Friday, December 26, 2008

Just When I Slam Bellamy ...

... the lad goes and does this. As my son Ben yelled out to me from our info center/home base computer on Boxing Day morning in the States, "Bellers with a brace, Hammers win 4-1!" He and his twin brother Alex were two hours away from flying to the south of France with their mother, but we were keeping tabs on all the Premiership matches via television on Setanta Sports, Setanta Xtra and Fox Soccer Channel. Unfortunately for me (Alex loves Everton, while Ben is a member of the Toon Army) the Hammers at Pompey were not on the telly, but we saw a good Stoke v. Man Utd. match. Tevez had his usual poacher's finish, but back to the team we all care about! As soon as I hit 'publish post' on the last entry, I regretted it. It's not that Bellamy takes extra touches, as such. It's more like he runs down blind alleys. Yes, his pace is electric, but at this point I would rather see the cunning of a Davide DiMichele than the thud and blunder of a Bellers. I know what will happen if he goes to Spurs. He'll probably score 5 in 7, then get injured and/or suspended for his club side while still managing to turn out for Wales. Whether he stays or goes, we won't finish higher than 12th this season (the fates willing!!) I'd rather Zola look further down the road on this one.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

We Played Well, So No Need To Press The Panic Button ...

... yet !! Gianfranco Zola has this group playing the kind of passing football Upton Park demands and, really, have we seen a better striker in regards to holding the ball up, being brave in the air and making a general nuisance of himself in recent years than Carlton Cole? True, the lad couldn't finish in a brothel, but he's also being let down by his partner-in-crime: one Craig Bellamy. His sweet finish at Chelsea aside, Bellers has not produced the goods when it comes to putting the ball in the back of the net during his Hammers career. Sure, his game intelligence makes his play easy on the eye, and he has pace to burn. But whereas you can get around Coley's deficiencies in the starting 11 if you have a goal poacher around him, Bellamy does not afford you that option. (By the way, we're talking about Hammers' nil-1 result v. Aston Villa on Saturday.) The Welshman's game is all about pace mixed in with a bit of cleverness, but the optimal partner of Cole should be someone like Davide DiMichele, who has years of Serie A experience in toe-poking the ball home or, at least, firing one-time shots. Bellamy always seems to take that extra touch, and such elaboration is not what this team needs right now. By all means, sell him and the perennially-crocked Dean Ashton in January. But the rumor that has me sick with worry is the one that sees Matty Upson joining Manchester City for 8 million pounds. What a short-term gain that would be, at the expense of our Premiership status! Don't do it, Gianfranco. Although, it may be out of his hands when the Icelandic moneymen come calling. Anyone miss Terry Brown yet?!?!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

When "Anti-Football" Is Very Unbecoming ...

Saturday's Spanish La Liga mega-matchup between Real Madrid and host Barcelona at Barca's mammoth Camp Nou was intriguing for so many reasons beyond the usual political and footballing issues associated with the rivalry. For one, Barca came out of the box this season under new manager Pep Guardiola (pictured above, in 'deep conversation' with Argentine striker Lionel Messi during the match; Messi himself, sporting a sharp new haircut, is also pictured after scoring in the game) and has put considerable distance between themselves and Real Madrid. Former Madrid legend Bernd Schuster of Germany, who delivered a La Liga title while in charge last season, was fired instantly in the lead-in to Saturday's match when he declared that his side had no hope of beating a rampant Barca. As I told some of my American friends, that's like a Boston Red Sox manager saying his team has no hope of beating the New York Yankees. Then, there was the instantaneous appointment of Juande Ramos (pictured giving instruction to Raul) as Schuster's successor. After an impressive Carling Cup victory over Chelsea early on, Ramos lost the plot in England as Spurs' latest savior. He quickly regained his footing in his native Spain by landing the Madrid job, but what we saw on Saturday -- incidentally, Barca won the match 2-nil, with a missed penalty thrown in for good measure -- was an assault on the spirit of the game. The best strategy Ramos could come up with was to have his team kick chunks out of Messi when the ball was elsewhere, when the referee wasn't looking ... or, basically, the whole match! It was a strategy so unbecoming of Madrid (and I'm sure local 'Madridistas' in southern New Jersey like Dave "Horse" Holak and Steve Miller would agree). Many of us involved in loving and following the game also coach our boys (or girls!), and we all like to win matches. Often times, you "pack it in" and hope to score on a counter-attack when faced with superior opposition. But, as a fan of the sport in general and someone still concerned with the seemingly-antiquated concepts of grace and honor, I could never countenance a strategy that is, basically, a version of anti-football. The fact that Messi's labors bore fruit in the shape of a goal was pure justice (French teammate Thierry Henry joined him on the scoresheet), and it makes you wonder where Real Madrid goes from here. Can you imagine: no Champions League for the Merengues next year? Could happen!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Pardew's Guardian: A Global Phenomenon !!! (Er, Not Really ...)

