Sunday, 20 October 2013

The Roy Hodgson 'joke' - what the hell is going on here?

John Terry with Roy HodgsonMany of you will be waking up this morning, depending on where in the world you are, and reading the story about Roy Hodgson’s half time joke about a space monkey. So to recap, Roy made a joke about a space monkey that was intended to illustrate the idea that he wanted right-back, Chris Smalling, to play the ball to Andros Townsend, who was destroying the Polish defence.
The joke Roy told is a popular American joke in NASA and goes something like this:

NASA decided they’d finally send a man up in a capsule after sending only monkeys in the earlier missions.
They fire the man and the monkey into space.
The intercom crackles, "Monkey, fire the retros".
A little later, "Monkey, check the solid fuel supply".
Later still, "Monkey, check the life support systems for the man".
The astronaut takes umbrage and radios NASA, "When do I get to do something?"
NASA replies, "In 15 minutes - feed the monkey".
What Roy was trying to do was use the joke to explain to the England team that Townsend, who was playing brilliantly, held the key to an England win. Now, he could have just said that Townsend was important, give him the ball and we will win. But he didn't. He tried to use a joke to ease the pressure on his team and that joke has now turned into yet another racial incident in football. This places a massive dampener on the England team, especially after two massive and important results. One player in the squad was supposedly offended by Roy’s joke and one can presume this player is the person who leaked the silly incident to the paper.

Respected journalist and personal favourite of mine, Oliver Holt, wrote in his article in the Mirror this morning “The joke is insensitive, perhaps, in the current highly charged racial climate in football”. The key word here is perhaps. Depends how sensitive you are I guess. I think we are becoming a little hyper -sensitive. To put it into context, Roy didn't do a Ron Atkinson. He didn't look Townsend in the eye and call him a derogatory racial name did he. He didn't throw a banana at him or use the N word. Mark Bright said on Twitter “why use the term “Feed the Monkey” with right black players in the room”. Every monkey or ape reference is not a racial comment Mark.
Ok, Roy could have used a better analogy to emphasise the importance of Townsend and getting him the ball. I don’t know Roy at all, but he has worked with many black players all over the world. He is an elegant, well-educated and articulate man. I’m sure well all know Roy is not a racist and just to point out, Oliver Holt’s article is not suggesting he is. So why has this made the papers then? If Roy isn't a racist and we all know he isn't, then what’s the big deal. Townsend didn't take any offence to the joke. He didn't complain. He didn't go to the papers and leak the story. His dad, who works for the Kick It Out campaign, hasn't complained either. So what’s the fuss about?

This mystery player is believed to be offended by the JOKE and felt it has racial connotations. As I said, Roy could have used a better analogy than the space monkey one but seriously, has it come to this. Are we struggling that much for news or sport content to publish a story like this? Will the words monkey, ape or chimp be soon banned from football. There is a racist comment like Ron Atkinson’s and then there is a joke. There is the Suarez and Evra incident and then there is Roy’s joke. The difference is plain to see. Stan Collymore, one of the most sensitive guys in football, summed it up in this tweet last night saying “Racism is hard enough to keep on the agenda as it is without making everyone think legitimate space joke should be cause for offence”. Well done Stan, a man of Afro-Caribbean decent, who knows all too well what racism is about.

Roy issued an apology stating that he had spoken to Townsend and the player was fine. He apologised if his joke caused anyone any offence. I’m sure he knows he could have used a better analogy but the unfortunate thing is this joke will over-shadow the remarkable achievement of qualifying for the World Cup and finishing top of the group. It was a bad joke. Not a racist comment. Two very different things. To be honest I even feel ashamed writing an article about this nonsensical tripe. How this made it into a newspaper is beyond me. Why didn't the player just reveal himself and say he was offended? I'll tell you why, because if he did reveal himself and told the world he was offended by Roy’s joke, he would be ridiculed. So instead he hides behind a news story.
Some of you may say “Who are you or we to define what offends other people”. But if this player feels so strongly about it then he should have approached the manager and spoken to him, rather than run off and leak it to the press. Oliver Holt was just doing his job by informing the public. Oliver isn't to blame. Roy isn't to blame. No one is to blame. Hopefully after a good night’s sleep, this offended mystery player will see what a joke this incident has become.
Can we get back to football please?

