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Mission not yet accomplished, says Sepp Blatter

Sepp Blatter sets lofty goals for FIFA if he is re-elected for another four-year term.

Sepp Blatter has taken another inexorable step towards the certainty that he will declare his formal candidacy for a further spell as president of FIFA.

The 78-year-old Swiss will tell his executive committee later this month that he will stand for a fifth term at the world federation’s congress in Zurich in May next year.

Blatter set out that timescale in a recorded address to open the Soccerex Global Covention today in Manchester.

He said: “A mission is never finished and my mission is not finished. I have told this to FIFA Congress and the congresses of the confederations in Sao Paulo [in June] and then I got not only the impression of, but the support of, the huge majority of national associations asking me: ‘Please go on to be our president in future.’

“Now I will make an official declaration in September when we have our next executive committe meeting. This is a matter of respect that I should inform the executive committee that I will be ready, I will be a candidate.

“Now we have special regulations and you have to fulfil a lot of conditions but I will announce it on 23 and 24 September this year.”

Blatter was not surprised by Michel Platini’s confirmation two weeks ago that he would not contest the FIFA presidency and stay with European federation UEFA.

He said: “I was not surprised because in private conversations I have had with Michel Platini before during and after the World Cup he has confirmed he would not be a candidate … but that there would be someone who would be a contender.

“For me it was not a surprise because he told me. And I think he is a reliable man when he is not only speaking colleague to colleague but friend to friend even if we are not always at the same idea in football by saying he would not stand.”

Blatter concluded his analysis by defining his famous ‘mission’ as president.

He said: “What I would like to see is football playing, in society, a more important social, cultural part in education and [also bringing] good elements such as discipline, fair play and respect into our society directly, into the families, at school level, in the business and – why not? – in politics.

“And this, then, would be the end of my mission.”

But not, as he confirmed, until at least 2019.

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Tributes to Sir Bobby

Tributes have poured in to Sir Bobby Robson on the fifth anniversary of his death.

While The Football Association marked the event with Sir Bobby Robson National Football Day and a grassroots football event next to Ipswich Town's Portman Road, countless clubs, governing bodies and charities have shared their memories of the great man.

Richard Bevan, chief executive from the League Managers Association, said: "Today marks the fifth anniversary of the death of Sir Bobby Robson and the event in Ipswich demonstrates that his legacy will always live on. 

“Sir Bobby Robson was not only a person who graced the managerial profession, he graced mankind.”

Richard Bevan League Managers Association

"There has never been a finer sporting ambassador than Sir Bobby Robson. He continues to remain a shining example for all managers and he was not only held in the highest regard domestically but throughout the world of football. 

He added: "The LMA is proud to have had as one of its members and Life Vice President a man who demonstrated courage, dignity and unselfishness without limitation.

"Away from the game and through the creation of the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation further shows what a great man he truly was. 

"The fantastic work the foundation continues to do and the fact it has positively impacted on so many lives is the biggest testament I can provide to him and his family who must be incredibly proud of all his achievements throughout his life. 

"Sir Bobby Robson was not only a person who graced the managerial profession, he graced mankind. Sir Bobby will forever be remembered not only as a terrific football manager and player, but perhaps more importantly as a great man."

“We always reminisce about the great man that was Sir Bobby Robson. Gone but never forgotten.”

Ged Grebby Show Racism the Red Card

Ged Grebby, from north-east based charity Show Racism the Red Card, added: "I was privileged to meet Sir Bobby Robson on numerous occasions when he was manager of Newcastle United.

"He became a patron of our charity Show Racism the Red Card and despite his incredibly busy schedule, always made time to attend our events or make sure his players represented him if he could not attend.

"Sir Bobby even attended one of our events on his birthday and brought along Gary Lineker, Olivier Bernard and Jermaine Jenas.  

"He had just been made a knight of the realm and I asked should we introduce him to the young people as 'Sir Bobby Robson'. Typically his response was 'No just call me Bobby'.

"Olivier Bernard has gone on to work for our charity for the last five years and we always reminisce about the great man that was Sir Bobby Robson. Gone but never forgotten."

Hull City and former Newcastle United goalkeeper Stever Harper took to Twitter with some thoughts on Sir Bobby.

