Labels, losers and laughter

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It’s a bit early to label Pedro Morales the Chilean Beckham but if the 23-year-old keeps scoring goals like this against the Ivory Coast, the label will start to stick.

Morales has just signed for Dinamo Zagreb, one of the most productive finishing schools in European football right now. Some stars, like Luka Modric, Niko Kranjcar, midfielder Ognjen Vukojevic, and defender Vedran Corluka, are home grown and sold on.

Others, like Eduardo, are imported from South America. polished and then sold on. The academy – named after two club legends Ico Jitrec and Tatko Kacijan – is now run by Romeo Jozak, who was assistant coach at Osijek.

Modric & Kranjcar: Two of many off Dinamo's production line

Jozak inherits an academy with an impressive track record – eight of Croatia’s Euro 2008 squad came from Dinamo – and the responsibility of making sure the production line doesn’t grind to a halt.

Every good club academy hits a purple patch and Dinamo has probably produced more top class prospects than either Manchester United or Liverpool in the last couple of seasons.

In England, the early excitement about the potential of such academies has cooled – though Manchester City’s continues to prosper – probably because too many have got stuck in a rut at the same time.

How good is Morales? He has been bought to fill Modric’s boots and Dinamo chairman Mrko Barisic says “Morales is the most talented player we have bought to the club,” He got off to a decent start with a goal from a free-kick against Linfield as the Croatians eased through to the UEFA Champions League second qualifying round where they will face Slovenian champions Domzale.

Closely observed coaches

In the 1960s Czech New Wave movie directors achieved global fame with a series of endearing, self-critical comedies. The most famous was probably Closely Observed Trains. The saga of the appointment of Karel Bruckner’s deputy Petr Rada as national coach was almost as funny as any of these comedies.

First, Bruckner announced his intention to retire this spring – but the Czech FA waited to find a successor, perhaps hoping he would change his mind. They then got turned down by three candidates (including Klaus Toppmoller who said he didn’t want to live in the Czech Republic).

Karel pitches up in Austria

They then started talking with a Brazilian they thought was Carlos Alberto Parreira, only to find that they were actually talking to Carlos Alberto, Brazil’s 1970 World Cup skipper who hadn’t impressed at Azerbaijan, and finally fell for a hoax email that said Gerard Houllier was interested.

And then, irony of ironies, the Austrian FA announces that its new national coach is…. yep, Karel Bruckner!

The Polish mystery

It seems absurd now but only two months ago, Poland was awash with the hope that their boys might win Euro 2008. After another failure, the nation must now look to Wisla Krakow, which has won five Polish titles this century, for some kind of redemption.

Unfortunately, much like the national side, Wisla’s international career peaked in the 1970s. In 1978/79, they beat Club Brugge on their way to the European Cup quarter- finals before being crushed by Malmo.

In 2005/06, Wisla broke their supporters’ hearts by winning 3-1 at home in the Champions League third qualifying round only to lose 4-1 to Panathinaikos in extra time after having a player sent off. This season they face Beitar Jerusalem in the second qualifying round.

Wisla bow out to Beitar in 2005 Champions League qualifying 

There is a theory that, in the long term, performance on the football pitch can be influenced by economic growth. Certainly Russia’s new golden age – two UEFA Cup wins in four years – has coincided with a remarkable economic boom.

Poland has the passion, the population and, now, the economic clout to compete internationally. But it is yet to produce a team – or a generation of players – that comes close to matching Lato, Lubianski, Boniek and Deyna.

And Wislaw don’t sound too optimistic. Defender Marcin Baszczysnki noted that it would be difficult to beat Beitar because they are well prepared physically, play a technical game and run a lot. Hardly what John Wayne would call fighting talk.

I predict a Rioch

Denmark’s surprise champions AaB enter the UEFA Champions League in the second qualifying round against Bosnian title winners Modrica. Swedish coach Erik Hamrén, probably the club’s greatest ever manager, has joined Rosenborg to be replaced by Bruce Rioch who has his first serious shot at a Champions League campaign since he left Highbury in 1995.

In his last job, Rioch steered Odense to third in the Danish league before quitting. Rioch was John The Baptist to Wenger’s Messiah at Arsenal, signing Dennis Bergkamp, getting the team playing decent football and deciding, as his successor would eventually would, that Ian Wright’s game was cramping the team’s style.

As the UEFA Champions League fixture computer has a wicked sense of humour – again this year it paired the Faroe Islands against Georgia in the first qualifying round, probably the most logistically exhausting tie it could select – it would be no surprise if AaB beat Modrica to be drawn against the exponents of Wengerball.

Bruce bags Bergkamp in 1995 

The worst training session ever

Don’t know why this story sprang to mind but it did. When Alan Hansen was at Patrick Thistle, manager Bertie Auld decided the best way to end the team’s losing streak was to reorganise the Saturday morning training session.

Auld told his squad: “I’m going to announce today’s team now, then we’re going to have a practice game without any opposition. We’ll knock the ball about a bit, score a few goals, and get our confidence back.”

After 15 minutes, the score was 0-0. After 30 minutes, when it was still 0-0, Auld blew his top and changed the team. But then, as Hansen said, “It’s actually quite difficult playing against nobody.”