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

It's time to realise that Australia's 'Golden Generation' are long gone

Well a 0-3 win against Canada. Well done lads, beating a team placed 106th in the world. It was a much needed confidence booster. Caretaker boss Aurelio Vidmar’s international managerial record goes: one game played, one win, three goals scored and none conceded. Potential contender for the hot seat? Now moving on or should I say going back. Twelve goals conceded in two games against Brazil and France, no goals scored and Holger was on his bike.
It’s never nice to lose two games on the bounce. It’s never nice to concede six goals in a game and not score any either.  I can see the nation’s frustration. I can understand why you would be annoyed. If that was Ireland and we were on the end of those score-lines, I would be annoyed too.  Australia is a proud sporting nation. Drenched in sporting success, and with some of the most well-known athletes in the world, they pride themselves on success. But I think in relation to the football team or Socceroos, things need to be put into perspective and people need to take a look at the bigger picture.
You have qualified for the World Cup, the pinnacle of international football. All the best teams in the world will fight it out in Brazil to become champions of the world, and you will be one of those teams. Australia has only graced the World Cup three times previously, the last two coming at the previous two World Cups. Before that it was 1974. So, to qualify for the World Cup before the likes of England and Portugal is something to be proud of. Now people will say “well we had an easy group and competition this side of the world isn’t great”.  Well I disagree. Do you remember losing to footballing giants Jordan 2-1 in the qualifiers for the World Cup? Do you remember the score draw at home to the scintillating Oman? Oh, maybe you forgot about those results.
If I’m honest, I would be more disappointed with those results than losing to five time World Cup winners Brazil and former World Cup and two time European Championship winners France.  The team that France played against Australia consisted of eight players who start regularly for some of Europe’s best teams. On their bench they had a Real Madrid striker and a Liverpool center back to choose from. Brazil had one of the world’s best players in Neymar, a center back pair from Paris St Germain and Chelsea, a midfield duo from Spurs and Chelsea and a Real Madrid left back. Australia on the other hand are not so fortunate. Their captain, Lucas Neill, plays for Omiya-Ardija of Japan. He has barely played high standard football in the last three years and is too proud to step down and make room for someone else. They have one player playing for a top European team in goalkeeper Langerak, and he has on played two games this season. Tim Cahill is now plying his trade in the MLS with New York Red bulls and their midfield pair plays for Brisbane Roar and Crystal Palace. Now nothing against the Australia players or they teams who they play for, but if you seriously are shocked at loosing heavily to France and Brazil with a squad like that well then in their lies the problem. Expectations are too high. Way too high.
The sacking of Holger Osieck was harsh. Managing Australia 44 times, he had a win percentage of 52.27. Guus Hiddink managed the Socceroos only 13 times and had a win percentage of 66.54. Would he have done as good in 44 games with the squad at Osiecks disposal? Everyone harps on about how well Guss did. Well compare both squads. Hiddink had seven players who played in the Premier League. He had Vidka at Boro, Kewell at Liverpool, Cahill at Everton, Neill at Blackburn at Moore at Newcastle to name but a few. Two of the squad played for Parma, one for Alaves in La Liga and one for PSV Eindhoven. As I mentioned before, Osieck has one player in a European top team and he isn’t even playing. One player playing in relegation favourites Crystal Palace and another player in the Qatari league.  The current squad is very poor. Not near the level of the 2006 one that went to the World Cup.
Who else could Osieck pick? What players did he leave out that should have been in the squad? Harry Kewell? Some will say Tommy Rogic. Well so far playing in a poor Celtic team and a very average league, Rogic has made two starts. You can’t pin your hopes on the shoulders of a 20 year old not playing for Celtic.  Osieck picked the best squad he could. He played the hand that was dealt to him as they say. Now the argument will crop up about not the score line but the manner in which Australia lost those two games. Just recently in the Sydney Morning Herald, journalist Sebastian Hasset asked is the style of play important or is it just the result. He followed that question with “Osieck failed to create a style of play that would allow the Socceroos to break down superior teams in attack while keeping them at bay in defence.”  Well firstly it’s a results business. Win win win.
It doesn’t matter how you play once you win or achieve your objective. Osieck's objective was to reach the World Cup and he did. Well done Holger. Now in terms of not creating a style of play, with top players you can create a style of play. You can play anyway you like. You can rip teams apart or shut up shop. But with the current Aussie squad, it is impossible to break down a superior team. Even if you had Pep Guardiola as manager, breaking down a superior team with this current squad would be very hard. Again, nothing against the players or the clubs they play for. All good players in their own right, but like my country Ireland, expectations for results and player capabilities are too high. Even Aussie legend, Mark Bosnich, agrees and foresaw the sacking of the German. In a recent interview he said “A lot of us have seen this coming for quite some time. I think he's only part of the problem. Holger Osieck got the sack on the weekend and I was one of the ones that thought that Holger deserved to go to the World Cup because he qualified us for the World Cup.” Listen to Bozza. He speaks the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Ok, well expect for thinking that Sir Alex should be the man to bring Australia to the World Cup. That’s a bit far-fetched but he does recognise the decline in his countries quality and agrees that the sacking of Osieck was unfair given he got the Socceroos to the World Cup. Judge him at the tournament and see how they fare. Then sack him or do what you like.
If I’m honest both results against France and Brazil haven’t really shocked the football world. It’s not like England lost 6-0 to Kenya. That would shock the world. It wasn’t expected and conceding six goals is bad. But it has just highlighted the lack of quality in the team. Brazil are not the Brazil of old and neither are France. Australia didn’t face an unbeatable team. But Brazil and France faced a very beatable team. Brazil and France faced a team lacking any strength on the bench and quality going forward. Brazil and France faced a team with no quality players, an ageing captain and a poor youth system. Whoever comes in, whether it is Guus, Graham Arnold, Tony Popovic, Ange Postecoglou or even Julia Gillard, they will have a massive job on their hands. They will have to tear the current side apart and build from scratch. They will have to rely heavily on younger players and invest more at grass roots. The FFA will need to give the new gaffer time, a lot of time, because turning this ship around will take a few years. The Socceroo fans will need to have patience too. They will need to support their team and manager and not set expectations too high. Results like that against France and Brazil may happen again but that should not deter them from facing top sides. They only way to get a true measure of your team is by playing against the best. There is no point paying lesser teams because it gives you a false sense of security. It’s too hard to judge how well you are doing playing against such poor teams.
It doesn’t really matter if you put an Aussie in charge, short term or long term. Whoever goes in has a massive job on their hands. Australia has squeezed every ounce of talent out of the Golden Generation since 2006 and now is time to move on. The World Cup is around the corner and there are two ways the Socceroos can approach it. They can play the youngsters of the squad in the tournament and give them big tournament experience. Find out if they can handle it. It may mean being the whipping boys of the tournament, but it will be short term pain for the long term gain. They will find out who is up for it and who isn’t. The other option is to go to Rio, have some sort of a defensive game plan and hope for the best. That’s it really. There's nothing else you can do is there besides place your hands over your eyes, don’t look and hope for the best.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

We need to open our eyes and see the future

Ireland’s latest defeat to Germany was one that we all expected. I’m sure the FAI and Noel King expected it. During the game it looked like some of the players knew it too. I know it was only 3-0, but there were times when Germany looked like they were strolling through the game.  Effortless little chipped passes to each other like you would see in a training game. Ireland’s isolated pressing didn’t really help.  Our inability to make more than five progressive passes is a worry.  Our transition at times looked woeful. Anyway, it was a result we expected. The team selection was a worry however. We don’t have the fortune of world class players playing in the top leagues like the Germans.  But we do have a lot of young, hungry and in-form players playing in England. We are waiting on a new manager. The new manager will surely have his own ideas on how we should play and who should be picked. But besides the point that Wes Hoolahan should start every single game, we need to cast our net out further and deeper for players. We are not going to Rio and now is the perfect chance to try new players. We seem to have the same pool of players every game. We are picking players who rarely start for their club and other players on their past reputation.

