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4 February 2008
Escape To Victory. Implausible, right? Well, on many levels, yes. There’s the bit where Sly Stallone slips out of the POW camp, is smuggled to Paris, contacts le Resistance, has a cheeky encounter with a smokin’ hot Parisian mademoiselle and then gets re-captured just so he can return to assist the prisoners’ fiendish plot.
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4 February 2008
Good on Roberto Donadoni for sticking to his guns and refusing to recall either Alessandro Del Piero or Antonio Cassano to his Italy squad for the midweek friendly with Portugal.
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Gary Lineker
4 February 2008
"I could have been dropped for the Poland game at the 1986 World Cup. I might never have played for England again."
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4 February 2008
Good DayVíctor ValdésIt's not unusual to get into an argument with a Barcelona fan over the merits of their players. Culés can be sensitive souls, sometimes. But it is an odd occurrence when you end up defending one of their squad from a rubbishing by their own hands.But that happens a lot with La Liga Loca and Víctor Valdés, a goalkeeper that the blog thinks is fine and dandy, but few others seem to agree. The Barça stopper is currently creaming Casillas in the Zamora stakes having conceded just 14 goals and that's with kung-fu fighter Rafael Márquez, and Lilian Thuram in front of him. Valdés' increased standing could be seen on Sunday, when a last-second strike from Osasuna was comfortably parried, when a couple of seasons ago, an audible gasp of fear would have whizzed around the Camp Nou as the ball hurtled towards a cowering keeper. A 1-0 win in the peeing rain against Osasuna will do just fine, although the Madrid press are still rather scornful of Rijkaard's current run. It's Barcelona's sixth win in seven and fourth clean sheet in the row, in the league – something which appears to have escaped their attention.La Liga Loca is not so sure that the result will make too much difference to the title, as Barça will fail to pick up all three points against Sevilla, next weekend. Instead, it follows Gianluca Zambrotta's train of thought."Last week we were out of contention in the League and it was virtually over. Now they say it’s game on again. I think there should be a bit more balance in football."EspanyolHooray! After three straight league defeats, Espanyol pull out of their nose dive in High Definition, apparently, with a 0-1 win at a wet and windy Getafe.Something that has put a big smile on Paul from Barcelona's face. And in answer to his question at the end, La Liga Loca must confess 'probably not'. "Glad to see Barça back doing what they do best. Offside goal, dubious penalty (Villarreal) and worst of all that Marquez assault on Plasil (Osasuna). Eric Cantona must be studying the video to improve his technique. Jet Li was seen leaving Barça's training ground on Friday. Now we know why."What gets me was that it was in front of the ref and he didn't even give a free-kick. Plasil was left with two enormous scars on his stomach left there by Marquez's studs and they were jumping for a header!! How to you get Kung-Fu kicked like that going for a header?"Maybe Laporta has a new bribe budget for the new Spanish fiscal year. So expect a glut of dodgy decisions soon maybe designed to make the title race more interesting or just Barça back to their best/worst."Question for any real football fan. Would you not go and see your team because it was raining a bit? Greatest supporters in the world, cart load of empty seats. Doesn't quite add up does it?"Paul, Barcelona.Luis FabianoThe man's a marauding machine from the planet goal. His 15th and 16th league strikes of the current campaign lift Sevilla to seventh, seven points from Villarreal in the Champions League places. The Brazilian was supposed to be heading for pastures new during the winter transfer window, until José Maria del Nido slapped a 60 million euro fee on his head, even though his buy out clause is supposedly 11. With Kanouté and Keita to return to the side, this week, things can only get better for plucky old Sevilla. Diego AlvesThe Almería keeper out-Casillas'd Casillas with a cracking display against Real Madrid, aside from a mind-popping mistimed slide on Sergio Ramos in the first half. The 22-year-old has now gone 425 minutes unbeaten in an Almería side that has yet to concede a goal in any of their nine wins, this season. "We pressured, didn't stop running and made Madrid uncomfortable," revealed their 36-year-old manager, Unai Emery, of his genius victory strategy. Almería may not be everyone's plate of cheese to watch, but their 32 point haul means that at least one new boy should be staying around for next year's Primera party. David