Wednesday, 31 October 2007

The Managerial Merry-Go-Round

Back when Baddiel and Skinner were funny, their much-loved Fantasy Football show featured a sketch called the managerial merry-go-round. The basic premise of which saw a currently unemployed manager aimlessly going round and round on a deserted fairground carousel.

It was hardly the height of comedy nor the funniest thing on their show (That will forever remain the momment when Statto does a Cantona into the crowd).

My point? None really. Just felt the need for some form of introduction to this piece.

The last week has seen a spate of managerial changes which may have far reaching effects as far as the rest of this season develops.

Lets start at White Hart Lane. Much has been said about the treatment of now former manager Martin Jol and how inappropriately his inevetable sacking was handled by the Spurs board so I wont regurgitate what has no doubt said over and over again in recent weeks. What I will say is that Martin Jol is not completely innocent in all of this. In the summer, the big Dutchman emphatically proclaimed that Spurs would be making waves this season and the only logical progression from years gone by would be qualification for the much sought after Champions league.

Tottenham fans have a lot of affection for Jol and it's easy to turn on the board after the alleged first contact with Juande Ramos. However, Jol unfortunately showed his limitations as a manager by not being able to cope once the heat was turned up on him a little. Tottenham have performed poorly against opposition they feel they should be beating (The surrender against Newcastle last week could have warrented a sacking in itself). That can not be blamed on Levy, Comolli or anyone else. The sign of a good manager would be to ride the wave when the pressure is on. BMJ failed spectacularly in this respect and it's good he got out now before the damage was irrepairable. I was on his side for a while a truly believed he was made of stronger stuff.

And so to his replacement. Juande Ramos has been a revelation in Spain, having led Seville to the brink of the Spanish title, back to back UEFA cups and a place in this season's Champions League, the Spaniard's stock had risen considerably and it's no shock Spurs were so keen to get him in after his record over the last 3 years.

But what before that? Ramos was just your typical run of the mill mid-table manager in Spain before Seville. Successes were few and far between in his career and his almost immediate fall-out with the directors at Espanyol has been well publisised and leaves people to wonder how long or whether at all he would put up with the Levy's and Comolli's and their alleged interferances at WHL.

Ramos has a big job on his hands and unless the Tottenham board can harbour some realistic aspirations in the short term at least then I fear in couple of years we will all be talking about yet another false dawn in the white half of North London.

Staying in Spain, Ramos' old side thumped championship hopefuls Valencia 3-0 at the weekend signaling the end of the road for Los Ches manager Quique Sanchez Flores. Valencia have not had the same man in charge for more than 3 years since the seventies and are constantly subject to stories of in-fighting between the board, management and first-team personel. This from a side that has won 2 Spanish league titles, the UEFA Cup and reached the Champions league final TWICE this decade. It seems like it will be Ronald Koeman (Who, incidently, is set to be replaced at PSV by Martin Jol!!! That's why they call it a merry-go-round!) who will taking the hot seat at The Mestialla although there were rumours that the club were looking at the possibility of brining in Jose Mourinho as a replacement. Imagine the fireworks!!!

Back home, in the doldrums of the Championship, QPR have appointed little known Italian Luigi di Canio to help steer them out of relegation trouble. I'm not entirely sure that anyone really knows what Bernie Ecclestone and Flavio Briatore are planning down at Loftus Road but the first step obviously is to make sure they are still playing championship football next season and for some reason they see Di Canio as the man to do it.

The big question is why Mick Harford wasn't kept on considering the job he's done turning the team's fortunes around in the last month or so.

Norwich, gearing up for their big Old FARM derby against Ipswich on Sunday, have appointed Glen Roeder as their manager. If i'm being kind, i'd say that Roeder has a fairly unspectacular CV to date. The Inter-two-bob Cup with Newcastle is about the sum total of his achievements. After bright starts at Watford, West Ham and the Geordies, Reoder seems to get his sides to almost sink without trace - relegating the former two in his respective second seasons with both.

