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Monday, March 28, 2011

Top 5 Things We Learnt from Kenya Versus Angola Match

For the first time in many months, Kenyans finally had something to smile and cheer about, thanks to Macdonald Mariga's thunderous winning goal against Angola that sent the whole country into a frenzy and raised the national team's chances of qualifying for 2012 Africa Cup of Nations.

But what are the Top Five things we learnt from the encounter?

Origi is the best goalkeeper Kenya has to offer
Wilson Obungu, Willis Ochieng, Duncan Ochieng, Francis Ochieng, to name but a few, are some of the goalkeepers who have been called before to stand in between the posts for Kenya. And besides just bringing in some confusion on whether it was Willis or Wilson, Ochieng or the other Ochieng guarding the post the other day, none of them has managed to keep the goalkeeping position his own. But one man, Arnold Origi, is simply a class above them. At only 27-years, he is extremely young for a goal keeper (remember goalkeepers are like fine wine – they always get better with age). The Moss FK custodian can only get better. All he needs is a defensive line that wouldn’t make him get as involved as he did against Angola.

Mariga plays better with his brother Victor Mugabe on his side – but he’s got to grow up
Was that a rocket, a pildedriver, a belter, did he launch it, pummel it, drive it in? Who cares? Mariga’s goal was one of the best goals he will ever score. Were he some Wayne Rooney or Lionel Messi, the goal could have featured in Goal.com’s goal of the week section. But he is not. But just when did Mariga get into that rhythm and where did he amass that confidence? Tactics they call it. And for Mariga, it seems nothing works better for him than playing tiki-taka with his brother, Victor Mugabe. The introduction of the 19-year-old who plays for Belgian side K.F.C. Germinal Beerschot, gave Mariga and the whole team a lift. Of course kudos also to Jamal Mohammed whose goal gave Kenya a fighting chance, and fight they did.

But that aside, there is no justifiable explanation that can be given for any of Mariga’s two yellow cards. Nyayo stadium wasn’t as raucous as the Camp Nou where Robin Van Persie was yellow carded for kicking the ball after the whistle had gone. And the second one. Alright, he was euphoric after thundering in the winner. But didn’t he know that he was already on a yellow card, and two, removing your shirt while celebrating is against the laws of football. He should have known better.

Dennis Oliech is a great captain
Okay. I know this raises some eyebrows already especially from the Mariga quarters. There’s no doubt that Oliech commands respect from the team members. After all, the former Dagoretti Santos player has been playing in Europe for the past 6 years, while most of his teammates are yet to break the ranks. The only problem of course lies on his and Mariga’s ego. Granted, Mariga is a Champions League and Serie A winner and plies his trade with one of the best European teams of all time. However, credit should not be taken away from Oliech who always seems to inspire those players around him. If Kenya qualifies for the Africa Cup of Nations, I know plaudits for the team will come from far and wide, but even more will be reserved for Oliech and Coach Zedekiah ‘Zico’ Otieno – if he lasts.

Kenya’s problem is in defence
It is so obvious that, especially in the first 20 minutes, Kenya looked rattled from the defence (minus Mr. Reliable Origi) through the midfield and into the three-man striking force. But as the game wore on, it always looked likely that the Harambee Stars will concede the next goal from a defensive mistake rather than a midfielder easily giving the ball away like one Robert Mambo did in a game with Tunisia. The other thing I kept on wondering was whether Tusker’s Joseph Shikokoti  and Sofapaka’s Edgar Ochieng are only tall on TV while in real life, they are shorter than Pingping – the deceased world’s shortest man.

The Angolans, led by Manucho won the aerial battle in countless times while the few that the Kenyan defence won were only cleared to the feet of the opponents. And it seems someone told Shikokoti that the more backpasses you give to your goalkeeper, the higher your chances of earning a call from one of those European teams – to play conference football. Football starts from the defence. The goalkeeper must always feel pretty comfortable with the men meant to protect him. I don’t think Origi feels that way after the game.

We have a new jersey, and Mariga's goal deserves another look
This deserves mention. I have never seen Harambee stars jersey look that good. As they say in Swahili, "kizuri chajiuza, kibaya chajitembeza" (a good thing sells itself, a bad one advertises itself). So I will not sell it to you. All I know is am already looking for it.

And of Mariga's goal, what can you possibly write about it. Just see it below and leave your comments.

And That's thesteifmastertake!!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Presenting The Best Team in the World – And It’s Not Barcelona!!

The world of football is almost in unanimity that Barcelona is the best team in the world right now. But are those clinical, almost faultless Xavi-esque passes good enough to unlock a defence made up of “The Giraffe”, “The Tall One”, and “Mr. Elbow”? Can Barca’s Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique defend against the “Crazy Dribbler”, “Spiderman” and “Wizard of Dribble”? Try to think of Victor Valdes saving a shot from the “Devil”

It is one of the most anticipated games of the season. A derby that arouses emotions like no other, one where every inch of the pitch is highly and hotly contested for, where managers unleash their most hidden tactful acumen, where fans cheer, jeer, boo, applaud and applause, curse where necessary and hurl obscenities and all manner of banalities even in front of the not-so-suspecting young ones.

