Wednesday 25 June 2008

Liam Buckley sets off with Sporting Fingal

By Rossa McDermott

On launching Sporting Football today Liam Buckley is fulfilling both a personal ambition and a professional one of putting together a vision of what he believes an Eircom League club can develop into over time if it is to start from an idea. More importantly, he believes that any club he is involved in should aspire to a level of achievement and as result developing this project is the fulfilment of a dream. It is also based on very practical experience of the League of Ireland given that he had already earned his keep at St. Patrick’s Athletic, Athlone Town and Shamrock Rovers before this opportunity came about.

Some years ago Buckley was attracted by the Belfield Park job when a vacancy arose at UCD AFC. In his mind the club had a great pitch, great training facilities, the players would be available for training during the day and it triggered many ideas that could not be contemplated in other "part time" clubs. In the end that particular opportunity did not come about but as always Liam Buckley balances his pragmatism with a positive “can do” attitude that has set him apart as a manager in many ways.

It is those characteristics, which at times are not apparent beneath his personable and affable manner, which encompass a passion and competitiveness that are too often underestimated.

He also portrays himself in a causal and easy manner often using very few words with the media. However underneath the flowing hair and those perpetually youthful looks lies much ambition from a person who loves to win and is fiercely competitive.

For those not old enough to recall his glory days in the early eighties at Glenmalure Park alongside Alan Campbell in the Shamrock Rovers attack, his efficiency and ability in front of goal was undisputed in the League of Ireland. It was this reputation that saw him attract the attention of continental football clubs, finally leading to a move to Belgium in the mid eighties after being regular top scorer for “The Hoops”

When he did travel abroad in 1986 he left the best club set up in Ireland under John Giles and Noel Campbell, as they had a great pitch at Milltown that allowed for skill players to ply their trade; great training facilities for their weekly sessions and a level of professionalism brought back from England by Giles.

When Buckley went to Waregem in Belgium to see the things at the club with his agent Goyvaerts, before he made his decision to move, it was the practical side that helped make his decision. Things like the stadium, the training facilities and the people at the club were the key points he looked at in detail.

In each case he rarely erred and in his move to Belgium he even had the opportunity to play in a UEFA Cup Semi-final in his first season away from the League of Ireland. His time at Racing Santander was with a club that provided faculties and a structure that allowed them compete on a weekly basis with clubs like Real Madrid, Barcelona; Valencia and Athletic Bilbao.

For Liam though his vision for the future must be married into the day-to-day progress of the club, the success on the field on a weekly basis knowing it cannot all guarantee any club’s long-term future either. Similarly, he appreciates what can happen in the reverse if the fixtures do not go well and if his team are not in the hunt for any league or cup glory. He always balances these two extremes with patience and realism.

He has also been around long enough to know that there is a long way to go yet before he can feel completely satisfied or that the job is really only beginning for him in Fingal. But his optimism is infectious and his style inimitable with a broad smile that well equips him to make Sporting Fingal a success.

Saturday 31 May 2008

Rijkaard To Leave Barcelona

The Barcelona Board of Directors agreed that Frank Rijkaard will leave the club at the end of the season. The widespread speculation of recent days that Barca B Coach Josep “Pep” Guardiola would be the replacement was also confirmed. The changes will take effect on June 30th next.

Speaking at a press conference held after this afternoon’s Board meeting, Club president Joan Laporta announced the decision to relieve the Dutch coach of his duties and praised the contribution he has made over the last few seasons:

“He’s done an excellent job and behaved excellently. We will remember Frank Rijkaard as the coach who led the recovery of the team and in three years took it to the glory of Paris”.
Joan Laporta described Frank Rijkaard’s record with the first team as “exceptional”: two Spanish league titles, two Super Cups and a Champions League title. He stressed that Rijkaard’s achievements “should not be obscured by the results of the last two seasons”.

