Tuesday, 21 December 2010

A win for Reading at last, but the same problems still exis

So after 5 straight draws Reading finally managed to pick up 3 points against a Derby team that started the day 3 points ahead of the Royals but from all accounts it was a closely fought contest.

Sadly for me it was another away game I couldn’t get to but from what I’ve seen and heard it was a close game with Adam Federici yet again proving a big difference with several fine saves and keeping Reading in the game. Although many people are saying Madejski needs to back McDermott with a new striker and giving him money to spend I think the best bit of business Reading can do is to get Federici to sign a new contract – if he gets sold in January it would be a disaster and if his contract was allowed to run down and he left for free in the summer it would be an even bigger disaster. Keepers like Federici are a rare breed, yes his distribution isn’t the best and occasionally he makes mistakes (i.e. kicking the ball against Karacan against Nottingham Forest) but the number of top class saves he makes every game is vital to the team, a good defence is built on knowing they have a quality keeper behind them and bringing in McCarthy or Anderson would doubtlessly unsettle the defence.

It was a game that could have gone either way and ironically enough it was Shane Long, a player I frequently slate for not scoring enough goals, that proved the difference at the other end of the pitch. He won and scored a penalty, although it was a soft penalty, and then scored the winning goal with a nice header 2 mins from the end from a lovely McAnuff cross. Immediately people went on to the Radio joining Tim Della in saying that ‘Long has proved his critics wrong’ what a load of rubbish. He managed to scored his 2nd goal from open play all season – that is still not good enough for our supposed no 9 that leads the front line. Long is an incredibly hard working striker who will run himself in to the ground and put his body on the line but he still doesn’t score enough goals. If he carries this on and scores more and more goals from open play then fine but he won’t, he’ll go another 4 or 5 games without scoring and yet again the calls for a goal scoring striker will be heard from the fans once more. 6 goals in 20 appearances isn’t exactly what you’d call deadly – especially when 4 of those 6 have been scored from the penalty spot. Is Long Reading’s own Alan Smith? Only time can tell but I get the feeling his finishing isn’t going to dramatically improve over night but I do hope he proves me wrong and bangs the goals in for the rest of the season.

One thing to remember though is that the people praising Shane Long are more than likely the same fans who slag of Sir John Madejski who recently completed 20 years of service as Reading chairman. When Sir John took over in 1990 Reading were losing £20k a week and were languishing in the old division 2 (division 3 now) and now the club is pretty much breaking even and is established as a Championship side – but this doesn’t seem enough for some fans. Apparently helping the club being on a sound financial footing and being self sustaining isn’t good enough for some fans, they’d rather see the club throwing stupid amounts of money at players and trying to ‘chase the dream’. As clubs like Leeds, Portsmouth, Plymouth, Ipswich, Sheff Wed and Sheff Utd show the idea of throwing stupid amounts of money around and crippling your club doesn’t always work – I don’t want to see my club going through the same struggles these teams are going through. There is talk that Peter Ridsdale will become involved with Plymouth to try and help them, if Ridsdale ever got involved with Reading I would stop going, I wouldn’t want my money lining that mans pockets. Cardiff are another example and people forget how close they went to going bust (again partly due to Ridsdale) before Asian backers came in to save them and bankroll there adventure up the league. Over the years Madejski has dipped into his own pocket to help Reading and it amazes me how quickly fans forget all this. Right now with all the instability that a lot of football teams find themselves in I’m happy we have a responsible and sensible owner that isn’t prepared to toy with the future of the club – who knows where the club would be if it wasn’t for him, we could be in the 4th division still playing at Elm Park instead of being in the Championship and playing in a 24,000 modern stadium.

Right now Reading fans just need to accept that we aren’t in a position to throw around shed loads of money and we have to make do with what we have and maybe one or two loan/cheap signings. The long term future of the club is far more important than any ‘dream’ the fans think we should be chasing and keeping the club on a steady financial level is the most important thing right now, if we can keep sneaking wins against the teams around us like Derby than maybe a playoff place isn’t out of reach but draws at home to teams like Leeds and Coventry could end up being costly. I don’t think we will make the play offs this season but we are building towards a good future and this could pay off in the next few seasons.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Why are we surprised at World Cup voting results?

