Man City’s Empire Expands - AFR Voice Ep. 26
With Patrick from AFR Voice currently travelling through Australia, it was only right we paid an in-depth visit to football down under. Featuring an interview with Football Central AU’s Ahmed Yussuf, we discuss Manchester City’s purchase of Melbourne Heart and look at the eye-wateringly difficult group the national side have to navigate in Brazil – Spain, Holland and Chile. Gulp.
The Spanish national team itself also gets covered as we reflect on the passing of Luis Aragones – the founder of ‘tiki-taka’ football and former Spain coach who turned a group of under-achievers into a beautifully ruthless winning machine. Whilst in the Iberian Peninsula we greet the unusual site of Atletico Madrid at the top of the table and cast our eye over revamp design for the Bernabeu – a futuristic world class facility or a big silver Tupperware depending on how you look at it.
All that plus we herald Libya’s fairytale victory in the African Nations Championships and look on at Leeds United with a mixture of bemusement, fear and intrigue as they get set to be purchased by one of the most unpredictable, impatient and eccentric owners in world football.
From Summer to Winter, and World Cup Compensation
By Max Grieve
Among the first to qualify for the next World Cup and, on current form, likely to be among the first knocked out in Brazil, doing something before others is becoming something of a theme for Australia, if you can play along with the opening and ignore all the things in which Australia isn’t first.
Australia spent a lot of money a few years ago on a book, a badly animated kangaroo, and Elle Macpherson, which was meant to win them the rights to hold the 2022 World Cup in the Australia winter. Thanks to the rugby union, league, and Aussie rules football seasons all taking place during this time, the Football Federation of Australia (FFA) had to negotiate with the various codes over stadium use, and planned the construction of three new stadiums. There was a launch at Parliament House, and then an excruciating presentation in Zurich in which the badly animated kangaroo was shown to the rest of the world.
The Australian bid received one vote. Given Australia’s track record with hosting major international sporting events, this seemed a little strange. Given we’d spent $43m on it, the whole thing seemed a little pointless. And so it was that Qatar was chosen to host the World Cup in June or July of 2022.
On technology, empathy, and ref-cam
We can shoot video with a pair of glasses now. With the same pair of glasses, we can also translate languages, search the Internet, find directions, and send text messages, if we are willing to pay $1500 and look a little foolish. I can’t vouch for their optical capacity. It seems like the future, but today. It’s all too fast, but we’re here.
It seems strange, then, that it’s taken until now, the point at which we can search the Internet using a pair of glasses, to strap a camera to a referee’s head to see what they see, but that is now happening in Super Rugby, in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. The footage is extraordinary and, perhaps most importantly, brings out a sense of empathy for those in charge of the game.
Referees suffer deaths of a thousand angles. Any given decision is shot from ten different viewpoints, but the referee has only one. Forget negatively weighted boots and impossibly spherical balls. Strap a camera to Howard Webb’s head this weekend as he goes out to handle Manchester United and Chelsea. There’s a real advancement. [Words by Max Grieve]
By Shuaib Ahmed
Wolves are a fascinating species. When it comes to sustaining dominance, wolves tend to display an act of submission or ‘giving in’ to the dominant wolf. On the other hand, the dominant wolf, known as the alpha male, demonstrates his power by getting each and every pack member’s attention.
Similar is the case of the 'White Wolves' of Asian football at a continental and eventually, a global platform. If you were to ask me a year ago what is the Central Asian country of Uzbekistan known for I would have answered: gold, copper and natural gas. Never football.
Critics in the Asian scene have consistently underrated and written off Uzbekistan in major tournaments and the Uzbeks in return have somehow proved them wrong. With encouraging performances last year alone from all levels, starting at U-16 through to the AFC Champions League and all the way to the national team, perhaps it will only be a matter of time until we see Uzbekistan rise to the same level alongside such Asian greats as Japan, South Korea, Iran and Australia.
By Max Grieve
It’s as hard for me to tell you this as it is for you to read it, but it wouldn’t be right for me to keep it from you until you’re older, harder, and have a greater control over your urge to take out your anger on government buildings and public art. Alessandro Del Piero isn’t entirely happy. I’m sorry to have taken an axe to your satisfaction with life.
It’s not complicated. Simply, Sydney FC aren’t very good, and Del Piero is. The Italian is cutting an increasingly frustrated figure – he could be playing for a poor team in Qatar and making millions more. The A-League is curiously competitive, and has already seen seen four different championship winners in its eight-year history, though the success of the major cities, Melbourne and Sydney, is vital to the greater success of the league – even more so now, given the international coverage that Australian football has been receiving since Del Piero’s arrival. While he has been one of the most watchable players in the league this season, Sydney are diving to new depths of mediocrity.