He added: “We can conclude that Frank Rijkaard has made history”.
The Barcelona President explained that although Frank Rijkaard still had a year left on his contract, it was time for a change:

“It’s the end of a cycle and the results haven’t gone our way. It’s proof that the mistakes we detected last year haven’t been corrected”.
The president also spoke about Josep Guardiola, the man who will take over from Frank Rijkaard next season:

“We believe in Guardiola to lead the new sporting project. He guarantees renewed continuity in the footballing style that has given us success”.
Referring to Guardiola’s capacity to take on the task, Laporta told reporters:

"He has the knowledge, the enthusiasm, the self confidence and the love for the Club that are necessary”. Guardiola will be officially unveiled later on, when Barça B finish their involvement in the play-offs to Second Division B.

The Board’s decision to appoint Guardiola was taken unanimously.

In a rare moment of self-criticism Laporta, announced that the season and the players would be evaluated at the end of the season, also accepting some of the blame for the way the season has gone:

“I am also responsible. I’m sure we haven’t made the right decisions. Decisions have been taken that just didn’t work. The players haven’t responded to the hopes we, and the coach, had in them. We had put together one of the best squads in the world”.

Barcelona were beaten 4-1 by Real Madrid in the return leg of the “El Classico” with a solitary goal from Thierry Henry late in the second half. The Real Madrid goals came from Raul; Robben, Higuain and van Nistelrooy.

Monday 3 March 2008

Looking for Mr Right?

There have been a number of managerial vacancies in recent months, both at club and national level with some key ones becoming vacant after the departure of the Republic of Ireland manager last October. In the wake of Steve Staunton's departure job openings arose at National level in the Football Association in England when Steve McClaren's tenure was terminated; at the Scottish FA when Alex McLeish took up the opportunity with Birmingham City and in Holland when Marco van Basten announced his intention to step down after the EURO 2008 championships in Austria and Switzerland this summer.

In the chilly autumn air of Scandinavia, another Englishman, Roy Hodgson fancied a change and he decided to leave his position in charge of Finland. In Serbia there was also some turmoil in football circles as former Spanish manager, Javier Clemente, also found himself out of work. In Bulgaria too Hristo Stocihkov had left a vacancy since his walk out last year and so they were looking for their “Mr Right”.

In the Premier League the turbulence started in September when Stamford Budge saw the "Special one” hand in his notice and returning to Portugal. During October it was the turn of Sammy Lee to leave Bolton Wanderers and Tottenham Hotspur vacated the managerial hot seat with the removal of Martin Jol. A month later saw Chris Hutchings gone from Wigan, Lawrie Sanchez out of a job at Fulham and Derby manager Billy Davies lose his position at Derby County. The changes thrown up in December had Hibernians lose John Collins, who decided to step down from his post not long after the National Manger had moved down south.

In Europe one of top clubs heard the intentions of Bayern Munich's Ottmar Hitzfeld made known as he sated he would finish at the end of the season leaving Uli Hoeness Deputy Executive Chairman on the look out for a replacement. In Spain the major change happened at Sevilla with Jun de Ramos handing in his papers to his chairman in October. All-in all it was a very busy period.

Against that backdrop the Republic of Ireland were also on the lookout for a new manager after the FAI ended the reign of their manager half way through a four year agreement. Since that day the search has been under way and the race has been on to find the right replacement along with all the other football organisations seeking to make appointments as well. In the 90 days that have passed since that chilly October night near Dublin Airport most of the other searches have been concluded. For the Republic of Ireland the only whisper to be heard now is the imminent arrival of Samba Soccer to Dublin when Brazil play art Croke Park on February 6th.

Even at the Africa Cup of Nations the Ivory Coast had their preparations thrown into disarray when former Real Madrid and West German defender, Uli Stielike, had to rush home when his son feel seriously ill only two weeks before the opening game. Amidst such a human crisis the Ivory Coast FA hired Gerard Gil for the job relying on his experience at Olympic Marseille and Egypt to guide them at short notice. It seems that all things are possible; at greater speed elsewhere and with greater efficacy.

