Why the exclusion of Donovan and Nasri from the World Cup, could be a stroke of genius for their countries

Klinsmann's exclusion of his number 10, has all but ended Donovan's international career

Klinsmann’s exclusion of his number 10, has all but ended Donovan’s international career

Little fuss was made by international sports media, but in the US  it was quite a different story. The pulbic surprise and (and in most cases anger), to the exclusion of Landon Donovan from the USMNT roster for Brazil, can probably be measured on the Richter Scale.

“He was a shoe-in. A dead-cert!”, exclaimed Alan Davies, a popular sports pundit on all things MLS, on the night of the announcement. “All USMNT’s hopes for success in Brazil have just followed Landon right out the door” – Twitter was awash with such comments, reactions and anger towards the announcement and at one point last week #donovan  & #USMNT were the most popular trending topics on the social media site. Jurgen Klinsmann himself must have been prepared for the backlash, but not wanting to focus too much on what his side would be without in Brazil, Klinsmann only went as far as admitting “It was the hardest footballing decision I have ever had to make”.

 

Now that the tweets have settled (and the apparent overnight-birth of an army of US soccer experts has retreated), a deeper analysis into Klinsmann decision could supply the USMNT with more hope than ever.

Equally, across the Atlantic in France, Deschamps decision not to offer Samir Nasri a ticket to the greatest show on earth this summer, met similar public astonishment- especially after Nasri had helped Manchester City win the Premier League title with consistently superb displays. Yet Deschamps decision, along with Klinsmann’s, may still go-down as a stroke of genius and here is why:

It must be noted early, that the trick isn’t in who they have chosen to include instead. No, it’s far more ruthless than that- it’s literally in the fact that those two players won’t be with their squads during the tournament.

Donovan is arguably the US’s best attacker of all time, with a keen eye for goal and a great Landon-Donovan-001goalscoring record to-boot. As we have seen on countless occasions, he can often be in the right place at the right time- but behind the scenes, in the dressing room, his leadership qualities are waning and his ego is increasingly frustrating his teammates and most unfortunately (for him), the coach.

Klinsmann’s 2006 Germany side was one built on collective belief and team work- no individual was seen as being more important than any other. In terms of styles, they functioned as a unit  where theoretically (not always in practice..), any role was replaceable. Donovan’s ego doesn’t fit into such a jigsaw puzzle.

In Asia in 2002, in what Scolari now hopes will be his first of two World Cup victories with the Brazilian national team, he made the hugely unpopular decision of not including Romario in his squad. The decision angered Brazilians on another level than any kind of twitter backlash- with Scolari having to hideout in a separate hotel room from where it was believed he was staying.

The exclusion proved genius. Romario had become ‘the team’ in many fans eyes. He was a hero and the player in which the team should work around. Scolari saw it differently- the decision almost cost him his life, but ultimately won him the World Cup.

USA won’t win the World Cup (France just might), but Klinsmann knows that if they are to stand a fighting chance of progressing against the likes of Ghana, Portugal or Germany, they must play as a unit and the biggest ego in the dressing room can only be his and that’s why Donovan won’t be on the plane to Brazil next week.

Deschamps lifting the trophy as Captain in 1998

Deschamps lifting the trophy as Captain in 1998

As for Nasri, Deschamps is emulating a decision taken in his winning year as a player, by then coach Aime Jacquet.
Nasri has been outspoken in his criticism for Deschamps, he has acted unprofessionally on previous exclusions and is believed to be disliked in the dressing room by many past and present teammates. This is all well known by Deschamps and when he lifted the famous trophy, after a fabulous win against Brazil in Paris, during the summer of ’98, it put-to-bed the doubts of a nation; doubts that had run from Jacquet’s squad selection in May until the final-whistle on that fateful night.

That season Eric Cantona was voted player of the year in the Premier League for his unstoppable form in an equally unstoppable United side. At the same time,  North-East of Manchester, David Ginola was at Newcastle and couldn’t put a foot-wrong, thus being hailed as “Frances worst kept secret weapon”. Neither were included by Jacquet’s.

Premier League fans were astounded and quietly confident that France would come crashing out of the competition early on.  Jacquet’s was less concerned- believing the support of strong ego’s of a Frenchman famous for a Bruce Lee-esque karate move on an opposing supporter and self-styled Nescafe poster boy, would be “at their most influential watching the team on television”. Besides, their omission created an opportunity for a little known midfielder from Bordeaux to grace the spotlight…. and his name was Zinidane Zidane…

Didier Deschamps decision to exclude Nasri and his ego can surely be attributed to his experience of Jacquets simple, blunt and brilliant man-management tactics.

The point I am trying to make is this; there have been some hugely unpopular exclusions in the squads for the tournament this year and the immediate backlash is understandable, but if history is anything to go by (and it almost always proves to be), these latest high-profile exclusions may just be the difference such nations are looking for.

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Bolivian President Signs for Top Divison Club

Evo Morales- the worlds first president to be calling all the shots

Evo Morales- the worlds first president to be calling all the shots

Evo Morales, Bolivia’s president, has become the latest signing of Sport Boys FC from Santa Cruz  in the south of the country.

