Sunday, September 11, 2011

Find Us At Our New Home

For mainly technical reasons, INFTH has moved from here to a new home -

Make sure to change bookmarks, links on your site or anything else leading to our old .blogspot address.

Thanks for bearing with us!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Fickle England Continue To Confuse

Frank LampardAs the goals flew by in Sofia, something happened. A drop, a loss, a departure. Memories wiped blank, evaluations reset and hopes freshly kindled. With Ukraine emerging into view, Bloemfontein faded - unhappy recollections usurped by a new wave of optimism.

And then the hit, the check, the end. Had one of the ninety nine times out of a hundred that Rob Earnshaw tucks balls into open nets come up, then a disastrous night would merely have been underlined.

But this is why we love England. The groans a melodious complement to Lightning Seeds albums, songs of eventual English demise sung with pride, then dismay, then desperation. Quick rises and drops both in the big picture and the small - Owen's masterpiece, offset by Beckham's nadir; the joy of Munich, a misleading preface to failure in South Korea.

Last week was no different. Another externally successful one for statistically the World's fourth best team, yet another disappointing one for a crowd statistically the largest that has entered any English ground so far this season. They will continue to flock though, England's disciples seeming undeterred by what is fast becoming a predictable tale of mediocrity and mayhem.

As Capello, fans and the media hype the latest generation, expected changes are conspicuous only by their absence. Slow, stodgy, anemic play - nothing unusual, the replication of old habits. Pigs are already beginning to resemble men.

The correlation between international tournaments and the rust of a once vaunted set of players, is a decay already apparent in opinions of Capello's new crop. Rooney the dazzler, now Wazza the pretender, Downing too, suddenly an inferior footballer to the one so impressive in Bulgaria.

Egged on by a vociferous, unforgiving press, England's Sofia heroes are well on their way to completing an obligatory transformation. The promising destined to disappoint, the consistent to lose their magic. Capello claims to have foreseen Tuesday's under performance - pointing to his head, he assured journalists that he "knew." A highly successful manager, but Nostradamus won't be wetting his pants - Capello less a divinator than a careful observer, aware of a trend inherent in the English footballing psyche.

Here we make legends only so that they can fall. Lampard's past contributions are blurred when viewed through the lens of current form - arguably the best of England's golden generation castigated beyond belief. Failure in Ukraine and Poland will mean a similar fate for this "new dawn of talent." Joining Rooney '04 and Walcott '08, promise will be considered unfulfilled.

England's match against Wales was no different. Hope quickly cancelled out by a harsh surge of reality. Within on week, within one year, within a four year cycle, England's activity is nothing but highs and lows.

The sickeningly positive among England fans are already turning towards Cleverley, Jones and Wilshere, the more jaded stuck with a fatalistic attitude. Patterns tend to go on forever, for England failure is inexorable.
Rise, fall, rise, fall.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Favorite Goals And Treble Recollections

What with the international break and such, it's been a little quiet on the article front over the past couple days. Needless to say though, I've still been hard at work and wanted to cite a couple recent posts for your enjoyment during this most painful interim.

As part of The Equaliser's  historical series, I penned an article on Manchester United's 1999 treble. Read it here.

With nostalgia rushing through me, it was no problem at all to reminisce again - this time for brilliant tactical blog Ghost Goal. My piece for them forms part of the wonderfully entertaining "Favorite Goal" series, and can be read here.

Also, don't forget to check out our book review section, recently updated with Jonathan Wilson's fabulous Behind the Curtain.

For more of my work away from here, check out The Chairman Elsewhere.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

INFTH Book Review: Behind The Curtain

Behind the Curtain: Travels in Eastern European Football
Author of the universally acclaimed Inverting the Pryamid, Jonathan Wilson's lesser known debut book details the history, culture and idiosyncrasies of thirteen nations' footballing landscapes.

Treks through the forgotten streets of Sarajevo, cups of coffee in Belgrade and late nights in Sofia, at times Wilson's account of Eastern Europe can take on a sort of action adventure personality. For the writer though, this was part of the appeal.

