Wednesday, 30 May 2012

'Serbian Sinisa' Sets Example for Sport

To say Serbian football has experienced an eventful past two weeks is an understatement to say the least.

First came the signing of former Serbian International and Serie A record-holder, Sinisa Mihajlovic to a two-year contract as head coach of the Serbian national team.

Less than one week later the team had to take on the defending World and European Cup champions Spain, in a pre-Euro 2012 friendly played in St Galen, Switzerland.

However, perhaps the most dramatic event came on Monday when Mihajlovic asked current Serbia player, Adem Ljajic, to return home after failing to join his teammates in singing the national anthem prior to their clash with Spain.

A statement from the Serbian Football Federation expressed support for Mihajlovic’s move and announced that by not singing the anthem, Ljajic had “breached the team’s code of conduct.”

This is not the first time Ljajic has landed himself in hot-water for his conduct on the football field.  The Fiorentina star found himself at the centre of another storm earlier this month when he was attacked by then Viola boss, Delio Rossi.

Ljajic was hauled off by Rossi in the 2-2 draw with Novara, a decision he greeted with a sarcastic gesture.  Rossi then went for the 20-year-old, throwing punches as he sat on the bench.

In spite of this, Mihajlovic’s move has been labelled by some as dangerously heavy-handed and rather questionable.  A vast majority however have rushed to applaud his actions and see this as a possible turning point for this Serbian team, yet to live-up to their undeniably great potential.

Questionable it may be, but a drastically novel idea it is not.

Following the ‘French Fiasco’ of World Cup 2010 when players staged a mutiny after Coach Raymond Domenech sent Nicolas Anelka packing for misconduct, the French team quickly fell apart and was eliminated from competition.

In a sentence; their attempt to assert their authority over the coach ‘Le Bleu-up’ in their faces.

Laurent Blanc, like Mihajlovic, a former international star of the game was appointed in the lead-up to Euro 2012 qualifiers and left to pick-up the remains of a team left in tatters.

Like Mihajlovic, one of Blanc’s first motions as new coach of the French national side was to pass the words of the French national anthem onto his players and demand they sing it before their first qualifying game with Belarus.

“They perfectly know what I think.  I’ve passed the lyrics on to them,” Blanc said.

“Everybody is free to do what he wants but when you know La Marseillaise, you sing it,” he added.

Much like in Serbia’s case, the changes extend far beyond simply having to sing the national anthem and are about instituting a strict code of conduct through a number of responsibilities.

“When you’re a coach, you can try to ask your players to behave on the pitch in a way which can inspire them for their day-to-day living,” Blanc said.

Blanc now asks his players to do simple things like collecting their empty water bottles at the end of each training session, something they rarely did under Domenech.

Therefore the rule is not exclusive to Serbia and to say it is, or to say players should simply “do as they please”, whether naïve or simply stupid, is in no way productive to Serbia’s rehabilitation as a powerhouse of world football.

“Football should be entertainment for all fans who love the game, including women and children, while commitment, passion and patriotism must go hand in hand with a player’s talent,” Mihajlovic said.

A member of the Red Star Belgrade side that claimed a historic UEFA Champion’s League title in May of 1991, since accepting the top-job, Mihajlovic has made no secrets of his intentions to overhaul both the reputation and fortunes of Serbian football.

Following an arrival at World Cup 2010 as the ‘dark horse’ of the tournament and a historic 1-0 defeat of Germany at group stage (the first time ‘Die Mannschaft’ had lost at group stage in 24 years), the ‘White Eagles’ failed to progress past group stage, finishing in bottom place.

Then came a disastrous Euro 2012 campaign, which saw Serbia’s side going into it with no coach, after Radomir Antic was suspended for several games following an altercation with a FIFA official and shortly after sacked.

Under the hastily appointed Vladimir Petrovic as coach, the team conceded more goals, seemed generally out of sorts and even had to forfeit a match in Genoa against Italy due to crowd violence and hooligan behaviour from some of their fans, robbing them of a vital three-points.

Clearly there was something deeply wrong here.  Something deeper than tactical changes and player formation that needed to be addressed.

