bobby Z? Those 2 goals v. Ipswich, and the winner against Preston in a match that redefined the term 'pressure.' Add in that goal at Birmingham and you've got yourself the makings of a Boleyn blaster. Long live Bobby Z!!!!
Last time out at Indianapolis, just 6 drivers could take part due to deficiencies in Michelin's tires. This time round there won't be such a distraction, but with Ferrari firmly ensconsed in the pole positions, don't expect to see Jenson Button (pictured from Saturday) or any other outsider trolling for glory.
Okay, first off I'm willing to take credit for my earlier post regarding France giving Brazil a match to be reckoned with ... as I wait for those accolades, we must ask after Ronaldinho and Brazil -- aside from 'fatty' Ronaldo's 3 goals-- just where (the heck) were they? This was a team, if you were to believe the Nike marketing men, that would turn aside all who came in its path. Instead, we saw mediocrity and malaise. Yes, Brazil are legendary, but in this World Cup they were too precious for their own good.
Actually, this post is for my beautiful wife Victoria, whom I believe is the only regular reader of my blog. (No surprise there!) Andy Murray knocked off American hotshot and 2-time finalist Andy Roddick to reach the final 16 of Wimbledon today. He is from Scotland, but maybe all the Engerland fans can rally round the Crown and will on this Brit to an unlikely Wimby victory. Strawberries and cream next Sunday, anyone?
It's a great saying, and it applies to Engerland's exit from this World Cup. When you have two 8-year-olds screaming at the telly (like my sons were) for the team to attack!! instead of playing conservative, timid, we-have-no-creative-ideas pass after pass from defender to defender like the Three Lions did in the first half, you know you will have problems. And did they ever.
It all goes back to Sven and his coach-not-to-lose philosophy. As cynical as some of the Portuguese players were with their diving (Maniche in particular), what England fan wouldn't have killed for some of Big Phil's oomph to be transferred to our lads as he prowled the Portuguese touchline? The saddest part is that with McClaren, it could be 4 more years of the same. I would hate to lose him, but it's time for a bold move: Pardew for England!!!!
Friday, June 30, 2006
Disclosure: I am a Landon Donovan fan. Or, more accurately, I was until he went belly-up in this World Cup. And he didn't do that from a lack of technical ability or from tactics gone awry. Rather, Landon -- our self-confessed "kind of Buddhist" -- just didn't have the stomach for the fight.
And really, who can blame him? He's rich, he's well taken care of on the bird front (Bianca Kaljich, anyone? Yes, please!), and his place in the starting 11 is all-but guaranteed by "Our Fat Coach" (as Eric Wynalda calls him) Broooooce!!!!!!! Arena.
That said, it would have been nice if the Golden Boy of American Soccer (TM) showed up for more than the 45 minutes against Italy that we were treated to over 270 minutes of his field time. Landon, you're better than that. I know your California mindset might not allow for such thinking, but you really caused the Germans a spot of bother in that 2002 quarterfinal, Heck, with a bit more confidence maybe you stick one of those shots past Kahn and we find ourself in the semifinal.
But this time around, when you could have taken the initiative to the opponent (I'm still trying to figure out why you pass to Olsen while in the box v. Ghana), you chose to be the Zen master.
Bad choice, Donovan.
Psssssttttt ... Here's a little secret: This fella is the key to our 2006-07 season. Yes, we need Marlon to come good again with 15-plus goals, for Anton and Gabbers to lock down that middle in the final third and for Yossi to do what he does when it comes to match-winning quality. But anyone who watched the FA Cup final with a critical eye saw Nige boss the midfield whenever he had the ball at his feet. Nigel's near-winner late on aside, the best player on the pitch in the initial 90 mins (after Gerrard, of course) was our own No.20, when, considering you had the likes of Hyypia and Carragher on the field, was no small feat. Even with Benayoun shining beyond his usual standard, NRC was crafting a performance for the ages.
