Sunday, January 27, 2008

David vs. Goliath

The title of this blog entry is a term usually thrown around during the FA Cup, along with "giant-killing" and "minnows". These terms were certainly used when mighty Liverpool FC, five times European Cup winners and one of the most recognized football clubs in the world let alone just in England, played Havant & Waterlooville, a team playing amateur football in Hampshire, in the fourth round of the FA Cup.

This type of match is what I like about the FA Cup. Although the competition has lost some of its magic, thanks to the greater importance of the Premier League and European competitions, it still holds some sentimental value to the vast majority who support lower league clubs. It gives the opportunity for relatively weaker clubs to forget about their woes in the league and beat a much stronger team on that day.

The situation is more exaggerated for the cup tie between Liverpool and Havant & Waterlooville. The Reds have won the League a record eighteen times and FA Cup itself seven times. The team is filled with multi-talented players from England & beyond,. The club have a rich tradition dating back more than a hundred years and are worth hundreds of millions of pounds.

On the other Havant & Waterlooville were formed only ten years ago. They play amateur football six divisions below Liverpool and are placed a massive hundred and twenty three places below the Reds in the league structure. The first team of Havant & Waterlooville include a builder, a trainee physiotherapist, a planner, a van driver, a sanitation worker, a primary school teacher, a community relations officer, a taxi driver and a school caretaker - normal everyday jobs.

To quote an AP article, "Imagine a club tennis player taking on Roger Federer at Wimbledon or a pub brawler fighting Floyd Mayweather at Madison Square Garden. That's the scale of the task facing semi-pro team Havant and Waterlooville when it plays five-time European champion Liverpool in the FA Cup at the Reds' famous Anfield stadium Saturday." You don't see this anywhere else in other sports and this is what I love about the FA Cup. I don't see the San Antonio Spurs playing a local basketball team or your local baseball team playing the New York Yankees. There are amateur golfers who play in local golf tournaments but that is as close as anyone gets to this situation. Even those amateur golfers don't come close to achieving what Havant and Waterlooville did - actually beating Liverpool.

This is what I love about the FA Cup and football. At the end of the day, it is eleven men vs. eleven men and anything is possible. Given the right circumstances, a team of professionals who play the game with sublime skill and finesse can be subdued by amateurs. The last time I think this last happned was in 1973 when non-League Hereford beat Newcastle United. You don't see this in any other sport. Twice did Havant and Waterlooville take the lead against the almighty Reds but in the end they succumbed to Liverpool's superior fitness and skill. Although the final score of 5-2 to Liverpool seemed like a thrashing, this lowly non-league side twice took the lead to a slightly weakened Liverpool side without Reina, Carragher, Gerrard and Torres but still brimming with internationals and regular first team players. Only Aston Villa and Tottenham Hotspurs have scored two goals at Anfield this season - not even my beloved Arsenal or Manchester United has scored two goals at Anfield this season.

At the end of the match, the Havant and Waterlooville players celebrated as though they won the FA Cup itself and the Liverpool fans gave the amateur team a standing ovation. The magic of the FA Cup is still alive despite contrary to popular belief.


Now would be a good time to finish off my transfer window analysis, since next Thursday the window will close for another six months.

Manchester City
In: With a Champion's League spot at stake, Eriksson will want to consider investing now rather than in the summer. He still needs another defender plus a winger but the main criteria is still a striker, with Bojinov still injured and Bianchi proving to be a complete useless twat.
Out: Eriksson still needs to use the broom to sweep out the vast majority players from the previous era that were completely useless, either now or this coming summer. See the likes of Isaksson, Mills, Sun, Dabo, Geovanni and most of the forwards off to better climates.

Manchester United
In: Fergie might want to reconsider his stance and invest in a striker right now. With a long campaign still ahead in three competitions, he only has three strikers and Saha is injury prone. The likes of Berbatov might be overpriced but Huntelaar might be more worth while.
Out: I don't expect many of the first team players going (Ferguson will wait to the summer to possibly get rid of the likes of Fletcher and Silvestre) but expect to see many of the youth players go out on loan (i.e. Evans) or possibly sold (i.e. Shawcross, Bardsley).

In: It seems the main criteria for Southgate in the remaining few months is a striker, with Mido just coming back from injury and the rest of the forwards proving ineffective. Alfonso Alves from Heereeveen seems the most likely target.
Out: It seems Southgate might have to let some of his best players leave to fund his transfers. Woodgate seems on the verge of rejoining Newcastle whilst Downing seems destined to Spurs. The likes of Rochemback and Johnson might leave but I seriously doubt this, since both are in the plans of the gaffer.

Newcastle United
In: With Keegan back in the helm, anybody could be coming to St. James' Park in the next few days. Counting against Keegan is time, Newcastle's predicament and his lack of current football knowledge. What Keegan really needs now is a defense which can defend properly plus some creativity in central midfield.
Out: A vast majority of players could go now or this summer. You can take your pick from Beye, Carr, Capaca, Jose Enrique, Babayaro, Emre and even Owen.

In: With many of his many players on African Cup of Nations duty, you can see the wheeler and dealer of Harry Redknapp bring in some short term loans to plug the gaps. He has already brought in Diarra and Aubrey. Another striker and possibly a right winger maybe needed. Milan Baros has been suggested as an option
Out: With so many people out through injury or international duty, nobody will leave Portsmouth until Redknapp finds a replacement, such as the case of Djimi Traore.

In: Steve Coppell has said he won't dip into the transfer window this month as it is hard to find good players at this time. However he might change his mind depending who is available and how his team is faring. So far he has brought in a central midfielder but he might need a right winger more.
Out: Some of Coppell's acquisitions haven't worked, particular the centre backs. Who might go include Stack, Halls, de la Cruz, Duberry, Bennett, Sodje, Oster and particular Lita who has become unsettled and wants to play regular football.

In: Roy Keane has been back to his old club Manchester United to acquire Phil Bardsley and Jonny Evans. He still might want to bring in a left back or possibly a right winger at this moment.
Out: Many of Keano's buys haven't worked out and quite a number of players could leave. Wright, Halford, Varga, Anderson, Harte, Clarke, Riera, Wallace, Kavanagh and Connolly might depart the stadium of light.

Tottenham Hotspurs
In: It entirely depends whether Ramos wants to invest now or in the summer. I think he ought to wait for the summer.
Out: Quite a number of players have been linked to moves away from White Hart Lane, Chimbonda could go, possibly to Newcastle or Sevilla. Robinson has been linked to many English clubs after being dropped. Stalteri, Rocha, Gardner, Tainio and Routledge seem likely to move on as well.

West Ham United
In: The main problem for Curbishley is keeping everybody fit, not bringing in new players. I seriously doubt West Ham United will be buying anybody.
Out: It is more likely players will go, with Walker, Dailly, Davenport, Quashie and possibly Zamora and Ashton departing the Boleyn Ground.

Wigan Athletic
In: Steve Bruce has already brought in a host of players, particularly reinforcing the left back position that has been vacant for this season. I still think he is light in the centre back and forward position, so he may invest in that area in the next few days.
Out: It was surprising to see Landzaat go but I don't think the manager will let anybody else go at this moment. He has already sold who he wanted.

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