Category Archives: Football

Noise about Moyes. Has this window really been a disaster for The Red Devils?

 

Back again – told you I’d be a bit more frequent with these. I was going to write another one before the turn of the window, but the RT/favourite monsters are out in force at this time of year – and they really enjoy the feeling of smearing egg on someone’s face.

The transfer window had plenty of winners and losers, as it always does. The winners: Spurs, Everton, Cardiff, Southampton. The losers? A more subjective debate…; Newcastle, Sunderland and Manchester United are the names you’ll see mentioned a bit more.

It’s Manchester United I want to dissect, though.

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Moyes got his man, in the end.

Tweets: Manchester United.

@Guardian_Sport: Manchester United inquest begins after David Moyes era opens in farce.

@waldron97: Unprofessional panic buy with Fellaini, shows they couldn’t acquire top targets otherwise they would have got him earlier for £23.5m

@ZcottAFC: Like an Italian mafia movie. The Godfather dies and the son takes over, but nobody respects him.

@TomKirk_:  The issue is how they conducted their business rather than who they ultimately signed. (i.e. declared interest in 7+ players).

The frustration continues throughout twitter. On deadline day ‘#MoyesOut’ was trending for around an hour between Arsenal’s unveiling of Mesut Ozil and the first signs of movement at Old Trafford.

So, the core of this blog post: Am I the only person who thinks Manchester United had a good transfer window?

Throughout July & August I maintained my stance on Moyes, and on Manchester United; it was something along the lines of:

For me, the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson and the welcoming of David Moyes is all the disruption the club needed – the backroom staff were restructured, the players have been unsettled and the board room has had a shake up. Bringing in new faces would only bring another issue: footballing anxiety: Will I play? Am I still in contention? Does Moyes want me? 

Furthermore, on reflection, David Moyes is still trying to dissolve the legacy of Sir Alex, and try and put his stamp on a Championship winning dressing room. He’s toyed with 4-2-3-1, 4-3-3, and a flat 4-5-1, all with mixed success. Moyes couldn’t complete his business early because he hadn’t spent sufficient time with the squad. So he did what anyone would do in his position, blank cheque book and a big club… He went for a player he’s always liked: Cesc Fabregas.

As the window continued and players still hadn’t signed – the media spotlight was shining on him, fan pressure mounted and there was a club-wide concern when the fixture list was announced.

Sunday. September 1st. 2013. Moyes’ third game in charge.

By this stage, we’re starting to catch a glimpse of the Moyes footprint. The initial set up of 4-2-3-1 lacks impetus, Liverpool take the lead and they’re looking comfortable. Moyes takes a jump to 4-4-2(4-4-1-1). The attacking threat intensifies – there’s clarity in the tactics. Full backs are overlapping,

Carrick is sitting deep and protecting the centre-backs, Welbeck is running off Van Persie and keeping mobile. Wingers are attacking Wisdom and Enrique.

It’s at this point, 3 games in, that you see a target area: Moyes has his wingers hugging the touchline – further spread than how Sir Alex had them – but Liverpool’s tight-knit midfield of Gerrard–Lucas–Henderson is proving too much for Carrick-Cleverley to handle, to adapt Man Utd will need a physicality to protect Carrick. This match was a turning point for Moyes because he came away from it with a priority; A ball winning midfielder.

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Image from the game – An example of the midfield battle, look at Liverpool’s 3: All swamping Cleverley.

On deadline day, he had two targets for the CDM position. 1) Sami Khedira, 2) Marouane Fellaini. He had a deal on the table of Ander Herrera, and he was interested in the left-back position, though wasn’t prioritising it. When the Baines deal collapsed, I believe he was happy to continue with Evra for the remainder of the season, the Coentrao deal smells like an agent called him and highlighted his availability – it was a last-minute pounce, so no surprise it didn’t come off.

I then went back to twitter, re-spoke to a few of the fans mentioned above. There was another key area: Manchester United’s Academy has failed to deliver for a few years – there’s a longing for their very own Jack Wilshere/Raheem Sterling. – Moyes has done some under-the-radar signings of young players, and bolstered the resource of the academy. Long term strengthening.

Some of the criticism of Moyes has been beyond harsh. All things considered, you need to respect that he’s retained Rooney – that he’s working towards getting Kagawa back to fitness and that he’s discovered a tactical problem and spend £27,000,000 to solve it. I expect a much more active window from Manchester United in January, until then the fans need to fulfil Sir Alex’s final wishes in charge: Get behind the new manager.

All-in-all, it’s been a sensible transfer window for a club that has a little bit of rebuilding to do. Man Utd are still competitive in the Premier League and there is no real expectation in the Champions League. The club are set up for the elusive top four finish and an ‘under the radar’ season. The more Moyes is out the spot light, the better. Any manager coming in would have had rebuilding to do. Three seasons will be the barometer of Moyes as a manager at this size club, not one transfer window.

#MoyesIn

A mention to Jamie Keating – Jamie has helped me complete, edit, and provided fan-based ideas for this blog post. He’s a Manchester United fan. If you enjoy this blog, give him a follow. 

Over and out.


Rooney Rule. Opening the case…

With the Premier League being centre of various race-rows over the past years, solutions are becoming popular talking points in the football community – one in particular is the Rooney Rule, used in America’s NFL.

What is the Rooney Rule?

The Rooney Rule was established in 2003 and named after Dan Rooney, the owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers and the chairman of the NFL’s diversity committee.

It requires NFL teams to interview at least one black or ethnic minority candidate for head coaching and senior football operation opportunities that become available, as part of a transparent and open recruitment process.

What’s this going to achieve?

Well, the logic is: More black managers = increased tolerance by the racist few towards a black influence on the sport = less incidents of racism.

Barack Obama (left) with Steelers Chairman Dan Rooney (right).

Barack Obama (left) with Steelers Chairman Dan Rooney (right).

So, is the Premier League ready to adopt such a radical strategy? What will the implications be? Moreover, is it even needed?

The PFA’s chief Gordon Taylor, who has incorporated it into their 6-point-plan to eradicate racism is hopeful that the Rooney Rule will play a part in avoiding a breakaway black players union that has been publicly suggested by Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand.

The F.A., like many of the black community, are disappointed at the lack of black managers in football. Of the 92 clubs in England, this number has rarely risen above three, varying season to season in the modern hire-fire culture.

In my opinion, the difference between the NFL and the Premier League is chronological, it’s all about the timeframes between a black sports-star’s big arrival, and the knock-on effect that had to role-model budding black stars into the respective sport, and then onwards into coaching.

Ernie Davis was drafted into the NFL in 1962, this was at a time of important civil rights movements and the country needed a marquee name in sport to set an example.

Ernie Davis - Running Back.

Ernie Davis – Running Back.

The Washington Redskins were the franchise to which he signed, before being traded to Cleveland Browns. 41 years before the Rooney Rule was put in place.

In football, in England, Viv Anderson was the first black man to play for England (full international) in ’93/94 season, since then we’ve only had 18-19 years, where 3 managers have made the switch permanently and many others Ince, Connor etc to less success. On top of this we’re slowly seeing the transitions being made into other areas, backroom ambassadorial roles like Vieira, or into the media eye like Chris Kamara, Earle, Wright, Barnes and many others.

There have been certain problems with the Rooney Rule that have been to the detriment of the NFL. One of these is that clubs have had readymade white replacements in mind for a vacancy, but had to waste time and money on interviewing a black candidate.

This is not just a waste of time and money for the organisation, but also the black candidate who held no realistic expectation of attaining the post. I can’t help but agree with this argument. If we put this argument in a footballing context, the events at Queens Park Rangers would be the perfect example of the rule being counterproductive. The club part with Mark Hughes and 3 days later replace him with Harry Redknapp. With risk of sounding cynical, Bhatia & Fernandes would have it in mind to have replaced Sparky with ‘Arry before they actually sacked the former.

The Rooney rule, if it were in existence currently, would mean that QPR would have had to delay their recruitment of a new manager in order to interview a black manager when they will inevitably appoint Redknapp anyway.

A final key point to note, is that the Premier League is in-fact a very open-minded league. Osvaldo Ardiles was the first ever foreign manager back in the 92/93 season, and 20 years on there’s now only 6 English Managers in the division – clubs are not afraid to make changes if it means success, regardless of ethnicity.

Tottenham's Osvaldo 'Ossie' Ardiles.

Tottenham’s Osvaldo ‘Ossie’ Ardiles.

To wrap up this piece, I feel we’re too early in pushing a race-solution – it’s not needed yet. In another 10 years and I’d expect to see 5+ black Premier League managers. The cynic in me is saying that various journalists are using the on-field racism issues of recent times to make themselves be seen as flag-bearers for equality.

What do YOU think?

Tweet me at @_The12thman

Over and out.

 

 


PFA Player of the Top 6 awards.

Good to be back.

It’s the business end of the season, and with that comes the annual series of award ceremonies and it’s the opinion of many on-lookers that The PFA Player of the Year awards has an elitist short-list. One which fails to respect and register the talents of the clubs not as glamourous as the Forbes 500 applicants.

The PFA Shortlist;

Scott Parker, Tottenham Hotspur and England.

Wayne Rooney, Manchester United and England.

David Silva, Manchester City and Spain.

Robin Van Persie, Arsenal and Holland.