Our Reo Mark II has speed and guile, but also a nose for the big game. Don't sell this geezer, Pards. He'll win you some silverware, and sooner rather than later.
While, seemingly, all the world wants Brazil in the final of the World Cup, open your heart for the old man of French football, Zinedine Zidane. The French spent 6 World Cup matches (3 and out in 2002 and 3 uninspiring group matches this time round, although the referee hurt their efforts v. Korea) sleepwalking, only to come awake v. Spain in the Round of 16 in midweek.
This is a dangerous side, with young talents like Henry, Ribery and Trezeguet complementing old hands such as Zidane, Makelele, Barthez and Thuram. Domenech might easily be the worst coach left in this Cup, but Les Bleus have the talent to win in spite of him. Are they coming up against a Brazilian buzzsaw? Hardly! With better finishing, Ghana could have made a game of that the other day.
Two key men on Saturday: For France, the calming influence but steely heart of Vieira will be crucial, while the Brazilans must finally see a stellar performance from Ronaldinho. Either way, this one goes to extra time ...
Much talk has been making the rounds in the West Ham community regarding a potential move to a new stadium in Stratford after the 2012 Olympics in East London have played out. Comparisons have been made to Arsenal's migration from intimate Highbury ("The Library") to the more-opulent Emirates Stadium beginning this August.
Another concern seems to be the "Asia-fication" of Green Street and its surrounding areas. As an American who has been to see the Hammers 5 times at the Boleyn and once in Derby (I even stayed in a boarding house near the ground prior to the February 2004 home match with Cardiff), I must say that even though a neighborhood changes, it is still worth the world to have character and longevity as opposed to the empty concrete happiness of a soul-less stadium. (And who can resist the nearby charms of Ken's Cafe, just 2 doors down from the ground?)
We recently celebrated our centennial at Upton Park. I hope future generations of fans can mark another.
I've taken the lads to 2 Red Bulls matches this season (v. DC United and v. Bayern Munich; we also have tix for the Barcelona match in August). What a shame that the managerial merry-go-round continues. This team is either snakebitten or inept -- maybe a little bit of both.
The sad bit is there is a fan base waiting to be wowed by attacking soccer and a bravado that the Cosmos seemed to trademark. Maybe when the stadium in Harrison is built and there's a neighborhood feel to the team. In the meantime, stop making stopgap moves like acquiring Todd Dunivant. If this team means business from a marketing standpoint, rescue Freddy Adu from DC United's bench and give New York another media star. He may not warrant the hype, but Adu gets the Bulls another 5,000 fans per game and double the column inches in New York-area papers.
For family purposes I will be supporting England in their quarterfinal against Portugal on July 1, but in pure footballing terms Portugal are the better team to watch. Deco, the Brazilian-born midfield maestro, shone brightly in Portugal's chippy 1-nil win over Holland in the Round of 16.
Unfortunately, his temper got the best of him when he absolutely cracked a Dutch player who refused to do the sporting thing after an injury and kick the ball back. That resulted in a yellow. Later on, Deco picked up the ball and was adjudged to be time-wasting, bringing his second yellow and a dismissal.
Cristiano Ronaldo is a joy to behold and Figo is the wily veteran, but Deco is the engine that makes this team run. With him watching from the bench, England -- who are due a good performance -- could just shade this one.
Thirty-plus goals for Fiorentina aside, Italy striker Luca Toni was still an unknown prior to this World Cup. His brief career with the Azzurri had produced 7 goals, but with names like Inzaghi, Del Piero and Totti kicking around the roster, there was a hint of doubt surrounding Toni.
During Thursday's quarterfinal against Ukraine, Toni stamped his quality on this Cup with a brace in Italia's 3-nil win.
Toni is that rare commodity in Italian forward players; he's a bruiser who can't often be marked out of the game. There's no Baggio-style finesse and ponytail here, just pure physicality, touch and a nose for the goal.
The Italian backline kept Shevchenko in check, and Gianluigi Buffon came up trumps in goal for the blueshirts. Forza Italia! ... Germany next.