Most people (in England at least) have been up in arms since the World Cup hosting results were announced but the question that baffles me is why are we surprised by what happened?

When you look at it, Russia winning the 2018 bid isn’t exactly a huge surprise – FIFA have made it known that they want to take the World Cup to new countries and it’s also not a secret that Sepp Blatter wants to win a Nobel peace prize at some point in his life for doing just this. Russia’s bid wasn’t that terrible, they have a good football history winning European Championships in 1960 & making the final again in ’64, ’72 & ’88 as well as finishing 4th in the ’66 World Cup (all as the Soviet Union). They have many players playing around the world and also have recent European pedigree with domestic clubs winning the UEFA Cup in 2005 (CSKA Moscow) and 2008 (Zenit St. Petersburg). People say it’s a tragedy that so many generations have missed out on seeing a World Cup in England but the Russian football fans have never seen a World Cup in their country?

However my point in this blog is to look at the fact that everyone is convinced there is something sinister going on in the background (brown envelops, oil soaked currency being passed around etc) – why is this such a surprise? Since the very early days of football controversy and murky goings on have been normal in football. Arsenal’s promotion to the first division in 1919 was marred in controversy with the club only finishing 5th in 1914-1915 (last season before WWI) in the 2nd division yet somehow being promoted to the newly expanded 1st division (from 20 teams to 22) over teams like Tottenham, who had finished 20th in 1st division the season before (Chelsea finished 19th but were given one of the 2 new places despite technically being relegated) or Barnsley or Wolves who had both finished above Arsenal in the 1914-1915 season. Allegations (unproven) were levelled against the Chairman Sir Henry Norris that he had arranged dodgy backroom deals or out and out bribery to get Arsenal promoted but nothing was ever proven (although Norris left in 1929 under a cloud having been found guilty by the FA of ‘financial irregularities’). I’m not using this to pick on Arsenal, just an example of how even in the early days football started on dodgy dealings and shadowy happenings.

Of course it’s unfair to just pick on Arsenal here especially as nothing was ever proven but nothing will ever be proven regarding this World Cup (FIFA & Blatter to clever/experience for that) but when you look at football today it’s constantly filled with allegations and stories about managers, players and officials being corrupt or dodgy – Sam Allerdyce and the media’s favourite Harry Redknapp are two names that jump to the front when you’re talking about manager that have a grey cloud above them, George Graham of course was found guilty of taking bungs in the transfer of John Jensen . In 2006 then Luton Manager Mike Newell & then QPR manager Ian Holloway both said bungs were rife in football, Jaap Stam famously said that he was ‘tapped up’ by Sir Alex Ferguson in his auto biography and was subsequently moved on from the club. Yet the English media and fans were up in arms saying that clearly there was something fishy with the whole FIFA bidding process and that people had lied to them – no shit?! This happens every day in football, players and managers lie to the media, perform illegal tapping up by talking about other players/clubs in press conference. It’s not just in England either – Italy is a prime example with the Totonero scandals in 1980 & 1984-1986 as well as the recent Calciopoli scandal in 2006, Spain as well has its fair share of controversy with Real Madrid being perceived as having favourable treatment during the Franco regime as they were perceived as the ‘Royal Club’. Barcelona & Real Madrid recently have both been guilty of tapping up with their approaches for Cristiano Ronaldo & Cesc Fabregas (Fabregas of course joining Arsenal in controversial circumstances as well) both being made very public through the Spanish media. In Germany in 2005 there was a refereeing scandal with referee Robert Hoyzer admitting to fixing matches in the 2nd division and DFB-Pokal games. Prior to that there was a scandal in 1971 when several games were ‘fixed’ and a fair number of players and officials were handed long term bans from football as a result.

