Quote of the week

“To be a great champion you must believe you are the best. If you're not, pretend you are.” – Muhammad Ali

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Sir Alex Ferguson Q&A

This piece actually appeared in the New York Times this January. We try as much as possible to feature winners and this is another interesting read on Sir Alex Ferguson, a living legend.

Lessons can always be learned from the great ones…

Sir Alex Ferguson
The Phenomenon
Sir Alex Ferguson, marking his 25th season as Manchester United’s manager, turned 70 on December 31. A former player, he began coaching in 1974 with East Stirlingshire in Scotland, which gave him £2,000 to acquire five players. His 1999 United team won three titles, sweeping England’s Premier League, the FA Cup and the Champions League. In an interview with Claire Bloomfield for the British online magazine Sabotage Times, Ferguson recently reflected on how the game, and his job, had changed over the years.

Question: What were the major factors in your life that ensured your success?

Sir Alex: Good teachers. When I was at school, I had a fantastic teacher who inspired me. The next thing is to create standards. The second part is practice and creating standards. The tactical ability will maybe come later. The most important thing at that age is practice and the time to practice.

Q: How important is youth development in modern football, and how can it affect the success of a team?

A: You can’t play in the street because of traffic, and computers have taken young people’s lives away in terms of their involvement in sport. We must have a setup where they can have a concentrated effort to produce young players, and in a coaching sense, it will be a step forward for them. It has to happen.

Q: How do you think the game has changed since you played?

A: It’s different to 30, 40 years ago. There’s a fantastic book called “Unlimited United” and the center pages is a photograph of Manchester United players and Leeds United players all fighting on the pitch. They’re ripping the strips off each other. In the background, the fans are silenced. They’re just watching. Nowadays, they’re screaming over the fences, screaming at the away section of fans, and the behavior pattern of people is different today.

Q: Do you think anyone else will ever manage the same club for 25 years?

A: I don’t think so. I’m a phenomenon.

Q: What have you learned, and how have you changed as a manager?

A: One thing I have learned in the last decade is delegation. In the early days, I was involved with scouting, coaching, youth, everything. You can’t do that for a long period of time.

Q: What about your retirement?

A: I said it to the directors 15 years ago, maybe more than 15 years ago. You have to remember that the most important person at Manchester United is the manager. The minute a footballer becomes more important than the manager, your club is dead. The history of this club goes down the drain. I am the most important man at Manchester United. It has to be that way.

25 years at the top
Q: Do you think the pressures of the international game have had a negative effect on certain players on your squad?

A: I think the expectation of England is too huge. It’s too big. You’ve got to also look at the program English players are faced with going into the World Cup. The league is unforgiving, and it’s very difficult in the Premier League nowadays. The top teams have got to also involve themselves in European football, and some, if they’re lucky, get to the later stages of the European tournaments. We’ve been in a lot of finals in the last decade. That definitely takes a lot of energy out of you, and it’s a big problem in the English game.

Q: What needs to be added to the English game to improve it?

A: Sometimes, a pearl of wisdom comes out of the woodwork: a winter break. I’ve been saying it for the last 55 years, and no one listens.

Q: Do you think you have become less hands-on with the team in recent years?

A: I have certainly mellowed. There’s no question about that. It’s a more fragile human being that I am dealing with today than 25 years ago. They are cocooned by modern ideas, modern parents, modern agents, and they are cocooned by their own image at times. It’s a different world for me, so I have to change myself to adapt to that. I have changed because of these things.

Q: What do you think about the cultural diversity of the English game?

A: I think it’s fantastic. I sit there on Friday nights at the team hotel, and at the table you’ve got English, Brazilian, Polish, Serbian, Bulgarian, Dutch, and they’re all talking to each other and some of them don’t speak English. They communicate fantastically well. I think it is wonderful to integrate the different cultures, the different personalities, to see how different they are, how they view life. For instance, we have an issue with Brazilians because they eat late. They’re a nightmare. They don’t go to bed until 1 o’clock in the morning. That’s the culture, and I’m trying to change that.

Q: Do you think that there will be a time when you will just burn out and leave?

A: I’ll give everyone a tip here: retirement is for young people, not older people. Young people can do something else. When you’re older and you’ve been on that treadmill for length of time I have been on it, if I get off that treadmill, where do you think I am going? Down there. Trust me. Retirement is for young people. When you get older, don’t retire.

Q: Do you think you have a good relationship with the American owners of the club?

A: I have had a great relationship with our owners. They never bother me. They never ask any questions, they never phone me and they never interfere with my job. I am in a privileged position.


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Riquelme to Shanghai Shenhua?