Joe Hart, Manchester City and England.

Sergio Aguero, Manchester City and Argentina.

 

Whilst it is fantastic to see half the short-list representing the home nation, there are many players who haven’t recieved the recognition their season has deserved. With that, I wanted to write chosen shortlist of players who were unlucky to miss the cut, along with who I believe should win it, and give my input to the Team of the Year.

My shortlist, although still showing a large representation of the big-clubs, is showing some of the unsung heroes of this season.

Michel Vorm. Swansea City.

After a baptism of fire at Eastlands, where he completed the highest saves-per-game record of any goalkeeper in the 2011-2012 season (11 saves) – Michel Vorm has gone from strength to strength, averaging 5.3 saves per game, acheiving 13 clean sheets and catching an average of 63% of shots. Additionally, he’s earned himself the nickname Penalty Killer with the Swansea faithful after some high profile penalty saves. He’s the highest points scoring Goalkeeper on Fantasy Football with 148 points and is selected by over 30% of players. He’s a man in form and expected to be on the plane to the Euros.

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Alex Song. Arsenal.

After joining the Gunners in 2005 the Cameroonian has taken a few seasons to find his feet. This season has been his best season by a country-mile – many plaudits are starting to look at him as one of the finest holding midfield players, no only in the Premier League, but in football right now. With tackling successes in excess of 64% he breaks up the play fantastically, but he’s intelligent, with only 1 red card in his entire career he’s still aquired 12 yellow cards this season – tightrope. Crucially, he’s another element to his play which others like Barry, Lucas, Parker cannot boast; 14 assists. More than David Silva and Luka Modric combined.

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Jonny Evans. Manchester United.

When Nemanja Vidic picked up his season ending injury, opposing teams were licking their lips at the thought of an aging Rio Ferdinand exposed along side: Positionally-awful-Jones or the adventurous-Smalling. Jonny Evans was given the nod and Sir Alex has never looked back. My Man-Of-The-Match in many big games, dominating the most talented individuals. My performance of the season came in the 2-1 win over Liverpool at Old Trafford, Suarez is often tricky and will look for an opportunity to dive – Evans was smart and had him under-control for the entire match. Evans has had a 100% tackling success rate in over 5 games this season, and makes my Team of the Year.

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Vincent Kompany. Manchester City.

The LMA Manager 2004 prodigy has been a dominent force in the Manchester City defence, I was shocked he wasn’t nominated for the PFA Player of the Year award. He’s one of few players who can say; “Robin Van Persie didn’t score past me” after the Dutchman scored vs 17 different sides in the 2011/2012 season, and un-coincedentally Manchester City’s drops in form happened at the same time as Kompany’s injuries and suspensions. In the FA Cup 3rd Round between the two Manchester clubs, Wayne Rooney was savvy enough to know the importance of Kompany as he convinced the referee to send him off. Kompany will be pivotal to this seide for many years. 12 clean sheets and 4 man of the match performances over the season.  

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Leon Britton. Swansea City.

Much has been made of Swanselona this season, and Leon Britton has been the maestro of their success. His passing stats are the highest in Europe, averaging 93.5% success rate over the season – Higher than Xavi. More notably, Leon Britton is also commanding a midfield which averages only 5 fouls per-game, the lowest of any side in top level European football. Leon Britton, Joe Allen and Gylfi Sigurdsson have set the Premier League alight, it will be interesting to see how they strengthen the back line and improve their striking options. Swansea are a threat.

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Yohan Cabaye. Newcastle United.

There is perhaps no better day to be writing this, than the day after his pass-of-the-season for Papiss Cisse’s goal vs Stoke City. (see video). With only 8 assists and 5 goals, his statistics are mis-leading to his performances, much like Leon Britton, Cabaye finds himself as part of a working midfield. Supplying the ball to Ben-Arfa and relying on Cheik Tiote to win him the ball. At times, it’s the players who do not make the headlines that are the reason for your success. Yohan Cabaye retains the ball, and keeps it moving. In the Daily Mail’s player-ratings, Yohan Cabaye hasn’t recieved less than 7 all season, impressive.

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These are players who are all very unlucky to miss out on the nominations, and much like the referees they employ, the FA have made the choice to over-look ‘smaller’ sides in favour of the bigger clubs. Any could have gone on to win it.

My Team of the Year was difficult to pick, and dispite the season not being over, I’m happy to unveil my choices;

                    Vorm.

Walker — Evans — Kompany — Baines.

    Britton — Cabaye — Yaya Toure. 

     Van Persie — Ba — Pilkington.

SUBS;

Krul,

Koscielny,

Clichy,

Carrick,

Dempsey,

McLean,

Aguero. 

I’d loveto know your opinions, so please, tweet me at my contact details; it’ll be fantastic to stir a debate.

Over and out.


January, to buy or not to buy? That is the question…

I’m back.  

Shameful really, but with a new job and a busy life, I haven’t had the luxury of time to write a blog post recently. In spite of that, I’ve found time to keep up with the farcicals of football right now.

Since I left; Suarez has been banned for racism, rightly so, should have been longer in my opinion; John Terry has been charged by the police for the same offence; Arsenal find themselves with their worst point total after 22 games in all of Wenger’s tenure, and Tottenham are flying. 

It’s been a funny few months, but can we expect change?

Here are my views:

On January transfer expectations, after a dire display against Manchester United, subsidised by a manager seemingly hell-bent on having them in the Europa League, you really must wonder:

“He’s had no full-back’s fit since the Olympiakos game (December 6th) – where he played his only fit player in a game which was literally meaningless – since then he fumbled through December knowing he would be without a recognised full back until February.”

1) Why didn’t he highlight a defensive target and get a loanee cover in place?

2) Why hasn’t he ensured that funds were in place to make sure he could sign the loanee quickly? 

No-one knows but him.

We all know the results though; Arsene is being punished for his arrogance, losing a hat-trick of games, and they’ve now taken seven points from the last 18 available. Arsenal’s form is the joint-second worse in the league, and it’s single-handedly his fault. Of the goals conceded in the last three games, six of the seven have come directly from a mistake at full back. Could it be that a reluctance to spend £4m on a loanee will cost him £40m for the Champions League? And that’s excluding the player exodus that may happen should they fail to qualify.

If Arsenal don’t panic-purchase like they did in August, forget about the top four, they won’t even finish fifth.

You just feel for the fans who are paying an extra 6.5% on tickets when the performances are, at times, laughable. 

On Liverpool:  Liverpool have suffered the negative fates of the January window. Buying Andy Carroll (the worst signing in the history of world football) for such a high price will always bring pressure, but they’ve spend £75m on Downing, Carroll, Henderson and wrapped them up on such long contracts, that no-one is going to want to buy them. Additionally, they have no more funds to improve the squad. Between the two they end up with a team deep in limbo. This presents  worrying times, and it’s no wonder Liverpool were eager to swap Carroll for Tevez; it’s hilariously desperate. It’s like me attempting to trade my girlfriend for Zooey Dechanel, unlikely.  

So back to my Gooners, there’s some good in the window, a few fantastic purchases over the years. Arsenal utilised January back in 2009, signing The Lazy Magician; Andrei Arshavin for 15m, a signing which ensured a strong finish to the season. Since then however, the purchases have dried up.

On Arshavin: I’m a fan of Arshavin, even now. My theory is; Just because Wenger plays him at Left-Wing, it doesn’t make him a Winger.

Arshavin has always been creative. For Russia and Zenit he was instrumental playing in the CF role, linking up with the midfield, beating players, shooting at will and assisting in the plus 10’s.

Arsene, likes to play a 4-2-3-1, and because of this, he plays Arshavin out of position, instead of creating a ‘false number 10’ like Barcelona do, and playing a system which suits everyone.

Expectations are different for a winger. Arshavin’s not someone who’ll work hard without the ball, nor has he any intentions of tracking back, when you have full-back’s like Arsenal do, bombing on and hitting the by-line. You really have to wonder the tactical knowledge of Wenger when he insists on playing him at wide-left.

4-3-1-2 is needed, in my opinion. The back 4 picks itself, as does the goalkeeper.  Midfield 3 of Song, Arteta, Ramsey, Arshavin just behind; RVP and >Insert Striker here<.

Who should the striker be? Benzema, Olic, Kerzhakov. Anyone really, but it needs to be someone who’s an old fashioned STR. So that RVP could link up and wander around as he pleases. Dzeko, in a heart-beat.

On Gervinho I’ve defended Arshavin, so let me just revoke some of my previous comments on the wonderful; Gervinho.

Things I’ve said:

“Gervinho is the worst signing of Summer 2011”
“Gervinho is the worst player I’ve ever seen live”
“Gervinho is the worst finisher at the club”
“I would rather have Bendtner back, and as Club Captain, than need to spend another penny watching Gervinho”
“Gervinho makes Almunia’s contribution to the club look worthy of a Ballon D’or” 

Gervinho puts the ball wide.

SOME of the above, may – just may – be slightly harsh, so despite the fact he’s missed 9 one-on-ones, got himself sent off and single-handedly cost us games…. I want to just applaud his defensive work.

In recent weeks, due to Wenger’s reluctance to buy a replacement full-back, Coquelin and Djourou have been forced to adopt a make-shift role – where Djourou has been exposed, the LB position has always seemed that little bit safer. Why? I think Gervinho’s work-rate going backwards, is a lot more effective than he’s given credit for. Granted, it’s not his job, but it’s useful nonetheless.

