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Eoin O'Callaghan

Eoin O'Callaghan

Eoin has worked in sports broadcasting in Ireland as a researcher, reporter, presenter and producer. He is currently a soccer reporter/anchor with the Fox Soccer Report RSS


Reality Bytes For The Future Of Fixing Matches

Written by on February 6, 2013 | 9 Comments »
Posted in Money Game

Everything is quicker these days. And everyone wants to be the quickest. We don’t have time to digest convoluted things like statements, paragraphs, chapters. We’re looking for the gist. The headline. The byte.

If it fits within 140 characters, perfect. But just one tweet, please. Anymore and we’ve lost interest, to be honest. It’s our own fault. We have kids and mortgages and our salaries have been cut. We’re in negative equity. We’ve just done sixty hours this week with no overtime being paid. We’ve got to call around to the in-laws and are literally racing out the door right now. We’ve got about thirty seconds. Maybe forty. Hang on. The youngest has fallen over and cut her chin. We’ve literally got about 20 seconds now. So whatever you’ve got to tell us, tell us right now. Seriously.

Okay. There’s been match-fixing. Lots of it. So much of it that there’s been an investigation. Some Champions League games were fixed, one that was played in England, we think. World Cup qualifiers too. And it threatens the very fabric of the game.

Anymore?

Well, not really. That’s the gist.

Wow. That sounds serious. Really serious. Champions League, World Cup. What have the football authorities said about this?

Well, eh, we’re going to write to them and let them know that they should heed the, eh, warning. But did you not hear me? Match-fixing! In the Champions League!

Yes! So what games?

We can’t tell you. But they were big ones. We think.

According to Europol, the deep-rooted character of football is stained by these recent developments. Professionals have cheated for money. They’ve dirtied the once-clear, pure waters of the beautiful game. But it’s just another byte. Just another gist. It did its duty. It filled some space for a few minutes, got people talking for a while. The headlines were made. ‘Match-fixing: Fabric of the game is threatened’. The tweet heard around the world.

Is match-fixing a huge problem for football? Of course. At a very basic level, once there’s a genuine belief that it’s happening somewhere, the doubt creeps in. Your club. Your favourite player. Your favourite manager.

But even still, what happens after that?

When Calciopoli broke, it brought down some of Europe’s biggest clubs. Kind of. A year after the scandal was first uncovered, AC Milan, who were originally banned from competing in the 2007 Champions League because of their involvement in binfluencing referees, were crowned European winners in Athens.

Fiorentina, who were docked 15 points as punishment, finished the 2006/07 season in 6th and were playing in the Europa League just a few months later. Even Juventus, seen by their own as having been treated so appallingly, were back in the top-flight within a year. Another year later, they were back in the Champions League.

Two years ago, Sepp Blatter pounded his chest and proclaimed FIFA were introducing a ‘zero tolerance’ approach to match-fixing.

The big plan was to detect suspicious betting patterns early but there was a problem.

Where smaller bets were placed in a multitude of different betting shops, FIFA’s software system couldn’t join the dots. According to a recent Spiegel report, an ex-UEFA employee who had inside knowledge of how the system worked said it was ‘essentially blind’ if the bets weren’t excessive and didn’t stand out.

In other words, football’s governing body had provided the byte, the headline, the gist. They did their part. Just not very well.

Just last month Sepp Blatter pounded his chest and proclaimed football should have a zero tolerance approach to racism. He’s come a long way since telling CNN in November 2011 that there was no racism and that players should remember it’s all just a game.

Where once a handshake was enough to build a bridge, deduction of points and relegation should be the norm. But instead of zero tolerance there is, well, tolerance. Both Hungary and Bulgaria were found guilty of racial abuse last month. Their punishment? To play their next home World Cup qualifiers behind closed doors.

Match-fixing will continue, as it always has. It will creep up on those lower-ranked players, managers, officials and administrators. It will make criminals vast sums of money and leave the weak and desperate take the fall, if there is any.

At times, it will permeate the upper echelons of the game and for a brief moment or two, there will be a flurry of activity as the story breaks. But as always, change will only come from those willing to change.

The wrong-doers will only be caught if those chasing them are interested.

And right now, football’s leaders aren’t interested.

They’re just looking for the gist.

The headline.

