Some Verbiage On the Wanderers versus Gunners in 2017 (Or how Manfred has gone audio)

In light of today’s announcement regarding the securing of a friendly match between the Western Sydney Wanderers and Arsenal in July 2017, to be played at ANZ stadium, I thought I’d take the opportunity to try some new tech (well new for me). Et voila…Manfred speaks:

Ante of Arabia (or How The Wanderers Feared None, Conquered All and Returned From Riyadh With The ACL Title)

I’ve often talked to friends and family about the moments in my life when I experienced true bliss, when happiness was not just a transitory feeling but a pure state of being. Unlike many I’ve not couched such experiences in the traditional contexts of births and marriages, but instead focused on sport. Perhaps that demonstrates a certain shallowness or a paucity of exposure to meaningful life matters, however they are my experiences and I will always treasure them.

The first was back in the early hours of September 24th, 1993. Before there was an A-League, in the days when football was more a dormant like than an all-consuming love, I was engrossed in the Olympics. Before I knew of the legendary 1974 Socceroos I had been bitten by the bug of the five ringed circus thanks to watching Munich 72 on a black and white television in a caravan in East Maitland. So, when Sydney’s bid for the 2000 Olympics came to the all important juncture, aiming to get the nod by the IOC over Beijing, Manchester and other bidding cities, well it was one of the moments in my life. At the ungodly hour local time that the late and not much lamented Juan Antonio Samaranch said “….And the winner is Sydney, Australia”, well there and then I had the first defining moment of ecstacy in my life thanks to sport.

Come forward over 12 years and it was Germany 2006 qualification time for the Socceroos. Another November date with destiny, having gone through the heart ache of watching the national side fail at every attempt to repeat the wondrous achievements of Rale Rasic’s 1974 heroes, it was a long and tortuous experience having to watch the Socceroos triumph over the Uruguyans. Thirty-two years of sadness, of frustration, of disappointment melted away under the floodlight glare of legends like Schwarzer, Bresciano, Kewell, Viduka, Alosi and that man Tony Popovic, and once more I was taken to another plane of happiness. Giddy with the penalty shoot-out win and a few good measures of kartoffelschnapps all I could do was euphorically celebrate the erasing of all those disappointing years, all those bad memories, all those frustrated Socceroo campaigns. I had another moment in my life that was filtered through sport and epic success to memorize.

So last morning, as my beloved Western Sydney Wanderers battled through possibly the sternest challenge ever faced by any club of any code in this country to win not just a famous victory, but one with global implications…well let me say that I am on a high equal to the intoxicating joy as I experienced back in 1993 and 2005, if not higher.

Popa and the Wanderers Jubilant in Riyadh

I had been debating whether to go to the live site in Parramatta’s Centenary Square, as I’m not as young as I once was and the stress of what was going to be an all-nighter was something better dealt with in my old university days 30 years ago. Throw in the hassle of heading into Parramatta, the possibility of a loss souring the mood post-match (as was experienced after the 2012/13 grand final), and being a lazy old prick, well my mind was not made up until my beloved said the right words; “You’ll regret it if you don’t go”. A few additional incentives from friends online who were going to be at the first (and arguably best) home of the RBB (i.e. The Woolpack Hotel), I decided to let go of my middle aged doubts and get on board the live site experience.

The hours leading into the match were profitably spent drinking a few ales, chatting with some of my aforementioned keyboard comrades at the Woolie, contemplating the imposing date with destiny for the Wanderers over in Saudi, and trying not to feel sick in the stomach with nerves. If there is one thing that really helps with the trials of being a Wanderers fan it’s the brotherhood and sisterhood of fellow fans. I know this might sound a bit hyperbolic, a bit over the top, however I can honestly say I’ve not felt a greater and more enjoyable sense of camaraderie, dare I say family, than with those who share my passion for the Western Sydney Wanderers, since at least my time as an undergraduate up at UNE. The range of ages, of ethnicity, of home roots, of opinions matters not a jot when we get together. Over a few cleansing ales or steins we can relate without all the BS our non-Wanderers lives could bring to bear on our communication. Young or old, male or female, bogan Anglo or effnick wog I am part of this amazing community of western Sydney people, all sharing the love of the Wanderers, and it is a wonderful experience made even more potent at 3.30am before an AFC Champions’ League final.

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Centenary Square, Parramatta…3.40am before the ACL Final

With a few of my comrades as company it was a short walk over to Centenary square, and within minutes it was a sea of fellow Wanderers faithful in red and black, or perhaps a sprinkling of white and red away strips. The mood was one of nervous energy, coupled with that unmistakable air of people trying to either stay awake or wake up. It wasn’t the most well organised or comfortable of set-ups, and the three mobile big screen displays had their issues. However as my beloved said, I would have regretted not being there to share the whole experience. Throw in the presence of members of the RBB and La Banda, a bracing cup of coffee and a collapsible camp chair I was about as ready as I could be for the big game.

