Saturday, 28 August 2010

The great Arteta debate

It’s come to light today that Fabio Capello has held face to face talks with Everton’s Mikel Arteta about playing for the England team. The first reaction I’ve read online is Henry Winter and his usual Capello bashing saying ‘Capello’s ludicrous damaging pursuit of Arteta reveals total naivety about England fans reaction...or maybe he's goading FA into a red card’ followed by ‘Capello’s wooing of Arteta is an affront to his FA employers' vital attempt to develop English youth. Does Fabio simply not care anymore?’

A few thoughts spring to mind reading this, the first being that Capello doesn’t have a ‘total’ naivety about England fans reaction – I’m an England fan and I for one wouldn’t mind seeing Arteta in and England shirt, a recent poll on showed 89.77% of voters backing an Arteta call up so clearly i'm not alone. Second of all the FA have been banging on about developing English youth for years yet nothing has actually been done by them, Trevor Brooking frequently champions more investment at grass roots and improving conditions etc for kids yet they do very little, the St George’s centre in Burton is still not completed and that was started in 2001 whilst in contrast the French centre Clairefontaine was completed in just over 3 years and is widely considered to be a major factor in them winning a World Cup. Why should it be Capello’s responsibility to bring through young players, some of whom aren’t even regular starters for their club (Rodwell & Wilshere spring to mind) and risk his job on unproven players? Of course Winter is one of many journalists who think that an English manager will fix everything, just like Steve McClaren did in 2006/2007 and the current list of English managers currently in the Premier League - Roy Hodgson, Harry Redknapp, Steve Bruce, Ian Holloway and Sam Allardyce are so over whelming good. No need to panic though, the walking tango man Phil Brown recently said he would be interested in the England job, phew that’s that problem solved then.

I digress though because this isn’t an attack at Henry Winter or the other moronic journalist’s that think they have all the answers (think The Sun on Wednesday) to England’s problems, but a case for why England should call up Arteta. It’s the pig headed attitude of ‘were English, we invented this game, we have morals blah blah blah’ that is the mentality that has lead to so many disappointing campaigns recently. England lacks a creative spark as such in the midfield trio – Gerrard and Lampard, other than not working when they play alongside each other, do not possess the ability to unlock a defence with a key pass or a 60 yard pin point ball on a consistent basis, and if they do they’ve hidden it well from England duty, and Gareth Barry....well I’m not quite sure what he does for England anymore. In fact the last player that was able to do this is Paul Scholes, Capello realised this when he asked Scholes to play at the World Cup and clearly the media realise this with their campaign to get him out of international retirement (after ridiculing Capello for trying to do the same in the World Cup). So why is it any different getting a 35 year old (clearly not looking to the future) to play instead of a person who wasn’t born in this county? Because of his place of birth? Funny how the England cricket team is made of none English players yet people celebrate like Christmas has come when 2 South Africans (KP 2005 & Trott 2009) save England against the Australia and they are hailed as heroes.

If Arteta does play for England it’s not like he’s the first player to represent a country he has no link to, Deco did it for Portugal (as well as the more recently Liedson) and Cacau also did it for Germany and neither of those players had any link to the country except living there long enough to qualify. However if this isn’t enough to justify things then look at the Spain team in Euro 2008, one of the key players was a guy that goes by the name of Marcos Senna. That’s right, a Brazilian by birth who has no link to Spain at all other than living there for long enough to qualify so if it’s good enough for the reigning European and World Champions then why oh why are we so pig headed that this is still a problem for England? Owen Hargreaves has spent more time outside of this country than he has in it and only qualifies because of his English father, but that means more than actually living in the country does it? There are plenty of other recent examples, Eduardo who play’s for Croatia despite being born in Brazil or Amauri playing for Italy despite being Brazilian as well are two more examples that spring to mind.

Of course two of the most famous names in world football both switched nations when they needed to, the great Ferenc Puskas was Hungarian and played for Hungary 85 times before representing Spain and another all time great, Alfredo Di Stefano played for 3 countries! He represented his home nation Argentina 6 times, 4 times with Columbia (although they weren’t a FIFA recognised team at the time) and finally Spain. I appreciate that nationality rules were slightly different at the time, and in the case of Puskas it was off the field reason’s that he stopped playing for Hungary and if it was in recent years he would never have been allowed to play for Spain, but if these players and nations can do it there is no reason why England can’t do it.

