Thursday, October 4, 2007

A-Grade Doody

Get your chuck buckets ready and click on this link if you dare. Andrew Orsatti of SBS fame entertains us with yet another hard hitting piece of smug, inaccurate, self flagellation.

If you've read the piece, and you have any real understanding of just how far our competition, and the game in this country have come, I'm sure you'll forgive me for this rant. The only way to really do it justice is to pull it apart, piece by piece. Let's begin...

A-Grade Mediocrity - Andrew Orsatti

The quality of football in the A-League has been sugar-coated to such an extent that I've developed a shocking toothache.

In the beginning, the marketing gurus came up with this little gem, 'It's football, but not as you know it'. Genius!

Whoever developed that one-liner must be psychic. I would go further and say, 'it's not football at all'. Most of the time, anyway.

Now, we have a new war cry, '90 minutes, 90 emotions'. They forgot to add those emotions rarely go beyond frustration and disgust.What should have been a new and improved 'Version 3' of Australia's domestic competition has taken a dramatic turn for the worse.

The first quarter of the 2007/2008 A-League season served up a poor imitation of the real thing, i.e. football the way it's supposed to be played.

Maybe that's asking too much. Something resembling the first two years of the competition would be a start. But the game has taken a giant step backwards this term.

For the sake of the fans and attracting corporate dollars, I hope that changes over the coming months as team cohesion builds. Don't hold your breath though.

Ouch! I'm with him on this so far though. Some of the football in the A-league has been utterly dire. OK, most of it. But last week we saw some sparks of life, and 6 rounds in to the season is a little too early to be suggesting that "the game", you know, everything from junior park football to Socceroo level has taken "a giant step backward".

Orsatti has established his point. Normally this is were any self respecting writer would start putting forward his suggestions for improvement. Don't hold your breath though...

This is a collective problem in which mediocre coaching and playing standards across the board have compounded to deliver an almost unwatchable product.

The loss of creative players like Nicky Carle, Fred, Milton Rodriguez and David Carney might offer one explanation as to why, among other things, the goal average is down.

Crowds are up, boosted by a new-found enthusiasm in New Zealand. From that perspective, the A-League continues to enjoy moderate success.

However, those of us who refuse to accept the status quo and believe in the potential of a better league were celebrating a major breakthrough recently.

I could go on about how this "unwatchable product" has again managed to improve on last years TV viewing figures and the fact that Orsatti himself mentions that crowds are up, but I couldn't go past the kind of self importance that makes a journalist place himself at the crest of the free thinking elite who "refuse to accept the status quo". That is, refused to fall for the marketing hype referred to earlier that is to blame for his toothache.

Never mind you plebs who despite some dour offerings, have turned up week in and week out since the inception of the A-league to support your team and the sport. Never mind my collegues who encourage their junior sides to aspire to playing in the A-league one day rather than to run off overseas to collect splinters on a bench. Never mind the fact that despite some mistakes, the FFA have managed to achieve what was thought to be impossible. Oh no. Andrew Orsatti has a toothache because as opposed to all these people, he refuses to accept the "status quo".

So, what was this breakthrough Mr Orsatti?

At long last, somebody with enough courage and credibility to tell the truth says he's only stating the obvious when highlighting the A-League's technical and tactical deficiencies.

I speak of former Socceroos captain, Craig Moore, whose comments stem from having seen the world of football, playing for both club and country.

He may not have played for Real Madrid, Manchester United or AC Milan, but doing what he did consistently for 15 years in Scotland, Germany, England and now Australia commands respect.

He said, 'Maybe people can run fast and those sorts of things, but I still think the thought processes are far too slow.'"It's one of those things where players get the ball and then think what they are doing with it rather than knowing what they are going to do before they get the ball. I think this is the thing that needs to improve in Australian football."