VillaEl Sulko's first goal in three months helped give Valencia their first win in... er... a very long time. Ronald Koeman's side now face Betis (H), Getafe (A) and Recreativo (H) in their next three fixtures. Anything less than six points out of those games and the Dutch manager will deserve to be sealed in a packing crate and sent back to Holland by whoever happens to be in the charge of the club, at the moment. DeportivoVery hard to concentrate on the match with Edu's weird Pride and Prejudice style sideburns to stare at. La Liga Loca wants some. Deportivo string two wins together for the first time this season. Bad DayReal MadridVery much victims of their praising-to-the-heavens press, this weekend. Marca and AS spent much of the week declaring that the sun shines out of the club's footballing behind, so when they finally lost a match, it's then made out to be a colossal crash. Which it isn't really. Bernd Schuster could really do with dragging one of his injured centre-backs kicking and screaming out of the medical room, just so Sergio Ramos can be allowed to rampage down the right again, which is always fun to see.   Atlético Madrid Fight! Fight! A troublesome tunnel bust up was the highlight of Atlético's draw with Murcia, on Sunday. A supposedly crocked Leo Franco was lurking after the game, wanting to ask one or two questions of Murcia defender, de Cos, who he felt had deliberately knacked Kun Agüero’s ankle. "I didn't see him, honest" was de Cos' side of the story on the supposed stamp. And it was the same line taken by the referee who failed to report the post-match melee. Atlético Madrid have proven once again that they are club build on butter, with reports that Javier Aguirre had offered to resign, last Monday, after a couple of defeats. The last time La Liga Loca looked, Atlético Madrid were still in the hunt for the Champions League spots and in the UEFA cup. LevanteRobbed blind by the referee on Sunday who invented an equalising penalty for Racing Santander. "If anyone deserved to win the match, it was Levante," confessed opposition coach, Marcelino.Incidentally, the home side's cunning plan of not paying Riga seems to be working well with the striker having grabbed two in two. Rodríguez SantiagoAnother man in the middle who appears to have been seeing things, was the referee for the Villarreal v Mallorca who awarded two penalties softer than a blow-dried kitten.
SHARES
4 February 2008
How many footballers, like Van Gogh in Don McLean’s sloppy, stirring ballad Vincent, struggle for their sanity? And does football make their struggle harder?Football is, as Portsmouth keeper David James noted, an obsessive business. “How normal is kicking a ball 1,000 times a day? Elitism, by its very definition, is nor normal.” The professional mythology that “you are only as good as your last game” can, James says, mess with your head. Coming off the pitch knowing that – thanks to ProZone and the like – every run, pass, shot, miskick, tackle you made or shirked has been recorded somewhere and can be used in evidence against you can only encourage obsessive behaviour.So we should not be surprised when Victoria Beckham reveals that David has a textbook case of obsessive compulsive disorder: “We’ve got three fridges – food in one, salad in another, and drinks in the third. In the drinks one, everyone is symmetrical. If there’s three cans of Diet Coke, he’d throw one away rather than have three – it has to be an even number.” In his fine book Gazza Agonistes, Ian Hamilton noted that Gazza suffered many of the symptoms of Tourettes syndrome: “an excess of nervous energy, a great production of strange motions and notions: tics, jerks, mannerisms, grimaces, noises, curses involuntary imitations and compulsions of all sorts”. Gazza was also so fixated aboout keeping towels level on the rack that he’d run back to the house to straighten a ‘messy’ towel.There are so many things a professional footballer cannot control – injuries, form, the pitch, the opposition, a teammate’s runs, luck – it’s easy to see how they might obsessively control things – fridges and towels – that are in their power. Jari Litmanen has a different way of coping: he’s made himself Europe’s king of football trivia and pub quizzes.Obsessive compulsive rituals are part and parcel of football. They’re called superstitions. I know of one world class central defender in the 1980s – from the outside, the epitome of a steady model professional – whose pre-match ritual involved leaving the house at the same time, in the same car, playing the same tape in the car stereo, and picking the same teammate up on the same corner.This is classic OCD behaviour, though not as elaborate as the preparations by 1970s Newcastle striker John Tudor, in which a bottle of Mackeson, baked beans, rice pudding, chewing gum, whisky, Elastoplast, water and Malcolm