Tag Archives: football

The Lonesome Fan and the Fall of Serie A

When Arrigo Brovedani took the 500km trip to watch his beloved Udinese play Sampdoria in Italy’s Serie A, he surely had no idea that he would make headlines across the footballing world. For Brovedani, his 500km cross-country trip, which took him around five-hours, coincided with a business meeting he had already set-up within the area, giving him a perfect opportunity to watch his team in action.

He arrived at the stadium hoping for a great performance from Di Natale & co, but found himself as the centre of attention. The reason? Arrigo Brovedani was the sole Udinese supporter at the game.

“Once I got to the ground I discovered that I was the only [Udinese] fan there. At that point the stewards asked if I wanted to sit in the main stand, but I insisted on going in the away end, seeing as I had paid for that ticket.” said Brovedani.

Brovedani’s appearance was met with respect from Sampdoria, whose fans and club officials offered a more welcoming atmosphere than what is expected for a modern opposition supporter.

“The stewards offered me a coffee, then the directors from Samp’s marketing department came over to ‘my’ end to give me a little present.” The gift was a match shirt worn by one of Sampdoria’s players.

Brovedani’s story is one of innocent support, yet brings up one obviously worrying question: how could this happen in Serie A?

The league, which has once seen legends such as Zidane (Juventus), van Basten (Milan) and Matthaus (Inter) grace its fields, is suffering a very public period of decline. La Repubblica, Italy’s premier daily newspaper, published the damning facts on how poor the Italian league is faring in comparison to its worldwide counterparts. Serie A currently attracts an average crowd of 20,732, with 48.1% of stadium capacity being filled. This is compared to the Bundesliga (42,257/86.1%) and the Premier League (35,753/94.6%). Italian fans are just not turning out for their clubs, and the figure is also in decline (with a 7.8% drop this year in attendance).

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The finger has been pointed towards a number of contributing factors. The hooligan tag has been attached to the league for a number of years, and has discouraged families and first-time goers from attending games. To combat this, the government implemented a scheme called the tessera del tifoso during the 2009/10 season. Fans need a card to purchase Serie A tickets, which identifies the specific club that they support as well as their personal details. The scheme has garnered widespread criticism amongst Italian supporters upon its introduction and in the years since, and it seems that the tessera has in fact done more harm to attendances than good. Confusion over how a fan can be turned down for a card (including whether a general criminal offence will mean a disqualification from attending games), as well as the fact that the card does nothing to address the issue of football violence outside of the stadium on match day, has led to fans voicing their opposition. Supporters who are against the scheme are increasingly more willing to miss out on watching their team than signing up to the tessera. There is of course the occasional unique case, such as Mr. Brovedani, who Sampdoria were only happy to oblige with selling a ticket to due to his lonesome support offering little in the way of potential hooliganism.

Calciopoli, the 2006 scandal implicating a number of Italian clubs, has also had obvious negative implications on the league’s reputation. Disillusioned fans, who back in the 90’s were enjoying watching the world’s biggest and most exciting league, were now sobering up to the idea of having a division in turmoil. The scandal reached the very top of the once dominant league, with Serie A record title holders Juventus (amongst others) being implicated on rigging games through the selection of favourable referees. It was because of this huge black spot on the Italian division that Italy were never seen as a realistic choice for the 2008 European Championships, a tournament they made an official bid to host.

And more recently, AC Milan, the world’s joint most successful football club in terms of internationally won trophies, have now found themselves losing their marquee player Zlatan Ibrahimovic, as well as Thiago Silva, to free-spending PSG in the summer. Even the most ardent Rossoneri fan would see their loss as a weakening of Milan’s crowd-drawing ability. Ibrahimovic, a world-renowned brand within football, no longer wears the black and red of Milan, and may contribute to a further decline in attendances to Milan, and even Italian, fixtures.

So Brovedani’s story may represent the true fan who supports his club regardless of circumstance, but the real ramification is that we have another indication on how far Serie A seems to have fallen, and how without a serious u-turn, the figures may lead to the league becoming a shadow of its former glory days.

