Matt Jansen. Michael Owen. Miles apart.

imageAs part as my ‘Miles Apart’ series, I am comparing footballers of similar ages, and how they’re careers can start so similar, yet take decisions (sometimes beyond their control) in entirely different directions.

This blog is comparing ex-Blackburn and Crystal Palace striker Matt Jansen, 35, once widely tipped to become England’s next great striker. With current Stoke City striker and ex-Liverpool and Real Madrid striker, Michael Owen, 33.

My first memories of Michael Owen are; watching Liverpool v Derby County on Sky, and seeing Owen personally destroy the Derby defence, beating them a resounding 4-0 in the process.
I also , as any England fan should, remember Owen’s World Cup goal against the Argentinian team (the one with Simeone and Batistuta).

In all honesty, I only remember Matt Jansen because of a computer game I had. UEFA Manager 2000 (the Football Manager of it’s day. Matt Jansen was the (Divison1/Championship’s) best striker, for Blackburn. He was rated a good 80. Only Dele Adebola and Andy Johnson were rated similar. Ironically, all three would go on to play for Crystal Palace in their careers.

Matt Jansen’s career had taken off, he was scoring profusely for Carlisle United, and was soon snapped up for £1m by then Premier League side Crystal Palace (turning down a move to Manchester United in the process).
After doing similar at Palace, he then moved to Blackburn for £4.1m, (once more turning Manchester United down), where he quickly became a club legend. His goal scoring record harking back to Blackburn’s SAS days, with Sutton and Shearer.

If you have read my Gazza blog, you will recall

for someone to take that away from him. Waking up one morning and realising his skills, pace and control was leaving him. Making him and older footballer, compared to the Beckham’s, Owen’s and Fowler’s that were starting to make big names for themselves. Gazza couldn’t understand that this was it

This was also a similar case for Matt Jansen, a man who turned down Sir Alex Ferguson more than once, and looked set to place himself in the England side for a long time.

In the summer of 2002 Jansen had a motorcycle accident in Rome, resulting in a short coma, and loss in all footballing attributes, meaning that his glittering early career would be difficult to rekindle.

As you probably know, Matt Jansen never rekindled his career, and has since journeyed around a number of clubs, attempting to bring back his glory days. He is currently with old Blackburn team-mate Garry Flitcroft at Northern Premier League side Chorley, where he has scored 11goals in 23games, whilst also coaching.

Yet, this is not just the end of Matt Jansen’s fall from success. He has had time with psychologists to cure his depression and illness. No one should mock this. I would agree, as would any football-loving lad, that for a successful football career to be taken away at such a young age, would destroy the strongest of minds.

Perhaps one day we will see Jansen back in the big time, maybe managing Blackburn?

I personally believe he is owed another chance. I here you say ‘but he’s a footballer he’ll have tonnes of money’. I say to you; footballers have a very short career, Jansen had an even shorter one. Yes he was Blackburn’s star striker, but that was before the £80,000 a week wages.

Jansen deserves a chance. I look forward to the day he returns.

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Mario Balotelli? Long live Paul Scholes.

I am sitting here looking at twitter and BBC Sport looking to see if Crystal Palace spend some of the Zaha money, in order to secure the battle for promotion to the Premier League.

Upon looking at twitter, I see Mario Balotelli has left the Premier League champions to join AC Milan.

Balotelli has proven to English football fans, that he is a newspaper editor’s dream, just like Jose Mourinho was/is. However, Balotelli crossed the borders to become a bad example to the schoolchildren, that idolise footballers and repeat their behaviour on the school pitch or the local park. Jose Mourinho didn’t/did.

From setting fireworks off in his bathroom, to throwing darts at a youth team player. He even drove into a women’s prison in Italy in order to “have a look around”.

This example of a footballer is a far-cry from the likes of Paul Scholes. A man long-ignored by the British media. A man whom 99% of the English public would not be able to recognise his wife. And a man who has been called the “greatest midfielder ever” by Barcelona legend Xavi.