The "courage and credibility to speak the truth"? The thing is, I don't actually recall anyone suggesting that the A-league was world class. Nor do I remember one informed commentator suggesting that the product didn't have some way to come. After all, in a fledgling league with comparitively miserly resources in a global market, nobody expects to see the abstract art of simply knowing what to do with the ball rather than thinking about it, perfected just yet. Of course, one has to question the wisdom of reacting to situations rather than intelligently creating solutions, but that's an argument for another day.

I called Moore immediately after those comments appeared in the press to clarify his position. Let me assure you, he was not taken out of context, nor was he specifically referring to Queensland Roar's poor start to the season.

After his team suffered a 2-0 loss to Melbourne Victory, maybe he was being slightly more critical than usual. Or, as I like to think, he offered an opinion based on his immense experience."

A good player, doesn't matter how fast the game is, always seems to have time on the ball, and those players stand out head and shoulders above everybody else."

Moore added, "I think it has improved from the beginning of the A-League to where we are at just now, but that's the part that needs to improve for us to talk about where we are in comparison to the rest of the world.

"In a rather candid phone conversation, I asked Moore specifically about this last comment, 'I think it has improved from the beginning of the A-League', and thought, 'how would you know?'

After all, during the first two seasons, he was based overseas. I pushed the point until he admitted to having almost no understanding about what occurred in the A-League between 2005 and mid 2007.

Make no mistake, Moore's remarks are a slap in the face for the A-League, but as a proud Australian who played at the World Cup and saw what can be achieved, he also has the best interests of the game in this country at heart.

Hold on a second. An unqualified throwaway comment that the A-league has improved since it's inception, subsequently proven to be just that by your good self Orsatti, is a slap in the face for the A-League? Surely the slap in the face is that in one sentence, Craig Moore has managed to throw the credibility of comments you based your opinion piece on out the window?

It is true that Moore would have no idea what the quality of the A-league was in previous seasons. It's equally true that nobody knows how good this season will be 6 rounds in.

Compare Moore to someone like Dwight Yorke - he did play for Manchester United but I never heard Sydney FC's former star identify the failings of Australia's system.

Why would he bother? He was paid $1.2 million dollars to smile for the cameras, sell the A-League and get fit for Trinidad and Tobago's World Cup adventure.

Yorke's priorities were elsewhere, a long way from helping Australia discover the fundamentals of what it takes to be a top-class footballer.

If, as Moore points out, we are to talk about how Australia compares to the rest of the world, let's all be honest with ourselves and start identifying the problems.

First of all, our clubs are way behind Europe and South America. We're only just starting to learn about our place in the Asian pecking order.

Major League Soccer in the US will be put to the test when David Beckham's LA Galaxy faces Sydney FC, on November 27. How we measure up against African clubs is also unclear.

My concern is, if the best Australians are on the first plane to land lucrative contracts overseas, what are we left with here?

Should we try to promote our own or import more affordable foreigners, like the one-time Melbourne Victory sensation Fred, to drive our domestic education?

We are only just learning where we stand in Asia or a global context, our best players leave for more money overseas and we are way behind Europe and South America. Thanks for the heads up Andrew, we've only known this for the past 30 years. What exactly does this have to do with the perceived drop in quality of the A-league?

Above all else, Moore talks about a severe lack of game intelligence, the awareness to think a few steps ahead, within the A-League ranks.I see the problem as two-fold: the questionable quality of coaching combined with a system that mainly produces below-average footballers in international terms.

In essence, it's the same issue. What do you expect when there are very few qualified coaches to teach our kids?

Craig Moore may want to have a look at his own performance against Adelaide before accusing anyone of lacking game intelligence and awareness. After a harrowing 80 or so minutes against teenager Nathan Burns who turned Moore inside out more than once, he conspired to hack himself to a second yellow card and a sending off. It seems to be that young A-League product Burns had just the right amount of game intelligence and awareness to make a seasoned professional look a bit silly.

