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Arsenal v Everton - FA Cup Quarter Final

Last night in Arsenal’s 1-1 draw with Bayern Munich at the Allianz in the second leg of the round of 16 Champions League tie, Mesut Ozil put in a relatively poor performance and Oxlade-Chamberlain played pretty well.

A banal and uncontroversial statement, I think. But how would the conversation go say if someone responded:

“Oh yeah? Why?”

“Didn’t you see the game?”

“Yes, but I want to know what exactly set the two players apart.”

“You could just see it out there. He was, in the words of Jim White, ‘indifference personified. He bore the slope-shouldered countenance of a 14-year-old unwillingly making up numbers in the school second eleven. While others hunted the ball, he avoided it. While others chased and harried, he hid’.”

“Okay. What did Oxlade-Chamberlain do well?”

“He was ‘committed, brave, demanding the ball, he seemed absolutely to understand what was required if a miracle was to be fashioned.’”

“Right. I mean, that sounds convincing, but that’s a subjective impression based on a single match viewing. I’m not saying that isn’t valuable, but I want to know what exactly Ox did that Ozil didn’t.”

“Okay, well, look at their stats. Ozil came off at half time with a 58% pass completion, making seven of twelve completed passes. But Ox managed to make 20 of 27 passes with a completion rate of 74%. Plus Ox made 10 out of 10 take ons. Ozil didn’t attempt a take-on let alone win one.”

“But that information has no context. Were the passes valuable? Were they lateral passes? Or did they advance the play? Did they help Arsenal? And the take-ons, I know Ox kept possession but were they in dangerous areas of the pitch? I’m not disagreeing with you necessarily, I just want to get a clearer picture of why exactly one player was better than the other.”

“To me the two performances spoke for themselves. Football’s an art you know, not a science. And look, Ozil’s performance last night is part of a bigger pattern. He hasn’t been at his best this season.”

“Didn’t Ozil play brilliantly against Everton on the weekend?”

“But that was an outlier.”

“Okay, so Ozil’s sub par performances carry more weight than his good performances?”

“No, there have just been more bad performances than good this year.”

“But we can’t even define exactly what ‘bad’ means in context of a single game, let alone the whole season.”

“Again, you can just see it in how they play. I guess I mean bad based on Ozil’s career standard. He should be performing at his Real Madrid level.”

“Do you think his playing at Real Madrid alongside some of the best players in the world might have inflated his already positive numbers somewhat? Not that I have any way to separate the two.”

“Yeah, maybe.”

“So maybe his performances are negatively affected by factors beyond his control. Like his team-mates? Manager? If that’s true, how would we determine his new ‘base-line’ of expected performances?”

“I don’t know. Just better than he’s playing now.”

“Okay, what about Oxlade-Chamberlain? What does this good performance mean for him then? Will he keep performing to this standard for the rest of the season now?”

“Look mate, I don’t know. This conversation is getting annoying.”

“Sorry, I’m just trying to get things straight in my head.”

“No, I guess not. He had a good night, Ox has a lot of promise.”

“But how do we know that Ox won’t drop back down to his usual standard after tonight?”

“He probably will a bit, but that doesn’t change how talented he is as a player.”

“But then we can’t really use this game as an example of how great a player he is, if it’s above his usual standard and is therefore likely to regress. What is Ox’s usual standard anyway? Or Ozil’s for that matter? How do we measure it? What skills shine through from game to game? What makes them great players across all possible worlds?”

“You’re thinking about this way too hard. I don’t know about all that but I do that Ox certainly has a better attitude than Ozil.”

“So attitude matters?”

“Of course! If you don’t believe in yourself, you’re not going to perform well. Think of any athlete who uses visualization, meditation.”

“But how can you measure for the effect of attitude on a player in a team? Football involves so much complex inter-movement between players. An errant pass can completely change the play. Does attitude affect this kind of decision making?”

“I think so.”

“But isn’t it possible that mistakes or unlucky bounces can cause a lack of confidence? And that a series of successful moves can strengthen confidence? How do we know simple variation in play doesn’t affect mood, and not the other way round?”

