A Decade Under the Crossbar – Volume 2 – The British Isles

12 05 2010

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What does Dickens have to do with Soccer?  Well its simple in England and Scotland the past decade has mirrored Charles’ work shown above – A Tale of Two Cities.

In England’s highest league, the Barclay’s Premiership, the title has been won in only two cities  -London or Manchester, over the last decade.  In Scotland its always been a war of two teams – Glasgow’s Rangers and/or  Celtic.   We’ll start with the Northerners first and take a drink of Scotch to calm our nerves.

The Old Firm has been the nickname given to Scotland’s two biggest football clubs.  The small nation has always seemed to be split down the middle.  Whether you’re Catholic or Protestant, from the East or West sides of Glasgow, or a Celtic or Rangers fan in the end you’re part of only one club.  Both clubs have never allowed another Scottish team to win the league title (yep – thus the “The Old Firm” nickname!!).  In the end these two sides of the city HATE EACH OTHER.

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“No, your shirt is dirtier then mine!!!”

The Green bhoys have won the title six of the 10 years while Rangers have won the remaining four times, but they have just completed back-to-back title runs.

Rangers boss Walter Smith holds the title.

The last time the Blues pulled off the ol’ back-to-back was just before the decade started (98-00).  Celtic answered Rangers move to close the 1900’s by opening the 00’s with back-to-back Celtic titles.  And one man in particular spurred the Green team into the world’s spotlight.

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The Swedish Scoring Striker – Henrik Larsson changed the landscape of Scottish soccer.  Henrik Edward “Henke” Larsson joined Celtic in 1997.  Larsson won four league titles in seven years with Celtic, scoring 242 goals in 315 matches, before moving to Barcelona. The Old Firm Club also welcomed another important figure to the team that helped spur on there dominance this decade.  Following the arrival of Head Coach Martin O’Neill in the summer of 2000, Larsson went on to have what would become his most successful season for Celtic.  As Larsson forged a prolific partnership with new arrival Chris Sutton he scored an extraordinary total of 35 league goals in 38 league games to become SPL Top Goalscorer and to win the European Golden Boot. The season saw Celtic lift the domestic treble of the Scottish League Cup, Scottish Cup and the Scottish Premier League.

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Martin wins the Scottish Treble in his first season with the club as Manager.

2001-2002 Larsson’s fifth season at the club yielded a second consecutive SPL title for the club. It also marked the club’s first foray into the UEFA Champions League group stage.

2002-2003 – The Blues return to glory.  Incredibly tight season as both teams finished with a record of 31 wins 4 draws and 3 losses.  Rangers won the title by one goal differential point – they finished with 73 and Celtic with 72 – WOW!  The blues had the player of the year with their Captain Barry Ferguson.

2003-2004 – Larsson’s seventh and final season for Celtic saw the club lift the SPL Title and the Scottish Cup.  Celtic were the only 30 plus win club and Henrik rounded out his Scottish soccer career with a 30 goals (only the second time he’d hit that mark in his career).

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2004-05 – Rangers regains title even though Celtic win more games.  The green bhoys finished with 30 wins but only 92 points while Rangers won 29 games but finished with 93 points.  Rangers fans have always had to argue, this decade, that Celtic have had the top goal-scorer every season – and this year was no different.  Even with out the Mighty Swede – Celtic still had the most lethal goal-threat in Welshman John Hartson (25 goals).   Ironically Rangers would find there goal-scoring ways in the next few seasons, but Celtic would regain there stranglehold on the league.

2005-08 – Celtic would pull off a three-peat of the league title during three historic years in the SPL.  Celtic would do so with a new charismatic Head Coach.  Scotsman Gordon Strachan would parlay his impressive hall-of-fame playing days into an impressive and future hall-of-fame coaching career.  All he did in his first three seasons was THREE-PEAT – WTF!

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The classic OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO face of an angry Scotsman.

Gordon would revamp the team with a slew of new signings through his first three season, he’d also push the team to the final 16 of the Champions League and become only the third ever Celtic manager to guide the club to three consecutive Scottish league titles.  Sadly Gordon would jump to England after not winning the title for a fourth season in a row.  In 05′ a team outside of the Old Firm slipped into the top two spots (first time since 1995).  Heart of Midlothian (Hearts) beat out Rangers by one point to capture second place and a Champions League qualifying round spot.   Hearts were led by Czech midfielder Rudolf  Skácel who will always hold a place in Hearts’ fans’ hearts (haha).   The team won the first seven league games with Skácel scoring in each of them to set a Scottish Premier League record.   Skácel’s home debut was especially sweet, a 4-0 victory over Hearts‘ great city rivals Hibernian at Tynecastle in which he opened the scoring.  Skácel went on to score an impressive 16 goals over the season and also scored the Hearts goal in the Scottish Cup final victory over Gretna.

