Thursday, October 29, 2009

Interview with Andy Brassell

Andy Brassell, or ‘the Top Brass’ to regular World Football Phone In listeners, is a freelance football journalist, with a knowledge of European football that matches Tim ‘Vickapedia’ Vickery’s knowledge of all things South American.

Not only is he an expert on France, Portugal, Germany, England and Spain, but he also knows his stuff on the Russian league. And to cap it off, he has even written All Or Nothing:A year in the life of the Champions League and launched a web-based video show on football.

Recently, I had the chance to ask Brassell some questions on all things European football, including Barca v Real, Grenoble vs Xerez, Man City’s title aspirations, and a Valencian bat named Joaquin, a bat with a “cheeky grin and electric turn of pace”. So without further ado, the interview:

Firstly, how did you get into sports journalism?

I just drifted into it really. I wrote on Wimbledon for a local newspaper when I was a teenager, then much later went for a job at a European football magazine. I didn’t get it, but was invited to pitch freelance stuff and it snowballed from there.

What has been your favourite interview?
Perhaps one of my first, with Paul Lambert, then of Celtic. His story is an interesting one, and he thinks more broadly about the game than a lot of UK footballers and managers, I’d say – probably because he was quite shaped by his time at Borussia Dortmund.

Realistically, can Manchester City win the title this year?

Not likely but possible. I wondered pre-season if they really had the quality the money spent would suggest, but at least the players they’ve bought have proven Premier League experience (eg Adebayor, Barry). There’s less between the top four this season and I think it’s very possible that City will at least crack the top four at the expense of one of the others. The great unknown is how they will recover after a few poor results. The dressing room has its share of volatile characters and it will be fascinating to see how successful Mark Hughes will be at keeping a lid on that.

Who does Manchester United need to buy in January to win the title this year?
Not sure they need to sign anyone. It’s impossible to replace Cristiano Ronaldo with just one player because he could fulfil so many different functions for the team – goalscorer, set-piece taker, winger, target man. But the players they have facilitate switches between different systems; 4-4-2, with wide players or a midfield diamond with Anderson at the tip and the full-backs providing width, 4-2-3-1, 4-3-3. Valencia is already bringing his influence to bear, Anderson is beginning to have more attacking influence, Berbatov is improving and I’m sure Owen will weigh in with important goals.

Who does Liverpool need to buy?

Where to start? People were surprised when I said 18 months or so ago when I said Liverpool needed to buy five or six to be serious about the title, but if you look at how beholden they are to Torres and Gerrard, I think that was justified. They need a) a midfielder who can sit in front of the defence and pass to replace Alonso. They should have asked Real Madrid to include Esteban Granero in the deal, I think. b) A creative midfielder. Relying on Aquilani is dangerous in light of his injury record and how long he may take to adapt to the English game. Benayoun is a fine player but not really of the level that he should be propping up a team with Liverpool’s ambitions. c) Better quality reserve strikers. They may well regret letting Keane and Crouch go.

Can Portsmouth stay up?
Yes. There’s a lot of rubbish in the bottom half of the league, Portsmouth are not yet stranded and they do have some decent players (Yebda, Boateng), though it’s difficult to build a team from scratch. If they have money to spend in January a good striker is a must though.

Lyon has started the season well, but given Montpellier is equal with them, and Bordeaux are only a win away, do you think Lyon can maintain their strong start and win the title?
Montpellier are over-performing at the moment, but deserve a lot of credit. They have a steady coach (Girard), and a good mix of talented young ones (Alberto Costa, Montano) and experienced Ligue 1 players (Dernis, Pitau, Compan etc), so their success isn’t a total mystery, but ultimately they’ll do well to finish in the top eight. Bordeaux and Lyon have both had a little wobble of late but there’s little wrong with either squad. I had these two down as competing closely for the title pre-season and see no reason to change my mind – Marseille are a tad behind them both. They both look strong physically and mentally, and Lyon have a lot more stickablility and guts than last season, as well as the players to open up tight games. I think Lyon will just edge it on the basis they have slightly more quality on the back of the summer signings.

