Thursday, May 10, 2012

We've Moved

Follow our new site - - here. It's still the same material, just on a more regular basis and on developments in Europe, predominantly Irish football which I've recently began to take quite a interest in. English and Spanish football have also been published recently so don't be a stranger and pay us a visit!



Saturday, August 20, 2011

Farewell Keano

He's left England. He's moved to California. He used to get £52,000. Now he gets $86,500. He's also going to play alongside England record-holder David Beckham. Not too bad for a boy from Tallaght. At 31, with his career slowly coming to an end, Keane has opted to swap life in the dour-weather England for the glitz and glamour in the USA. Now some may assume that he's being selfish and that it's his EIGHT (yes eighth) "childhood club", but there are nothing but positives from his perspective. I mean, how often does it occur that you're offered a job in the Golden State?  

I'll miss him being in England. Ever since I was a young 'un I've always kept an eye out for Keane and how he gets on, goal-wise. One of my first memories of Robbie was when he was playing for Leeds back in the early noughties. He'd made a mockery of the opponents offside-trap and was through on goal with just the keeper to beat. Instead of just the typical 'knock it past the keeper' approach, Keane stepped it up a notch and scooped the ball over the on-rushing keeper into an open net. I remember just sitting there, scratching my head in awe. 'How the hell did he do that?' I asked my brothers. No response.

He continued to renew my interest and by the 2002 World Cup he was in full flight. Here's the scenario: Ireland were one-nil down with just seconds to play when Irish right-back Steve Finnan launched a hopeful punt up-field, fingers crossed that somebody would flick it on. Niall Quinn came to the rescue and knocked it down for Robbie Keane who stole in behind the German defence and steered the resulting shot in off the post.

Goals for Ireland and his 'childhood' clubs came and went, but another one of my favourites (and one of the lesser known ones) was during his first spell at White Hart Lane. He had received the ball from a throw-in - the throw-in was deemed to be awarded to the wrong team originally (Spurs) - on the byline and, in the midst of a 180ยบ spin, half-volleyed the ball over the opposing defender, before a fake shot pull-back against the next. He then had the simple task of a one-on-one which he finished in an ice cold manner. Watching it over, I reckon it was one of those 'you had to be there' moments because nobody seems to truly appreciate it when seeing it on Youtube. I still do, mind you.

On the international stage, Keane is and always has been Ireland's go-to-guy for the best part of a decade. When Ireland needed a goal - he was there. When teammates needed a shoulder to cry on after missing out on qualifying for a tournament - he was there. Even dating back to his debut in 1998 - which he capped off with a brace - Keane has always been a first on the team sheet. A lack of options up-front has seen Keane retain his  place year-in, year-out, and he's definitely made the most on what's been on offer, notching up his 50th and 51st international goals against Macedonia back in June. It's an incredible record for an incredible man. Those two goals saw him climb above world-beaters such as Samuel Etoo, Thierry Henry and Didier Drogba, and take his place among some of the finest international  goal-scorers we've seen grace the game. Another six goals for Robbie and he'll have overtaken Brazilian legends Zico and Romario, and Gabriel 'Batigol' Batistuta.   

Seeing him struggle to even make the Tottenham match day squad last season killed me. For years he was one of the most prolific strikers inside England and last season, with 'Arry at the helm, Keane began just two games, and made a further 5 appearances as a substitute. He was loaned out to West Ham in order to help them beat the drop, even scoring on his debut away to Blackpool. Constant injuries made sure of the season being one of his worst in England to date, and he returned to Spurs on an even sicker note, with West Ham being relegated with 2 games yet to play. His end-of-season record read played 22, goals 2. That, for a proven, successful Premier League striker with years of experience was fairly woeful.

Then, this summer, a move presented itself to Keane so appealing he couldn't turn it down. Tottenham received a deal from MLS outfit LA Galaxy on August 15. Terms and a fee were agreed in record time as Galaxy were battling against the international deadline day clock. They had to make sure Keane signed by 11:59 EST and with a few hours to go, they had their man. Upon joining, Keane made the foolish mistake of claiming it was a "dream move", leaving himself open to ridicule.

What I'm trying to say is, I'll miss Keane. I'll miss the way he'd celebrate a goal by tumbling in iconic 'robin hood' fashion, or the way he'd bring that dreamy wife of his on holidays with him. Keane was always one of my favourite footballers - due to the fact he was Irish? Perhaps - but seeing him move to America cuts all off ties of me being able to watch him on a regular basis. It'll be hard but I think I can manage, especially as he'll hopefully continue to break records for the Irish international team.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

An Interview With Duncan Alexander

We're back, and what better way to begin a season than an interview. But hold on a sec, it ain't no player. I'm not that popular yet (although I would like to be sometime in the future) but it is someone who runs a sports business that is highly regarded as one of the best stats centres in sport. From athletics to volleyball, they cover everything and anything that goes on statswise in between. This past summer I managed to persuade the head of Opta Sports Duncan Alexander to agree to do an interview with the FD. So without further adu, here he is:

1. Hi Duncan, first of all for those who've never heard of Opta
Sports, would you care to explain to the reader what it is your
company does?