5yrs ago today we lost not only a great manager but a great man too. His tremendous legacy lives on through the fantastic @SBRFoundation

— Stephen Harper (@steveharper37) July 31, 2014

Pre-season & we're 0-3 down after 60mins v Barcelona. Shay is playing (for a change 😴) SBR turns to me & says "get warm son you're going on"

— Stephen Harper (@steveharper37) July 31, 2014

So 0-3 down & as I go on Sir Bobby shouts, "Stevie, don't let anymore goals in son we're getting murdered!" #priceless

— Stephen Harper (@steveharper37) July 31, 2014

Memories of Sir Bobby were also shared in the Netherlands, where he managed PSV Eindhoven in two successful spells.

‘Enjoy the game’, he used to say. PSV will always cherish the memory of #SirBobby Robson. Great man, unique sense of humor. #psv

— PSV (@PSV) July 31, 2014

1999: PSV escapes, ensures Champions League. Phone of #SirBobby rings in the dressing room; says ‘sssh!’… “Thank you for calling, Mr Pope!”

— PSV (@PSV) July 31, 2014

The FA is proud to be associated with the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation, which continues to do valuable work in raising money and awareness in the fight against cancer. Sir Bobby and Lady Elsie launched the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation in 2008 after a request for help from his oncologist Professor Ruth Plummer.

Sir Bobby said he would give up a year of his life to the charity. In fact, he became so passionate about it that, despite being very ill, he spent his last 18 months doing all he could to raise funds to find more effective ways to detect and treat cancer through his Foundation.

He described it as “like being at the helm of a team again” - his last and greatest team – and always said ‘when’ not ‘if’ we beat cancer. Sir Bobby truly believed, with us all pulling together, we will beat the disease.

Goals galore on Sunday

All the hard work in training is paying off on the pitch according to Reading Women's boss Jayne Ludlow, after she saw her side hammer London Bees 8-1 in a busy day in The FA WSL Continental Cup on Sunday.

Level at the break, Reading scored seven unanswered goals in the second half to secure a convincing victory with Bianca Bragg, Fran Kirby and Melissa Fletcher all grabbing a brace.

"That was the first time I have seen them actually replicate what they are doing in training in a game situation," said Ludlow. "It was great, but we're not going to get carried away.

"Every single one of the players out there, whether they started or whether they came on, did exactly what we asked them to do and put a great shift in for the team."

The other big winners over the weekend were Liverpool Ladies, who beat Durham 7-1 on their own patch. Natasha Dowie, Katie Zelem and Gemma Davidson all got on the scoresheet twice, but manager Matt Beard insisted his side should have had more goals.

"We haven’t score many goals this year so we had to be disciplined in our performance," said Beard. "We did okay in the first half but we should have had more goals.

"We looked at something different in terms of our formation, we worked on it all week in training and I think we were finding our feet in the first half. But everyone settled better after the break and we played a lot better."

Elsewhere, Arsenal Ladies secured local bragging rights with a 3-0 victory over Chelsea courtesy of a Kelly Smith brace and a third from Shinobu Ohno.

Everton saw off Doncaster Rovers Belles with a professional display and a 3-1 victory and Manchester City also beat Sunderland Ladies 2-0, with England Women's striker Toni Duggan marking her return from injury with a goal following Steph Houghton’s superb free-kick.

Yeovil Town were rarely troubled in a 2-0 victory at Oxford United and Stevie Lamb struck a late winner for Millwall Lionnesses as they came from behind to beat Watford 2-1.

And FA WSL 1 leaders Birmingham City were brought down to earth by Notts County at Solihull Moors, where Jess Clark and Rachel Corsie notched late on in a smash-and-grab win to delight boss Rick Passmoor.

"We have come here and worked our socks off to stay in the game at times, but the sign of a good team is to grind results out," said Passmoor. 

"This Continental Cup is something that everyone should aim for and we are no exception to that and we came across a good Birmingham team, so to come away with a 2-0 victory we are delighted."

World Cup Fans

Fans at Brazil 2014 have been bedecked with colour and smiles...apart of course from those from England.

Three’s a crowd: English football’s tactical shortcomings

English clubs have struggled with 3-5-2 this season, but that does not make the system redundant, says Jonathan Wilson

QPR v Hull

Caught napping…James Chester (far right) beats QPR’s Ferdinand to score for Hull City

As soon as Louis Van Gaal moved away from a back three, he won his first game as Manchester United manager – though it helped that they were playing a supine Queens Park Rangers, who had switched away from three at the back to win their first game of the season, against Sunderland, in their previous fixture.

The reaction in some parts to Van Gaal’s switch was one of sneeriness: goodbye 3-5-2, you were only ever a strange foreign import whose best days were behind it. But that’s nonsense.