The top division side have signed him on a professional one year contract and are to pay him a salary of $213 per month (the current minimum wage). It is unclear what position he will play-in, but the football loving president is to wear the Number 10 shirt and the president of the club confirmed that he will play in several of the seasons games, “We’ll send him a list of matches and he’ll chose which he wants to play in- hopefully completing about 20 minutes of each match”.

Despite having a keen love of football and having already appeared in several celebrity and charity matches throughout South America, the move is of course in part a publicity stunt.

Morales, the leader of the popular MAS governing party ( Movement Towards Socialism), will be a crowd puller for the team that average 5,000 or so supporters per league game.

Opposition players will be on their guard following the recent announcement. Despite his apparent ability to negotiate a new solar project, a trans-pacific trade deal and raising of the national minimum wage, on the pitch experience suggests he is far less diplomatic:

 

Why Youth is Key to England’s World Cup Hopes

England must put faith in it's younger players in Brazil

England must put faith in it’s younger players in Brazil


For any international football fan, especially a world cup lover, the squad announcements are a key moment in the narrative of a World Cup- none less so than this years.

Some international squads have already been named. Brazil’s  squad, named by Felipe Scolari on Wednesday, had very few surprises. Indeed he kept with his “family feel” including players that he has worked with personally in the past (Lazio defender Henrique, who featured in Scolari’s Palmeiras side), as well as including players of the likes of Julio Cesar, Paulinho and Hulk- severely under-performing at club level, but certain starters for Felipao!

Klose will once again be an option for the Germans, having once more being named among their twenty-three and on the verge of a World Cup goal scoring record, the 35 year old will also hope to be engraving his nations name into the trophy- something that has eluded them ever since unification.

And so to England...
England’s squad announcements have often caused varying degrees of surprise and controversy over the years- from the inclusion of a young 16 year old Southampton youth-academy starlet by the name of Theo Walcott, ahead of  a very in-form Jermaine Defoe, to Glenn Hoddle choosing to drop Gascoigne from the France ’98 squad.

So what can we expect from Roy Hodgson selection this monday?

We can expect the omission of Terry and Ferdinand. Despite Terry having a relatively decent season under Mourinho, Roy Hodgson hasn’t selected him in his last 5 England games and I don’t expect him to select him at this point, despite him probably being our most consistent performer.

What should we hope for from Roy on Monday – put faith in the younger generation.

Sterling, Chamberlain, Shaw, Stones, Butland, Townsend are just a few of the youngsters who will be  praying on Sunday night of a dream-come-true call-up from Roy. Let’s be honest, if they don’t (and probably never will) get the chance to play a World cup in England, where better than the most football loving country in the world?!   I will be praying with them; as I believe Roy must put his faith in such names ahead of “the old guard” of Cole, Lampard, Ferdinand and Terry.

For many, it is down to the belief that “We have nothing to lose, we aren’t set-up to win the tournament, so we might as well give the youngsters an invaluable experience”. Indeed that is a view advocated by former England forward Gary Lineker.

For better or for worse, I am a dreamer and I always will be. Despite knowing that logically it would be seemingly impossible for England to win the trophy here in Brazil this July, the young child within me- self commentating his dribbles and shots in my muddy back yard many years ago (let’s be honest, I was out there doing the same last weekend…), wants to believe that anything is possible…and why not? This is football, better still, it’s the World Cup.

Why a younger squad will stand more chance of success in Brazil.

In the space of ten days, England will play in three very different cities, in three very different climates, very far from each other and against very different opposition….it already sounds exhausting.

Their first game will be against a very solid Italy side in the Amazonian city of Manaus. Despite June and July begin winter months

With just weeks t go, fears remain over the construction of the stadium in Manaus

With just weeks to go, fears remain over the construction of the stadium in Manaus

in Brazil, Manuas is in the jungle. It’s hot and worse than that, it’s humid. The pace of the game slows, fluids are lost rapidly and breathing becomes heavy- don’t expect a world class game from any of the matches in Manaus- it will be a dog fight and more about stamina and fitness than experience technique. That’s why youth could be key. In 90 degree heat, in the 90th minute with Balotelli chasing down a threw ball, who do you want on his tail: Ashley Cole with his zimmer-frame or the electric pace of Luke Shaw? As our first round match enters extra time and an exhausted Gerrard has to come -off and you need to inject some energy into a tiring team, who would you choose? An aging Lampard Junior or the sprightly Adam Llalana?

It’s all about Location, Location, Location.

You see the thing about this world cup, in stark contrast to many others (Germany, S.Africa or even France), is the games are played over huge distances- sometimes the equivalent of flying across Europe- therefore the advantage doesn’t always lie in who you are playing, but where you are playing and where you are based.

England have based themselves in Rio, sensible enough with only one of their group ties in the Amazon and the rest more to the south of the country, Germany in all their efficiency have actual gone ahead and built their own training camp, in an ideal location for all games ( do you ever get the feeling they fancy their chances this time around?), but Italy have also based themselves in Rio, despite all their matches being in the hot, humid North of the country, being 6 long flights in the space of ten days. If Italy do make it out of e group phase, I imagine they won’t be making it any further…

So indeed, in the interest of the future, in the interest of us dreamers, but more importantly in the interest of logic, I implore Roy Hodgson, please give the youth a vote of confidence and take. Fitness will be key.

Below is a snapshot of the squad I think should be going:

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