Macdonald’s false teeth were all implicated.Scientists don’t quite know what causes OCD. It probably has something to do with the way the neurotransmitter serotonin works in our brains. Some surveys suggest it is more frequent among people who leave school at 16, as most footballers do. Probably 1-3% of us suffer from OCD. So, on average, between four and 12 Premiership players might. If you use the same math – remembering that 7-12% of British men suffer from depression – 28-48 Premiership players may be plagued by the condition Winston Churchill referred to as his “black dog”.Owning up to OCD is bad enough, admitting you suffer from depression – as Sebastian Deisler did at Bayern Munich – is even harder. Deisler and Bayern were brave to open up. They might, says Uli Hesse-Lichtenberger, have been influenced by the abuse that greeted Hannover’s Czech playmaker Jan Simak, pilloried as a diva before being diagnosed with “something between complete mental exhaustion and a milder form of depression”.In his piece, James intriguingly refers to flair players – like Deisler and Simak – as “bipolar”. These cases prompted many old pros to swear it never happened in their day. They probably wouldn’t say that to Neil Lennon. The Northern Irish international said that when his depression was blackest: “I didn’t want to wake up, let alone go out on the park.” The history of addiction in football suggests that such despair has often been masked with booze, gambling, sex and drugs. Fame and £120,000 a week salaries are no barrier to depression. Indeed, psychologist Oliver James believes that the psychological forces that drive over-achievers – often a reaction to childhood trauma, especially bereavement or separation from a parent – can undo them. Yet many clubs encourage this very trauma: in Cristiano Ronaldo’s surprisingly frank memoir Moments he recalls his misery when, at the tender age of 11, he left his family in Madeira to join Sporting Lisbon’s soccer school. We are happy to accept that poets, rock stars and scientists can be mentally troubled. It seems to the worst kind of cultural snobbishness not to give footballers the same largesse. In football, as in poetry and science, genius/madness may be two halves of the same thing. Would Maradona, Best, or Cruyff have been as great if they’d all been utterly rational?Not every footballer can disguise themselves as “one of the lads” and they shouldn’t be obliged to try. The media’s current psychotic intolerance for failure or human error doesn’t help either. We’re just as guilty. As the game’s economic polarisation continues, we increasingly assume that any player who isn’t doing the business is lazy, mercenary or rubbish. The strain of meeting such unrealistic expectations can only push more Deislers and Simaks over the edge.
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4 February 2008
It’s raining on the Camp Nou. Barca’s players are shaking hands with opponents Osasuna as the club’s stirring anthem – ‘Barca! Barca! Barrrrca!’ – rings round a half-empty stadium. Many home fans have stayed away because of the weather. Until a roof goes on in 2011, the stadium remains three-quarters exposed.
SHARES
4 February 2008
A huge fight broke out involving 200 people.
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1 February 2008
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1 February 2008
The January sales are never what they are cracked up to be: too many things that don’t fit and you certainly don’t need.Inter, of course, grabbed the best bargain in Portuguese tough-guy, Maniche while shipping Adriano as far away from the Milan nightspots as possible.The dailies and Sky Sports Italia tried their best to run with the story that Ronaldinho had been supposedly sighted being whisked into the AC Milan/Inter [delete as applicable] headquarters but overall it was pretty grim pickings throughout the month.AS Roma didn’t bother joining the queues, leaving Juventus scrambling around in the bargain bin for something to buy, anything in fact, and all they could come up with was Guglielmo Stendardo and Mohamed Sissoko while Olof Malberg was tagged and left behind the counter to be picked up in July.The Bianconeri fans knew what to expect from the Lazio man: absolutely nothing as he demonstrated in the Italian Cup defeat to Inter. Cumbersome and uncomfortable, as worthless as a second-hand sofa.However, Sissoko has left them a little more confused. Firstly, who exactly is he, is he the new Edgar Davids, another Patrick Vieira or God forbid, Sergio Almiron, kicked over the border to France or Tiago – no takers at all?The grumbling Gobbi will have a chance to peruse the goods when the Mali international makes his expected debut at the Olympic stadium on Sunday although it’s only against bottom side Cagliari.

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