Van Gaal has said that he hadn’t had sufficient fit defenders to play with three centre-backs against QPR and, while the midfield diamond he ended up employing may become the default, it would be no great surprise to see the back three return at some point. For him, philosophy is far more important than shape. But history has shown that it tends to take his sides a little time to learn how to play his way, whatever formation they adopt.

It may be that English defenders, brought up in a culture in which four at the back predominates, are resistant to a back three, through unfamiliarity as much as anything else.

Perhaps Van Gaal underestimated the cultural conservatism of English football, but that still doesn’t explain why he seemed so set from the start on playing a formation he had himself never employed until adopting it with Holland six months ago. Although both his Ajax and Barcelona sides played at times with a 4-3-3/3-4-3 hybrid, that was created by one central defender stepping out into midfield, leaving a centre-back and two full-backs, rather than three central defenders. It was an injury to his key midfielder Kevin Strootman, allied to fears about his defenders’ capabilities in one-on-one situations, that led to a radical rethink that seemed intended as a short-term measure for the World Cup.

It worked well for him in Brazil as Holland reached the semi-finals. But still, after a quarter of a century playing one way, why switch?

It was Harry Redknapp, perhaps, who offered the best answer, when explaining his switch to 3-5-2 with QPR. Loic Remy, he said, was a forward who needed a partner, so he had to play in a front two. But Redknapp didn’t want to lose a midfielder as he felt he still needed three central players to avoid being overmanned. The best way to play two strikers and three in central midfield, he argued, was to use wing-backs and three centre-backs. That logic has made three at the back such a feature of Italian football, where a general dearth of wingers, a historical issue, means that full-backs don’t have to be particularly defensive.

QPR’s problem was their centre-backs. Rio Ferdinand may once have been ideal to play the role of the passer who steps out into midfield, but he has looked every one of his 35 years so far this season, while Richard Dunne, playing to his left, simply doesn’t have the mobility to cover across behind the wing-back.

The sale of Remy to Chelsea forced a rethink anyway, and against Sunderland at home, QPR, having lost their opening two games, were in a more conventional 4-4-1-1 formation.

Louis Van Gaal tactics Manchester United

Van Gaal was faced with a similar issue. His two key players were Robin Van Persie and Wayne Rooney, and given neither is keen on playing wide – in a possible 4-3-3 – that meant playing them as a pair. Van Gaal, though, is a coach who has always preferred a midfield three – a problem initially at United given their lack of squad depth in that area. So, like Redknapp, his solution was to go to three at the back.

A back three has two other advantages: for a team playing deep and ceding midfield, it offers additional protection; for a team pushing high, it offers the possibility of getting another player high up the pitch to press early. The former is how Hull City have used the formation successfully and how Redknapp presumably wanted to use it. The latter is probably of more relevance to Van Gaal, although Angel Di Maria’s excellence on the counter-attack means United may look to sit deep and break against better sides.

There was one other possible solution to Van Gaal’s dilemma – one that has been intensified by the arrival of Radamel Falcao – and it was that which he took against QPR. The back four returned,
the front two remained, and in midfield he fielded a diamond: Daley Blind holding at the back of midfield, flanked by Ander Herrera and Di Maria, with Juan Mata behind Rooney and Van Persie.

It’s not, of course, that far removed from 3-5-2. Push Blind back a few yards, advance the two full-backs and the shapes are all but indistinguishable. In a 4-3-1-2 (or 4-1-2-1-2), there is an onus on the full-backs to offer width and a responsibility for the holding player to offer cover when they do.

The diamond has been coming back into vogue in England, with Brendan Rodgers using it to some effect at Liverpool and then Roy Hodgson using it with the national side.

In both cases Raheem Sterling becomes the key creator; his pace and trickery transferred from the flank to a role behind the strikers. That, in turn, is part of a wider trend of using players who would usually be considered wingers in a central role, testing centre-backs and midfield holders against quick players who can dribble, a task traditionally left to full-backs.

Terms such as 4-4-2 and 3-5-2 have always been a little crude and are general designations to give an outline of the shape of a team’s play. Increasingly it feels that the key battles are being fought on a micro level within those frameworks. Certainly the widespread dismissal of 3-5-2 and acceptance of the diamond, when the two as practised by United are so similar, makes little sense.

Formations in themselves are never good or bad, right or wrong; what matters is their application. 

By Jonathan Wilson

This article was taken from the October 2014 issue of World Soccer

The Michel Platini juggernaut seems unstoppable

In the absence of a credible challenger to Michel Platini, the Uefa president is on course to become football's most powerful man.

Michel Platini UEFA Congres

Michel Platini had much to smile about after a successful UEFA Congress.