Renowned for being a hard-man and no stranger to controversy in his time playing at the highest level, Mihajlovic certainly seems to have the strength of his convictions and has made clear his plans to deal with this.

“I will ask the FSS to make sure we play only in venues where fans will behave in order to stop tarnishing Serbia’s reputation which is already blotted by a plethora of incidents,” Mihajlovic said.

“The players, on the other hand, will have to sign a code of conduct binding each and every one who represents Serbia to learn the national anthem, behave at international and club level and put their hearts on the sleeve,” he added.

Why then is it that a coach who is demanding his players adhere to a strict code of conduct, teamwork and behaviour befitting professional athletes, being so hastily questioned about his actions?

As the profile, involvement and financial value of the world game grows, have we lost respect for the people who officiate it?

According to some experts, the type of behaviour demonstrated by Ljajic is essentially what has dogged the Serbian National Team for years, and indeed many professional football teams in recent times.

Marko Savkovic, a researcher at the Belgrade Centre for Security Policy, agrees a firm approach like Mihajlovic’s is also a very necessary one.

“It’s imperative to tackle discipline both and off the field, as well as in the stands because of the flow-down effect they can have on one another,” Mr Savkovic said.

“Discipline and a strict hierarchy have already been mentioned [in the past] as characteristics of ‘hooliganism’ and football in Serbia.  Finally we see someone, doing something about it, and with the support of the Football Federation,” he added.

Unfortunately, much of Mihajlovic’s criticism seems to have been generated by people as unwilling to read between the lines as they are to look beyond the headlines.  Ljajic was not “permanently banished from the team” as some reports have suggested.

A statement from the Serbian Football Federation in fact read: “The door has not been closed forever on the national team but [Ljajic] needs to change his attitude and officially notify Mihajlovic that he has done so.

“Then when his form merits it, he can return.”

It also seems important to clarify; Ljajic (along with every other player named by Mihajlovic in the Serbian national side) signed a code of conduct promising, among other things, to “sing the national anthem of Serbia at every match.”

He signed an agreement, didn’t adhere to it and was duly dumped as a result.  Therefore, he wasn’t simply “dumped for not singing the national anthem” but rather for breach of contract through violation of the team code of conduct.

At the heart of it, what Ljajic has done is make an individual choice in a team sport and it seems disappointing that Mihajlovic’s critics should have to be reminded about the importance of “No ‘I’ in TEAM” philosophy.

Given the nickname, the ‘Bomber of Borovo’ due to his lethal left boot, Mihajlovic was a member of the Yugoslavia team of the 90s and early 2000s that played amidst the backdrop of the bloody Balkan wars.

He therefore knows a thing or two about the importance of standing as a member of a strong team and presenting a united front.  When speaking at his first press conference as the newly appointed coach of Serbia, his words echoed this sentiment.

“You all know as I do that as a footballer, I made many mistakes, both on and off the field,” Mihajlovic said.

“So when I decided to accept the role as coach of the Serbian national side, my main motivation was to in some way educate the younger players, the players who have chosen a career in professional football, not to repeat the same mistakes I have made,” he added.

Mihajlovic’s commitment, even if some may not realise it, is a pivotal step in the right direction for Serbian football and Serbian sport as a whole.  An example many sporting federations could do well to follow.

Yes, outside in the ‘real world’ one can wear what they like, sing if they please or do as they will.  However, for those 90+ minutes, this is not the ‘real world’.  Do not forget, this is a job.  It is these players’ workplace.  In the same way that when you go to work, you adhere to a dress code, follow a code of behaviour and behave in accordance with that work culture.  So should they.

Quite simply, Ljajic was sent home, not by Sinisa Mihajlovic the ‘son of a Croatian mother’ or by Sinisa Mihajlovic the ‘husband of an Italian wife’.  He was sent home by ‘Mihajlovic the coach’.  Whether or not you like the man, you must respect the position.

Melbourne Victory FC ‘Blue & White Brigade’ member and ‘Footy Fans Down Under’ award recipient, Peter Lukic, says it’s a very principled step by Mihajlovic and any criticism levelled at him is unwarranted.

