Just a few days ago Chelsea recorded what many are saying was their greatest night ever. I took it a step further and stated that I felt it was the greatest night for an English team in Europe ever and made my reasons clear in my article over in the longer reads which is linked to by clicking right here.
As time has gone by, I am even more convinced of my statement. Yes - I accept it not did win them anything as it was just a semi-final and if you want to measure it up against the likes of the finals won by Manchester United, Liverpool, Aston Villa and Nottingham Forest then I cannot in that respect. I also cannot measure it up against how United scored those last gasp goals to beat Bayern Munich in 1999 or how Liverpool clawed back a three goal half time deficit to eventually beat AC Milan on penalties. But I will repeat what I said in my previous article on the subject - neither of these teams were the Barcelona side that stand before us today and all the experts keep telling us are the greatest club team ever by a country mile.
Below are two videos, the first one is a beautifully put together piece with action from the game and set to appropriate music. Look out for the reaction of both Didier Drogba and Michael Essien alongside Roberto Di Matteo from the Chelsea dugout when Torres is about to pull the trigger, it is a magical moment and for me is the icing on the cake as to how this team has transformed itself again into a working and functional machine with almost a fairy tale story you could almost not make up after the season that they have had.
The second video shows Paul Merson brilliantly putting some of this into words of his own and then running through with us Fernando Torres crazy contribution in those last precious ten minutes of the match. People will remember the goal but we should remember just how fortunate that he was as things could have turned out so differently!
Celtic manager Neil Nennon states that "personal decisions" made by the referee were responsible for his team conceding a late penalty against Hearts to put Celtic out of the Scottish Cup.
On the same day the only person at Wembley that clearly saw the ball clearly over the line to give Chelsea their second goal was the referee who also had a clear and unobstructed view of it.
Ashley Young falls over like he has been hit by a truck for the second week running and it always seems to happen when he is an opponents penalty area - he had better watch out whenever he goes shopping in those busy malls with people brushing against him every minute.
A week ago Chelsea are rewarded again with two goals that are both offside with the first one so blatant you have to ask the question what was the linesman doing or thinking?
There you go - just some of the contentious decisions made in the last seven days by our referees - let alone how many more have been made in other games further down the ladder. The Referees Association (or whatever they are called now) maintain their claim that at least 94% of all decisions that they make are correct - who are they trying to kid?
Coming back to the Chelsea v Spurs FA Cup semi-final incident - a few weeks ago in one of our podcasts we discussed video technology and one of the bones of contention that came up was taking away all of the talking points after the game if everything was made clear cut. There would be no more opinion as to was it or wasn't it and I am sure that there are and will be many more fans of the games that have talked about these for many years and still argue over some of the points. But when I see what happened for that Chelsea goal - there is no talking point about was it or wasn't it over the line and nobody in their right mind could put up even the slightest argument that it had. Therefore the only thing left to discuss are the match officials and in this case the referee and how bad and embarrassing he was - and then finding out that just about all of us agree on that too!
It is just so sad that top officials can make such horrendous mistakes. I will let them off for many things and for many reasons but how can you get this so wrong - quite honestly it is scary. I am trying to think of some kind of excuse that I could give if I were in his shoes but sorry - I just cannot think of a thing. He just calmly signalled almost immediately "goal". He was not out of breath, he was in a relaxed statutory position and had a very clear view - as clear as the linesman last week at Stamford Bridge against Wigan.
Some professional players and managers argue that it evens itself out over the course of the season - no it doesn't! On top of that do we want something "evened out" that should not have occurred in the first place? United fans will maintain that the two Ashley Young incidents were penalties and Alex Ferguson has already stated that they were although admitting at the same time that Young went down easily. Decisions like that will remain debatable - there is no question of that but how today's decision can come close to that is simply a non-starter. The committee that did not rescind Sean Derry's red card do though need to take a good look in the mirror.
Cases such as these are plain embarrassing to the sport and bring it into a disrepute of its own making, In just about any profession, a catastrophic error such as the one at Wembley would see that professional either sacked or suspended pending a serious inquest for a very long time.
Between George, Gino and myself, we have discussed Mario Balotelli countless times already during our podcasts. For the best part we have defended him and I for one still believe that on more times than not he has been made the scapegoat when things have not gone Manchester City's was this season. The incident at Stoke just a week ago is a perfect example of this when Balotelli and Kolarov seemed to have a falling out over a free-kick.
The free-kick incident was a trivial matter and really had no impact on the final outcome of the game - but because it was Balotelli it made the headlines. Whether or not it was a publicity stunt or just a BBC exclusive, they did manage to get an interview with the man a short while ago for their Football Focus programme where he apparently only agreed to be interviewed if it was Noel Gallagher that asked the questions. From the offset, I got the impression that Mario was either holding back or not going to be completely forthcoming with all the real truths but in general he came across as quite a likeable guy and completely unlike his onfield persona.