“We don’t I guess, but anyone who’s ever played the game knows that confidence and self-belief matters. You can see it on their faces. Like Ozil’s on the bench. He’s clearly rattled.”

“But wasn’t he smiling against Everton?”

“He scored! It should have been a great confidence boost, but he squandered it.”

“Wait, so performance does affect feelings of confidence.”

“Maybe it does initially, but then after the confidence problem is self-perpetuating.”

“At least until you face Everton in the FA Cup. Which gave a confidence boost that didn’t last, apparently.”

“I guess it didn’t in this case.”

“In this case, but not in others?”

“Ozil was injured.”

“Wait, so now you’re saying his play was affected by his injury. So how can we hold him responsible for a poor performance?”

“Goodbye, eff off. Go to hell.”

“Oh, sorry.”

Credit for the idea for this post goes to the great cule and musical polymath Kevin Williams.


In the world of classical music, many instrumentalists and vocalists have come up with elaborate ways to calm their nerves before a performance or worse–an audition. Some practice meditation, others sit down beforehand and visualize positive outcomes. Still others put their performance in context of the briefness of life, their tiny stature relative to enormous expansiveness of the universe.

Yet most if not all professional musicians agree that the best way to avoid letting their nerves get the best of them is to practice as much as possible so that their underlying technique will shine through any form of anxiety.

It’s for that reason I’m not too certain Roy Hodgson’s preparation for the possibility of England taking penalties in the World Cup this June is a good use of time or resources:

Hodgson, who was in charge when England were beaten on penalties by Italy at Euro 2012, believes a professional sports psychologist could help his players handle the pressure of a shootout.

“It will be about their character, their confidence and their ability to block out the next morning’s headlines,” he added. “If a psychologist can find a way to block that out, then we’d be very, very happy.”

There are several assumptions here. The first is that England’s penalty takers are more affected by nerves than their counterparts. This must be the case, because it follows from this that nerves adversely affect England’s ability to take spot kicks more than other teams (regardless of the individual players, even).

Second, it also negates the effectiveness of the goalkeepers. The idea here is that penalties taken confidently are more likely to go in than penalties taken while nervous over and above the ability of the opposing keeper, though there is no evidence to support this that I’m aware of.

Third, it denies the role of variation or luck in penalty kicks. Perhaps what is more significant isn’t that England has gone out of 6 of their last 10 major tournaments on penalties, but that the games themselves had to go to penalties at all.

I would argue that, like the musicians, the best way for England to overcome nerves in spot kicks is to practice practice practice. Not that it will change the outcome in an exercise mostly determined by chance, but at least ensure their basic shooting ability is on par with their likely knock-out stage opponents.


Any football on today?

If you’re not exhausted from this week in football, please do enjoy Augsburg vs ‘Gladbach at 2:30 PM, and Real Vallodid against Malaga at 3:00 PM. But unless you’re a fan of any of these clubs, give it a rest.

What’s the big story?

It appears a few newspapers got to talk to Arsenal’s American majority owner Stan Kroenke yesterday. It might be a public relations campaign to signal long term faith in manager and historical transfer window deadbeat Arsene Wenger, perhaps striking while the Ozil-sized iron is hot. The Independent’s summary is pretty good.

Any other interesting news?

Messi is in court along with his father on tax fraud charges today. The extent and specificity of the charges is what’s particularly interesting. From the Daily Mail:

According to the prosecutor’s office for tax crimes in Catalonia, income from the sale of Messi’s image rights was hidden using a complex web of shell companies in Uruguay, Belize, Switzerland and United Kingdom to avoid paying tax in Spain.

The income was connected to contracts with Banco Sabadell, Danone, Adidas, Pepsi-Cola, Proctor and Gamble, and the Kuwait Food Company.

This is an old tack whereby the world’s extremely wealthy people set up empty companies in nations with low taxes and little tax oversight. Both Messi and his dad claim their taxes were taken care of by their “tax consultants,” and they will explain everything.

Andre Villas-Boas “broke up” with Jose Mourinho with four years ago and they haven’t spoken since. It all pertains to AVB trying to get ahead back at Porto, and Mou would have none of it. Dearie me, children. Grow up. It’s a profession.

