Posts Tagged With: England

Champions League Final Build-Up (2/3): The Robben Final?

In 2010 Dutch winger Arjen Robben suffered the heartbreak of losing what most would consider to be the two most prestigious finals in world football: the Champions League Final and the World Cup Final. Two years on and he has a third opportunity to claim the type of winner’s medal that most players can only dream of.

Oranje & Tangerine

Almost sixty year earlier with England only having bothered entering the World Cup for the first time in 1950 and with the Champions League’s forerunner, the European Cup, not beginning until 1955/56, the winner’s medal that England winger Stanley Matthews dreamt of was an FA Cup winner’s medal. Like Robben he too suffered heartbreak in the final twice, in 1948 and 1951, before he had a third shot at glory.

At 38 years old much was made of the 1953 FA Cup Final being Matthews last chance and in his autobiography (that I happen to be reading at the moment…) says that he knew it was his “final of finals” despite firmly believing that he could keep playing for several years as no doubt Robben does at only 28. (As it turned out Matthews, almost unbelievably, played for a further 12 years but he would never reach the FA Cup Final again.)

It was third time lucky for Matthews however as despite being 1-3 down with only half an hour to go his Blackpool side fought back to win 4-3 with the final goals coming in the 89th and 92nd minutes! (Man City eat your heart out!) The injury time winner was set up by Matthews himself who tore Bolton apart in the final thirty minutes of what is still known as the Matthews Final…


Interestingly though, Matthews says that the final should forever be known as the Mortensen Final insisting that it was his hat-trick scoring team mate Stanley ‘Morty’ Mortensen who was the real star of the show. According to Matthews, when he cut the ball back for the winning goal he was aiming for where, thanks to his near-telepathic relationship with Mortensen, he thought his team mate would be and was mortified to see that he had actually taken up a position at the far post.

Mortensen though, far from not being on the same wavelength, had decided that he was being too tightly marked to be sure of scoring and so vacated the area he knew the ball would come to, taking the markers with him, and called for Bill Perry to run into the space who duly converted. (Mortensen also scored a rocket of free-kick earlier in the match, undoubtedly he and Matthews were both in inspired form that day and the highlights are well worth a watch.)

Stan M & Stan M

So are Robben’s dreams of making it third time lucky himself largely dependent on the performance of and his relationship with Bayern’s enigmatic forward Mario Gomez? Robben may hope not as despite his impressive scoring record very few football fans would back Gomez to be either as clinical, brave or unselfish as Stan Mortensen was in 1953! Luckily for the Dutchman though he may not have to rely on Gomez at all as his style of play is very different to the one Matthews had developed:

“I was beginning to be tightly marked by full-backs, so I made a conscious effort to drop deeper to collect the ball… My goals had come from coming inside as wingers were apt to do at the time. Having given this much thought, I decided (in 1937/38) I would be better employed taking the ball to the dead-ball line and cutting it back for our oncoming forwards who couldn’t be offside if they received a backward pass or centre from me… I wasn’t scoring goals anywhere like I had been but this ploy created far more opportunities for our forwards.”

-Sir Stanley Matthews

Robben’s primary strengths lie not in what we would now consider ‘traditional’ wing-play, the style that Matthews helped pioneer, but in doing precisely what Matthews removed from his game: attempting to cut inside to deadly effect. Robben is more than happy to do it all himself if he has to as well as being capable of producing moments of pure magic such as his volley that did for the last English opponents he faced in the knock-out stages of the Champions League back in 2010… (The video below is great because it also shows the Bayern move before the goal, with Robben cutting in and attempting to shoot.)

Having already overcome one former club Real Madrid, knocking out Casillas, Ramos and Alonso who had beaten him in the World Cup Final and Mourinho (a former manager of his) who had beaten him in the Champions League Final, the script seems written for Robben, like Matthews, to finally have his cup final moment.

