Archive for August 2007
Wednesday, August 22, 2007 by Paul Grech
As English central defenders and strikers pull out of the England squad at a rate faster than doped cyclists are booted out of the Tour de France, the attention has focused on who Steve McLaren will pick. And, it’s not looking pretty with talk focusing on the potential call-up of Kevin Davies.
Yet, if McLaren is one who likes to take the positive out of any situation, he’ll surely be thankful that the problems he faces in picking eleven men to face Germany has saved him from having to answer why Jermaine Pennant didn’t even make it in his squad.
Of course, Pennant’s character does him little favours. His petulant, whingeing and remonstrative nature regularly surfaces during games earning him needless yellow cards and winning him no respect. Too often Benitez has been forced to take him off to avoid the possibility of seeing him getting sent off.
If Pennant has truly matured from the time at Birmingham, the he truly should know better than keep this up: eventually Benitez will decide that he’s had enough and from then on there will only be one conclusion. Regardless of this, for fans it is irritating to see Pennant mouth his way into stupid bookings and petty quarrels.
If it is hard for the fans to like Pennant, it is understandable that the media don’t seem overly willing to push forward his case for inclusion in an England side. But that is missing the point. There are plenty equally annoying players who still get to play for England. Because, ultimately, it should be a case of those who are good enough get to represent their country.
And, based on his form since January, Pennant definitely falls into that category. Take last Sunday’s game against Chelsea where he regularly had the beating of Ashley Cole and put in a whole series of fantastic crosses every time the ball got to him. It wasn’t an isolated case either: it is also what he did against AC Milan in the Champions League final where he was arguably the best player on the pitch.
Yet a player who can excel against Europe’s finest isn’t good enough to play for his country. It is a similar situation to the one that forced Jamie Carragher to retire from the international game: a slot at left back was the best that could be offered to a player widely regarded as one of the world’s finest central defenders.
Some people simply have to be fit to make it into the England squad: Stewart Downing is a prime example. At least he has the valid backing of being left footed, something no other Englishman seems to be but what’s the excuse for Wes Brown?
Most Liverpool fans will tell you that England doesn’t matter and that it is probably better that players are allowed to focus on their club rather then their country. Judging by his comments, however, it clearly does matter for Pennant. Whether it matters to McLaren to have the best possible players, however, is an altogether different thing.
Tuesday, August 21, 2007 by Paul Grech
Now that everyone seems to be agreeing that Rob Styles made a huge error in awarding that penalty last Sunday – well, apart from Jose Mourinho but, then again, does it really matter what he thinks? – will the yellow card handed to Carragher stand? After all, wasn’t he right to protest against the decision?
The penalty decision cost Liverpool two points and the card could cost Carragher a game should he exceed the five yellow cards’ total that result in an automatic ban. But, whilst everyone appreciates that there is nothing that can be done about the first issue, it would only be fair if the injustice was at least partially made up for by helping avoid the second.
Monday, August 13, 2007 by Paul Grech
Apparently, this weekend's win against Aston Villa ensured that Liverpool collected the 1,000th point since the Premiership was established. And, given that even the official website carried the story, that is something to be proud of.
Or not, because all this goes to show is how effective those promoting the myth that football started with the Premiership in 1992 have been. Previous achievements are silently pushed aside until, one day, people will have all but forgotten about them.
Friday, August 03, 2007 by Paul Grech
With Premiership clubs looking increasingly further in their search for new players, it is somewhat surprising that there are so few Brazilians being targeted, especially when the rest of the world is constantly looking at such players in the search for flair and talent.
There are effectively two reasons for this attitude. One is prejudice: they might be talented yet they also struggle to cope with the cold weather and frenetic pace of the English game. Julio Baptista’s dismal season at Arsenal – and his subsequent starring role in the Copa America – has strengthened those views.
Yet players’ failure to settle, whilst a deterrent, isn’t going to stop clubs; work permits most definitely do. That an experienced player like Alex can also have problems being granted a permit highlights how strictly the regulations are being followed.
Having spent the last two summers battling it out with the authorities to secure a permit for Mark Gonzales, the last thing that Liverpool wanted was having to do likewise for Lucas Leiva.
So much that they inserted a clause in the deal whereby the agreement would have fallen through if any issues cropped up. Fortunately, his Italian parentage came to the rescue and allowed him to qualify for a European passport thus granting him the possibility of moving to England without any problems.
Getting a game, however, should prove significantly more challenging. Rafael Benitez already has a surplus of central midfielders battling it out for two spots – Steven Gerrard, Xabi Alonso, Momo Sissoko and Javier Mascherano – and dropping any one of those four to give the young Brazilian a chance isn’t going to be easy. Initially, watching games from the sidelines as he settles will help but eventually Lucas will need to play if his is to progress.
When his chances come, however, he’s unlikely to disappoint. On raw talent alone there are few doubts about Lucas. An all action midfielder very much in the Gerrard mould, he’s played a key role at Gremio first in helping them win back promotion and then in securing qualification to the Copa Libertadores by winning the Rio Grande championship.
Nor can there be any doubts about his character. One of the players with the highest profiles at Gremio, he was used to being under pressure, as you would expect from someone chosen to captain the Brazilian U20 side. It says a lot about his value to the side that, following his injury, from being one of the pre-tournament favourites they returned home early after a series of disjointed performances.
Missing that tournament allowed Lucas to fully recover from an earlier injury that had forced him to miss the latter part of last season. Gremio had rushed him back for the Copa Libertadores final in the hope that he would manage to take control of midfield.
Still not fully fit, he struggled to impose himself on the occasion. Few at Liverpool, however, expect him to face similar problems.