The Argies blundered monumentally, in my opinion, by taking off Juan Roman Riquelme in the second half of today's FIFA World Cup quarterfinal against Germany. Even though he was laboring, Riquelme is the one player on the pitch (Germany's Michael Ballack included) who can change the game with that one incisive pass. The Argentines dominated the first half; the Germans were definitely on the back foot. Carlos "Carlitos" Tevez is a revelation, although Crespo looked a shade off his game.
But once Riquelme left the pitch, it was advantage to Germany. There was just a bounce in their step from that point onward. Klose's goal was class, and the Argies paid the price for not making their early dominance result in more than a 1-nil lead.
Thursday, June 29, 2006
Max Bretos Hammers Home His Enthusiasm, Love Of The Game To U.S. Audiences
BY JAMES CLARK
We football fans in the United States are extremely lucky for a number of reasons.
Video images of the world’s best club sides and players are pumped into our living rooms nightly via the satellite-television offerings of Fox Soccer Channel and Gol TV, while the Internet has given us a portal to the latest news, views and pulse of the soccer universe.
This improved access has bred a new type of consumer of the world’s game: one who’s savvy, informed and, most importantly, able to tell the wheat from the chaff.
That’s why, in many ways, 33-year-old Max Bretos has come to represent the best of America’s new breed of broadcaster. He’s able to speak in the soccer vernacular, and does so during his multiple hours on FSC without thumbing his nose at the casual fan who might be tuning in.
The fact that’s he’s an unabashed West Ham United supporter also shows the lad has some taste.
Seriously, though, Bretos’ journey to Hammers fandom bears a resemblance to those taken by many of us Yank Hammers. The circumstances always seem to revolve loosely around pure chance, the team’s colours, and an instinctive tug at the heart strings that says what we seem to have stumbled upon is well worth clutching to our bosoms and never letting go.
“The more I learn about West Ham, the more I love the club” the globe-hopping Bretos said in a late-March telephone interview from his home base in Los Angeles. (His recent assignments for Fox Soccer Channel included broadcasting the Scotland v. United States friendly live from Hampden Park in Glasgow, as well as the unveiling of the new United States Nike uniforms in Berlin.)
Bretos, like any of us native-born Americans, could have taken the easy route and cast his lot with Manchester United, Liverpool or Arsenal. We have no geographic ties to our English soccer clubs, which allows those who love a front-runner to pave an easy road toward glory.
But when Bretos, who was born in Ohio to a family of Cuban immigrants, found himself transplanted to Australia as a young boy, he chose to follow the exotic rather than the familiar.
“My father moved us to Australia,” Bretos said, “and there was plenty of English football on the television. There was just something about West Ham. There was a certain way they played, plus the color of their shirts made an impression on me. As much as I could at the time, in an unconscious way, I chose to support them.”
The Bretos clan moved back to the U.S. and settled in Miami for 11 years. Max still kept his eye firmly trained on soccer, but his stint Down Under had also spawned an interest in rugby and cricket.
“All of the Commonwealth sports had this sort of mystical pull on me,” said Bretos, who eventually reconnected with his Cuban roots through baseball. The quintessentially American sport of basketball also gained some sway over him.
“Cricket was actually my favorite sport for quite some time, and until recently I played a lot of rugby.”
After graduating from Florida State University with a degree in International Relations, the multilingual Bretos unexpectedly found himself working as an on-air personality for the Rupert Murdoch-owned Fox TV conglomerate in Los Angeles.
By this time, his allegiance to West Ham was growing stronger by the day.
“I had continued to be a West Ham supporter from afar,” Bretos said. “But little things kept pulling me in more and more. Paolo Di Canio was a big factor in me getting closer to the team. He was such a skillful player with a real flair for the dramatic.”