Now when it came to the match itself, first off I note with approval that Tony Popovic followed his own mind and ignored my manifesto on how to beat Al Hilal. It was a little surprising to see Kwabena Appiah run on as the RAM and Shannon Cole take over from Daniel Mullen as RB, however as is the mantra of all who follow the Wanderers, in Popa we/I trust. The early moments of the game were positive for the away team, and it looked like perhaps the match would be more even than that played last week at Wanderland. Then the tempo changed, and it was as if Al Hilal were always on the attack and the Wanderers hunkered down for an assault of biblical magnitude. Time and time again the home forwards surged forwards, putting the back five of Cole, Hamill, Topor-Stanley, Golec and Covic under pressure. The referee didn’t aid matters with his seemingly endless awarding of free kicks to Al Hilal, with every contested meeting between players in red and black versus those in blue ending in the home team’s favour. Fast and creative, the Saudi team were playing as if they were chasing the win, and all I could feel as I watched was a gnawing worry in my gut, that we would concede and the dream of an Asian title would crumble with an Al Hilal goal.

However as the game went on in its scoreless manner there was that kernel of hope that kept sustaining me. Through every shot from the misfiring Al Hilal strikers, through every controversial decision from the Japanese referee, through every last minute clearance from NTS or heroic save from Ante Covic, the seemingly doomed chance of an AFC Champions’ League title stayed alive. Half time brought some respite, and discussing the validity of the claims for a penalty that was denied Al Hilal, and my assertion that Vitor Saba was volatile helped divert some of the tension. There had also been some pyro ignited by certain ultra fans, and to be honest it was something visually engaging yet also a pain in the arse when I began coughing my lungs up. However I was glad of the display in that it gave my racing mind something else to latch on, aside from the nervous trauma of watching the Wanderers under the pump in Riyadh.

The second half was, if at all possible, almost twice as stressful that the preceding one. There was more controversy courtesy of another claim for a penalty for the home team, waved away emphatically by the referee (perhaps suffering from nerves himself after his display in the opening match of the 2014 World Cup between Brazil and Croatia). Tomi, Vitor and Spira each came on as Popa rang in the changes. Unfortunately unlike last Saturday the effect on possession and attacking opportunities were minimal, and there was to be no repeat of the magical goal from Golec and Juric as staged in the Wanderland leg. Play opened up a little and there was one or two minor chances from the Wanderers, however it was mostly one way traffic, all towards the goal guarded by Ante. Cometh the hour, cometh the man, and those last fifteen minutes or so after a confidence building Poznan in Centenary square was simply a festival of Covic’s acrobatic heroics. In the 86th minute his effort at keeping out an almost certain scoring shot was arguably the best ever save from any Australian goalkeeper in any game ever:

I have seen a lot of good and some great Australian goalies over the years; Jack Riley, Allan Maher, Terry Greedy, Robert Zabica, Mark Bosnich and of course the magisterial Mark Schwartzer, and the last mentioned has a true candidate for save of Australian football’s history with his amazing stop on Zayaleta’s strike from the penalty spot. However the efforts of Covic not just in this match but in others during this AFC Champions’ League campaign are going to be the stuff of legend. Maybe I am succumbing to my own hyperbolic love of the Wanderers, however I would argue that the first statue erected of any player to have worn the red and black at Wanderland must be of Ante. On a slightly less excited note, surely he needs to be considered as at least the no.2 goalie in Ange Postecoglu’s AFC Cup Socceroos squad.

Back to the game itself, those last few minutes and particularly the excoriating stretched moments of injury time were simply agony. It was almost unbearable, yet fascinating and joyful as the game’s duration came closer and closer to ending. Then, at the 96th minute, came release:

It was a moment of pure elation, or unadulterated joy. In a paroxysm of happiness mixed in with disbelief I hugged my nearest red and black adorned compatriot, then went berko with glee. Everyone around me, from all the suburbs of western Sydney and beyond, Anglo or wog, Christian, Jew, Buddhist, Muslim, rich or poor, man or woman…we all were united in euphoria.

More Glorious Than Death…victory celebrations in Centenary Square Parramatta as the Wanderers claim the ACL title

In the next hour or so it was all about sharing the happiness, living in the moment, of being with my brothers and sisters who have put our hearts and minds behind the Western Sydney Wanderers. We sang ‘Campiones’, we chanted, we hugged, we danced, we fist-pumped all in true Dino Kresinger style. Tears were shed by some, for others there was the cathartic pleasure of laughing, letting go of the nervous tension that had been all too apparent during the match. Many of us in Centenary Square became angry at the disgusting bad-sportsmanship from the grubby Al Hilal striker Al-Shamrani, whose spitting and head butting was just as vile as Luis Suarez biting incident at Brazil 2014. However our hatred for such a dirty bastard was mollified a little by the fact he and his ineffective and impotent comrades lost what they arrogantly proclaimed as theirs without any concrete justification.

