Category: International

So far the Euro 2012 tournament has been in my opinion one of the best finals we have had for a while. Goals a plenty and games full of incident. However the one thing that has stood out for me has been the performance of Russia under Dick Advocaat and in particular their captain Andrey Arshavin. We have stood back and wondered whether this is the same Arshavin that plays for Arsenal and is on the receiving end of endless criticism from the gooner masses. His performances have been full of energy and creativity. He has been prepared to run with the ball, pass, cross, in fact he has been at the core of all that has been good about this Russian team so far. So why the transformation from the player in the premiership to that of the player we are seeing now?

Cynics will say that he is playing for a move/contract and there may well be an element of that, however whatever the reason we are at least seeing glimpses of why so many teams were prepared to pay good money for him in 2008 including Barcelona, Newcastle (under Allardyce) and my own club Tottenham. In fact so rife were the rumours that it was a done deal at Spurs that I was genuinely upset when the transfer window came and went and he was still a Zenit player. This was even harder to swallow given that the following season he signed for our arch rivals. He exploded on to the scene and four goals at Anfield in a sensational 4-4 draw in 2009 was a significant introduction to the Premier League. However things have gone backwards for Arshavin. He has looked lethargic and disinterested at Arsenal and you have to wonder why? He has been asked to play on the left of midfield when it seems that he prefers the freedom to roam in off that left hand side. You would have thought that an Arsenal team that promotes (or at least used to) free flowing football with an interchangeable and rotating midfield would suit Arshavin. However the opposite has been true with many Arsenal fans wondering if he is “fit to wear the shirt”. At least that’s what the Arsenal fans I know say.

Could he just simply be homesick? Does he miss being the main man? Certainly at Arsenal that title currently belomgs to RVP and prior to him Thierry Henry. Is he just unhappy with the way he is being asked to play? And why can’t Wenger motivate him to play as he does for his country? Is it just that Russians don’t do well in England (bar Kanchelskis)?

Having written all this I suppose he will have the obligatory “stinker” in the next game, but somehow I doubt it. It is clear that he is instrumental in what Russia do and even though the rising star that is Dzagoev is likely to become the most successful Russian footballing export it is clear that Arshavin can offer a whole lot more to a team than he is currently doing at Arsenal. All he needs is someone to entice him to produce it and to do so on a regular basis at club level.

It is hard to understand that with less than an hour until today’s opening ceremony that the debate over racist chanting, from elements within the host nation support primarily, is still raging. It is clear and it has been for years that areas of Eastern Europe has had issues with racism rearing its nasty voice. We have had incidents of this in both Champions League and Europa League competition as well as qualifying games for international competition. UEFA will generally pass a derisory fine to the offending clubs and off we go again. The problem has never been fully dealt with and in the governing body’s desperation to transport the game to the far flung reaches of the ‘footballing family’ nations under the guise of inclusivity, it seems that corners have been cut and principles abandoned. But why am I surprised since FIFA gave the 2022 World Cup tournament to Qatar! And call me a cynic but aren’t Ukraine and Poland two of the few economically developing nations in Europe?

To compensate for this somewhat desperate decision and UEFA’s abdication of responsibility, they have now passed the onus of control on to match referees. Instead of ensuring that the relevant footballing, policing and legislative authorities get tough on these issues, root out the troublemakers and administer appropriate sanctions, the match officials have received “instructions” on how to deal with incidents of racist chanting/behaviour within stadia. If it gets too much, the referee has been advised that he can remove the players from the field of play. How utterly ridiculous and on so many levels.

Firstly at what point does this happen? Does the racist abuse towards an individual player or group of players have to be tested for severity or emotional stress? What if a team is losing and facing elimination from the tournament? Do the players of that team succumb to the temptation of getting the match abandoned? Conversely what if the fans of the losing team decide that it would be best to influence the tournament outcome by having matches routinely abandoned or delayed? Imagine the final group games when two matches of each group are played at the same time. Would a 20 minute delay due to racist chanting allow sufficient advantage to any team by allowing them to find out what the score is in the other match?

The whole situation is one that was wholly avoidable from the outset. England has been a pioneer in handling racism and violence in football and yet UEFA shudder at the thought of having anything to do with the English authorities. Knowledge sharing could have assisted in dealing with this issue if indeed UEFA were really adamant in holding the tournament in these nations. What should definitely not be happening is for UEFA to dump this issue into the laps of the referees who are there to officiate the matches. For such a prestige tournament to go ahead under this cloud is unacceptable and leaves yet another stain over the objectives, credibility and principles of UEFA.

To pick or not to pick. That is the question. Poor Roy was an a loser from the outset with this one. Does he pick Rio? Does he pick JT? Does he pick both? And all because of an incident that occured on 23rd October 2011 which has yet to be adequately dealt with. The ill feeling that the said incident was meant to have caused between two long standing stalwarts of the England defence (and until that date “team mates”) has no doubt had a bearing on Roy Hodgson’s first meaningful team selection. Whether he came to the decision himself or whether he was given a helpful steer by the FA no one knows but we are told that the decision was for “footballing reasons”.

By this I can only assume that Roy’s assessment of Rio is in keeping with my own in that he has lost his lustre and his usefulness for England. Yes he still plays for Manchester Utd, however would he have done so had Vidic been fit for the majority of this season? Maybe but even so rumour has it that Sir Alex is looking to off load Rio and even if he isn’t then in Sir Alex’s own words Rio just “couldn’t do one game every four days” (as will be the case in Ukraine and Poland). Rio is understandably upset and I can sympathise with that, however getting his “representative” to do the moaning for him through the media yesterday and fanning the disgruntled flames once more lacks class of the highest order. Take it like a man, support your country and move on.

Of course the media are loving it. They have been picking the England team for years and in a slow sports news week behind the Queen’s diamond jubilee, they need something to fill their paper space and the airwaves so why not concentrate on the fact that Rio has been disrespected. And lets spend hours debating why Martin Kelly and anoyone else associated with Liverpool gets the reserve call up instead of him that has been left behind? I’m sorry but weren’t the reserve players already chosen at the time of announcing the squad? Was Rio’s name on that reserve list? No? Ok so why should he be called up now?

The only problem that I have with all of this is that JT is going. It’s not that Hodgson ought to have picked one over the other but by so doing it has given the media dog a bone to seize amidst a bout of lockjaw. The only way to have addressed the Ferdinand/Terry “issue” was to have left them both in England. No one had high expectations of this upcoming Euro 2012 tournament and so perhaps the way had inadvertently been paved for the new man in charge to say “I will be taking a young squad and therefore many players that have served the country so well in recent years will be omitted for this purpose”. Everyone then knows where they stand. The media backs off and there is no drawing of comparisons between who has gone and who has been omitted. This really was a chance missed and by that token Hodgson has indeed created a rod for his own back.

As for John Terry, one can only marvel at his good fortune. He has been allowed to participate in what has ultimately turned out to be a successful season for Chelsea despite the turgidness of their season for long spells. One FA Cup and one Champions League celebration later (shin pads and all) and Mr Terry is on his way to the Euro’s. I wonder if one Mr Suarez of Liverpool can comprehend how one similar allegation can be dealt with so swiftly and the other not so much?