"Something in me warms to eastern Europe, and I rather suspect it's related to my affection for the classic thrillers of post-war espionage," Wilson writes in the introduction. The statement is indicative of the book's attitude towards eastern Europe, one both loving and curious, melancholy and honest.

Through extensive travels in the area behind the old Iron Curtain, Wilson compiles a comprehensive history of football in Europe's backwaters, accounts focusing on the effects of the fall of Communism on both the domestic and international game.

Football in this part of the world is not so much politically charged as politically electrocuted - often abused, manipulated and exploited by the frightening powers that be. However, as made clear on numerous occasions, the relationship works both ways.

In a fascinating chapter, Wilson describes vividly the role of Red Star Belgrade fans in the expulsion of Slobodan Milosevic from parliament, as well as their tendency to turn political instability into an excuse for a riot.

The level of detail dedicated to goings on in competitions that to most are unknown quantities is quite unprecedented - Wilson's analysis is of a type difficult to find elsewhere.

While it is his work uncovering information in some of Europe's shadiest regions that makes the book unique, vibrant descriptions of more well known phenomena are also plentiful. The Aranycsapat, Hungary's famous 1954 World Cup squad is featured heavily, as is the furor around Soviet Russia's greatest footballer.

The overarching image that Wilson paints is of a society haunted by a pervading paranoia, a distrust of power that could only have been generated in countries once controlled by brutal and corrupt forces. The story of eastern European football is a sad one - a narrative poisoned by violence, dishonesty and exploitation. Struggling to find sufficient funding, success on the domestic front is difficult; unable to hold on to players, clubs fester - a once great product left in tatters.

To weave together such a diverse and many layered collection of issues was a task best left to only the most masterful of writers. Perceptive, intelligent and thoughtful Wilson's attempt is indisputably successful - a well written tale of tragedy, hope and horror, but mainly of football's tenuous existence in a backdrop of political upheaval.

Read the rest of our book reviews.

Buy Behind The Curtain on Amazon.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Fantasy Guide: Third Edition- International Break Review, Part One

The international break is always a wearing time for fantasy managers. With often five or more starters making long stressful journeys overseas to play in pointless friendlies or, even worse, semi competitive qualifiers, the prospect of an injury crisis mounts without players ever earning fantasy points. However, for close observers these games can act as vital indicators - key factors in transfer decisions and substitutions.

A Few Fantasy Premier League Notes:

Gary Cahill the goalscorer- On the occasion of his first competitive start, Gary Cahill opened the scoring for England with an effort from close range. Interestingly, that goal was actually atypical of Cahill, more often than not his strikes are from long range, that opening day sucker punch against QPR an obvious example.

Rooney's continues to pick up momentum- Wayne Rooney is fast becoming a must have fantasy player. With five goals in three Premier League games, he is the league's second top goalscorer and is showing no sign of a drop off. Two against Bulgaria merely served to underline his classy displays of late - only a fool would leave him out.

Van Persie scores four- It's difficult to know how much to read into this given that the opponent was San Marino and the final result 11-0. However, Van Persie will nevertheless savor his four goal haul; the striker has struggled for consistency over the league's opening weeks. With the transfer window concluded, the sense is that Arsenal are ready to move on from August's horror show, and maybe even start churning out a few wins. Any pick up in form is likely to be a function of Robin Van Persie goals, especially if new signings Benayoun and Arteta bed in well.

Park Chu Young scores three- Arsenal fans desperate for encouragement will have been relieved by Young's performance here. Three goals in what is technically "The World Cup" is not to be scoffed at, even though the opposition was Lebanon. Young represents a fascinating, if perhaps risky, option up front.

Part Two coming after the second round of international fixtures.
In the mean time, enjoy the rest of our fantasy coverage.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Time For England To Forget Messiahs

To ask English football to learn, is usually to ask too much. In the cycle of perpetual misfortune, England have carved themselves a comfortable little place - one festooned with cushions, lights and running water by the very men and women who pray for better everyday.

Wayne Rooney and Jesus Christ have a lot in common. Both are featured in best selling books - Rooney's albeit, of a more recent publication - both have faced trials and tribulations, births and resurrections and both at one point or another have offered hope to a group of disciples, disillusioned with the current state of things.