It seems like a desperate appointment by Norwich. They've seen a guy with Premiership experience and taken the plunge. Unfortunately, this doesn't tell you the whole story about the man. Roeder isn't the kind of manager who is able to rouse a struggling team low on confidence and quality. He also strikes me as a man who loses a dressing room very easily when things aren't necessarily going his way. Let's not forget that he struggled with a West Ham side containing the talents of Di Canio, Kanuote, James, Defoe and Carrick etc. He's hardly likely to fair much better with the far from prolific Chris Brown in his side.

So, how will each fair? The most important thing for Tottenham is patience. Rome was not built in a day and Spurs will not be 'great' in just 6 months. If Ramos is left to work without the added pressure from upstairs then he may well turn the club's fortunes around.

Valencia cant seem to do without politics and in-fighting and this will continue regardless of who they bring in. Far from being a bad side however, they will still always be there or thereabouts both in Spain and in Europe (Every season, I still always back them to get to a Champions League final and get it right! Granted things aren't looking so good right now but I'm keeping the faith).

In a few years time we may well all be talking about QPR as a top premiership side after much investment from the F1 guys but for now, thier priority is to avoid relegation. Di Canio has experienced this kind of thing before with Siena and Reggina in Serie A and should the typical unpredictability of the Championship work in their favour, a few wins before xmas could see Rangers out of trouble reletively soon. Norwich? Roeder has a huge task. Unfortunately for the Canaries, his previous record would suggest he's not up to it and sadly, they may well be playing in League one next season.

Finally, a word on Gary Megson at Bolton. Having had to put up with his idea of 'football' for a while when watching Nottingham Forest quite regularly a few years back, I can only say that Bolton Wanderers are doomed!

Sunday, 21 October 2007

Lost For Words


A Tale Of Two Englands

At the start of the week, the nation was buzzing. With the Rugby team in the World Cup final, the Football team on the brink of qualification for next summer’s European championships and Lewis Hamilton in pole position to win the Formula 1 championship in his debut season, there was certainly a feel-good factor around the country.

As of right now, Hamilton’s fate is as yet undecided so let take a look at the two team sports. Yes, ultimately both sides ended up losing and yes both sides can lament contentious decisions that didn’t go their way but that is where the similarities end.

On Wednesday, an insipid performance by the footballers resulted in a 2-1 reverse against Russia leaving chances of qualification hanging by a thread.

Last night, a battling performance from the Rugby lads was sadly not good enough to overcome a strong South African side.

Learning lessons

A draw would have been good enough for England on Wednesday but once again with English football, lessons have not been learnt from the mistakes of the past.

Under Svennis, the fans and media would frequently bemoan the fact that England would all too often sit back when ahead. Brazil and Portugal are occasions when this has proved costly.

On Wednesday, following Wayne Rooney’s wonder goal, England were content to invite wave after wave of Russian pressure. The defence got deeper and deeper and it was only a matter of time before Russia were back in the game. Yes, Gerrard’s miss was pretty awful (any chance of him being booed by fans? Unlikely) but it was one of very few opportunities England fashioned on the break and we should be at the stage where we aren’t saying ‘if only’ to just the one counter attack. If England had taken the game to Russia as they did at Wembley, Gerrard’s miss may have proved irrelevant.

This raises the issue of why Brain Barwick and his cohorts at the FA decided to hire a man who was part of the same set-up as Svennis if they indeed wanted a change.

By contrast, Brian Ashton realised that the 36-0 set-back in the group stages against the Springboks could not be repeated and changed tactics completely.

It was a different England last night. Strong in the tackle, England posed far more of a threat than five weeks ago. England played to their strengths and were almost rewarded. Unfortunately, they were up against a solid South Africa side who did enough to secure their first world title since 1995.

The World Cup final wasn’t a pretty spectacle that will live long in the memory (the ball spent more time in the air than a fighter jet in the Middle East) but it was far from boring. South Africa were ultimately the better side but England did their best, despite a couple of errors, to make it sure that it wasn’t easy for them at any stage.

