30 May, 2008

Obscure South American of the Week Trece

Name – Marcelo Moreno Martins

Affiliation – Shakhtar Donetsk

Reason for Coolness – His nickname is ‘El Matador.’ Nuff said.

Reason for Obscurity – He’s from Bolivia, a country which is completely anonymous unless you really like doing blow.

Senor Moreno has been in the papers this week then, linked with a move to join Juande Ramos’ Spanish-speaking revolution in cosmopolitan Tottenham. Unfortunately the 20-year-old chose the icy plains of the Ukraine and Shakhtar Donetsk instead, but this chap is still very much one to watch for the future. Born in Bolivia to a Brazilian father and Bolivian mother, Marcelo Moreno played initially for the Brazilian Uunder-20 national team before choosing to play his senior international football for Bolivia, so you know he’s pretty handy. When asked by fifa.com last year about this decision, he answered: “It was a very difficult decision…Bolivia opened their doors to me and showed their confidence in my football. They gave me the chance to play in the World Cup qualifiers and this was a big incentive.” Marcelo attributes much of his success to the advice and guidance of his father, former Palmeiras player Mauro Martins.

Looking very similar to Barcelona wonderkid Giovanni Dos Santos, Marcelo has been the talk of the town in the Brazilian league for the last couple of years, impressing since his debut in 2005 for Vitoria. The striker bagged 24 goals in 36 games that season, earning him a prestigious move to big guns Cruzeiro last year. Due to his successful return of 19 goals in 32 games for Cruzeiro, Marcelo received his first senior international call-up against Peru late last year, and impressed so much that he is already considered the future of the Bolivian team. Following links at youth level with Liverpool and Manchester United over here, Marcelo is clearly an ambitious guy, with a dream of one day playing for Real Madrid. If his progress continues at the same rate, don’t bet against it; Shakhtar has a reputation as a breading ground for stars of the future, so expect to see Marcelo following in the foot-steps of Andrei Kanchelskis, and more recently Elano, in the next couple of years. Check out some of his madd skillz here:

Acorns on the Cob

According to rumours doing the rounds this week, Aston Villa are set to forgo the approximate windfall of £4million in shirt advertising next season, and instead use the space to promote Acorns children's charity. Just before Christmas last year, you might recall seeing several Villa players visiting the Acorns hospice in Birmingham to do some general bringing of cheer, and it seems that a strong relationship has been maintained ever since. Around £2million will be donated by the club to Acorns next year; a gesture which, in this cold and unethical world of football, is actually almost heart-warming.

The response from Villa fans has been understandably very positive and, praising the board and the management for side-stepping the usual minefield of shit travel companies and online gambling sites. This move also aligns the Midlands outfit with Catalan giants Barcelona, who themselves chose to join forces with a charitable organization this year, penning a five-year deal with child aid outfit Unicef. It’s a great precedent to set in this country, and let’s hope that certain clubs who definitely don’t need the sponsorship money (*cough* Chelsea *cough* Man United) will follow suit.

Of course there are nay-sayers though. Some fans are bemoaning the fact that, while it’s admirable to turn down sponsorship money, if it costs them players by being priced out of wage negotiations, then it’s the wrong move. STT would say in response that some things are bigger and more important than football, and in the long run, reducing sponsorship money throughout the game can only be a good thing. We do miss the old days of Holsten, JVC, Sharp and Crown Paints though.

The Incredible Balk

Thanks as ever to our toned-yet-heterosexual locker-room buddies The Spoiler for the tip-off on this one, as it really is too good to miss. While we were suffering through the sporting hysterectomy this week that was England playing the United States of Freedom at ‘soccer,’ there was a far more insulting act taking place elsewhere in Europe. Yes, while we were apparently turning new Wembley into a “fortress” by playing a rubbish team that didn’t want to be there, the Czech Republic were preparing for some shit international tournament in a fortnight’s time by playing the mighty Latvia.

The visitors were spoiled rotten, with Latvian flags displayed all round the Stadion Eden, and the program even featuring photos and information about the team. If that wasn’t enough, a hearty version of their national anthem ‘Dievs, svētī Latviju!’ (‘God bless Latvia!’) greeted the players as they stepped out onto the Czech pitch. It was a truly beautiful moment, however one that I fear might be over-looked in retrospect. You see, the Czech Republic weren’t actually playing Latvia, but their Balkan neighbours Lithuania. I’m sure the Latvians were very touched at the tribute while they were sitting in their bars talking about how ace it is not being the USSR’s bitch, or whatever Latvians talk about, but for the poor Lithuanians it must’ve been a touch disheartening to say the least.

The Czech Republic's soccer federation have since apologized profusely to its Lithuanian counterpart, and to the Lithuanian embassy in Prague. The federation said in a statement today that the mistakes were inexcusable and measures will be taken not to repeat them in the future. Spokesman Vaclav Tichy took responsibility and duly fell on his sword. His deputy was also fired for sniggering, while another federation official has reportedly been fined for re-labeling the countries humourously on the office map.

Latvia is famous for big-pimping metal-faced comic book villain Dr Doom, last seen firing lightning at Jessica Alba in the hope her clothes might fall off, and under-age prostitutes. Lithuania is famous for having a fast-growing economy, and also under-age prostitutes.