Both are messiahs. Just as Jesus rose, quickly, stealthily from anonymity, Rooney did too. Rooney scored, Jesus preached. The parallels are there for all to see, the overlap between the lives of two seemingly polar opposite characters.

But then again, it isn't really a shock that comparisons have been made. Religious undertones are an ever present in modern day football reporting - symptomatic of the way religion has been used to articulate the feelings of fans, players and clubs over the last century.

Gathering together en masse on certain days, chanting in unison at the behest of goings on in a central arena it is easy to see why football is fixated with the pseudo-religious role it occupies in the lives of millions.

In England messiahs roam free. They start out, usually, as poor, uneducated sons of laborers only finding the concentration which deserts them in the classroom on the street or pitch or grass. They ascend, gradually up the ladder, reaching first professional and later celebrity status. Invariably though, this is where they fall.

Theo Walcott reached this place with a hat trick in Zagreb, he hasn't scored for England since.Wayne Rooney's performance in Euro 2004 made him a national hero - his slump in later international tournaments emblematic of England's culture of false dawns.

On the eve of two vital European Championship qualifiers, England can no longer afford see their stars fail. Now is the time to abandon messiahs.

Where was Spain's messiah when they triumphed in South Africa? Nowhere. There was no stand out star, no figure, constantly pulling the team to victory. Spain's success was bred of a philosophy, a group of players so together, so harmonious that no savior was required. If England intend to copy Vincente Del Bosque's team, then it is this that they must replicate.

The seeds have already been sown, ironically, by a Scotsman. At the helm of Manchester United for over twenty five years, only now has Sir Alex Ferguson brought together a core of English players able and ready to represent their country.

A center back pairing of Smalling and Jones will likely figure prominently in 2014, a creative tandem of Rooney and Cleverley also sure to be key. Up front, Danny Welbeck continues to improve, come the next World Cup fans should expect the finished product.

"They have done well at a very big side and they have come into the England squad and felt very assured - and rightly so because they are huge talents. They've got an awful lot to give," said Terry of Jones, Smalling and Cleverley.

"You don't go into the Manchester United side if you are not ready and they have showed some great individual performances." Ringing endorsement from a man who has done his fair share of messianic duty.

Delve further into United's youth system, and a slew of talent emerges into view. Ryan Tunnelcliffe is highly regarded and, should he shake off personal problems, Ravel Morrison's future will be bright as well.

Writing optimistically about England's prospects is always risky business, but even the most jaded of fans  appreciate the reservoir of talent set to irrigate English national team football for the next decade. If, and it is a big if, United can develop the kind of relationship with England that clubs like Honved, Barcelona and Ajax have made with their respective countries, then perhaps all those years of hurt might come to an end.

Fantasy Football: Five Interesting Deadline Day Deals

1. Peter Crouch to Stoke- It seems that Tony Pulis has given up on any kind of reformatory notion. The signing of Tuncay two years ago was supposed to herald the start of a revolution - no longer would Stoke be a long ball team, no longer would every throw-in won be greeted with roars from the vociferous home fans. Now, in 2011, Tuncay plays for Bolton, Delap's still going strong and the Potters are likely to start both Kenwyne Jones and Peter Crouch in their next match. Effective, yes. Pretty, no. Needless to say, Crouch will thrive in the Stoke system. His ability in the air should produce countless numbers of goals and assists, and available at low, Spurs bench warmer type price, fantasy potential is there.

2. Nicklas Bendtner to Sunderland (loan)- Nobody seems to rate Nicklas Bendtner, but his statistics aren't really that bad. A career haul of fifty-eight works out to about a goal in four, and considering most of his appearances have been off the bench, that record is quite impressive. At Sunderland, Bendtner is guaranteed more playing time and it will be fascinating to see whether he can develop a relationship with Asamoah Gyan. For Denmark, Bendtner has always been dangerous, so perhaps he is big fish-small pond type player, and will only succeed when it is he who has the highest profile.

