Santa’s Sack - AFR Voice Ep. 19

This week’s show sees us a man down - and before you ask, no we haven’t sacked Ben for overseeing a series of poor pod performances (he’ll be back next week), but we will be discussing the goings on of a weekend of boardroom-based carnage in the Premier League. Where did it all go wrong for Andre Villas-Boas and Steve Clarke? Will they be stuck on the managerial merry-go-round for long? And with the January transfer window fast approaching, who’s next to join them?

Then it’s off to Europe’s top table, where we’ll be taking a look at the Champions League draw – the tasty looking match against Man City that Barcelona didn’t want, the prospect of two home games for Didier Drogba, and an Arsenal team looking to make sure we don’t get a sixth straight final that includes either Pep Guardiola or Bayern Munich.

We’re also stopping off in La Liga, where Atletico Madrid are doing everything they can to disrupt the established balance of power, Barcelona have broken yet another record, and Cristiano Ronaldo has now got something that not many players in world football can boast – his own museum.

This week’s feature interview sees us chat to journalist, broadcaster and Spanish football expert Guillem Balague about his new book, simply titled “Messi”. We’ll be talking about how he went about writing a book on the world’s best player, how he managed to speak to Messi’s friends, family and coaches to build a true picture of the man, and what makes the Argentine arguably the greatest player of all time.

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Didier Drogba: The Photographer

The swarm of cameras around footballers and professional athletes is nothing new. Sitting on the Galatasaray bench this past weekend, Didier Drogba decided to spend some time turning the tables. Snagging a camera from one of the photographers, Didier went ahead and took a few shots. Making the most of the situation, Drogba’s exquisite and improvised work was actually published. So, thanks to Drogba, the #selfie has invaded Getty’s official photo wire.

Is time up for the Ivory Coast’s Golden Generation?

By Peter Sharland

In England, there is a general acceptance that we recently experienced a golden generation of talented footballers that never produced on the world stage. For whatever reason a team full of international superstars could never quite cut it at the World Cup and European Championships. However, when it comes to underperforming stars England has one consistent sympathiser, the Ivory Coast.

Blessed with some of Africa’s greatest players it really is no surprise that FIFA ranks the Ivory Coast as the strongest African nation in the world right now. This is despite not having won the African Cup of Nations since 1992 and not progressing past the group stage in the World Cup in either 2006 or 2010. You can point to both World Cups as being extremely unfortunate having been drawn into extremely tricky groups each time around, facing Argentina and Holland in 2006 and then Brazil and Portugal in 2010. But nevertheless this generation will go down as one that has failed to dominate the African scene in a way which was certainly possible.

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Through Ryu’s Lens: Turkish giants take Germany

The Bundesliga’s stature in world football continues to rise, and Schalke were slight favourites to join Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich in the quarterfinals of the Champions League. But with Burak Yilmaz, Wesley Sneijder, and Didier Drogba leading them forward after a 1-1 draw in Istanbul, Galatasaray rose to the challenge at the Veltins-Arena, clinching an emphatic 3-2 victory on German soil. Ryu was on the scene to catch the Turkish giants sailing into the deep waters that await in the quarterfinals.

Interact with Ryu on twitter @Toksuede and check his Flickr. Posted by Eric.

Through Ryu’s Lens: The Champions League welcomes back Didier

The last time Didier Drogba kicked a ball in the Champions League, it was a cool penalty that allowed Chelsea to win the competition for the first time in the club’s history. So when Drogba landed in Turkey after an extremely lucrative and tumultuous 8 month trip to Shanghai, excitement was in the air as he could continue his already legendary career with Galatasaray. The Turkish giants welcomed Schalke in the round of 16, and Ryu was in town to capture the Ivorian making his return on the continent’s greatest stage.

Interact with Ryu on twitter @Toksuede and check his Flickr. Posted by Eric.

Letters from Shanghai: Limitations arise and the Asian Champions League dream is lost

By Andrew Crawford, writing from Shanghai

All good things have to come to an end eventually and the long shot that was Shanghai Shenhua belatedly saving their season and qualifying for the Asian Champions League is now off the table after the team was humiliated 4-2 by the high-flying Guizhou Renhe on Sunday.

