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Day: December 10, 2007

Two Sides Of The Same Coin

Last weekend, to a sigh of relief from this little corner of Brighton that might just have been audible in China, Arsenal and Liverpool lost. This wasn’t merely schadenfreude. I was starting to worry that one (or indeed both) of these teams might go the whole of the season unbeaten, and there was something pleasing about the fact that they both conspired to lose against decidedly mediocre opposition, in the form of Reading and Middlesbrough. What has been interesting to see, however, has been the howling of the media in the aftermath of these defeats. For clubs of the insane size of Liverpool and Arsenal, defeat is no longer something that merely “happens” several times every season. It’s now a matter of crisis that teams like Reading or Middlesbrough, who only pay their players £20,000 per week, can have the temerity to turn up for matches, not read the script and outplay and out-think them for ninety minutes. This can be seen in a broader context in the supposed “pressure” that Rafael Benitez is under at Liverpool. Never mind that he has taken Liverpool to two European Cup finals in three years, making him their most successful manager since Bob Paisley (and, in that respect, it doesn’t really matter that they haven’t won the Premier League title – in an economic sense, there are effectively four Premier League titles...

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Diamonds Are Forever?

Later on this morning, the roof will most likely be lifted off the FIFA Club World Cup when Urawa Red Diamonds make their entrance into the tournament against Iran’s Sepahan at the Toyota Stadium. In a rare sensible move from FIFA, the decision has been made to allow a team from the host country to enter into the competition, although, somewhat ironically, Urawa saved FIFA a lot of hassle by winning the AFL Champions League anyway. It would be easy to sit back and write Urawa off, but this is no team of amateurs. Based in Saitama, a city of 1.2m people just to the north of Tokyo, they are one of Japan’s best supported teams, with average home crowds of 45,000. In a recent pre-season tournament, they held Manchester United to a 2-2 draw. They may not have any players that are household names in the west, but only a fool would write off their chances completely. On the pitch, since the formation of the J-League, they have had mixed fortunes. They were founder members of the league in 1993, but finished bottom of it for its first two seasons. As recently as 1999, they were releagated from the J-League, though they made a swift return to it the following season. They won the J-League for the first time in 2006. It was in 2006 that they held...

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