I could describe what happened in Parramatta in more detail but already many aspects are being lost in that forgetfulness you have when extreme happiness creates a memory fog. Plus, I didn’t stay around much longer after the presentation of the trophy was broadcast from Riyadh. The sun was shining and it’d been 24 hours since I’d last slept, plus I wanted to get home to my beloved and share my glee whilst watching whatever I could on TV focused on the Wanderers.

After the rest of the morning and some hours in the afternoon passed in sleep I woke to watch the recording I had of the game. I couldn’t bear to watch the entire match again; it had been far too stressful the first go around. Instead I watched the last few minutes of play and then the celebrations for the boys over in Saudi Arabia. There was one last moment of catharsis, of release, when I saw Vitor Saba cry with joy in the arms of Tony Popovic. I’m not ashamed to say I blubbered a little…nay, a farken lot, watching those scenes from earlier that glorious day. It was the perfect end point for a perfect night and day. I have now got a trifecta of euphoric experiences in my life through the agency of sport, and right now it is the greatest of them all.

How To Beat Al Hilal (Or a Keyboard Warrior’s Manifesto for Popa)

Tomorrow morning in the wee small hours thousands of devoted Western Sydney Wanderers will aggregate together in Parramatta, or perhaps at Club Marconi in Bossley Park, or at Blacktown Workers, or even just stumble out of bed and put the TV onto FoxSports, and every one will have that one hope; bring home the Champions’ League trophy. No doubt many of them, plus non-Wanderer viewers, will have ideas as to how Popovic’s squad can achieve what so many thought was impossible and create a new glorious page in football’s history down under. So, to fulfill that obligation of being a rabid armchair expert, here are my thoughts on how to beat Al Hilal.

1. Self-Belief

If there is one match winning quality that had been demonstrated time and time again by the Wanderers, not just in the 2014 AFC Champions’ League, it has been a well adjusted sense of self-belief. I’m not talking the mind games and braggart behaviour coming through from the likes of Al Hilal’s coach Laurentiu Reghecampf who, when at a pre-match press conference said “No, I promise you we won’t lose tomorrow. I’m going to see to that and I hope that [Western] Sydney will stay a small team.” (source). It’s the kind of confidence and self-belief that club leaders such as captain Nikolai Topor-Stanley (“It’s a massive, massive game, we’re under no illusions about that but we’re really excited to be 90 minutes away from being champions.”) and coach Tony Popovic have kept talking about:

“They’re here because they deserve to be here,” he said of his men.”They’re motivated enough, they’re not here for a holiday, they’re here to win the final.” (source)

Tony Popovic: mastermind of the ascent of the Western Sydney Wanderers

Perhaps the mentality that is most indicative of where the Wanderers are and hopefully need to be at when it comes to beating Al Hilal is that spoken of by heroic goalkeeper Ante Covic:

“There’s going to be 65-odd thousand Hilal supporters and they’re going to make it as intimidating as possible and try and wear us down in that aspect,” said Covic, who was impressive in the 1-0 first leg win in Sydney. “But we’re not going to fall under that kind of pressure. We know that they’re going to be confident, they’re playing at home and they’re rubbing it in our faces how daunting it’s going to be in front of their fans and how we’ve seen nothing yet. We’re not going to fall for those traps. We just know that we’re going to be in for a good, hard, solid game against a quality opposition.” (source)

Make no mistake; the players, coaching staff and administrators have known for sometime that this entire AFC Champions’ League campaign has been one of extraordinary challenge, but also one that they deserve to be part of and where their victories have been well won. There has been none of the arrogance and dare I say sense of entitlement that has oozed from clubs that have boasted about their chances before being beaten by the Wanderers (hello Guangzhou Evergrande), nor as there been a self-pity or contemplation of the imbalance between club resources. Instead Popovic and the rest of the squad have turned up to every match with the innate self-belief that comes not from ego, but from achievement on the pitch and solidarity within all involved in the mission to hand.

2. Acknowledge but don’t fear the Al Hilal’s Home Turf

There has been talk again and again and again from the fans of Al Hilal, the media, the coach, the owners…everyone involved with the Saudi powerhouse, about the imposing quantity and quality of support that last week’s losers will bring on board when at home in Riyadh this week. I don’t think anyone is under any illusion that these kinds of statements are just nervous dog whistles; Al Hilal will have a packed King Fahd Stadium awaiting the Wanderers and almost 99.9% of the 65,000 spectators will be backing the home team. Then there is the much talked about heat, the potential for any shenanigans from the locals, and the distance involved in traveling to Riyadh for the Wanderers.