Let’s take Kevin Doyle for starters. If you are picked to play for your country then of course you say yes. He doesn’t pick himself. But my gripe is that if we are going to pick a player from League One, then we must look at other players playing in the same division.  Put it this way, David Mooney is playing up front for unbeaten Leyton Orient. The former Shamrock Rovers player has played 13 games this season, has 9 goals and was awarded League One Player of the Month for September. Doyle has played 8 games and has 2 goals.  Surely if you are going to pick an Irish striker from League One you would pick the top scorer who is on form no? Strikers are there to score goals. Mooney has played more games and after his recent award and playing in an undefeated team, his confidence will be sky-high. Unlike Doyle, who has been relegated twice, only played 8 times this year and was denied a dream move to Celtic this summer. Surely his confidence is at an all-time low and as the saying goes, strikers need confidence. Mooney is in full flow yet not even a mention for a call up.

Next up is Stephen Kelly.  The Reading full back has played 4 times this year. He is right footed yet he was still chosen to play left back against Germany. In those 4 games for Reading he has scored no goals. Since signing for Spurs back in 2002, Kelly was made a moderate 263 appearances in 11 years, scoring just 2 goals.  Shauny Williams of MK Dons on the other hand, has played 16 games for his club this season and scored 4 goals from center back. He has a cultured left foot and is a huge threat from dead ball situations. His manager at MK Dons, Karl Robinson, ensures his team can play the ball out from the back and are comfortable in possession.  Williams possess the calmness and finesse much needed in the Ireland defense at the moment. Set plays are a huge part of the game now and you just need to see his recent free kick to see how good he is. Surely he should be given a call up and played at left back or one of a three man defense.

Paul Green and Jeff Hendrick are others. In fairness to Green, he played well against Austria last time out. The job that he does on the field is a thankless one. But we have players already who sit and break up the play. We have Whelan and Gibson.  Hendrick has played 5 times this season for Derby and no goals. Yet Alan McCormack, who has started 10 times this season and is the former Swindon captain under Di Canio, is a regular starter for promotion hunting Brentford. He was named Swindon player of the year in 2011-2012 season and also won the League Two title with them the same year. Stephen Gleeson and Darren Potter both named in last year’s PFA League One Team of the Year, have been in outstanding form as a midfield duo for MK Dons this season. Surely McCormack, Gleeson and Potter deserve a call up to the next squad.  

There is no personal agenda here. I have nothing against the players mentioned. My issue is that we have a lot of players playing in other teams who never get a mention despite their form. Young players who are eager to play for their country but are sick of seeing the same players called up time after time. Ireland seem to play the same players and same formation game after game. Why not try something different. Why not bring in these hungry players, who are playing well, and freshen up the group. It will keep senior players on their toes and it will also give hope to other prospective players that if they play well and are in form, they too might get a call up. The more good players you have to select is a great headache to have. If you continue to pick the same eighteen players each time, things will become stale. If we are picking Kevin Doyle who is not scoring or starting in League One, then we MUST look at the players I have mentioned. I’m sure I’ve left out a few other names that have been preforming well in other leagues and teams. These players also deserve a chance.  In my previous blog, England are bad but Ireland are worse, I mentioned the current cloud that hangs over the future of the Irish team. That cloud will only get darker if we don’t bring in new hungry faces to brighten the place up. We need to give hope to Irish players.  We need to be proud of our players in any league they play in and if they are working hard and playing well, then they need to be given a chance. If we find they are out of their depth, then fine, then at least we know. At least we can say we tried and we are on the lookout for players to help the cause.

Tonight we face Kazakhstan in the Aviva stadium or as my nanny calls it the “Visa stadium”.  Hoolahan has got to start. The lad can play. He can pick a pass and he is an attacking threat. Everyone in Ireland knows he has to start. This game would have been perfect to give the lads like Williams, Mooney and McCormack a game. To see how the play and mix with the group. A win is a must tonight. And we should be able to pass it around with ease and build up some much needed confidence. Whoever is named as the new manager, I hope he looks around. A key objective for the new manager must be to find more players to choose from. That has to be a must. We complained about Trap not looking at players and picking the same ones. Here is our chance to make it happen. I hope he gives these lads a chance. Our footballing future could very well depend on it.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

England are bad, but Ireland are worse

Some of my recent blogs have been about the inadequacies of the English FA and the current England squad. On reflection, maybe I was a bit too hard or even too quick to point the finger.  I mentioned the problem at grass roots level they currently have. I also discussed their lack of top players coming through. The new FA commission panel which includes the enlightened Danny Mills is another issue I could bring up. However, I think it’s time that I sit back and take stock. My own country, Ireland, is in a far worse state than our neighbours across the sea. If we think England have it bad, think again. Ireland is in dire straits at the minute.  In the words of the great Peter Cunnah of the band D-Ream “Things can only get better”. Well with Germany away tonight, I very much doubt it.

It’s pretty safe to say that Ireland won’t be enjoying the sun and sand of Rio next year.  It is not the first time we have missed out on major finals and it surely won’t be the last. But the reason behind Giovanni Trappatoni’s departure was the manner in which we missed the finals. For the last five years Trap has been criticised for his team selection.  He was berated for his lack of knowledge of Irish players and for not attending enough games to see prospective players. To many times he made the wrong calls and played too defensively. We went to Ukraine and Poland to participate in the Euros and decided to get the first bus home.  We were denied a World Cup place by a French Slam dunk but even if we did make it, the outcome would have been similar to that of the Euros.  So, is it Traps fault why we are where we are, back in the doldrums of international football? His record as manager wasn’t that bad if you look at it. Is it the fans fault for having the expectations set too high for such a small footballing nation? Is it John Delaney’s fault for just being John Delaney and sounding like he constantly has a blocked nose? Oh who cares, the fact of the matter is, we are where we are. No point blaming Trap, Thierry Henry or anyone else. Let’s stop feeling sorry for ourselves and start to do something about it.