That aside he’s still an atrocious finisher, and he’s pretty low down my personal preference of wingers. In-fact, with a full fit squad, I’d have him playing at Underhill with the reserves.

On the whole, Walcott and Gervinho are simply not good enough, but I’m supportive of a 4-4-2 type midfield with wingers, Wilshere next to Song for games that need width and fluidity. This is where Wenger needs to be more adaptable. 4-2-3-1 may work at Anfield, but it won’t work at home to Fulham. My 4-4-2 would probably feature Gervinho and Alex Oxlade Chamberlain. Both of them give more protection to the back-line which allows us to have 2 strikers.

But as always, we’re second guessing Arsene.

A repercussion to his arrogance and deliberate nature to not do something, solely because someone has told him too/when it’s been advised. It could literally define ‘frustration’, and that’s how the Gooners feel.

January 2011: Arsenal need to buy a defender.

Wenger doesn’t buy one, he perseveres with what he has and the club manage to finish 4th in a 2 horse title race, get knocked out of 3 trophies in 4 weeks and lose our 2 most creative midfielders.

And for this reason I justify my critics on twitter. He is too wrapped up in himself, he does value his own stubborn ways over what’s best for the club, he is obsessed with HIS concept of value, not the market price.

He’s still playing a formation based around a player who’s gone.

He’s refusing to listen to the players, this was shown in Van Persie’s frustrations recently; He’s not respecting nor appreciating the fans, and opponents don’t fear Arsenal. They’re seen, rightly so, as frail, weak, uncertain, like at 2-0 down you can still win because one bad decision and they crumble.

A disgruntled Captain, is rarely a long-standing one.

Teams relish playing Arsenal because they know they can get something from the game.

I’m ready to move on from Wenger, Ivan Gazidis too, Peter Hill-Wood as well. The only scenario where I think I’d re-unite my faith in Arsene would be if David Dein was to return.

On boo boys;  

Fans pay their money, they have a right to boo, jeer, cheer and clap whomever they please.

I dislike it when fans boo during the match, i.e, the Blackburn fans booing Yakubu for celebrating a goal with the under-fire Steve Kean.

Blackburn's Boo-Boys.

I dislike fans ousting individuals, like the booing of Walcott, Eboue etc. There needs to be more support for a player having an off game.

I agree with fan booing a bad result, a poor referee or a horrific decision from a manager – Like taking off your best player at 1-1, ensuring that you lose the game, Arsene. However, there is no right or wrong way to be a fan, just like there is no right or wrong way to support. At one end of the scale there’s the ever-green “nothing is ever wrong” fans, who follow the notion that everything has a silver lining and will always talk about ‘next year’; and then there are the cynics who disagree with everything and hate everyone.

But I think booing serves a purpose. Wenger needed to know that taking off A.O-C for the sake of it, was wrong. Manchester United is not the game to ‘test’ players, to ‘give them a run out’ or to bring on a favourite out of sheer nostalgia. It’s the kind of game where you play to win. Especially at a club like Arsenal.

On fans

With all due respect, there’s “Fans” and there’s “Associates”.

The associates are those who have only been to one game, will watch a game if it’s on sky, and will get one shirt every three years. To these people; you are not a fan, you’re a follower. You enjoy them winning to feel part of a cult, or tribe, but you don’t adhere to the literal abbreviation of fan-atic.

The true fans are those who know the under 18s; those who remember the awful players who had six months and three appearances, and those who put up with Bulgarian commentary on a dodgy link just so they can see the game. It’s these same people who hit a solid 10 games a season, and never miss one unless it’s unavoidable.

My point? I’m starting to notice the difference between the two groups more and more. How the fans are being supported by other fans; whereas the associates are sharing and supporting the views of one another. The two are clashing.

I think when you have an actual passion, you have a right to voice your opinion, and but it’s usually the ‘Associates’ who think they have a right to silence the paying ‘Fans’ for being outspoken. Which in essence is a lead on from my point on ‘right or wrong way’ to be a fan, no-one has the right to tell someone how to support a team, but it seems to be the ‘associates’ who feel they have the right to.

 On how the season will finish?

 Premier League – Manchester City.
Carling Cup – Liverpool.
FA Cup – Tottenham.
Champions League – Bayern Munich (Arsenal semi-finals)

What a season we have left, though.

As always I welcome the debate, so get in touch with me on twitter on leave a comment below;

Over and out.


Traditions making way for a new a generation in football, a round up;

My last blog piece was written quite a while back now, and for that I need to say sorry. Since my last one I’ve got a new job, and a new flat too. It’s been a busy time. I’m writing this in a rather informal notion, so excuse my disregard for proper sentence structure or journalistic skills. It’s more about opinion, and for that – I want to see responses.

In football terms, Arsenal appear to have turned a corner. Those who follow my twitter-feed (see top) will know I was cautious about ‘counting chickens’; as the form and ability of the opposition was as questionable as the Gunners themselves. As it stands, a thumping win at Stamford Bridge and topping their Champions’ League group thus far, I believe as long as Arsenal are in the top five come January they’ll finish in that lucrative top 4 spot. If they’re smart enough to strengthen well, I even think 3rd place is do-able. With that thought in mind, I’ll stick to my prediction from my transfer blog in Summer;

Manchester City – Champions.
Manchester United – 2nd.
Arsenal – 3rd.
Liverpool – 4th.
Chelsea – 5th.
Tottenham – 6th.

Though, I must admit, Tottenham have been relatively impressive; I just think the further they go in the Europa League, the more it will harm their chances.

Thursday/Sunday seasons can be cursed for any side. Liverpool and Spurs could swap places; I do firmly believe Chelsea will fall behind but it will see a major haul in personnel at the club for the 2012/2013 season.

Back to Arsenal, and my worry is in their ability to do transfer dealings. Wenger won’t want to halt the growth of his young stars, but he needs some star quality. Mikel Arteta has been good, as has Ramsey and Song. Three solid players, but a Hazard type of character would really shake up the team – Mind, so would Arshavin if he found form. Though how is Arsene supposed to justify buying another CM when he already has arguably seven/eight possible suitors? It’s very hard to justifiably strengthen a side full of good, but not Ballon D’Or, players.

Next I want to talk about the Championship strugglers; Doncaster Rovers. With a lack of funds and an inability to compete on their field, they have invested in a new look strategy with the help of one of football’s real pantomine villains;

Willie McKay – I know you know the name, and now you’re thinking: “Wasn’t he that… uh… um… Hmmm.. He knows Redknapp, doesn’t he?”, Well McKay is a football agent, and perhaps would of the most media watched of them all after the police and political enquires into his transfer involvement with Jean Boumsong, Benjani and Amdy Faye. Most notably; “The Steven’s Enquiry” in 2007, which was the fall out of his arrest, and subsequent house raid as police investigated alleged corruption in football, all at the time Harry Redknapp was at Portsmouth, the club Amdy Faye then played for. For McKay, with current clients like El Hadji Diouf and Joey Barton, he’s always going to be interesting.

Willie McKay (right) at Doncaster Rovers last week.

Doncaster Rovers have hired Willie McKay on a 2-year deal in the role of ‘Transfer Consultant’; an advisory role. This is perhaps the most interesting story of the late-2011.

‘So what does that mean?’ – Basically, he is in charge of any ins and outs in the club and, with his various contacts in football, he’s got a fantastic plan up his sleeve to generate income for Doncaster. It’s a short-term plan with a long-term goal.

McKay has promised to bring in star names on short contracts, taking unwanted players from big clubs around Europe to put them in the shop window ergo selling them on to a club more befitting of their talent, and he (McKay) will get a cut of Doncaster’s profits. A relatively win-win situation: no? So far, Doncaster have signed Diouf, Chimbonda and McKay has even claimed Zinedine Zidane and Mahamadou Diarra are due to sign in January. Amazing.

So, from one club that’s fighting to keep itself competitive; to another commercially setting the tone in not only domestic, but international, sport. The brand, the PLC: Manchester United. In a previous blog, I expressed how impressed I was that they’ve secured sponsorship of their training kit via DHL – yes, training kit, for £40,000,000. That was enough money to secure the signings of Phil Jones and Ashley Young. In recent activities, Manchester United have now secured Zong as their ‘Official Pakistan Telecoms Sponsor’, their 15th worldwide communications sponsor, in stark contrast to their commercial rivals Arsenal, who have one, British giants: O2.

That’s enough commercial activity for one club, right? Wrong. Manchester United also have plans to launch a Worldwide Social Network, aiming to target, link and give content to their estimated 500 million fans. Man United are positively exploiting their global brand – another business lesson for the competition.

So to my next point, and I’ve been thinking this for a while so I just wanted to get my thoughts immortalised into the black-ink of the internet so when it happens I look like a genius;

Manchester United will ‘franchise’ a football team in the USA.

There are so many different catalysts which are pointing to it, I’m no Sherlock Holmes, but I know football – it seems a commercial and operational feasibility.

In 2003 Manchester United went on their first tour to the USA, the players were able to walk the streets of the busiest cities without as much as an autograph. Now, it’s 2011 and United sell-out the 61,500 strong Soldier Field for their pre-season clash with Chicago Fire.