28 May, 2008

The Best There Is. The Best There Was. The Best There Ever Will Be (Part One)

Cristiano Ronaldo's goal-scoring tally ended this year with 42 in total, 31 of which came in the Premier League, and 8 of which were in Europe to make him the Champions League’s top scorer. Despite falling a few goals short of a couple of other guys in recent memory, it was the manner of the performances too which signaled his dominance against almost every team he faced. In addition to the buckets of goals, he was involved in basically every potent attacking move the team mounted all year, and those few he wasn’t, he’d still be drawing defenders away with his mere reputation. So in conclusion, he was pretty good, but how does it compare to other Premier League performances over the years? The STT editorial office has racked its brains over the last fortnight or so and these were the other contenders we could come up with…

Eric Cantona (1993 – 1994)

Perhaps the greatest foreign player to ever grace this country, Monsieur Cantona became the only man in Premier League history to win back-to-back titles with two different clubs when he left Leeds in 1993 for the Manchester United revolution. He propelled United to the inaugural Premier League and FA Cup double, and subsequently won the PFA Player of the Year award. It was his goals, but also his assists that made the mark on history, collaborating effortlessly with Brian McClair and Mark Hughes. Over the years he produced some of the very best finishes the league has ever seen, a couple of which came in this first season.

Jurgen Klinnsman (1994 – 1995)

Joining Spurs with a reputation as a diver, the media instantly took a disliking to Klinnsman coming to this country, with one Guardian hack even penning an article called ‘Why I Hate Jürgen Klinsmann.’ His first goal however was celebrated by a piss-taking fake dive, and the rest is history. More than 20 goals followed in the league, along with Tottenham Player of the Year and PWA Writers Player of the Year awards, plus the biggest accolade of all: the publication of a ‘Why I Love Jürgen Klinsmann’ rebuttal article by that same Guardian writer.

Alan Shearer (1995 – 1996)

After a season where Shearer bagged 34 goals in 42 games to carry Blackburn to the title, his true revelation came as Blackburn themselves struggled to make an impact in the Premier League. In 35 games, Shearer scored an incredible 31 goals, firing in with both feet and his head. Here are some goals from both the aforementioned seasons, pretty special I think you’ll agree:

Gianfranco Zola (1996 – 1997)

During his first four years at Chelsea, the tiny Italian wizard was head and shoulders above the majority of the league, but it was his first FWA-winning season that resonates most, carrying Chelsea to FA Cup victory. The following year Chelsea won the League Cup, the Cup Winners' Cup and the European Super Cup, with Zola once again pulling the strings. Funny to think that back then everyone loved watching Chelsea. Here’s a reminder of everything Zola did over the years then, if only they still played like this: (the goal vs Wimbledon at 19 seconds was the one that put them in the FA Cup Final in 1997)

Robert Pires (2001 – 2002)

A year after joining Arsenal, Pires really came into his own. He led the Premier League assist charts, and was voted both FWA Footballer of the Year and Arsenal's player of the season despite missing the last two months through injury. Arsenal won the league title, propelled by Pires, Henry and Ljungberg in their prime, but it was Pires’ attacking play and cracking goals that were the highlights.

Thierry Henry (2002 – 2003)

In the season where Arsenal were undefeated and dubbed the ‘Invincibles,’ Henry was the talisman, leading the league in assists (23) and netting 33 times himself. In total, he finished with 46 goals in all competitions, which is a touch impressive to say the least. The fact that many of the goals were absolute crackers is testament to his confidence and unparalleled shooting ability.

Ruud Van Nistelrooy (2002 – 2003)

Having scored 23 goals in his 32-game debut season the year before, van Nistelrooy really pushed on this season as United tried to keep up with the blistering pace of Arsenal. In this incredible year, the Dutchman scored 44 goals in 52 games in all competitions; 12 Champions League goals in 10 games and 25 goals in 34 Premier League games just to start. The domestic tally also impressively included three hat-tricks, and he ended the season with an eight-game scoring streak. See the year for yourself here -

It’s a close call then, as all the aforementioned efforts were pretty special to say the least. Personally, the Shearer, Pires and Henry seasons are the ones that stand out in the memory, but the sheer quality of the goals of Ronaldo this season is the factor that elevates it perhaps to the very top of the pile. His willingness to entertain and do tricks is admirable so dare we say that, yes, this was indeed the greatest individual season from an English-based player. His target next year? 50 goals in all competitions. Pretty frightening.

Agree? Disagree? Don’t understand? Well let us know in the handy comment box below!

P.S. Check back later in the week for Part Two, where we assess Ronaldo’s season against some of the true greats from Europe in the modern day, and also back through the annals of history…trust me, it’s really good, much better than Part One…

In the Imogen of God

It seems that there is a secret wannabe-WAG who has been running black-ops undercover behind enemy lines for a couple of years now trying to collect as full a set of Premier League spunk as possible. We know of plenty of tarts like Danielle Lloyd who have been passed around a couple of studs, but this fine filly has now been done by five players that we know of in just over three years. Her range of selection too is bizarre to say the least; they are myriad ages, ethnicities, looks, kudos and fame ratings. The name of this stealthy scrumpet is Imogen Thomas, in case you didn’t recognize her from the above classy photo, and she predictably was in Big Brother a few years ago now. Since then she’s being doing the usual. You know, getting her cans out in Zoo, trying to make pop videos, and appearing at various pointless film premieres in full character costume.

Things took a slow start for Imogen back in 2005, when the first footballer to hit the back of her net (sorry) was glamorous ex-Swansea player Lee Trundle, but unfortunately the coupling wasn’t to be as Imogen’s ambition took her up the food chain. The former Miss Wales became apparently very close pals with recent double-winning captain Rio Ferdinand somehow, and properly cut her footballer-screwing teeth with mid-30s ladies man Dwight Yorke. The busty beauty seduced the ailing striker after meeting him at a hotel in March 2006, and he was understandably bowled over by the attention, but sensitive Imogen ended it quickly after realising he could not progress her career enough. A gal pal told The Daily Star at the time: “Dwight was upset about it. Imogen is sex-mad and loves showing off her perfect size-10 figure. She had a lot of fun with Dwight but dumped him because he wasn't that famous anymore.”