“The talk about rights is sadly thrown around with little knowledge of their actual place, role or application.  There’s a difference between disrespecting and disciplining,” Mr. Lukic said.

“Honestly it’s disappointing to have the same people who complain about changes coming about too little too late then also complaining about things being done too fast too soon!  Shut-up, sit back and let the man do the job he has been courted for over 4 months and signed to a two-year contract to do,” he added.

No, footballers are not singers.  But by that definition, they are not paid to be national ambassadors or role models either but these are responsibilities and expectations that accompany the job title.  Singing the anthem demonstrates a level of respect, unity and a willingness to follow the orders of the coach, without question but rather complete trust and faith in his or her motives.

New Zealand rugby players are not dancers but it is understood that they will perform the Haka before each match.  Like the anthem, it is a tribute and way of paying respect to the culture and to the nation you are representing.  To defy that and choose not too sing it with your teammates is a spit in the face of any citizen or supporter not lucky enough to wear the same colours.

Like it or not, these are the rules.  Just like wearing the correct uniform, demonstrating sportsmanship and attending training.

Whatever the case may be, a lack of respect for the coach, country or team can have devastating repercussions.  Whether that be the French team’s troubles of 2010 or John Terry’s attempt to instigate a mutiny against former England boss, Fabio Cappello, it is clear the institution of discipline by a coach early on is vital to a team’s success and cohesion.

In the meantime, sing the anthem loud and proud, respect the selector and 'Hajl' to the chief!

*Serbia meets France tomorrow and Sweden on June 5 for the remainder of their scheduled friendlies.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Euro-Mission – A Journey to Eurovision 2012

Welcome to the unofficial, unabridged, unprofessional but undeniably amusing re-cap of Eurovision 2012.  Immensely popular in Australia, it’s like ‘Contiki: The Stage show’ – 26 countries in 4 hours with 3 hosts and zero dignity.  It’s no surprise Eurovision’s so popular in Australia as it’s so relevant to our most recent leadership challenge.  It was tacky, thoroughly entertaining and the Australian public was not allowed to vote.

So nice to see Aladdin’s dad opening the show.  Great Azerbaijani rendition of “A whole new world.”  Sadly too many pillows clearly inhibited the flying rug taking off.  On top of that, if all those stewardesses are on stage with him as back-up dancers, who’s serving drinks on Etihad Airlines right now!?

It was particularly nice to see last year’s winners from Azerbaijan performing.  They were of course ‘Anonymous Arab girl’ joined by Charlie Pickering, dressed by ‘The Backstreet Boys’ collection.

So here’s a rundown from A to Ж – showing exactly what can be achieved when nations spend their gross national income on glitter rather than feeding their people. 

United Kingdom
Engelbert Humperdinck.  It’s so nice to see someone that was around to perform at the original Eurovision.  This is disappointing, now there’s a whole generation of kids out there who are going to think of Engelbert Humperdinck as ‘The man in black’ now rather than Johnny Cash.  It’s appropriate that the UK was ‘#1’ in the performance schedule, as that’s in all likelihood the number of votes they’re going to get.   UK, it doesn’t matter if you completely sucked.  You’re the official sponsor of the language for 96% of performances for the night.

If the dress code was ‘Formal S&M’, you have dressed more than appropriately.  How are you all wearing so much leather?  Somewhere in Hungary a field of cows died needlessly.  On top of that, the performance was erratic, off beat and unsettling.  If this is indeed the “sound of our hearts” as the song title suggests, there’s a good chance you have a clogged artery and are about to have a heart attack.

Side Comment:  I like the intermittent cuts of Azerbaijanis playing polo.  It’s what I imagine England’s elite would look like if the Dubai oil boom keeps up.  It’s also what Ralph Lauren clothing will look like if they get bought out by a Saudi conglomerate.