Manchester United line up on their USA Tour 2011.

American businesses are pushing to be associated with Manchester United. After losing the MLS kit rights to Adidas, Nike (Man Utd’s manufacturer) are using the brand of the Red Devils and the Premier League to propel themselves as the face of the MLS game. Furthermore, American business multi-service providers ‘Aon’ spent £80 million – 4 years ago – to sponsor the United playing uniforms: with 6.5 million fans apparently based in the US. Those numbers explain why the likes of DHL, Audi, Epson and Singha are determined to pay handsomely for association with Manchester United too.

Next David Beckham has admitted this week that he is looking into the possibility of owning a MLS franchise after he finishes playing football. Given his allegiances with Manchester United, it seems a feasible ending. As for where; I could imagine them being based in Seattle (where Nike has their flagship store) or Chicago. Both cities Manchester United have utilised as a base on their US tours. Watch this space.

Next, and tying into the Manchester United universal brand and the USA Franchise Idea: Rio Ferdinand.

The twitter #movement of the England Centre-Back has propelled him to fame; his online ‘banter’ with CNN’s Piers Morgan has got him into the American eye, and he’s one of the most recognised English starts with American fans. Recently, he’s fallen out of favour with Sir Alex in favour of bleeding Phil Jones into the team, and with Chris Smalling and Evans progressing it seems he’s undoubtedly ‘over-the-hill’.

Next bold statement; He will be at Chicago Fire by 2013.

His children are 5, 3, and <1. It seems a good time to move, get them settled into the US life, increase his image and could see him becoming an international ambassador for the English game, as well as Manchester United. Right now, LA Galaxy and The New York Red Bulls are both seen as the two dominant forces in the MLS; no coincidence that these are both teams who have invested in ex-European stars. Chicago, the next most famous US City after the two already named – would love to get their hands on one themselves.

In having Ferdinand in the USA, and Beckham looking to buy a club, a Manchester United franchise is gaining momentum as a feasible idea.

The final big topic of recent times – and this a slight tedious link on from Ferdinand > Old Players getting toward the end of their top flight career – is John Terry.

The England Captain is at the centre of a police-led enquiry into alleged racism towards QPR’s defender, and Rio’s brother, Anton Ferdinand. Allow me to just offer me opinion on this, for me, in the trial-by-youtube case it does appear that Terry is saying: “You blind c***”.

However, when lip-reading, the words ‘blind’ and ‘black’ come across similarly, but Anton Ferdinand seems to be aggrieved enough to have launched a formal complaint with the Met Police and the FA.

Following the Wayne Bridge and John Terry fiasco 18months back, I think the FA have had it in for Terry. At the end of the day, the playb0y actions of the Chelsea Skipper put the sport, the reputation of the English game, and the name of football players to embarrassment. Because of this, I think the FA are going to use this Race-Row as an excuse to completely throw the book at him.

John Terry and Anton Ferdinand exchange words.

8-15 game ban; something really serious. I think you’re going to feel half of it for the crime of racism, and half of it for the FA to well-and-truly get him back for the Bridge-gate.

How on earth do you wrap up such monstrosity of a blog-post? I’m not really sure, but I would really love to hear your views on anything I’ve spoke about. So tweet me or comment below.

This was very fun to write, by the way.

Over and out.


Arsène Wenger, 15 years on. Has the bubble burst?

Firstly, I really didn’t want to write this. I tweeted on a few occasions completely ruling myself out of making a Wenger critic article, but there comes a point where there’s an element of hypocrisy to blog on the failings of other clubs, yet casually avoid your own.  Secondly; This is a long one, but bare with it – It’ll put some light on a generation of football.

“When I think of Arsène Wenger, I think of Warren Buffett. Wenger runs his football club like he is going to own the club for 100 years.”
Billy Beane, 2010.

At 15th in the table, P7 W2 D1 L3. Arsenal have made their worst start to a season in 58 years. The fans are in dismay, the players look shaken, the injury list is growing, and their rivals are pulling away at a rate of knots.

Rewind.

Let’s start this from the beginning. It’s 1996 and Arsenal, and then-CEO David Dein, have just appointed a geeky, quirky, funny looking Frenchman. Armed with a masters degree in economics, a modest playing career and a decent record with Monaco/Nagoya Grampus Eight. It was a controversial appointment to say the least.

Arsène Wenger in 1996, aged 47.

20 months later and Mr Wenger is sitting pretty with an Fa Cup and Premier League title to his name – the first foreign manager to ever achieve ‘the double’. Suddenly the penny dropped, this was a man who’s breath of fresh air had shaken the football world. The attention was being directed to a brand of football, a culture of pass and move. The Evening Standard, who had headlined with “Arsène Who?!” 2 years ago, were looking very sheepish.

Fast forward again, to the famous unparalleled 2003-2004 campaign. ‘The Invincibles’. Arsène Wenger has navigated his side to an unbeaten season, with an all-time unbeaten record of 49 games. He could do no wrong. He had the balance between purchasing established quality players, and developing young players through the system to play the ‘Arsenal Way’. His back four were stubborn. He had a solid 4-4-2 in place which was frustrating to break down and devastating on the break. The giants in Europe were scared. No-one wanted to play The Arsenal.

Following that, the come-down was inevitable, even the most heartened Gooner didn’t expect another invincibles season, but the manner in which the 49-long run was ended has always left a feeling of injustice around the club. An FA Cup victory in 2005 to Manchester United sweetened the pain. Club captain Patrick Vieira left the club and Gilberto Silva filled the boots. Adequately, I must add. The FA Cup win 6 years ago is the last trophy Arsenal Football Club won.

What has happened to a team which promised so much?

Next stop, January 2011, every year getting more frustrating than the last. David Dein, the Chairman, the personal and professional friend of Wenger left the club in 2006 following disputes over the move away from the 93 year old, 38,000 capacity Highbury Stadium, across the road to the new state-of-the-art Emirates Stadium. Arsenal’s pass-and-move philosophy remains, the big name players – to an extent, remain. There is slightly more focus on buying talented youngsters and developing them into the players of tomorrow, as opposed to the balance which was in use during the 2001-2005 era. It’s a long-term plan. Fans are patient, at times too patient, but in January Arsenal find themselves the only English club in all 4 competitions, 2nd in the league with a game in hand, with a strong team, players bought as youth in 2007/8 are now showing the promise to be stars. All is going to plan, bar the long-term injury of  central defender Vermaelen, and the insufficient cover on the wings.

To me, Mid-January 2011 is where Arsène Wenger makes his first big mistake. At a time where we have serious chances of an epic season, he needs to strengthen, and get depth. Every manager from Barcelona to Barnet will tell you that teams statistically suffer more injuries in the second half of the season. Wenger does not add to his side.

With the same 25 man squad, Arsenal enter February. A promising month, with a Carling Cup Semi Final, a string of winnable Premier League games, and mouth-watering clash with Barcelona in the Champions League bridging what became the Carling Cup final.

A thrilling win against Barcelona comes first, before they are dragged back down to earth by the turning point in The Gunners season.
Arsenal 1 – 0 Stoke City.
A nervous win against a gritty Potters side, but the tackling of Pulis’s men enrages Arsène Wenger. Winger Theo Walcott, and Captain Cesc Fabregas suffer injuries as a result of strong tackles and are added to the 4 long injury list ahead of the Carling Cup final.

Arsenal 1 – 2 Birmingham City. Carling Cup Final, Feb 27th 2011.

Birmingham players celebrate their winner.

Calamity. Disaster. Embarrassing. The victors went on to be relegated. This was the first showing of cracks in Arsène Wenger’s new 4-2-3-1 formation, as the structure of that team was based around the creativity of the injured Cesc Fabregas, the team went to Wembley and played without a spark. He should have played 4-4-2. This formation is a central-theme to Arsenal’s current demise.

From that game, Arsenal went from worse to worse. Cheated out of the Champions League 3 days later. From 4 trophies to 2 trophies in no time. 2 weeks later, FA Cup quarter-final; Arsenal, and I, travel to Old Trafford to see Sir Alex play 7 defenders against the best strength Arsenal side available. And Manchester United run out 2-0 winners.

This run grew to 2 wins in 17 games. Which brings me to this season.

We’re finally in season 2011/2012. Things have only gotten worse. 9 players, 7 first team all feature in what can only be described as a mass exodus over the summer. Arsenal sign 1 player of stature during before August. They lose their own pre-season tournament to the New York Red Bulls, and enter the first game of the Premier League season with a significantly weakened and demoralised team.
1-1 draw against Newcastle (Gervinho s/o). 

From then, Arsenal games went like so;

Udinese (h) 1-0 win. (Pat Rice Manager – Wenger banned).
Liverpool (h) 0-2 loss. (Frimpong s/o).
Udinese (a) 1-2 win. (Szczesny saves penalty – huge moment).
Manchester Utd (a) 8-2 loss. (one of the biggest defeats in AFC history – Jenkinson s/o)

Post the 8-2 demolition at Old Trafford, Wenger finally enters the transfer window with 5 days remaining – building more pressure on himself with “panic buy” allegations.

To highlight Wenger’s big mistake number 2: A quick list of comparison is needed; Transfer dealings, 2011.

