A tinker too far

•November 3, 2009 • 1 Comment

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Manchester United have a habit of scoring late, late goals, a habit that brings them back from the brink of redemption all too often. This uncanny knack is an innate quality of a team that is dubbed to have a never-die attitude.

United snatched a draw against Russian side CSKA Moscow which further validate United’s inveterate habit of late, vital goals. Indeed, it was Antonio Valencia’s 91st minute deflected strike that earned the Reds a place in the last 16 of the Champions League.

The point of my blog tonight is to question the motives of playing under-strength sides. Against CSKA, United gave a Champions League debut to Federico Macheda, handed a second start to Fabio da Silva and rested a number of first time regulars.

The culmination of a rookie United side resulted in what one newsreader called “play-time at Old Trafford” for the Muscovites, a clear nod to the newly born Kai Wayne Rooney. Indeed, his father Wayne Rooney cut a brooding presence on the substitute’s bench, as CSKA set about exposing a flapping United defence. The late fightback spared United’s blushes, but cannot act as a carapace for a slow-witted performance.

Now, let me firstly say that I regard Sir Alex Ferguson in somewhat heroic light, but secondly add that some of his decisions leave me scratching my head at times.

His decision to constantly change his side may be apt considering the array of talent he has at his disposal, but personally I feel it adds to create inconsistency. Ferguson, in particular, has struggled to strike upon a trusted combination in midfield this season, with a string of combinations being used. The likes of Carrick, Anderson, Fletcher, Scholes, Nani, Valencia, Park, Giggs, Obertan and Tosic have all been played at some point this season.

United’s lack of stability of presence in midfield has seen the Red Devils stuttering for form, something that continued with the raft of changes that resulted in a draw against CSKA. One of last year’s key performers, Michael Carrick has looked under-confident after being benched early in the season, and I feel sure that players like Scholes, who are in and out like yoyo must struggle for consistency, as must the team.

I guess it will always be the nature of being a football fan to not understand manager’s decisions, and let’s face it, we wouldn’t have much to yarn about if our manager’s made the decisions that we wanted all the time.

But, one thing is for sure. When superstar players like Wayne Rooney are left out sides, they will inevitably be needed at some point. So why not play them from the start, let a lead develop and then haul them off. It just makes more sense to me, but I am just a football fan, what do I know.

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Real trouble

•October 29, 2009 • 1 Comment

4_4021_Manuel_PellegriniReal Madrid’s humbling at the hands of Segunda Liga side Alcoron has Chilean coach Manuel Pelligrini under close scrutiny from the club’s success-hungry leaders.

The 4-0 nil defeat by Alcoron was bad. Indeed, what a result. This was certainly no rookie Madrid side. The likes of Raul, Karim Benzema and Xabi Alonso were ably and adroitly outperformed in a sensational David vs. Goliath contest.

The freak nature of the result may have been shocking, but for those of us who have taken a keen interest in big-spending Madrid’s season the result isn’t confounding.

Indeed, the loss at Alcoron was preceded by defeats by Sevilla and AC Milan as well as a draw against Asturias side Sporting Gijon. Put all these results together and it is clear for all to see that patience with Pelligrini will be running out quickly, but why should he take the blame for the systematic problems that never seemed to be cured.

 The opportunity to take the job at Real came out of the blue for the Chilean. Despite protestations by the Madrid overlords that he was the man to oversee their grand project, it is clear to see that the likes of Arsene Wenger and Jose Mourinho were more coveted for the position.

Pelligrini, who had performed miracles in masterminding Villarreal’s seamless transition into a regular feature in the Champions League, took over at a club that is notoriously fickle in regards to its manager’s tenure.  Indeed, Pelligrini traded in the safety and security which many years of success had created at Villarreal for the insecurity and culpability of the helmship of a maverick project at Madrid. A gamble that will fail if Madrid don’t achieve success against local rivals at the weekend, if rumours circling the Spanish media are to be believed.

Indeed, one of the rumours that has disgorged from Madrid is that Michael Laudrup has been told to avoid work to keep himself available as a replacement for Pelligrini. Blimey, you’ve got to feel sorry for the Madrid boss. Yes, he inherited a squad of unlimited attacking potential but also a squad riddled with untried combinations and a malignant tendency to concede poor quality goals.

Madrid spent like a man without arms over the summer, buying the best players in the world such as Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka. However, this has been a blessing in disguise for Madrid. The overt-spending policy has been a carapace  for their underlying frailty, a weak defence that has not been remedied. Indeed is has been exacerbated. And here is the crux of the Galaticos problem.