After the initial thrashing, Ashton wasn’t afraid to make changes. Compare this to McClaren’s refusal to drop Paul Robinson despite the fact he was an accident waiting to happen (and so it proved).

Even after the football team win, it’s difficult to have a sense of achievement because, as has been noted many, many times, there is an underlying belief that we have the players/squad to be so much better. Whether this view is right or wrong, it seems very rarely that we get the chance to see it.

Even in defeat last night, the English could be proud of what they witnessed. The team showed 100% commitment in Paris. Even if the result wasn’t what was required, spectators were safe in the knowledge that the lads did their best. This isn’t something we can often say about footballers. The so-called golden generation flattered to deceive at the last World Cup less to do with lack of talent, but more to with not putting in the same kind of effort they do week in, week out for their clubs. Rather than addressing these issues however, we instead get excuses about the pitch (yes, the same unfamiliar surface that BOTH teams played on) and reffereeing decisions. You'll hardly hear anyone complain about the fact that the officials got a BIG decison wrong last night in Paris.

...and it was only a matter of time before the catastrophic scenario of not qualifying for a major tournament would become reality.

I would like to think that Gerrard, Lampard, Ferdinand et al had an opportunity to watch their fellow countrymen last night. Sadly, I doubt it.

But alas, two defeats mean that England once again fail to impose themselves on the world game (in sports that we invented no less). Here’s hoping that Lewis Hamilton can help improve the mood later today.

Sunday, 14 October 2007

European Championship Qualifier: England v Estonia, 13th October 2007

Yesterday afternoon saw the England team take on Estonia. Wembley stadium was packed out even though nobody in their right mind would have considered this anything more than a glorified training session.

And so it proved, the team was as expected with Gareth Barry rightfully retaining his place alongside Steven Gerrard in midfield and the Owen/Rooney partnership was back together for the first time in what has seemed like years.

England started brightly and took just 11 minutes to open the scoring. Big Micah Richards played a through ball to Little Shaun Wright-Phillips who eased his way into the box and drilled his shot between the legs of Watford goalkeeper Mart Poom. 1-0. A goal straight out of the Man City academy.

Wayne Rooney then tried an audacious chip from outside the box which just went over the bar. It would have been a spectacular way to end his goal drought but accuracy was lacking in the finish.

The foul-mouthed Scouser didn’t have to wait too long though. Just after the half hour, Joe Cole played a weak cross from the left travelling about 2mph. Michael Owen, whose drop in pace has vastly improved his link up play, dummied the ball for Rooney to strike. The shot took a deflection that wrong-footed Poom and crepped oh so slowly into the back of the net. The Estonia ‘defence’ were motionless during this entire passage of play.

Within a minute, another poor cross, this time from Ashley Cole, should have been dealt with but Estonia, whose players it seemed had the collective footballing nous of a chic pea, seemed to somehow contrive to give England a third goal. Taavi Rahn somehow managed to plant a header from a good 20 yards out, past the luckless Poom. As good an own goal as you are ever likely to see. 3-0 long before half time. Game over.

In the second half, with the game already over as a contest, it was expected that England would run riot against the blatantly inferior opposition. Not so, England became almost complacent and lacked any sort of cutting edge. Chances were wasted to put the game out of sight most notably a two-on-one with Gerrard and Joe Cole where the two somehow managed to fluff their lines completely.

Nasty little Ashley Cole picked up a nasty looking ankle injury that rules him out of the Russia game on Wednesday. If his recovery time is anything like that during his last season at Arsenal we might not actually see him on the pitch for a long time (One can only hope).

Fans in attendance decided to amuse themselves by booing Frank Lampard when he was brought on. Aside from his goal against Germany, and this is putting it as nicely as I can, it’s difficult to see what exactly Frank Lampard brings to the current side. His obvious limitations as a player mean that he is unable to adapt to any system that isn’t identical to that of his club side where he often excels. There was phrase about square pegs in round holes that was often banded about when Svennis was in charge and I think it’s become clear that Fun-time Frankie cannot fit into any England shaped holes presently. Especially after another solid if unspectacular performance by Gareth Barry.