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The 12 Days of Toffees

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In keeping with the season, relax with a mince pie (or four) with this month’s special Christmas-themed article.

’12 – Shades of Blue’: The title of Everton’s calendar released in aid of the club’s official charity, ‘Everton in the Community’. The cheeky calendar features a number of Everton stars, including Tim Howard and Kevin Mirallas, who stripped off for the charity’s 25th anniversary.

11 – Despite Everton’s dramatic 2-1 victory over Tottenham, the Toffee’s extended their stretch of league games without a clean sheet to eleven. Although taking the plaudits for challenging the top four positions into the Christmas period, their consistent conceding of goals could prove a major hurdle if their goals begin to dry up.

10 – Years as Everton manager that David Moyes celebrated back in March. After an initial few years of inconsistency (which included a 17th place finish followed by 4th the year after), Moyes has steered the club to at least a top-eight finish for the past six seasons.

9 – This classic centre-forward’s shirt number, worn by former Everton legends such as Dixie Dean and Graeme Sharp, is currently vacant at Goodison. There is a case for Jelavic to be given the honour of wearing the famous number after his clinical finishing for the Blue’s last season, but it remains to be seen if he will be the choice to inherit the honour.

8 – The amount of games Everton have drawn this season, the most in the league. Although the Toffee’s are currently snapping at the heels of the Premier League’s elite, slip-ups at various points of the season have meant that draws have had to be accepted when maximum points were well within Everton’s grasp.

7 –  Years since Everton last made an appearance in the Champions League qualifying round, where they were eliminated by Villarreal. Their fourth placed finish the previous season had given them the opportunity to battle with other clubs for a place in the group stages of the prestigious European tournament. Although unsuccessful in their pursuit in 2005 (Everton fans need little reminding of Duncan Ferguson’s disallowed ‘goal’ by Pierluigi Collina), the Toffee’s are pushing for another chance in the tournament through a Premier League top four finish.

6 – Total number of senior appearances Ross Barkley has made for the Toffee’s. The Everton academy, a resource even more important for a squad with a limited transfer budget, has helped nurture a number of Premier League players, and Barkley has been tipped as being a definite future star from the youth set-up at Finch Farm. Barkley’s progress in Everton’s under-21 squad has helped to develop a buzz around the nineteen year old, putting him in pole position to inherit the ‘rising-star’ title adorned by successful youth-developed Everton players of recent years (Rodwell, Rooney and Osman amongst others). Along with Fellaini’s increased utilisation in a more advanced role, and with Mirallas, Gibson and Neville all picking up various injuries and niggles this season, there is a growing opportunity for Barkley to build upon his six senior appearances.

5 – Transfer fee of striker Nikica Jelavic in millions of pounds. Last season, the Croatian forward ended the campaign as Everton’s top scorer, despite only joining the club in the January transfer window. Fans will be hoping that Jelavic can re-capture this blistering form in the new year.

4 – Everton’s highest finishing position during David Moyes’ era, and one which the Toffee’s have a not-so unbelievable chance of achieving again this season. Phil Jagielka this month has summarised how the top four is becoming much more open, and considering Everton’s far from traditional opening start to the season, the potential is there for the Toffee’s to be well within the mix on the home straight.

3 – Number of LMA Manager of the Year awards David Moyes has received, matched only by Sir Alex Ferguson. Notably, these awards have spanned his entire tenure at Goodison, with his first award coming after his opening season with the Toffee’s, and his most recent being achieved in Everton’s 2008-09 season, where Moyes managed to guide the team to the FA Cup final.

2 – Fellaini’s position in the official Premier League player performance index after fifteen games, beaten only by Manchester United’s Robin Van Persie. The Belgian’s success has included eight goals, a haul which is already more than double his entire tally for last season.

1 – The number of games this season in which Everton have failed to score. This league record is only matched by Tottenham. It was no surprise then that both teams managed to find the net when the teams played each other at the beginning of December (albeit with Everton waiting to the final minute to do so).

Follow me on Twitter at @liamanewman

United vs City: Who has the best strike force?