Opta are Europe’s leading sports data company. We’ve been collecting football data since 1996 and have the biggest & best database of sports info there is. We work with professional clubs, the media and the betting industry to provide content and analysis in whatever format they require.

2. As Britain's leading football statistician you must be up to your
Eyes in stats. What's a typical day like for you in Opta Towers?

I head up the whole range of content delivery for the UK. That could be something like data feeds to power a website or Chalkboards or creating bespoke features and analysis for television or the national press. Ultimately you’re working with sports data every day and looking for angles and stories that will shine an objective light on the game.

3. Is understanding maths an essential component for working at Opta?

Depends on what your role is really. An understanding of statistics helps enormously, particularly the concept that correlation does not necessarily imply causation. That said, you could be Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting but if you don’t have a robust knowledge of football then you’ll not be any good. A love of the game and an understanding of the trends that are shaping it are key.

4. Opta Sports recently decided to share their information to the
public mainstream when they opened their first twitter account,
OptaJoe, in June 2009. Gathering over 100,000 followers within that
two year time period, do you think Opta have surpassed their

Twitter has been a massive success for us, helping us to connect directly with fans and help the public understand what it is we do. The response we get when there’s an OptaJoe quiz, for instance, are huge.

5. Does Opta have plans to expand their horizons for the new seasons
to the various leagues in Europe / worldwide?

We are always looking to expand the leagues and sports that we cover. We recently became official data suppliers to MLS in America and may look to analyse some South American leagues soon. We already analyse every game in the top-flights in England, Spain, Italy, Germany and France as well as international club competitions and international tournaments.

6. Your twitter bio tells us that you're a Wycombe Wanderers fan. How did that come about? 

My grandfathers supported Wycombe and Chelsea respectively and I got to choose which team to support. More chance of getting to Wycombe games so I went with them, a decision I have yet to regret.

7. What's your most memorable moment whilst donning the colours for the Chairboys?

The standard WWFC answer is the famous FA Cup run of 2001 but I think winning 2-1 at Maine Road in 1999 tops it for me. I had lived in Manchester for three years and seeing my team beat City in a league game was almost beyond comprehension. Can’t see it ever happening again, put it that way.

8. What's your favourite sporting event in the calendar year (doesn't have to be football by the way)? 

The Tour de France by some distance. I’m a big fan of pro cycling and while there are races that are often better than the Tour (the one-day classics, the Giro D’Italia), the sheer size and intensity of the TdF gets me over-excited every year.

9. Since the inception of Opta in 1996 the company's gone from strength to strength to unparalleled strength. What's next on the agenda for Opta Sports?

We have seen a big change in the way that sports data is viewed over the last decade or so. Originally seen as ‘too-American’, statistics are now being used widely by clubs, the media and fans to achieve greater insight. Opta will keep trying to develop products & content that enables people to analyse football, rugby, cricket and many other sports in ever-greater depth but still in an accessible way.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

We're Going On Holidays!

we'll be enjoying plenty of these!
Hi, all.

For the past six months, here at the FD, we've entertained you with various articles ranging from match reports, to transfer news, to feature articles, and now we're thinking, after a summer of providing you all with such sweet-ass material - well, we'd like to think so - we're taking a well-deserved break.

Oh, but dont worry. We'll be back at the beginning of August, previewing the new campaign as it draws closer, as well as keeping you informed on the international scene, throwing in the odd interview, scattered with various statistic pieces which we've become fairly fond of of the last few months or so to keep you on your toes.

Until then, you can keep yourselves sane by checking out the archives towards the bottom of the page.

Ciao for now,

- Dylan

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Revisiting the Euros: Denmark Win European Championships 1992

They weren't even supposed to be there. And yet, they somehow defied the laws of the game and won the European Championships. That's football for you.

Danish coach Richard Moler Nielson was on the brink of the sack following Denmark's failed attempt at qualification for the European Championships in 1992. Nielson became sick of seeing this Danish side play beautiful football but lacking sufficient results. He tried implementing his management skills on the team but it resulted in one of their most famed players quitting the international game, in protest of Nielson's playing style. That player was Michael Laudraup. What Nielson, his squad and the media didn't know at the time was that it would turn out to be for the greater good.

Denmark's qualification for the tournament was a mixed bag, to say the least. They began with a comfortable 2-0 victory over the Faroe Islands, followed by a draw with the Northern Irish, then a 2-1 defeat to eventual table-toppers Yugoslavia. The results sparked a drastic change to Nielson's Denmark with Michael and brother Brian Laudrup quitting the international scene and then star players like Jan Molby and Jan Heintxe were subsequently left out of the squad by Nielson due to 'disciplinary problems'. The Danes won all their remaining qualifiers but it wasn't enough as Yugoslavia topped the group thus qualifying for that summers European Championship.

The Yugoslavian team, led by captain Dejan Stankovic, traveled to Sweden to prepare for the tournament early in June. What they didn't know was that they'd soon be dealt an ultimate blow to their European Championship preparations as the civil war back in Yugoslavia had them inexplicably expelled from the competition. Stankovic was given the job of breaking the news to his teammates during a team meeting just ten days before the Championship commenced.