Will today’s match be any different? Will the newly-promoted Potters upstage the dominant Pensioners just like they did a fortnight ago when they visited the Black Cats who have had their worst ever start to a season having already been hammered by a dozen goals by the Hammers? A win to either the Potters or Pensioners will take them to the top of the table after table-leading, the Reds and the Red Devils, could only manage a thrilling 4-4 draw, a scoreline that pleased Red Devils manager King Eric but left Reds manager, King Kenny fuming after controversial referee, The Big Howski, awarded the Red Devils an equally controversial penalty in the last minute of the game.

As has been the norm in the past three games, the Pensioners will once again rely on the safe gloves of Big Pete who has made the goalkeeping position his own after displacing injury-hit Genghis Khan. A very strong defensive lineup will try to mop up the opposition’s attack. The Tall One and the Giraffe will occupy the central defence, while The Donkey on the left side of the defence and the Little Donkey on the right will try to stop the Little Witch and Welsh Wizard from whipping dangerous crosses into the box.

After outplaying, out-passing, out-running and completely dominating their opponent’s midfield in the previous match, Pensioner’s Manager, The Phantom, has decided to stick to his midfield lineup of Braveheart, Wizard of Oz, Wizard of Tabanya and Sound of Thunder.

Super Pipo and Super Mario will for the first time lead the attacking lineup which sees topscorer Speedy Gonzalez make it to the substitutes bench. Pensioner’s summer signings, The Black Panther and The Dragon will also start from the bench and so will be the defensive twosome of Slim and Fat One.

After two of his defenders, Philosopher and Gov’nor, were both stretchered off in the previous match, Potters’ manager, Pizza, has called on the untested Holland international Vacuum Cleaner to man the defence together with the impressive Mr. Elbow, Argentina captain The Tractor and his countrymate Big Nose. Crazy Dribbler, Mighty Mouse, Spiderman and Wizard of Dribble will drive the midfield with the Non-flying Dutchman playing just behind the Baby-faced Assassin who returns after two months layoff with a virus to lead the one-man attack.

After scoring a hat-trick in the previous match, Pitbull can only make it to the bench. Potters manager will also have the chance to call on the services of last year’s club player of the season Black Panther to provide him the extra ammunition, if need be.

It’s one of those games that catapult excitement to a crescendo. It’s one of those articles that make me conclude that if footballers were their nicknames, they would simply cause trepidation and send some chilling nerves down the system of their opponents, fans notwithstanding.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is not a game made in mars and to be played on earth. The aforementioned ‘names’ actually represent players who either are or once played the beautiful game.

For those who are ardent football followers, it’s not rocket science to know that the ‘Potters’ and ‘Pensioners’ here are none other than Stoke City and Chelsea Football clubs. Perhaps the Reds (Liverpool) and Red Devils (Manchester United) are even more familiar, and so should ‘King Kenny’ Dalglish and ‘King Eric’ Cantona, he of the kung-fu kick.

And just who else could be ‘The Big Howski’ but English referee Howard Webb?

I know that is just as easy as it can get. So why not look at the list below to see who the Big Pete’s, the Bravehearts, the Donkeys and their little ones, the Rats and Wizards, the Giraffes and Thunders, the Pizza and Philosophers, the Big Noses, Mr. Elbows and Baby-faced Assassins (we know this guy though) are? Info provided by <Soccerphile>