The fallout from yet another classic Manchester derby is bound to run on through the next few weeks, with long-term ramifications such as the arrested ‘fans’ and discussions of how to curtail the uglier parts of the beautiful game. Keeping a firm eye on the football, and not these unfortunate distractions led me to exploring an interesting debate: which of the Manchester clubs has the better four-man strike force?

This debate was mentioned on this week’s Soccer Saturday, nestled within the three-hour pre-match fluff pieces which tend to have a more relaxed look at some of football’s interesting topics. The fact that each team has a selection of four strikers who are each in their own right considered as strong additions within this discussion already demonstrates the strength in depth that both United and City have. All football fans can recognise the attacking quality available to the Premier League’s top two clubs and even the most die hard of Manchester fans, whether they be sky-blue or pillar-box red, can see the striking prowess each team have.

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Looking at the stats of the United strikers, it is clear to see how clinical Van Persie has been in-front of goal. His return is almost double that of his closest teammate, a further irritant to rivals City, who had their summer offer for the Dutchman rejected. Coupled with Rooney, the two strikers have also shared eleven assists between them.

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In comparison, City’s stats show a much more even goal return for their top strikers, with Tevez (7), Dzeko (6) and Aguero (5) all chipping in with a similar amount of goals. What is more interesting, however, is the importance of Tevez in scoring and setting up goals for his teammates. He leads both the goals scored and assists chart for City, re-affirming his position as one of City’s more potent attacking threats when utilised by Mancini.

On the other side of the spectrum is Mario Balotelli. It may seem like I am pandering to the current majority opinion regarding Balotelli’s poor attitude having too much of a negative impact on his game, but in this case, the popular viewpoint is one that seems to be true. Balotelli’s single goal and zero assists in the EPL is far from the return wanted from a striker in a team targeting domestic glory.

So, the question is: Rooney/Van Persie/Hernandez/Welbeck or Tevez/Aguero/Balotelli/Dzeko. Who would you rather have as your four-man strike force?

Everton: The Month That Was (November)

Everton’s first game since last month’s edition of Lowdown was the always electric Merseyside derby. With Liverpool sitting in the bottom half of the league, and Everton coming into the fixture on the back of a five match unbeaten run, there was a justified sense of optimism regarding Everton’s chances. Inevitably, the game was a controversial affair, in no small part due to one Luis Suarez. Taking the spotlight once again, the Uruguayan played a key role in Liverpool’s opening goal, before scoring their second. Following his goal, Suarez celebrated with a theatrical dive in front of Everton’s dugout, a reference to Moyes’ pre-game suggestion that the striker goes to ground too often and easily. Despite the initial setback, the Toffee’s regrouped and pulled two goals back before half-time,  through Osman and the impressive addition Steven Naismith. After an explosively attacking first-half, the two Merseyside clubs failed to find the net at either end during the second period until stoppage time, when a Suarez goal was incorrectly judged as being offside.

A trip to Craven Cottage was next up on Everton’s calendar, and this result best represents why my positive evaluation of Everton’s season thus far is coupled with a hint of disappointment at potential points dropped. The Toffee’s dominated the fixture  in chances created and possession of the ball, yet found themselves behind after a Bryan Ruiz free-kick was turned into the net by Tim Howard. Everton responded in the second half with two goals from the yet again sublime Fellaini (more on him later) and the Blues had seemingly capitalised on their dominant display. However, Steve Sidwell rescued an unlikely point for the Cottagers with a last minute goal, forcing Everton into accepting a fourth draw in a row. On the basis of play in this game, Everton fans must be disappointed to have only walked away with a point from this fixture. This doesn’t come from an undermining of Fulham’s team, as I feel they have established a strong squad this season which could cause a lot of problems in the league. What this stems from is the fact that optimistic Toffee’s have suggested that this may be the season where Everton tread the elite Champion’s League boards again, and if that is to be the case, dominant displays such as the one at Fulham must be taken advantage of. Moyes himself summed this up following the draw, telling BBC Sport: “I’m really frustrated because if I really want to hang on to the boys at the top, I need to win these games when they come along.”