Before anyone starts with the ‘we don’t want other country’s castoff’s’ argument, let’s be honest here the only reason Arteta doesn’t make that Spain squad is because they currently have some of the best midfielders, if not players, in the world in Xavi & Iniesta, and the backup player is just some guy called Fabregas so it’s not like he has a huge amount of competition in front of him is it? Arteta’s only flaw is peaking at a time Spain have an overwhelming choice of midfielders that are considered great and that isn’t his fault and if an English player had anywhere near the same level of creativity and passing Arteta posses we’d fall over ourselves to demand he’s called up to the national team. He’s not blocking English development, if anything he’s a short term solution to a long term problem (just like Scholes at World Cup would have been) that might well help people like Wilshere develop, if they were both in the national team Wilshere would have a quality player and a role model to learn from, not someone like John Terry who can’t stay out of the papers for the wrong reasons. If we had youngsters bursting to get in the squad and Arteta was taking one of their places then maybe they should get the nod over him, but the fact is the same players have been trotted out time and time again and failed time and time again to deliver, Arteta would certainly offer something different to Frank Lampard and in a good way because Lampard criminally under performs at international level, yet there is no young player right now that could honestly say they deserve a shot over Lampard because none of them perform at the same level as he does week in week out, they aren’t as key to their club team as Lampard is, but Arteta is.

Arsene Wenger says he was ‘surprised’ that Wilshere was in the U-21’s squad instead of the full squad, why? Against Liverpool he started in a much deeper role than he is used to and lasted an hour before coming off, not really having a good game as he isn’t a defensive player and its far too young for him to try and develop into a multi positional player, let him excel at his natural game of attacking like he did against Blackpool and let him develop. Clearly the U-21’s need good players to progress from the European Championship qualifying stages and Wilshere will be more useful there than he will be warming the bench for the full team and will probably gain more from being in the U-21’s than the full team.

Fabio Capello’s job isn’t to protect the future of English football or to try and develop players for a future manager; his job is win matches using the best players available to him during his time as manager. Did Jose Mourinho worry about Chelsea’s future? Of course not, he simply worried about winning trophies and at the other end of the scale you can look at Arsene Wenger, since he started concentrating on youth development he hasn’t won anything. The job for protecting English youngsters is the job of the F.A, and all they seem to do is get in the way of Trevor Brooking who desperately wants to try and do this, so maybe calling up Arteta would wake a few of them up and realise they need to do something and do it now.

If Arteta is called up it should be considered a ‘one off’ instead of a blue print for the future, when Almunia was discussed as a possible call up I was against this because he was no better than what England had available at the time, but in the case of Arteta I think he can offer something that we lack, a truly creative player that can make something from nothing and offer different options to what we have normally in the squad. In giving Arteta a chance what is the worst that could happen? We defy our beliefs? This is a very extreme reaction, like I said it should be looked as a 1 off because a player of this quality is hardly available all the time and isn’t a blue print for the future, we have an excellent U-21 team developing and given time they will be able to make the full squad, but whilst we are waiting for them Arteta really could solve a problem

Friday, 27 August 2010

Champions League Groups

Group A

Inter Milan
Werder Bremen
Tottenham Hotspurs
F.C Twente

A tough group with defending champions Inter favourite to go through leaving second place up for grabs and, although Spurs fans might disagree, I think Werder will sneak through in second place. Spurs biggest problem will probably be Harry Redknapp, who has a lack of top level European experience and showed this by going to Young Boys and playing a rigged 4-4-2 which he won’t be able to do in these games otherwise Spurs will get over run. Werder have good attackers in Almeida & Arnautović and with Wesley coming in to shore up the midfield as well they look an ominous threat, I don’t expect Spurs to be able to go to the Weserstadion and get a result either. Twente could also provide a threat to 3rd place but in their case a lot depends on whether or not the keep hold of star striker Bryan Ruiz.

