BBC BLOGS - Tim Vickery

Archives for April 2009

All smiles in San Martin

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Tim Vickery | 07:41 UK time, Monday, 27 April 2009

Much to my regret, I'm just too young for the 1970 World Cup. I was only five and I'm not sure we had a TV at the time - but I do remember the sticker album like it was yesterday.

A neighbour a couple of years older was collecting, and he gave me some of his swaps. The first one I received was a Peruvian, Ramon Mifflin if memory serves me right, staring seriously at the camera in that striking white shirt with the red sash.

I had no album to stick it in, but that image always stuck in my mind. For someone who didn't make it out of England until he was 23 - my dad reached 84 without getting further than Dublin - that picture from Peru symbolised everything that was exotic and fascinating about international football.

A year later when the 1971/2 season kicked off I started my own collection of First Division stickers. Apparently it did wonders for my reading, though I dread to think what words I picked up. This was before the globalised days of Panini, when you got a quaint little biography about the players, and it was a world full of 'veteran custodians' and 'crafty schemers who made their bow against Charlton Athletic in 1959'.

Somehow the mundane and the domestic never gripped me as much as the World Cup album. I waited impatiently for 1974 to come round so a new one would come out, and was then heartbroken to see that Peru weren't involved.

But I did have a chance to collect them in 1978, was too busy being an adolescent to collect them in 82, and since then there has been no need.

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The big attraction of the Libertadores

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Tim Vickery | 10:23 UK time, Monday, 20 April 2009

Same old same old in Europe, all change in South America. The Champions League has the same semi-finalists year after year, but it's a very different story in the Copa Libertadores.

The group phase is not yet complete in South America's premier club competition, but even before the action got under way there was a guarantee that there would be no repeat of last year's final.

Fluminense of Brazil, who lost the title on a penalty shoot-out, did not even qualify.

In fact, after that painful defeat, they fell into a depression and at the end of last year, only narrowly escaping relegation to Brazil's second division.

As for their conquerors, LDU, or Liga of Quito, they have very little chance of repeating last year's heroics and taking the title to Ecuador.

Indeed, the club which, last July, was ranked number one in the continent and, in December, number two in the world is now really struggling to make it into South America's last 16 and thus next month's knockout phase of the Libertadores.

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State Championships past sell-by date

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Tim Vickery | 08:29 UK time, Monday, 13 April 2009

In football administration, democracy is an awkward concept. One Rochdale, for example, clearly does not have the same weight as one Manchester United - even 30 Rochdales together would struggle.

It was the realisation of this basic truth that helped launch the Premier League, on the basis that if the major clubs were creating most attention and spending the most money, the structure of the game should reflect their importance. A decade and a half after its formation, once provincial English football now attracts top stars from all over the world.

Back in 1992 it would have seemed unthinkable - but when the Brazil squad is called up, these days it contains more players with English clubs than with Brazilian.

It is inevitably hard for domestic Brazilian football to compete with the major European leagues. For all its size, with its colossal internal market, Brazil is still limited by the low salaries paid to the majority of its population, which in turn place a ceiling on footballer's wages.

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Pellegrini finds right blend for Villarreal

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Tim Vickery | 07:46 UK time, Monday, 6 April 2009

Some years ago there was speculation linking Manuel Pellegrini to the job of assistant coach at Manchester United. Whether or not there was any foundation to the rumours, it didn't happen, and Old Trafford's loss has been Villarreal's gain.

The entire population of Villarreal could comfortably fit inside the Emirates Stadium. But under Pellegrini, the little club has played host to some of the most attractive and effective football in Europe, become a consistent force in La Liga, pushed Arsenal all the way in the semi-finals of the 2006 Champions League, and now meet Arsene Wenger's men a round earlier.

Pellegrini, a 55-year-old Chilean, has been steering the remarkable 'Yellow Submarine' (Villarreal's nickname) since 2004. He is the longest-serving coach in the Spanish first division, and he has shown that, despite some high-profile failures, South American coaches can make a success of European club football.

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Coping with high altitude

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Tim Vickery | 08:10 UK time, Friday, 3 April 2009

Outside South America there is little recognition of the difficulties of the continent's World Cup qualification campaign.

Carlos Alberto Parreira and Luiz Felipe Scolari are agreed - the pair coached Brazil to World Cup triumph in 1994 and 2002 respectively, and came to the same conclusion.

Winning the competition was relatively straightforward. The hard part was qualification.

Both of their teams lost in Bolivia.

This week, it was Argentina's turn - they were thrashed 6-1 in La Paz.

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