Monday, 23 June 2008

Black By Popular Demand

So Paul Ince has been given the Blackburn job, eh? This is fantastic news. I’m not going to go off a fist-raising, militant, pro-black diatribe but I have to say, it’s certainly refreshing to see a big job in English football going to a ‘Brotha’.

While there are campaigns like Kick It Out to help combat things like racist chanting in the stands, we need to ask what of the problem of perceived Institutional racism at boardroom level. Linford Christie’s recent rant highlighted the problem in Athletics and while it was slightly cringeworthy, he also made a good point about recognition of achievement. While no-one can doubt the impact of Black players in this country, both home grown and from abroad, question marks have been raised over whether these players could transfer their skills into management. Of course, the first example most think of is John Barnes abortion when in charge at Celtic but this cannot be the benchmark for all future appointments of Black managers...

Ruud Gullit could be credited for helping transform Chelsea as his high profile contacts allowed the likes of Gianluca Vialli, Gianfranco Zola and Roberto Di Matteo to all turn out for the blues. Gullit also won the FA Cup in 1997 – Chelsea’s first trophy for many a year. However, the big Dutchman will unfortunately be best remembered for his infamous fall out with Newcastle golden boy Alan Shearer when managing on Tyneside. Jean Tigana helped Fulham win promotion from the then first division to the premier league but is mostly remembered for signing wasters like Steve Marlet for obscene money.

Both managers had their initial successes overshadowed by other factors which helped purport the unfair assumption that black managers just can’t cut it at the top level. No black ENGLISH manager had even been linked to a premier league job until Ince’s appointment yesterday.

Meanwhile, over the years we have seen players such as Chris Coleman, Gareth Southgate and Ince’s predecessor Mark Hughes all get first jobs in the top flight without the necessary experience or qualifications. Ince himself lacks the UEFA Pro badge usually required but he isn’t the only one. At least the man known as ‘The Guv’nor’ cut his teeth managing in the lower leagues. Some successful stints at Macclesfield and more recently The MK Dons have earned the former Man Utd man enough of a reputation to make his Blackburn appointment no major surprise.

Whether he is a success or not in Lancashire remains to be seen. One thing is for sure however is that the colour of his skin shouldn’t have a bearing on it. Ethnicity doesn’t have an impact on managerial ability. Gullit’s solitary FA Cup is still one more than the much lauded Kevin Keegan has won in his long managerial career.

If Ince is a success, hopefully it will help reduce to scepticism and doubt over whether Black men can be as successful on the touchline as they have been on the pitch.

Monday, 9 June 2008

Eur So Predictable

These days, I have a love-hate relationship with international football. While I appreciate that a tournament like Euro 2008 is a great place for some of the world's best to really show what they're made of, I despair at the fact that the onus in these competitions has recently been more about trying to avoid defeat rather than trying to win.

So far, with almost all the first set of fixtures complete, we've had very little to get excited about. In all cases the underdog has succumbed to the favourite due in part to a general lack of adventure. With the exception of tonight's Holland-Italy match, is anyone really surprised about how the results have gone thus far?

International tournament football is famed for it's tendency to throw up something unexpected and while I understand the competition has only just begun, I cant see any major upsets taking place on route to the final in Vienna at the end of the month.

Even without upsets, the Euros look like they are set to follow a similar pattern to the last World Cup which didn't have a single 'classic' or epic encounter that will live long in the memory. The two best matches were Mexico-Argentina and Italy-Germany. The rest were were either a chess match between evenly matched sides separated by the odd goal or a heavily one-sided affair in which the favourite would triumph with little trouble.

In fact, it seems that in terms of great games in these competition, the standard was set during the 90s and peaked around France 98/Euro 2000. Both of which produced some truly memorable matches. Who could forget 98's two classic semis or England/Argentina or Argentina/Holland or Spain/Nigeria in the group stages? How about England self destructing against Portugal and then Romania in 2000? France v Portugal? The French comeback against Italy to ultimately seal the competition? Spain v Yugoslavia???

International football, at tournament level, fails to provide such drama in this day and age. As good a story as it was when Greece overcame the odds in 2004 to win in Portugal, it merely set the tone for a new attitude at this level. It is the reason why Turkey didn't dare try and take on Portugal, why Poland were outplayed by the Germans and why Romania were making substitutions to run down the clock in the 92nd minute despite having a free-kick in a promising position against France earlier.

The supposed underdog would rather approach a game taking minimal risks rather than being bold and adventurous. Ultimately, the better organised sides as opposed to those with a greater talent pool will tend to prevail. Although this time around, it seems as though the most talented have learnt from Greece and are now also the most organised. These sides have begun to abandon their attack-minded principles in favour of a more conservative approach; leaving the so-called lesser sides little chance of making in-roads in the competition.

Negativity is counter-acted by caution and while tactically, it's all very impressive, it fails to provide the kind of entertainment we all want.

Hopefully, my pessimistic outlook is proven wrong as teams begin to go out and play the rest of the tournament with the kind of reckless abandon that will keep us all glued to our seats. A Russia v Poland final that ends 4-3? I wouldn't complain.