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Things took an upward turn soon after however, when she fell underneath an up-and-coming young player by the name of Cristiano Ronaldo, just before entering the Big Brother house. The pair got together when the Man United superstar partied at the Sanderson Hotel's VIP Purple bar, a favourite haunt for footballers when sojourning in London. Imogen flirted shamelessly with the then-21-year-old while serving drinks to him and his friends, before Ronaldo took the hint and invited her to his suite where the pair enjoyed a wild night of spanking and chicken grease. A different gal pal told The Sunvertisement at the time: “Imogen's interest in Ronaldo was purely sexual - she's a rampant man-eater. She's always had a thing for footballers and just couldn't resist him.” She continued: “(Imogen) worked at that hotel because it's a popular hangout for celebrities and she's desperate to progress her career.” This all isn’t creating too positive a view of Ms Thomas, as outrageous cynicism to get a career off the ground isn’t exactly something to praise. It’s pretty cheap to just throw yourself at footballers who are ‘famous enough,’ but sadly it hasn’t exactly worked has it?

A couple of years in the wilderness followed before late last year Imogen was back in the tabloids with a another footballer. And quite a strange choice too; Reading’s man-mountain of a central defender, Ibrahim Sonko. Quite how this pair got together, or what they did for that matter, is beyond me, but the simplest explanation seems to be that a comic friend told Imogen that Sonko was someone else. Explaining the inevitable break-up a month later, she told The Mirror: “Ibrahim’s great and we’ve been having great fun for the two-and-a-half months we’ve been together but I am an independent woman and I make my own money. He knows that and respects it.” While this seems to suggest a strange pimp-ho relationship, the pair apparently parted on good terms, and are often now regularly seen enjoying coffee and shopping trips together in the Berkshire hot-spot.

Fast-forward to the present day, and Imogen has finally swallowed her pride and done the sensible thing in the eternal struggle to become a WAG: given Chanelle and Chantelle a call. The hot threesome went out on the sauce over the weekend to new honey pot Movida, where once again, the two Chans went home alone, but Imogen managed to catch prime young Mexican import Nevy Castillo, who has yet to really make an impact at Manchester City, but clearly scored well enough on the fame-scale to slide in between Ms Thomas’ pins. Looking a little worse for wear, Castillo seemed to have little say in the night’s proceedings, but hey, some of us like that once in a while.

You’ll be pleased to hear that we didn’t let the night pass without getting a quick comment from STT-favourite Chanelle however, who seemed on great form celebrating the apathetic response to her genre-defining debut single. “To be able to go on iTunes and download my own song is a massive achievement for me. But I'm taking it slowly,” she slurred. Offering one of the best quotes in recent memory, she then lamented: “I've been putting everything into my music…I've even had to put my plans for a boob job on hold because I can't afford to take three weeks off!” What a tough life Chan, even if others don’t, we feel for you. Alas Chantelle was unavailable for comment on the night, she reportedly had to get home early to finish off her quantum physics thesis.

27 May, 2008

The Touch of Gavinity

No not a thinly-veiled ineuendo of what I threaten girls with at weekends, but a rather sharp pun that intriguingly sets up what follows. Earlier this year then we ran a rather excellent piece looking at religious footballers and the surprisingly unselfish ways several famous stars from around the world currently donate part of their salaries, and also plan to spend their retirement. That article was inspired by Fenerbahce’s Mateja Kezman, who recently decided that life as a monk was for him when the goals eventually dry up.

The latest figure to join the evangelical ranks is the BBC’s own Gavin Peacock, former Chelsea and Newcastle midfielder-turned-TV-presenter, who apparently plans to move to Canada after Euro 2008 to pursue a life in the church. After finishing work in Austria and Switzerland in June, the 40-year-old will up sticks with his family to Calgary to begin a three-year Masters course in Divinity at Ambrose Seminary, a leading theological college. Peacock will then become either a pastor, vicar or minister, depending on which denomination he chooses to follow, although STT is not quite sure of the difference. Which one was Baron Samedi in Live and Let Die again? His life may be in mortal danger if he chooses to be a Bishop.

Peacock has apparently been a frequent visitor to Canada in recent years and, having dropped a fair amount of mescaline there, has said that he finds the Rocky Mountains to be a deeply spiritual place. Furthermore he has studied for a BA in Theology at Ridley Hall, Cambridge, since last September to prepare himself for the life. Abstinence from pretty much everything fun is a serious undertaking, but from the age of 19, Peacock has been readying himself to take the plunge. IV-drips of vodka, three smokes on the go at all times, and prostitute-filled sexy parties have come to define the last 21 years of his life in an attempt to get it all out of his system, and now finally, he has reached the stage where literally he couldn’t drop another pill if you paid him; we know, we tried.

Since his formative Queens Park Rangers days, Peacock has hosted a Bible study group for footballers in his spare time, been a frequent speaker at his local church events, preached at his Anglican church in Kent, and even broken up his football commitments with presenting Songs of Praise. Back in the mid-90s, he was also part of a book project with local friend Alan Comfort, who dropped out of the game to become a Chaplain. Never Walk Alone is the clever title of the ditty, charting the life of the two sportsmen as they deal with being Christians in a competitive world. Admittedly I haven’t read it, but its probable high percentage of God-bothering makes it a bit rich for my tastes, even for journalistic purposes.