However recent Wanderers’ experiences have shown that they are capable of dealing with similar circumstances and coming through with flying colours. The away leg to Guangzhou Evergrande was without doubt the hardest faced by any Australian football team since the away leg  of the World Cup qualifiers against Uruguay played by the Socceroos in Montevideo in 2001. In fact, whilst there was some nastiness involving the Socceroos when they arrived in Montevideo in 2001 the level of bastardry and the difficulty of the task at hand for the Wanderers when they went to Guangzhou was many times worse. From phone calls in the middle of the night through to staged bus accidents, and of course the huge disparity in terms of resources and fans available for the home side against the Wanderers, that Guangzhou Evergrande semi was exactly what was needed to give the Australian hope for Champions’ League glory an insight into away intimidation. And the players themselves know this:

“I always go back to that game against Guangzhou Evergrande and about how that was fantastic preparation for this,” he said. “We went through tough times on that trip. Mentally that’s not easy to take. We came through strong… and we can take that experience into this game.” (Brendon Santalab)

So having been through an arguably less pleasant experience than the one they are currently enduring, plus with a solid pre-season 10 day training camp run in Dubai, it can be confidently said that there are no fears within the squad when it comes to running out against the vociferous and fierce opposition of Al Hilal’s home support in a very warm Riyadh, thousands of kilometres away from Wanderland. This group of players, staff and even the fourteen Wanderers fans traveling to watch the final leg are not going to buckle easily where others wouldn’t even be willing or able to go.

3. Don’t Chase The Game Unless Necessary

The Wanderers have got results away from home in the AFC Champions’ League through replicating the same dogged and highly structured defence that has won them games at home not just in this tournament, but also in the A-League. Last week’s first leg was a typical example of what the Wanderers do so well, insofar as they usually deny the opposition clear chances on goal from open play and dead ball situations alike and thus keeping a clean sheet, Whilst they are known to concede they usually can score to balance the result. For example, with their 3-1 loss to Hiroshima Sanfrecce, their 2-1 loss to Guangzhou Evergrande and their 0-0 draw to FC Seoul the Wanderers have either built upon or set the stage for the needed result from back home (such as the respective 2-0, 1-0 and 2-0 wins in order against the same teams at Wanderland), and it is this ability to deter the opposition’s attack from overwhelming the Wanderers with goals that will be needed again for this final match against Al Hilal.

Wanderers V Hilal 2 Preview

The impregnanble defence of Ante Covic in front of the Wanderers goal against Al Hilal

Defensively the Wanderers are extremely good, and of course so much of this is built upon the two key players Nikolai Topor Stanley and Ante Covic. Having said that Mullen, Golec and Hamill have each made their presence felt, and in front of them Iaccopo La Rocca and recently Matteo Poljak have also helped keep down the oppositions’ chances for goals through the midfield. There is the possibility that Matthew Spiranovic may return for some game time however if last week’s match is any guide it won’t be too early and it may well be in a central midfielder’s role. However it will be Topor Stanley and Covic who will need to be at their best, and I would suggest they would do well to adjust slightly the emphasis on ball clearances from the back third of the field. The ‘if in doubt hoof it out’ system did the job at Wanderland however I would like to think that in Riyadh there will be more controlled disposal of dangerous balls.

As for the contrary aspect of attack, there is no need (unless they go down 2 early goals) for the Wanderers to chase the game. If they can stay compact and ride out the inevitable pressure from Al Hial they can hopefully do again what was achieved last week via Tomi Juric’s goal. Counter-punches are a frequent route for Wanderers success and with hopefully Labinot Haliti, Brendan Santalab and Tomi Juric all possible goal raiders there is every reason to believe that at least one goal can come to the red and black. If that happens then the task for Al Hilal becomes even more onerous.

4. Harness Vitor’s Frustration and Use It Intelligently

He has been portrayed as a genius and as a villain and yet he only has two full starst with the Wanderers in any competitive match so far. Vitor Saba has had a sizable impact off the bench thanks to his work during the 1-0 win over Guangzhou, and whilst he had only a few minutes on the pitch at Wanderland against Al Hilal last Saturday his class was obvious. Now there are stories like this coming out of the Wanderers’ camp:

Vitor Saba is unhappy starting games from the bench but is prepared to sacrifice minutes on the field if it means Western Sydney Wanderers return to Australia with the Asian Champions League trophy.

The Brazilian playmaker is not satisfied with a role as a substitute, having moved to Australia with the hope of playing regular football. Saba has started just one game in the Asian Champions League campaign and watched the bulk of the first leg of the final against Al-Hilal from the bench before entering as an 83rd-minute substitute.

He is eager to establish himself as a first-team player but admits it is difficult to argue against the selection policy due to the team’s performance and results in Asia. In the best interests of the team, Saba is prepared to bide his time and take his chances when they arrive.