The Platini bandwagon rolls inexorably on, and with many of the federations backing him, there seems no way he can be prevented from following the disgraced Sepp Blatter into the FIFA presidency next February.

That the Football Association are ineptly and inadequately in his corner won’t in the last analysis make any difference to the final voting, but it is yet another bleak example of how wretchedly the English game is being led.

Harken to the words of the misguided Greg Dyke, alas the top banana at the FA: “We support Michel Platini’s candidacy. To have a good relationship with him and hope he can gain the necessary global backing to lead a new FIFA during the most difficult period in its history… Mr Platini has always made it very clear that he voted for Qatar. If all the other people who voted for Qatar had been quite as transparent it would have been more helpful.”

The mind boggled. Platini as alas we know twice supported Qatar, once in the original vote for the 2020 World Cup locale, again when, given the appalling 50 degrees centigrade Qatar conditions. Which didn’t seem to bother him, it was decided the tournament be staged there during the European winter: with all the chaotic consequences for European football clubs which would result.

The very clubs which Platini as UEFA President is supposed to protect. And here is the confused and deeply illogical Dyke telling us that because Platini had ‘fessed up to his blunders, we should support and admire him.

It has also of course been pointed out that in his controversial role as UEFA President, Platini has initiated and expanded a so called Europa tournament which now embraces a plethora of tiny teams from remote football countries, enforcing vast journeys in mid-summer on other competitors.

His so-called Financial Fair Play scheme in the words of one columnist “was so poorly conceived and biased towards the existing elite that it collapsed under the weight of legal challenge and its own incompetence in little more than a year.”

Platini’s illogical support of Qatar has as we know been attributed to pressure exerted on him by the then President of France, Sarkozy. But again one asks shouldn’t Platini’s response be either to refuse or to resign?

Meanwhile there is no credible opponent in sight for the FIFA role. And in all fairness it can hardly be denied that, morally at least, Platini would be an enormous improvement on Sepp Blatter and above all on Joao Havelange who remained in corrupt and grasping power for 24 uninterrupted years, thanks to the passivity among most of FIFA’s members. Not excluding our own four national associations.

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A recent encomium to Lee Bowyer in a national daily evoked uneasy memories. All credit to the former Charlton and Leeds United midfielder for his enterprise in successfully building a fisheries enterprise not even in England but in France.

Yet the story evoked those memories, not least when one read that Bowyer in his Leeds United days had been involved in what was here dismissed as a mere nocturnal skirmish. Alas, it was a great deal more than that. Nocturnal it was indeed, but the ugly context was an attack by a bunch of Leeds players and certain friends from Middlesbrough – one of whom was the only person sent to gaol – on a perfectly innocent racial victim who was badly hurt.

The footballers were arraigned in court and Bowyer who was among them was acquitted by the jury with all the others bar the sole Boro fan. In the case of Bowyer however the judge refused him his costs.

One remembers too another incident in his Charlton days when he was accused of uproar in an eaterie at the expense of the young immigrant in charge. The Sun’s headline: What Do You Call 12 Leeds Utd Fans In The Same Room? A Jury.

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Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates scoring for Arsenal against Chelsea.

Arsenal’s belated victory over Chelsea in the Communities Shield was somewhat overshadowed by the subsequent news that poor unlucky Jack Wilshere has yet another ankle injury which not only caused him to miss the Wembley game but may keep him out for weeks.

For Arsenal, with their plenitude of talented midfield men, this is arguable less of a problem than for England; for whom, on his last appearance, Wilshere saved what could have been a humiliating day with these two splendid left footed drives and a couple of decisive goals.

It was good though to see young Alex Oxlade Chamberlain so vibrantly on song, the scorer of that fine left footed, decisive goal. He missed the last World Cup finals with that late unfortunate injury but fully fit again, he could make a major contribution to the England attack.

Do Arsenal, though still need an accomplished centre forward. Theo Walcott who has just received a monumental boost in salary, wants to play there but still surely looks best on the right wing where his pace gets full scope.

Giroud is just short of the quality that marks a major striker, though when he came on in the second half he was able to significant things which a true centre forward does.

Ward-Prowse hit by injury

England Under-21s midfielder James Ward-Prowse has been hit by the news that he will be out of action for the next ten weeks.

The Southampton star, who has been an almost ever-present for Gareth Southgate’s side during their Euro qualifying campaign so far, fractured his foot during Saints’ game with Swansea City at the weekend.

Ward-Prowse picked up the injury playing for Southampton

Initially, both Saints boss Ronald Koeman and Ward-Prowse were hopeful that he would be back in action for this weekend’s game with QPR.