Ranger’s 05′ mid-season signing of Scotsman Kris Boyd (32 total goals, 15 with Kilmarnock and 17 with Rangers) finally gave the Blues there first top goal-scorer in the decade.  Kris is the only player to top 30 goals other then the Swedish Sensation.  He has built himself as the goal-scoring machine of the last half of the decade (he has won 4 of the last 5 scoring titles).

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The decade started under the management of Alex McLeish who would led Glasgow Blues to two championships and five cup wins in five years.  But seeing Celtic pull off the three-peat with the little red-head in charge forced the club to look outside of Scotland for there savior.   Everyone was a bit surprised when a Frenchman took over.  Paul Le Guen had built a grand resume with his success at Olympic Lyon, but that would come crashing down in Scotland.  On the 4th of  January 2007  Paul Le Guen would leave the club by mutual consent (which means both wanted this divorce!!).  This made him the club’s shortest-serving manager, and the only one to leave the club without completing a full season in charge.  On 10 January 2007, it was announced that former manager Walter Smith was the new manager of Rangers, with Ally McCoist as assistant manager and Kenny McDowall as first-team coach.  Not a bad guy to in trust the team to after the utterly failure of Le Guen.  Smith won seven consecutive Scottish league championships in the 1990s during his first spell as manager. Smith is the second most successful manager in the history of Rangers behind Bill Struth.  He has added to his Scottish League trophy case by winning the last two.   And like Gordon (won back-to-back Manager of the Year honors), Walter has pulled that same status these last two seasons.

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Though I lean more to the Green Bhoys then the Blues – I must admit Walter Smith holds a special place in my heart for two big reasons.  A.  He’s funny (even if he sometimes doesn’t know it) – “If we’d won, it would have meant an historic double-treble. But we weren’t even thinking about that.”
What the hell is a double-treble Walter….O google tells me its a type of crochet stitch…WTF Walter? B. He’s helped out some Americans – DeMarcus Beasley and Maurice Edu. DB hasn’t always had the best of times, but Edu has become a beloved figure in Glasgow. In the end its kept both men in the World Cup spotlight and we’ll see them in South Africa in a month. Thanks to Walter keeping them fit and teaching them the hard-nose style that made him famous.

In the end the heart of Scottish Soccer is bleeding somewhere in Glasgow – its merely a question of which side its on?

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Barclay’s has been the main sponsor (though 01-04 were under a Barclaycard – which is owned by Barclays) for the past decade of England’s top league.   But like Scotland – The English has been a tale of two cities.  Since Blackburn Rovers lifted the trophy in 1994–95, only three clubs have won the Premier League title – Manchester United (nine of the club’s eleven titles), Arsenal and Chelsea (three times each).  Arsenal and Chelsea are both from London and well United is from Manchester.   The mighty city of Liverpool, the old giants of football, have not won the league title since 1989-90.  In fact Manchester United and Liverpool now are tied with 18 total league championships (MU winning 11 premier titles to Liverpool’s 0).   Since 2005 the English have dominated European football with Liverpool claiming the Champions League trophy in 2005 (many think this is the greatest game ever played – i’m one of those many!), and since then the final has had at least one English squad in it (until later this month when Inter Milan face Bayern Munich).  The league though has been dominated by one central figure = The Manager.  Names like Arsene Wenger, Jose Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti, Rafael Benitez, Harry Rednapp, Sir Bobby Robson, and of course Sir Alex Ferguson.  No one can argue the old men run the show – the world’s best players have been spread out through Spain, Italy and England – but the world’s greatest minds have all made it to or want to Coach in England.

2000-2001 – Sir Alex Ferguson makes history as he became the first manager to win three successive English league titles, although three teams (Arsenal, Huddersfield and Liverpool) had achieved that feat in the past – but with managerial changes in between.  This was the third season running which ended with Manchester United as champions and Arsenal as runners-up.  Ferguson gained a huge honor the year before the 00’s started, he had been knighted in June 1999.  It would be Man U and Arsenal who dominate the early portion of this decade.  Man United came out strong early on and won the 00′-01′ title by 10 points.