Robben & Čech in 2006 – only one will lift the cup this Saturday

In his way of course stands another former club of his: Chelsea. With a depleted defensive line and midfield due to suspension as well as players coming back in who may not yet be fully fit (similar can be said of Bayern of course), Chelsea may be hard pressed to contain Robben but if they are to win they will need to do more than tightly mark him as players started to do to Matthews. Formations and tactics have changed in many ways over the last sixty odd years and to deal with Robben they will need to take a leaf from Borussia Dortmund’s book and cover well, trying never to allow him a situation where he only has one man to beat whilst not leaving gaps elsewhere in the defense (no mean feat of course!) or else hope and pray that come Saturday night it doesn’t quite happen for the Dutchman leaving him perhaps to wonder, however briefly, whether a different approach to his game may have led to more overall chances for his team. Of course now I have written that he will probably win it with a cross from the byline!

Matthews picks up his hard earned medal in Coronation year – will Robben receive his in Jubilee year?

Finally, it would be criminal not to mention that Blackpool themselves have a rather important match this Saturday as well. Best of luck to them in the Championship play-off Final! “Suuuper, super Kev… Suuuper, super Kev… Suuuper, super Kev! Super Kevin Phillips!!!

Related Posts:

Champions League Final 2012 Build-Up (1/3): The Stats

Champions League Final Build-Up (3/3): Planning for Penalties


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The Cool Wall

A little later than intended due to a bank holiday weekend getaway, it is time to hatch my new feature. This is in fact the Birth of the Cool

As I outlined in my first post Beginnings I will be adding some regular features and Merlin’s Premier League Stickers of the Week will now be joined by The Cool Wall that I will probably be adding to as well as making any necessary adjustments once a month or so.

Like its car-based cousin, The Cool Wall won’t reflect how good players and managers are or how much I (or potential guest judges) even like them necessarily: it will be massively subjective and yet built on some semi-coherent if partially inexpressible criteria. Also, there’s is no Jeremy Clarkson.

So without further ado, the inaugural 5 players or managers are…

Ricardo Sá Pinto, Ryan Shotton, Timo Hildebrand, Roy Hodgson and Lukas Podolski…

Ricardo Sá Pinto

Sartorial but hard as nails

Is there any doubt? There aren’t many managers who can stroll around the dugout rocking braces and white elbow patches but Ricardo knows what he’s doing. Ricardo Sá Pinto is S-u-b Z-e-r-o.

Ryan Shotton

Nice towel

Easy prey perhaps but a useful benchmark nonetheless Ryan Shotton’s status as a top flight footballer and his overall contribution to the sport can be reduced to 3 points:

1. He is good at drying the ball.

2. He has a throw-in that is a bit like Rory Delap’s.

3. He is not in fact as old as Rory Delap.

The only problem being of course that he doesn’t have a throw-in that is a bit like Rory Delap’s. It’s nothing like Rory Delap’s. There are no redeeming features. He is seriously uncool.


Timo Hildebrand

Super Timo

Ah, Timo! The journeyman goalkeeper is a rare breed indeed but it was not always this way for the man who once seemed destined to make the German no1 shirt his own. Timo spent eight often successful years at Stuttgart at the beginning of his career as one of the original jungen Wilden (young wild ones) but whilst some things change, in this case being cool does not.


Roy Hodgson

“So long suckers” – Roy on leaving Liverpool (may not be exact quote)

Firstly, I do actually think that Hodgson is a better choice than Redknapp for England in the short and long term but that isn’t important here, in fact becoming the England manager may even count against him. Globe-trotting Englishmen in football are few and far between however and for one to be hired by a club like Inter Milan on two separate occasions they have to be doing something right even if their major successes lay elsewhere! Since his return to these shores Roy has been an absolute hero, even being fired by Liverpool isn’t uncool given Suarez-gate(s)! A narrow escape indeed! So is Roy Hodgson in fact cool? No, but he’s certainly not uncool either.

Lukas Podolski

The Pod

The question of whether Poldi is cool would, just a few short week ago, have had an extremely simple answer; he is one of my favourite players and one that I scarcely allowed myself to believe would actually be joining Arsenal but therein lies the problem. On the Cool Wall’s car-based cousin if one of the presenters buys the car in question it is automatically demoted and there is an element of that here although for slightly different reasons. Your own team is often too close to home, especially with new signings that haven’t even played yet – how on earth will they get on??? You don’t want to count your eggs too soon, nor end up with them on your face further down the line. The only problem is… Lukas Podolski is undoubtedly cool.


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