And It appears Jose Mourinho the AVB hater didn’t take news that he was overlooked for the Man United job very well, according to Spanish journalist Diego Torres:

“Mourinho … thought that Ferguson was, besides his ally, also his friend and godfather. He was convinced that they were tied by a relationship of genuine trust. He thought that his fabulous collection of titles constituted an ‘endorsement’ unreachable to any other contenders. When he knew that Ferguson had elected Moyes, the Everton coach, he was struck by a terrible disbelief. Moyes hadn’t won absolutely anything!”

Torres said that Mourinho was on the phone constantly to his sports agency Gestifute. “Mourinho wouldn’t stop calling them. His ‘interlocutors’ had heard him sob loudly and they were spreading the word. The most feared man in the company was crushed.”

I don’t know Mourinho (and neither do you), but this doesn’t exactly ring plausible to me. And yet, there it is…

…oh, and Ireland look set to win the 2018 World Cup.

Any fun stuff?

This might be the best football video you will watch ever.

And lookin’ ‘Sharp’, Man United!

Any good reads?

If you haven’t yet, please do get acquainted with Brian Phillips’ latest on Paolo Di Canio:

“When you think about Di Canio, your ingrained responses to sports stimuli start blending into one another in a way that’s hard to analyze. His firing has been a huge story in the world of the Premier League, burning up far more news-cycle oxygen than the sacking of a Sunderland manager would normally merit — and while some of that can be ascribed to Di Canio’s status as a onetime star player, a lot of it clearly has to do with the sheer difficulty of reconciling his persona’s contradictory aspects. He fascinates us because, beyond the broad outlines of a controversial, unbalanced figure, we don’t have a clue what to make of him.”


It’s currently 2-1 in the Broussia Dortmund Real Madrid first leg Champions League semifinal match. Mats Hummels made a mistake that let Cristiano Ronaldo score. Since good players make mistakes rarely, everyone is reading into this to say very dumb things about Mats Hummels ability as a defender. Anyway, here’s a fun GIF! (courtesy @CM__DaviD).

Justin Fashanu of Norwich City

It was hard not to notice West Ham’s Matt Jarvis as he posed shirtless on the cover of Europe’s best-selling gay magazine Attitude a few months ago. His immaculate chest and sun-kissed skin surely helped fuel sales. But if a picture is worth a thousand words, the cover was probably worth a lot more in pounds—roughly three for the digital version—than for its impact.

Perhaps the cover’s intention wasn’t to alter society’s views on an issue, but to simply start a conversation, a dialogue about the last remaining taboo in the sport. But there’s nothing groundbreaking anymore about a straight athlete posing on a gay or niche magazine anymore, particularly as Jarvis isn’t the only footballer to have graced the cover. David Beckham and Freddie Ljungberg did so before him, with little effect in changing people’s attitudes.

That’s because covers such as these (regardless of the magazine) are in the end nothing more than eye candy, meant to persuade buyers to reach deep into their pockets. They appeal to our desires and not our intellect, as Plato might put it.

It’s certainly commendable when straight footballers take pride in their role as ‘gay icons’, but in the grand scheme of things, the progress football has made in tackling homophobia is pitiable. The sad truth is that it’s been 23 years since an active, professional footballer came out of the closet in England.

It’s not hard to see why. Justin Fashanu’s messy coming out didn’t have the same positive reaction as that of Gareth Thomas, the Welsh rugby player, who admitted he was gay near the end of his career in 2009. Instead, Fashanu was shunned by coaches, players and even some members of his family. His life ended in tragedy when he committed suicide following sexual assault allegations in the United States.

While it’s refreshing to hear the Football Association Chairman David Bernstein allay gay players’ fears of going public or Cesare Prandelli and Claudio Marchisio’s support of gay players, the road ahead is still uncertain.

The closest football recently came was when former Leeds United midfielder Robbie Rogers came out in an online letter. Yet his announcement coincided with him leaving the sport. While the outpour of support was tremendous from fans and players, it wasn’t enough to suggest a groundbreaking change in attitude.

Just last November, United’s Anders Lindegaard wrote the following on his blog:

“Homosexuals are in need of a hero. They are in need of someone who dares to stand up for their sexuality.”