Sir Alex Ferguson; Evaluates his team, highlights positions which need strengthening, highlights and dispenses ‘dead-weight’ in the side. Recalls young players from their loan spells at other clubs. Purchases, at all costs, the players he believes will strengthen his side. Allows them to gel over pre-season USA tour, returning to win the Community Shield, and score 18 goals in first 4 league games. Clicked.

Arsène Wenger; Evaluates his team, promises fans he won’t sell big players unless it’s for a fair offer. Loses Clichy, Eboue. Next, Cesc Fabregas leaves for half his value (£28m), then Barcelona slap a 200M euro buy out clause on him. Slap in the face. Arsène Wenger then highlights Blackburn’s Phil Jones as a target, but only offers £8 million for him. Sir Alex Ferguson then realises Arsène has just essentially scouted a talented player, and buys him for double that. Ashley Young, a massive Arsenal fan, let’s Arsenal know his availability via his agent, and is willing to take a wage-cut to join his boyhood heroes. Arsenal spend 12M signing Alex Oxlaide-Chamberlain, 18 years old. Manchester United sign Ashley Young (who scores twice in the 8-2 mauling). Wenger offers £16M for Juan Mata, Valencia reject the low offer, Chelsea pick him up for £22m – He’s scoring for fun now. Penny pinching has lost Arsenal 3 players, now. Nasri leaves for Manchester City. Wenger buys 4 players in last 3 days. The season has already started poorly, now the side find themselves trying to gel, whilst picking themselves up from humiliating defeats and looking up at the 3 promoted teams above them in the table.

The comparison to Manchester United is the most fair. Given they operate financially in the same league as The Gunners, they should be the main compeition. Their structure is the most similar when it comes to raising capital for expenditure.

This one is a long one isn’t it?

Meanwhile, to thank Arsenal fans for their continued support. Arsenal FC up their – already highest in the UK, 2nd highest in Europe – ticket prices by 6%. 1% for every year the Arsenal fans have had nothing to shout about. Average ticket price is now around £55. Not to mention the now inflated price of travelling around the City of London. Fans are growing impatient.

Arsène Wenger continues with the 4-2-3-1 formation, yes, the one built around Cesc Fabregas, remember? Who’s currently one-thousand miles away in sunny Spain. But place new-boy Mikel Arteta in his role, though sometimes Aaron Ramsey, sometimes Benayoun, but what about when Wilshere’s back? No-one really knows. They face their next 2 games;

Swansea (h) 1-0. win. (Edgy affair, a very lucky goal).
Dortmund (a) 1-1. (Pat Rice manager – Brilliant performance).

And continue the 4-2-3-1 into Ewood Park. The 2nd biggest humiliation of Arsenal’s season.
Blackburn (a) 4-3 loss. (Blackburn are no longer bottom of the table)

Following that, a minor rebuff of 3 wins;
Shrewbury (h) 3-1. win. (Carling Cup – Youth Team out).
Bolton (h) 3-0. win. (Poor first half, red card for BW. Game changed).
Olympiakos (h) 2-1 win. (Pat Rice manager).

Wenger and Redknapp exchange words.

Before the biggest test of Arsenal ‘new beginning’;
Tottenham (a) 2-1 loss. (Arsenal now 5 points + 1 game behind Spurs).

Wenger’s policy of buying youth is simply not working if he cannot retain them, so many fans argue this point. Even Wenger himself was quoted saying;

“We do not buy superstars, we make them.”

Where are they now?

Samir Nasri, 24 – Manchester City.
Cesc Fabregas, 24 – Barcelona.
Emmanuel Adebayor, 27 – Tottenham (of all places!!).
Mathieu Flamini, 27 – AC Milan.
Eduardo Silva, 28 – Shaktar Donetsk.
Jose Antonio Reyes, 28 – Athletico Madrid.
Gael Clichy, 26 – Manchester City.
Emmanuel Eboue, 28 – Galatasary.
Ashley Cole, 30 – Chelsea.
Alexander Hleb, 30 – Barca (loan Wolfsberg)

That’s only a few!

Arsenal are putting up with their ‘developing’ years, all the mistakes etc, but are not getting the rewards of the finished article, other sides are. Essentially just realising an army of ex-players with a point to prove who ear-mark netting against them; Bentley, Pennant, etc.

Furthermore, and an extension of the point of buying youth; Arsenal, in this season, are now finding themselves missing Jack Wilshere, who’s just 19. Granted he’s a talented 19 year old but how are: Szczesny/Ramsey/Walcott/Wilshere/Gibbs being viewed as senior players? In what world is that fair on them? Not to mention giving youth like Coquelin premier league debuts at Old Trafford and White Hart Lane. If you go into a match without experience in your side, or the right balance of experience with youth, then of course you are going to lose.

Wenger, shadowed by the Arsenal faithful.

Following that, there’s Van Persie’s constant quotes saying he is not an ‘out-and-out striker’ and that he prefers to play with a more rounded forward, not alone up front. Yet Wenger continues to play the 4-2-3-1 formation which is currently suiting no-one.

He had to buy someone like Karim Benzema in July. If he had, Nasri would have stayed. I’m 100% sure of that. He could have switched to 4-4-2. And players like Frimpong/AO-C/Gibbs would be out on loan, perfecting their game. Not learning their game through mistakes.

In life, and in sport, if it’s not working, revert to the last system which did. 4-4-2. (coincidentally, with a Dutch trickster, and a Frenchman up front). Arsenal are the 3rd biggest economy in football, one of the highest revenues, yet this summer Arsenal made more money from sales of players, than they spent on players. Which means the ‘transfer kitty’ he originally had available was not touched.

Tottenham have had the better of it recently, I’ll admit that. They kept their best player, and why? ’cause he was under contract. If Ivan Gazidis had half the qualities Daniel Levy possesses then Cesc Fabregas would still be wearing the armband, or we’d have gotten double from a club who one week announced they had no money, then landed Alexis Sanchez for 31.5M euros. Arsenal were taken for a ride. Now Spurs have just fired us out of reach of a European spot most fans are taking for granted. How did that work out for Liverpool?

Brian Clough, the legend that he is, had a fantastic spell with Nottingham Forest, but ultimately, his legacy was the reason he was not dismissed following his poor run of results in 1993. I’m not suggesting for a second that Arsenal will be relegated. But currently this team will be lucky to finish 10th. And that hurts to write.

My final points, and it will be the response to the first 2 questions of every one of your lips/fingertips;

“Yes, it’s right for the team, but perhaps wrong for the club.  Arsenal could lose a few players who see him as a father figure; Song, Diaby, RVP etc. but unless he realises 4-2-3-1 doesn’t work, he has until January for Arsenal to be at least 5th. Unfortunately, it’s all uphill, he’s lost the media, which is piling the pressure on them. Players don’t like that.”

And then the second question;

“Jurgen Klopp” 

Lastly, have any of you ever seen the film; ‘Lucky Number Slevin’? There’s a good quote by ‘The Rabbi’ which to me sums up Arsène Wenger;

I’ll let you decipher from that what you will.

Over and out.


Blatter’s ignorance to a plea of help. The referee’s paradox.

So, we have a week off from the ups and downs of the Premier League, but the joys of being a football fan does not stop there, oh no.

It’s the turn of the Welsh and the Scots this week to bemoan the poor officiating which has cost their side dearly in the international break; Wales, playing at Wembley, trailing 1-0, see Aaron Ramsey play a pass his old captain would have been proud of,  to the sprinting Gareth Bale, the Tottenham winger controls the ball and is ‘1 on 1’, only to be flagged offside, wrongly. What could have been. Mind, Rob Earnshaw had a chance to make amends had he not blazed a complete sitter.

3 days previous, at Hampden Park, Scotland suffer in the ‘tale of two penalties’. At 2-1 to the hosts, Czech striker Jezek dives under the presence of Wilson and is awarded a penalty, converted by Kadlec. 2-2. Then 50 seconds later, Christophe Berra has his ankles taken and nothing is given. A very costly draw for the Tartan Army’s chances of Euro2012 qualification.

So the argument was re-ignited; do referee’s need help?

I think the world of football is crying out for it.

Hawk-Eye, used in Tennis to determine boundary decisions.

Sport as a whole has always been surrounded by an aura of controversy, but with the development of technologies in the social and media universe, other sports have developed with the advancements; ensuring whilst the referee has final say, he is in a position to use the media to review the incident. Rugby uses the video-ref, tennis has hawk-eye, in American Football you “go upstairs”, and any race, be it horses/cars/humans there is photo-finish and in-race conduct being monitored.

Football is being left in the dark ages, held by the stubborn-ness of a Swiss dictator refusing to budge over the pressing issues. These decisions are literally re-writing history; Spain, won their first World Cup in 2010, however, in the Semi-Final vs Germany, Germany should have been awarded one penalty, and could easily have had a second. Costly in a game finishing 1-0. Furthermore, in the final, Dutch winger Robben had broken free of the Spanish defence only to be pulled back by Puyol as he attempted to shoot, could have been a game-changing red card in extra time.

The cynics will argue that it takes power away from the referees; but I feel it empowers them to officiate in a fair and proper manner. Referee’s will still be able to put their personalities onto a match; the leniency of Webb, the pro-penalty-giving nature of Dean. But the integrity of the sport will remain, and the ‘buck’ will ultimately stop with the referee. Under current rules, referee’s are being blamed for incidents in which they really cannot be expected to know for sure.