Let me just start by saying if you read this blog, you must understand my sense of humor. And please know that I don't do this full-time. I just love football (soccer, calcio, futbol) and have the temerity to think that I actually have something coherent to say about the Beautiful Game. Every post is made either before or after my (many!!) working hours and the multitude of nights spent on the fields coaching youth soccer. That's why there are so many gaps in-between the relatively few posts. But thanks to programs like ClustrMaps (see map above, with red dots in varying size representing hits), you get to know who (or whom ?!?!) are the people actually checking in. And I am pleasantly surprised to say that there are at least 97 countries of the 210 or so nations that exist on Planet Earth that have checked in, at some point, to view the blog. Even online users from notoriously Internet-unfriendly nations like Iran and Saudi Arabia have found their way to PardsGuard. That's a bit humbling, not in the sense that I have anything particularly insightful to say, but considering that people's time is precious. If you have, say, 20 minutes a day to spend online, would you actually come to James Clark's blog ??? Didn't think so! Thank goodness, I am linked from many West Ham sites in England and I also have U.S. soccer media advocates in my corner like John Harkes and Max Bretos who might humor me because they are such good guys and actually send on a link or two to their connected friends. The reason I say at least 97 countries is because 2 of the hits at ClustrMaps are listed as "regions" rather than specific countries (designated by "quotes".) Here is the breakdown of PardsGuard visitors, as of December 7:
At least 2,100 hits: United States
At least 1,000 hits: United Kingdom
At least 100 hits: Canada
At least 75 hits: Germany
At least 50 hits: Ireland
At least 25 hits: Italy, France, Australia, "Europe," Holland, Turkey, Spain, Mexico, Norway, Poland, Greece, Hungary, Belgium, India, Sweden
At least 10 hits: Denmark, Israel, Indonesia, Switzerland, Macedonia, Croatia, Argentina, Singapore, Brazil, Thailand, Malaysia, Czech Republic, Portugal
At least 1 hit: Russian Federation, South Africa, Bulgaria, Romania, Finland, Chile, Serbia, New Zealand, Malta, Japan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, China, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Peru, Hong Kong, Slovenia, Austria, Morocco, Estonia, Colombia, Algeria, United Arab Emirates, Ukraine, South Korea, Lebanon, Iran, Pakistan, Taiwan, Luxembourg, Vietnam, Iceland, Philippines, Senegal, Latvia, Qatar, Ecuador, Jordan, Gibraltar, Tunisia, Dominican Republic, Montenegro, Lithuania, St. Kitts & Nevis, Honduras, Guam, Sri Lanka, Guatemala, "Asia/Pacific Region," Cayman Islands, Malawi, Kazakhstan, Bahrain, Uganda, Nigeria, Moldova, Ghana, Kuwait, Costa Rica, Bermuda, Slovakia, Fiji.
While an impressive geographical list of the Earth's inhabitants have checked in here, the total numbers still pale when compared to the viewers drawn by the truly great USA-based blogs like Soccer By Ives and The Offside Rules. Kudos to those guys. They have talent, time and access. We are just nibbling at the edges. Cheers, James

Huge Point For Hammers !!

The pundits, both here and in England, were playing "name the score" when it came to how badly Chelsea would defeat struggling West Ham at Stamford Bridge in the days leading up to Sunday's match. There was minor speculation that Hammers would raise their game to mark manager Gianfranco Zola's (pictured gesturing on the touchline) return to the Bridge with the proper amount of effort, but the prevailing thoughts were focused on a Chelsea rout. But West Ham had other ideas, as they took a 1-nil lead and eventually fashioned a 1-1 draw in West London that took the side up to 16th place with 19 points, just ahead of Manchester City. As I've stated previously -- and as my dear sons Alex and Ben have discussed with me many times in the last few weeks -- it's just soooo !! tight in the Premiership this year -- that I honestly think at least 8 teams will go into the last three weeks of the season with a chance to be relegated. But, back to Sunday's match. Striker Craig Bellamy is the proverbial "straw that stirs the drink," and his fine finish (pictured above) -- body over top the ball, laces parallel to the ground, falling forward on the follow-through -- gave Hammers a first-half lead against the run of play, although they were defending well. Chelsea's in-form Nicolas Anelka equalized early in the second half, but three Hammers players made sure a point was delivered back to East London. Carlton Cole, Robert Green and Matty Upson were impeccable on the day, although of Coley (pictured above, tussling with Chelsea's John Terry) could finish inside the 6-yard box as well as he plays higher up the field with his back to the goal, holding up the ball, he would truly be dangerous. Green, who is again displaying England form after a slight hiccup, made his usual cache of brilliant saves (one of them pictured above). There was a hairy moment when he lost a cross in the lights, but the ever-industrious Scotty Parker was there on the line to head clear. And what can you say about Upson? I would not be surprised if his former club Arsenal recognizes the errors of their ways and makes a big-money bid for the central defender in January. For my money, Manchester United's Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, as well as Terry and Upson are the best central defenders plying their trade in the Premiership right now. Also, I have been a bit critical of Hammers' Aussie right back/captain Lucas Neill in the past, but he played a binder today. Well played, Hammers.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