Bretos cemented his Hammers fandom with a trip to the Boleyn to see the match against Cardiff last winter. Carl Fletcher scored a late winner in our 1-nil win over the Bluebirds at a time when manager Alan Pardew’s side was far from a sure bet to emerge from the second flight (or “Coca-Cola Championship,” as the rebranding merchants would have you call it) and claim a spot in this season’s Barclays Premiership.
“It was by no means a classic game of football,” Bretos said. “But the atmosphere was second to none. It was unbelievable. I was trying to explain to my sister, who came with me and my brother to the match, the significance of ‘I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles.’ We made it just in time for kickoff, and I got goosebumps when the song started playing.
“She didn’t understand why a song with that sort of lyric would mean anything to a bunch of football fans,” Bretos continued. “I told her to stop thinking about it so much and just take it all in. It was a real East London moment.”
And should any of you think Bretos’ Hammers roots aren’t deep or permanent, revise that position right now.
“We recently had that seven-game winning streak,” he said, “but I got just as much satisfaction from following the side when they were down in the Championship the last two seasons. Once you decide to become a Hammer, there’s no going back.”
You can understand Bretos’ level of devotion when you hear his tale of exchanging drinks, as well as three hours’ worth of Hammers-based banter, with Iron Maiden’s Steve Harris at the Rainbow Room in Los Angeles one night.
“It was a chance encounter,” Bretos said. “I’m a huge fan of Iron Maiden’s music, so I introduced myself as a Hammers supporter. That was right about the time the club sold Jermain Defoe for Bobby Zamora and cash (in 2004), and Steve was full of opinions. No one loves the club as much as he does.”
Such a personality trait that allows a willingness to engage in deep conversation with a total stranger serves Bretos well as a soccer broadcaster. He has a rhythmic, urbane and physical style while calling a match. His wit is sharp, and his eye for a match’s essence seems second to none.
“I’d love to do a World Cup someday,” Bretos said. “That would represent a pinnacle for me in this profession.”
And don’t be surprised if during a halftime break during a broadcast of, say, a Belgium-Nigeria match somewhere in South Africa for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, Bretos marks the time by whistling a chorus of “Bubbles.”
After all, once you’ve got the Hammers in your blood, it seems fortune’s always hiding. And we wouldn’t have it any other way.
The Brooking interview
I spoke to Trevor Brooking (who was in Chicago with the England national team as they prepared for Saturday's friendly against the United States at Soldier Field) on Friday afternoon, May 27th, 2005.
Following the opening game of their tour the England squad then travels to New York ahead of Tuesday's friendly vs. Colombia in East Rutherford, N.J.
Brooking will be watching the West Ham vs. Preston match live on satellite television on Monday at an undisclosed location in New York City.
The following interview lasted approximately 10 minutes.
James Clark: Mr. Brooking, thank you for allowing me the time for this interview. It's much appreciated.
Brooking: It's not a problem. I'm delighted.
Clark: Sir Trevor, you have such an emotional connection to West Ham United. How will it feel to watch the club play one of the most important games in its history on television from an ocean away?
Brooking: It will be very tough. I do take a little glimmer of hope from the fact that I missed the two play-off legs against Ipswich due to work considerations. For the first leg on the Saturday, I was in Northern Ireland for the FA. For the second leg on the Wednesday, I was in Lisbon for a UEFA committee meeting and to watch the UEFA Cup final. I was relying on the dreaded text message on my mobile phone to keep abreast of our game. You get that little bleep and it's a bit worrying at first, but then I saw that we were 1-nil up. My son actually telephoned me after the second goal. He said he didn't think I would believe a text message saying we were 2-nil up. After that, I was able to relax and enjoy the last 15 minutes of the UEFA Cup final. We have a saying in England that things come in threes. I'm hoping that since I've missed being at the two play-off games in person, the fact that I won't be at the final in Cardiff on Monday will be to our benefit. Maybe I'm the one who messed it up for us last year!
Clark: Trevor, you command a universal respect from Hammers fans. You truly are a club icon, having served as a player, a caretaker manager on two occasions, and a board member. My sons and I attended the home match at Upton Park vs. Reading the season after we were relegated, and the fans sang "Trevor Brooking's done all this!" on many occasions that day. My sons still sing that around the house! Do you find your status with the West Ham fans to be daunting in any way?