Bordeaux and Lyon have both started the Champions League group stage well, do you think any of the French teams can go far this season?
Bordeaux have looked excellent so far, and they’ve clearly leant a lot from last season’s participation. This shows what a good coach Laurent Blanc is. If, as seems likely, they get to the last 16, I do wonder how they will balance this with domestic demands. Recently they rested a few for a league game with St Etienne (after the Maccabi Haifa game) and were consequently roasted. Lyon’s first choice XI will give anyone a game. I still think they could do with greater squad depth, but they will really hope to get a favourable draw for the last 16 this team – they’ve pulled the eventual winners in the last two seasons.

Grenoble or Xerez, who would win?
Simply on the basis that Grenoble are still pointless you would have say Xerez! Grenoble have been a touch unlucky but their success last season was based on a good start, a surprise factor and a solid defence, none of which they’ve had this season. Their failure is just the logic of gravity really – they are of modest means, as shown by their signings, like Daniel Ljuboja, a decent player but one who has barely played for three years. Likewise with Xerez. They are certainties to go down, but hopefully for them they can take experience (and some money) with them so they can come back stronger.

Being a Valencia fan I’ve been followed S.C Braga pretty closely this season because our loanee Hugo Viana is playing pretty well there. Do you think Braga and Viana can maintain their current form and keep Porto from yet another title?
It’s a great story and coach Domingos Paciencia has done a good job, but their squad isn’t deep enough to maintain. Viana’s form however is very encouraging and if he should keep it going there’s definitely room for a playmaker of his talent in the Portugal squad.

Sporting Lisbon hasn’t had the greatest start and they find themselves sitting in 4th. Do you think they’ll push up and make it to next years Champions League? And if not, will some of their stars (João Moutinho or Miguel Veloso) move on
Paulo Bento is on thin ice. They’ve not really progressed and the new signings (Caicedo, M Fernandez, Angulo) have yet to prove themselves. They’re finding it hard to strike the right balance and I think they will miss out on the Champions League. Moutinho and Veloso will certainly move on but if I were in the shoes of either of those two, I would look at myself and ask why it hasn’t happened already, especially in the case of Veloso. They have the talent to become mainstays for Portugal and strong European club sides but are no longer just promising youngsters and need to start properly fulfilling their potential.

As I said before, I’m a Los Che fan, so do you think that Valencia can avoid multiple disasters this season and make their way to a Champions League spot?
You always have the feeling there’s another disaster around the corner, don’t you? The squad is very good quality, and they definitely have a chance. The fact that they can’t really spend could work for them – take Banega, who has had a chance to play himself back into an important role in the team. Also, Emery is able to create a camaraderie in the squad, aided especially by Villa and Silva, great players who have shown real commitment to the cause as well.

Simple question now, Barca or Madrid?

Barca by a whisker, simply because they already had a good team structure in place. Real Madrid will be interesting to watch but it’s open to question how long they will take to come up with a tactical system that everyone’s happy with. Also important is how long Pellegrini will have to get it right, and will he be able to cope with pressure from upstairs to play the stars in every match?

Just a quick question on the Russian League, do you think that Russia will soon be one of Europe’s leading leagues?
It has made big strides already, as CSKA (2005) and Zenit’s (2008) UEFA Cup wins prove. But the geography and climate is a problem, and of course not one that can be changed. Russia has been able to attract young South Americans in particular with large wages, but they and other leading players still aspire to England, Spain and Italy. Big players are reluctant to go and if the investment tails off at any point, how will Russia maintain the status quo, let alone develop and expand?

Now while I was researching for this, I found out that you have a stuffed Valencian bat called Joaquin. How did that come about and do you have a soft spot for Los Che?
I picked him up whilst working in Valencia some years ago. His cheeky grin and electric turn of pace were just irresistible! Valencia’s a great city, vibrant and with a great football tradition, even if it’s less celebrated than Madrid or Barcelona. Definitely recommended for a long weekend and the Mestalla is very atmospheric.