Since then and back on the pitch we have seen Balotelli revert back to the moody player that he is already known as and the visit to Arsenal on Easter Sunday became pinacle in this and possibly the remainder of Balotelli's career. I have not seen any of the press the day after the game but I am sure that the back pages will be full of headlines regarding Mario and his Manchester City days being over after Roberto Mancini admitted that although he liked him still, the future seems to suggest a parting of the waves.
Is Balotelli responsible for City's demise in the race for the title? If you read the papers and listen to pundits you might think so but Lee Dixon did a great job in summarizing City's season last night where he specified at least five key reasons why the team are now looking doomed to fail in lifting the trophy this season. None of his reasons singled out Balotelli as the reason but did involve him as a collective which is probably nearer to being true.
Yes - Balotelli could have easily been shown a red card early on in the game at Arsenal but he was not. Even if nothing else had happened to him during the game I am sure that the Powers that Be at the FA would have watched a video of the tackle and given him another suspension - just as they did in the game against Spurs a short while ago.
Having defended Balotelli for as long as I can - I cannot condone his actions towards the end of the game especially after they had gone 0-1 down late on. Having conceded the goal City kicked off and Balotelli booted the ball at the Arsenal goal from the half way line. The only time I have ever seen this happen before is in Sunday League football and even then petulant players that do try it get yelled at by their team mates and managers. It was quite obvious from his actions that he had lost it so it was no surprise when moments later he went in again on another lunging tackle and was shown a second yellow and was off.
Having been red carded instead of racing to get off of the pitch to allow his team as much time as possible to have a chance of getting level he casually strolled off of the field of play with Mancini yelling in his ear to hurry up. But I have to ask some questions about Mancini's involvement in all of this. Sky's commentary team were surprised to see Mario reappear for the second half knowing that he was already walking a tightrope and you could see that in his body language that it might be only a matter of time before something would spark him off again. Mancini also set up his line up so it would expose a defensive weakness for his own team in asking Balotelli to play on the left side of attack, almost knowing that he would not track back that often allowing Arsenal to benefit down their right flank. How can we see that and the manager does not? It was only when Yaya Toure hobbled off injured that Mancini was forced into changing the shape of his team otherwise Arsenal may well have been ahead long before they actually did the way that the game was going.
The other day I finally had time to watch "QPR - The Four Year Plan". The documentary was not about what I thought it was about as it featured Rangers last four years and not the plan as now for the next four years under Tony Fernandes. The reason that I bring this up is because the show featured many clips of both Flavio Briatore and Gianni Paladini both going absolutely ape from the directors box with their remarks mostly being aimed towards whatever manager was in charge at the time (before they sacked them) and basically labelling them all as useless or words to that affect but a bit more stronger than that! Using that show, I cannot imagine what is going on in the City directors box right now and what their feelings are towards both Balotelli and Mancini along with the inept recent performances of the rest of the squad that has been put together at a cost of literally tens of millions of pounds.
Based on this premise - I do not expect to see either of the Italians at the club next season and I would not be too surprised to see wholesale changes happening yet again as this current team gets dismantled. If they do elect to go down these lines they are going to need a lot of luck. It may well take another team another couple of years to start gelling again. You can probably count on two fingers which couple of managers are the only ones that would fit the bill to replace Mancini (and if you needed a hint - think of Spain's big two). At the same time, Manchester United can surely only get better as I still think that by their standards that they have had a poor season. United's defeat against Barcelona in last seasons Champions League Final left Alex Ferguson realising just how far behind his current team were against the best in Europe and this had been confirmed by their failings in this years Champions and Europa League competitions. To then win the Premier title in the way that they now surely have must have him wondering how bad the opposition must be in this country right now let alone anywhere else!
Last week, just about all of the UK was enjoying the spring sunshine at the end of March with temperatures well into the mid 20's in many places. On April 1st, some national newspapers ran headlines that the weather was about to make a dramatic change and plunge back into winter. A few days later and much of Scotland, Wales, north and central England is under piles of snow. So in this case - this was NOT in any way an April fool prank.
At the same time I read an article on the BBC website entitled "10 stories that could be April Fools pranks but aren't
". The very first story on the list featured the England national football team. We already know (and I have commented on this before) that they pre-booked a hotel in Poland for Euro 2012 before discovering that their actual matches are to be played in Ukraine. These previous posts I am linking to here - Link 1 Link 2
So here is the latest from the April Fools pranks that aren't (and I quote):- "The England football team are likely to have their preparations for Euro 2012 severely disrupted by a traditional bugler yards from the team hotel in Krakow. The Hejnal Mariacki bugle call, which lasts 30 seconds and rings out every hour, commemorates the Mongol invasion of 1241".