Group B

Schalke 04
Hapoel Tel Aviv

Lyon will be favourites to go through in this group, they have a great keeper in Hugo Lloris and a very strong midfield with Michel Bastos, Jeremy Toulalan (although he’s recently been converted to a centre half), Jean II Makoun and the recently bought Yoann Gourcuff and striker Lisandro Lopez Lyon look a very strong team. The 2nd place will be decided between Benfica & Schalke, the later having recently bought Real Madrid legend Raul to the club and strongly being linked with Rafael van der Vaart as well as bringing in Christoph Metzelder to shore up the defence however they have also lost a lot of key players in Ze Roberto, Kevin Kuranyi & Rafinha and could find themselves struggling if Benfica can get a result against them. Benfica have a strong South American contingent in Luisao, David Luiz, Pablo Aimar, Maxi Pereira, Eduardo Salvio and Javier Saviola as well as Portugese star Fabio Coentrao and Nuno Gomes and the key games in this group will be when Schalke play Benfica. I don’t know a huge amount Hapoel Tel-Aviv other than they have Nigerian goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama who scored one of the goal’s that saw the team through against Red Bull Salzburg in the qualifying stages but I don’t think they have the squad to challenge the other teams.

Group C

Manchester United

Manchester United will be favourites in this group and although being drawn alongside Valencia does sound a bit daunting they are severally weakened by the fact they’ve sold David Villa and David Silva in the summer, however they still have players such as Ever Banega, Juan Mata and newly bought Sofiane Feghouli in midfield that can control games if they are allowed. Obviously Rangers will be trying to get 2nd place but 3rd and a place in the Europa League is a more likely target. Again I don’t know a huge amount about Bursaspor but it would take a lot for them to threaten the top 2 although 3rd won’t be ruled out as Rangers do seem to struggle in Europe over recent years. Also look out for the horrible ‘Valencia helps United beat Valencia in Valencia ‘ type puns that the tabloids will doubtlessly already be planning.

Group D

F.C. København
Rubin Kazan

Barcelona will be favourites to go through this group, although they probably won’t look forward to playing Rubin Kazan after losing to them at the Nou Camp and drawing away in Russia, however the team will certainly be out for revenge. Rubin Kazan are my tips for 2nd place, they proved last season that they are a well organised team and have a daunting home ground which can prove a problem for some teams – last season they drew at home with Inter Milan & Barcelona, I can’t see either Panathinaikos or F.C. København causing any upsets in this group.

Group E

Bayern Munich
CFR Cluj

Again the top seeds in this group, Bayern Munich, will be expected to go through with out to much trouble and Roma should comfortably go through in second as well especially with the newly acquired Adriano providing some welcome fire power up front. I can’t see Basel or Cluj providing too much trouble for either of the top 2 teams and this group should be a formality but you never know what could happen especially as Bayern nearly failed to qualify from their group last season before reaching the final.

Group F

Spartak Moscow
FC Zilina

Didier Drogba’s eye’s must have lit up when he saw this draw, a return to his old club Marseille must be very appealing and I think he can expect a good reception. Likewise Didier Deschamps must have been pleased as well as the ex Chelsea player and current Marseille coach will see it as a chance to test his team against one of the best and enjoy a return to Stanford Bridge. I can’t see Chelsea finishing anywhere other than 1st and with the new striker force of Gignac & Remy Marseille will be expected to finish a comfortable 2nd as well.

Group G

AC Milan
Real Madrid

The team that all the top seeds would have liked to avoid, Real Madrid where drawn in the most prestigious group with 20 European Cups between them. This group has history and excitement built in to it, last year’s games with Real & Milan were exciting and I think they will be pretty similar this season, and although Milan & Real will be favourites to go through you can’t rule Ajax or Auxerre out of the running and this will be the most exciting group I think out of all the groups this year. Can Jose finally break Real’s European jinx? Klass Jan Huntelaar must be looking forward to a return to his former clubs if he’s still at Milan when the games come around.