“Of course I am not satisfied, but I respect his [coach Tony Popovic’s] decision because we are winning. I think every time that I am coming from the bench, I am coming for a purpose and my purpose is to help the team, and I think I am doing a good job. But, if you ask me if I want to sit on the bench? No, I do not want to. But now I have to think about what is most important and that’s the trophy … If I have to come five minutes, or 10 or 45, I have to be humble, stay on the bench and then come and do my best.”  (source)

Arguably somewhat volatile, I would suggest that Popa can and should keep Saba on the bench and then bring him into the match sometime in the second half to either give a tired Al Hilal more concerns in the midfield, plus relieve pressure on the Wanderers players in a similar role or out the back. Additionally, as a true no.10 he can act as a distributor for the likes of Juric, Santalab, Haliti or maybe even Mark Bridge. His eagerness to do well and his freshness, combined with the obvious talent his possesses will give Al Hilal some major food for thought.

Vitor Saba; the Wanderers midfielder who makes everyone pay attention

5. Keep The Ball Longer

One of the less impressive aspects of the Wanderers’ play in recent weeks has been their inability to retain the ball for long stretches and retain possession. In the match against Al Hilal last Saturday that issue reared its ugly head again and whilst possession for its own sake is not a match winner, denying the opposition a chance to use the ball to score goals is. In what could be very warm conditions having to chase turnovers could quickly erode the Wanderers’ fitness, vaunted as it is, and so making sure that al Hilal are not given any chance to intercept or steal loose balls particularly in the Wanderers’ half is of paramount concern.

6. When does Tomi Come On?

With injury worries over both Brendon Santalab (shoulder dislocation) and Tomi Juric (groin) the question is not will one be subbed off for the other, but when. Assuming that Santalab is able to start (and he himself has very confidence he can at least play) then I would think he would be the better option at the beginning, with Tomi to come on after him. I know that there have been several media pundits and experts who have said that Tomi needs to start, however I don’t believe he will be most effective from the get go right now. If he remains benched until at least the first half ends, or in a worse case scenario the Wanderers ship two goals without answer, then Popovic has the luxury of bringing him on with fresh legs and the ability to hopefully repeat his intimidating runs from last week. It may well be in fact that Juric will not be able to or need to score, and I would not be surprised if someone like Bridge or Haliti earns that distinctive honour. Popovic has a gun striker he can use when he believes he will have the most impact, and those who are probably going to line up won’t be that much less dangerous.

Tomi Juric: Wanderers striker and the man who gives Al Hilal nightmares

7. Shannon Cole: Mr Ubiquitous

An unsung hero of the Wanderers, Shannon Cole has been one of the best performers for the Wanderers in the Champions’ League tournament, and I expect him to start yet again as a right attacking midfielder. He was not embarrassed by his opposition last week, and in previous games has scored goals when needed. Whilst he may find himself at some stage of the game is either subbed for Spiranovic or Saba, I am certain he will be the Wanderers own ‘mini Phillip Lahm’. If defensive support is needed he should also be able to shore up his flank as well.

Shannon Cole: unsung hero for the Wanderers in ACL 2014

8. Watch for a change in style and new players from Al Hilal

Last week Al Hilal were nominally playing a style of match they were arguably unsuited to, looking to maximise speed, width and attack instead of their more traditional possession based game. Additionally their usual skipper, striker Yasser Al Qahtani is back after a suspension which meant he missed the first leg of the final in Wanderland. Thus Tony Popovic and the Wanderers on the pitch will need to be aware of actual and potential changes to the line up and style they will confront in the upcoming away leg. It will be interesting to see if Reghecampf tries to vary things a bit, as what was put on the field last Saturday night wasn’t bad. Either way there are some unknowns yet to be verified to come out of Al Hilal.

There are lots of other aspects of the match that bear some degree of examination when trying to work out how the Wanderers can win tonight. Discipline, interaction with the referee and other officials, the potential influence of one of the Wanderers’ squaddies (e.g. Jason Trifiro) or a younger player (Daniel Alessi perhaps, or Kwabena Appiah). The burden of two losses in A-League grand finals must be acknowledged and the mental or psychological ability of the players to get past those results will also go some way in determining if they can snatch the trophy in Riyadh. Finally, you are only as good as your opposition allows you to be, and in the case of al Hilal they have shown both a susceptibility of not being able to finish against the Wanderers, and letting the A-League team get one over them. The result is too hard to pick, but my heart is where it should be;

Come on you Wanderers!

Dear Graham Cornes….

Hi there Graham. I see you’ve been given the task by your editor at that esteemed organ of News Limited, the Adelaide Advertiser, to write another sordid little piece of uninformed click bait opinion piece where you apply your wit and wisdom to the problems that bedevil the world game of soccer.

Let me just say on behalf of all of us who find your credibility as an authority on the game that is played by over 200 nations and states (unlike a certain domestic code that struggles to find even one international opponent even in a bastardised form than no one has any desire to follow beyond its novelty value) a wee bit suspect, thanks for applying your considerable journalistic intelligence to the round ball game. I could use the appropriate nomenclature of football but I fear that if I was to apply the globally recognised name for said sport it might cause you to go into an apoplectic fit, or become befuddled how any other sport played and worshiped by billions could use the same word as the one you have played. You know, the one that is gripped by issues relating to drugs, racism, sexual impropriety, player deaths through misadventure, and is worshiped by approximately 0.01% of the same number of people who know who Manchester United is, or can recognise names like Pele, Suarez, Messi, Maradona etc.