The byte.   

England Found Out Again – Will They Ever Learn?

Written by on June 25, 2012 | 24 Comments »
Posted in England

The refrain of Leonard Cohen’s ‘The Future’ goes ‘When they said ‘repent’, ‘repent’/ I wonder what they meant’. And as the fall-out develops from England’s elimination from another international tournament, sorry genuinely seems to be the hardest word.

We had been told this was different, of course. Force-fed the buzz words, those sound-bytes that always whip the gullible into a frenzy. There were the bland references to team-spirit, belief and how every side always has a chance.And then, all it took was a 3-2 victory over Sweden to send everyone over the edge. ‘At times’, said captain Steven Gerrard, ‘it feels like we’re unbreakable’. It didn’t take long, did it?

You see, the past always creeps up on England. They have a disturbing obsession with what’s been and gone. Nothing is ever forgotten about. Everything is filed, easily recalled at even the most vaguely-related opportunity. Pragmatism is not allowed. And this English squad is no different.

What had been learned from the 2010 debacle?

Was there a better mood in the dressing-room now?

Is Hodgson better than Capello?

There was even the obligatory ‘national pride’ story. Jamie Redknapp, writing in his column for The Daily Mail following England’s win over Ukraine opened with this beauty, ‘Every England player sang the National Anthem beforehand. All the way along the line, every one of them. Can you remember the last time that happened?’ I can’t Jamie, but one thing is for certain – it wasn’t that way under the foreign lads. Because the players didn’t really feel English under Capello or Eriksson.

What with them being foreigners and all that.

Yet no one made reference to the straw-clutching and how pathetic it was.

How England’s performance against France was insipid, devoid of any life, dull, embarrassing.

The excuses were already in place. A great platform. A strong foundation.

Always important not to suffer defeat in the first game. No mention of how scared they were. How frightened of France this collection of millionaires had been. Instead, the reflections called for some history lessons. Comparisons were needed. This draw was much better than that 2-1 loss to the French back in 2004. And remember, the team didn’t even qualify for the tournament four years ago. So…progress! Rule Brittania!

Hodgson is a functional coach – always has been and always will. That’s why he does so well with having limited players at his disposal. You do the simple things right, you send clear, concise messages and nothing ever becomes too complicated. The problem though is that modern-day management is constantly evolving.

The runts of the litter are eager to swallow-up new research methods, borrow from other sports in different countries, travel to watch and learn from the best sides currently playing the game. These young students are to football what the digital revolution was to the 90s. A game-changer. They acknowledge possession is both a defensive and offensive strategy.

They acknowledge a goalkeeper is an eleventh player, not just a shot-stopper. They acknowledge ‘long’ as being a dirty term and that it shouldn’t preface any word featured in their coaching manuals. It’s about sharpness, precision, execution. It’s cold-blooded, it’s revolutionary, it’s perfect.

Any real success story includes development as a fundamental aspect. A step in the right direction. At last, perhaps, just a faint hint of moving forward. But, as is the norm, England went the other way.

After an hour of their quarter-final against Italy, we saw the big-man introduced to replace an energetic, busy player who likes the ball at his feet. The big-man was brought in so he could become the target for the goalkeeper’s booming clearances. Meanwhile, the Italians owned the game because of the calmness and masterful possession-based dominance exerted by Andrea Pirlo in central midfield.

A ‘veteran’ who was never rushed, never panicked. Everything revolved around this man’s innate gift for using the ball intelligently though his first thought is always to keep it, then to move it. The infrequency of the champagne passes only served to extol their brilliance.

The Premier League’s most accurate passer last term was Swansea’s Leon Britton, followed by Paul Scholes who played half a season.  But their absences from the England squad aren’t exactly surprising given that Hodgson clearly doesn’t want this team to keep the ball.

The facts are in the stats. 81% pass success, which isn’t bad but an average of only 40% possession per game. From the eight quarter-finalists, only Greece racked up a lower number – a side perceived by many as the epitome of ‘anti-football’.

England currently top some Euro 2012 stat lists. They racked up the most tackles and most blocks. Nothing like some valiant hard-work. Blood, sweat and tears. Something to be proud of, as always. The day after the night before is usually a time for sombre and sober reflection though Hodgson had to deal with the pang of a rather piercing and persistent headache.