Lindegaard isn’t the first player to encourage gay footballers to come forward. Three years ago, German international Mario Gomez also favoured a stronger voice from active players.

“They would play as if they were liberated,” Gomez said. “Being gay should no longer be a taboo topic.”

Liberating, definitely, but such a statement underscores the degree of complexity involved. Even though it’s refreshing to have other footballers express their solidarity towards a gay player, it’s a journey that won’t be made any easier in an environment that in some ways remains as fierce and antagonistic as it was decades ago.

A Hostile Culture and Environment

In terms of welcoming change, there’s a general consensus that the current environment is still too hostile for a player to go public with their sexual orientation. More needs to be done by the FA and the sport in general to create an environment conducive to gay footballers.

The Stonewall Report discovered widespread homophobia within the sport.

• Three in five fans believe that anti-gay abuse from fans dissuades gay players from coming out
• Almost two thirds of fans believe football would be a better sport if anti-gay abuse was eradicated
• Two thirds of fans would feel comfortable if a player on their team came out
• Over half of fans think the FA, Premier League and Football League are not doing enough to tackle anti-gay abuse

Football may not have evolved as much as we think since Fashanu’s death, something Lindegaard also recently acknowledged:

“The problem for me is that a lot of football fans are stuck in a time of intolerance that does not deserve to be compared with modern society’s development in the last decades. While the rest of the world has been more liberal, civilised and less prejudiced, the world of football remains stuck in the past when it comes to tolerance.”

But the guilty label shouldn’t just apply to fans, as the recent Alan Gordon game suspension in MLS for using a gay slur indicates. The subculture of communication among footballers, for instance, likely suggests that ignorance and insensitivity are probably more common than people suspect.

Take Liverpool player Suso’s gay twitter remark about his teammate whitening his teeth as a case in point. Despite the midfielder’s fining, the comment itself speaks volumes. Evidently Jose Enrique’s response only made matters worse, when he tweeted this in his teammates defence.

“Is amazing how FA can fine my friend Suso Fernandez for a banter thing. Was just a joke!!!”

This raises another question: where do you draw the line between ‘banter’ and discrimination?

What’s more telling of this type of attitude is the blatant use of the word gay without awareness of its offensive qualities. The ongoing acceptance of the often all too loose and generous use of the word ‘gay’ further illustrates that the sport needs to rid itself of certain elements deep-seated within its very own culture.

Luke Edwards from the Telegraph says it may be seen as harmless by some players, yet it’s very representative of the locker room environment.

“The young Spaniard argued his comments were meant to be lighthearted, although it says much about the everyday vocabulary used in dress rooms up and down the country.”

While support from some realms of the sport are on the rise, let’s not forget that only last summer during Euro 2012, Italy’s Antonio Cassano said he hoped there were no gay players on his national team.

Dealing with abuse from teammates is only one of several forms of discrimination hurled at gay players. Others can also come from management. What if some coaches hold very traditional or religious views and refuse to work with gay footballers? Would a club sign a mediocre or decent player, who happens to be gay, if they knew the coach was homophobic? What about the risk of losing sponsors and endorsements?

Luiz Felipe Scolari, for example, didn’t hide his feelings towards homosexuals.

“If I found out that one of my players was gay, I would throw him off the team.”

Yet, his homophobic views didn’t prevent Chelsea from hiring him as head coach six years later, nor did it stop Brazil from appointing him as their current national coach.

Scolari isn’t alone in his views. Another individual, who made an offensive comment while in a position of power and influence, was the former head of the Croatian Football Federation Vlatko Markovic back in 2010.

“As long as I’m president (of the football federation) there will be no gay players. Thank goodness only healthy people play football.”

The level of ignorance in this statement requires no further elaboration, but it does hit a very sensitive nerve when one’s sexual orientation is compared to a condition or illness. He eventually apologized, but it was speculated that it was likely due to pressure or to save face, or likely both.

