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Russell Berrisford

Russell Berrisford

Russell’s support of Derby County eventually led him to leave the country. He has lived in Canada since 2007 and currently writes about soccer for The Vancouver Sun. RSS

Five Things to Learn About Euro 2012

Written by on June 7, 2012 | No Comments »
Posted in European Championship

Yellow is not so dangerous- there is no doubt that suspensions had a huge influence on the Champions League Final this season but that won’t be the case for Euro 2012. Two yellows means a suspension from the next game but single cautions are wiped out after the quarter-final stage meaning that the only way a player can be banned from the final is if he picks up a red card in the semi.

Time is on their side- the schedule is hugely favourable to Groups A and B with regard to rest days. At the semi-final stage whoever progresses from those groups will get two days more down time than their opponents; that won’t make a bad team better than a good one but in a tournament of tight margins that advantage could be crucial.

There’s gold in them thar boots!-  four of the last seven Golden Boot winners have been helped to the award by scoring a hat-trick, so if you do want to risk your hard earned cash on a gamble don’t look for a player from a team that you think will win the tournament, look for a player who can “fill his boots” in one game (from the relatively weak Group A perhaps?).

An Irish win?- Ireland will be equaling the record for biggest gap between appearances; twenty-four years. The two other teams that equaled that record were France in1984 (who went on to win) and Greece in 2004 (who went on to win).

 The end of the Euro?- after this tournament the number of teams rises from sixteen to twenty-four as UEFA follow the more means better credo. No doubt the competition will still be worth watching but the “it’s actually better than the World Cup” cliche will surely be replaced by “it’s actually like a smaller World Cup”.

Enjoy it while you can. 

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The Changing Face of MLS Transfers

Written by on June 1, 2012 | 1 Comment »
Posted in General, MLS

The end of the European season inevitably heralds the arrival of the transfer speculation ritual to Major League Soccer.

There are few out of contract players that won’t be linked with one MLS club or another in the coming days and weeks and tweets and blog posts will be issued debating signings and salary terms and whether the particular player in question would be a useful addition to either the league or a club.

That last point will, with wearying regularity, inevitably dissolve into two factions of opinion.

On one side we have  the “He is a big name who will do wonders for the media exposure of the game in North America” contingent and on the other side we have the “He is too old and won’t like the cross continent travel or the artificial turf” brigade.

Could it be though that this season (and for the foreseeable future) the signing of a player for the latter half of the season might actually make sense from a purely footballing point of view?

The unbalanced schedule that was introduced this season was greeted by supporters with tepid enthusiasm at best and with most decrying the loss of the traditional “everybody plays everybody else twice” formula that is the norm in most footballing countries.

Most clubs and players though welcomed a system (any system) that reduced their travel time and limited the hours that they were spending in airport terminals.

What the new schedule also did was load the fixtures in a way that meant the latter half of the season matched teams from the same Conference together as much as possible with the explicit intention of making late season games more competitive but also, as an added bonus, reducing travel in that period of the season substantially.

So if an ageing star from Europe did parachute into MLS at the end of June what kind of gruelling schedule would he be faced with?

If he arrived in New York then he would barely register enough airmiles to maintain his platinum status, for the Red Bulls schedule is remarkably kind (almost as thought he league wanted them to do well) with only a visit to Kansas taking them out of their East Coast comfort zone and with nothing else that would strike a European exile as a particularly onerous journey.

If our hero headed off to join the Galaxy then only flights to Chicago and Columbus would hit his body clock hard (and why bother taking such a player to games against a none Conference opponent) and even the far flung, and traditionally long travelling, Pacific Northwest teams of Portland, Vancouver and Seattle only face four trips out East between them during the final half of the season.

So when Montreal signed Marco Di Vaio from Bologna for example they weren’t just getting an ageing player that would attract the “eurosnobs” who normally wouldn’t give MLS the time of day they were signing a player who, even on a short term basis, could make a genuine impact.

The unbalanced schedule is with us for at least two more years, and the clubs who realise the increased effect that a mid-season signing could have on the outcome of their season will surely be the ones who prosper.

Let’s hope that the sterile nature of the debate about those signing also evolves to fit the new circumstances. 


What Should The PFA Be For?

Written by on May 28, 2012 | No Comments »
Posted in General

The English Professional Footballer’s Association (PFA) is a strange beast.

On the one hand it is a trade union that is best known to the general public for representing the interests of multi-millionaire athletes as they leave a trail of chaos across the nightclubs and city centres of England but on the other hand it is instrumental in providing such useful services as post-career training and education for the kind of footballers that don’t catch the public eye through tabloid exploits and who often find themselves out of work and out of options when it comes to anything resembling a career path.

In the last couple of weeks though the PFA has found itself in the middle of the kind of dilemmas that would keep the Ethics Department of the average university busy for at least a couple of semesters.

The first such case was when it weighed in on the heated debate over racism as Chairman Gordon Taylor announced that his organization would seek to make racist abuse on the field an offence that resulted in the termination of the contract of the guilty party.

Leaving aside the slightly strange notion of a union wanting to implement a rule that resulted in some of its members being fired, and while accepting that the thinking behind the proposal is laudable, this really does seem to be a case of the PFA spotting a can marked “worms” and reaching immediately for the nearest available opener.

The second case that brought the PFA into the spotlight was the decision by recently promoted Swindon Town to take goalkeeper Luke McCormick on a trial basis.

The Guardian’s Daniel Taylor wrote an excellent piece on the subject but the basic (and tragic) details are that four years ago McCormick, who at the time was playing for Plymouth Argyle, was found guilty of driving under the influence after killing two boys aged ten and eight and is due to be released from prison in the coming weeks.

The Swindon fans have reacted to the possible signing with emotions that range from outright disgust to acceptance of the value of rehabilitation but the PFA have been very clear in their support for McCormick’s right to resume his career and they have stated that the player has already spoken to them about the possibility of taking up a role explaining the dangers of alcohol to young players.

We will all have our own thoughts on this particular case that revolve around issues such as the harshness of judicial sentences to the notions of forgiveness and revenge, but the PFA have decided that they need to support one of their members at a time when few others in society would be there to help.

And that is where the two cases meet and collide.

For when it tries to help McCormick the PFA is delving into a difficult situation in a way that may, even at the smallest level, actually result in some good.

There would surely be no benefit to society in leaving the player unemployed and destitute but there may be a little benefit if he is able to instill some notion of the dangers of driving under the influence to youth team players, or even just one such player.

I am sure that McCormick lives with what he has done every day (although nowhere near to the extent that the parents of the boys he killed do) and any organization that devotes time and resources to allowing him to give a little something back should be lauded for their efforts.

Which is what makes the recent foray into the issue of racism so galling.

It smacks too much of the PFA indulging in the kind of “soundbite politics” that is more intended to impress a constituency than it is to actually do some good.

Can any of us imagine how high the levels of vitriol would have risen from the recent race rows if there was even the possibility that a player found guilty would have been fired from his club?

Racism is wrong and can be dealt with either through the games internal disciplinary process or, if required, the criminal justice system and allowing other parties to add mandatory punishments would only muddy the waters of an already murky situation.

The PFA is offering a simple solution to a complex problem and that is never a good idea.

Helping people like Luke McCormick may not be popular, it may not even be very pleasant, but the end result could well prove to be more rewarding and more beneficial than helping to create yet another media feeding frenzy over what one footballer said to another.

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Have some thoughts and opinions you want to express?  The Training Ground is your chance. Just click on the link.

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