Indeed the decision by Bayern Munich to name the replacement for Hitzfeld this early on has been viewed as a marketing coup allowing the club set out the commercial intentions with the return of Juergen Klinsmann to his old club. Although the Chairman of the Supervisory Board at Bayern had been critical of Klinsmann prior to the 2006 World Cup, and being no slouch at major soccer events himself, the utterings of Franz Beckenbauer's are normally not to be ignored. In the end history records that the Klinsmann and Joachim Loew partnership brought the team to a more advanced stage than perhaps anyone expected before finally submitting to Italy in the semi - final. Next season Beckenbauer will have Klinsmann at the helm of Bayern Munich and even if the sounds so far are optimistic ones no one can be sure that Juergen will relay be Mr Right.

During the past three months most of the vacancies have been filled the latest being Javier Clemente appointed as the Manager of Iran for the 2010 World Cup. Only the Dutch Football Federation (KNVB) and the FAI who have yet to declare their choices and the sense in Amsterdam is that it is less of a hurry as they do not really need anyone in place until after EURO 2008. But then in Dublin there seems to be no sense of hurry either despite all the vacancies that arose since October having been filled.

Maybe we really are the only ones looking for Mr Perfect though?

OSM - All rights reserved 2009

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Friday 8 February 2008

Robinho Returns to Real Life

by Rossa McDermott

Late into the night Brazilian goal scorer Robinho arrived back to the team hotel near Maynooth after a deserved victory over the Republic of Ireland at Croke Park. With a flight back to Madrid completed on Thursday morning with the two other Brazilians at Real Madrid, Baptista and Marcelo, all arrived back from Dublin in time for the afternoon training session.

They all completed some recuperation exercises along with the other ten players who had returned from international duty.

For Robinho though it was progress down the bumpy road of football having arrived in 2006 to Europe from Brazil heralded as the next “great thing” with comparisons made to other Brazilians – Romario, Ronaldo and Ronaldinho. With the burden of expectation weighing him down in his first season in Real Madrid he is slowly fulfilling that promise that attracted so much attention when he was at Pele’s old club, Santos.

That 67 minute goal at Croke Park that beat Shay Given clearly showed the ability and potential of the 24 year old Brazilian winger.

Meanwhile back from Holland duties unscathed were Ruud van Nistelrooy, Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder who were 3-0 winner’s away win to Croatia. It was a performance that attracted much praise from their manager Marco van Basten afterwards, who had surprisingly recalled former Real Madrid midfielder Clarence Seedorf for the week.

For the 2006 World Cup winning captain, Fabio Cannavaro, there was a happy homecoming too after Italy had a convincing 3-1 win over Portugal in Zurich.

The two Spanish internationals Sergio Ramos and Iker Casillas were part of a 1-0 victory in Malaga over a Raymond Domenech French selection and returned injury free. Liverpool striker Fernando Torres though will be out for ten days having picked up a knock and will miss the weekend tie against Chelsea.

For all now the focus will be on Real Madrid’s chase for the League and defending an unbeaten home record that has lasted for over a year. On Sunday they take on Valladolid at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Before the break last week the club dropped their first three points in an eight game run by losing 2-0 to Almeria.

Barcelona on the other hand face Sevilla away and are without Zambrotta who returned from Italy duty with an injury that rules him out of the weekend game. Although Ronaldinho is back in training it is not clear whether he will play and Lionel Messi returned from the United States, where Argentina played an international friendly, fit and healthy

Former Manchester United defender Gabriel Heinze was out of action for Argentina as he too was recovering from injury in Madrid

Cristoph Metzelder had little joy and there was little celebration of Germany's 3-0 victory over EURO 2008 hosts in Vienna as his prolonged foot injury may now require an operation and he spent the week with the Real Madrid medical team.

For Robinho though Sunday the news remains good as he will get another chance to do what Brazilian forwards love to do - torment defenders.