So let me use the word soccer for now so that if you or any of you fellow travelers come across my response (which I admit is almost impossible to occur) you and they won’t be struck dumb by the intellectual conflict represented by such confusing terminology.

Now, where to begin? I know; for a start let me say I won’t be quoting or providing links to your red neck diatribe because let’s face it, that’s what you and your employers need. Much like Kim Kardashian flashing her plastic tits and porno videoed arse on reality television, you need to display your similarly endowed intellectual attributes online and in your employer’s newspaper otherwise your value as an employee (and possibly as  a person) would be null and void. Would it be too mean of me to suggest you have exhibited a similar level of narcissism as the comedic character Kath Day-Knight, putting into words the same kind of ‘Look at me, look at me’ bogan attention seeking she is written to need by her creators? Of course she is a construct from the fertile minds of Jane Turner, Magda Szubanksi and Gina Riley. I’m unsure if your News Limited character is anywhere near as humorous nor has sprung from anyone’s fertile and creative mind. Fetid yes, but not fertile.

So no; I won’t be citing swathes of your polemic Instead I will rely on those who may read this to do a simple Google search. They will be able to find the offending piece of bombastic self-parody, ripped from the Andrew Bolt-inspired culture wars that were fought and lost in the late 1960s.

I note with interest that in your reference to the upcoming IFAB meeting that points of discussion at this international (and let me remind you, international means outside Australia…something that AFL devotees are unable to countenance in their purely domestic sport) include addressing concerns over the use of the hijab or other forms of head dress in women’s football as played in tournaments such as those at the Olympics, the use of electronic tracking devices and the displaying of slogans under clothes. No sane or globally aware person who follows soccer (see, I’m not trying to scare you by using the ‘F’ word) believes all is sweet in the garden of global game. Having said that it is surely something that even a recidivist old Aussie Rules bogan like yourself can recognise that the idea of Islamic women want to play soccer in an Olympic context puts your preferred isolationist one-nation sport in the darkest shadows when it comes to equal opportunity or pro-feminist sporting policies.

Regarding electronic tracking and performance systems, well if the AFL has been using them longer then kudos. Of course when many members of an 18 man team on the field can stand relatively still during a two hour game which allows points for missing a goal, maybe using electronic diagnostic systems to find out what the F (and no, that’s not the synonym for soccer you don’t like to use) AFL players actually do to be considered professional athletes. The issue of slogans under shirts has never been an issue in Australian Rules because, lets face it, the audience for AFL needs far more simplistic indications of what the player is trying to say when it comes to removing their jersey or shirt:

Nicky Widmar showing passionate AFL supporters what kinds of slogans need to be shown under Aussie Rules players’ shirts

Having addressed the upcoming IFAB meeting and their review of these points, you produce an anonymous contact (like Deep Throat was for Woodward and Bernstein), revealing the suppurating corruption at the very heart of soccer. This festering wound in the world game takes on not one, but several manifestations. Most notably is the sickness of feigned injury, which according to you makes soccer no ‘man’s game’.

I and millions of others who follow foot…oops, I almost used a bad word didn’t I…soccer are rightly aggrieved at the act of simulation. That is why there is a law in the rules of soccer to punish those who simulate (see this link to Page 119 of the 2012/13 FIFA rules). Of course the law of the game is not always implemented as it should, however I wonder if the laws of AFL were upheld as they should’ve been when it took four years for the Melbourne Demon’s tanking debacle across the entire club to be discovered, investigated and punished? And by the way, how is that nasty little problem with Stephen Dank, peptides and the likely exploitation of illicit pharmaceuticals by the Essendon Bombers to gain an advantage in the domestic comp going? Has Juan Antonio Demetriou got that sorted out yet, or is he still relying on James Hird keeping schtumm?

What was that saying that a certain Jewish fellow supposedly said about 1990 years ago? Something about sin and first stones being cast?

Additionally, I’m glad to see that you quite rightly call out soccer as a game not really played by men. real men prefer to exhibit their sporting prowess, their machismo, their masculinity in sports like…hmmm, let me see…oh I know…Australian Rules. Real men like that towering old paragon of virtue Sam Newman who quite rightly validates his manhood by making lewd and crude sexist jokes at Caroline Wilson. Or perhaps we should be idolizing the epic maleness of Stephen Milne, who allegedly is so full of his own potent maleness that women can’t resist him…allegedly. I must say if I had a son I’d want him to reject the namby-pamby, weak as water feminist soccer players like Pele, like Franz Beckenbauer, like Johnny Warren, like Tim Cahill, and prefer that they showed the same pure maleness that Wayne Carey did when he was doing the deed with his best friend’s (and team mate’s) wife.