Frank Lampard’s shot clearly crosses the line, but officials didn’t spot it.

Take Germany vs England, for example. Whilst the Lampard phantom goal was blatantly obvious for us to see at home, one must consider; we had an elevated angle, we also had the benefit of a replay for clarification; it would take the 4th official a matter of seconds to confirm the correction to the ‘1st official’ and the goal would have stood. As it stands now the referee’s are so bound by dated rules that they can’t even use the replays on the stadium monitors to be sure, regardless if the fans can see an injustice: (Argentina v Mexico, WC2010, Arsenal v Everton BPL 2011).

Sepp Blatter: “The International Football Association Board is of the opinion that football will remain, for the time being, a game for human beings with errors on the field of play. We will try to improve referees but you will never erase errors completely.” – A categorical ‘no’ to the thought of video replays.

If it were up to me, I’d have a system which incorporated both the Tennis and Rugby practises. And here’s what and why;

Mr Blatter argues that video replays would make the game inconsistent, and the stop-start nature of the game would deter fans. My first argument is; football is already more stop start than everyone realises, with every corner/throw/goal kick etc taking an extra 15/20 seconds. Last season, the average ‘game-time’ of teams, i.e., the time that the ball was actually on the field and in motion, was around 75mins. With the lowest team being Stoke City FC. Averaging around 68mins per match. I think Rory Delap can have 5/6 of those minutes himself. My 2nd argument, and my solution, is; 3 unsuccessful challenges per side. The same as used in tennis. Assuming all challenges are used, at an average of 30 seconds for the 4th official to confirm/deny, that would only add 3 minutes to a game. Which is hardly an inconvenience for the sake of a fair result.

Sepp Blatter, President of FIFA.

Next, Mr Blatter wants to avoid scenes of players crowding the referees for every tedious decision. My solution to that would be taking a spin on the Rugby system of communication with officials; Only the captain/manager can request use of a challenge. Additionally, the sinned/sinned against player can too, in events of penalties/red cards etc, but captain must be present on field.

Enforcement of these rule changes would take the controversy out of the game, which would apportion the blame inexcusably onto the referees. Which would bring me to my final suggestion on the matter;

This is perhaps the only time in my life I may do so, but I agree with Tony Pulis;

Pulis told BBC Radio 5 live: “Every club should have one vote [annually] and mark referees after every game. Then they have a chance of being relegated to the Championship. It would be a great system.”,

He went on; 

“If the top three [referees] in the Championship got the opportunity to work at the top level, I think it would certainly clear a few referees’ minds.”

What. A. Brilliant. Idea.

….But…..with a few tweaks; whilst rating referee’s will be averaged I think it needs to be weighted; i.e. 25%, home manager, 25% away manager. 50% by the match assessor. That would counter the ever-moaning managers; Wenger, Ferguson, Pardew. And also protect the opinions of certain managers who never seem to complain too much; O’Neill, Bruce, Martinez.

Additionally, I completely disagree with the small pool of referees in the Barclays Premier League. In my opinion, this causes familiarity; which is detrimental to the chances of a fair referee. For example, how many times have you heard the phrase “he’s not that type of player”?

My point being, if Joey Barton makes a late tackle, all of a sudden all his previous misdemeanours are poured onto him and a collaborated decision is given. On the other hand, Theo Walcott, a player with only 2 yellow cards to his name in his Arsenal career, if he makes the same tackle… Are you trying to tell me that you’d give the same decision? I doubt it.

Furthermore, players and referees begin the get friendly, an unhealthy relationship to be had when a game is worth as much as it is. Notably, and perhaps only known by Everton fans, Mark Clattenburg is banned from officiating Toffee’s games after this incident;

Notice how Clattenburg takes a yellow card out of his pocket, then following an exchange of words with the Liverpool skipper, he changes Hibbert’s punishment to a red card. Worrying.

There are 18 referees with Premier League status, or to give it the proper name, 18 are full-time members of the ‘select group’, appointed by Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL). With Jon Moss and Neil Swarbrick sharing a part-time status after both officiating 2 PL games each last term. This means, that there is on average less than 1 full time referee per team, from that, in 2010/2011 it varied from Phil Dowd refereeing 30 games, and Anthony Taylor officiating 13. Moreover, and I hope you’re keeping up!, ‘high profile games’, between top 6 sides, bottom 3 sides, or derby games, go to the referee’s said to be the best; Dean, Webb, Dowd, Atkinson, Foy, Walton. Which can only mean familiarity for the top sides. Which is leading to fans accusations/predictions, and pre-emptive conclusions of ‘the unfairness to come’, all before some games have even started; I.e. Mike Riley had given Man Utd 8 penalties in 8 games at Old Trafford, Webb has given Man Utd 3 penalties in 6 games vs Arsenal, Atkinson is said to bias toward Chelsea, 13 games unbeaten under him. And Webb is said to always lean toward the home side. Meanwhile Dowd has a habit of placing himself at the centre of controversial results, comebacks, game-changing moments, etc.

Phil Dowd dismisses Chelsea skipper John Terry.

The thing is, the more help referees can get, to enforce the laws of the game, the easier the whole process becomes. A referral system gives the referees a chance to make a confident decision, and it takes away the curtain if the decision is wrong. Therefore it makes the individual accountable, which will lead to punishment, which will mean the referees that are the best, are officiating at the highest level. It’s a conclusion that everyone wants.

I am 100% Blatter and Platini; Out. They are corrupt, elitist and racist (in their constant ignoring of the monkey chants at Camp Nou, yet chasing trivial issues).

Whatever happens in the future – and, who knows, football might end up embracing technology as other sports have done – criticism of referees is unlikely to subside completely, but at least football will be rid of the blatant injustice which is currently crippling the sport.

Over and out.


Leg Breaks; Dirty or Mistimed?

I’m going to begin this blog piece by sending out my best wishes to Chung-Yong Lee of Bolton Wanderers FC, on 30/07/2011 he suffered a double-leg break (tib and fib, not both legs) in a pre-season friendly vs non-league Newport County, after a reckless tackle by Tom Miller. Lee will be out for around 9 months, but as many Arsenal fans know, with the case of Eduardo, in some examples the individuals may struggle to find form again.

So here we go;  Tackles. Are footballers under-protected or are safety conscious viewers attempting to remove physicality from the beautiful game?

I must add, and this is a key point from myself. I do have an element of hypocrisy in this blog post, given I’m a proud Rangers AND Arsenal supporter, it would seem ludicrous that I support crunching tackles in Old Firm encounters, yet slate wild attempts to injure Arsenal players, perhaps there’s no continuity in football. I’ll try to maintain an element of neutrality, but I’m not promising anything.

Scenario; ‘a player is coming towards you with the ball, he’s quicker than you, he’s technically superior to you, and you’re a CB who’s found himself out of position beyond the half-way line, you swing a boot in a scythe-like motion, completely missing the ball and leaving your young opponent lying on a heap in the floor, with his leg and ankle shattered.’ Ouch. If your mind is struggling to invisage this, check the inbedded video, below. The victim of this ‘tackle’ is sidelined for the next 9 months, in some cases – longer. The attacker serves a 3 match ban and then is available for the remainder of the campaign. How does this sit with your moral  conscience Mr/Mrs.Reader?

Okay, that’s my dig at Ryan Shawcross out the way.

In my opinion, cases like this should see the player who breaks his leg, be suspended for the time it takes the victim to recover. So; 9 months.

It seems harsh, but is there any other way to stomp it out?  – excuse the pun.

Let’s dive deeper; my only issue with my initial punishment is that where do you confuse recklessness with lack of skill. Many have argued that Shawcross’s attempt was a 50:50 and that to alter the rules, thus removing the physical edge, would turn the game into a non-contact sport? Or, in this case, alter the rules to suit Arsenal’s style of play? I think it’s fairly common knowledge for English Premier League supporters that; “To beat Arsenal, you kick them off the park”, – except Manchester United, who just absorb and counter – but kicking them off the park can lead to injuries. And with Diaby/Eduardo and Ramsey all suffering leg-breaks in the last 7 years many Gunners’ fans are beginning to worry at the tactic’s instructed which may lead to this. – Let me back up this point with a good example;

…You all remember being 14/15 years old, you’re playing for your local or school football team and the coach tells you; “First tackle you make, make it a hard one! Make sure they know they’re in a game!”. Well, I happen to think that’s very similar instructions to what some <8th place sides get when they face Arsenal. Of course I’m not suggesting they’re encouraged to attempt to injure, but surely if you’re encouraging hard, crunching tackles, then injuries to your opponents are a potential by-product.

Holden and Evans contest a ’50:50′

Further more to this point, since the take-over of Owen Coyle at Bolton Wanderers, many bloggers and media alike have noted the style of play exhibited at the Reebok, and have commented on their new-found notions of passing, moving and playing a better game. Their style of play has become a far cry greater than the Allardyce days and I believe Europa League is not outwith their abilities should they secure a few more signings. So, and I think you know where I’m going with this, since Christmas, Bolton have had 2 leg breaks, the fantastic and highly rated Stuart Holden, and now Chung-Yong  Lee. Is this a coincidence?  Perhaps not.