Brooking: I've been very lucky. I played 19 years for the club I supported from the terraces as a youngster. It never surprises me how loyal West Ham supporters are. Of course, I've served on the board and was the caretaker manager on both occasions, which was a bit strange. Especially the second time, my family were not keen for me to continue managing on a permanent basis. They were afraid that if something went wrong, I would jeopardise the affinity the fans feel toward me. Everywhere I go, I run into West Ham fans who have kind words for me. Today, there were four of them, wearing their shirts, who came up to me. We were sharing our anxieties regarding Monday's match!
Clark: This might be a tough question for you to answer. Do you feel Alan Pardew has been treated fairly by the supporters and the press over the course of the last two seasons?
Brooking: If you look back on the history of our club, we have a tradition of giving the managerial position to an ex-West Ham player. I think Alan, not being a West Ham man ...
Clark: Like Lou Macari?
Brooking: Exactly. I think that has affected the way Alan has been viewed by the fans. As you know, we also have a style of playing that relies on the technical and creative side of football. We have a bit of a reputation over the last 25 years or so as being able to beat anyone on our day, as well as lose to anyone on the day! We're not always as good as we should be defensively, but that entertaining style is what the supporters are used to seeing. Being relegated as we did at the time that we did, it's difficult to find that bit of quality. In this division, everybody works hard and there's not always that extra dimension in a player.
Clark: Is that why someone like Matty Etherington, when he's playing well, can stand out so much?
Brooking: Yes. On his day, Matty shows the ability of being able to make the jump up to the Premiership. We have two or three other players who are in a similar situation. That's actually the conundrum we face if we do go up. Do you stick with the players who got you there, or do you change the playing squad dramatically? West Brom have had to make that decision twice in the last few seasons. It's a nice problem to have, however. As everyone knows, going up to the Premiership will be worth 25 to 30 million pounds to the club, factoring in television money and two seasons of parachute payments if we do go straight back down. That's what makes Monday's match so vital.
Clark: When you were caretaker manager, especially the second time around, you favoured out-and-out attacking formations, much to the pleasure of the supporters. I remember you playing David Connolly, Jermain Defoe and Neil Mellor in the same lineup. With Teddy Sheringham being fit for Monday, should Alan Pardew find a way to get him, Marlon Harewood and Bobby Zamora on the pitch from the start
Brooking: I don't think Alan will start that way. He most likely will stick with the same 11 that started the second leg against Ipswich, with Etherington on the left, Harewood wide right and Bobby Zamora alone up front, where he seems to be happiest. We'll probably play three across the centre of midfield. Preston are strong defensively and can keep things quite tight. I feel if we go too gung-ho for the goal and happen to concede, Preston are more than capable of shutting up shop to defend a one-nil lead. I don't think Alan will want to give them a man advantage in the centre of midfield for the first half-hour, so he most likely will keep Sheringham on the bench. Looking back to when I was managing the team, Connolly and Defoe were great goalscorers, but they lacked that physical presence you need in the box. That's why I sacrificed a midfielder to get Mellor in the starting 11. The team Alan has at his disposal now is more balanced.
Clark: Trevor, on your travels does it ever surprise you that a West Ham supporter is always relatively easy to find?
Brooking: No, but I suppose I've got used to it by now. I've been as far away as Australia, and you see the same passion and loyalty for the club. I know there will be people in all corners of the world making an effort to watch Monday's game, as well as 35,000 dedicated supporters in Cardiff. We hope to avoid the deflation we felt after last year's final. I mean, you moan and groan about West Ham, but that's the attraction, isn't it? You never quite know what we will produce on a given day. Hopefully Monday, we'll give the supporters a reason to smile.
Clark: Thank you so very much, Trevor. Cheers.
Brooking: Cheers James.
*This interview was originally published on kumb.com