This is just a few of the examples of scandal and problems in football, if you took a look at FIFA, the so called governors of football the list of allegations against them dates back a lot further than just the Sepp Blatter regime, Sir Stanley Rous (from England) was the leader of FIFA when the Soviet Union had to play Chile in a World Cup play off in 1973 just weeks after the Pinochet led military coup in Chile. Unsurprisingly the Soviet Union didn’t want to play the return leg (they drew 0-0 in the first leg in Russia) in the Estadio Nacional in Santiago which, days before the game, had been used as a prison camp where hundreds of objectors to the military takeover were tortured and executed – the walls were scrubbed clean of the blood of Pinochet’s victims literally hours before the game was due to be played. Protest not just from the Chileans and Soviets but from FIFA members worldwide fell on deaf ears and Rous ordered the game to go ahead, unsurprisingly the Soviets didn’t turn up and Chile were awarded the game. Rous lost the election in 1974 to João Havelange which ushered in a new era away from the ‘pro western’ stance that previous FIFA presidents had taken (as the previous 6 presidents were either English or French bar Rodolphe Seeldrayers from Belgium who was in charge for less than a year) because part of the problem with Rous (and previous presidents) was he just ignored African football – and they ended up voting him out of office.

Whilst it is right for the media to question the ethics of FIFA, something the ‘FIFA Ethics committee’ seem unable to do, perhaps they should take a look closer to home before criticising FIFA – how can we criticise corruption and shady deals in football when it runs rampant through this country anyway? And how can we criticise FIFA when we have helped create the monster to start with? Blatter isn’t the first dodgy president, the ExCo panel aren’t the first dodgy voting board interested in lining their own pockets and telling fibs to delegates and won’t be the last either – until we can clean up our game closer to home we can’t criticise.

Sadly the system will not change, FIFA are just too powerful for that, which means we can do 1 of 2 things – clean up our attitude and the way we conduct ourselves in football or just not bother running for the World Cup vote again. It’s not an ideal situation but it’s a situation we are partly responsible for creating and after enjoying all the power before we now have to deal with the consequences.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Arsenal’s finance’s – a cleverly run club or doomed to not win?

So Arsenal fans finally have something to celebrate, they have again announced a healthy pre tax profit and, rightfully so, are beaming with pride at this announcement. In this modern era of reckless spending, debt fuelled take over’s and buy now pay later climate it’s good to see a top premiership club still running smoothly and living within their means.

However once the dust has settled and certain sections of the Gunners faithful have stopped sneering at other clubs who operate with stupid levels of debt and lose money each year the simple fact is that there is no trophy for a well run club. Whilst Arsenal should be commended for their approach to financial management the fact is they haven’t won a trophy since 2005 and, despite their good start to the season, probably won’t see this drought end any time soon. Don’t get me wrong, I would like to see Arsenal holding the title aloft so other clubs realise that maybe playing Russian roulette with the future of your club isn’t the way to do things, but it doesn’t really seem like it’s going to happen any time soon. Ivan Gazidis sad when the figures were released that ‘standing still is not an option for this club’ but isn’t that what they are doing? Moving forward would be winning a trophy even if it is something like the Carling Cup and it seems like Wenger might have started to realise this by playing a much stronger team against Spurs than people were anticipating, although as this is a local derby that might be a motivation behind it, but come the end of the season when one of Man Utd or Chelsea are lifting the title will the comfort of ‘we’ve got money’ really be enough for Arsenal fans?

There has been much debate over Arsenal’s transfer policy, is Wenger just refusing to spend money or is there no money available? Has the Highbury flats project handcuffed what the club can spend? Clearly these questions have been answered today, not only does Wenger have funds to spend but the flats have effectively paid themselves off, the debt now being wiped from the clubs books (I believe the outstanding debt is linked to building the stadium) but this begs the question – why oh why hasn’t Wenger spent? It’s been clear for the last few years were Arsenal need strengthening and yet nothing is done to improve this, a new keeper for example should be a priority as well as a ball winning midfielder and a striker to reinforce the often injured front line, and come the end of the season these are the same questions Arsenal fans will be asking.