"Put a sh*t hanging from a stick in the middle of the stadium," said then-Real Madrid coach Jorge Valdano in 2007 of Rafael Benitez’s Liverpool, "and there are people who will tell you it’s a work of art. It’s not: it’s a sh*t hanging from a stick." There are no such delusions as to what Sydney FC are presenting to the league and the watching millions.
By Max Grieve
Beckham. Australia. Lucrative. Speculation. POSSIBILITIES. They’re all words, but what do they have in common?
We were convinced that the trans-Pacific liner carrying David Beckham and all manner of spices and exotic fruits would dock in Sydney Harbour. The newly-appointed CEO of the Football Federation Australia, David Gallop, told the country that he had spoken to those mysterious ‘people’ who decide the midfielder’s life for him. ‘David Beckham,’ Gallop declared in an actual quote, ‘can kick a free-kick, and do some other stuff too.’
Australian football knows international superstardom – indeed, we have seen cultured forwardsman Emile ‘The Touch’ Heskey at his imperial finest this season – but Beckham would take the game to an entirely new level. Imagine the delirium, then, when a mere four hours after news of his imminent arrival broke, his ‘people’ – those malevolent bastions of misery – took to the skies in a biplane, and launched an almighty assault on the dreams of a nation. Apparently, he had no interest in Australia. We wept for a time, then got on with watching Alessandro Del Piero, who I will get to shortly.
By Max Grieve
Unless you’ve been staring directly into the Sun with your ears sealed up by industrial grade cement, you’d have seen or heard that Emile Heskey scored a bicycle kick over the weekend.
Perhaps I’m being generous – any ‘bicycle kick’ is, of course, subject to conditions. Heskey didn’t so much push off the ground as lift his legs out from underneath his body and fall gracefully, but the kicking motion wasn’t so horizontal as to label it a scissor kick. It was a “Bicycle Kick Presented by Emile Heskey” and the world smiled.
A boom rang out across the country as he fell back to Earth, and kangaroos scattered towards the sea, where there were sharks and jellyfish and crocodiles, because this is Australia; a land where everything is coloured red by dirt, blood or the backs of spiders.
It was like watching a 1000-year-old tree falling from the skies. Heskey looks hot, and altogether weary of the world. His muscles were sculpted by overzealous stonemasons, but he doesn’t seem to want to use them. His eyes are tired and heavy, and he struggles to point at things with any enthusiastic intent. Emile Heskey doesn’t look as though he really cares for football any more, but then he kicks his feet over his head, and trots away; delighted.
By Max Grieve
Del Piero scored a free kick. It was really good.
Given that there is no definitive ‘top’ and ‘bottom’ in space, as far as we can tell, Australia isn’t really ‘down under’, is it? Of course, that doesn’t stop the headline writers referring to the country as though it’s clinging on to the underside of the Earth for dear life, or otherwise exists as a land mostly occupied by red dirt and kangaroos – and it is – and is altogether otherworldly.
Perhaps it is, because on Saturday afternoon in Sydney, Alessandro Del Piero scored a free kick , and Emile Heskey a volley (think 5% Balotelli v. Ireland in the Euros, 95% typical Heskey) in the very same match, on the very same stretch of grass. After a opening weekend that drew 42,000 people to the Melbourne derby between the Victory and the Heart, but disappointed when people looked to the stars, this was what the A-League was waiting for.
Those watching at home could split the screen and watch ‘Hero Cam’, a live homage to Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait; taking in 85 minutes of impish, darting movements, and five minutes of celebration and grace as the Italian scored in jet black boots – you know it makes sense – then went about being the King of Charm and Poise as Sydney chased the game. Heskey did as Heskey does; and spent his time on the field rampaging towards goal, rampaging towards the far post, rampaging along the sideline, and eventually rampaging – well, trudging slowly – towards the bench.
Did I mention that Del Piero scored a free kick?
It’s altogether likely that your interest in Australian football doesn’t go far beyond what Del Piero and Heskey are up to, but there are other teams, too. Japanese star Shinji Ono signed for the newborn Western Sydney Wanderers (a club with a brilliant crest and a Flamengo-esque kit), and will take part in the very first Sydney city derby next weekend. Strange as it might seem, WSW already enjoy an intense community support, and a sellout crowd is expected. Elsewhere, the Victory let in five against the champions Brisbane Roar, as current Melbourne ex-Brisbane coach Ange Postecoglou claimed his side had been ‘beaten by the better team’, the team in question being the one he took to the title last season.
The rest of the league is going along as it always has. What the majority of the A-League lacks in star quality and world class skill, it more than makes up for with a natural tendency to be violent within the rules, and an inevitable ten minute frenzy at the end of every match.
Also, Del Piero scored a free kick. It was glorious.