A host of big-summer signings cannot guarantee team success, Catalan rivals Barcelona have superb individuals, individuals who function together to create an all-singing all-dancing footballing machine. Yet, Madrid have only attained success this season through individual brilliance, namely through Ronaldo. And it is Ronaldo’s absence that has shown the fact that Madrid look confused and disjointed as a side.

Pelligrini is certain in my eyes to be sacked at some point, a reference not to his poor managerial skills, but to the unremedied problems that continue to undermine Madrid as a footballing side is as much a problem created by a misguided attacking ethos at the team set about Florentino Perez and his boardroom pals.

On the precipice

•October 20, 2009 • Leave a Comment

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Liverpool’s Champions League game versus Olympic Lyonnais marks a key defining moment in the Reds season, and wait for it, we are only in October.

Last season, Liverpool pushed United all the way in the race for the championship, only losing two games in the process. Optimism marked the start of this season for the Merseysiders, a chance to claim their first domestic league title in 19 years seemed a real possibility.

However, nine games in and Liverpool fans optimism has been smashed, replaced by a deep fear of what is happening to their beloved club. Beachball gate signalled the Anfield clubs’ fourth defeat this season leaving them seven points behind bitter rivals Manchester United, who travel to Liverpool at the weekend.

But before that, a tricky home tie to French superstars Lyon awaits. Liverpool will be without Fernando Torres as they search for the victory that will set their season back on track.

Defeat at Fiorentina augured the threat of a storm; defeat at Sunderland saw it brewing. Defeat to Lyon might see Liverpool reaping the whirlwind.

Indeed, they can be blamed for sowing the seeds of their current problems. The sale of Xabi Alonso has proven to be a terrible error on the part of Rafael Benitez. Alonso’s calming presence in the bluster of  The Premierleague has been replaced by inexperience in the form of Lucas Leiva, Jay Spearing and a whole host of untried combinations.

True, a replacement for Alonso was signed in the form of ex-Roma man Alberto Aquilain, but the Italian’s absence has pronounced Alonso’s departure instead of solving it. And it has really shown. Liverpool have looked  culpable all season and barring the brilliance of  Torres and Gerrard they could  have lost at West Ham and  Bolton.

The return of talismanic Steven Gerrard stands Liverpool in good-sted for tonight’s game. However, with United coming to town on Sunday Liverpool will need to be on best form to topple their East Lancs rivals. And they might struggle without Torres.

If they lose to United, it might not be too early to rule out the Reds for another title shot. Indeed, Liverpool are a club plagued by off-field problems, but for  once it is problems on the pitch that is  giving  Benitez  the biggest headache as he looks to solve a 19 year  itch.

Brucie Becks Ballyhoo

•October 14, 2009 • Leave a Comment

SteveBruce_597301Just a quick post in regards to Steve Bruce’s decision to choose David Beckham as England’s man of the match. A decision that Fabio Capello compared to handing Barack Obama the Nobel Peace Prize – make of that what you will, although I have to say I’m fairly non-plussed.

After the game, Beckham’s fellow teammates, Crouch and Wright-Phillips were both asked about the man of the match award. They both deflected the questions with grace and skill, in much the same way someone defends an elderly relative who speaks out of turn. The reality is that with two goals for Crouch and one for SWP they’ve got to feel miffed that Becks second-half sojourn was rated more highly. Even Beckham seemed shocked by the decision, quipping, “I don’t know who chose that”.

Anyway, back to Bruce. Decent manager, decent enough at providing generally inane comments about television football, obviously good at supporting Beckham, but dear god let’s not give him any more choices in regards to man of the match awards.

And well that Beckham beard – shocker, absolute shocker.

Sometimes it is better to keep schtum

•October 14, 2009 • Leave a Comment

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Emile Heskey’s latest comments in regards to the club vs country debate have got me thinking.

Heskey, who has failed to maintain a starting place at Villa this season, has been left warming the bench, while international rivals Gabby Agbonlahor and Ashley Young have been firing the Villains attack.

Feeling that his lack of game time is damaging his World Cup chances, Heskey went public with his frustrations, issuing a statement that inferred that he would seek a move unless Martin O’Neill started playing him in a more regular role.

Now this is nothing new, the balance between club and international life is a difficult situation to manage. Players face the wrath of club managers and fans for choosing to promote their international cause, whereas they face public vitriol if they don’t pay attention to international overtures.

However, Heskey’s outburst to me seems arrogant, presumptuous and well counterproductive.  Heskey, who is a constant under Fabio Capello, hasn’t scored for Villa this season and only managed two goals last season. No player has a divine right to play for his team, as Heskey should know after a 15 year career. And yet, his spiel in the press seems to indicate that he should have a starting place.