Those pesky passing numbers. We’ve all been there. Tender-bodied, still bruised physically and emotionally from a depressing night previous that had promised so much when it all began. Now, away from the flashing lights and still cranky and tired, you avoid reality for just a little while longer.

Said Hodgson on Monday, “I don’t regard statistics, particularly possession statistics, as important in determining which is a good or a bad team”.

After England’s win over Sweden, Sir Dave Richards, the FA’s vice-chairman said Hodgson had brought a Midas touch to the team. Though perhaps the Football Association needs to brush up on their Greek mythology. When Midas realized his greed had led him down the path of stupidity, he returned to Dionysus, the God who had bestowed his gift upon him and begged for help. For Midas, being able to turn everything he touched to gold was a short-term thrill but ultimately, nothing more than a short-sighted wish for which he paid the consequences.

Hodgson’s novelty is already beginning to wear off.    

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5 Things To Watch For In MLS This Weekend (It Is Actually More Than 5 – Ed.)

Written by on April 27, 2012 | 2 Comments »
Posted in Los Angeles Galaxy, MLS, New York RB, San Jose Earthquakes, Toronto FC, Vancouver Whitecaps

It’s just talk, talk, talk ‘til you lose your patience

The memorable scene from the film adaptation of David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross sees ‘Blake’ (Alec Baldwin) pay a visit to a group of under-performing real estate agents to berate them for their ineptitude. He hurls insults. He ridicules them for the constant excuses. When challenged by Dave Moss (Ed Harris), he pulls up a chair, rolls up his sleeve and takes off his watch. Laying it on the table in front of Moss he says – ‘You see this watch? This watch cost more than your car’.

The media world was whipped into a frenzy after what happened following Toronto FC’s 3-2 loss to Chicago. Aron Winter said this, the players said that.

What does it all mean?

It means there’s too much talking.

What do you say after a 6th straight defeat that hasn’t been said before?

Talking, as ‘Blake’ might say, is for closers. For when talking is as inane as this, surely you’d prefer to say as little as possible.

Here’s what Ryan Johnson had to say earlier this week – ‘I think you have to make some changes at some place, I don’t know where. But some change needs to happen’. Astute.

Aron Winter came out with this clincher – ‘The moment we get the first points, everything is going to turn’. Wrong.

And finally, MLSE Chief Operating Officer Tom Anselmi gave his opinion on TFC’s current mire – ‘They have to get this straightened out. Our fans deserve better’. Corporate.

A friend of mine enjoyed a very successful playing career in England and wrapped up his on-field days in the lower leagues before graduating to a coaching role. He used to tell me stories of watching from the dugout, as his team would lose a game 3-1 with two of those goals coming from set pieces.

Training the following week would feature forensic work on dealing with corners, free kicks and even throw-ins. The following Saturday, the team would forget everything they were taught, panic, lose poise/focus and concede from a set piece once again.

Player intelligence can be incredibly poor at that level. Awareness of certain situations and being able to make a decisive move quickly are basic elements within a top player’s skill-set.

And it’s what limited players find hardest to pick up.

Winter was heavily ridiculed for saying his side can make the play-offs. It was a ploy solely intended so his team remain calm. Against Chicago, nobody took a breath when in search of an equalizer. It was frantic and ugly. Desperate. It made for entertainment, sure. But this isn’t entertainment.

At the end of the scene, ‘Blake’ pulls out the new Glengarry leads and proudly shows them off. He tells the salesmen that they won’t be getting them because the information is for ‘closers’. He walks to Moss’s desk and retrieves his watch. As he’s putting it on he says, ‘And to answer your question, pal. Why am I here? I came here because Mitch and Murray asked me to, they asked me for a favor. I said, the real favor, follow my advice and fire your fucking ass because a loser is a loser’.

 That’s Entertainment

 With New York having to piece together a back-four for this weekend’s clash with the Revs, many are predicting another embarrassing Red Bulls defensive display. But sometimes, inexperience can be a major positive. Rookies can be naïve but they’re also bullet-proof, knowing they have a point to prove.

For Markus Holgersson, the changes to the back line may also be a blessing in disguise. Suddenly, he’s the leader back there. He’s the experienced figure. And following a barrage of criticism, the Swede needs a big performance.