Saturday 2 February 2008

Steve Coppell for Ireland

In the five years he has been at Reading Football Club Steve Coppell has won a clutch of "Manager of the Month" awards culminating in 2006 with the Coca Cola Football League Championship Manager of the Year and the League Manager Association (LMA) Manager of the Year award. All the personal recognition was the result of achieving promotion to the Barclays Premiership in the same year with the unfashionable Berkshire club.

The longest period Steve Coppell worked at one club since joining Reading was at Crystal Palace where he started out in 1984 after his playing career was ended prematurely through injury.

During that time he was learning his trade and won no honours but the experience laid the foundation of an apprenticeship that was to serve him well in his current role - and also throw his name in the frame for the vacant Republic of Ireland job.

Born in Liverpool in 1995 Steve Coppell played football at school and in his later years attracted the attention of a few clubs as he was proving a speedy and tricky winger. But Coppell was focussed on his education and chose Tranmere Rovers in order to allow him pursue an Economics degree at the University Of Liverpool.

After two years with the club he had become a regular in the first team by 1975 and was offered a chance to join second division side Manchester United who were offering to double his wages. Given that Manchester was not too far from home he agreed to join on the basis that he could continue to complete his degree at Liverpool. Within a month of joining he made his debut against Cardiff City.

In the same season United returned to the top flight under manager Tommy Docherty who was building the framework of a side that was to be an exciting and dynamic addition to the First Division.
Tommy Docherty recalled the scene on the journeys to and from away matches: 'Some players whiled away the time by reading newspapers or books, others gathered around one table for Lou Macari's card school. More often than not the other table would be occupied by Coppell and Martin Buchan, on which they would spread their college books.'
In the next two seasons Coppell reached two FA Cup finals losing the first to Southampton in 1976, even though they were favourites; then winning the next year against Liverpool, who were chasing the treble at the time.

The success at Old Trafford brought him England recognition and his first cap was playing Italy in the 1978 Argentina World Cup campaign under Ron Greenwood.

In 1980 he was in Italy with England again for the European Championship Finals and was a vital part of squad in the 1982 World Cup qualification campaign. However during in a match against Hungary he was suffered a serious knee injury and one that ultimately required various operations in the months to follow.

Although it was his throw-in in Bilbao that led to Bryan Robson’s record 27 second goal against France in their opening group match of the 1982 World Cup he was still not fully recovered for that competition. Like England’s campaign that summer Coppell also struggled and along with Ron Greenwood he ended his international career that July in Madrid

Facing another operation later that year Steve Coppell went onto play intermittently that season and eventually his knee worsened preventing him from playing for Manchester United in the 1983 FA Cup Final against Brighton & Hove Albion, which United won 4-0 in the replay.

Coppell announced his retirement from the game in October 1983 at the age of 28 after 373 appearances and 70 goals for Manchester United and with a haul from his time with England career of 42 caps and seven goals.

In 1984 he became the youngest manager in the football league when he took over at second division Crystal Palace and after five years he had gained them promotion as well as reaching 1990 FA Cup final, where they were beaten 1-0 in a replay by his former club Manchester United.

Coppell led Palace to their highest ever league finish of third place in Division One before the club suffered a turnaround in fortunes and he resigned after their relegation in 1993.

For the next ten years though the normal quiet, thoughtful and pensive Steve Coppell held a variety of positions until he joined Reading in 2003.

It started with a return to Crystal Palace two years after he had left the club becoming Director of Football in 1995. After a year he had left the club again. The next position was a thirty three day stint at Manchester City in 1996 before he returned to Crystal Palace a year later where he stayed until 2000.

The next two years were spent with a spells at Brentford and on the south coast of England with Brighton & Hove Albion, with a spell as Assistant Manager with Swindon Town between these two positions. When Alan Pardew moved to West Ham Coppell got the call from Reading and in the past five years has built a team that earned promotion to the Premier League in 2006.

Currently though Reading lie fourth from the bottom of the Premier League table and their next game is against Everton at Goodison Park on Saturday.