Big hug! To China...
Juan Roman Riquelme
Big-spending Chinese Super League club Shanghai Shenhua are looking to pull off another major coup by adding Argentina star Juan Roman Riquelme to their roster.
Shanghai recently completed the audacious signing of Ivory Coast captain Didier Drogba from English giants Chelsea, and an attack spearheaded by Drogba and Nicolas Anelka, supplied by Riquelme, would surely be one of the most frightening in world football – at least on paper.
It is reported that Shanghai have tabled an undisclosed offer for Riquelme who is also wanted by four other clubs.
A Saudi Arabia side, two Argentine teams and two Brazilian teams - including Flamengo who have publicly expressed their interest in Riquelme - are also said to be in the hunt for the player’s signature.
Indeed, so intent are Flamengo on signing Riquelme that their two main sponsors, Olympikus and Batavo, are prepared to stump up half of any required transfer sum. The 34 year-old Riquelme has also been linked with a number of English clubs, including West Ham and Bolton, but Shanghai have emerged as favourites to land the mercurial playmaker.
Riquelme’s signing would no doubt represent a major coup for the Chinese league which is fast becoming a hot spot for the world’s top football talent. Along with Drogba, established stars such as Mali’s Seydou Keita, who’s joined Dalian Aerbin from Barcelona, and Nigeria’s Yakubu Aiyegbeni – Blackburn to Guangzhou R&F –, have recently moved to China.
Another African hero, Frederic Kanoute, meanwhile has been a fully-fledged Beijing Guoan player for a couple of months.
The boom in China’s economy has seen the world’s football talent look east.
With China expected to soon be the world’s biggest economy, the ripple effects are being seen in Chinese football with clubs offering big-time salaries and contracts.
There could be a hitch to the Riquelme deal though. Chinese Super League rules state that clubs must not have more than five foreigners in their squad, including a place for a player from the Asian Football Confederation countries, of which Shanghai currently have a full quota.
It is understood, however, that Shanghai are willing to sell one of their foreign stars in order to seal a deal for Riquelme.
Shenhua are coached by a fellow Argentine, Sergio Batista. He is an admirer of the player. In fact Riquelme was his captain and leader when Argentina won Olympic football gold, ironically in Beijing, in 2008.
Batista, who left his role with the senior Argentina national team in 2011, is said to have been personally involved in his side’s attempts to lure his countryman to Asia.
After Boca Juniors’ Copa Libertadores final loss to Corinthians last week, Riquelme stated that he had nothing left to give the side, but indicated that he would decide whether to carry on in football based on his family’s wishes.
Didier Drogba in blue...
Shanghai Shenhua blue 
And Shanghai, who have successfully attracted stars like Drogba, Nicolas Anelka and Giovanni Moreno to the club in 2012, are interested in adding Riquelme to their ranks.
Boca revealed yesterday that they had held a meeting with Riquelme’s representatives, where his desire to leave La Bombonera was reiterated.
“The paperwork is ready for Roman to continue playing at Boca, but his agent repeated the decision the player made last week after the game with Corinthians,” Boca vice-president Oscar Moscariello said yesterday.
Riquelme’s agent Daniel Bolotnicoff confirmed that his client will be departing the club, saying: “After playing the final, which was very important to him, he ran out of targets. His decision to leave is a personal matter.”
It is believed Riquelme himself is willing to consider any offer that meets the value of his contract, but will consult with his family before making his next move.
“Riquelme’s intention is to resolve the situation quickly because that way is best for Boca,” Bolotnicoff said before going on to add that Riquelme had been “very moved” by the thousands of fans who took to the Buenos Aires streets begging their idol to stay since he announced his departure.
Riquelme could soon be one of a growing galaxy of stars in China.

Friday, July 6, 2012

2013 Afcon qualifying draw

Last chance to dance for the Golden Generation...
Ivory Coast
Ivory Coast against Senegal is the highlight of the final round of qualifying for the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations. 

The draw was made in tournament host country South Africa yesterday, and means either Ivory Coast or Senegal will join another giant, Egypt, on the sidelines when the showpiece kicks off next January.

Ivory Coast, Afcon winners in 1992, will host the first leg in Abidjan over the weekend of September 7-9 before the second leg on October 7-9 in Dakar.

The pressure on both teams will be intense after their contrasting disappointments at the 2012 Afcon earlier this year. Ivory Coast’s Elephants, captained by Didier Drogba, finished runners-up to Zambia after a penalty shootout in this year’s final, to add to their run of under-achievement. Senegal did even worse, losing all three group games against Zambia, co-hosts Equatorial Guinea and Libya to finish bottom of their group, despite being one of the pre-tournament favourites.