There are many reasons behind our gradual decline. One that comes to mind is the current decline in kids playing sports on the street. If I go back to when I grew up, my friends and I would be out from morning until night playing football. Irrespective of our abilities, we played and played and played. When we went to the shop for a break, we dribbled the ball with us. When we sat down for a break, we practiced our volleys or tricks. Now things are different. Society doesn’t allow kids out for that amount of time unsupervised. You don’t play heads and volleys or reenact the Champions League final with your friends.  Their exposure to football is minimal. They see a football twice a week with their local team and maybe at lunch in school if they are lucky.  Otherwise its play dates, Xbox and WWE.

Another point is the resurgence of GAA and rugby as alternatives to football. Dublin, Leinster and Munster have given kids different avenues to become professional sports stars. Growing up, I only thought about football, that was it. Schools now have more options in terms of team sports. With the recent success of Dublin and the Irish club teams in the Heineken Cup, kids do not feel that football is the only sport. Diversity is good and kids having options in sport is great too. Not every child is suited to football.  So now football is battling with two resurging codes for children’s attention. And the worse Ireland get, the harder it will be to convince the youth of today.

Grass roots is an obvious issue. Like England, our grass roots coaching has not been up to scratch of late. Over the last three to four years I don’t know if it has improved. I have been out of the country. If it has, brilliant, but let’s be pessimistic and assume it has not. Look at the top six teams in England and how many Irish payers can you find. Coleman, McCarthy and Gibson of Everton.  Go on keep thinking. Don’t worry, ill wait. Take your time……….. Exactly! Remember Brady, Houghton, Whelan, Stapleton, Aldridge, McGrath, Keane , Irwin, Beglin and Moran. Back then we flooded the top teams. Even Robbie Keane at Spurs and Liverpool and Damien Duff at Chelsea.  Was it that football wasn’t as hard to break into back then? Was it because these legends played more football as kids than kids do now? Was it coaching? Did they have more ability than our current players do now? Playing football as a kid, I don’t remember the training sessions being too technical. I don’t recall talking about tactics or understanding shape or different formations.  I do remember standing around freezing, while we did passing drills. I do remember running and running and running. I also remember being picked because of my height and size rather than my ability (which may I add was nonexistent). I remember being told to turn the full backs with a ball over the top. “Get stuck in” was a regular call from the sideline and “if in doubt, knock it long”.  And I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who remembers all of the above.

 As I said, I cannot comment on the current coaching in Ireland today, I don’t live there. I haven’t seen it with my own eyes. But put it this way, if it’s good, then it’s got to get better. It’s that simple. Starting from the bottom and improving as we go will put us in a better place. We need to realise our place in football right now though. We are minnows. We are a small footballing nation with some decent players who have pride and ability. But gone are the days of our players playing in the top teams. Gone are the days of getting ready for World Cups with giant inflatable tricolour hats and hammers from Crazy Prices (now Tesco). Trap is gone and the hunt for his successor is on. We all know the type of manager we want.  We want someone who knows our players, knows their strengths and weaknesses and is there for the long haul. We want someone who has a plan. We want someone who can communicate with the players and get along with the players.  Our expectations, our grass roots, our current squad and our battle with other sports all play a part in our slide into footballing darkness. But there is hope. Robbie Brady, James McCarthy and Hoolahan show us we have ability in abundance. Oh and don’t forget Adnan Januzaj, surely he can play for us cant he?

I hope tonight we do well. I would be happy with a good performance. Not brave, tackling and running around like bees after honey. Show the world we can pass a ball. Take a player on and be confident. Enjoy the night. Noel King takes charge tonight and no one can point any fingers at him. He is stepping in to help out. He has been a great servant for Ireland and deserves the rub of the green tonight.  

It’s bad at the minute I’ll admit it. We all know it is. But you got to be able to stand the storm if you want to see the rainbow. Here’s hoping!

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

What is Jack Wilshere smoking?

I’m sure we have all seen Jack Wilshere’s comments about the possibility of Manchester United’s Adnan Januzaj playing for England. In case you missed it, here is what was said “The only people who should play for England are English people. If you live in England for five years it doesn’t make you English. You shouldn’t play. It doesn’t mean you can play for a country. If I went to Spain and lived there for five years I’m not going to play for Spain”. Ok slow down Marlboro man. Even if you did live in Spain, I very much doubt you would get the call up. Spain dont need help in midfield. After all, they are World and European champions with arguably the best national team ever. Your country England, on the other hand, is not in such a fortunate position. I think England needs all the help they can get.  You haven’t won a major tournament in forty seven years.  England currently sit 17th in the world rankings behind the likes of USA, Greece and Chile. Belgium, Adnan Januzaj’s nation of birth, are sitting in a comfortable 6th place in the world rankings. If I was Mr Hodgson, I would scour the world looking for players under any rule that allows them to help your country. I have a few questions on the topic of Januzaj playing for England and Wilshere.
Firstly, why would Januzaj want to play for England? The cons heavily out weigh the pros. He will be the new shinning hope of English football like Rooney and Walcott before him. His every move will be scrutinised by every journalist. The hopes of a failing football nation will be placed on his scrawny eighteen year old shoulders.  He will play 4-4-2 pretty much every game. Belgium are currently going through their golden era whereas England are on a downhill slope. The pros are...... ? I’ll get back to that at some stage.
Secondly, the boy scored two goals against Sunderland and now all of a sudden, he is being linked with Barcelona, called up to United’s european squad and being offered a new contract. Everyone just take a deep breath and relax. The boy is eighteen years old. Did anyone know of him two months ago? Now all of a sudden he is being rushed to stardom. In my recent article on England’s talent problem, I made the point of how we are in a world of instant gratification. How we don’t have the time or patience for players to evolve and grow at a natural pace. The kid has ability. He has a nice cultured left foot, good balance and an eye for a pass. He has all the skills necessary to succeed yet before he has even made a mark on the game, the expectations and pressure put on him is just plain stupid.