It must also be said that soccer players are indeed weak arsed nancy boys. After all why is Robbie Kruse bitching over a little niggle like an anterior cruciate ligament injury ended his hopes of going to the World Cup Finals in Brazil this year. Perhaps he should have sucked it up and carried on like all those sensible Australian Rules players have even if knocked into next week with concussion. It takes a host of real men to willingly look for brain damage and for the sport to spend decades ignoring the ramifications hmm? Why can’t all the princesses in the round ball game be more like Daniel Bell and Daniel Gilmore?

Let’s not dwell too much there shall we? After all, if I keep reminding you of your preferred game’s paradigms of manly virtues it might rapidly collapse into a similar comedy as that shown by David Williamson in his play based on Collingwood, ‘The Club’. We shan’t take the piss out of your sport by making unfair jokes about real life AFL players showing the same mentality as Williamson’s character Jock Reilly shall we?

Instead, how about we move on to your second major critique of soccer, as construed through the unwritten unseen evidence of your anonymous soccer ‘Deep Throat’, vis-a-vis the manner in which the round ball game so often ends in penalty shoot-outs after a dull old nil-nil draw.

I guess this statement deserves a little investigation doesn’t it. I know, let’s look at the result history of the current latest craze in the A-League, the Western Sydney Wanderers. Since they entered the A-League how may games have they played in that ended nil all, or required a penalty shoot out? Four? Five? Seven? Twelve? Surely such numbers must be relevant if you and your anonymous soccer informant are correct.

Unfortunately for your hypothesis the Wanderers have only ever been involved in two 0-0 draws, and never required a penalty shoot out to win a game since they entered the A-League. Perhaps we should look at another team. I know, how about the Socceroos (you know, the team that gets to play other countries ranging from Paraguay to Iraq to South Africa to Slovenia, whilst AFL teams get to play…um, who again?). Well, in 2013 the Socceroos played thirteen games and guess what, they only had one nil all draw. I will admit that yes, there was a penalty shoot out to determine who went to the 2006 World Cup Finals in Germany, and that game involving the Australian national team and Uruguay was such a depressing dull event wasn’t it?

Perhaps when one considers the entertainment value of our relative sports, perhaps the manner in which an Aussie Rules game may blow out by more than ten goals might…just might…constitute a more egregious sin against the quality of such sporting endeavours. According to my research the GWS Giants in their second season lost 13 games out of 23 in 2013 by more than 10 goals. Surely even by your warped logic soccer’s propensity in both the A-League and internationally with the Socceroos to have almost no nil-nil draws, contrasted with over a dozen totally noncompetitive farces involving the multi-million clowns invented by Juan Antonio Demetriou shows where true value for the sporting fan lie.

I could continue my response but I shan’t, as let’s face it, with Australia playing Ecuador and South Africa in coming weeks, plus this weekend’s Wanderers versus Sydney FC derby on the immediate horizon I should be concentrating on soccer than worrying about Australian Rules. I should leave that up to the same guardians of AFL’s public image (like you) who have  made sure that the likes of Majak Daw would never have to face racist slurs like he did in 2013.

Wait a sec…what’s that News Limited stable mate of your paper, the Herald Sun reporting?

Get On Board The FIFA Bloat…or Platini’s Presidential Ploy

In the world of FIFA politics if the electorate needs pandering to come presidential election times no idea is too silly, no gerrymander too outlandish. That would be my take on UEFA supremo Michel Platini’s recent hypothetical regarding the expansion of the World Cup finals from its current 32 team basis to 40, which if it got up would mean two and a half times as many teams participating say in 2026 contrasted with 1982. As interviewed in the British Times newspaper Platini stated:

“Instead of taking away some European [nations], we have to go to 40 teams in the World Cup We can add two African, two Asiatic, two American and one from Europe. I support this idea totally.” (source)

This comes in the wake of recent comments by the arch-Machiavellian at FIFA HQ, Sepp Blatter, regarding the supposed under-representation of African and potentially Asian nations at the World Cup finals:

“From a purely sporting perspective, I would like to see globalisation finally taken seriously, and the African and Asian national associations accorded the status they deserve at the FIFA World Cup. It cannot be that the European and South American confederations lay claim to the majority of the berths at the World Cup (18 or 19 teams), because taken together they account for significantly fewer member associations (63) than Africa and Asia (100).

Africa, the confederation with the most member associations (54), is woefully under-represented at the World Cup with just five places. As long as this remains the case, African sides may never win an intercontinental trophy, regardless of progress on the playing side.” (source)

So on one hand you have the man who has seen off every rival since his own ascension to the throne of world football looking at CAF and AFC, loving the numbers of national member associations and thus considers that ‘from a purely sporting perspective’ particularly African teams have no chance to win the World Cup due to under-representation. On the other the man who is in charge of the richest and most important continental football federation in the world wanting to retain his power-base but also bring into the tent those 8 nations who miss out now, making a bigger cake not just for Asia and Africa but also for other continental federations.