Group H

Shakhtar Donetsk
FC Braga
Partizan Belgrade

Although on paper Arsenal look favourites and should go through they have some very tricky away ties and have never won in the Ukraine, Portugal or Serbia and I’m sure Arsene Wenger won’t be happy with the amount of travelling his team will have to do. Shakhtar have a strong squad with a few Brazilians in there adding them some creative flair. Arsenal should go through but it wouldn’t surprise me if they struggle in some of the away games but there home form should be impeccable and see them through the groups. Braga must also be considered a threat after knocking Sevilla out of the qualifying stages and Partizan have the ‘unknown’ element to them as well, there home games will be a very intimidating atmosphere for any visiting team

So there is my quick round up, I expect most of the big teams to get through although Group’s B, D and H could through up a few surprise’s.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

City & Liverpool - wishing they were each other

So on Monday night Man City trounced Liverpool 3-0 and it got me thinking, it’s ironically funny how right now these two teams wished they were the other one. Liverpool, a team with an endless history, trophies bursting out the cabinet (even if it hasn’t been opened for a while) and set in football tradition and Man City, with a stupidly rich owner, no debts & some of the most expensive players on the planet. Liverpool wish Shake Mansour had bought them and was sorting out their financial woes whilst Man City wish they had Liverpool’s history and standing in the football world so they could attract some of the truly great players (i.e. Torres) rather than a bunch of very over paid mercenaries (Yaya Toure isn’t worth £200k a week). However right now both teams stand on the brink of massive problems and, sadly typical of this day and age, it all involves money.

Liverpool are in dire straits and anyone can see that, it’s been reported in the press that Kenny Huang pulled out of the deal to buy the club because he felt they were wasting time and being unnecessarily slow with the things they needed to do because, as far as he was aware, he was the only viable bidder. If he really had billions and billions of pounds to his name, and looking at the history of his involvement with sports in China and the U.S it’s hard to think he didn’t have the cash needed then why did Liverpool mess him around? Despite Martin Broughton being bought in to help speeding through the sale of the club ultimately Hicks & Gillette are still the owners and apparently tried everything they could to stop the Chinese buying there club from them. Now not only do Liverpool look on the verge of missing out on a transfer window they sorely need to strengthen with quality player’s but there is a very real chance they will either be stuck with the two Americans for another 6 months, the debts pilling up and interest continuing to accrue on these debts. The other major worry for Liverpool fans must be the figure of RBS in the background, who apparently Huang went to first to try and buy the clubs debt and force his way in through the back door so to speak.

When Hicks & Gillette refinanced the £237m loan in April RBS were in a strong position because no one else wanted to take the debt on given the club had failed to repay £100m of the debt by an agreed date (it was June but it had to be repaid before the date or refinancing the loan). This meant they forced Hicks & Gillette out as chairmen and also told them they had no choice but to sell the club, RBS aren’t exactly in a strong position themselves and would rather get their money back and wash their hands of the situation. The overall point is that Liverpool are in dire financial trouble and if no buyer is found buy 6th October there is a very real chance that RBS will step in to find a buyer and take control of the club, putting it in administration to remove Hicks & Gillette as an obstacle in the sale of the club and Liverpool fans will be crying out for a Man City type sheik owner willing to through the cash around.

Man City on the other hand are the envy of fans worldwide with their bottomless pit of money, although so far they haven’t signed ‘World’ names they’ve really pushed on this summer signing Yaya Toure & David Silva, two leading lights from La Liga but they fall short of tempting people like Torres or Kaka because they are still seen as a smaller club with no history. Before City fans go mad trying to claim they are a big club now, the fact is they aren’t. They are not in the Champions League this season, have not won a title since 1967-68 and aren’t a well known name around world football except for the fact they now have lots of money. The other problem of course is the fact they don’t seem to have any structure at the club, the way they dealt with Mark Hughes was just a total farce and Garry Cook is a total clown who clearly isn’t a football man. The way he dropped the ball with the Kaka deal was just hilarious to fans outside of City and proved that he isn’t capable of dealing at the kind of level City now want to operate.