Gennaro Gattuso (ITA)- "Braveheart"
Harry Kewell - "Wizard of Oz”
Kiprich, Jozef (HUN) - Wizard from Tatabanya
Dennis Bergkamp – the non-flying Dutchman
Koller, Jan (CZE) – Tall One
Pizarro, Claudio (PER) – Pizza
Toni Adams – the donkey
Eric Cantona – King Eric
Stankovic, Dejan (SER) - The Dragon
Ince, Paul (ENG) - Gov'nor
Thuram, Lilian (FRA) - Philosopher
Inzaghi, Filippo (ITA) - Super Pippo
Kahn, Oliver (GER) - Genghis Khan
Kevin Keegan – King Kevin
Roy Makaay, called "The Phantom"
Juan Sebastian Verón - "The Little Witch
Javier Zanetti, "The Tractor",
Van der Kerkhof, W. (HOL) - Vacuum Cleaner
Verón, Juan Ramón (ARG)—Witch
Verón, Juan Sebastian (ARG) - Little Witch
Waddle, Chris (ENG) - Crazy Dribbler
Wouters, Jan (HOL) - Mr. Elbow
Zenga, Walter (ITA) – Spiderman
Kevin Keegan = Mighty Mouse
Zanetti, Javier (ARG) - The Tractor
Pete Cech – Big Pete
Jack Charlton (Eng) – giraffe
Bilardo Carlos (ARG) – Narigon – big nose
Ortega, Ariel (ARG) - Little Donkey
Mario Balloteli – Super Mario
Pardeza, Miguel (ESP) - Little Rat – Ratoncito
Petkovic, Dejan (SER) – Rambo
Ronaldo (BRA) – fenomeno – phenomenon
Prosinecki, Robert (CRO) - The Yellow One
Romario (BRA) – Shorty
Riva, Luigi (ITA) - Sound of Thunder
David Beckam – the spice boy
Roberto Baggio – Codino d’ Oro – the golden ponytail
Franz Berckenbauer – Emperor
Pele = Edson Arantes do Nascimento – king
Kenny Dalglish – King Kenny
Tostao (BRA) – White pele
Edgar Davids – Pitbull
Sükür, Hakan (TUR) - Bull from the Bosporus
Lombardo, Attilio (ITA) - Bald Eagle
Marcel Desailly – rock, Beast
Eusebio da Silva (POR) Pantera Nera Black Panther
Ryan Giggs – Welsh Wizard
González Cristián (ARG) – Speedy Gonzalez
Hernández, Luis (MEX) – Killer
Solskjaer, Ole Gunnar (NOR) - Baby-faced Assasin
Sanchez, Erwin (BOL) – Devil
Schuster, Bernd (GER) - Blond Angel
Ilie, Adrian (ROM) – Cobra
Eusebio = The 'Black Panther'
Matthews, Stanley (ENG) - Wizard of Dribble
Boniek Zbigniew – Poland – beauty of the night
Morientes, Fernando (ESP) - Black One
Menotti, Cesar Luis (ARG) – Slim
Müller, Gerd (GER) - Fat One/Bomber
Nordahl, Gunnar (SWE) – Gunner/Buffalo
Andriy Shevchenko - "The Eastern Wind"
Pavel Nedved "The Czech Cannon"

And That's thesteifmastertake!!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Can 2011 Copa Coca-Cola Provide Kenya the Football Talent it Needs?

The 2011 COPA Coca-Cola tournament kicked off Saturday 13 March, and national talent scouts will surely be checking out for some prodigious talents.

If there’s one thing that has been steadily hitting the downward trend in Kenya, it has to be the ‘Beautiful’ game of football. With every passing year, Kenya has been falling down the pecking order, not only in regional tournament but internationally as well. Once a former East African giant and known for churning out prodigious talents like JJ Masiga, Joe Kadenge, James Siang’a, Joe Masiga, Bobby Ogola,  Hussein Kheri, Musa Otieno, Mahmoud Abbas, Peter Dawo and the likes, Kenyan football is no longer something that arouses excitement among the fans or makes opposing teams consult witchcrafts on the tactics they should deploy.

Granted, the aforementioned players never won anything major for Kenya or made it to the coveted European leagues that define the success and/or failure in modern football, but they were best at what they do. But a look at every passing year, while other countries continue unveiling a Steven Piennar and a Tsiphiwe Shabalala, or a Didier Drogba and Salomon Kalou in the same team or generation, Kenya seems to be discovering only one talent at a time. Today Oliech, tomorrow, Mariga. Then a long drought.
Mr. Gerald Chege (2nd right) of the Kenyan premier league poses for a photo with Stephen Odhiambo (left) and Jackson Macharia both of Thika United and Emmanuel Tostao (right) who were voted the best players  during the 2010 Copa Coca-Cola youth soccer league edition.

Blame it on the off-putting, superfluous and incessant wrangles in the management of football in the country (if there’s any), or on the obsession of local fans with outside leagues or even on the lack of real football development at the grassroots level, there seems to be little being done to avert the demise of Kenya from football.

But it’s not like Kenya is bereft of many more Dennis Oliechs or Macdonald Marigas who can play in major leagues in Europe or even in the UEFA Champions League. The talents are there.

That’s why when I hear of a competition like the Copa Coca-Cola, I always get very excited and wish I was U-17 to stand a chance of competing. Initiated in Mexico in 1998, the annual national youth football tournament aims at removing the best out of the good in the grassroots by engaging the youths in football activities while also encouraging them to adopt healthy living. The competition occurs in countries like the USA, Argentina, Brazil, Germany and Chile, while South Africa, Mozambique, Zambia, Uganda, Kenya, Angola, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Rwanda, Zambia, Botswana, Namibia, Malawi, Congo, Nigeria and Zimbabwe compete within Africa.

 In this year’s competition in Kenya, 512 teams from all the 47 counties will participate, down from 1,324 that took part last year. Each county will have an opportunity to put forward eight boys’ and four girls’ teams to take part in the games, whose national finals will be held in Kisumu come July. It will be the first time the national finals will be held outside Nairobi.