“It was the worst day of my life, and the worst thing is that I couldn’t explain to the players why,” he said. “This is sport, not politics, and the two should never go together. There were terrible things going on in my country and I am deeply ashamed of them. But when I looked at these players, I looked at the way thattheir faces cracked when I told them this news, I wanted to know why Uefa had let things go this far. If they were going to throw us out of the competition, why didn’t they tell us before? We had been training, we were already at the hotel in Sweden, and now we had to go home. We had to go back to reality. And still, nobody would tell me why.”

What was Yugoslavia's loss was Denmark's gain as when Moler Nielson received the phone call asking Denmark to compete at the expense of Yuogslavia, he couldn't have been more ecstatic. He quickly shared the message throughout his team which had disbanded for their summer holidays. The Danes had been keeping a close eye on each installment on what was going on inside Yugoslavia and it was fair to say, some half-expected the Yugoslavian team to be banished from Sweden. Anyway, with only ten days to prepare the Danish side, led by Richard Moler Nielson, set off on a European journey with nobody really expecting them to make an impression.

The Group stage pitted them against outright favourites France,  the much fancied England and host nation Sweden. England were heavy favourites against the Danes in the opening game and so when Moler Nielson's men held the English to a 0-0 stalemate, they had already caused an upset and had one unexpected point to their names. After the triumph in Malmo, Denmark then travelled to Solna to take on host nation Sweden. It was a far more entertaining game than the Danes' previous encounter but the pendulum swung when Sweden took the lead through a Tomas Brolin strike midway through the second half. However, even though they lost Denmark still had a chance of qualifying from the group. All they had to do was bet France in the final group game. In the build-up to the final group game against France Moler Nielson decided to reward the team with a bout of mini-golf, just days before the France game. Oddly enough, the team bonding excercise worked wonders as Denmark defied the odds and caused another upset by beating and knocking out Championship favourites France. The 2-1 win meant that Denmark qualified for the semi-finals finishing under Sweden in group A. Denmark's semi-final qualification in second place meant that they'd be entertaining the winner of Group B, who were the heavily fancied Netherlands.

The odds on the Dutch progressing heavily outweighed that of the Danes, but Moler Nielson's men knew that they had surpassed expectations and anything extra was an achievement in itself at this point. So when Lars Elstrup had caught sight of a Burger King and posed the question to Nielson, the coach felt that his players had served themselves justice at getting this far and treated them to a one-off fast food feast.  They reentered the bus chuffed that the gaffer had granted them their proposal and beknownsted to them they were to return the favour just days later when they took to the pitch against the Dutch.

Denmark had a shock lead barely five minutes in. Brian Laurdup whizzed down the right flank and crossed it for Henrik Larsen who headed home after the cross evaded Netherlands keeper Hans van Breuklen. The Danes were off to a flier and it was fair to say, had ousted the Dutch in so many departments until the equaliser came. Dennis Bergkamp got his name on the score sheet with a strike from just outside the box midway through the first half but that goal didn't stop Denmark from continuing their impeccable Euro journey.  Larsen stole a second goal courtesy of a rare Ronald Koeman mistake and there was now a strong belief surging through the team that they could go on to win this tie. They just had to keep focus and complete the job in-hand. Unfortunately, they couldn't hold on and the Dutch rallied through an 86th minute goal coming from Frank Rijkaard, stabbing home from a corner. Denmark headed for extra-time virtually unsure of their fate as they had to play on with one injured man because they had already used up their substitute limit.

Despite the Dutch's superiority, the game was taken to penalties after a pulsating extra-time bout and the Netherlands were first up. Ronald Koeman dispatched his penalty, then Larsen levelled things up with a fine spot-kick tucked away into the bottom corner. Marco van Basten then stepped up for the Dutch. His attempted penalty was palmed away by the ever-so remarkable Peter Shmeichel and it was advantage Denmark. Povlsen's subsequent penalty hit the back of the net. The remaining six penalties were all safely dispatched and thanks to Kim Christofe, Denmark knocked out the holders and progressed to final to do battle with the current World Cup champions Germany.

The Danes once again got their necks in-front as John Jensen got them off to a flier with a thunderbolt from the edge of the 18-yard box. The Germany team began to dominate and had it not been for a spirited performance from Danish keeper Peter Schmeichel Denmark would have surely gone behind. Save after save after magnificent save, the Danes were lucky to head into the break with that slim 1-0 lead. The second-half was more of the same as the Germany team huffed and puffed its way past the Danish defence, only to be denied by the imperious Schmeichel every single time. Then it happened. Denmark struck the crucial blow. On 78 minutes Kim Vilfort stole between two German defenders and aimed a left-footed shot in off the post, leaving the Danes virtually assured of European triumph. And when Bruno Galler blew up for full-time, various members of the Denmark team trotted over to congratulate Schmeichel on his man-of-the-match performance. It was a fairytale ending to a fairytale story for the Danes after winning a tournament they hadn't even qualified for in the first place and Moler Nielson had saved his job, for the time being anyway.