Peacock is a role-model for many young Christians in the modern game over here, with Linvoy Primus and Jermain Defoe often cited as high-profile examples. Quite how Defoe’s religion aligns with what we hear about him most weeks in the press is up for debate, but there can be no doubting Big Linvoy’s faith. The lion-like defender reportedly leads a prayer session before every Portsmouth match, as there are a high number of Christian players in the squad and also in the backroom staff. Rumours that Jesus himself played a vital part in Pompey’s FA Cup victory a fortnight ago have yet to be denied, while slow motion footage released today clearly shows the S.O.G (Son of God) standing offside when Utaka’s shot rebounded to Kanu for the winner…

Flutter By My Love

Saying footballers’ weddings are tacky is like saying the BNP are racist, but even within the tasteless circles we have become accustomed to, this is pretty bad. I mean not quite the Aladdin-themed abortion that was the Jordan/Peter Andre nuptials, but still a wankfest of the highest order. Yes, everyone’s favourite couple Wayne Rooney and Coleen McLoughlin are preparing to tie the knot officially this summer (June 14th to be precise so get it in your diaries now), with a huge Italian monastery the surprisingly classy location of choice. It all goes dramatically downhill from here though; the theme is ‘butterflies,’ and each guest will be given a hand-made box containing a live butterfly to open at the same time. Seriously. An overly-enthusiastic source told us: “The butterfly release will make everyone gasp with amazement. It’s a beautiful sight, the day is going to be magical. They’ve chosen the Riviera’s most picturesque spot.” I’m not quite sure people will be gasping with “amazement” but whatever, it’s symbolic apparently.

Obviously Wayne had no say in this, so the buck has to stop with Coleen. She probably thinks it’s clever but it just sounds embarrassingly bad. The mysterious source continued: “Releasing the butterflies symbolises the freedom to be their own people within marriage.” Interesting; I always thought birds represented freedom, but what do I know? Butterflies are much prettier and they fit easily in a box. Anyway, the two-day affair sounds like a right good old knees-up, with plenty of posh slap-up grub, a disco on a yacht, and most excitingly, a slice of Wayne’s famous ‘hip-hop karaoke’ after the vows have taken place. Word on the street is that he does a mean version of Snoop Dogg’s classic 90s hit What’s My Muthfuckin Name, so look forward to that if you’re lucky enough to make the 50-guest cut.

It’s the hottest ticket in town apparently too: a recent poll found out that ¾ of Brits would rather attend the Rooney/McLoughlin wedding than the next Royal one. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or not, or whether it’s just depressing that polls like that get carried out in the first place.

26 May, 2008

Spit. It. Out.

Last week, in the Daily Star the so-called ‘Mr Chelsea,’ John Terry, has furiously denied spitting at Carlos Tevez during Wednesday night’s Champions League final after the Argentine forward accused him the following day. The incident took place during the same scuffle that saw professional waste-of-space Didier Drogba sent off for slapping Nemanja Vidic in the face. Terry said: “There was some pushing and shoving, I admit that. But no spitting, that is not my style. No way would I spit at another player.” So here’s some footage of it all then, kindly provided by The Spoiler, and if about 12 seconds in JT isn’t spitting/blowing his nose on Tevez, then what the hell is he doing?

Chelsea obviously deny everything, and have hired a crack-team of Ambulance-chasers to defend the aspiring England captain. UEFA spokesman William Gaillard told us: “The procedure is that we must wait for the report from the referee and UEFA delegates. If the referee says he saw the incident and that the player did not spit, then that will be the end of the matter. But if he says he did not see the incident, then we will go back to the video images.” If found guilty, Terry could face a three match European ban, with similar behaviour from Fransesco Totti and Sebastien Frey at Euro 2004 the precedents. This whole incident calls to mind a classic slice of 90s comedy which is shown below for your enjoyment. If you’ve never heard of JFK, or have had a sense of humour transplant, please ignore what follows:

Anyway, this controversy tops off what has been a not-exactly-great week for JT then, with a penalty miss plaguing him, and main rival Rio Ferdinand expected to be handed the permanent national captaincy before next week’s clash with the U.S. of A.

UPDATE - John Terry has written an open letter to Chelsea fans following the Champions League Final. The Chelsea captain wrote:

'To all the Chelsea fans, all my team-mates, the manager and staff at the club.
I am so sorry for missing the penalty and denying you the fans, my team-mates, family and friends the chance to become European champions.
Many people have told me I don't need to say that but I feel I need to, that's just me. I have relived that moment every minute since it happened. I have only slept a few hours and wake up every time hoping it's all been a bad dream.
I have had some amazing support from fans, current and ex-players, family and friends and I need to thank everyone for that. But I am a big man and I take responsibility for us not winning.

I am and ALWAYS will be Chelsea through and through. I will give my all on and off the pitch to win this trophy as a player and one day as a manager. And I am sure we will win it.
That night in Moscow will haunt me forever and I feel I have let everybody down and this hurts me more than anything. I am not ashamed about crying. This is a trophy I have tried so hard year after year to win and it was just an uncontrollable reaction, I wear my heart on my sleeve, everybody knows that.
The road to Rome starts here, we have to try and turn this experience to our advantage. I am very proud of how far we have come this season with everything that has gone on.
Thank you for all your support for the team this season.'

23 May, 2008

Looking Back on the Champions League Final

Congratulations to Manchester United for completing the double then. Surely anyone likely to be reading this site watched the game for themselves, so there seems little point in transcribing the action, but suffice to say, it’s a final we will be talking about for some time now. Perhaps not as dramatic as 2005’s incredible comeback from Liverpool, but in terms of sheer emotional intensity, this year’s all-English final will go down in history for more reasons than one.

There are many reasons that as a neutral I felt United deserved to win, but bizarrely their performance on the actual night is not one of them. For once, it was hard not to feel for Chelsea, with every defender and midfielder on the pitch giving their all for the club. The oft-maligned Ashley Cole was excellent all night, and after some early hiccups, makeshift right-back Michael Essien handled Cristaino Ronaldo with aplomb. Down the middle, JT and Carvalho were excellent as ever, with the former’s goal-line clearance from Ryan Giggs late into extra time keeping the tie alive. Claude Makalele overcame initial scraps to dominate the midfield, giving Frank Lampard and Michael Ballack as much freedom as they needed to pull the strings. In terms of attacking options, they were toothless and uninterested however, with Malouda and Kalou (when he came on) struggling to handle the pace, and Joe Cole anonymously hugging the right-hand touchline. Didier Drogba offered a quite fitting underline to his Chelsea career if he is indeed to leave this summer; pouting, ineffective and ultimately just plain stupid, this was the Drogba everyone but Chelsea fans have seen week after week for three years. Anelka too should be ashamed of himself; if ever there was a mercenary footballer it is him, with nothing even approaching emotion etched on his face after missing the crucial penalty that gave United the cup.