In regards to qualified coaches, it has to be said, that every state federation has qualified and knowledgeable people at the helm of their operations. Below that, unpaid mums, dads and members of the community devote their time and energy to teaching these kids as best they can with the assistance and courses and resources offered by the state federations. Maybe if a few more armchair media pundits headed down to their local park rather than spending their time bad-mouthing volunteers, things would be different.

Fortunately, grassroots football is being addressed in a big way. For more information, watch the latest edition of 'The Shootout', a weekly discussion between myself and Craig Foster, available via this website's video player.

I think we all recognise the A-League has done one thing right by projecting a far more polished and professional image compared to the old NSL.

As a result it's been able to repatriate the likes of Danny Tiatto, Tony Popovic, Kevin Muscat, Stan Lazaridis, Ned Zelic, Paul Okon, Steve Corica and Tony Vidmar.

Craig Moore, however, showed why he often wears the captain's armband wherever his football career has taken him. He's a natural leader.

His honesty is not restricted to the football either. Referees are now caught in the firing line, as Moore insists we must get with the times.

"We have full-time players here now and that will improve the A-League so, for the competition to continue moving forward, we have to bring professionalism in to the refereeing ranks."

"What I have found is that some people tend to bury their heads in the sand over some issues in the A-League. They are afraid of negativity. That's not good for the game," he said."If you want the A-League to progress then you have to confront any problems with an open mind."

By standing up for Australian football, he's reopened a debate we need to have, and embarrassed a host of A-League officials, coaches, players and commentators who've been trying to pull the wool over our eyes ever since day one.

Sorry fellas, but some of us are not that naïve.

And neither are we Mr Orsatti. The football educated public of Australia can see right through your smug, attention seeking agenda. We know there are faults and we know things can be improved, but many of us dedicate our time to changing "the status quo" and actually support the growth of the game by getting down to the A-league and getting behind it.

To suggest that A-League officials, coaches, players and commentators are trying to pull the wool over your ever so enlightened eyes is a disgraceful comment and nothing more than an attempt to gain notoriety.

The FFA set out to create a financially viable league in which our young stocks could stay in the country a little longer, our Socceroos would come back and play in and would be seen live by thousands of fans and millions of viewers on TV. The FFA have achieved, or are well on their way to achieving all of these. Despite some trial and error, they should be congratulated.

On the other hand, I hope they read your piece and put it where it belongs. The rubbish bin.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Australia Dicked

I won’t mince words today. The appointment of Dick Advocaat to manage the Socceroos by the FFA is a disaster.

A quick flick over his recent history makes for some strange reading. Let’s put aside the 2004 Euro campaign with Holland in which he was roundly criticised for poor performances and head scratching tactical decisions. After all it’s easy to lay the boot in with hindsight. What the FFA should be focussing on is his more recent record.

After the Euros Advocaat took on the top job at Borussia Mönchengladbach, which he walked out on after a terrible run of results in April 2005. He agreed to terms with Saudi Arabia shortly after and reneged on the deal to take up the reins for Korea. Advocaat quit his post after failing to proceed from the group stages at the World Cup in 2006. We are lead to believe that although Advocaat had made an agreement to stay with his latest post at Zenith St Petersburg in Russia if he qualifies for European competition, he has now agreed with the FFA to take the top job in Australia.

Hardly inspiring reading. Add the widely held belief that his brusque manner has put him at logger heads with plenty of players, fans and bosses and he once described Australia’s international commitments as “micky mouse” when forced to release Rangers players or international duty, and the picture isn’t too rosy.

So what is it that the FFA see in Dick Advocaat? It’s not his stellar record at club or international level, neither is it is pedigree within Asia. It’s certainly not his loyalty to employers or his track record of man management. Could it be that the FFA have fallen for a coach with a high profile from the same school as Hiddink in hope of similar returns?

If this is the case then Australia have most certainly been dicked. As a passionate supporter of the Socceroos I am dismayed by the fact that the FFA’s star chasing has allowed them to pass over potential candidates like Jose Pekerman and Jorvan Vieria.