This is the type of footballer that schoolchildren should look up to, should replicate and should aspire to be. Not arrogant, overpaid and immature men. That, if it wasn’t for football, and the furore that comes hand in hand with the role, would possibly be in prison, or on a route towards it.

In my opinion, Mario Balotelli leaving the Premier league is the best thing that can happen for the 4-16 year olds of this country. Long live Paul Scholes.

The magic is rekindled for the cup.

My earliest memory of the FA Cup is when I was nine years-old. Wycombe Wanderers under the young, supposed ‘up and coming’ manager Lawrie Sanchez had a memorable 2-1 victory against Leicester City at Filbert Street with Sanchez watching his side’s last gasp winner on a portable tv in the changing rooms, as he had been sent off earlier in the match.

The magic and instant admiration of the ‘underdog’ was born inside me. I had only recently began to watch football properly , and no longer bore my Dad by asking him to put Cartoon Network on instead of the Super Sunday.

This team whom I was watching were unbelievable, the stalwart goalkeeper especially, a thirty-five year old Martin Taylor, (who would a year later move to my local side Burton Albion) was saving everything, and his passion was screaming out of his body.

I believe it was this game that got me hooked on football.

Throughout the next ten years of my life I cannot remember an FA Cup game that has attracted my attention as much as that famous day. Each year there would be the occasional upset, but no long run. No major giant-killing. No underdog that attracts every neutral’s attention.

However, is 2013 different?

In the League Cup this year we have Bradford City, now in League Two, the bottom division of English football, against Premiership opposition Swansea. Having beaten; Wigan, Arsenal and Aston Villa in the process already.

The FA Cup this season seems to have also had more upsets for along time.

Brentford being six minutes away from a famous 2-1 victory over Chelsea, had it not been for Torres’ equaliser so late in the game, to take it to a money earning replay for the bees.

Oldham Athletic, struggling in League One face an in form Liverpool side, and beat them 3-2.

Luton a non-league team beat Norwich City at Carrow Road 0-1 and progress to the fifth round.

I feel for the first time in a very long time, that the magic, so long associated with the FA Cup, has resurfaced and can now let a whole new generation of children watching football with their Dad’s, enjoying that bond that is unlike any other. Can now support the underdog, like I grew up loving.

2013 has brought the FA Cup back to life.

A refreshing taste of football.

I have watched quite little of the African Nations Cup this year, due to a combination of early kick offs and work scheduling.

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A far cry from the days of the 2010 World Cup which coincided with revision for my A-Levels. Memories of sitting at my dining room table revising about African American Civil Rights, whilst watching almost every game of the tournament.

However, I do have a vested interest in a team, quite outsiders this year, Burkina Faso. Until last week they had failed to win an AFCON match away from home soil, since 1988. They eradicated that curse with a 4-0 thrashing of Ethiopia. I have an each-way bet on them to win the competition this year, at odds of 33/1.
Therefore I have been making sure I keep upto date with match reports and looking at BBC Sport daily as soon as I finish work.

The point of my first post in this new sparkling blog is to point out the huge differences from our own English game to that of the African game.

Our supposed ‘greatest league in the world’ is consistently dogged by; accusations of diving, managers criticising referees in post-match interviews and more recently racist abuse.

However, similar to the 2010 World Cup this tournament seems more about the football, than it’s players. More about the game, than it’s makers. More about the fans, than it’s rules.

From the Roger Milla dance in Italia ’90 to 2013, African football seems to have come a long way.

Perhaps it is time that our governing body the FA look at our game, and attempt to make it once more about the football, as opposed to the people related to it.

This, some would some say, can only be allowed to happen if the media let it happen. In my opinion, this has gone too far now, and will never be reversed. Big football stories sell papers, and make money.

So, a European country that came a highly regarded 17th on the Corruption Perceptions Index 2012, could learn a metaphorical ‘footballing lesson’ from a continent, that politically is phenomenally unstable, corrupt, economically unable to compare.

Football; it’s a funny old game (cringe from use of the cliche).