A couple of other observations. If Paul Robinson insists on hoofing the ball every time he gets it then it’s essential there needs to be someone who can win the ball in the air up top. What’s the use of long ball to a pair of short-arses in Owen and Rooney? This is where Peter Crouch becomes remotely useful (I cant stress ‘remotely’ enough). Failing that, we could just try and keep things low.

I know with Russia around the corner the players felt they didn’t need to exert themselves – particularly when Estonia posed about as much threat as a wet panty-liner – but I cant help but feel that this is exactly why England will never be footballing superpower. The mentality for years, regardless of manager, is to be to sit on your lead. We very rarely have the opportunity to celebrate thrashings even against sides like Andorra and Estonia. It’s been the same for years and it’s exactly why in tournaments the top sides more often than not, beat us. While yesterday’s result wasn’t exactly ‘ground out’, the second half was a complete non-event and a poor spectacle for anyone who had to suffer it.

But why am I complaining? A win is a win and the team should be on a high going into Moscow and its artificial pitch on Wednesday. Another 3-0 scoreline need not be frowned upon. However, considering the number of games won by the same scoreline recently, it’s a real shame that none of them have actually been memorable. Job done. No fanfare. The English way.

Oh, apparently there was some kind of rugby match going on later in the evening.

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

In Attendance: QPR vs Norwich City @ Loftus Road, Monday 8th October 2007

Norwich City finished in the top three of the premier league in it’s inaugural season. Just two places beneath them, in fifth place, finished Queens Park Rangers. The remarkable feat of these achievements of these two admittedly unglamorous sides is further emphasised by the fact they finished above all four of Liverpool, Arsenal, Spurs and Chelsea. Chris Sutton was the main man at Carrow Road while the free-scoring Les Ferdinand will go down as a legend for the superhoops.

How both teams could have done with their former heroes in this game...

When I agreed to attend this match with two of my Norwich supporting friends and their Norwich supporting Dads, the Championship season was still young. The Canaries were flirting with inconsistency and QPR had started sluggishly. By the time I got on the Central line train heading to White City on this mild Monday night, QPR were rock bottom with only 3 draws to their name while Norwich arrived having not scored in their previous five games.

Naturally I was expecting an 8-goal thriller.

Upon arriving at White City, I gave my mate ‘Bruce Lee’ a call.

Me: Where are you mate?
Bruce: In a pub called The Springbok.
Me: How do I get there?
Bruce: Follow the crowd and you can’t miss it.

Much to my dismay, this would be the first football match I would ever attend where the term ‘crowd’ was being applied very, very generously. I must have followed about a dozen people on my way to the ground. I guess though, when you’re languishing at the tail end of the Championship, enthusiasm to go games isn’t quite there.

After meeting the Norwich contingent at the pub and picking up a programme, we ambled our way to the ground. Think about the atmosphere, the anticipation, the general aura of excitement that is always present as you approach a football ground on matchday. None of that was present at Loftus Road.

We found our seats in the Norwich end. Great view. Right behind the goal in the upper tier. Far more generous than tucking fans away in the corners (Premiership clubs take note – That said, Loftus Road’s corners had about 3 seats in them and mostly consisted of wall!).

The game kicked off promptly. Both teams approached with a sense of caution evidenced by the fact both sides decided to pack the midfield. The home side focused their play down the wings with Rowan Vine and the lively Hogan Ephraim trying their best to take advantage of the space in wide areas. Norwich on the other hand felt their best bet was to hoof the ball over the top and hope that the aging Darren Huckerby could latch onto the pass. A hopeless idea that was doomed to failure from the start.

Every Rangers cross was met by the head of the Norwich’s veteran Striker cum defender Dion Dublin. This was followed by Norwich attempting a long ball.