Though I do find the irony in Trotters fans tweeting in out-cry at the same reckless tackles they were happy to cheer on during Allardyce’s tenure.

There currently is a panel, set up by the FA, to look at red card incidents and decide on if these are worthy of an extension to the 3 match ban imposed automatically. – Most notably in the case of Ben Thatcher vs Pedro Mendes. However, this is the same panel who happened to deem Wayne Rooney’s elbow on James McCarthy as okay.

Which brings me nicely on to the topic of this blog entry’s title. How do you distinguish between dirty and mistimed?  

Nolan challenges Victor Anichibe of Everton, leaving the Toffee’s man out for months.

The fact of the matter is, it’s difficult to. Every coach and team-mate will claim “he’s not that type of player”, and I’m sure he’s not malicious at all off the field, in fact… I’ve been told Mike Tyson is one of the nicest people I could ever meet, still doesn’t alter his sporting personality. Dirty tackles are an everyday occurrence, so I would say that the only way to distinguish between tackles and punishments is the severity of the out-come caused, and a harsher view upon this by the governing panels in situ. Cause at the end of the day, the intent behind this (Wayne Rooney vs Portsmouth) and this (Karacan vs Liverpool) is the exact same, it’s merely the contact, and the effect is what should determine the punishment. Similar to driving a car, if you are speeding; 3 points. If you speed into a residential area and kill someone, slightly more than 3 points. Similar system…..ish.

So I guess the jury is out, this blog piece has been a build up of entirely my own opinions, but it doesn’t necessarily make it right or wrong. I guess this is one of the few times where, in my eyes, the responses I get are just as valuable as the original piece.

Get voting on the poll, give a good overview without needing to read through everyone’s comments!

Follow me on twitter, link below, and if you guys have your own blogs please let me know so I can check them out and hopefully add them to my ‘recommended read’ section!

Over and out.


The loan market, un-cut diamonds ready to add value.

Pre-season, and the transfer embargo’s of many clubs are already drawing to conclusions. In my opinion, smarter clubs like Manchester United are the one’s who get their dealings done early, Young, Jones, De Gea all in for around £60M but the USA Tour has given them an opportunity to bond and integrate themselves into the side.

Liverpool and Sunderland have also seen some wholesale changes, Newcastle finally addressed their STR issue in plenty of time and the wheels on the Aston Villa wagon are finally beginning to turn.  

However, teams throwing money around is not always where the real gems can be unearthed. For this, we have to look at the shrewd skill needed to navigate the loan market. And where better to turn than to the Principle of the ‘grandest finishing school in football’ – Bolton Wanderers FC’s; Owen Coyle.

2009/2010 season, Jack Wilshere leaves a boy, and comes back a man – now he’s one of his countries best talents and looking a contender for the Arsenal arm-band one day.

2010/2011 season, Daniel Sturridge is out of favour at Chelsea, who over-look his abilities in favour of a £50M star-buy. An impressive run of 8 goals in 12 games has seen him return to Stamford Bridge as a real threat to the established front force and I see Drogba’s future looking bleak as Torres will be expected to fulfil his price tag and Anelka was, in my opinion, their only stand-out player during their poor Winter 2010-2011.

Additionally, Kyle Walker of Tottenham and Manchester United’s Danny Welbeck all gained plaudits by effective loan spells in the Premier League.

So who next? In my opinion, Owen Coyle’s brand of football makes for an attacking option to be the most likely, STR’s are needed, as is width, so if I was the manager of one of the big clubs (Man Utd, Man City, Chelsea, Arsenal) I’d be building a relationship with O.C. and hoping to turn potential into value. “I always felt it would be a win, win, win situation in both cases,” says Coyle, players are able to get that much-needed match time, when they’re not quite sharp enough to challenge at their respective clubs, and the club who receive the player are able to bolster their options and nurture young talent.

Here’s a list of my; “loans to look out for” from the bigger sides;

1) Henri Lansbury; Gunners utility midfield man, can play anywhere across the 4, though personally, I’d play him on his least favoured LM. His timing of runs into the box means he could prove an effective goal-scorer though his crossing would need to improve to fulfil that role. In other news, he kept a German u’20 side at bay from GK after a pen (conceded) and RC for the starting GK Jason Steele, and already has himself a trademark celebration, doing; ‘the dougie’ at Elland Road after scoring for the Canaries. I think it’s time he was at a Premier League side.
I’d suggest; Bolton, Wigan, WBA. 
Compare him to; Freddie Ljunberg.

2) Josh McEachran; I’ll put his weaknesses aside first, he’s a bit weak and he’s still very young, 18. However, once you get past this, he’s a very composed, and an incredibly clever central midfielder. He has an incredible first touch for his experience levels, and finds himself space similar to the style in which Luka Modric does – presumably both players are conscious of their physical limitations so utilise technical skills. He also has a key eye for a through ball, and knows how to weigh a pass better than some of his team-mates. I’d say, the PL may be a step too much at this point, but playing in a Championship CM along side a strong holding midfielder, or a midfield 3, could be his best option;
I’d suggest; Portsmouth, Southampton, Peterborough, Brighton being his best options.
Compare him to; Luka Modric.  

3) Federico Macheda; Struggled to live up to expectations after his heroics in 2009 vs Aston Villa, but he did show promise of what he can be. He’s strong and powerful, he’s a player who is comfortable with his back to goal – a trait he stands alone with compared to other Manchester United strikers. I feel he would play best in a formation which incorporated an attacking midfielder, but I feel he needs a strike partner too. His loan spell out at Sampdoria proved ineffective, however I don’t believe they really got the best out of him, nor did they invest enough time in him as a player. In order for Manchester United to effectively cash-in on his potential, an English PL club would need to take him on.
I’d suggest; Newcastle United, QPR, Sunderland.
Compare him to; Francesco Totti.

4) Vladimir Wiess; intelligent, quick, strong, and is able to ride a tackle. Perhaps more importantly, he is a ‘big game player’ – He was effective during the World Cup for Slovakia and tormented Celtic in Old Firm games, his imagination and clinical nature created Nikita Jelavic’s winner in the League Cup final in March 2011. He’s a natural winger, but due to his work rate he makes an effective LM too. In Jan 2010 he had a rather poor loan spell at Bolton, but largely used as a substitute and without the ability to gain momentum. Personally, I’d love to see him return to Rangers but his ambitions and ability are far above the SPL. A loan spell could be effective to advertise his skills to other PL clubs, given Man City’s buying policy it’s unlikely he has a future at The Etihad Stadium.
I’d suggest; Leeds, Swansea, Newcastle, Leicester, West Ham.
Compare to; Aidan McGeady – without the needless step-overs.

5) Danny Wilson; I’ve been vocal of Liverpool’s spending policies in the past, and I think Danny Wilson is just another example of how they have a habit of wrecklessly spending, and over-paying for talent, which leads to expectation, and at such a young age, often can lead to failure. The simple matter is, they bought Wilson aged 18, and should have loaned him back to Rangers until he was 20, in order to let him fulfil his potential and gain experience. Instead, they’ve sat him on the bench, behind the likes of  Sotirios Kyrgiakos, and his growth has suffered. He’s a technical footballer, who doesn’t dive in and uses his physical strength to dispossess attackers. At the same time, he has a gritty side to him when needed, and really can assert himself when he needs to in derby games or when playing in big matches. If it weren’t for Ryan Shawcross’s inability to time a 50:50 without attempting to end the career of his opponent, I would compare the two, as their playing styles are very similar. His real value is around £4M in my opinion, but given the right coaching he could go on to great things.
I’d suggest; Blackburn, Wolves, QPR, Sunderland, Rangers.
Compare him to; Alan Hansen.

So there we go! Keep an eye out on those players and while I’m giving out advice, check out Genoa’s youngster Alexander Merkel, I’m a massive fan. Additionally Borussia Dortmund’s Mario Götze is another fabulous player that this season’s Champions League will give us a chance to view.

Let me know what you all think, or alternatively, and perhaps preferred, tweet me your opinions or any ideas to what you’d like to see written about in the future.

Over and out.


Transfer Season – Pt IV. It all ends.

Writing this 4 part transfer saga has been the bane of my life. At the beginning it seemed a good idea, and a good chance to get a detailed prediction on all things Premier League. In reality, you find yourself reluctant to write about other topics due to having not finished the series. Additionally, by July certain teams are very transfer active so have already beaten you to players – believe me, Norwich City had battered by blog notes by week 3. Demoralising.

Before I begin, allow me to give a  massive thank you, a shout-out and a twitter direct to; Ian Mitton and Joe Liquorish, whose knowledge in the fields of Norwich City and QPR made this possible – I just hope they’re not offended with my conclusions.

So here we go, Wigan Athletic, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Queens Park Rangers, Norwich City and Swansea City. The three promoted sides are among the favourites to go down, and with all due respect to their achievements last year, I believe this is a season where we’ll see a points tally to rival Derby County’s record in 07/08, and it will be set by one of the newly promoted sides. I think Wolverhampton will be clear with ease, replaced with Blackburn in the dog-fight, and Wigan will once again scrap it out in a 3/5 battle for the drop.