One for the kids this one, because they finally get to see the wicked witch from all of those stories they’ve been reading.  Albania’s performer – the answer to the question ‘who bought locks of Bob Marley’s hair off eBay?’  The flag with a double-headed goose dragon on it, offers-up a ‘feast for the senses’.  In that their performance hurts your eyes, your ears whilst also managing to leave a nasty taste in your mouth.  For a country that is so heavily involved in the illegal organ trade, it’s clear they haven’t been dealing in musical wind instruments on the black market.  It makes sense to have had so much smoke on the stage during the performance though, because their performer would have had to have been smoking something good to think she was singing well.  There is something beautiful about Eurovision, and it is not Albania.  That song and her off-key performance gave me goose-bumps.  Not good goose-bumps either.  The kind of goose-bumps you get when you hear a paedophile has been relocated into a nearby housing estate.

Great commitment by Lithuania.  During the last performance the audience probably wished they’d had blindfolds and now the Lithuanian performer is wearing one.  Not sure about the glittered sparkles all over it – it look like Lady Gaga donated one of her Libra pads to your Eurovision cause.  Some call the blind performance ‘brilliant’, I call it disrespectful to performers like Stevie Wonder who aren’t blind by choice.  Not particularly original either.  Britney Spears and Amy Winehouse were performing blind on-stage years ago.  Good thing for Lithuania “love is blind”.  That means it didn’t have to see witness those dance moves then.

The only country of the night to have a hyphen in their name, so that deserves credit.  It would be great if in keeping with that, mid-way through the performance the singer split into two parts.  Bosnia-Herzegovina, as you can see by their flag, is this evening proudly brought to you by ‘Bank of Queensland’.  The sad thing about the performance is they left the piano cover locked and forgot to let out past representative ‘Deen’ who suffocated two-thirds of the way through this performance.  First good song of the evening, but it’s a good indicator of where a country’s finances are at that they can only afford a performer, rented piano and a backing track.

‘Mother Russia’ becomes ‘Grandmother Russia’.  Not so much a performance as a ‘work for your pension’ scheme.  It’s also important to notice how the six Russian grandmothers get shorter from left to right because that’s how they all arrived in Baku – inside one another in two separate ‘Babushka dolls’.  Really catchy tune from the old ladies and I’m still humming it, but being able to remove your teeth does really enable you to harmonise well.  This is Russia’s take on LMFAO – it loosely translates as “I’m sexy and I’m Soviet”.  All these women are actually only in their 30s but it just goes to show you the toll a life of sex, drugs and rock n’ roll in the USSR takes on your body.  Ten points for knitting your own outfits.

Ironically, for a country that gave us one of the most intense natural disasters of recent years, that spectacle did not rock my world.  Plus, you guys are to blame for Bjork and your country’s name is blatantly misleading.  Zero points for Iceland.  Twelve points for Disneyland.

Side Comment:  I find myself saying about so many of these songs, “this would sound so much better in another language.”  I also find myself playing the game with these duets “guess if these singers are sleeping together.”

Ivi Adamou from Cyprus – ‘the divided country’.  In the interests of balance, Ivi is Greek but her upper-lip hair is distinctly Turkish.  However, if being tone deaf was a disability, she surely got priority parking at the Eurovision arena.  For a country that’s given us Marcos Baghdatis, Halloumi cheese and a highly popular plant for the garden, this performance was not quite so popular.  Interesting fact though:  With the money they saved on the set, Cyprus was able to fly in two extra back-up dancers.  Turkey and Greece will share the six points I am giving you.

The Euro-zone financial struggles meant only half the performers for France could afford shirts.  Unemployment’s also clearly rife in France as they had to outsource their singer.  That being said, ‘vocal gymnastics’ in performing are nothing new but surely you’ve got to get points for separating the two and having live vocals and real gymnastics.  If you enjoyed Anggun’s performance, you can see her next week starring in Thailand’s version of ‘Ladette to Ladyboy’.

Italy’s performance was very appropriate for TV show ‘The Voice’, in that you got as much out of it by having your back turned to it as you did facing it.  A catchy tune but sorry my Italian friends, that was certainly not ‘one with the lot’.  As a sidenote, I’ve started doing a shot every time a performer winks at the camera.  I may not survive to see Sweden’s entry.  Yes, the song was performed in English but in keeping with Italian tradition, three back-up singers were docked points and red-carded off-camera for diving.  Bravo!