3. Yossi Benayoun to Arsenal (loan)- Of Arsenal's two creative signings, this one presents the most fantasy intrigue. Benayoun has always been a crafty little player, and I can see him fitting in well with the Arsneal way of doing things. At Liverpool, Benayoun was able to develop strong relationships with players like Gerrard, Torres and Kuyt, so if equivalent bonds can be forged, perhaps the Israeli might prove just as useful as the departed Samir Nasri.

4. Shaun Wright-Phillips to QPR- After two excellent seasons in the mid 2000s, Wright Phillips' professional career has tailored off a bit. A disappointing spell at Chelsea, was followed by failure to adjust in Manchester City's new financially charged environment leaving the England international cut adrift. At 29 though, he still has plenty to offer. Very tricky down the wing, SWP will have ample targets in the penalty area - both DJ Campbell and Jay Bothroyd are adept converters of crosses. Again, like Peter Crouch, Wright-Phillips is available for a knock down price - certainly one which will rise as the season continues.

5. Royston Drenthe to Everton (loan)- After going the entire summer without once dipping into the transfer market, Everton signed two player on deadline day. Headlining their business was the acquisition of former Real Madrid winger Royston Drenthe, a speedy player with the potential to make a big difference in the Premier League. As of now, Drenthe's price hasn't been confirmed, though I'd be shocked if it was any more than six million.

Enjoy the rest of our fantasy content.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Hargreaves' Story All Too Familiar For United often caught on the wrong side of the moral spectrum, Manchester City will relish this opportunity to make their rivals look just as base.

Known for his charitable work, and reportedly willing to play for free, United threw Hargreaves to the wayside, presumably believing that injuries had finally overwhelmed the once great player.

 A two time Champions League winner, Hargreaves is about as cosmopolitan as an Englishman can be - fluent in German and an expert penalty taker. During his time at Bayern Munich, he gained legitimate respect from more broadly versed European football observers, his talents appreciated as being many varied and translatable to more than just the parochial atmosphere of English football.

At the 2006 World Cup, a series of dynamic performances - culminating in a penalty conversion against Portugal - earned Hargreaves the attention of Sir Alex Ferguson and, eventually, a move to Manchester United in the summer of 2007.

"It has been a long time coming - it was probably the worst kept secret in football." said Hargreaves after sealing the switch. Certainly, no similar claim could be made about his move to City.

So dire was Hargreaves' situation, that he was forced to post fitness videos on YouTube to convince potential suitors of his worth. Clearly, Roy Hodgson and West Bromich Albion were impressed by his ability to weave in and out of cones, as it was they who registered a first major interest.

"We believe he is capable of playing top flight football and we are very interested in him," said Hodgson. Having passed a "minor medical" at the Hawthornes, a move to the midlands seemed a certainty only for football's transfer juggernauts to once again steal the show.

Rumors breaking Tuesday were confirmed by images of Hargreaves apparently undergoing a three hour medical at Manchester City's Carrington training ground, with a view to a move before the transfer deadline. For Manchester United, the story echoes of Carlos Tevez.

The last player to breach the divide, Tevez was also cast away having failed to earn the full trust of Ferguson. United were frankly lucky that Tevez's role as City's star striker never effected their own fortunes particularly greatly, but what it did do was change the perception of Fergie's "noisy neighbors." From Chelsea wannabees to Champions League contenders, City's meteoric rise will eventually see United unseated.

The part Tevez played in the drama should not be undervalued, even if his ties with both clubs are becoming increasingly strained. His is the story of a player who left Old Trafford and excelled, contradicting Ferguson's oft stated rule in most ironic style.

Now that the Mancunian battle is becoming a title tussle as well as grudge match, United cannot afford to see their rejects perform across town. In Owen Hargreaves, City have found just the player they need, a much, much richer man's Gareth Barry - the midfielder who might have made two Champions League finals interesting.

Grasping for motivation to succeed, Hargreaves like Tevez will not have to look far. The nature of his departure from Old Trafford - complete with patronizing good luck wishes and dismissive shrugs from impatient fans - should be enough to get blood flowing.

The challenge is immense, but the prospect of success will keep Hargreaves going. After three years of turmoil, the end is in sight; the reward for lonely hours in the gym, and countless slices by the surgeon's knife.

United though, must pray that their midfield crock doesn't turn into City's final jigsaw piece.