The Champions though, despite taking the lead before the half-hour, seemed to suffer from stage-fright for perhaps not the first time this season. While they were never really subjected to elongated periods of pressure at the back, they just had difficulty maintaining possession and building much going forward. The usual slick passing was absent, with too many players giving and receiving the ball standing still even early in the second-half before fatigue truly kicked in. Carlos Tevez led the line admirably, but Wayne Rooney failed to make any impact at all, and even Ronaldo faded into the background after scoring the opener. In line with previous criticisms on this site of his play in the big games, Ronaldo once again just didn’t gauge his team were having difficulty holding the ball, and continued to attempt backheels and flicks while a simple ball to feet would’ve sufficed. Centrally in midfield, Michael Carrick still seemed a bit out of depth at this level, while Paul Scholes just didn’t really have the legs to keep up with the pace and athleticism of Chelsea.

But, and it’s a big but, over the course of the season United have been by far the most impressive team in Europe, and for the sake of historical romance, many members of the squad are worthy of being called European Champions this year:

Ryan Giggs added to his record-breaking tenth Premier League title a fortnight ago by surpassing Sir Bobby Charlton’s all-time club record on the night, now with 759 professional appearances going back to the age of 17.

Paul Scholes, who missed United’s last Champions League success through suspension, was the first name on Ferguson’s team-list this year, and did himself proud at the age of 33 after propelling United into the final with that wondrous strike against Barcelona in the semi-finals.

The whole defensive unit for United has been as important as the much-praised attacking prongs, with even Wes Brown playing exceptionally on the night. You’ll struggle to find a better central-defensive partnership than Vidic and Ferdinand anywhere in the world, and behind them, Edwin van der Sar richly deserves his second Champions League medal, 13 years after the first with Ajax.

As undoubtedly the world’s best player this year, Cristiano Ronaldo warrants a Champions League medal like Kaka last year and Ronaldinho before him, to name just two. He finished the competition’s leading goal-scorer, and perhaps missing another penalty is what he needs to keep his feet on the ground.

From a real nostalgic point of view, the fact that this triumph comes fifty years after the Munich air disaster makes the whole unfolding of the season seem destined in many ways. It is also forty years since Charlton’s rebuilt Busby Babes lifted the first European Cup for an English side, so success this year was undoubtedly written in the stars.

And last, but certainly not least, this win surely lifts Sir Alex Ferguson amongst the true greats, with previously just the one European success not really representative of the club’s domestic dominance since the Premier League’s inception. His list of accolades is quite simply breath-taking, with 21 trophies in 21 years at Manchester United now if my maths is right. In 1999, he became the first manager to lead an English team to the treble of league championship, FA Cup and Champions League; he has won the FA Cup five times; he is the only manager ever to win three successive league championships in the top flight in England with the same club (1998-1999, 1999-2000 and 2000-2001); and now, he joins the illustrious company of Brian Clough and Bob Paisley as only the third British manager to win the European Cup on more than one occasion.

With further squad improvement planned for the summer, can anything stop this United team from repeating their domestic and European dominance next season and beyond? The average age of the current team is frightening young, but with a new goalkeeper, right-back and centre forward at least on Fergie’s shopping list, not to mention young talent such as Aaron Ramsey and Victor Moses linked to United, I’d get used seeing this team lift the Premier League and Champions League trophies for some time now.

Feud for Thought

It’s a pretty well known fact that a lot of football managers refuse to speak to certain television stations because of ongoing beefs. By that I mean: lots of people hate the BBC because they broadcast lies all the time and use our money to fund it. A couple of years ago now, a Panorama special looked into the perceived world of bungs and dodgy-dealings that underpin the modern game, with footage allegedly showing Pompey boss Harry Redknapp illegally tapping up Andy Todd, and Bolton boss Sam Allerdyce receiving kickbacks from two agents. Obviously both men denied all the accusations, but until recently have refused to appear on BBC radio or TV, even snubbing Match of the Day at every opportunity.

The most famous case is of course Alex Ferguson, who has not spoken to the BBC since May 2004 after a documentary suggestively probed transfer deals at Manchester United involving his son Jason, then a football agent. Following an investigation at the club into transfers and agent payments that revealed nothing underhand, Ferguson demanded an apology from the Beeb, which has been unsurprisingly not exactly forthcoming. He has therefore refused all requests for interviews since, and a source said: “he (only) agreed to present the (2007 Sports Personality of the Year Lifetime Acheivement Award) because he is a great friend and has enormous respect for Sir Bobby Charlton. It does not signal an end to hostilities.” Battle lines are quite clearly drawn then.

Now if ever there was a gauge to measure the differences between the top four divisions, it’s this. Stockport boss Jim Gannon has today added his name to the illustrious list of feuding managers, but this time taking aim at Sky. He has reportedly refused to co-operate with the company before his club’s play-off final with Rochdale, but what you may ask is the reason? Unfounded suggestions of paedophilia? Brazen accusations of consorting with prostitutes? No, much better than that. He shall not be appearing on Sky this weekend to protest against an on-going nine-month customer relations dispute over his defective Sky box, which they apparently refuse to replace. Seriously. It’s pretty glamorous in League Two kids!