Loved the tribute to Mr Bean in the intro with the spotlight shining down on the perfomer.  Eight points right off the bat for singing in your native tongue and hitting the right notes, bar one.  Sadly, you know you’re performance is too one-dimensional when the only option for the camera crew is to stick to a one-shot and repeatedly circle your face while ignoring the creepy ice-queen in the background.  Is she a ghost!?  If you were awarded points for movement, you my friend would be seeing less digits that the Greek National Bank.  Despite that, the Estonian community of Australia is going nuts right now!  I know this because I can hear both of them next door.

Hold the phones, we have ourselves another look-alike!  Sorry Collingwood but it looks like Sharrod Wellingham is going to be late for training again tomorrow.  ‘Tooji’ – if it wasn’t for Anders Breivik you would be the most disappointing male to come out of Norway in the last year.  You look like the member One Direction rejects.  Also, you don’t have to wear a hood on-stage, this is not 8-Mile.  I do however appreciate the inherent irony of your song being called ‘Stay’ while all throughout it I hoped you’d pack-up and leave.  Also, you had 1500 spotlights above you – it might have been worthwhile flicking one on your back-up singer.  That guy spent more time in the shadows than Jennifer Aniston’s brother.

The song was called “When the music dies”, which is also the theme for so many of the performances at Eurovision.  Another interesting fact: all of the chickens from which those feathers on performer, Sabina Babayeva’s dress were plucked were actually used to feed all of the performers at Eurovision 2012.  It was also interesting to see her dress doubling as a projector screen as well.  Adele is apparently doing the same thing with IMAX when she comes to Melbourne.  Babayeva should hold her head up high after that performance.  It’s tough to do of course with those enormous lips, but she should still give it a try.  She was of course singing in the ‘European’ language, which is English with the most intense accent you can apply to it.

Actually a very enjoyable performance.  Sadly Romania, most Americans still think you are ‘the capital of Italy’.  With a Latin-inspired performance that combined moon-walking, men in white suits, bagpipes and accordions, this officially makes it even harder for people to identify where exactly in the world your country is.  Certainly a classy performance from a country where there is no discernible class system.  People may not realise the skill required to be able to create all that music while playing no instruments.  Still, they did supply their own language – Ten points!

Denmark’s music industry – the reason Princess Mary travels abroad so often.  Singer, Soluna Samay was apparently wearing a dead busker’s hat.  I can then only assume she was also wearing Muammar Gaddafi’s military shoulder pads.  In keeping with her busking past, the singer accepted dollars instead of points.  Greece gave no points.  Realistically, your song sounded a bit like Seal’s song ‘Crazy’.  If you’re not going to sing in your own language Denmark, then at least stick to creating apple and apricot-based pastries.

“Aphrodisiac” – The most aptly named song of the night.  The Greeks have a history of creating amazing pillars and the twin-set on singer, Eleftheria Eleftheriou are no exception.  The fact that you could even finance an entry and return airline ticket to Eurovision is admirable.  Definitely a catchy song that will no doubt have Greeks wishing they had money in their iTunes account to go download it immediately.  Lucky the Greeks didn’t win, as their budget will only allow for Eurovision to be held at the Parthenon.  You get extra credit for being able to pull-off traditional Greek dancing in heels.  This is the beauty of Eurovision, sometimes you see a performance that’s so good you can set it to mute and still enjoy.  12 points… for each leg!

All I can say about Sweden’s performance is that someone clearly enjoyed the girl’s performance from horror movie ‘The Ring’ so much they had to have her represent Sweden.  Apparently the physical embodiment of a feeling of ‘euphoria’ manifests itself in the dance moves of MC Hammer and a tai chi enthusiast.  Not really sure what purpose Mr T. served at the end of the performance but it’s good to see him getting some post-Snickers work.  With a catchy dance track and simple lyrics, somewhere David Guetta just realised he could quite easily nab himself a Eurovision title next year.  This is about as Swedish as victory on the battlefield or anti-pornography laws.