2001-2002 – Arsenal would mark the 10 year anniversary of the Premier League and the first year with new sponsor Barclaycard by winning one of the toughest races in years.  Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester United and Newcastle (order of the title race.) would battle to the final few games to decide who would slot where.  Arsenal was the only team to eclipse the 25 win mark (26 total).  This year was memorable for Arsenal as  the end of the season saw Arsenal’s two longest-serving players call time on their playing careers.  Club captain and centre-half Tony Adams, approaching 36, announced his retirement after 22 years at the club, including 19 in the senior squad, 14 of which were spent as captain. During that time, he inspired them to no less than ten major trophies.  Full-back Lee Dixon, in his 38th year, decided to hang up his boots after spending 14 years of his 21-year career at Highbury.  Another Sir, Bobby Robson led his Newcastle side to a fourth place finish which was their highest since 1997, and brought them Champions League football for only the second time in their history.

2002-2003 – The up and down battle of Arsenal and Man U – was fully realized this season.  Arsenal would storm out to an impressive lead.  Man United would go on a late 18 game unbeaten run that would clinch them the title and a slew of personal player awards.   This year also marked the start of a battle of who is the better striker – Thierry Henry (PFA Players’ Player of the Year finished with 24 goals for Arsenal) and Ruud Van Nistelrooy (25 goals to take home his only golden boot and also won the Barclaycard Player of the Year award.)

The Season also was the introduction of a young kid making waves in Liverpool (Everton to be exact).

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Wayne Rooney, at the young age of 16, made his breakthrough at Everton.  The youngest sensation would impress with his goal-scoring but rub some the wrong way with his yellow-red cards.

Mighty Man United would take over the league in the later part of March and hold on to win the title by five points.  Newcastle and Chelsea rounded out top four (Champions League bound).  But this season should be remember by all Man U fans – as the year they got Rio from Leeds.  Rio would become the most expensive defender in the world, as well as becoming Britain’s most expensive player for the second time in two years (his move to Man U was worth excess of £30 million).

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2003-2004 – A beloved Englishman would leave the Premiership, A Russian would change the game, and a Frenchman would led his team to an amazing feat!  Manchester United opened the season with out there regular #7.  David Beckham was sold to Spanish giant Real Madrid for $25 million.

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Chelsea would gain a new owner, Roman Abramovich, who would infuse his own vast wealth into the London team.

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But the season would go to the Invincibles.  Arsenal finished the season with 26 wins, 12 draws, 0 defeats and 90 points, only the second ever to finish the year undefeated (the first was Preston North End in 1889 – 115 years earlier).

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2004-2005 – Money finally pays as the other London team wins there first championship.  Chelsea would finally ad some color to the champions stained after years of Arsenal Red or Man U Red.  The Blues would almost pull off an undefeated season as they recorded a Premiership record of 95 points (29 wins, 8 draws and 1 defeat) and a unique defensive record of just 15 league goals conceded.   Roman held back nothing as Chelsea became the most expensive team ever created in England with an estimated 250 million pounds spent on players.  But one man stand out as Roman’s most talked about signings.  His Portuguese Manager Jose Mourinho would come to captivate England and then the World.

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Frank Lampard, Jose Mourinho and John Terry.

2005-2006 – Back-to-Back by the Blues!!  Jose becomes the Special one as he once again leads the richest squad to glory.  This time it was a tougher fight as Man United wouldn’t go away until there devastating 3-0 loss to Chelsea in late April.  This season marked the end of Arsenal’s famed long-time home of Highbury. Their last ever match there was a 4-2 victory over Wigan Athletic, where Thierry Henry scored a hat-trick – the last in the Barclays Premiership this season. After scoring his hat-trick goal from the penalty spot, Henry kissed the grass at Highbury. The Gunners opened the 60,000-seat Emirates Stadium in the summer of 2006.

2006-2007 – After three seasons and having to deal with Arsene Wenger and Jose Mourinho, Sir Alex Ferguson decided enough was enough.

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Was Jose going in for a kiss?  Doubt it!! Wow Sir Alex tans well though doesn’t.  But the season can be given to a young superstar becoming the out and out STAR of England.