22 May, 2008

The Sniffers

Phew, it’s been a looong nine months. Starting this self-facilitating media node all the way back in August, expectations were high but realistic. Obviously we knew we were good, but short of distracting our friends during their daily slice of accountancy/bespoke solutions/eco-war, the fear was that it would be difficult to break into the mass market. But after many weeks of spam posts on message boards and nuisance law suits, the tide started to turn, and with the help of some like-minded individuals, we seem to have done rather well in our freshman (people in America read this and everything, don’t you know) year. I’d just like to take this opportunity then to thank Ryan and all the guys over at The Spoiler, Jeremy and the Albion Road team, Tom at soccerpro.com (provider of a quite sharp Portugal shirt might I add), Ahmed and the Soccerlens folks, plus finally, Andy and all the other sites that are currently spanking us in the Liquid Football Pro Evo tournament!

Right, self-congratulatory circle-jerk out of the way. Since August we’ve enjoyed 38 weeks of Premier League action, plus an exciting Carling Cup, perhaps the most entertaining FA Cup in recent memory, and also the most dominant English monopoly of the Champions League to date. There have been heroes and zeroes, goals and gaffes, nutmegs and elbows, and as we reach the end of our first year in the blogosphere, we’d like to invite you to join us for the first Annual STT Sniffers. This is a celebration of the best and worst this fine season has had to offer, highlighting the match-winners and the flops of a season that has gone right down to the wire for the first time in years. Manchester United were undoubtedly worthy of their second successive crown, and based on their form throughout the year, who could begrudge them a Champions League victory too? Our focus has always been Premier League, but outside of the top flight we’ve also seen some of the most dramatic twists and turns, with virtually all promotions and relegations being decided on the final day. So congratulations as well to West Bromich Albion, Stoke City, Swansea, Nottingham Forest, the MK Dons, Peterborough, Hereford, and last but not least, Aldershot.

Team of the Season

I’m sure by now enough dust has settled for everyone and his dog to have come up with their own team of the season, but here for completeness’ sake is ours. We’ve tried to capture the whole spectrum of the season, so while certain players impressed in spells, consistency and number of appearances also had to come into consideration. With honourable mentions we’ve tried to pay tribute to others that we’ve enjoyed watching, so while there is inevitably still some big-4 weighting, hopefully most clubs are represented in some capacity.


David James

Like a fine wine, or an inexperienced prostitute, DJ continues to get better with age. He is more confident now than ever before, commanding in the air, and worth at least a couple of goals per game with his natural shot-stopping ability. Producing several contenders for save of the season, on the back of this year’s showing, DJ should surely be considered for a recall to the national team.

Honorable mentions: Brad Friedel, Chris Kirkland, Craig Gordon, Ali Al-Habsi, Roy Carroll

Left Back:

Patrice Evra

The loss of Gabriel Heinze in the summer was expected to be a huge blow to Manchester United’s title-defending aspirations but in Patrice Evra Alex Ferguson uncovered one of the most impressive wing-backs in Premier League history. Defensively, Evra has the pace and intelligence to read any striker (even Lionel Messi), while going forward he has almost as much guile and trickery as Cristiano Ronaldo. As first full seasons go, this was up there with the very best.

Honorable mentions: George McCartney, Gael Clichy, Charles N’Zogbia

Central Defence:

Nemanja Vidic

While many have plumped for Vidic’s central-defensive partner Rio Ferdinand, for our money, this hard-as-coffin-nails Serbian has been the stand-out, with Ferdinand looking a lesser player alongside a replacement such as Wes Brown. Physically imposing but softly spoken, Vidic has never looked in danger this season, handling everyone from Kevin Davies to Fernando Torres with aplomb. Extra kudos for almost always having blood pouring from some part of his anatomy without him realising/caring.

Honorable mentions: Joleon Lescott, Martin Laursen, Rio Ferdinand, Martin Skyrtl, Jonathon Woodgate

Central Defence:

Micah Richards

One of the real revelations of the season, this young Englishman was fast-tracked along with local lad Michael Johnson into an almost entirely continental City team compiled by Sven in the off-season. Built like a boxer and as fast as any striker, Richards has it all at just 19 years of age, reading the game superbly and clearly learning admirably from his rock of a defensive partner Richard Dunne. With interest from many major European superpowers, the world is his oyster as they say.

Honorable mentions: Ricardo Carvalho, Richard Dunne, Paul Scharner, Phil Jagielka, Steven Taylor

Right Back:

Bacary Sagna

Defensive consistency has been the downfall of Arsenal this year in many ways, but down both flanks they have been impressive, with pace and movement key. Sagna has slotted effortlessly into Wenger’s style of play and intent, with his marauding runs and crossing ability providing Adebayor with a good portion of his goals this year.

Honorable mentions: Glen Johnson, Alvaro Arbeloa, Vedran Corluka

Winger/Attacking Midfield:

Cristiano Ronaldo

A no-brainer obviously, you don’t need me to tell you he’s been a bit tasty this year. As individual seasons go, this has to be considered one of the greatest the Premier League has ever seen, and check back later this week when we will be attempting to gauge its place in history.

Honorable mentions: Ashley Young, Niko Krancjar, Stuart Downing, Ryan Babel, Elano

Central Midfield:

Michael Ballack

As if there was every any doubt that the German captain would come good in the Premier League, Ballack has been the dynamo that propelled Chelsea to within touching distance of a third league title in four years. Despite early season injuries, Ballack makes the cut for a revelationary last six months, scoring vital goals and running the midfield single-handedly for much of the time.

Honorable mentions: Javier Mascherano, Gareth Barry, Sulley Muntari, Michael Essien

Central Midfield:

Cesc Fabregas

While his incredible early season form has dissipated somewhat in recent months, this teenage Spaniard has still been one of the players of the season. In combination with the now-departed Flamini, Cesc has had the freedom to show off his incredible passing and long-range shooting ability. In many ways, Arsenal in general have failed to live up to Cesc’s standards this year, but with a talent like this to rebuild around, the Gunners should be back on track next season.