Despite the hype and the astounding levels of investment, there will be no big weekday night fixtures against the best club teams in Asia in Shanghai for the second successive season. Instead, Shenhua will have to settle for mid table obscurity and the hope that their rapidly aging star players will still have enough magic left to make things right in 2013.

This isn’t to say that things haven’t been fun along the way. Stretching from early July until October, a team that had previously been flirting with relegation suddenly burst into life and began scoring boatloads of goals whilst going unbeaten over eleven games.

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Letters from Shanghai: Drogba and Moreno outshining Anelka apathy

By Andrew Crawford, writing from Shanghai

If only to make a sweltering Chinese summer that little bit more overwhelming, the ongoing saga at Shanghai Shenhua continues to roll on and the soap opera that is the city’s biggest football club found a new plotline to explore, namely a recent game with local rivals, Jiangsu Sainty.

In the build-up to the game on Sunday night, Shenhua slipped further towards the bottom of the Chinese Super League as a result of having played one game less than the other teams around them. Whether by coincidence or design, fans of the other team in the city, Shanghai East Asia, who are top of the second division in China, then reportedly laid siege to the Shenhua message boards, taunting their cousins about the latter’s form in the CSL. Indeed, when East Asia rose to the top of the Chinese second tier (China League One), it was thought that there might be a Shanghai derby for the first time in several years in 2013. Now it is possible that East Asia and Shenhua could simply swap places.

The East Asia angle is also interesting because of how Shenhua’s little brother has helped them out in their hour of need. The globally reported signing of Didier Drogba largely overlooked one important detail- the Ivorian’s new employers already have their maximum quota of foreign players. East Asia, who are owned by Xu Genbao, a former league-winning Shenhua manager and the effective godfather of Shanghainese football stepped in to send defender, Bai Jiajun, to the Hongkou on loan whilst receiving the Bosnian midfielder, Mario Bozic, in exchange. The move benefits Shenhua immensely- not only can they clear a roster spot for Drogba but they also get the services of a talented young full-back to assist an ailing defence. Xu’s blood, according to the Shanghainese media, is still blue but Shenhua fans will be far from delighted that they had to rely on a second division club to help them get out of a fix.

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Letters from Shanghai: The mediocrity remains, but is Drogba on the horizon?

By Andrew Crawford, writing from Shanghai

The dust has started to settle on the ugly coup that ousted Jean Tigana from the Shanghai Shenhua dug out last month- but that doesn’t mean things have improved.

Shenhua’s last game, another dull, uninspiring 0-0 draw against Shanghai Shenxin at the Hongkou was the fourth game in a row that the former have gone without scoring a goal. The team is currently two points from the relegation zone with a third of the season played. Their expected saviour, Nicolas Anelka has not scored since early April whilst the rest of his team mates look jaded and nervous, especially when playing infront of their home crowd. It is perhaps a backhanded compliment to the team that their best player so far has been the young goal keeper, Wang Dalei.

These days, Shenhua have a manager on the sidelines rather than on the pitch, and after Anelka’s brief managerial stint ended in disaster; the former Democratic Republic of Congo coach, Jean-Florent Ibenge, is nominally in charge. The word ‘nominal’ is important because it’s difficult to say exactly how much sway Ibenge has in the dressing room. Anelka, both by status and salary, is untouchable whilst the club’s chairman, Zhu Jun is frequently unpredictable and reactionary so it is safe to say that the new man won’t be doing too much to rock the boat.

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The less than impressive side to Didier Drogba…

Like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, tonight at Stamford Bridge we saw the best of Didier Drogba as he scored against the run of play to secure a 1-0 victory for Chelsea, but we also saw the worst of him. Chelsea fans were singing "Same old Barcelona, always cheating!" during the first few minutes of the match, but that quickly faded as Drogba rolled around on the grass time after time. Unless you were supporting the Blues, it was tough to watch Drogba, though he was crucial in tracking back and helping keep Barcelona from scoring in the second half. Maybe lose the pink boots next time? [posted by EB]

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