Dictators, Scolari and Rio the statesman

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Hello, good evening and welcome to our version of That Was The Week That Was. It’s been a great seven days for football dictators, Scolari and the new, statesmanlike Rio Ferdinand.

Football dictatorship of the week

Constitutionally, the republic of Uzbekistan is a democracy, but it regularly features in such top 10 lists as The World’s Most Repressive Societies.

But the regime takes its football seriously and the 1-1 draw with Japan in Tokyo may bump the country back up the FIFA rankings: it currently lies at number 70, just ahead of Zambia and behind Costa Rica.

Uzbekistan’s surprising away point was partly down to Zico, the former Japan national coach who now manages Bunyodkor, one of the richest Uzbeki clubs, where his most famous charge is Rivaldo.

The former World Player Of The Year decided he owed it to himself and his family not to snub a £7m offer to play in Uzbekistan – and was so enthusiastic about his new home he persuaded Zico to join him.

This Brazilian flair came too late to save Bunyodkor’s Asian Champions League campaign; they lost 3-0 to Adelaide United in the semi-final first leg. Still, for a club that’s only three years old, that’s not bad going.

Their ‘secret’ talks to land Eto’o, Puyol and Iniesta didn’t pay off this summer. But they might be luckier when the transfer window reopens.

"'Ere Ron, you heard from this Uzbek bloke?"

The Stans – Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, not to mention Madeupistan (sorry, couldn’t resist the opportunity to pitch in with an old Lee Evans gag) – are on a roll, unlike China which, despite its economic momentum and passion for the beautiful game, remains considerably worse at football than the Brazilians are at table tennis.

Debate of the week

The Gerrard/Lampard boreathon – sorry, debate – is a classic illustration of what scientists call ‘the White Christmas effect’, the tendency which leads many listeners, advised by a DJ that they are about to play White Christmas, hears the song even if it is played at very low volume or not played at all. (The subject is discussed in illuminating detail by Oliver Sacks in his new book Musicophilia – see here.)

The Frank 'n' Steve issue trundles on, in part, because we are predisposed to assess their respective performances in a certain way. I have a slight preference – for Gerrard – but no supreme confidence that I am right.

I remember in the 1970s watching Ken Goodwin, a squat, nippy Nuneaton Borough winger who looked a bit like Kenny Sansom might look if he’d been through the crusher, and turning round to my mate Martin and saying: “He’s having a good game, isn’t he?”

Martin chuckled and pointed out that the game had only kicked off five minutes ago. That seems, to me, to sum up most football analysis – it is as much about what or who we like as it is about lucid, reasoned argument about the game.

Ken Goodwin (artist's impression) (possibly)

Flowers of the week

Roses were laid in Turin this week to mark the 42nd anniversary of the death, in a car crash, of Gigi Meroni, the iconic genius known as La Farfalla Granata (The Purple Butterfly) and the Italian George Best. For flair, hairstyle, and the punishment he took from defenders, Meroni matched Bestie.

He would be much better known but his move to Juve fell through because Gianni Agnelli feared that Torino-supporting Fiat workers would go on strike. Meroni was only 24 when he died; if calcio had a James Dean, it would be Meroni, remembered online here and the object of many homages on YouTube.

Book of the week

Luiz Felipe Scolari: The Man, The Manager by Jose Carlos Freitas (Dewi Lewis Publishing) won't win any prizes for literary style, but I found bits of it illuminating. Freitas has known Scolari well and the most interesting revelations to me were as follows.

i) Roman Abramovich’s shortlist for the Chelsea job was very short indeed: the only names on it were Scolari and Marcello Lippi.

ii) When the Portuguese FA rang to offer Scolari the coaching job, he initially pretended to be one of his kids because he was fed up of being pestered by PSG.

iii) As Portugal skipper, Fernando Couto was so scary, none of his teammates dared to leave the table without his permission.

Couto: "You. Sit. Now."

Metamorphosis of the week

From the man who gave us Rio’s World Cup Wind-Ups to elder statesman declaring the circus is over, Rio Ferdinand has been acquiring dignity at a frightening rate. Was it all this extra gravitas that slowed him down against Kazakhstan? He was casually strolling back toward the penalty area as Mr Cheryl Cole hoofed England into danger.

Plug of the week

Was at PSV yesterday interviewing Huub Stevens – who, among his other gifts, does a surprisingly good impersonation of Rafa Benitez on the touchline. For more on Huub, read the next Champions, due out on 19 November (providing our fancy new production systems work).

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