This year’s tournament has undergone some key changes in its format and will be carried out in an advanced professional structure. Aside from being played in a league format where each team will have to play three games before qualifying for the next round, if they qualify, the formation of the COPA Coca-Cola dream team, a selection of the best players from the tournament, has also been set aside for a structure that is friendly to teams that have always played together. The tournament will also culminate in a COPA reality TV show which will capture the dreams, talents, challenges and performance of key select players at the COPA tournament, leadership skills resilience and all that goes on in the 5 months of the activation.

For those interested in the finances, the winning boys' team will receive a cash prize of Sh500, 000 while (due to lack of affirmative action), the girls will walk away with Sh200,000 at the national level. Runners-up (boys) will pocket Sh200,000 while girls will have to contend with Sh100,000. Also to be feted will be the Best Goalkeeper and Man of the Match who will both return home (hopefully) Sh20,000 richer, and so will be somebody called “The Best Cheering Fan” also pocketing Sh20,000.

 Some of the players discovered through COPA Coca-Cola last season include Steven Odhiambo who plies his trade with Thika United, the sensational Emmanuel Tostao and Edward Seda of AFC Leopards, Felix Omondi of Gor Mahia, Jackson Macharia and  Joseph Kuria of Thika United, Dan Waweru and Ali Ahmed (Western Stima) and Edwin Mwaura (Rangers).

These players have not reached the end of their careers. The fact that they are already playing for major clubs in the Kenyan Premier League just shows they have the talent and they have been given the opportunity to develop it. The onus thus falls on them and the coaches to ensure they develop as players and become role models to those who will pass through the COPA Coca-Cola competition to realize their dreams. 

Most of these players have shown that COPA Coca-Cola can really unveil the next Macdonald Mariga, the COPA Coca-Cola goodwill ambassador, who himself is a beneficiary of the talent search event, having been the first to be discovered in 1999 while playing during a Coca-Cola sponsored tournament dubbed The Coca-Cola Cup.

Timothy Otieno and Emmanuel Kiprop were some of the stars of last year’s competition. The two were even selected to represent Kenya as Official 2010 International flag bearers at the FIFA World Cup for the Italy vs. New Zealand match which was played on 20th June 2010.  If last year’s competition was successful, this year should even be better.

The tournament promises to give junior players mammoth international exposure which Kenya can surely use during international and regional competitions. It will not only be an opportunity for young and upcoming footballers to showcase their skills, ball control, movement, passing, prowess, power, pace, finesse and class, but also for talent scouts to chose, not pick, the crème de la crème in the Kenyan youth football circles.

Kenya has failed to conquer Africa in the past, let alone East Africa. Perhaps if we have the COPA Coca-Cola tournament, discover and nurture some whizkids out of it, that road towards conquering Africa might prove to be shorter and that dream not as deem and farfetched as it looks now.

Some Facts About Kenyan Footblall
FIFA ranking - 127
Highest ranking - 68 December 2008
Lowest FIFA ranking - 137 July 2007
Biggest win 10-0 against Zanzibar in 1961
Biggest loss 13-0 against ghana in December 1965
FIFA World Cup appearances – 0
African Cup of Nations Appearances – 5 (knocked out in first round in all)
Council of East and Central Africa Football Association (CECAFA) Senior Challenge Cup Champions – 5 times

And That's thesteifmastertake!!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Arsenal Can No Longer Hide Under the “Kids”Excuse

The last two weeks have been calamitous for Arsene Wenger and his crop of ‘young players’ who have enormously flopped and lost three trophies in the shortest of time. The questions now are Who, or is it What should be blamed and Who or What should be fixed?

Just two weeks ago, had you approached any English football fan, whether he/she supports Arsenal, Liverpool or the common enemy in Manchester United, and told them Arsenal would finish this season without a silverware, they would probably have laughed you off and recommended that you stop watching football altogether and perhaps concentrate on the ongoing Cricket World Cup.

Photo source: 100goals.com
For here was a team that had a not less than 50/50 chance of clinching four, yes, four trophies before close of season, and even more before next season opens. The first and least prestigious of these trophies was the Football League Cup, also known as the League Cup or from current sponsorship, the Carling Cup. This cup is regarded as unimportant in England, never mind that Man U, Chelsea and Tottenham have won the trophy in the last 6 years, while Liverpool holds the record for having won the 92-team competition the most number of times, 7, since it was inaugurated in 1960.

A certain promoted side called Birmingham City was standing in the way of Arsene Wenger and his ‘young troops.’ Having already met Birmingham twice and swept them aside in both occasions this season, 2-1 at the Emirates and 3-0 at Birmingham’s’ St Andrews stadium, Arsenal went to Wembley on February 27 as crystal clear favourites.