Even Sepp Blatter was guilty of having made a comment symbolic of dormancy rather than transformation, when he said homosexuals fans should refrain from sex at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

The Hero Narrative

How essential is the need for a current gay hero? There are those in the football blogosphere who make the argument that gay footballers don’t necessarily need to wait for one of their own to come out.

Matt Phil Carver believes homosexual players can look to Ashley Cole, Sol Campbell and David Beckham as models to follow. Carver is essentially arguing that they should feel inspired by their respective resilience and dignity in the face of scandals and abuse. It’s the qualities that matter and not one’s sexual orientation.

It’s an argument written in good faith, yet essentially fails to situate the experience of the gay footballer in proper context. The experiences of Cole, Beckham and Campbell (and Terry to some extend) don’t mirror the reality of the types of abuses gay footballers face. Moreover, this view essentially conflates being gay with enduring the results of a self-inflicted personal scandal.

Plus, if Campbell endured so much hardship for simply being suspected of being gay, how would fans have reacted if he really were? All it took was a rumour to reach a minority of extreme fans to set the ball rolling.

Graeme Le Saux, the former England international and Chelsea defender, was also hit with a similar fate as that of Campbell’s. He went on to speak at length about his ordeal both to media and in his autobiography.

“The homophobic taunting and bullying left me close to walking away from football. I went through times that were like depression. I did not know where I was going.
“I would get up in the morning and would not feel good and by the time I got into training I would be so nervous that I felt sick. I dreaded going in. I was like a bullied kid on his way to school to face his tormentors.”

It’s also noteworthy to mention here that Le Saux wasn’t just tormented by fans, but players too, notably the infamous incident with Robbie Fowler.

Mixed Reactions

Buried between these heart-rending examples is the curious case of Anton Hysen. So far Hysen seems to be an exception to the rule. He is a Swedish fourth division player who came out in 2011 to a surprisingly warm welcome.

Although, Hysen’s case is reassuring and hopeful, it certainly can’t be compared to the top levels of the game, where the risks and repercussions are much higher. Still, it’s a step in the right direction and sends a positive message to gay athletes at any level and sport.

For others, however, coming out meant sacrificing the sport they loved. The courageous example of German second division player Marcus Urban illustrates this. In the mid 1990s, Urban decided to abruptly end his dream of becoming a professional soccer player because of his sexual orientation.

A few years ago he gave an interview to the Stuttgarter Zeitung.

“The word gay only existed for me as a curse word. I thought as a footballer one can’t be gay, and that’s the end of it.”

By the same token, there have also been current footballers discouraging players to publicly come out. Germany’s Tim Wiese and Philip Lahm don’t think it’s worth the struggle due to the backlash they’ll receive, in particular from the fans.

While some favour and others disfavour going public, within soccer there also exists a third group, the silent majority. This faction pretty much says nothing at all, at least not openly.

In the documentary ‘Britain’s Gay Footballers’ the prevalent silence among footballers, especially straight ones, to talk in detail as well as on camera about the issue shows the unsettling and forbidden nature of the subject.

This is by far one of the sport’s greatest challenges because from the bottom to the top not a single realm is immune to homophobia.

While Joey Barton predicted another gay footballer will come out in England within the next 10 years, in order for that to happen the environment and culture need to drastically change. A gay positive space will organically lead to the desired results.

Then again, there’s also the risk of essentialization. Former Leeds United player Robbie Rogers told ABC News in a recent interview he doesn’t want to be known as the gay footballer.

“Gay athletes are athletes…If I go back to soccer, I want to go back as Robbie. I just want it to be as simple as that.”

That all said, tackling homophobia in a sport with a macho culture is a staggering effort despite the mesmerizing covers, and Italian observers of the sport Giovanni Arpino and Alfio Caruso said it best, “Football is always late in making history.”


This is why Old Media is dying: we unwashed plebes no longer require any filter between us and the words of those in power, save for an internet connection. Here, in his own words, is the reaction to last night’s controversial result from Malaga owner and Qatari Royal Family member Abdullah Al-Thani:

There is a lot of context here; Malaga have been banned from European competition for one year should they qualify in any of the next four seasons. But there is a mystery: UEFA are racist against whom exactly? Qatar? Considering some of the rumours about Michel Platini’s cozy relationship with the Gulf State, that doesn’t make much sense. Spain? Real Madrid got through.