And finally, are you going to make the journey out to Australia anytime soon and admire the next world footballing superpower?
If you lot get the World Cup, then maybe! I’ve already been to Australia a few times and thoroughly enjoyed it. Australia is such a terrific sporting nation I’m sure a World Cup there would be fantastic (and it will, without doubt, happen at some point). I went to a day of an Ashes Test at the MCG in December 2006 and it’s such a great arena that the inevitable three-day pasting from the Aussies was surprisingly bearable!

Thank you to Andy for agreeing to answer my questions, and providing such great, detailed answers.

Interview with Andy Brassell

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Becoming a 'real' football manager

Instructions, mentality: attacking, passing style: short, tempo: quick. Ohh hang on a second, I can do this for real now.

Last weekend I completed my Football Federation Australia junior coaching license, so am now a ‘proper’ football manager. Sure I’ll be coaching under 12’s, but thats not what counts, I can pretend to be educated about the game, shout at my young winger to take more shots, and go to official FFA conferences. WOO!!!

But actually, it was great fun. The junior license was a two day course, 9 to 5, something I thought I’d struggle with considering it was my first day of holidays. But really, it was just playing football.

I arrived, sat down, and looked at the imposing FFA folder. Ohh crap. This is going to be a long day. As is inevitable when you get twenty football lovers together in a room, it didn’t take long for the football banter to start, but then our ‘coach’ for the next two days walked in. His name was Pat McCann, and it turns out he used to play for Yeovil Town. But at the time all that mattered was that I was going to have to spend the whole weekend listening to him talk about little kids running around. Borriing.

But no, he soon explained that the majority of the two days would be outside, playing football :). After some short theory, we were soon out on the pitch running through some drills. And bamm the day was gone. The second day was slightly more stressful, as we had to run a training drill under the eyes of an ‘assessor’ but it went smoothly, and the assessor liked my dribbling to beat an opponent exercise. Soon we had parted ways, after yelling “see ya in the dugout” at each other, and we were all now proper football coaches. The 16 hours had passed in a heartbeat, and whats more, it was great fun.

But why am I telling you this? Two things (well maybe three). Firstly, I would greatly encourage all of you to get out to your local football organisation and do a coaching license. It took two short days, was mostly spent on the pitch playing football, and overall was great fun.

Secondly, it taught me so many things about football that I never knew. I’ve been playing for eleven years and every training session go for a run. But according to our instructor, this is a waste of time and we should warm up on ball. I always static stretch before a game, but apparent this is actually bad for our muscle elasticity, something needed during a game (instead you should static stretch at home and dynamic stretch before the game). In two days I learnt more about ‘body shape’ then I had in eleven years of playing. And after just sixteen short hours, I now look at football in a completely different way.

Ohh and thirdly, who doesn’t want to be coaching our next generation of World Cup winners. So get out their, have some fun, coach some kids, train your countries next football saviour! Get involved, get coaching and become a real football manager!

If your in Australia, visit FFA to enrol in a course. If not, find you local organisation, and get coaching!

A League Round 12 Preview

Well a big weekend ahead for the A League, with the F3 derby, a Grand Final rematch, and Perth Glory taking on Robbie Fowler (well…North Queensland Fury).
Newcastle Jets v Central Coast Mariners, Friday 8.00pm
The F3 Derby. The big game. What more needs to be said. Well, there is the fact that the game is between 5th and 9th, so not exactly the game of the week, but still it will make for an interesting game. While Central Coast dished it out to Brisbane last week, and Newcastle were on the end of a Melbourne Victory barrage, it’s still a derby, and any derby is difficult to call. But still, the Mariners will be much too strong for the Jets, so 2-1 Jets.