History had it that Arsenal had not won a trophy since they last lifted the FA Cup in 2005. This ‘title drought’ is something that is considered as a disaster for the Gunners with the fans increasingly growing impatient. Birmingham on the other hand have reached the Carling Cup final only twice, but won it once in 1963, the only time they had a taste of a silverware. That has never been considered as a disaster and no one dared or dares to care if or when this would change.

To cut that seemingly long story short, history was against Birmingham in every way and so they went into the match as underdog as it can get. But then again you know how football works. There are only two things involved. You should attack and defend. Attack without defending, you might still end up on the losing side. Defend without attacking and you are surely prone to making that one costly mistake that leads to that one goal and the final whistle is blown.

It’s not like Arsene Wenger and his 14 men who fought this game on the field didn’t know this. They just might have forgotten at the most crucial of times as bully Serbian, Nicola Zigic powered in a header that put the Blues ahead. When Robin Van Persie equalized, the writing was on the wall that the Gunners would pick it from there. Or was it?

The match went for minutes as both teams pushed, but Birmingham looked the more resilient, the hungrier and the more desperate to lift the ‘worthless’ but better-than-none cup. A calamitous mix-up between Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny and Lauerent Koscielny (what a mix-up of names) gifted Obafemi Martins the winning goal in the 89th minute. The diminutive Nigerian forward may only be on loan from Russia’s Rubin Kazan but he already has his name firmly inducted in the folklore of Birmingham football club’s 136-year history.

When Mike Dean, the match’s referee, blew the final whistle, Birmingham City had just won only their second major trophy since it was established in 1875 as Small Health Alliance, and the club’s first silverware in 48 years. Arsenal on the other hand were left cursing and humming. They had lost a ‘worthless’ cup.

The boys had failed their father again. But, they knew that unlike their inferior-in-almost-every-aspect opponents, they had another, and another, and another competition to make things right.

Enter the UEFA Champions League. Yes that big league where big teams meet to play in a big way and leave with a big trophy and big money– though my beloved team is still sleeping out in the cold of Europa Cup but I know they will be back soonest. But before this, comes the Sunderland match that Arsenal had to win to move to within a point of Manchester United. There’s always not much to write about a humdrum 0-0 draw so why not leave it at that.

Arsenal had just beat Barcelona 2-1 in the first leg of their Champions league encounter at the Emirates. It wasn’t a vintage performance from Wenger’s boys or one that convinced them they had gotten the antidote for Catalunyan domination, but one that surely gave them enough hope and swayed them into rightly believing that Barcelona are not invisible in the football world.

Arsenal’s style of play has been likened to Barcelona’s. As it turned out in the second leg though, it would almost be an insult to consider the team from London as an understudy to the Blaugrana’s pass and move style of play. The villain was always going to be a Cesc Fabregas – that prodigal son from Barcelona’s Cantera who the father has always wanted to go back to his roots. It was Cesc’s suicidal backheel that gifted Messi his goal, which the Ballon D’or winner took mercurially and opened the floodgates for Barca and drained Arsenal the firepower. The 23-year-old’s schoolboy mistake around his 18-yard box left Peps Guardiola celebrating but only in the short term as he perhaps later started wondering if Cesc might make the same mistake if he succeeds to sign him from Arsenal.

Fabregas’s father later claimed his son “wanted to shoot himself” after the 3-1 loss at Camp Nou and 4-3 aggregate loss that bundled Arsenal out of the competition. I say, you should have been there to hand him the gun Senior Fabregas. How many teams have you ever heard leave the pitch without a shot on or off target? Fabregas simply wanted a shot on target. The target here being Cesc Fabregas. Give the lad the gun. With that game we saw at Camp Nou, Arsene Wenger’s bunch of growing men should continue holding the name of kids even though most of them are fast reaching or leaving 25 years as you can notice below.

It’s quite unfortunate that that is the much I can write about Barca v Arsenal match at Camp Nou. Congratulations to Barcelona. For Wenger and his kids, another trophy has gone ‘pap!’ And two weeks have barely past. But there is always another trophy, and another.

Exit Champions league, comes FA Cup, English football’s oldest cup, one that is more coveted than the League cup and the last one Arsenal marveled at when they last won a cup in 2005. Opponent? Manchester United. Stage? Quarter-finals. What does Arsenal have to do? Borrow a leaf from Liverpool just a week ago. Turn on the style, unlock United’s 7-man defence, score, don’t concede and if you do, score another one. Easy? Wrong. Very hard. Especially if you allow Fabio Da Silva to score in the 28th minute and Wayne Rooney to wrap it up in the 49th minute. Another cup gone for Wenger and his boys who won’t just grow up. Arsenal dumped out of a third competition in only 2 weeks.

But since this is Arsenal football club, they have one more to go. The biggest, the grandest, the eyebrow raising, nerve arousing and appetite satiating Premier League trophy.  But then again, it’s the same Arsenal team. As if we expect the boys to nail this. Just count it out.

