Sat, May
18 New Articles

The sad side of the beautiful game

The long weekend

Donal Benson

I’M AFRAID there is only one place to start this week and that is with the tragic death of Gary Speed. Gary was respected in the world of football and in the greater community as one of the nicest guys you could ever meet.
He was recognised as one of the fittest footballers in the game and one of the most dedicated. In a career spanning 22 years, he played for Leeds Utd, Everton, Newcastle Utd, Bolton Wanderers and Sheffield Utd before becoming manager of Wales last December.
He won the League title with Leeds in 1992 and, in winning four of the last five international games with Wales, he managed to parachute them up to 50th in the World Rankings.
He was awarded an MBE last year for his services to football after playing for Wales on 85 occasions. The world of football is stunned by this sad news and a lot of my friends who are Leeds supporters are in complete shock. May he rest in peace.
In the Premier League, the continued success of Spurs and Newcastle has put a lot of pressure on the usual top four and, even at this early stage, it promises to be a very exiting conclusion to the season. Chelsea’s recent slump is giving me sleepless nights. Our new manager has set out his style of play and it is proving difficult for our established players to change to a very high defensive line.
I find it strange that with the amount of possession we get in midfield, we still move the ball very slowly. If you watch Man Utd and Arsenal, you will see the speed of their passing and the way they get the ball out wide. This is where we are lacking.
We have to sort this out as we cannot afford to lose any more ground in the chase for the title and even a place in the top four.
The results at the weekend were good news for Chelsea as Man Utd and Man City dropped points. While Man Utd were hard done by, I find it hard to have any sympathy for them as Ferguson has a very selective memory in incidents relating to United.
They have had more than their share of good luck with late penalties in their favour at Old Trafford. In Europe we are now in a position where we must get a 0-0 draw or a win over Valencia to qualify for the knock-out stages.
In the case of Man Utd, they still have a lot of work to do in Basle to qualify. It looks bad for Man City who have to depend on other results to progress. This is the time of the year when some managers heads are on the chopping block and the media go into overdrive predicting who will get the sack.
They are looking for the head of Villas Boas of Chelsea at the moment but this will not happen. The futures of Steve Kean of Blackburn and Sunderland’s Steve Bruce are in doubt, but be assured that they will not resign as, by getting the sack, they will do better financially. It will be interesting to see who goes first.
On the International front, we have qualified for the Euros in Poland/Ukraine next summer. It’s been a long wait since 1988 but will give a great lift to the country when we badly need it. With as many as 12,000 expected to travel, the Credit Unions will be kept busy and the credit cards will be stretched to the limit.
Those who were crying for Trapattoni to leave have gone very quiet now. As I have said many times in my articles, it’s a results game and the supporters will not be talking about negative football when they are enjoying next summer. All we need to do now is to have England in our group. Memories of Stuttgart ’88 will come flooding back.