Honorable mentions: Mathieu Flamini, Steven Gerrard, Owen Hargreaves, Mark Noble, Jimmy Bullard

Winger/Attacking Midfield:

David Bentley

Over the last three seasons, the ex-Arsenal man has completed a transformation into a young David Beckham, but on paper he actually has more to offer than the LA playboy. With delightful footwork and running ability, Bentley’s passing and shooting have been second to none this year, rightfully earning him a spot in the national side. A measure of his season is that the only bad thing I can think to say about him is that he normally has quite a shit haircut.

Honorable mentions: Mikel Arteta, Sebastien Larsson, James Harper, Wilson Palacios, Martin Petrov


Fernando Torres

A personal favourite for a couple of years now while playing at Athletico Madrid, it’s been great to see el nino mature into one of the very best strikers in the world. Blessed with electric pace and able to score with either foot or head, it’s been his work ethic and determination that has impressed the most. Constantly subject to treatment from bruising centre-halfs, Torres has rarely complained or theatrically gone to ground, instead always dusting himself off to get the last laugh. In conclusion, if I had to be with a man, it would probably be him.

Honorable mentions: Emmanuel Adebayor, Gabriel Agbonlahor, Brian McBride, Yakubu, Jermain Defoe, Benjani


Roque Santa-Cruz

One of the league’s coolest players without doubt, Roque has had an exceptionable debut season, scoring goals for fun against all opposition. It’s testament to his deft feet that the big Paraguayan has never has he been considered a traditional target man, but rather a old-fashioned centre forward that has evoked the ghost of Alan Shearer at Ewood Park.

Honorable mentions: John Carew, Carlos Tevez, Robbie Keane, Kevin Davies Tuncay Sanli, Dirk Kuyt

Disappointments of the Season

It’s a short list sure, but that’s because most players who’ve been shite this season were always expected to be. Big price-tags coupled with big reputations contributed to the inclusion of these players, which is why perhaps there is a slight Chelsea bias, but overall Chelsea have been generally quite impressive under Avram Grant. They gave Man U a run for their money carrying so much dead weight so just imagine their success had the below five played anything like as well.

Florent Malouda:

Came with a great reputation from Lyon where, in a fantastic attacking team playing regularly, Malouda was a stand-out alongside Brazilian maestro Juninho. However with sporadic appearances at Chelsea, who are very much from the go-back-to-go-forward school of thought, he has looked slow and uninterested, rarely contributing more than a miss-hit pass.

Claudio Pizarro:

Playing up-front with Roque Santa Cruz, Pizarro was a pretty big hit at Bayern Munich. In terms of physicality, he had everything needed to succeed in the Premier League too, but all year he’s just been behind the pace and as blunt as a balloon in front of goal.


Chelsea’s player last season but on loan to PSV for work-permit reasons, big things were expected of Alex this year considering how well he was thought of in Holland. Given the perfect opportunity to impose himself with John Terry injured for parts of the season, Alex failed to pick up the game in this country, consistently struggling for pace, positioning and in all honesty, anything approaching competence really.

Tal Ben Haim:

Such a bizarre signing in the first place, this ex-Bolton man has rarely featured for Chelsea after a few early season mishaps, and one wonders exactly what his future will hold. As is, I’m sure he’s happy to soak up a huge wage for doing nothing, but guaranteed at most other clubs he’d be able to play often enough to get his metaphorical mojo back.

Andriy Shevchenko:

Another year and another pale imitation of the once-great man we knew at AC Milan. Shevchenko has almost been more frustrating this season after a couple of promising showings, but his woeful lack of pace is quite sad to watch. Word on the street predicts a return to the San Siro in the summer but one wonders if he’ll be able to produce any kind of form even back in his spiritual home.

David Rozehnal:

As a Czech Republic international who was Paris Saint-German’s Player of the Year in 06-07, the signs were definitely good, but alas it turned out that he joined the long line of abysmal Newcastle defensive acquisitions over the years. Having stayed at the Magpies just five months, Rozehnal went out on loan to Lazio at the end of January where he only played seven times. Neither team wants him and with good reason; even at Newcastle this year he stood out for being rubbish.

David Nugent:

Apparently more intent on sending naked snaps of himself to teenage girls these days, Nugent was doomed to failure from very early on, when reports reached the press that Redknapp wanted to sell him just two months after buying. Rarely used even in the Cups, it’s hard to believe that this is the same man who bagged an England call-up last year after a great season for Preston almost carried them into the Championship play-offs. Having scored zero Premier League goals this season (that’s one less than Titus Bramble) Nugent will undoubtedly be on his bike in the summer, with Redknapp keen to add another decent forward to his promising squad.

Darren Bent:

So much money gambled on a big fish from a very small pond, the pressure was always going to be on Bent from the start. With Berbatov and Keane main-stays should fitness allow, it was difficult for Bent to establish himself initially at Spurs, and with the arrival of Juande Ramos, it looked like his days were numbered. Sure he bagged a few goals coming off the bench, and actually looked sharp in places, but unless regular football follows elsewhere next year, it could be game over for this English prospect.

Dirk Kuyt:

Yes that’s right, the Dutchman manages to make both lists in some capacity. Perhaps calling him a disappointment is harsh, but with such a woeful Premier League scoring record, it’s hard to call this striker anything else. His work-rate is second to none, and you could argue the running he does off the ball perhaps allows Torres the space and time to score as many as he does, but still, three goals in a 38-game season is poor to say the least.

Emmanuel Eboue:

I think he was pretty good a few years ago but Christ, Eboue has been appalling this season. He has looked so uninterested, yet bizarrely self-important, while going through the motions in a variety of positions,. Furthermore his aggressive manner make him surely one of the league’s most objectionable chaps, even by Arsenal’s high standards. Normally I try not to get personal, but I just can’t stand him and wish he’d leave.