Wilshere has made the headlines for all the wrong reasons lately. The cigarette incident outside a nightclub was the first. Now, his slightly aggressive, patriotic remark about England players being English. Someone should explain to him that John Barnes was born in Jamaica, as was Raheem Sterling. That his team mate, Podolski, was born in Poland but plays for Germany (he may need a history lesson on that one). World class players such as Deco, Mauro Camoranesi and Patrick Viera, all born in different countries to the national team they went on to represent. Not only did they represent their adopted country, but they helped them win World Cups and European Championships.
So I think Jack needs to sit down, have a coffee and a cigarette and think about his recent comments. Look around at his team mates. Look at the players coming through the ranks and ask himself this “Are we, as a nation, in the position to turn down good players to play for our country”. While he is pondering this, maybe ask him to chat to Kevin Pietersen and ask him what it was like to win the Ashes for England.
Wilshere or England, are in no position to refuse a quality player eligible to play for them. They are a under preforming team and their grass roots coaching is currently being restructured AGAIN. The chain of quality footballers coming through has stopped. No golden age is on the horizon for the three lions. No Bronze Age or Neolithic age. With Jack’s comments, grass roots coaching in disarray and England’s current style of play, I guess the age they are in is a Prehistoric one.

Monday, 7 October 2013

The solution to England's talent problem

Over the last few weeks we have seen the emergence of two young English talents in the Premier League, Ravel Morrison and Ross Barkley. In the Championship, Will Hughes of Derby is catching the attention with his displays and Liverpool’s Daniel Sturridge is finally fulfilling his potential. So, all is looking good for England's future. If England win the next two qualifiers and book a place in Brazil, then all this talk of player development won’t be mentioned will it? They don’t care, they will be off to Rio! But draw or lose one of the games and everyone talks about how inadequate coaching is at grass roots and not enough talent in the game. How England don’t pass or play with fluidity and need to adopt a German approach to their restructure. Many have put forward suggestions on how England can get more players playing in the top flight and in the top teams. Reduce the number of foreign players in each team was one suggestion. Have a minimum of 5 English players in each team was another. Not bad ideas but for commercial reasons and the need for instant success, these ideas will be ignored. And truth be told, there is a lot of good English talent on show in the Premier League at present. The media and coaches always come back to the point of grass roots coaching and not enough of players getting playing time.

One of the main problems the FA face is the craving for instant success from the top teams. Everyone wants the Champions League NOW. They want the money it brings in. The TV rights, the sponsorship and the bums on the seats. Money Money Money. And with all this money burning holes in their pockets, they may as well spend it on top foreign talent. Proven talents capable of helping them win Europe’s top club competiton. Teams in England’s top four, with maybe the exception of Arsenal, don’t have time to wait for talent to emerge. They cannot risk playing a young English player with bags of potential over a $30 million Brazilian international. Even some fans now would be happier seeing a world superstar come in rather than a home grown player playing for them week in week out. There are many factors behind this problem. New owners investing lots of money want lots of money back and more. They want a big trophy each year and the more their rivals spend the more they will spend. And during this greedy process for success, English players in the youth systems are being overlooked. So as a fan, do you want more home grown players or Champions League or League success? It’s a hard one to choose. And for the FA it’s equally as hard. To introduce a change for young English players could slow down the progress of teams in Europe’s competitions. This then would affect the Premier league brand and the financial reward from worldwide audiences. So what do they do? Well here is my idea …pay close attention.

The NBA is one of the most popular sports in the world. It prides itself on helping young talent and showing that talent how to adapt to the big time. It allows young talent to flourish at its own speed. The pressure of instant success that is in football is evident in the NBA, however, there is one very interesting part to it, the Draft. The draft allows the worst performing teams in the NBA to have first pick on the best young talents in college basketball. Cleveland Cavaliers acquiring LeBron James is the prime example. Cleveland, the year before LeBron arrived, had one of the worst records in the league. The Draft allows the poor performing teams to stay competitive. LeBron was the most sought after and talked about player since Michael Jordan and he was playing for one of the lesser teams in the league. This did two things.

1. It allowed LeBron play with a team that gave him minutes and he could grow and showcase his talents at a natural pace.

2. It brought in massive revenue for the team with jersey sales from LeBron and TV rights to see him.

So a win-win for both you could say. During his time there LeBron also led The Cavs to a finals appearance losing out to San Antonio. But what has this got to do with football you ask? Well here we go.

Look at the young players not getting game time in the top 6 teams. What usually happens is that these players are sent to a Championship or League One team. Not the same level that their club are playing at. If a Draft system was implemented this is how it would work. The top five teams put three or four players from their youth system in a pool. These players are on the verge of first team football but are not quite there yet. But with all the mega stars in the team at the moment it will be hard for these players to get game time. The newly promoted teams to the league get first picks for the top talent and then so on. By doing this not alone will we see emerging talent play in the Premier League week in week out, it will save newly promoted clubs fees on players and the tops team see their players and if they can play at the top level. Everyone is happy.
Here is an example. United, City, Chelsea, Arsenal, Spurs and Liverpool all place four of their top talents not considered for the first team into a pool. Cardiff, Hull and Crystal Palace are just promoted and are cautious about spending money on players with their chances of survival. So, by using the draft, Cardiff could sign Andre Wisdom of Liverpool and Jordan Ibe. Palace could get Lewis Baker off Chelsea. Hull could acquire Isaac Hayden from Arsenal and Tom Carroll of Spurs. Other players like Martin Kelly and Jon Flanagan of Liverpool, Jesse Lingard and Wilfred Zaha from Manchester United, Nathaniel Chalobah of Chelsea and Harry Kane of Spurs are all ready to be picked. These are all players struggling to find first team chances but are rated highly by their club.

This is not a long term solution to the English FA’s problem. Coaching at grass roots does need to improve and the emphasis of fitness over finesse and power over passing needs to be addressed. Players need to not alone play the game but be students of it. Be educated on systems, tactics and styles of plays. The pressure to succeed must be dropped and youth player’s wages and contracts need to be reviewed to stop the race for wealth and fame. But in the meantime, a short term fix may be needed. My above suggestion could be easily adopted. It would help the newly promoted teams and smaller teams in the league while allowing players in the top youth academies to showcase their talents in the biggest league in the world. If they preform and do well, then their club can have them back after the season and have a homegrown player ready to play in the first team. If not, they have the option to sell to the foster team the player is at and the player is still playing and the club makes money.

There are more pressing issues in the world to solve such as war or world hunger but for the moment let’s start here. There you go FA. Your Welcome!