In many ways, there’s something akin to Per Mertesacker about the strapping centre-half. He’s big – therefore he should be commanding. Not necessarily. With the ball on the ground, he always seems on edge, nervous.

But, moving to MLS from the Swedish league champions would indicate he’s got a lot to offer, especially being on the periphery of the international squad. Sweden has produced quite a steady line of impressive stoppers so it won’t come as a surprise to see Holgersson improve as the season continues.

But currently, the defense is struggling badly and since the beginning of the campaign, New York has looked insecure at the back.

Timid.

Soft.

There needs to be aggression. Though the main focus from last week’s collapse to DC was on individual errors, the key was a lack of cohesion. Players will make mistakes but it’s up to teammates to react, anticipate, be aware and ensure that an error is dealt with and quickly forgotten about.

Last term, New York was accused of missing a collective identity. Already this season, the same affliction is costing them.

Stand and Deliver

 San Jose’s 3-1 victory over Real Salt Lake was overshadowed by a number of things – Jason Kreis’s displeasure at the officials, two red cards, two injury-time goals from the ‘Quakes and an eighth of the season for Chris Wondolowski.

But, one key aspect was ignored. The quality of service San Jose provided from wide areas. Steven Beitashour continues to impress at right-back, getting forward to deliver two excellent crosses that were glanced to the net by Khari Stephenson and Simon Dawkins.

The service for the second was particularly impressive. The game entering injury-time, pressure to simply get the ball into the area but Beitashour knew exactly what he was doing – lifting the cross perfectly into the path of Dawkins who was able to run onto the centre and power it to the far corner.

Their opponents this weekend – Philly – have kept things very tight in recent weeks. Unbeaten in three, two straight wins, three straight clean-sheets.

But, in the first game of the season, Portland caused them lots of trouble in the air and if Beitashour can conjure some more impressive deliveries, the in-form due of Wondo and Stephenson will make things difficult for the Union. 

La-La Land Starts Making Sense

 Two straight wins for the reigning champions and things slowly getting back to normal. Their two goals against Colorado last weekend were incredibly contrasting in styles but comparable in beauty.

The first came from a dead-ball – Beckham standing over the free-kick forty yards from goal. The Rapids defence expecting an in-swinging cross but instead, Beckham delicately clips it to the near post where an unmarked Mike Magee had timed his run to perfection, carefully looping the header towards goal with Marvell Wynne glancing it to his own net.

Beckham’s pass a piece of under-valued brilliance.

The second goal was even better.

The Galaxy deep in their own half – Beckham and Magee exchanging passes before the latter switches the play and spreads it wide left for Donovan. He races through the middle and feeds Keane who holds it up intelligently, waiting for the arced run from Donovan on his left.

Buddle makes the decoy run, opening it up for Donovan to receive the perfectly-weighted pass before he slides it past Matt Pickens. A superb goal.

Things beginning to click, a first-choice eleven once again though still no clean sheet this season. Should one arrive at the Home Depot Center this weekend against Dallas, other teams should be getting a little nervous.  

  Ch-ch-ch-chChanges (Turn and face the strain)

 Martin Rennie likes systems. He’s a pragmatic coach – all that matters is the result.

If his side can achieve that by playing attractive football, that’s a bonus.

After two straight defeats, he changed things for a home clash with Dallas – Omar Salgado through the middle, Camilo on the left, Sebastien le Toux pushed wide right and both Eric Hassli and Davide Chiumiento on the bench.

The Italian an unused substitute while the Frenchman came on with just over 10 minutes left. The starting offensive trio that faced Dallas provides plenty of options for Rennie with an ability to interchange throughout a game.

In fact, the Camilo goal came from him popping up wide right, taking a pass from Young Pyo Lee, cutting inside onto his left and arrowing the shot to the far corner.

For this weekend’s game against Columbus, Rennie has a dilemma.

Does he stick with pace, skill and perhaps a lack of physicality or will Hassli come in solely to be a nuisance to the Crew defence?

They certainly weren’t outfought by the bruising Houston Dynamo last week in that 2-2 draw and did suffer badly at the hands of New York’s quick movement and incisive attacks. So, perhaps Salgado, Camilo and Le Toux will all be retained for this one.

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