Thursday, 10 November 2011

It's another (FIFA-designated) "Blank Weekend".Help!

It's early November. Your team is a satisfying 10th in the premier League.

You've just played Liverpool, at Anfield, and because of the outcome, which was a thrilling (genuinely) 0-0 draw in which they performed well enough to get clapped off by the Liverpool fans, you're feeling pretty good.

So, who's up next? It's only Manchester United, the Premier League Champions in 12 of the 19 seasons since its inception.

And that's on the 19th of November, a week later than the coming Saturday.

How's that then? What happens in between?

Well, if I were to whisper FIFA into your ear, you'd either punch my lights out, or shrug, dismissively - you know, like that cool thing that Gallic Actors do (Gerard Depardieu, Alain Delon)- with a Gaullois or Gites Bleu dangling from their lips.
Then you'd mumble something like "Sepp Blatter" in response, and I'd know EXACTLY the problem. Because Saturday 12th November is a FIFA designated International weekend with it's very own Poppy controversy , which I'll come back to , included.

Hang on a minute, isn't that the 3rd one we've had this season??

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think it is.

I recall the last one as I wrote about it , and I recall the one before (delaying the start of the season): very early, whatever.
In fact August's Premier League start was a week behind, as I've said. Isn't this just a little excessive?

To be fair to FIFA -now there's a phrase you won't see written very often- it's designated this break to allow the remaining EURO 2012 qualification "best runners up" from the Groups to play the 4 matches that produce the final 4 qualifying teams for that competition. For South American teams there are fixtures of equal importance. In Europe, thus, we get Turkey v Croatia, Estonia v ROI, Czech Rep v Montenegro and Bosnia/Herzogovina v Portugal as the 4 most important games on Friday 11th , with the return legs on Tuesday 15th .

At the same time, most other International teams have arranged Friendly fixtures of varying interest to coincide.

I know, I know, it's the same in every country - it's just that since our elevation to the Premier League it's never REALLY affected us that much before has it? That's my gut feeling anyway. It's the first season for us though as we all know in this division,and, with the whole program delayed just when we seem to be in good rhythm, I worry about any loss of momentum.

Don't get me wrong, I LOVE where we are and why, it's just frustrating as hell to miss a routine that we're just about becoming used to.

The most obvious comparison is with last year. A calendar year previously, we, as members of the Coca Cola Championship, had played 16 games, as have this year's Championship sides, and were settling in to the schedule of Sat/Wed, Sat/Tue, Sat games. Twice (usually) weekly, and building, as fans and team, a compelling tempo.

I genuinely believe that momentum and tempo, both within games and over weeks within seasons, play no small part in the success or not of both individual players and the clubs they represent.

Witness Newcastle Utd currently. They sit 3rd in the Premier League, undefeated so far, and one of the reasons suggested is that they've been able to field the whole back 5 virtually unchanged. Two or 3 other players have been ever present too.
Yes, I realise that if you look at Man City for example, who rotate their players on a more regular basis, it seems to argue against this. I'd suggest, however, that they're extending the "regularity concept" by both having a wider and deeper basic pool of players, and that's without beginning to describe the quality of squad.
We'd all surely agree that Signor Mancini does have a big pond filled with some very,very big fish.
Brendan is choosing from a slightly smaller aquarium, and, doing it rather well.

That's why it's the case that with a number of our players chosen to represent their countries (proudly) in these Internationals, our squad depth is bound to be tested.

For example, the Wales U21 squad includes 5 Swans (Daniel Alfei, Joe Walsh, Lee Lucas, David Cornell and Captain Jazz Richards). The Senior Squad has Ashley Williams, Joe Allen, Neil Taylor selected and David Cotterell on stand-by. Michel Vorm and Scott Sinclair too are away with their country. Although this fine representation brings pride to us as a club, it is sure to test Brendan Rodgers calmness. He'll be hoping, as are we, that they all come back next week injury free.

So,to the games themselves. What do we get for our slavering delectation - our "Football Fix" as it were. What can we sniff, snort, smoke, snaffle (metaphorically, not literally) into our Soccer synapses via Sky Sports, specially.

If I had to pick one match (or tie) that I'm really looking forward to it's the EURO play off game between Bosnia/Hertzogovina and Portugal. Why? Well, I'd love to see Bosnia, a country like Wales always looked down on, with both Dzeko and Pjanic likely to play, put one over on Portugal, who nowadays more and more resemble the shop window of a team designed to highlight that prancing pony, Christiano Ronaldo.

Elsewhere, can the Republic of Ireland claim some karmic revenge for the Thierry Henry handball which did for them in their last play-off game?

Wales take on Norway on Saturday in a friendly with Gary Speed looking for his team to confirm the improvement of their last 3 games. Take good care of our players please Gary. Brian Flynn's Welsh U 21's have a difficult Qualifying visit to Armenia on Tuesday. You too, Brian.

And finally, to return to the Poppies. England, as we can't fail to have noticed given the hysteria and hyperbole served up by the Tabloid press (and parliament even) are due to play 2 friendlies- against World Champion Spain on Saturday and Sweden in the week. The hullaballoo over their right to wear embroidered poppies on their shirts, to honour the fallen on Armistice Weekend, seems to me to have been whipped up by certain sections of the Media as some sort of attempt to besmirch FIFA (who will not allow it.) I am sad that the enduring dignity of the image of the poppy has been used as some sort of political football. It, and the memory of the fallen, deserves more than that.
The thing that made me most angry about the whole kerfuffle was hearing that two fools from the fascist English Defence League (EDL = now there's an unsavoury bunch ) had been reported on the roof of FIFA Headquarters protesting about poppies with some sort of banner. How dare they? As the Guardian's Richard Williams Tweeted "The whole affair has been an object lesson in how to devalue what was once a dignified tradition."
Here's a more considered opinion .

As I write this, news is just filtering through that FIFA will now allow the England players to wear poppies embroidered onto their black armbands. I learn also that this applies to Wales, too.
I'm glad.

Here's wishing all fellow Swans a happy Blank weekend. Try not to enjoy it too much : don't forget, next weekend Manchester United get to try out the Liberty Stadium's sublime surface. And, wouldn't it be nice to join in a "SWANS will tear you apart" chant.
Now,now, mustn't get ahead of myself.

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