Whilst on the pitch Liverpool will continue to struggle with average players except for Torres (who won’t stick around forever) & Gerrard as well as a manager who’s been brought in to bring stability and a clear head to the club. I like Hodgson and he seems a very nice level headed guy, but he wasn’t bought in for his tactical nous or his ‘big name’ to keep players at the club and attract others, he was bought in to steady the ship & maybe sneak a good cup run but he is not a top 4 manager and he isn’t a tactician that can see things on the pitch and change them with a sneaky substitution or half time tactical change – this was clearly obvious in the City game.

City on the other hand need to realise you can’t just go out and buy a team and expect success over night, yes they did well beating Liverpool but they aren’t the force they once were and you need to measure yourselves against the clubs you want to be competing with which brings me to the Spurs game. For those with short memories Spurs also went to City playing a 4-4-2 formation and if it hadn’t been for Joe Hart having an excellent game they would have lost, and this season it will be Spurs & City chasing 4th place. Mancini is a man under pressure, with nearly £130m spent this summer on new players he will be expected to deliver and if come Christmas time City aren’t in 4th or close to it he can expect to receive his P45 just like Hughes did, and I personally think this would be a step forward for City because I think Mancini is to set in the ‘Italian style’ to break the top 4. When Spurs went to City last season in the game that basically decided 4th he played a defensive 4-5-1 when an attacking formation was the order of the day, City needed the win and didn’t get it. City need a manager that will take risk’s and get results that are needed not adopt a safety first approach and Mancini isn’t that man I don’t think. However if City do get rid of him a manager they might be interested in would be Martin O’Neill who might well be able to do a job there, but that’s a long way off.

Monday, 23 August 2010

A Look At Reading F.C And The Season Ahead

After watching Reading v Nottingham Forest on Saturday I came away from the Madejski stadium relatively happy with the performance and happy that, bar from one unfortunate incident, Reading might have been able to snatch all 3 points. However by the time I got home it appeared that not all Reading fans were as optimistic as I was, some saying that McDermott’s 4-2-3-1 system was to negative and that with Rasiak leaving the club they lacked a ‘different option’ up front as the remaining main strikers (Long, Church & Hunt) were to similar.


I don’t think the 4-2-3-1 system is to negative at all, with the 3 players behind the strikers McAnuff, Kebe & Sigurðsson posing an incredibly strong attacking threat. However the main worry is the lone striker, Simon Church previously struggled when he was played on his own and the current first choice, Shane Long, also seems to be struggling. Long does have excellent work rate and chase’s the ball down however all too often he ends up floating out wide and leaves a gap in the middle of the pitch which means if ever a cross comes in there isn’t anyone in the box to aim for. Noel Hunt seems to be able to do this well, he has excellent positional sense, however he is returning off from a near 1 year injury lay off and isn’t an option at the moment.

Long is also a confidence player, he needs to be scoring goals to keep scoring goals and when he goes on a baron spell you can see he struggles. Whilst he started 2010 with a bang, winning the penalty to bring Reading level with Liverpool before scoring the winner in extra time, he then went on to score the winning goal against Barnsley as well as 2 more against Aston Villa in the F.A Cup quarter final, however in the previous round against W.B.A he was shown a red card, his second of the season which disrupted his season. All in all he made 22 league starts and 9 sub appearance but only managed to score 6 goals – not the record of a player that you want to be your main scoring threat. Long has failed to produce the goods for quite a few seasons and needs to start hitting the back of the net more often otherwise he won’t be able to justify his place as the lone striker.

Another major problem is the lack of depth in the centre back position, whilst Matt Mills is looking like a top Championship defender Alex Pearce still worries me somewhat, his lack of pace is targeted by opposition strikers and he is frequently caught out on the turn. His heading is pretty good, at set piece’s he seems to be the one winning the balls in to the box but his tackling could improve as he sometimes seems to not have the best reading of the game, but at 21 he can still improve. However the lack of another centre back pushing him to improve his game and fight for his place is a problem, the backup to him and Mills seems to be Gunnarsson who, at 34, seems to have very little pace and isn’t really thought of as a centre back, more a player that can fill in there when needed, and Reading must bring in a centre back even if it is just on loan to provide back up and depth in this area because I don’t think Mills and Pearce will be able to last the season without a suspension or injury.