EXCLUSIVE: USA-Mexico qualifier in Columbus, Ohio, plus other musings ...

Sorry for the lack of posts in the last two months, but we should be back with news and opinions on a regular basis now, so thanks (to all 13 of you!!) for your patience.

-- First off, a highly placed, reliable source in the U.S. soccer community told pardew's guardian on Tuesday that the February CONCACAF 2010 World Cup qualifier between the United States men and their arch-rivals Mexico will be held at Crew Stadium in Columbus, Ohio. An official announcement should follow shortly. As far as I can tell, this news has not appeared anywhere else online or in print. While I was hoping for RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C., or (in a fantasy world) Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey or Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia so I could attend -- and, imagine, 60,000 fans attendng the match, with allegiances split 50-50! -- the cold-weather location mirrors the 2001 qualifier at the same venue. Josh Wolff (pictured at top) and company bossed the game against Mexico, winning 2-nil and setting the mental stage for the USA's win by the same scoreline in the 2002 FIFA World Cup round-of-16 game in South Korea. This upcoming match will be interesting for a variety of reasons. Obviously, the last team the U.S. wanted to start with would have been Mexico, but drawing them at home is obviously an advantage to Bob Bradley's squad. It will be interesting to see if Bradley selects the players that merit inclusion (Freddy Adu, Jozy Altidore, et al) in the starting 11, or if he will play it safe. That could backfire if Sven Goran Eriksson figures out that Mexico plays best when passing the ball along the floor and pulls a tactical rabbit, so to speak, out of his experienced hat. Still, a 1-nil USA win, with goalkeeper Tim Howard shutting things down at the back, would get the Americans' Hexagonal campaign (3 of the 6 teams make the Cup, while the 4th-placed team makes a playoff) off to a wondrous start.

-- West Ham have fashioned 3 straight clean sheets in the Premier League. Manager Gianfranco Zola has finally righted the ship, not with champagne, attacking-style football but with the tried-and-true solid back four. Matty Upson and James Collins, I think, rival Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic as one of the best central-defensive pairings in the league. Some of you who don't watch the Hammers may scoff, but Upson has obviously caught England manager Fabio Capello's eye and is now a regular member of the national squad. Keeper Robert Green (pictured second from top) has regained the form that had Hammers supporters calling for his England inclusion, will Collins (No. 19, pictured third from top) is an old-fashioned central defender who is just a pleasure to watch. He must have a magnet in his head! The ball finds his ginger noggin at least 30 times a match; it's almost uncanny. With striker Carlton Cole holding the ball up as the main striker and Scott Parker showing his skill in the midfield, I expect the Hammers to stay just above the relegation mire. But, things are so tight in the Premiership, you can't really be sure this season.

-- Juan Pablo Angel might be the best player to ever wear an MLS uniform. I will write more about the Red Bulls' improbable run to MLS Cup sometime soon (Alex, Ben and I were season-ticket holders in 2008), but it has to be acknowledged that this Colombian striker (pictured fourth from top) has shown talent rarely seen on these shores over the last two seasons. His 34 goals speak for themselves, but it's Angel's intelligence on the pitch that just has to be seen to be believed. You can't really tell when watching on television, but his movement, anticipation and sheer quality must rank him even with or above Marco Etcheverry, John Harkes, Landon Donovan or any other MLS great. I think it's a huge indictment of the coaching at Aston Villa that one season after Angel scored 24 goals in the Premiership, he was marooned on the bench for most of the following year. I think he could still play in the Premier League, La Liga or Serie A even now.