Wigan Athletic; (last season, 16th)
Transfers already made; In; Ali Al-Habsi (GK), Out; Steven Caldwell (CB).
Remaining budget; £10M – Sell to buy.
Positions to strengthen; STR, CB, AM.
Latics fans surely cannot have any fingernails left, every season they’ve flirted with the drop – yet when it matters they can pull it out the bag. Once again I can see them being involved in the relegation battle. Whelan is a fantastic Chairman, he is the ‘Carlsberg don’t do, but if they did…’ of Chairman, but what he desperately needs is finance. Wigan have the lowest attendances in the 3 year PL clubs and I can’t remember the last time I witnessed the DW a sell out – excluding the town’s pride; rugby.  This isn’t just a side-swipe at the lack of support, I’m saying this from a financial point of view. Sponsors won’t come in to a club who can’t even get their own fans through the gates, and every season ticket sold increases DW/RM’s ability to bring it top players. Their scouting network is keeping them afloat, and that is top class.
So here’s what’s needed, a good out-and-out CF, I think a Championship raid is needed. I was very surprised they weren’t more assertive in their quest for Craig Mackail-Smith, DJ Campbell is an option but with him they would need a link up man, Hooper at Celtic may want to avoid another season playing second fiddle to their stronger Old Firm counterparts while they have been heavily linked with Getafe’s Coulunga. I think Wigan will end up bringing in another South American starlet, they rumour mill has been quiet which makes me think their eyes are on the Copa America. Charles N’Zogbia may leave but this could be a blessing in disguise, funds would be re-invested to give a more rounded strength to the Latics. CB’s are needed because it is the weak-link in this side, when Wigan play; Dr. Jekyll is lovely to watch but by god Mr. Hyde is laughable. 
If I was Roberto Martinez, I would sign; Coulunga, but quickly before someone else spots him. Liam Ridgewell/Matthew Upson perhaps, but I think the wage bill could be too high. Cathcart is a possibility, he was the best of a bad bunch in the Blackpool defence but perhaps has more to offer.

Wolverhampton Wanderers; (last season, 17th)
Transfers already made; In; Jamie O’Hara (CM), Doris De Vries (GK).
Remaining budget; £13-17M
Positions to strengthen; The whole back line. CM’s.
Wolverhampton fall into that category which I put West Ham in last season. They were literally too good to be in the position they were. Injuries blightened them but I can’t help but think the problem is McCarthy, he strikes me as being a manager who’s not necessarily that good at gel-ing players and getting the best from them, that aside, I think they’ll confidently finish around 11-14th. I like them, I like their midfield, though could be strengthened, and I think they’ve got a good arsenal of attacking options. The GK is fairly solid too. Defensively they’re strong and powerful, but technically not as strong as present in other sides.
Reports are coming out that Jonny Evans and Paul Konchesky are being lined up, would be two good additions. Craig Bellamy and Robbie Keane could both be available, but it must be said it would be a big out-lay for a side who have good options in attacking roles. Liverpool are set to have an exodus of their 14 CM’s to a more manageable number, I’m sure McCarthy has kept his eye on the more affordable options. For strength in midfield I would love to see Wolves, and their fans, take a look at Celtic’s Beram Kayal. I’m a Rangers fan, so I’m saying this once and once only, he’s brilliant. Celtic’s best CM since Stan Petrov.
If I was Mick McCarthy, I would sign;  Evans and Konchesky, take a look at Owen Hargreaves on a pay-as-you-play basis, and why not Jonathon Woodgate on the same basis. Lee Bowyer could bring muscle and experience, but technically there’s better players. Finally, though this isn’t a signing, Nenad Milijas is so much better than his form has suggested, get the best out of him!

Queens Park Rangers; (last season, Championship 1st)
Transfers already made; Nil, none significant anyway.
Remaining budget; Hmmm. The jury is out. They have a lot at their disposal, but don’t seem to want to commit it to a money-pit football industry.
Positions to strengthen; LW, CM, CF, RB.
Now, QPR fans, your first fear – from what I gather – is the potential loss of AdeL Taarabt. Do not fear, he’s so massively over-rated it makes me want to cry. He dominated the Championship because largely it’s a league which players dive in, thus making them easy to beat, also, he’s fairly strong so he holds his own. He’s not stupid, if he wants to continue a career with success he’ll go to PSG and win things. But if he stayed at QPR he’d be a PL flop, players like Song/Essien/Fletcher/Lucas/Tiote etc would make him turn up to games with shoulder-pads on. Bullied.
I feel there is just a general need for some Premier League experience and some young quality, as balance of the pair. All promoted sides need a striker, they always do, but I’d put QPR as favourites for the signiture of DJ Campbell, Andy Johnson is another option. Kyle Naughton on loan would be perfect but it looks like Spurs are looking to develop him internally, Alan Hutton on a permanent basis could be feasible seeing bigger clubs appear to be over-looking his quality. Jermaine Jenas could be a good signing as he looks to stay in London for family reasons but has fallen out of favour at TH. Jamie Murphy is turning heads at Motherwell but the PL could be a jump too big. Chris Eagles is a player I really like and could fill that creative void vs bottom half clubs IF Taarabt leaves.
If I was Neil Warnock, I would sign; Hutton, Eagles, Campbell, Murphy – take a risk, he’s a quality player, Nigel Reo-Coker is a free agent too.   

Norwich City; (last season, Championship 2nd)
Transfers already made; In; James Vaughan (CF), Bradley Johnson (CM), Anthony Pilkington (Wing), Elliot Bennett (Wing). Ritchie de Laet (DEF), Steve Morison (STR).  
Remaining budget; £5-10M
Positions to strengthen; Bolster the defense, need some better quality. Perhaps natural width and GK competition.
Norwich City are my pick of the newly promoted which may just have a chance of staying up, however I feel ‘second season syndrome’ could be what catches them out. Their main advantage to the other promoted sides is that Lambert (yet another addition to the Premier League from the Glasgow School of Football Managers) got his act together early and got signings in quickly. A very structured approach to the new campaign. If I’m honest, there’s not a lot left for them to do. Just a general re-vamping. CB quality would be good, however I don’t feel they’ll find it in the Championship, and I worry that Premier League clubs could be too far from their price range. Their CB’s are okay, I think Lambert prioritised a good break-up midfielder (Johnson) to ease the pressure on the back 2. Time will tell. A loan deal for a top sides’ young CB’s could be the best option. GK’ing competition could come in the same form, a loan deal for a major sides upcoming player, alternatively Newcastle United are finding themselves with 3 GK’s of high quality in Harper, Krul & Forster – Nick one of them, give them a chance to compete 1 on 1 for the nod at Carrow Road. Finally, due to the narrow diamond midfield that Norwich play, natural width is needed, but I’m unsure where it’ll be found on budget, Wladimr Weiss could be an option and he’s got a quick and innovative mind that can unlock defenses – See Nikita Jelevic’s winner in the Co-Op Cup Final (Rangers v Celtic).
If I was Lambert, I would sign; Kyle Bartley, Tim Krul, Wladimir Weiss, and one big name at CB. Spend £4/5M on getting in a bully, who’s perhaps slightly past it but still has 2/3 seasons left at the top. If they’re to stay up they need PL experience. The only pain is that names in that department are limited as they tend to be snapped up by promotion chasing Championship sides.

Swansea City; (last season, Championship 3rd – Play off winners)
Transfers already made; Steven Caulker (FB), Danny Graham (STR).
Remaining budget; £10-13M – Most likely around £8/9M though.
Positions to strengthen; All over. Depends on how they wish to tackle the PL. Read on.
Okay, so I’ve written a blog previously expressing my dislike of the officiating which led to their play-off win, but that was largely due to my dislike of Phil Dowd as a person, and further fuelled by Dobbie’s antics. You’re in the PL now, and over the course of the season you deserve it. So let’s cast that aside and get on with this. Swansea’s season will largely depend on how Brendan Rodgers wants to approach the campaign. They can either play how they know, from the back football, passing, control and possession. However, if they do that they’re going to take some heavy defeats, slightly Blackpool-esque. The difference is the gulf in class between the top and bottom half, if they try to play ‘football’ against PL clubs, they’ll lose vs the top clubs and might beat the lower ones. It’s a risk, so would need to invest in top quality players. Alternatively they could switch to the 4-2-3-1, which is what I believe they will do. Scott Sinclair is a good striker in that position and Graham will give competition. This allows Swansea to dominate midfield and keep the ball well. The biggest hiccup to this is that they sold Darren Pratley. WHY? He’s exactly who they need, plus one more. Dyer looks promising and their defence actually looks okay for a newly promoted side. Granted they shipped 2 vs Reading but that was an open game. They need to sign CDM(s) and a new GK.
If I was Brendan Rodgers I would sign; Moreira – They look to have that all but wrapped up, CDM’s are few and far between, Lee Bowyer/Nigel Reo-Coker looks the best option but I doubt Swansea can match the wage demands. I just don’t see where they can find the top quality CDM’s. Pratley would have been ideal. Time will tell, but for sure we know they will cause a few upsets along the way.

I think Blackburn, Swansea, QPR will go down. Wigan will leave it very late (once again) and Norwich will be safe by gameweek 35.

I hope you’ve all enjoyed this. It’s been time-consuming but as my blog has passed the 40,000 mark after a mere 7 weeks I can safely assume it’s being well received. Leave comments, let me know what you think, agree/disagree or alternatively come onto my twitter and do the same.

Best of luck for the new season.

Over and out.