Whilst the clued up fans that understand these issues will happily say they are content with the overall running of the club the majority of fans who aren’t so clued up will point to these figures as being further proof that Wenger’s policy clearly isn’t working because they aren’t winning. Whilst Hill-Wood, Gazidis & Wenger can sit on their piles of cash laughing at other clubs in demise (Liverpool spring to mind) your average fan that shells out money every week to watch the club live, or even the arm chair fans, will be pointing to Man Utd & Chelsea asking why they aren’t winning trophies. Whilst it’s all well and good to point to Liverpool & Man Utd and laugh at their debts and financial problems the fact is that these clubs will be bought by a rich backer and they won’t go in to total melt down. Liverpool’s problems stem from the fact that the current owners want far too much for the club and the moment RBS take control and sell it at a knockdown price multi millionaires and billionaires will be queuing at the door to buy the club. The same can be said for Man Utd, whilst they aren’t at breaking point at the moment if (or when) the day comes that the Glazers have to sell up there won’t be a shortage of buyers for them because, If run properly, Man Utd & Liverpool could make a profit every year like Arsenal do and that is what will attract people to them.

The Fabregas saga this summer is another interesting conundrum, two clubs at opposite ends of the financial spectrum – Arsenal with well run finances but winning nothing and Barcelona winning trophies but having to take out a £160m loan to sort out their finances this summer. Which is going to appeal to Fabregas more? If Barca win the league and European cup this season as I think they will and Arsenal finish with a positive balance sheet but in 3rd is that going to be enough to convince him to stay? And if Fabregas does go what will happen, will Wenger spend the money buying another world class replacement or will he rely on youngsters as he has done before when players have left? And if he does end up going back to his youth first policy will that not put Arsenal back to square one again?

Now would have seemed like the right time for Wenger to splash the cash a bit, clearly with the club having this much money he could have gone out and bought a top player in one of the positions that needs strengthening and the club still would have made a profit but instead he chose to stick with players that don’t seem to be up to the level that is required. With Stan Kroenke & Alisher Usmanov waiting in the wings it’s not like Arsenal will be short of financial backers and people worth a lot of money ready to buy the club and whilst fans can say ‘we don’t want a sugar daddy, we want to support ourselves’ wouldn’t you rather have an owner that can dip in to his pockets and fund that little extra than miss out on a player because you get out bid by a club like Man City? People can moan all they want about City having all this money but the fact is the majority of fans would love their club to have that kind of owner. If Chelsea manages to become self sustaining as they plan on doing then the years they spent loads of money and effectively bought the titles will be worth it as they have silverware and don’t end up in serious trouble.

Arsenal should be commended for being a well organised and well run club in this time of financial chaos but is it enough to keep players and fans happy? Only time will tell but I worry the answer will be no, and that in turn will present the eventual question – is being a well run club enough when silverware seems to be what counts most these days?

Friday, 24 September 2010

Ignorance is bliss – for Shearer and Co anyway

Saturday evening bought to the forefront a discussion that has been ongoing for a while, do football pundits have a responsibility to be better informed than the average fan? Alan Shearer displayed an incredible level of ignorance on Saturday when he asked Alan Hansen & Gary Lineker if either of them ‘knew anything about this guy’ with the player in question being Hatem Ben Arfa who had just scored the winning goal in a tricky 1-0 away win at Everton.

Ignoring the fact that as a fan and ex-player Shearer should probably be a bit more clued up on his teams latest signing, which in my opinion was something of a coup, who isn’t exactly an unknown in football. In his role as a paid pundit Shearer has a duty to the fans watching to know a bit more or at least pretend he knows a bit more even if he’s only learnt it minutes before hand from doing a bit of research. It’s not like Ben Arfa is a player who’s come from nowhere, he’s won league titles with Lyon, played in the Champions League and represented France at international level. I’m sure that Shearer, as a supposed Newcastle fan, knew the result of the game and the scorer before he set foot in the beeb office’s to record the show so he must have thought to himself ‘who is this guy?’ it only takes a few moments out of his schedule to look up some information online about him and find out that actually, as a supposed top football pundit you should be aware of him.