For a country named after a type of poultry, you’re not doing yourself any favours to be taken seriously.  Congrats to you for being able to get Sacha Baron Cohen to sing for you but that being said, your back-up dancers look like their mums sewed those costumes for a Turkish production of ‘Batman’.  I truly hope your ‘human ship’ is not indicative of Turkey’s naval fleet.  Those guys looked a little too comfortable ‘climbing aboard’ one another.  For those wondering, all that material - $15 at the Istanbul Spotlight store.  This gave me no Turkish delight.

The country whose language comes with an in-built lisp.  You sang beautifully, dressed elegantly, used your own language and were devoid of ‘kitsch’.  The fact that you made it through to the final of Eurovision is nothing short of a miracle.  Didn’t win but perhaps if the competition had been held on clay you would have had a better chance.  I give you five ‘hot tamales’ out of five!

For a nation that has fought the English in every major war you’ve been involved in, it’s surprising that for the fifth year in a row you’ve turned-up singing in their language.  Plus, someone should’ve told you that your lighting kind of makes it look like you’re performing from inside an upside-down sieve.  On top of that, your singer’s name is Roman Lob.  Seriously?  There’s no excuse for turning-up to a European competition with a singer named after an Italian football technique.  You only manage a NEIN out of ten from me.

80% of your name makes up a key ingredient in beer so you’re alright by me.  Although you must have drunk a lot of it before you went out and got four matching haircuts.  Not sure about the fingerless gardening glove on the lead singer either – it looks like a metrosexual Michael Jackson trying to do D.I.Y.  Not a horrible effort from the Maltese but you should definitely stick to producing delicious chocolate balls.  I hope you didn’t miss the opportunity to set your guitarists up on a double date with Jedward.

F.Y.R. Macedonia
Where do I start?  Perhaps that I’m really really thankful your singer wore pants and resisted the urge to don a mini-skirt.  If she is indeed a middle-aged bank teller as her appearance would suggest, that was an inspired performance.  Pity you couldn’t get a point for every letter in the title of your country or you could’ve cracked the top three.  F.Y.I. – Not a good claim to fame when Eurovision is older than your country.

I really hope Jedward are wearing the military uniform of Ireland.  If so, there’s a good chance we can indict them on war crimes after that performance.  Either way, thanks to you boys, Star Wars’ C3-PO was left with nothing to wear on a Saturday night.  If ever there was a time for a pyrotechnics disaster, this was it.  The song was called “Waterline” so at the end of the performance you both walked straight into the water.  I hope you’re back next year with a song called ‘Firing line’.  At least we know what the twins from ‘Everybody Loves Raymond’ have been doing since the show ended.

What a performance from the country where more people will vote in a Eurovision tally than in their own presidential elections.  Also, the only member of the musical group ‘Yugoslavia’ to go on to have solo success after their break-up in the 90s.  You’ve got to admire the irony that three of the most prominent countries not in the Euro-zone made-up the top three in one of Europe’s biggest competitions.

Not to be entrusted with music or nuclear reactors.  It felt like they were scaring diabetics in the audience unnecessarily by having giant dancing jelly babies on the LCD screens during the performance.  Still, for a country whose chief export is cabbage-based jams and picked vegetables, it’s great they could send these guys here.

It’s often the case that in life we save the best for last.  This is not true of Eurovision.  You’re really a country Moldova?  Really?  I now have even lower expectations of any series of ‘Moldova’s Got Talent.  If you’re going to join the long line of countries singing in English, it’s important that you know there is no ‘w’ in the word ‘lyrics’.  You sent a cobbler, and what I can only assume is every woman under the age of 60 from your country, to sing for you.  I give you five points – one for each hot girl on-stage.

So there you have it, a total re-cap of Eurovision 2012.  Special note: if you like any of the performers from tonight’s show, they will be available for mail-order purchase at the end of the week.  And remember, Eurovision does come only once a year, but fortunately the beautiful Julia Zemiro, the hilarious Sam Pang and regular euro-based SBS programming last all year long.  Goodbye Baku!