A poor first half laden with misplaced passes was summed up when one of the Rangers defenders under no pressure from anyone, hoofed the ball in the air so high and hard it came back down vertically five yards in front of him. Me and my other mate ‘Desperate Dan’ actually managed to have a conversation about the poor quality advertising hoardings, for five minutes! Yes, it was that bad! One pass was greeted with a collective groan by both sets of supporters. This was followed by Norwich attempting a long ball.

As the first half drew to a close, I couldn’t even amuse myself by checking any of the other scores as this was the only game on at the time. The second half began no better and within a minute, Canaries left back Adam Drury skewed a clearance high into the stands. I’m certain he was attempting a long ball.

Rangers admittedly did step up a bit and put a now Dublin-less Norwich defence under a bit of pressure. Martin Rowlands was given a free run to goal and struck the foot of the post with a shot. This was followed by Norwich attempting a long ball.

This roused a previously noiseless home crowd. Some City fans attempted a few renditions of ‘On The Ball City’ but I think most of them feared the worst when their side could only respond by attempting another long ball.

The worst wasn’t far off. The Yellows decided that they needed to replace Scottish midfielder Simon Lappin, who spent the entire evening slipping and falling on his arse, with David Strihavka – the first Czech to ever play for Norwich. How do I know this? I looked it up in the programme as he was coming on and Norwich were attempting another long ball.

As I was reading however, a roar went up from the home crowd. Penalty! Would you believe it? The first (and ultimately only) interesting part of the game and I missed it. Rowan Vine (who incidentally went to the same school as Bruce) had been tripped. Apparently the decision was dubious to say the least.

Martin Rowlands made no mistake from 12 yards and the home fans went delirious. Norwich had never looked like scoring and a couple of fans decided to leave at this stage. You know things are bad when, with 20 minutes left against the bottom side, fans have no faith in their team pulling it back.

All of a sudden football broke out from Rangers. They were trying pot-shots and even forced David Marshall in the Norwich goal into a few saves. Norwich responded with another attempted long ball.

Darel Russell, playing centre-mid for the yellows gave the ball away for the 12 hundredth time and the portly Lee Croft was constantly offside. Manger Peter Grant was on the touchline looking pretty animated (presumably telling his team to play it long).

Chris Brown was thrown on. This infuriated the Norwich fans around me. His tally of no goals in his previous 8 games made this reaction understandable. He did however, win a couple of flick-ons from yet another Norwich long ball. This meant nothing as he was flicking it on to no-one.

The awful Russell finally had a shot in the 85th minute which had the Canary fans around me greeted with the loudest sarcastic applause you are ever likely to hear at a football ground.

The final whistle finally came and the Norwich, players and management were bombarded with abuse from some angry East Anglians. One guy was so mad, one would have thought Peter Grant had sodomised a member of his family or something. QPR’s first win on the other hand was celebrated like a world cup win.

As a neutral, I was despondent at the fact I would never see that £20 I spent on the game ever again.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m no premiership snob. I’ve been to my fair share of lower league games and I’ve actually seen some pretty exciting and entertaining matches over the years. However, what I witnessed at Loftus Road was simply appalling. Two sides, lacking both in confidence and quality, trying in vain to get through 90 minutes of football without inducing a coma amongst the watching fans. And to think, this match was on Sky as well. Not a great advert for the beautiful game.

Final Score: Queens Park Rangers 1 – 0 Norwich City
Man Of The Match: Me for actually going even though I support neither side.
Att: 10,514

Thursday, 4 October 2007

Racist or PC gone mad?

The debates over where to draw the line between what is offensive and what is considered harmless fun have once again been brought to the fore by a combination of Facebook and a seemingly innocent 'Black and white ball'.

It wouldn’t be wrong to suggest that pictures of Tory Aide Emma Pentreath with her face 'Blacked up' would have caused a stir even without the offensive captions posted beneath them.

Political correctness has admittedly gone mad in recent years. No black person in their right mind takes offence to terms like 'blackboard' or 'black bag' but in this instance, I don't believe that people are wrong to be offended.

Historically, anyone who knows about the 'Nigger Minstrel' shows of the 19th and 20th century would know that it was horribly offensive and that quite frankly, the black community are generally not prepared to make light of it.