Obviously it’s not fair to say that these guys should be as clued up on tactical analysis and understanding of the game as people like the insightful Jonathan Wilson or the fantastic Zonal Marking are because that late on a Saturday night it would go above most of the viewing publics heads and really it would probably go above most average football fans heads at any point during the day/week if we’re honest, but that’s no excuse for not knowing basic information about a clubs top signing when the internet is a source of information that is easy to access. On top of that the BBC have researchers that will have happily handed the pundits information on the goal scorers and key players before the show even began (apparently the BBC’s world cup guide was incredibly detailed and informative but clearly wasn’t read by the people that needed it most). For the privilege of holding a place on the MOTD sofa is it too much to expect these guys to flick through some information handed to them before the show starts? If any of us was handed an information pack for an important meeting in our respective jobs and we went in without a clue doubtlessly some sort of disciplinary action would soon follow but week in week out these guys underwhelm us with their lack of knowledge on what is supposedly their specialist subject.

I remember watching the World Cup and Alan Hansen displayed his attitude to research and knowledge when he sneered at Lee Dixon ‘someone told you about him’, Dixon had just picked out Marek Hamsik as a key player to watch for Slovakia, when Hamsik is one of the most sort after midfielders in Europe! Mark Lawrenson is another one who displays ignorance at a shocking frequency, during a Brazil game he asked if Kaka had played much last season, even the most ill informed of football fans knew that Kaka had been suffering with injury problems most of the season. These are people who are in jobs that most football fans would kill for, I’d have loved for the BBC to have not only provided me with plane tickets & accommodation for the world cup and then pay me to commentate and provide my thoughts to millions of viewers on the game, but instead I had to work my usual job and then have to put up with their ill informed punditry. This is just further proof that Shearer’s Ben Arfa gaffe isn’t a ‘one off’ but a serious underlying problem that has been all too common on what is supposed to be the BBC’s flagship football program.

If anyone else displayed this lack of ignorance in their chosen profession they would be sacked – take for example any of the Top Gear presenters, if they went on T.V and said they didn’t know anything about the latest Ferrari they’d been asked to test drive then they would be out the door. If Gary Rhodes said ‘does anyone know what this Salami stuff is?’ he would have been gone out the door. Even Soccer AM, its self a bit of a joke amongst football fans, decided to ditch the hapless Andy Goldstein after Ray Winston took him apart for being from London and supporting Man Utd, this following on from an awful showing throughout his time on the show. Yet the BBC continues to chuck licence payer money at a group of people that don’t really seem to have a clue about the subject they are employed to discuss.

As the general public have to pay a T.V licence fee maybe it’s about time the BBC showed the common viewer a little bit of decency and made MOTD the show it should be, a program that concentrates on highlights of the show and tells us things we didn’t know before instead of increasing the general ignorance of people and assuming that the Premier League is the only league worth watching and paying any interest in or that English players are the only players worth keeping tabs on. The average football fan should watch MOTD and feel enlightened and enriched from the program, not coming away thinking ‘even I know more than Shearer does’ or even worse thinking something like ‘poor Alan Hansen, it’s his birthday so why should he have to watch Algeria v Slovakia?’ because it’s his job, it’s what he’s paid to do and if he’s not happy doing it then there are literally millions of people out there that will happily do it for a lower wage and with more enthusiasm and knowledge. You have to take the rough with the smooth, not every game will be a big name clash of the titan’s type game.

Maybe it’s time for someone at the BBC to point out to these pundits that for the money they get and the jobs they’ve got its time they pulled their fingers out and made sure that their knowledge was at least level with, if not slightly better than, the average fan that tunes in. At the end of the day the so called ‘experts’ should know more than the audience they are being presented to – and right now that doesn’t seem to be the case.