Melbourne Victory v Adelaide United, Saturday, 6.30pm
The Grand Final rematch! and a game that could be a decisive one for both teams. Melbourne are in 3rd and pushing for top spot, while Adelaide are sitting in 6th, looking to push upwards for the top four. A loss for either team will set them back, and a win would be most welcomed by either. And therefore, it’s clearly going to be a bore draw. So fearless forecast for the week, 0-0 Draw.

North Queensland Fury v Perth Glory, Saturday, 8.30pm
Ohh, now this is a game I’ll be watching. Glory were going well, but will their campaign be derailed after a loss to Gold Coast? Fury have looked ok, but really need to start picking up three points rather than just the one. But I really think the Glory will bounce back from their lost to Gold Coast, and take this game. 2-1 Perth.

Wellington Phoenix v Gold Coast United, Sunday, 3.00pm
Gold Coast managed to pick up all three points against Perth on the weekend, but away to Wellington will still pose them problems. Wellington kept the Fury to a one all draw in Townsville and I can see them holding Gold Coast as well, so for my bold prediction for the week I’m going for a 1-1 draw.

Sydney FC v Brisbane Roar, Sunday, 5.00pm
Now this is a big game. Both teams lost last weekend, and will both be looking to bounce back. Sydney will be looking to prove the loss to Adelaide was just a blip, while the Roar will be looking to regroup and get their season back on track. However, I can’t see the Roar getting past a strong Sydney time, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see Sydney put two or three past Brisbane (especially if Kofi is playing). So with that said, I’m tipping a 2-0 victory for Sydney.


Monday, October 5, 2009

(U-20 WC) Brazil 3-1 Australia

The Young Socceroos bowed out of the FIFA Under 20 World Cup to the A Seleção (Brazil U-20) after an Aaron Mooy freekick was cancelled out by three Brazilian efforts. However, despite the scoreline, the Australian’s matched the Brazilians for much of the game, and were unlucky not to score a number of times.

Australia started well, with a half chance in the 1st minute, and this coming from a vastly changed Socceroos lineup. However Danning was still in the line up, so Australia still had an attacking threat, and their passing was looking vastly improved from the sloppy play against the Czechs. Brazil then almost scored, with a ball put through across an empty goal, but no Brazilians were close enough to put it in. They then almost scored in the 7th minute, when a Brazilian corner was poorly cleared, but the South Americans couldn’t finish it off. However, despite the many chances from Brazil, the Socceroos were matching them in attack, with many chances throughout the first period of play.

Then, in the 14th minute, a goalkeeping error from the Brazilian Rafael saw an Aaron Mooy freekick bumbled into the back of the net. The Aussies almost doubled their lead a minute later, with Danning hitting the post. However Brazil immediately countered, and were through on goal in the 20th, but they put it wide. Then, in the 33rd minute, the inevitable happened, with striker Ciro putting the ball past Redmayne. Now while it was an amazing goal, the following goal celebration was stupidly out of proportion, the way he acted you would have think he’d won the World Cup. Also, Ciro seriously needs a haircut (see above picture).

So the teams went into halftime at 1 all, and Australia still had a chance of making it through to the next round. The second half started slowly, and in the 55th Tommy Oar was substituted for Sean Rooney. A minute later Ciro just put a ball over, but then another freekick from Mooy, in a similar position almost put Australia up, with another fumble from the keeper, but he recovered. However, then in the 63rd, apparent Manchester United target Douglas Costa scored, and put Australia’s chances of progression to bed. After his goal Australia started to unravel, with some very poor passing, and then in 81st minute an amazing curling goal from Henrique finished it off.

Melbourne Victories Nathan Elasi came on an caused trouble, with numerous attacking runs, but it wasn’t enough for the Socceroos, and they with the final whistle left the tournament empty handed.

While they didn’t manage any points from the three games, it wasn’t all negative for the Young Socceroos. Craig Foster pointed out on The World Game that we managed to ‘play football’ with the other teams, which is a good sign, and it shows our youth is developing. In the future I’ll put a full wrap up of the game and an analysis of the overall performance, but I thought Danning and Bouzanis looked promising, as did McGowan and Ben Kantarovski.