Freddie Ljunberg:

West Ham have been pretty flat last couple of years generally but a swan-song was certainly expected from Ljunberg as he finally bid goodbye to Arsenal. What followed this year was anonymous at best, failing to do anything really of significance as his glory days ebbed slowly further into the past. It was always a risky signing, but Ljundberg really undermined Curbishley’s confidence in him by rarely even trying to contribute in a team where his class should have stood out, even if he legs wouldn’t. Go back to modelling pants is our sage advice.

Goals of the Season

Ok, this started life as a Top 10, but research revealed an enormous cannon of great goals this season, so here instead then is just a Top 15, compiled in no particular order other than when they came into my head. Click on each chap’s name for a handy youtube video link because at the end of the day, this feature is pointless without. For a nice bit of audience participation, please send us your personal top 3 picks to the usual address.; if it matches our own editorial choice, I’ll buy you a pint. Maybe.

Elano - Manchester City vs Newcastle

About as true a hit from a stationary ball as you’ll ever see.

Cristiano Ronaldo - Manchester United vs Portsmouth

Out of several contenders, the best free-kick Ronaldo hit this year.

Stylian Petrov - Aston Villa vs Derby


Long-range accuracy from the ace Bulgarian.

Nani - Manchester United vs Middlesbrough (he did something almost as good against Spurs too)

Nani at his thrilling best; once his maturity and consistency improves, he could be as good as Ronaldo.

Dean Ashton - (35 secs in) West Ham United vs Manchester United

In a season where we actually saw a disproportionally large amount of overhead kicks (Andre Bikey anyone??), this was by far the stand-out; superb timing and co-ordination.

Cristiano Ronaldo - (50 secs in) Manchester United vs Newcastle

He scored a hat-trick in this game, but the second was such a peach. Effortless control and a world-class finish to cap off a typical United passing move.

Fernando Torres - Liverpool vs Middlesbrough

In a season where most of his 24 league goals were crackers, this long-range hammer was the pick.

Carlos Tevez - Manchester United vs Middlesbrough

Looking for a goal to sum up both United’s slickness and also Tevez’s telepathic interplay with Wayne Rooney, this was the obvious choice. How do you defend against soemthing this good?

Emmanuel Adebayor - Arsenal vs Tottenham

Despite scoring as many goals as Torres this year, I’m still just not convinced Adebayor is actually any good. This however, is absolutely sublime.

Fabio Rochemback - (2 mins in) Middlesbrough vs Manchester City

Anything Ronaldo can do, Rochamback can do too! The Brazilian playmaker was outstanding this year, and this final-day goal capped off his last season in this country.

Kenny Miller - Derby vs Newcastle

Back in the days when Derby were optimistic about their time in the sun, Miller announced himself in the Premier League with this absolute screamer.

Tuncay Sanli - Middlesbrough vs Derby

The Turk has banged in quite a few this year but none better than this technically superb near-post volley.

Daryl Murphy - Sunderland vs Wigan

Sunderland can hold their heads high this year, despite having a pretty mish-mash team at times. Not sure Murphy did much else over the season, but this goal was pretty damn good.

Sebastian Larsson - (2:20 in) Birmingham vs Tottenham

Perhaps made all the sweeter due to his ex-Arsenal pedigree, this screamer came deep into injury time and cemented his promise as one to watch over the next couple of years.

Andriy Shevchenko – Chelsea vs Aston Villa

The highlight of a mediocre season, Sheva seemed like his old self in this game; thoroughly involved and alert, this fine strike was undoubtedly the old Milan days shining through.

Cristiano Ronaldo - Manchester United vs Aston Villa

Can you honestly say that anyone else in the league would even have attempted to do this?

Game of the Season

Portsmouth 7 – 4 Reading

Even though it took place early on in the year, this stood out instantly as a match that wasn’t gonna get topped quickly. Thrilling end-to-end action, and one of those rare occasions where virtually every shot went in, leading to much Chris Kamara-based hilarity for those Jeff Stelling fans amongst you. Funniest thing about it was that, even though it set a new Premier League record for goals in a game, the score should’ve really been 8 – 4 as Pompey missed a penalty.

Honourable mentions: Tottenham 4 – 4 Chelsea, Tottenham 6 – 4 Reading, Aston Villa 4 – 4 Chelsea

Team Performance of the Season:

Manchester United 6 – 0 Newcastle

Honestly this should’ve finished like a cricket score, with all of United’s goals coming second half after they toyed with Newcastle from the first whistle like a lion with a paraplegic (sorry). A quite perfect Ronaldo hat-trick was the highlight, but every single phase of their play oozed class. If this wasn’t enough, in the return fixture a month later, United beat the Magpies 5 – 1. Baby steps eh King Kev?

Honorable mentions: Chelsea 6 – 0 Derby, Middlesbrough 8 – 1 Manchester City

Final Thoughts…

So quite a year then. Hopefully this rather lengthy run-through has helped jog a few memories and made you reflect on what has actually been a pretty great season of top flight football. Manchester United and Chelsea continued their dominance, and the gap between the big-4 and the rest widened even still, so the question has to be: next season can any of the nearly men finally cross the boundary and break into the top 4? Aston Villa, Blackburn, Everton, Manchester City and Portsmouth have all impressed over the last 9 months, but still lack the cash and consistency to really threaten even Liverpool.

Finally, can West Brom, Stoke City and Bristol City or Hull handle it in this league next season then? Short answer, yes with an ‘if;’ long answer, no with a ‘but.’ Teams will perhaps relish the chance to play West Brom because of their open attacking style, whereas Stoke present quite a different proposition. Big and strong throughout the whole team, they are reminiscent of Bolton under Sam Allerdyce, and with a couple of cultured additions to the squad could well surprise some people. Bristol and Hull meanwhile also aspire to play the right kind of football, but one just wonders where the goals are gonna come from against rock-solid defences. For two of them though, it’s their first experience of the Premier League, so whatever the outcome this time next year, it’ll be a hell of a ride.