It’s not all doom and gloom, Reading do have many strong points and the main one is the magical Gylfi Sigurðsson who, on his day, is too good for this league. Last season he was Reading’s top scorer with 16 goals in 32 starts from midfield and his footwork is sometimes amazing, he’s able to beat a man with just skill instead of putting his head down and running like a lot of players do. He’s very aware of the people around him but being young he sometimes tries to do the flashy thing instead of playing a simple pass or looking for a team mate in space. However he is a quality player and hopefully Reading will be able to hold on to him at least till the end of this season if not longer. However if he keeps playing in the role behind the striker he needs to make sure he doesn’t drop to deep and leave the striker isolated on his own up front.

Jimmy Kebe & Jobi McAnuff are two of the best wingers in this league as well, Kebe can be frustrating on some days, amazing on others. When he first came to Reading he had a lot of pace but no end product, his crosses would either be intercepted by the first man or go way over and beyond the far post however from the 2nd half of last season and so far this season he has got a lot better, whilst his final ball isn’t perfect it’s a lot better than it was. McAnuff has been around the leagues a few years and already know what’s required and he has the ability to beat his man with either pace or trickery but sadly he seems to have a problem staying in games and can float in and out of them, I think if him and Kebe switched wings during games it would make a difference.

Despite his howler on Saturday Adam Federici is a solid Championship goal keeper as proven by his fantastic saves, including an incredible diving save from Paul Anderson’s powerful header, and is the first in a long line of good keepers the club seem to be collecting. Ben Hamer is a young goal keeper who has come through the Reading youth ranks and spent the last few seasons on loan at Brentford helping them win the league last season as well as picking up the Golden Gloves award for most clean sheets in the season. Alex McCarthy is also highly thought of, he’s been called up to the England U-21’s side a few times and has 1 cap to his name and recently went out on loan to Brentford for 1 month. The last of 4 good goalkeepers is Mikkel Anderson, a giant of a keeper (6ft 5in) who has played for Denmark at U-19, U-20 & U-21 level. He spent last season on loan at Bristol Rovers playing 39 games and wining the clubs young player of the year award as well as coming 3rd in the overall player of the year awards.

I still find it incredible that some fans think the playoff’s is a minimum requirement for the season because with the lack of depth in key area’s mid table should be a sufficient target this season, when you consider the financial restraints the club has as well getting promoted just doesn’t seem very likely. Yes a miracle season could happen (like Blackpool last season) however it doesn’t look likely and if fans want to complain about the way the club is run then they should support a team like Portsmouth because that’s not how Reading will be run and whilst people claim Sir John Madejski should put more of his own money in to the club if it wasn’t for him Reading wouldn’t be where they are today and people should respect the fact that he doesn’t want to keep pouring money in to the club. With people like Rasiak and Cisse leaving the club it means the club is in a more stable position financially and right now that is the most important thing.

People expecting any last minute signings need to realise this probably won’t happen and whilst playoffs would be nice Reading fans should be ready to accept a mid table place would be a good season and a nice cup run to bring some funds in to the coffers would be a nice bonus.

Reading V Nottingham Forest

Reading 1-1 Nottingham Forest

Reading fans were optimistic around the Madjeski Stadium before the game and could have snatched a 1-0 victory had it not been for Adam Federici’s howler that gifted Robert Earnshaw a goal to snatch a point.

Reading hit problems inside 10 mins when right back Andy Griffin injured himself during a tackle and hobbled off the pitch to be replaced by Brynjar Gunnarsson however after a sustained spell of Forrest pressure in which Federici made 2 saves Reading managed to snatch a goal from a goal mouth scramble. Marcus Williams was fouled by Paul Anderson and took the resulting free kick, after a couple of blocked shots the ball fell to Alex Pearce who slammed the ball home from about 5 yards to give Reading a 1-0 lead that they managed to maintain until half time, and although he was responsible for the goal Federici was key to keeping Reading in the game, making a good save from a Robert Earnshaw shot and then producing the save of the game, leaping full stretch to his left to palm a Paul Anderson shot away from goal.