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Rodgers goes old school.

Last week’s win over Sunderland saw Liverpool start with two upfront. Big deal you say! Well it kind of is. There are trends in football like in most walks of life. Whether its new colourful boots, full length tattoo sleeves, white tape around a players wrist (why do they do this?) or the current quif to the side haircut. Trends are evident in football. None more so than in the tactical side of the game. If you are interested in the tactical evolution of football, I would suggest reading Jonathan Wilson’s Inverting the Pyramid. In this amazing book, it outlines the slow changes of tactics over the years. From a libero to half backs and so on.
Over the last five or six years, Barcelona have dominated world football. Their tiki taka brand of football has taken the world by storm. Soon after their first period of success, every coach wanted to copy their style. Every footballing association marveled at how these diminutive players could dominate a game with the ball as opposed to their size and speed. All the associations around the world looked to revamp their football structure to copy what Barca had done. Their formation was also used by coaches the world over. Teams wanted to play the “Barca way”and entertain while winning. So how exactly did they play?
Playing with high full backs and one holding midfielder instead of a double pivot was replicated everywhere. But the most important part of the puzzle was the striker. They had none. No recognized out and out striker. They did try it with Ibrahimovic but that just didn’t work due to Messi being the focal point. Barca used a false number nine. This was a lone striker who played in the middle of a front three. He would drop off the defense to collect the ball, allowing a pocket of space for either wide man or attacking midfielder to move into. This also confused the oppositions back four. With no one to physically mark, a higher defensive line is played, thus providing space in behind for third man running. As the saying goes, often imitated never duplicated. No one could play the system the way Barca did. But what did happen was that other teams saw the importance of ball retention in the midfield. So they left one player up front and overloaded the midfield to gain possession. This is evident in the Premier League today. Players like Giroud, Torres, Soldado and Lukaku all play the lone striker role with attacking players just in behind, playing in between the lines. But what we witnessed on Saturday in the Stadium of Light was a slight change to the current trend and Brendan Rodgers tactics.
Rodgers was faced with a dilemma once Suarez ban was up. Liverpool had only lost one game in twelve and lone striker Daniel Sturridge was scoring goals for fun and was the focal point of the team. But irrespective of his past behavior, Rodgers knew that it was impossible to leave a player the caliber of Suarez out of the lineup. Rodgers needs to progress this year and he needs all the help he can get. The injury to Brazilian Coutinho had many people suggesting that Suarez would play in the number ten role behind Sturridge or wide of the attacking three. But what Rodgers did was alter his team to accommodate a front two of Sturridge and Suarez. The recent acquisition of Sakho allowed Rodgers to play with three center backs. In the Southampton defeat Rodgers was criticised for playing four center backs so the new formation allowed him to use the majority of his defenders. Jamie Carragher has mentioned numerous times on Sky Sports that Rodgers had tried this in training and even used it and the last home game against Fulham the previous season. He felt it would allow Liverpool to still dominate possession and use their attacking full backs to provide much needed width. It also allowed Rodgers to play the two guys up front together. And that’s exactly what happened on Saturday. Enrique and Henderson played as full backs. Henderson filling in at full back while Johnson was out. The center backs of Toure, Skrtel and Sakho .The double pivot in midfield of Gerrard and Lucas, Moses as the number ten and Suarez and Sturridge up front. 3 goals for the front two proved Rodgers right. The two linked up very well throughout the game and sturridge also providing an assist for his strike partner. Liverpool legend Robbie Fowler recently explained his delight at the sight of seeing two play up front. Fowler wrote in the UK Daily Mail: "It felt like a throwback to a different era when I saw Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge running riot at the Stadium of Light. There has been a trend to play one up front with a man floating in behind but that can make things difficult for the man at the head of the team. He will often find himself with two men, possibly even three, keeping him under wraps. Once you have two strikers working in tandem, though, the dynamics completely change and doubts begin to creep into defenders minds"
The 3-5-2 system has been used before. Mazzarri’s Napoli used it last year as did Conte’s Juventus on occasions. But in the Premier League, this was a bold move by Rodgers. Rodgers bases his game on killing the opponent by possession. Dominating the midfield and having a solid foundation at the back. The possession stats for the game were 53%. They completed 419 passes with 83% accuracy. So with two up front, you can still gain advantage in possession. Many will say “well it was against Sunderland”. This is a valid point. But you can only beat who is placed in front of you and over the last few years, Liverpool have struggled to get results against the so called lesser teams. So a 1-3 win with a new formation and two up front isn’t a bad day at the office for Brendan’s new look Liverpool team.
Greater tests lay in the months ahead and the new formation will be put to the sword against better teams. This weekend Liverpool face Crystal Palace at Anfield. Three points is a must. No doubt in the future, Rodgers will switch his team to counter act other teams but the return of an old school front two in the Premier League is a nice sight. Let’s hope it brings a flurry of goals to the new SAS strike force

Monday, 30 September 2013

Thankless task for Moyes

United’s latest defeat to West Brom leaves them sitting 12th after 6 games. Only 3 points behind their city rivals but 12th is not where Man United belong. Not the ideal start for David Moyes we all agree. A lot has been said recently about Moyes deciding to bring in his own back room staff and letting go Mike Phelan and Rene Meulensteen. Newspapers have suggested that if Moyes had kept the backroom team together, United would not be sitting 12th but that just isn’t the case. No matter what happened, Moyes faced an impossible task taking over this summer. Let’s put it into perspective. He had taken over a team that had its star striker wanting a move, an injury prone defense, lack of creativity in midfield and to add to that, every team around him had spent $50 plus on players and they spent a few million on a championship winger. He was following in the footsteps of the greatest manager in sporting history. This is coming from a Liverpool fan. I can say with ease and confidence that Sir Alex is the greatest manager the world of sport has even seen. Not just for what he won, but for how he won it and how he managed it. United also lost David Gill this summer, which was another massive blow. I think fans fail to realise the importance he played in the success of the club. David Gill was a genius in the transfer market. He knew how and when to go for players and United always got their man for the right price. New Chief Exec, Ed Woodward, has already messed up with paying over the odds for Fellaini and also missed out on a number of summer targets. So even before a ball was kicked Moyes was in trouble.