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Cristiano Ronaldo won the PFA Players’ Player of the Year and PFA Young Player of the Year awards, joining Andy Gray (in 1977) as the only players to receive this honour. In April, he completed the treble by winning the PFA Fans’ Player of the Year.  Ronaldo was also one of eight Manchester United players named in the 2006–07 PFA Premier League Team of the Year.

2007-2008 – The Red Giants pull of the ol’ back-to-back.  The season was notable for the return of the English league to the top of UEFA’s official ranking list, overtaking La Liga for the period from 1 May 2008 to 30 April 2009. This followed the success of English clubs in the UEFA Champions League, with both champions Manchester United and runners-up Chelsea reaching the European Cup final. This was the first time that the English league had topped the UEFA rankings since the events at the Heysel Stadium in 1985.  But once again the man was the Portuguese cutie-pie.

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He pulled off one of the most incredible seasons EVER.  Cristiano Ronaldo beat his own record for most goals scored by a midfielder, raising the record to 31 goals. The previous record was 17 goals, from the the previous season. Furthermore, his goal total equaled the highest number of goals ever scored in the Premier League during a 38-game season, equaling the record first set by Blackburn Rovers’ Alan Shearer during the 1995–96 season.  Yeah you read all that correctly, and CR did all that in only 34 games!  Man United were back on top of the world, though they only won the title on the final day – edging Chelsea by 2 points and Arsenal by 4 points.

2008-2009 – Liverpool time to move over – Man United not only pulled off there second three-peat but they also did tied the total number of English titles with Liverpool’s 18.  Sir Alex Ferguson had already made history with his first three-peat, but if anyone asked who the greatest soccer manager is – Sir Alex pulled it off again!!

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Does it ever get old?

Liverpool tried there damnedest to hold off Manchester United.  Of Man United’s 4 losses – 2 were against the Red Devils – a 4-1 ass whupping @ Old Trafford and 2-1 loss at Anfield.   Liverpool would fall 4 points shy with 86 points to Man United’s 90.  Liverpool finished with a higher goal differential (+50 – Man U had +44) and the Reds were the only team to eclipse the 70 goal mark as they finished with the always lucky 77.   In the end, Man United would establish themselves as the greatest club in the world.  And if you forgot my whole point – Sir Alex Ferguson, 67, picked up the Barclays Manager of the Season for the tenth time.  10th time!

2009-2010 – This season has been one for the history books for sure!  The season would come down to the final weekend and would see the champions set an all-time goal scoring record with 103 goals.  The season did have a poignant reminder before each game – prior to each opening week match, a minute’s applause was held in memory of Sir Bobby Robson.

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Chelsea’s 8–0 win over Wigan Athletic was enough to secure their first title since 2006, despite Manchester United’s 4–0 defeat of Stoke.  Chelsea won the title by one point!  The title win came in Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti‘s first season at the club (yep called that one). Chelsea striker Didier Drogba won the Golden Boot award as the league’s top goalscorer.

Ok so now that we’ve made it this far – how about an All-Decade Team (I’ll only do for England – Since Scotland’s would just be the Glasgow Guys).  And remember i’m a 3-5-2 guy.  NO 4-4-2 crap here.

GK – Shay Given – The Always Reliable Irishman.

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He might not share the trophy case haul of Edwin Van Der Sar and Petr Cech, or have a cool nickname like “Pepe” Reina, but he has been the most consistent GK in England.  He’s battled through 9 manager changes at Newcastle and also he’s seen two manager changes at his new Manchester City home.  The only GK that even comes close is American Brad Friedel.

Defense – Gary Neville – Right Back has dominated for 15 plus years.

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Never has a defender dominated and held his place as long as Gary.  Next to Ryan Giggs, Gary has been the face of Manchester United.  He easily slot in as my starting RCB for the last two decades.

Defense – Rio Ferdinand – Sorry hard not to go with my favorite player.

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Its really simple – there has never been a more BAD ASS SOB to anchor at CB.  Go ahead argue with me!

Defense – Ashley Cole – Left Side is owned by Ashley.

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People might hate him for jumping to his London Rivals, dating a HOTTIE, or his autobiography, but there is NO arguing that he has been the best left back in England the past decade.  John Terry sorry I run the 3-5-2, but after your horrible reaction to 9-11 and the cheating ways – I’d rather have Terrible boy Ashley on my team.  Less of two evils – HELL YEAH.  But Ashley along that flank is just a beautiful thing.