A seasoned-pro, Heskey should know that the way to ingratiate himself to his club manager is to keep his head down and work hard to get a first team place. Coming out in the press, voicing your displeasure, is unlikely to garner the favour of your manager.

Naturally players hoping to get into Capello’s world cup team will be agonising over their club from, especially since it now seems that even the surest of team members are called into question. The fact is that players playing week in week out are more likely to board the plane to South Africa.

However, that doesn’t mean there is carte blanche to behave like a child when not selected. Indeed, a player will mark himself out even more to Capello if he can cope with warming the bench and come out even stronger.

By running to the press, Heskey has proved that footballers don’t necessarily act with the greatest of forethought. Now, he has even more to prove if he wants to catch Martin O’Neill’s eye. Something that I am sure he will be reminded with vigour when he returns to Villa Park.

A passion misconstrued…

•October 12, 2009 • Leave a Comment

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After an unforgivable absence I’ve blown the dust of my keyboard and got typing again. I’ll make a mental note not to be so lackadaisical again.

Now, to matters at hand, I have been annoyed over the last few days about the treatment of one Rio Ferdinand and his performance in England’s game against the Ukraine. For a nation that is so desperate for success on a football field, we don’t half create a witch hunt when we feel our players have underperformed or heaven help us made a mistake. This capricious treatment of our footballers has to stop if our players are going to develop winners.

The mentality of this country is to put people, celebrities, footballers, politicians, on pedestals and then revel in their downfall. Don’t get me wrong there needs to be a capacity to constructively criticise, to analyse and to review, but a capacity to verbally hate, I don’t think is necessary.

And yes, I go as far as using the word hate. You see, in this country our media love to create an arena of hate. They are like irascible wasps, make one swipe, one error of judgement and they glory in the euphoria of savagery. I don’t see this as constructive, just pointless.

Yes, we need to create an arena for public discourse, and newspapers get the ball rolling, but as a said before this needs to be constructive. There is no need to hound players, to remind them of their mistakes, for if anyone realises the impact of the mistakes made it is the person who made the error.

Let’s create an arena for encouragement when we play well and win and on the other hand let’s create a forum that doesn’t seek to damage players for mistakes, but helps them to recover strongly from them.

For as long as we continue to persecute our footballers, we’ll continue to see players defending players, managers defending players and continued feeling that England’s footballers and public are moving in unison. We are all in this together, so let’s act like we want combined success.

A Premier disappointment

•August 11, 2009 • Leave a Comment

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Now that the football season is under way I got to thinking about the summer’s transfer activity and I have come to a sombre conclusion. The Premier League is boring.

The fact that England’s top clubs – bar Manchester City – have tightened their collective belts has resulted in a dearth of big name, clasp-your-forehead signings.

In Spain, Madrid have brought their lustre back with the captures of Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, Kaka and Xabi Alonso. Not to lose out in the transfer stakes, Madrid’s Catalan rivals Barça have clinched the superstar signing of Zlatan Ibrahimović.

Meanwhile, Italian clubs Juventus, AC Milan and Inter have welcomed top-notch talent such as Samuel Eto’o, Diego, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Felipe Melo.

With such a bounty of talent moving around Europe, England’s top clubs have for the most part turned their noses-up at what’s been on offer. United have declined the glitz and glamour of foreign superstars to sign the up-and-coming Valencia, the old-and-failing Michael Owen and the young-and-unknown Gabriel Obertan.

Chelsea and Arsenal have followed suit by carrying out a prosaic transfer policy, indeed the Gunners have let star players go. Liverpool have bought Alberto Aquilani, but only due to Xabi Alonso’s move to Madrid.

Only Manchester City have given a bit of razzmatazz to this summer’s transfer window, however they are fighting a lonely stand.

Now I would hate to be misconstrued. I understand that at a time of recession clubs need to cut back, especially when you take into account the fact that transfer fees are about as realistic as seeing Fergie and Benitez enjoying a half together down at The kilt and Sombrero. However, as the world’s most supported league, the Premiership has an image to uphold. The hearts of the Premier League’s foreign supporters might be turned in favour of high-spending Serie A and La Liga.

On a personal level all this talk of prudential buying bores me. I want our richest clubs to have capricious transfer policies. I want some excitement! I want an unknown Macedonian striker signed for some unlikely sum that will send tongues awagging in the nation’s pubs.

Come on messers Ancelotti, Benitez, Ferguson and Wenger let the purse strings loose.