So what kind of team is at United now ? The team consists of an ageing, injury prone and slow center back pair of Vidic and Ferdinand. No strength in dept like previous teams. No goals from the bench in the last 10 minutes. A midfield with no goals whatsoever. This I’d like to point out, is something you associate with United. Scoring goals from midfield. Runs from deep into the box. It just doesn’t happen anymore does it? Cleverly, Carrick, Giggs, Valencia, Nani and Kagawa wont get you double figures will they? Now, before United fans go mental, I am not writing off your team. I still have no doubts your team will finish in the top 3 and that the latest defeat is just a minor blip. However, if you are a realist then you must be worried and troubled.  

Now, moving onto David Moyes. As manager of Everton, he never won a single trophy. He rarely changed his tactics at Everton and one big point is that he usually started with the same team every week. He never had to leave big players on the bench. He never had to juggle a squad or “rotate” as they say. All of these things are daily occurrences in the Old Trafford camp.  When he was appointed, the words coming from inside Old Trafford were longevity, character and passion. They wanted him for the long haul. He had worked wonders at Everton and he had a similar passion and character to his predecessor. That’s what made him the chosen one, as the Stretford end point out in a new banner. The squad currently at his disposal is not good enough, as he pointed out recently. Now people can speculate, but I’m pretty sure Fergie knew the squad was not good enough and on his way out, he would have mentioned to Moyes that the squad needed freshening up. He would have highlighted the areas and players needed and that would have been his last bit of work. Now, some would argue that Fergie should have signed the players he knew he needed for the next season. Why leave it to someone else? If you know the players you need and can get them, why wait? Why not leave your squad in a healthy position for someone to come in and carry on.  Some will say maybe Moyes wanted to pick his own players but the fact is the best players come to United. Quick, smart, counter attacking players. Players who excite fans and score goals.

Moyes faces an impossible task. If he does well with Man United then it was expected. Its Man United after all. He inherited a Championship winning team. But if he does poorly, then cries for “bring back fergie” will echo throughout Old Trafford.

Irrespective of who is in his squad, how much money he has or what type of manager he is, the job at hand is a thankless one. Today football is about instant gratification. Fans and club owners want results, trophies and points now. Moyes and his team face a daunting trip this Wednesday night away to the Ukrainian side Shakhtar Donetsk. Moyes will expect a massive performance from his team. By doing this, they will show the world that they are 100% behind their new gaffer and that they still are a force to be reckoned with. As much as United say he is there for the long haul, something tells me that if this current trend continues and no world class players come in January, then Moyes is skating on thin ice and the chosen one may chose to walk away.  

Monday, 27 May 2013

Whats more important ?

The football world is on overdrive following Bayern Munich’s Champions league win on Saturday. Everyone is talking about a european domination by the Bavarians. Journalists talking about Pep Guardiola coming on board next season and the prospect of an even better team than the one we witnessed on the weekend. The other news making the football headlines is the transfer spree of Monaco and the imminent arrival of Falcao to the French club. Also, the arrival of Manuel Pellegrini to Man City and Mourinho’s imminent arrival to Chelsea are other popular topics you will find online and in newspapers at the moment. These are the stories that all football fans want to read. I know this because I’m a huge fan and there is nothing better than reading about possible transfer arrivals at your club or what mega star is going where. Watching the biggest game in football, the Champion’s league, it’s what all football fans want. But there is another story that is actually more important than any of this. This story is more important than anything else in football this year. This story is more important than any signing or stadium build. It’s the most important story in sport

On Sunday the 26th of March in Los Angeles, 77 minutes gone in the game, Robbie Rodgers came on as a sub for LA Galaxy against the Seattle Sounders. What’s the big deal and how does this compare to the Champions league final, I hear you say?  Well, Rodgers is the firstly openly gay athlete in American sport history and only the second man to openly admit his sexuality in football since Justin Fashanu back in in 1990. That’s what the big deal is.

Rodgers a 25 year old LA native, had a small spell with Leeds United and Stevenage and after a number of injuries during his time in England, he decided to retire and reveal is sexuality or come out, at the same time. He did this through his blog and opened the article with “For the past 25 years I have been afraid, afraid to show who I really was because of fear. Fear that judgment and rejection would hold me back from my dreams and aspirations. Fear that my loved ones would be farthest from me if they knew my secret. Fear that my secret would get in the way of my dreams”.


Rodgers revealing his sexuality, or coming out as they say, is old news. It happened back in February but on Sunday night, stepping onto the field with a thunderous applause from the fans, Rodgers not alone made history but he also did something more important for football than a Bayern Munich win or Monaco’s money.

If you are not aware, homosexuality in football is not talked about, addressed, or to put it bluntly, accepted. The title “The beautiful game” is a cloak of lies that covers the ignorant caveman like world of football today. As a footballer and now manager, I know too well the talk in the changing room after the game or the jokes between team mates when they do something wrong or not acceptable. Like if a player goes down from a tackle the comment that follows usually goes like “Ah come on don’t be gay, I barely touched you get up”. Now, I know most of the time this goes unnoticed, it’s just a passing footballing comment. But for a player like Rodgers, hearing this on a daily basis from managers and players must have been horrendous. Rodgers retirement and coming out was not in any of the papers I read or apps I look at on my phone for football. It wasn’t on any of the shows I watch or mentioned on any of the games. Why not? Why was it not celebrated that a 25 year old man, who is a professional sportsman has decided to tell the world his sexuality and try to break down the homophobic wall that is in football today. Why has it not got more media attention? Maybe I’m wrong and it did get the adequate coverage but not in the sources I read or watch.