Defensive Midfielder – Patrick Viera – The French Giant.

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God there isn’t a single player I hated more the PV.  The Captain for Arsenal’s great teams he had the size, intelligence and fire to beat anyone to the ball.  He was such a stalwart defender and yet still could rifle a 30 yarder if he wanted to.  But when you have Thierry and Denis Bergkamp up top – you don’t need to score goals.

Midfield – Ryan Giggs  – The Lovable Welshman.

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Meet the heart and sole of a team and a country.  The gentleman that always was there.  He’s seen it all.  He’s played against the best and played for the best.  And one of the best on-the-ball dribblers ever – may not be flashy, but NO ONE ever took a ball from Ryan Giggs.

Midfielder – Cristiano Ronaldo – Cheeky Bastard

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Welcome to Greatness, Son.

When you’re in the argument of World’s Best year in and year out – you’ll be on any list.  His 31 goal season in 34 games maybe the greatest performance by a player EVER!  He’s tall, fast, best dribbler around and gosh darn it the girls love him.  #7 at Man United has been worn by – George Best, Bryan Robson, Eric Cantona, David Beckham, Michael Owen and CR.  They don’t just give that number out you know.

Midfielder – Steven Gerrard – Liverpool’s Legacy.

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Never has a player represented his home-town like Steven.  The Merseyside is a place of vast memories for the English people (and for me to…teehee).   He spent his childhood, teenage years and now his adult years wearing the RED of Liverpool.  Since his debut in 1998 the young lad has been BELOVED.  Ol’ # 8 has done it all – His honours include two FA Cup wins, two League Cup wins, a UEFA Cup win, and a UEFA Champions League win in 2005.  Two decades and counting he has represented the most successful English team.

Midfielder – Frank Lampard – Fun Kid makes London Scream.

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Frank started out gaining people’s attention when he played for his daddy’s ol’ club – West Ham.  The London fans quickly fell in love with the “new” Lampard.  But his time in Chelsea has put him into the superstar level.  The young chap has (like most his London brethren) been sometimes labeled a bad boy (drinking and sex seem to be his addictions).   But overall he has been INCREDIBLE on the pitch and even with all the “talk” he’s still got a squeaker image then Ashley, John Terry, Rio and some of the other “fun” lads.  When thinking of a word to describe his soccer talent – PURE comes to mind.

Striker – Thierry Henry – The Frenchman conquers London.

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Under long-time mentor and coach Arsène Wenger, Henry became a prolific striker and Arsenal’s all-time leading scorer with 226 goals in all competitions. The Frenchman won two league titles and three FA Cups with the Gunners; he was twice nominated for the FIFA World Player of the Year, was named the PFA Players’ Player of the Year twice, and the Football Writers’ Association Footballer of the Year three times. Henry spent his final two seasons with Arsenal as club captain, leading them to the UEFA Champions League final in 2006. In June 2007, after eight years with Arsenal, he transferred to Barcelona for a fee of 24 million.  Henry has enjoyed similar success with the French national squad, having won the 1998 World Cup, Euro 2000 and 2003 FIFA Confederations Cup. In October 2007, he surpassed Michel Platini‘s record to become France’s top goal-scorer of all time.  Yeah you’ll see his name on EVER single all-decade team list, if he’s not there then it just isn’t an all-decade team.

Striker – Ruud Van Nistelrooy – The Dazzling Dutch Dominated During his Days at Man United.

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The goal-poaching machine had a short but effective five seasons in the EPL, he scored 150 goals in 219 appearances, winning each domestic honor on offer with the Red Devils.  Alan Shearer may hold all the records, but what Ruud did at Man United was UNMATCHED by any man.  Only Fernando Torres incredible start at Liverpool has been on the same level.  During his first season, Van Nistelrooy scored 23 goals in 32 league games. He broke the record he shared with Mark Stein, Alan Shearer and Thierry Henry, by scoring in eight consecutive league games. He also scored 10 Champions League goals, and was named the PFA Players’ Player of the Year. The following season, he finished as the top Premier League scorer with 25 in 34 games, including three hat-tricks, and he ended the season on another eight-game scoring streak.  All that didn’t go well for Ruud was his exit from Manchester, but he’ll never be forgotten for what he did on the pitch.

WHEW – Volume 2 down – now thinking about Volume 3.

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