In other ties, African champions Zambia will kickoff their title defence with a tricky match against Uganda while Ghana will face Malawi.

Nigeria, surprising absentees at the last event, have been drawn against West African neighbours Liberia, the lowest ranked side – 35th on the continent – left in the qualifiers.

A notable absentee from the 30 countries involved in the draw was record seven-time champions Egypt, who surprisingly fell to Central African Republic during the first qualifying round last month.

The Pharaohs, winners of an unmatched three consecutive titles between 2006 and 2010, will miss consecutive Afcon tournaments for only the second time since the continental showcase was launched 55 years ago.

Their conquerors, the Central African Republic, have been drawn against Burkina Faso and are just two wins away from a first appearance at the tournament.

Ethiopia, another country to upset the odds by ousting Benin, face Sudan in a spicy East African derby while there is another intriguing regional showdown between North Africa’s Libya and Algeria. There is also a Southern African derby as Zimbabwe and Angola face-off while Botswana have been drawn against Mali, third-place finishers at this year’s Afcon. 

Zambia begin their title defence against Uganda
Libya were originally due to stage the next edition of the Afcon, but the rebellion that toppled dictator Moamer Kadhafi last year meant the exchanging of dates with 2017 hosts South Africa.

The 2013 tournament will be the first to be held in odd-numbered year in five decades.

Held in even-number years since the 1968 finals in Ethiopia, the Cup of Nations switches to uneven-number years from 2013 to avoid every second tournament being held early in the same year as a World Cup.

Having to complete the qualifying process within a year has also caused the scrapping of the traditional mini-leagues format. The format this year is a three-round home-and-away knockout system, with the 16 qualifiers for 2012 receiving byes into the final round. 

Africa Cup of Nations qualifying, final round draw:

Home team for first leg listed first:

Mali v Botswana
Zimbabwe v Angola
Ghana v Malawi
Liberia v Nigeria
Zambia v Uganda
Cape Verde v Cameroon
Mozambique v Morocco
Sierra Leone v Tunisia
Guinea v Niger
Sudan v Ethiopia
Libya v Algeria
Ivory Coast v Senegal
Democratic Republic of Congo v Equatorial Guinea
Gabon v Togo
Central Africa v Burkina Faso

Riquelme leaves Boca Juniors

What's my name?
Mercurial playmaker Juan Roman Riquelme says his time Boca Juniors is over after failing to inspire the team to Copa Libertadores glory against Corinthians.

Boca lost 2-0 in the second leg of South America’s Champions League final on Wednesday night – courtesy of a brace by Emerson – to go down 3-1 on aggregate. 

While the Brazilian side was celebrating their first-ever success in the tournament, doubts were immediately being cast on the 34 year-old’s future at La Bombonera. And after discussions, Riquelme, regarded by some as the last genuine number 10, has announced a surprise departure from the club, saying he has nothing left to give to Boca. Riquelme’s decision to leave the club followed talks with Boca president Daniel Angelici yesterday, during which the player’s future was discussed.

Speaking to reporters yesterday Riquelme said: “This afternoon, I spoke with the president and informed him that I would not continue. I am very grateful to the club and the team, I know I am, but I have nothing left to give the club. I’m empty.”

“The relationship I share with Boca is great, I’m a fan of this club but now I have reached the end of the road,” he added. “Now I just want to go home, have a barbecue with my friends, see my children and greet them. All I ask is for forgiveness from my child that I could not win the cup again.”

Riquelme then hinted he would take a break from football for the foreseeable future saying he was exhausted, and was simply looking forward to spending time with family and friends.

“I now need to go home and be with my family and friends,” Riquelme said. “If my friends want to see me and discuss where I will play next, I will do so on my games console but I cannot play any more,” he continued.

Juan Roman Riquelme!
“Like I said, I am empty and I have nothing more to give.”

Riquelme made his debut for Boca way back in November 1996, aged 18, and is considered one of the club’s all-time greats. In all, he inspired Boca to three Copa Libertadores titles – in 2000, 2001 and 2007.

His career is checkered with amazing highs and dramatic lows. Discarded by Barcelona, Riquelme went on to be the cornerstone of Villareal’s most successful era, leading to the Yellow Submarine to the Uefa Champions League semi-finals in 2006.

With Argentina, Riquelme played 51 times, scoring 17 goals, from the time of his debut in 1997 to his retirement in March 2009 following a disagree with then coach Diego Maradona.

Since his comeback to Boca in 2008 he led the club to two Apertura titles, scoring 29 goals in league 153 appearances in this spell.