As I have heard from more than one Dutchman, this is likely to end in tears.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Junior Utopia

I recently decided to change clubs and coach juniors closer to home. Completely by accident I have managed to join a club that is the future of junior football in Australia.
Whilst Les Murray and the SBS crew sit on high in their ivory presenters desks observing the junior coaching system and pointing out it's flaws, the real hero’s on the ground go unnoticed.

On Saturday I woke up early to meet my future club. Nestled amongst the valleys and fog was an icy complex of playing fields. Cones, goals made of PVC piping and flags stretching for hundreds of metres. As I walked from the car park to a huddle of parents, children and the odd coach huddled around a coffee stand, something felt a little different. I’m familiar with the buzz of the suburban football field on a Saturday morning. The whistles, shouts and cheers. One thing I didn’t expect to find was such warmth on such a cold winter morning.

As the games started up on small pitches with 4, 5 or 7 a side, not a whisper of negativity emanated from the sidelines. Coaches stood quietly, speaking only to utter praise. Parents refrained from groaning at the refs decisions or barking instructions at the kids. There was no doofus dad screaming “Get rid of it!” or cliques of parents glancing side-ways as they spoke disapprovingly of their child’s coach. In fact, the behaviour of every adult was exemplary, and only bettered by what I saw on the pitch.

The 11 year-olds I noticed were entrancing. Confidently shifting the ball from right to left foot. Moving into space, looking up and assessing the field of play before receiving the ball and opening up their bodies to elegantly slide it to one of their team mates. Each one expressing themself with a confidence only nurtured in a non-judgemental, loving and fun environment. I noted that not one of them was interested in booting the ball at goal and the only aim was to intricately tic-tac their way to a simple tap in.

It reminded me of the way I used to play the game as a child with friends on the street or at a local park. It took me back to visions of children playing for hours without keeping score on dirt pitches in the alleyways of Argentina’s city’s. Experimenting, teasing, learning. This is the future of Australian football.

Again my mind swings back to the hours of lectures repeated ad-nauseum on “The World Game” show on SBS. Like a fire and brimstone sermon from an apoplectic priest we are constantly told of the evils of our “British” coaching mentality and our backwards, archaic and ugly approach to the game. I have experienced exactly what Foster and Murray are on about, when I was eleven. To be sure, twenty years later that mentality still exists in pockets. However the reality is that clubs like the one I visited on Saturday exist all over the country and associations and federations across the continent are reforming and improving at a startling rate. The criticism of the work done at grass-roots level is over-blown, condescending and for the most part, inaccurate and counter-productive.

When one of the SBS crew launch in to a tirade, I like to remember a story I read on a club website quite recently…..

Great motivational speeches
TFF reader Ben Shine was sitting at a sports ground in the inner city
waiting for his soccer grand final to start, and passing the time by
watching one of the curtain-raiser games, between two under-9 teams.

"The first half," he writes, "was a tense affair with parents and
other onlookers screaming their lungs out at these kids, and it was
obvious that this grand final meant a lot to them. The first half
ended 2-0 to the blue team and, as I was lucky enough to be sitting
next to the losing team of Abbotsford, I overheard their coach give
their half-time pep talk.

"Instead of the usual 'play it up the guts', 'give 110 per cent'
speech, the coach's speech consisted entirely of an enthusiastic
rendition of, "If you're happy and you know it, clap your hands". It
was obvious that this coach, who had a strong Greek accent, cared
only about the kids being happy and not the result of the game,
unlike many of the parents.

"Anyway, the Abbotsford team went out in the second half and
proceeded to score three unanswered goals, thus winning the game,
sending the team and the coach back into another chorus of , "If
you're happy and you know it, clap your hands". It was an amazing
sight, and I only wish I had a coach like that."

TFF salutes you, Coach, wherever you are.

The Fitz Files (TFF) - The best of 2004 ...
By Peter FitzSimons
Sydney Morning Herald
January 1, 2005

And that, my fellow students of the game puts it all in perspective. Champions will come from being allowed to play, being nurtured and being happy, and from those wonderful parents and coaches who for the most part volunteer their time, effort and expertise without remuneration. Not from the zealots on TV on a Sunday afternoon.