It’s easier for El-Hadji Diouf to stay out of trouble at any club in any country, than for Arsenal to win a cup, even if it was literally a tea cup. Arsenal are like a battery torch that works so well in the middle of the night, only to switch off once the thief knocks on the door.

The only problem is that every time Arsenal loses a match, someone, unable to stomach the defeat, loses his life in this part of the world. I’ve heard of domestic violence aimed at the woman but sources have not confirmed this yet so, I quote, don’t quote me.

The bottomline is Arsene Wenger has done a brilliant job poaching young players, or kids whichever way you want to refer to it, from as near as Spain to as far as the Ivory Coast and Cameroon. These boys have surely developed into men who can battle with the other men in football, whether they shed tears on the pitch like Luis Nani or face the likes of Nigel De Jong or Ryan Shawcross.

It is also true that the time has always been nigh for Wenger to rally his troops to challenge for and win major trophies on offer within England and beyond – yes plus the Emirates cup. And if this can’t be done this season, which looks more the likely, then for once, for once, Wenger should dig deepest into his pocket, remove those profits the Gunners have been racking in over the years and invest in a squad ready, willing and able to grind out results when need be.

If not so, and I know I speak for many Arsenal aficionados, the Frenchman should gracefully take a walk from the club and let a Mourinho kind of manager take over. Or if he loves Arsenal way too much, why not take care of the reserves or youth team or the academy. After all, Arsene Wenger knows how to identify, nurture and bring the best out of a young player. But what if this “best” is not good enough to win a trophy?

It is high time Arsenal won a trophy because the team is old enough to do so. And if they are not old in age, then they are old at always trying and falling short of the ultimate price.

Arsenal Squad – Age indicated in ()
Manuel Almunia Rivero (33), Sebastian Squillaci (30), Tomas “little Mozart” Rosicky (30), Andrey ‘Shava’ Arshavin (29), Bacary Sagna (28), Emmanuel Eboue (27), Robin Van Persie (27), Marouane Chamakh (27), Laurent Kosceilny (25), Lucas Fabianski (25), Thomas Vermalen (25), Gael Clichy (25), Vassiriki Abou Diaby (24), Johan Djourou (24), Francesc “Cesk” Fabregas Soler (23), Samir Nasri (23), Alexandre Song Billong (23), Nicklas Bendtner (23), Wojciech Szczesny (21), Kierran Gibs (21), Theo Walcott (21), Aaron Ramsey (20), Jack Wilshere (19)

And That's thesteifmastertake!!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Cometh the Hour, Cometh King Kenny’s Men

In my first year of university education, I learnt this course they called Academic Writing. While I can remember a whole lot of things about it, I’ll point out only two things for the sake of this article. First, I scored a straight ‘A’ grade on it. And second, we learnt about a certain writing skill called Free Writing. Now this kind of writing required that you simply write what comes into your mind without thinking, even if you get stuck in the middle, you make ‘stuck in the middle’ part of your sentence.  

Being a good student that I happen to be, I decided to put this kind of writing into practice. And how else to do this but look at the Liverpool-Manchester match. Okay, here we go. 

Ladies and gentlemen, this is Liverpool Football Club. The club I always, always say that everyone should pronounce and write in capital letters. LIVERPOOL. I know someone is already protesting somewhere but sincerely, I could care less. Especially if that person happens to be a Scumester fan. For if there’s any fan who needs to say least now, it should be one from the other side of Lancashire. And it’s not like those Blue armies from London have anything to say either.

Now let me get into the game. There I was tension building inside me having spent half a dollar (a fairly high amount considering most people on this side live under a dollar) to get access to the venue, a small stuffy room with a full capacity of 100 people and a 14 inch TV that kept on switching off to the chagrin of apprehensive fans. 

If there’s one tactic I wished Liverpool was going to employ, that would be that they got into the faces of their opponents with swift pass and move play that was surely going to rattle Manchester United’s makeshift central defence pairing of Wes Brown and Chris Smallling. 

A lot of talk had been made across the media as pundits rued the absence of United’s preferred center backs of Rio Ferdinand and one Serbian defensive stalwart called Nemanja Vidic. Am not sure whether their presence could have made a whole lot of a difference considering that Liverpool has leaked four past the two in one game. Remember that 4-1 thrashing? To add to that, that player who used to torment Vidic, Fernando Torres, is long gone and there happens to be a new goal-poaching and scoring machine round the Field of Anfield Road; Luis Suarez. 

Liverpool went into the United game a wounded lion having lost 3-1 to lowly placed Westham the previous weekend. It was King Kenny’s first major loss in the league since taking over from the face scratching journeyman, Roy Hodgson. United on the other hand went into the game with the swagger of a league-topping club who had also lost to fellow title contenders, but nevertheless wanted to make a statement. And what better way to do this than meet your biggest rivals in the world of football? 