Following Everton’s 2-2 draw against Fulham, Moyes reached the ten game milestone he had suggested in August where a judgement could begin to be made on this season’s performance. As well as sitting in fourth position, the Toffee’s also had the positive record of scoring in all but one of their games, averaging just under two goals per game. Far from the lack of firepower which has eluded Everton in recent seasons, results suggested that the Blue’s had found a scoring formula for the opening ten fixtures. Goals scored however, regardless of how impressive, only tells one half of the story. In the run-up to Moyes’ milestone, Everton registered four draws out of four, despite scoring seven goals. So, as greedy as it may sound coming from an Everton fan enjoying the occupation of a Champion’s League spot, there is the question of ‘what could have been?’ had Everton picked up maximum points when they were within grasp.

Everton returned to Goodison for the first time since the Merseyside derby, and for the sixth straight Premier League game, found themselves conceding first, this time to an Adam Johnson strike for visitor’s Sunderland. Again, Everton dominated the fixture and managed to strike twice for the lead, but unlike their previous result, managed to hang on for the three points. Fellaini was yet again involved in both of Everton’s goals, scoring the first before majestically setting up Jelavic three minutes later.

Everton’s next fixture was away at the Madjeski Stadium, playing a struggling Reading who had yet to chalk up a win in this campaign. Naismith broke Everton’s unenviable six game run of falling behind in every Premier League match, by forcing the ball into the net after ten minutes. The first half played out as expected when looking at Everton’s recent form, with the Toffee’s dominating yet unable to capitalise further on a collection of chances. The squandering of a number of gilt-edged opportunities came back to haunt Everton, with two goals from Adam Le Fondre (one from the penalty spot after a sloppy challenge by Seamus Coleman) handing defeat to the Toffee’s against a side who had until then been unable to register a win this season.

Away from the Premier League, Leon Osman managed to achieve his first England call-up (and a starting position) in England’s international friendly against Sweden. At 31, the midfielder may not represent the long term future of the national side, yet if his club performances have warranted a place, then he has every right to be offered the honour of representing his country. So a huge congratulations to Leon, and the best of luck for his international career.

Also developing this past month at Goodison was the continued success of Marouane Fellaini in Everton’s midfield. Alongside the Belgian’s much deserved plaudits comes the growing rumours of his departure, stemming from his consistency in creating attack after attack for Everton from seemingly nothing. Fellaini himself has acknowledged that his performances have alerted a number of free-spending suitors. His most recent comment on the situation was his wish to play for the best clubs in the world ‘one day’, but that he was patient to stay with a club as ambitious as Everton. Moyes on the other hand, whilst not completely resigning himself to Fellaini’s departure, has indicated that the twenty-four year old’s choice may be out of his hands. This is in no doubt due to Everton’s track record in this area. Like the sales of Lescott, Rooney and Rodwell before, the loss of Fellaini would be the next chapter in a familiar story for Moyes. In each previous instance, however, the Everton manager has recovered from these sales, both by (on the whole) wisely re-investing the budget he has been given to spend and by restarting the development cycle with younger players already within the squad. However, if Moyes et al do lose Fellaini in the immediate future, finding a replacement who can fill the void which the Belgian midfielder’s departure would inevitably leave would take possibly the smartest piece of reinvestment to date if the team are to continue their flirtation with the Premier League’s European places. With the January transfer window just around the corner, this may be an issue that Moyes has to quietly consider.

Is the Toffee curse finally broken?

 

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Read any of the stories on Everton’s positive start to the season and you are bound to come across the term ‘slow-starters’ and how the Toffees are maybe showing signs of deviating from this label they have acquired over David Moyes’ tenure. As an Everton supporter, I have had to get used to hearing this label in reference to my club, and this accusation has been somewhat justified in recent seasons. Whether the poor run of early form happens from game one (such as the 2010-2011 campaign in which Everton amassed just three points from their opening six games) or a few matches later, it has nevertheless become a common trend for the tag to resurface for the blue half of Merseyside.