Apologies for not updating the blog for some time. If I have learnt anything, it's to get my flu shots!

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

When is a Dive Not a Dive?

It is universally recognised that falling over when no contact has been made in the game of football is a despicable act. It can wrongly get the challenger sent off and change the course of a match. It can even decide titles. But why is it that so called “tactical fouling” does not produce the same level of ire from certain quarters? Could tactical fouling be fuelling the acceptance and proliferation of diving?

I grew up in a slightly different football culture than most as a child. I remember my uncle’s frustration when watching me play at an inter school round robin. I desperately wanted to impress him, but with my slight stature I was struggling to gain any foothold in the match. It was in my nature to keep my feet and fight for control of the ball, but I found myself increasingly bumped and tapped out of the match. At half time my uncle approached me and said “A foul is a foul. The referee won’t protect you if you keep running when they have chopped your ankles off.”

Far away from suburban football grounds and schoolboy competition, modern professional players who spend longer periods of the match on the ball might go down easier because of the litany of tactical fouling employed to minimise their effect. Whilst staying on their feet might produce short term gains, the risk of serious injury and the effectiveness of the modern free-kick have convinced many that going down and seeking the protection of the referee is the better option. It could even be said that Greece used this tactic to great effect winning the Euro’s in 2004. They knew full well that their strength was at set pieces and playmaker Giorgos Karagounis did a fanastic job of milking and exploiting tactical fouls around the midfield. The South Americans have employed these tactics for as long as anyone can remember, and a culture of exaggerating contact has taken root in the east as the Asian Cup clearly demonstrated.

All those years ago, short of asking me to dive, my uncle awakened me to the reality that in order to be able to play my game, I would have to enlist the help of the referee. Was it diving to exaggerate contact? According to FIFA, “Simulation” is a cardable offence. So any motion not consistent with the contact (or lack of contact) made is not in step with FIFA’s fair play mantra. I was cheating.

This brings me to the subject of the tactical foul. For those not familiar with the term, a tactical foul is a “soft” foul that whilst not incurring a card, will force the referee to stop play and is employed to disrupt the rhythm or impede the progress of the opposite team. Whilst in many parts of the world this tactic is as despised as the dive there have been no efforts to wipe this equally cynical element of the game out by authorities.

The reality is, that tactical fouling, and the practice of exaggerating contact are co-dependant and for the most part, wiping one out, will see the demise of the other. It’s useless to enter in to a chicken or the egg argument. Whether diving is encouraged by the increasingly used tactic of soft fouling or that diving allows the use of the tactical foul to be effective is a never ending argument.

The solutions to the problems are a lot more difficult than making an observation in a blog. The first big issue to deal with these problems is the cultural divide across the football world. Whilst simulation is not viewed with the same level of disgust in Latin America and Asia as it is in Europe, tactical fouling is considered a necessary part of the game on the continent. I note than in response to Brazils somewhat pragmatic approach to the Copa America final, one email published in Tim Vickery’s column summed up what many in Latin America feel about the disparity in outrage over the two practices. Sandra N said "I've seen a lot of football since I was a kid. And I take no pleasure in seeing my beloved Brazil becoming the new Italy. I despair at the hypocrisy of Americans and Brits who feel such moral outrage about [diving] yet have nothing to say about their acceptance of tactical fouling..”

What do bloggers think? Are these two footballing crimes an equal blight on the game? Is diving a necessary protection in some cases? Is tactical fouling a justifiable stategy?

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Technically and Tactically: A Tale Of Two Nations

Watching Australia bow out of the Asian Cup against Japan, and Argentina win it’s 6th Under 20 World Cup, some interesting questions are raised about both country’s approaches to player development.