Many people talk about bravery in football. How it’s brave to step up and take a penalty in a crunch game. How it’s brave for a coach to make a sub at a certain period of the game or how it’s brave for a club to spend a sum of money on a transfer target. None of those things are brave. What Rodgers has done is brave. What Rodgers is doing now is brave and if he continues to play at a pro level, not only will it be brave but it will be a milestone in the history of football. His coming out as a gay footballer will hopefully open the door for other players to do the same. Landon Donavan, Rodgers team mate and American football legend, had this to say about Rodgers “Everybody wants it to go a certain way on the filed for him but in my opinion, it’s already a success whether he plays one minute or a thousand minutes”. There are without doubt more gay footballers waiting to come out. There are 20 teams in the Premier league. Each team has a squad of around 25 players. That’s 500 players in the Premier league alone and supposedly, all 500 are straight! I don’t believe that for one second. So imagine the players all over the world and we only have two openly gay players in the history of the game

In 2013 you would think that being homosexual in sports wouldn’t be a big deal. But unfortunately it is. Football is seen as a world healing game. It brings all walks of life together with the language of football. It allows different races and cultures to come together. It brings fans from different backgrounds to the one arena singing in harmony. What about being a safer environment for players to be comfortable with who they are and not afraid of the impacts of being truthful and being honest about their sexual preference.

The talk now after the Champions league win for Bayern is what impact their win will have on the future of football. I think what Rodgers is doing will have a far bigger impact on the future of football than Bayerns win or any win.

Let’s hope that Rodgers bravery and courage will be an important step for the game becoming as beautiful as it says it claims to be.

Monday, 20 May 2013

Manage the Man

In life, we constantly strive for success. We always want to improve, move forward and to find new ways to become better, fitter stronger and healthier. This is particularly evident in today’s sports world. New ways of improving the individual and the team come along so fast it is sometimes hard to catch up. From recovery supplements to performance enhancing clothing, each sports team strives to be better than their competitor and will look down any avenue to gain the upper hand.  This can be traced back to the days of the cold war and the supposed alternative training methods used behind the iron curtain. These methods intrigued the world, particularly the United States, and after the iron curtain fell, many Americans ventured over to Russia to see how they could keep up.

In today’s world nothing has really changed from then. From a football perspective, soccer boots are now made that supposedly make you go faster, turn quicker and track how many miles you ran on a pitch. The under garments worn in games now are supposed to increase blood flow while keeping the body cool or warm, depending on the weather. Then some players use certain fluids to replace their electrolytes and supplements to aid recovery after a game. Fitness drills have changed. Gone are the days of long distance pre-season who can get sick first training. Now, we have heart rate monitors monitoring our work rate, our workout it’s specified to the position we play in and our diet is as detailed as nothing you have seen. From TRX to cross fit to plyometrics, it’s hard to keep up isn’t it?

But one thing that seems to be forgotten about or overlooked is the art of man management. This, in my opinion, is vital in looking after a team or any individual in sports. If you can man-manage well, the greater the likelihood of the team and individual given you all they can and pushing themselves to the maximum. Recently Frank Lampard of Chelsea said this about man management “First and foremost it is about man management and how you get on with players. If you are a top-level manager you have top players, but getting the best out of them is the trick and it’s 70 per cent of the job”.

As a football coach myself, I can see the importance of managing an individual and the team as a whole. It’s extremely important in my role as I manage the two teams in the club, so I deal with 35+ players, all who have full time jobs and want to enjoy football but win at the same time. I am coach / manager of an amateur team, Dunbar Rovers, in Sydney’s eastern suburbs. I am very blessed to manage some amazing footballers in my two teams and their technical ability and knowledge of the game is amazing. But like every player, whether they are pro or a pub team, managing them and keeping them happy is vital in the group’s pursuit of success. If a player is not happy with his or her surroundings, then their attitude and application will drop, which will affect both their own game and the group goals and ambitions

In my teams, I deal with some players who have families and very demanding full time jobs, so the time they can fully dedicate to the team is limited. So, when dealing with grown men, majority all older than me, I try to balance the goals of the group together with the time the individual can give me. As a group, there is always one common goal. That is to be successful. In our teams and club, we also try to incorporate certain styles of play and to ensure we enjoy it.  Before I took over this season, I spoke to several of the older players in the squad who had been with the club for a few seasons  and asked them what they liked the previous year, what they didn’t like and what they would like to see in the coming season. Then I told them my ideas and vision and we successfully came up with a plan that we felt would help the group, as well as helping the individuals. One thing was training. Before we began training at 8pm and didn’t finish until 9.30pm and by the time the players got home and had food, their kids were gone to bed and it was past 10pm. This season we shortened out training time and started earlier and ensured that in the time we had, we worked as hard as possible.


In pro sports there are many well-known coaches who excel in man management. In Basketball, Phil Jackson, winner of 11 NBA titles, managed two of the best players in the history of the NBA in Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan. In his time at the Lakers he managed the hostile relationship with Shaq and Kobe and managed to win 5 championships by keeping the group goals as the focus while making sure the two huge egos were massaged and dealt with properly . In football, Harry Redknapp is a manager that comes to mind when you think of managing players and galvanising squads. Many times he has been criticised for taking over the hill players or players who are seen as disruptive but Harry uses his unique skill to bring harmony and to ensure that all players play to their maximum while achieving the team goals


Man management is not something you can learn in college. Some people either have it or they don’t. They can build a rapport with their team and demand respect and honesty from their players. In return the coach provides a happy and open environment which suits both him and the players and enables everyone to work towards the common goal. Winning. 

A lot of managers and coaches find that consulting their players or asking for opinions is a sign of weakness and devalues their authority over the group. They are afraid that it will show they are incapable of making decisions and need confirmation from their players before deciding. This is not the case. If done in the right manner, consulting certain players on decisions makes them feel important. It can help you get the senior players on track to your way of thinking while also letting the players voice their opinions. At the end of the day, no one is always right and by speaking to your players, it shows them you care about their feelings, are humble enough to admit mistakes or look for counsel and want to know what makes them happy. This builds a relationship of trust and respect that can help you through tough times in seasons ahead.

 One of the greatest man managers of all time, Vince Lombardi summed it up perfectly It is essential to understand that battles are primarily won in the hearts of men. Men respond to leadership in a most remarkable way and once you have won his heart, he will follow you anywhere”.

You may know all the drills, all the tactics, formations and techniques but unless you have all of your team on board and singing from the same hymn sheet , as they say, then all coaching badges, formations and tactics are useless to a group who don’t want to learn and don’t see you as a leader. They will not follow you.