It’s all a bit…weird. There may be a double standard insofar as Malaga are a smaller club, and there are of course inconsistencies in football governance decisions at all levels. Unfortunately, Al-Thani’s remarks have probably irrevocably damaged their complaint to UEFA on last night’s game, particularly as Reuters reported that UEFA general secretary Gianni Infantino will look into possible disciplinary procedures for his Twitter outburst.


Game in a sentence

Despite a short-lived scare in the second half, Real Madrid advance to the semi-finals of the Champions League thanks to two goals by Ronaldo.


  • There were no upsets or miracles on a cloudy Tuesday night in Istanbul’s Turk Telekom Arena. But in the second half, Galatasaray came quite close to creating magic.
  • Gala was without Burak Yilmaz, the Champions League top scorer alongside Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, who had received a questionable yellow in the first leg. Fortunately, the club’s big winter signings stepped up to the plate today.
  • Sergio Ramos and Xabi Alonso were missing for Real Madrid. Pepe replaced the former in centre back. Michael Essien started but was substituted for Alvaro Arbeloa after a hamstring injury half hour into the game.
  • The Spanish side dominated the first half whereas the second had Galatasaray written all over it. The pressure nearly paid off for the Turkish side, but at the end Madrid composed themselves. Plus, overcoming such a huge deficit proved insurmountable for Gala.
  • Within seconds Los Blancos made their presence felt. Cristiano Ronaldo found Sami Khedira’s bullet cross from the right flank to give his team the lead in the 8th minute. CR7 has now scored a goal in each of his last 47 matches and 11 in his last 10 CL matches.
  • While Ronaldo was the goal-getter, Khedira was the driving force for Madrid. He was very effective throughout the match. He drove his team forward several times and was fearless in attack.
  • Gala intensified their game a quarter into the first half. In the 14th minute Wesley Sneijder, Hamit Altintop, Didier Drogba and Umut Bulut were all involved in what appeared to be a wonderful attempt, but the finish was poor. That chance was followed by a few others. Sneijder’s had a decent chance but was stopped by Diego Lopez, who was in a good position to make the save.
  • Initially, Gala had trouble finishing. Inan, Drogba and Sneijder created shots, but most went wide or missed the target. Bulut too had a nifty attempt. He beautifully controlled the ball around Madrid’s defenders, but when he turned to take the shot it went high.
  • That despair and wastefulness characterized Fatih Terim’s side until the 57th minute. Lopez was quite solid until then, but Madrid went on to concede three goals in 15 minutes.
  • The goals were the result of Gala’s continued pressure. Emmanuel Eboue ended his team’s dry spell against Madrid when he scored on the break in the 57th minute.
  • Madrid, of course, also had plenty more opportunities, especially a missed chance by Ronaldo that could have easily given his side a two-goal lead a minute before Eboue drilled it into the top corner.
  • In contrast to last week, Sneijder had a very strong game today. He was involved in most of his team’s forward runs and was constantly steering them towards the net.
  • While he missed a clear opportunity inside the penalty box with roughly 30 minutes remaining (his expression said it all), he would soon make up for it. The Dutch man provided his team with the second goal in the 70th minute when he dodged at least three RM’s defenders and drilled the ball right through Raphael Varane’s legs and into net.
  • It was a superb finish for a side that struggled terribly against Madrid’s back four in the first leg. Gala also managed to position themselves into more dangerous areas on the pitch.
  • Two minutes later, Drogba’s third goal injected even more confidence and hope into the team.
  • What started as a comfortable match for Los Blancos slowly started showing signs of collapse.
  • But Ronaldo’s stoppage time goal secured the victory for the Spanish side.
  • Before the match, Jose Mourinho said he’d be very unhappy with a draw or a 1-0 loss. While his team came away with the win, this was another one of Madrid’s more forgettable performances. He was correct when he said Madrid can’t get too complacent with a three-goal lead…because they nearly did.
  • Although Gala lost, the Turkish side can at least take satisfaction in their performance. They played a much better game today than in the first leg, and enjoyed several long spells of domination.

Three Stars