If you follow football in Australia you know that the topic of youth development has become one of the ugliest and probably most divisive issues in Australia’s recent football history. As fellow blogger, Mikey Salter describes it, our very own “culture war”, complete with racial stereotypes, slander and self preservation has muddied this topic for a few years now. So it is important to approach any discussion on the subject with sensitivity and honesty.

It would be easy to point to the unprecedented success that Argentina has had at under 20 level as endorsement for a more technical approach to youth development. Dig a little deeper however and it can be easily argued that none of this success, save for the 1979 under 20 triumph, has translated to tournament trophies at full senior level. Argentine’s Javier Saviola, Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero have been the recipients of three, of the last four Golden Boot awards at the Under 20’s and it is here some conclusions can be drawn.

Neither of the three players mentioned are very big. All three rely on solid technique and quick feet to compete. In fact Argentina’s line-ups at the 2006 World Cup and 2007 Copa America could hardly be described as tall, aggressive or workman-like. Both tournaments saw them rated as the most attractive team in the competition and both tournaments saw them go out against Germany and the newly solidified and increasingly athletic Brasil respectively. It’s fair to say, that for all of Argentina’s aesthetic and technical ability, its lack of physical presence gets found out at senior level.

On the other hand, I watched with dismay as Australia crashed out of the Asian Cup against Japan on Saturday night. Much will be made of a generally poor tournament, a not so dubious red card for Vince Grella and two of Australia’s so called “super-stars” taking abysmal penalty kicks, but in the end, Australia drew once, and lost twice to teams that were probably more technical astute on an individual level. Whilst all three teams suffered from a size disadvantage, and in some cases looked far more fragile physically they managed to get a result against the tournament favourites.

In stifling heat and humidity Australia’s inability to slow down the pace of the game, a technically difficult thing to do, ultimately resulted in the Socceroos downfall. For all our power and size, we proved that we will not always be able to dominate our opponents physically in Asia.

From personal experience I believe it is true that a well coached, imaginative and technically proficient team junior team will be able to dominate games against physically stronger, bigger and even quicker opposition. But as the examples of both Argentina and Australia show, neither approach is the definitive answer to our junior development questions. Whilst the accusations of a “British Mafia” dominating the youth system and teaching an outmoded kick and rush game is completely exaggerated, we see precious few examples of junior coaches teaching a balanced game that values both competitive, aggressive play and creativity, technique and style. If the dogmatic and often reactionary mentality of polar and warring philosophies continues at youth level, even while the international examples clearly point to the need for a balanced approach, we can expect a few more disappointments at international level.

If you have your own views on this topic or any others in this blog, feel free to comment!

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Japan Turn Up The Heat In Hanoi

And so the hand-wringing tension continues as the Socceroos prepare to take on the might of Japan in the Asian Cup quarter final.

Reading the press throughout the widespread panic and hysteria that followed Australia’s dismal first two group games of the Asian cup against Oman and Iraq, one thing has been made patently obvious. The Socceroos cope a lot better with the pressure Japan are currently trying to heap on them than they do when the pressure comes from their own press and fans.

A relaxed Harry Kewell gave his post match interview after a relieving 4-0 win against Thailand taking Australia past the group stage. He would have us believe that the squad knew they would pull out of their funk, harmony within the squad was never an issue and media rumours of the team’s demise were greatly exaggerated. This may well be true, but they were putting on a mighty good act. Make no mistake, the team and its coaching staff were feeling the heat, no pun intended. No professional group of footballers wants to be part of a humiliating early exit, especially not one that readily accepted its “favourite” tag before the tournament.

The Thai game was by no means as dominant a performance by the Socceroos as the score suggests, but goals, plus a few solid individual performances will have done the teams self belief a world of good, and more importantly, helped them overcome their first hurdle. Themselves. Now it is time to take on one of the true Asian superpowers in Japan and put the demons of the group stage behind them.