So far, the Toffees have had their best start to a campaign for five years, improving upon the positive opening they made last season. However, what followed Everton’s solid start last year was a familiar dip in early season form which saw the accumulation of six losses in nine matches. So what is to say that the club will not follow their apparently pre-written script and have to play catch up later on in this season too?

An argument for Everton continuing their impressive start is the return of Steven Pienaar, following his signing of a permanent contract. Last season, on-loan Pienaar had arguably his most impressive campaign for the Toffees, amassing the highest amount of assists (6) from anyone in the squad. This was despite the January acquisition only playing for half of the season, and being cup-tied from the F.A. Cup due to his Tottenham appearances. Following the midfielder’s permanent re-signing this summer, I joined with many other Blues fans in a feeling of genuine excitement that Moyes had re-invested in a player who was and, for all intents and purposes would return to be, a key player in the Everton set-up. A player who had not figured in Tottenham’s first team plans during his short spell at White Hart Lane, due to a combination of injury and competition for places, immediately returned as a key player and an important creative piece in Everton’s squad. An example of a perfect club and player partnership it could be argued.

But of course Pienaar’s success at the tail-end of last season and into the current campaign has not been purely down to his individual talent. The South African has been able to reform the creative partnership he and Leighton Baines have previously thrived in. The duo have been responsible for Everton’s biggest creative threat so far during this campaign. Following Everton’s 2-2 draw with Newcastle, Baines topped the Premier League chart for chances created for teammates (19), a stat made all the more impressive when considering the left-back’s position. Newcastle’s defensive 4-5-1 formation in this game of course aided Baines’ freedom to advance forward, but take nothing away from his impressive build up play with Pienaar, which was directly responsible for the left-back scoring Everton’s first goal.

The emergence of Nikica Jelavic as Everton’s much needed clinical finisher as well as the quick-footed and promising new signing Kevin Miralles also adds to the optimism surrounding Goodison, with the squad showing enough genuine talent to provide a serious top-half push in this campaign, providing of course that their form stays consistent.

Optimism aside however, if I take my fans cap off for a moment, there are definitely potential hurdles in Everton’s continuing campaign. The talk of Marouane Fellaini’s itchy feet, regardless of its level of exaggeration, has led to a number of top clubs keeping a close eye on the Belgian international. Sir Alex Ferguson attended Everton’s draw with Newcastle, sparking rumours of a January interest. Considering United’s need for a long-term central midfield option, and after Fellaini’s star performance against the Red Devils in August, it is a rumour I’d easily, and begrudgingly, believe. Losing a player like Fellaini, who at age twenty-four represents a fantastic long-term prospect for the Toffees, would mean the loss of a strong central figure in the Everton midfield. With all of the excitement surrounding Everton’s attacking options, it is key to have a balance. A ball-winner. One who can snuff out attacks defensively and hold up play to release our own attacking threats. That is not to say that Fellaini is not lacking in the attacking department himself, considering he has already managed to equal his goal scoring tally from the entirety of last season. Keeping Fellaini is a key part of Everton’s potential for this campaign, and the growing uncertainty about external interest could work to unsettle the team and in turn their results.

Injuries could also play a major role in Everton’s ongoing run of form. Darron Gibson, who managed eleven league games for the Blues last season without a single defeat, was ruled out for over a month with a thigh injury following the West Brom game. Striking threat Jelavic was also sidelined for two weeks following a nasty collision with a goalpost against Newcastle in September. If long term injuries were to hit a number of key Everton players, would the remaining squad still manage to perform at the level they have been doing so far this season?

It seems a simple formula. Play well, avoid injuries and resist the interest in your key players. Even if all three of these occur, however, no-one can know for certain how the upcoming few games for Everton will finish. A contentious decision or a defensive mishap could decide a game, regardless of who has performed better on the day. Despite the uncertainty of the beautiful game, I believe that Everton fans can be optimistic about this year’s chances, and hope that they can finally defy the early season hoodoo which has damaged them in recent seasons.