Excuse me whilst I laugh cynically.

Let’s put aside for now the relevant (but far weightier) issues of the social and economic cost of a 40 team World Cup Finals. Instead, how about a momentary reality check regarding the nominal strength of each affected confederation and their worthiness to be represented at the World Cup simply according to their FIFA rankings. Right now nineteen UEFA teams are in the top 32 ranked countries in the world, followed by six from CONMBOL (South America), three from CONCACAF (North & Central America), three from CAF (Africa) and none from AFC (Asia) or OFC (Oceania). It seems a little rich for Sepp to be talking about increasing the exposure of the World Cup Finals to more African and Asian teams when they represent less than 10% of the actual 32 highest ranked teams in the world right now. Admittedly there is the potential for this to change in the future, but can anyone seriously suggest that European or South American continental groupings will become less capable of fielding better teams in the near to long term future? There has been talk about both Asia (since 1966 and the North Koreans) and Africa (since 1990 and the Cameroon team) becoming the new forces in world football and after at least 23 years these supposed seismic changes in world football have not substantively occurred. Yes, it is fair to say that both these two continental areas have generated some increasingly sizable numbers of good individual players and competitive national teams, however the status quo in terms of actual national football achievement still lies in the game’s continental heartlands of Europe and South America.

So on that count Blatter seems to be hold a less tenuous grip on reality than his current rival Platini, however the numbers still barely improve for African and Asian teams if we include the teams currently ranked 33-40. AFC fails to add any more current candidates from these places whilst CAF can only add two more to the pot. Again there is the possibility things may change over time, but as long as UEFA particularly holds all the economic and political power, and South America continues to have a dominant cultural role in football then the capabilities of either African or Asian teams to drastically revolutionise things in the process of world cup structures is far less significant than the raw political power of their FIFA general assembly numbers. And that, dear reader, is where the true crux of Blatter’s argument lies.

What is most fascinating is that the man who is championing Africa’s right for more representation at the World Cup was back in 1998 at his election as president able to work with the man who is arguing for an expansion of the entry list of nations for the finals to knock off a far more corporately transparent candidate backed by UEFA and CAF. Lennart Johansson was forced to back out of a 2nd round ballot for the role of FIFA president after Blatter and Platini both successfully split the bloc of European and African votes behind the Swede’s candidature (source). Since the selection of the 2010 World Cup Finals Blatter has used the plum prize of hosting the event to help either facilitate his own agenda (such as pandering to CAF via the South African successful bid) or undercut rivals (as seen in the negation of AFC boss Mohammed Bin Hamman’s presidential candidacy with the Qatar 2022 selection). If a continental federation’s support was deemed important for his continual presidency it was given certain benefits (such as the 2002 confirmed direct qualification route for Oceania to the 2006 Finals which was then removed by FIFA’s ExCo in 2003). President Blatter has always found it very convenient to use continental and federation aspirations for world cup success as a tool for political power, and he is again dabbling in this murky world in the lead up to 2015’s election.

Blatter’s 1998 henchman, UEFA president Michel Platini is using the same playbook as his old boss in hanging out offers of prestige, wealth, power and fame to national federations and their delegates, whilst making damned sure he doesn’t piss off his core constituency. We’ve already seen Platini fight against the insanity of the scheduling of the ridiculous Qatar 2022 World Cup, and more recently the Frenchman has tackled Blatter’s stumbling comments on racism in the sport (which funnily enough seems most problematic in Platini’s own European backyard, in Italy, Spain and Russia particularly). Unlike Sepp who is willing to hunt for votes and dollars from the increasingly wealthy and powerful African and Asian delegate associations whilst not giving in to European sensitivities, Platini wants to make sure he has his arse covered whilst growing the World Cup golden goose for other greedy parties. It could be a political masterstroke from the first truly great and globally recognised French footballer, however the inevitable questions over cost, relevancy, bloating bureaucracies etc will be useful tools for Blatter to exploit, as well as Platini’s obvious protection of UEFA power (something the FIFA delegates from CAF, AFC and maybe CONCACAF and OFC will always have problems with).

In summary the undeclared war for FIFA’s presidency in 2015 has begun to hit its stride, with two the two leading contenders (i.e. the old master Blatter and his now disaffected old henchman Platini) using the avarice and lust for power inherent in every national and continental delegate to FIFA as a means to their Machiavellian ends. As Brazilians protest about the exorbitant and socially destructive cost of 2014, as Russians are engaged in racist and homophobic politics in the lead up to 2018, as Qatar’s 2022 World Cup is mired in controversy over scheduling, corruption, worker’s rights and political freedoms, the king and the king maker at FIFA HQ are duking it out for the right to lead the rotten empire.

Whether there are 32 or 40 teams at the World Cup Finals, eventually the only winners are Blatter or Platini.