If anyone could have approached me and said Dirk Kuyt would score a brace in the game or rather be mentioned as Goal.com’s world player of the week, I would have asked them to Google the Dutchman’s scoring rate or look at his position in the Castrol Rankings. In other words, scoring a hat-trick against the hard sworn enemy should have been considered as an overachievement for the Dutch forward cum Liverpool winger. But looking at how much sweat he was willing and did shed, looking at how many runs he intended to and indeed made, looking at how many successful passes the Dutchman orchestrated and completed, looking at how many link ups he made with the equally tormentuous Suarez, and of course looking at how many goals he scored to reward his never-say-die attitude, you cannot simply take away anything from him. Not his goals which were assisted by Suarez, nor his record of being the first Liverpool player to score a hat trick against the enemy since Peter Beardsley in 1990. 

The first 20 minutes was all Liverpool with the defence providing covering, the midfield being as dynamic as possible while the strikeforce, which had Kuyt as the lone striker, was functioning according to Kenny’s script. If Kuyt was dominant, Suarez was unplayable. The Uruguay international forward is fast becoming an idol of the KOP. The memories of a certain Torres are quickly fading out, thanks to the almost miraculous speed at which the world cup quarter-finalist has settled into the demanding English game. Against Westham the previous weekend, although he ended up on the losing side, he gave a glimpse of panache that is so in him. And that he did just in time too as he needed to repeat this against the biggest enemy of the all. 

A good striker creates something out of nothing. Suarez created everything out of nothing to provide his first assist for Kuyt’s first among the three. His all round performance surely made Chris Smalling feel small while Wes Brown must till now be trying to watch videos of his previous matches in his frantic effort to just find out how many players have made him turn west as the ball moved east. 

Liverpool’s midfield was almost flawless. The ever fantastic Gerard was not perfect but conducted his business with aplomb. The ever improving Lucas (he’s becoming better with his short hair – I wonder how dominating a bald Lucas would be) was simply combative and devastating to the United midfield. In this game, he blended a little bit of Alonso, a little bit of Mascherano and added some Lucas in it that escalated him to a pass completion of 84%. Where are the Brazilian’s critics now? I don’t know what to say about the mesmerizing Meireles, Roy Hodgson’s only good piece of business he left at Anfield after a short peroid of, well, disaster. And who can forget the I’ll-be-effective-when-need-be Maxi who almost grabbed a goal to his name? 

But of all this contingent of exquisite performers in the midfield, Lucas Leiva stood out for me. He was always there making important tackles, breaking up the opponent’s play, attempting and successfully completing not less than 80% of his passes and always looking to split the United defence with one or two Xavi-esque passes we are used to see Messi feed on. The former Gremio man who arrived at Anfield in 2007 at a cost of £6 million has surely found some of his best footing this season. I say some because the lad keeps on improving with every game, in every season. From being considered as Liverpool’s Achilles heel to someone who dropping to the bench is becoming unthinkable, it may not take long before the Kop start composing songs for the 24-year-old Brazilian midfielder. And as he enters the final year of his current deal at the end of the season, I believe King Kenny and the club’s owners, Fenway Sports Group, will surely offer him a new contract. And a new contract he deserves. 

The equation that led to the demolition of Manchester would only be on the anti-climax after mentioning the defensive unit. King Kenny, celebrating his 60th birthday, went for Skrtel and Carragher in central defence, Aurellio covering the left side of the defence while Glen Johnson went back to his favourite right back position. Apart from the Chicharito’s header that provided consolation for Ferguson’s men towards the dying minutes of the game and the opportunity that Berbatov was allowed to have earlier which hit the post, the defensive boys were great even after Aurelio was replaced by Greek international Kryiagos Soto. Pepe Reina may have gone into the game with speculations rife that he might leave Liverpool for Arsenal or Manchester United but he was never distracted as he easily collected everything that came his way with the class that he undoubtedly oozes.  

The climax of course has to do with the fans. What can I say here? Simply put, even Barcelona’s Xavi, with all those trophies on the Camp Nou cabinet regrets at not being able to experience the passion and atmosphere at L4 week in, week out. Liverpool fans are simply the best in the world. Whether they are watching the game live at Anfield, listening to the radio commentary in Mongolia, following through the tweets and social network updates in China, watching it on a 24 inch plasma screen in South Africa or simply enjoying it in a small club with mosquitoes sniffing around baying for blood in Kawangware slums in Nairobi like I do, they are the best fans in the world. Period. 

With a massive 15minutes still on the clock, the Anfield faithful were already singing You Will Never Walk Alone, knowing too well the win was surely in the bag, bar a major football miracle. There was also time for the largest part of the 44754 fans at Anfield to sing King Kenny a happy birthday song. How befitting. I joined in as much as my voice could not be heard beyond the pub’s frontier. But I sang anyway. At the end, the pace and trickery of Suarez, the work ethic of Dutch-workhorse, Dirk Kuyt, the menacing passing of Meireles, the faultless distribution of Lucas, the on-point long range passing of Stevie G, the stalwart defending of Carragher and his defensive charges, the safe hands of Pepe Reina, the tactical acumen of Kenny Dalglish and the rapturous and immense support of LFC fans at Anfield and across the world did the trick.  