But scans have since revealed the fracture, which means the 19-year-old will miss England’s Euro play-off tie with Croatia next month.

"We're very disappointed about that, but that's football and that can happen," said Koeman, who had picked the Saints Academy product in every game this season until Tuesday night’s League Cup tie at Arsenal.

"It's unlucky but okay. The boy has to keep going and it's difficult because he had a great start to the season.

"But it's part of the football and he will come back."

Ward-Prowse had started all but one of the Under-21s’ Euro group qualifiers, until suspension forced him out of the win over Moldova earlier this month.

England take on Croatia over two legs next month, with the first game taking place at Wolves’ Molineux Stadium on Friday 10 October.

Tickets for are on sale now, priced at just £10 and £5 via the Wolves Ticketline on 0871 222 1877 or online here.

There are also ticket deals for groups as FA Charter Standard clubs can book up to 25 tickets here, while other groups can buy up to 15 tickets for a reduced cost here

Wolves season ticket holders can pick them up for half price.

Theo: ‘The fastest attack’

A “bulked-up” Theo Walcott believes Danny Welbeck's arrival at Arsenal will have defenders running scared.

Despite having missed the last nine months on the sidelines with a knee injury, the England international insists he will be quicker than ever upon his return.

And with fellow Three Lions international Welbeck and Chilean World Cup star Alexis Sanchez arriving at the Emirates, the 25-year-old hopes to line up in an attack that he reckons will be the fastest in the Premier League.

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Welbeck scores England's opener in Basel

“I hope we’ll have the fastest forward line in the Premier League, these are exciting times,” said the Walcott. 

“These players are very, very fast, they will fit the bill perfectly. Alexis has settled in very quickly.”

On Welbeck, who scored both goals in England’s victory over Switzerland on Monday, he continued: “Danny is a good guy I have worked with him with England. 

"He always puts his heart on the line. At timdes I thought he needed to be a bit more selfish so I was very happy on Monday night - he will get more goals now.”

Walcott was speaking at Sportwaves, a charity exhibition and auction for the Willow charity, and he told those in attendance that he hopes to be back quicker than ever after injury.

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Welbeck makes it two

“I hope to be quicker, definitely,” said Walcott. “I’ve been working very hard. You’ve got to look at these injuries as a bit of a blessing at times.

“I’ve never had the opportunity to work on the strength in my legs and with that I think hopefully I should be quicker and stronger. So that’s what I’m looking forward to.”

He added: “I haven’t actually put a date on when I’ll return. It’s weeks rather than months now. My legs have bulked up.”

Lionel Messi v Neymar in keepy-uppy showdown

Close control contest between two of Barcelona's superstars.

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Barcelona’s Lionel Messi and Neymar went head-to-head in a keepy-uppy showdown to see who could perform the most touches within a certain timeframe.

Set up by Barcelona sponsor Audi to determine which of the two could touch the ball the most number of times in 60 seconds, and in doing so, generate the most energy.

It was a close-run contest with Messi emerging victorious, but only just.

Mikael Forssell, his cat allergy and the worst excuse for missing training

Mikael Forssell comes up with novel excuse for missing training.

Mikael Forssell

Mikael Forssell (right) celebrates finally making it into training.

Somewhat improbably, Mikael Forssell failed to turn up for training earlier this week because of cat sitting next to his car.

The Finnish international has an allergy to cats and told his club VfL Bochum of the problem.

He posted on his Twitter account that he was unable to get into his vehicle due to a cat sitting outside his car.

Im allergic to cats…I need to leave 2 training…semi-scary…been there now 4 about 20mins rubbing against rubber pic.twitter.com/5U2MfF3379

— Mikael Forssell (@MikaelForssell) November 18, 2014

So Forsell’s cat alibi can now jon the pantheorn of great excuses footballers have used to try and explain their absence from training.

Some players have gone to great lengths to explain their failure to make training, but no one has gone quite so far as Botafogo midfielder Somalia who, in 2011, said he had been abducted at gunpoint on his way to the training ground.

Somalia told police he had been carjacked and driven around Rio for two hours before having his money and jewellery stolen. Botafogo, it is worth pointing out, threaten their players with a 40% pay cut if they are late.

But police say CCTV footage from his apartment building showed him leaving late for work. He was charged for falsely reporting he had been kidnapped.

He eventually agreed to a deal offered by prosecutors to donate R$22,000 (£8,000) to the victims of floods in the state of Rio de Janeiro, in order to avoid a possible prison sentence and criminal record.