So now we have the international team based some 900 miles away from where they will be playing and staying at a hotel which is likely to see many of the players struggling to get much sleep or rest. Who are the numb nuts that are making these decisions? Are they the same numb nuts that are also leading England into this tournament without selecting a new manager/coach? For crying out loud - the team does not even know who its captain is!!
So what I was hoping to find next was that these fantastic people, employed by the governing body the FA are swiftly trying to rectify these problems. If they can wait until the last moment to announce a new manager then surely they can change the hotel too and still find somewhere much more suitable location wise at least.
So this leads me on to the icing on the cake as I found out what our top guys have been up to in the past few weeks - are you ready for this?
They have been to Brazil !!!
They have been over there to scope the best training venues and hotels prior to the 2014 World Cup!. Daily Mail journalist Martin Samuel summed it up by writing "We don't know who the manager or captain will be at a tournament that starts in two months, but David Bernstein and the board have already got their towels on the sun loungers and for one that is more than two years away".
Our journalists must be rubbing their hands together with glee in anticipation for yet another complete fiasco and disaster this summer - and for once they can already kick into the team before they have even kicked a ball because of the complete inept performance and organizational skills of the FA and regardless of whatever Rooney, Lampard and Terry and co. fail to do on the pitch this summer.
The biggest irony of all of this summer would be that instead of failing miserably yet again they go out and win the whole damn thing! An April fool in the middle of summer? maybe, but I am concerned that if that happens (and I have to say right now my head is telling me that there is still only a very minimal chance that it could) then the FA will use it as a blue print for all future competitions! In two years time for example, if England qualify for Brazil they will probably be staying at a hotel in Argentina near a military base where there is much pro-activity towards another Falklands dispute.
Here is a point - as short and sweet as I can make it.
April 14th - The Grand National, Aintree, Liverpool.
April 14th - FA Cup Semi-Final - Liverpool v Everton. (1230 ko at Wembley Stadium)
The price of fuel in the UK is once again going up.
Algebra Equation - All fans of Merseyside heading to London (round trip of 420 miles approx)
Grand National fans heading to Liverpool from across the country - surely an event that many people from Merseyside would also like to attend.
April 15th - FA Cup Semi-Final - Chelsea v Tottenham (1800 ko at Wembley Stadium)
April 17th - Champions League Semi-Final - Chelsea (should they finish off Benfica) v AC Milan or Barcelona
Do I have to spell this out? What is the problem with switching the two FA Cup semi-finals around? Apparently the only excuse so far that has been given is a policing problem for the second match. WHAT? So what are they saying?
The early kick-off on Saturday means that fans from Liverpool will be having to leave by about 7 in the morning at the latest. Wouldn't they all collectively prefer to be starting at 6pm on Sunday giving them plenty of time to get to the game and getting to spend Saturday free from football and maybe going to Aintree? Even more logically would be to play the game at Old Trafford or the Etihad Stadium with a round trip of 60 miles rather than 400+. But of course our governing bodies want to rip off the fans by charging them rip-off prices at Wembley plus all the costs of getting there all because they have an agreement with Wembley to play these games at this particular stadium. This of course also dwindles the prestige of playing at Wembley when back in the day you only got to play there in a final or as an international. Nowadays, every Tom, Dick and Harry team seems to get the opportunity to play there with some quite regularly.
For fans of both Chelsea and Spurs, there is no problem with a 1230 kick off on the Saturday with both teams being local in London. It also gives Chelsea an extra day and a half to rest and prepare before a potential semi-final in the Champions League.
Only a week ago the two teams met in the league with a 1230 kick off at Stamford Bridge - there were no known reported problems with that. There has even been talk of having the game on Friday evening but surely Saturday lunch would be fine - but Sunday evening is just plain dumb.
Liverpool do have a game scheduled for Tuesday night as well against Blackburn Rovers in the Premier League (surely it could be moved!) but what are the FA saying? Is that game more important than a Champions League semi-final or is this just a case of the governing bodies of each competition just keep stepping on one another's feet again ruining it for so many clubs and their fans? Even if Chelsea capitulate against Benfica - this should have already been thought about and agreed. Surely our governing bodies should give our teams the best chance possible. You will probably find clubs from other countries even playing games the previous Friday night to give them an extra day.
I hate using this phrase but this is not rocket science! Are these the same bunch of numb nuts that agreed to base England in Poland for Euro 2012 before we found out all of their games are taking place in Ukraine? Case rested.
Added Note :- OK - I admit I did not realise that if Liverpool play on Sunday then it clashes with the anniversary of the Hillsborough tragedy. Therefore leave the Liverpool game on the Saturday and put the Chelsea game on the Friday.
Maybe a controversial note:- Just two years after the Munich Air Disaster in 1958, Manchester United were playing matches again on the actual anniversary of that date so maybe Liverpool should play on this date again. It has been over 20 years now although that time for the grieving families will never properly end but if the club did play again on the date it should be in honour of all of those people that lost their lives. By avoiding the date are they somewhat avoiding this head on?