Cometh the hour, cometh King Kenny’s men. Chelsea saw blue, Man United got red-faced. Who’s next?  

Oh, I forgot to add something. Actually not something, someone; Andy Caroll. Walk on Liverpool. YWNWA.  

And That's thesteifmastertake!!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

It's Bigger, It's Better, It's Action-Packed, It is The Copa Cocacola

The premier U-17 grassroots youth football league, COPA Coca-Cola has kicked off its 2011 edition in a tournament that promises to increase value to all participating players.

The tournament has undergone some key changes in its format and will be carried out in an advanced professional structure.  “We are giving this year’s teams the opportunity to take part in the tournament over a longer period of time , enabling them to hone their skills and push their performance during the competition,” said Catherine Mudachi, the Senior Marketing Brand Manager – Kenya for  Coca-Cola East and Central Africa.  

The games continue to be open to both school and community teams. Each county will have an opportunity to present eight boys’ and four girls’ teams to take part in the games. “Each team will have a chance to play three games before qualifying for or being eliminated from the next round. The best teams will then move forward through a series of regional games all the way to the National Finals which will be held in Kisumu in July.

According to Gerald Chege of the Kenyan Premier League (KPL), the administrators of the tournament, the new model will consolidate the gains COPA Coca-Cola has made in the last few years.

“COPA Coca-Cola’s new structure brings much needed depth to Kenya’s junior football competitions.  The knock-out structure often eliminates teams that would have performed very well in the tournament, had they had a couple more opportunities to bounce back after their first failures,” he said.  “Now teams have three chances to show what they are made off, exposing them to talent scouts throughout the tournament,” he added.

In line with the company’s continued commitment to providing Kenyan players with best-in-class international exposure, Coca-Cola is planning for an international soccer camp with one of the world’s most prestigious football clubs.  “This year is no exception and we will communicate this partnership in due course,” Mudachi explained.

The formation of the COPA Coca-Cola dream team, a selection of the best players from the tournament, has also been set aside for a structure that is friendly to teams that have always played together.

“This year, the best teams will play all through the tournament to the international camp.  That sense of cohesiveness should be a force to reckon with when to the  tournament progresses to the international stages,” she explained.

There is also a stronger focus on the fans in 2011 given that football is a perfect opportunity for fans to bond with their friends.  “We will provide opportunities for this throughout the tournament as our experience with the FIFA World Cup ® showed that match viewing events created the excitement and atmosphere that makes football the world’s most favourite sport,” Mudachi said.

Since its re-launch in Kenya three years ago, COPA Coca-Cola has created opportunities for a host of upcoming footballers to reach for the stars and play in both the Kenya Premier League as well as junior international football tournaments.

Some of the players discovered through COPA Coca-Cola include Steven Odhiambo (Thika United), Emmanuel Tostao (AFC Leopards), Edwin Mwaura ( Rangers), Jackson Macharia ( Thika United), Edward Seda  (AFC Leopards), Joseph Kuria (Thika United), Dan Waweru (Western Stima), Felix Omondi (Gor Mahia) and Ali Ahmed (Western Stima). A notable winners from previous years is Macdonald Mariga (Inter-Milan), the COPA Coca-Cola goodwill ambassador, who was first discover in 1999 while playing during a Coca-Cola sponsored tournament dubbed The Coca-Cola Cup.

The COPA Coca-Cola 2011 edition also has an array of prizes with the winning boys team at the national finals taking home a cash prize of Kshs. 500,000, while the girls team will walk away with Kshs. 200,000. Other prizes include: Kshs. 200,000 for the second runner up in the boys competition followed by the third runner up with Kshs. 100,000. The top scorer, Best Goal Keeper and Man of the Match will all be awarded Kshs.20,000 each. In the girls’ games, the second runner up will be given Kshs. 100,000 while the Best Cheering Fan will walk home with Kshs. 20,000.

This year’s tournament will culminate in a COPA reality TV show which will capture the dreams, talents, challenges, performance of key select players at the COPA tournament, leadership skills resilience and all that goes on in the 5 months of the activation.

The tournament kicks off this Saturday with games being played in 8 counties across the country including Garissa county where games will be in Daadab and Nakuru county in  Naivasha.  Trans Nzoia will host theirs at Friends Kwanza Secondary schools while Kericho county will play at Kapkatet.

Kakamega goes to Mumias while Tana River will have their games in Garsen.  Laikipia heads to the Kinamba Center while in Migori county will excite in Kehancha. The games will thereafter be played every weekend with the National finals scheduled to take place on in July. 

And That's thesteifmastertake!!