The Blue Samurai are doing their very best to unnerve Australia. The stealthy and cultured playmaker Nakamura famously making the point that “"Australia are not Asian. They are similar to Austria, Slovakia and Slovenia, […] We can demonstrate our finesse against such opponents and I'm looking forward to it.". Read between the lines and the insinuations are obvious. Kawaguchi forces home the point, "Their individual skills remain very high. They shoot the ball off the feet of goalkeepers. They often make final assaults with long balls,".

Japan clearly feel that they were the better side in Kaiserslautern last year and it seems that their adherence to a pseudo Brasilian game has also brought a pride in their short passing, technical style. Whilst the comments made by Nakamura and Kawaguchi regarding the Australian long ball game are at best exaggerated and at worst a lazy stereotype, they may not be too far from pinpointing what will define Saturdays game.

Japan will want to pass the ball and force Australia to chase in the Hanoi heat. If they can maintain extended periods of possession early on in the match it will be an uphill struggle for the Socceroos. Serious doubts have to be raised about Japan’s ability to do this against a physically dominant side. Giving Vietnam a footballing lesson in the 4-1 group stage win is an entirely different proposition to facing an aggressive and physical Socceroos side, particularly one spurred on by their early tournament scare and the jibes emanating from the Japanese camp. The key to Australia’s game is whether or not our central midfield will finally show its mettle. Jason Culina and Vince Grella have been disappointing thus far but will be the key to this match if Graham Arnold, the Australian coach, persists with the duo. If they can minimise the influence of Nakamura and to a lesser extent, deep midfielder Suzuki, it’s likely that Australia will be in the running.

We wait with baited breath.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Goodbye Riquelme.

It might be a bit early for obituaries but one has to think that Riquelme has reached the end of the road.

It’s almost a cliché, so often has it been said, but Riquelme divides opinion. The believers such as myself, are of the opinion that he harks back to a more romantic era, an era when the game was played to be beautiful. An old fashioned schemer in the mould of the great Argentine “10’s” or “enganche”, a languid, almost wistful technician impossible to knock off the ball and unique in his ability to absolutely dominate and command play in the midfield at a snail like pace……and sometimes not. This brings me to the Copa America final against Brasil.

As he did so kindly for his detractors against Arsenal in the Champions League semi final in 2006, Riquelme conspired to save his worst performance for the most important of matches against Brasil in the Copa America final. With five goals, a host of assists and an outstanding tournament behind him Riquelme should have take to the stage with confidence, ready to put the proverbial sock in the mouths of his detractors. But history will show that when it really mattered, he couldn’t take the step from unfulfilled mercurial genius, to one of the genuine greats of his generation.

It’s a shame really. In fact, I am completely devastated. Riquelme was a counterweight to the overwhelming trend in football today of power and pace over elegance and style. A unique luminary, who, with some intestinal fortitude, might have shifted the mindset of the football world’s tacticians and thinkers. Like the Argentina side he played in under Jose Pekerman and Alfio Basile, he was the template for creative, intelligent football. But like Argentina in Germany and a few days ago in Venezuela, the pragmatists have proved yet again, that they play football that wins. In the end, no amount of aesthetic, attacking endeavour or delicate football will stain the pages of almanacs and history books like a cup trophy. Riquelme and the aestheticists have to write this tournament off as yet another failure.

And so, in an alternate universe, Riquelme, at age 29, would finally live up to his potential and lead Argentina to the Cop America astounding pundits along the way and closing the mouths of the unbelievers. Soon after the heavy weights of Europe would come calling and build sides around him that would win European honours and prepare him for his one last shot at international glory in South Africa.

But it is not to be. As we approach the European season I have heard that Wolfsburg and Schalke are interested in the playmakers services, a move that would surely not suite him as a player. Whilst I am currently mourning his failures as a player, a move to England or Germany would be like watching his cremation.. With little else on the horizon, and despite his career success in South America, nobody will be offering Riquelme a platform to reach greatness this European summer.

His 30th year is fast approaching and I fear that Riquelme will be remembered as the great that never was. RIP and thanks for the memories.