We had a brief discussion about the story in class yesterday and people were actually prepared to play down the seriousness of the incident and questioned how it could be seen as inflammatory. Typically, that famous phrase 'harmless fun' was branded around a lot.

This charge of oversensitivity is unfair. Ms. Pentreath (Notice I haven't blamed or accused her of anything) probably isn’t racist but the picture and subsequent comments were highly inappropriate.

In the week of the Tory party conference, considering their reputation and frightening views on immigration, the 'nice' party ideology that Cameron is trying to purport is looking less convincing by the day.

Our tutor made a point of telling us how damaging this story would have been across the pond. The Tories would have been hammered from pillar to post and the rumoured autumn election would have produced one of Gordon Brown's rare smiles. In this country, we're not as gung-ho (a good thing) but it does seem that it has become a problem to be offended. Complain about anything and you become a 'liberal left-wing PC so and so'.

To be offended it seems, is offensive.

Monday, 1 October 2007

Things I Learnt Watching Football This Weekend (29-30 September)

1. I don't understand how some people interpret the rules of football
For once a referee gets it right and he still gets grief.

Forget about dodgy offsides, diving and disallowed goals etc. After Martin Atkinson rightly sent off Didier Drogba for what was quite simply reckless play, you then get pundits such as Andy Gray on his 'Last Word' saying that the decision was harsh.

Yes, it's clear that Drogba had his eye on the ball the whole time but that is far too simplistic an explanation.

Drogba, as a striker, is well aware that he is not the only player on the pitch. We know footballer's aren't the sharpest tools in the drawer but even good old Didier must know that a defensive player is likely to challenge any airborne ball with their head.

So, if he leaps 6 feet in the air with his foot raised like he did, there is every chance he is going to hurt someone. If he does, deliberate or not, it's dangerous play and yes, he deserves a yellow card for it. For refs like Atkinson, if he took no action, it is people like Gray who will jump on his back. Damned if he does, damned if he doesn't. I like 'The Last Word' because Andy usually gets it right. Not this time though.

2. Certain teams just cant step up when required

I watched The Rowdies against Birmingham on Saturday and they were, once again, far from convincing and could well have been 2-0 down at half time. CSKA Fulham are in disarray and were reduced to 10 men. Fulham Northern Irish were in a great position to take full advantage.

Reports suggest that Wigan were able to cause Liverpool real problems thanks to Rafa's musical chairs selection policy and West Ham, off the back of some good results could have extended their impressive recent record against Arsenal.

Of course, the best we got was the draw at The Kremlin and it really worries me that the top sides can all play at some distance off their best and still come away relatively unscathed. Yes CSKA are struggling but everyone fully expects they will be comfortably in the top 4 come next May. Svenchester City are doing their best to upset the Status Quo but we all know that they aren’t capable of sustaining a realistic title challenge just yet. It's certainly a case of As You Were Gentlemen.

3. However, Football is still capable of crazy unpredictability

I could bang on about some atrocious defending...
I could talk about some embarrassing goalkeeping...
I could talk about breaking records...
I could speculate about how each manager is going to react...

But I think I'll just keep it short and Sweet...

Portsmouth 7 (seven)
Reading 4

5. Shevchenko's demise is tragic

Eleven goals at Fratton Park but will the man who, not so long ago, was being described as one of the finest strikers of our generation even reach that total this season? The sad figure who currently roams around the Kremlin every other weekend looks a shadow of the former European footballer of the year and 3 time champions league golden boot winner.

My sources at CSKA tell me he was at his absolute worst on Saturday and the boos he received when subbed were actually a generous assessment of his performance. I generally don't sympathise with blues' players but 'Sheva' doesn't dive, cheat, sulk or harangue referees. He just seems like genuinely nice guy happy to score goals for his team. It's difficult to enjoy his current suffering particularly when you know what he's capable of.

Another one for the list of decent players who have come to this country with a big rep and undoubted class but just couldn’t adapt.