I have been very fortunate lately in that I have done a bit of TV work for both e.tv and SuperSport.
My e.tv work has been around the Champions League matches and the SuperSport work has been for live PSL matches. It's one thing to be sitting in a studio thousands of miles away from the action and discussing the possible tactics, substitutions and potential scorelines, and it's quite another to be on the side of the field, watching the players running up and down, hearing the fans shouting, and the coach barking orders.
There's something unique about being at a live match. It's the atmosphere, whether it is apprehension or confidence, that you sense. The supporters are mingling around the stadium entrance, looking into cars to see their heroes, security are hustling about, there are media people running all over the place, securing interviews with the coaches a few minutes before the match.
Being near the players' tunnel before a match is a unique experience. Last week I stood at the tunnel as both Santos and Cosmos tried to dominate each other through their singing. I was with former player Shakes Kungoane and we both agreed that the one thing we really missed about playing was the excitement before a match, the adrenalin, the singing, getting hyped up before the kick off and being a part of a team.
I have been critical of our local football level and I will continue to be critical where I think it is deserved, but I must tell you that being at the match, and right on the sideline, gives you a much better perspective of the way the game is played.
In SA the game is fast and physical. You only get a sense of how fast it is when you are right there! The problem though is that because it is played at 100 miles an hour, there are a lot of mistakes. It's hard to control a football on a hard SA field anyway, now add in a bunch of players hurtling around at break-neck speed, flying tackles and you get a sense of why the ball is not passed around better, why teams concede possession so easily and why there is a lack of constructive build-up play and ultimately a lack of clear chances and few goals.
My summary of the local game is that there are a lot of very similar players in the league - small, fast, possibly better athletes than in my day, but less adept at the basics, and lacking in 'football intelligence'.
Not looking pretty
This sounds like 'the older I get, the better I was' but there are times when I can't see what the players are trying to achieve. In a recent match against Sundowns, Kaizer Chiefs must have knocked the ball around at the back, into midfield, back to the defence at least 15 times - but they never crossed the halfway line.
This sounds great for keeping possession but they were 1-0 down with a few minutes to go! Eventually Jimmy Tau launched a ball into the goal area from the halfway line and there was a half-chance for someone. I guess I'm trying to suggest that players should really think about what they are doing and why they are doing it. Professional football is all about results first, not looking pretty. And you need goals to get results.
Arsenal's season in tatters
Football is a cruel sport. Most times you get what you deserve, but sometimes you don't. Arsenal will feel that they were deserted by lady luck at the crucial part of the season. They should have got a penalty in the first leg Champions League match against Liverpool. They might have thought they had done enough in the second leg when the equalised with eight minutes to go. They might have thought it was going to be their day at Old Trafford when they created 10 chances in the first 75 minutes and outplayed Manchester United for large parts of the match.
But they will look back on a season that promised so much and delivered so little. I think their squad lacked depth at the end of a marathon season, but at the beginning of the season, when Thierry Henry left, there were few Arsenal fans, or anyone else for that matter, who would have predicted that they would play such great football and be contenders in both league and Europe. It's all in tatters now, but there are rumours that Arsene Wenger has a war-chest to go out and buy some quality additions to his squad for next season.
Champions League showdown
Liverpool v Chelsea is almost becoming a regular Champions League fixture and it's one that Liverpool have dominated in recent years. The rumours continue to fly that Rafael Benitez will leave at the end of this season and he would like nothing better than to leave as the winner of another Champions League trophy.
Poor old Avram Grant. He has the personality of a goldfish, is on a hiding to nothing after taking over from the "Special one" Jose Mourinho and seems to have thrown his title chances away with a risky selection against Wigan that backfired when Wigan scored a late equaliser.
But he is in the Champions League semi-final and has the chance to take Chelsea to the final in Moscow - something Abramovich would dearly love. I have a sneaking suspicion that it could be Chelsea's year to win it and Avram might even be unemployed at the end of the season!
George is Media24's Soccer Business Manager and represented South Africa during the 1994 World Cup qualifiers.
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