As the players came out for the 2nd half Reading fans were hopeful the team could hold on to 1-0, although Forest had more of the ball in the first half both teams had the same number of shots and, other than Federici’s super save, Forest never looked like really scoring. However within 3 minutes that all changed, Federici claimed a routine cross and lined up for one of his ‘arrow kicks’ however he didn’t notice Jem Karacan about 3 yards in front of him and the ball crashed in to his back before falling to the feet of Robert Earnshaw, who is not likely to miss a gift like that. He danced around Federici before slotting the ball into the net leaving Reading players and fans in disbelief at what they’d just seen.

Both teams pressed for a winner, although Forest looked more like getting it Reading also came close, at one point Jimmy Kebe burst forward only to be hauled back by Ryan Bertrand with the resulting free kick coming to nothing. Gylfi Sigurdsson came close with a free kick whilst Chris Cohen went over in the Reading box desperetly looking for a penalty but the referee, correctly in my opinion, waived play on.

A draw was a fair result, Reading fans should be happy at a point against a team that came 3rd last season and will be pushing for the top spots again this season and shouldn’t forget that they came very close to coming away all with all 3 points. A concern for Reading will still be the lack of firepower up front as well as a lack of pace in the defence that was exposed early on by Earnshaw & Blackstock but a mid table finish looks more than achievable if the team can continue performing like this.

Friday, 20 August 2010

Robin Friday, a look at a flawed genius

Robin Friday – The Greatest Footballer You Never Saw

I recently wrote an article for the equaliser (great website at for their ‘My favourite footballer’ blog they are running at the moment on Robin Friday, a player that most people outside of Reading or Cardiff probably haven’t heard of. As I could only write a short piece I thought I would expand on my article in my own blog providing more information and reasoning as to why a player that played nearly a decade before I was born, and sadly passed away when I was only 5, is my favourite player of all time. Whilst scouring the internet for information I’ve come across many inaccurate ‘facts’ and ‘stories’ about Friday so I wanted to set some of them straight.

Robin Friday was probably Reading’s greatest ever player, voted as player of the millennium in 2004 despite only playing 3 full seasons for the royals and was also voted as Cardiff City’s all time cult hero ahead of more well known names such as John Toshack & Rob Earnshaw even though he only made 25 appearances for the bluebirds. These two awards, voted for by fans should be enough to make people realise he made a lasting impression but when you consider that a lot of the fans that voted, like me, probably never got to see Friday play it’s even more of an achievement. Sadly there isn’t much footage of him playing as the lower leagues (4th & 3rd division for Reading & 2nd for Cardiff) weren’t really covered by T.V at the time, although there is a few seconds of footage on you tube.

Robin & his twin brother Tony were born 3 minutes apart on 27th July 1952; both grew up as Everton fans and lived in South Acton for most of their early life playing football on Acton Green with Robin playing in goal. Both played at district level after impressing in Farraday School’s junior team and started playing in local pub teams with adults from the age of 14. Robin trained with QPR on Tuesdays & Thursdays before Robin’s father Alf wrote to Chelsea to ask if Robin could have a trial at which he was successful and was soon accepted by Chelsea young, but he was only there for a year before the manager, Tommy Docherty, said he wasn’t good enough and let him go. According to Tony it was because Robin was too much of his own player and would always try something different instead of playing the simple ball.

Robin’s drug habit started at an early age, first taking speed pills when he was 15 and a bit of methadone as well, Tony saying that Robin ‘wasn’t one to do things by half’ but denying that Robin was dependent on them from an early age and saying stories of Robin doing them before a game were ‘a load of bollocks’ although Robin did spend time in borstal when he was 16 he managed to stay out of serious trouble with the police for most of his early life, and when he left borstal he moved in with his girlfriend Maxine and married her when he was 17 having a daughter called Nicola at around the same time.

A friend of the family was playing at Walthamstow Avenue and Robin used to go down to training with him, after a while they could see that he was a good player and decided to get him playing for them. It wasn’t long before the team played Hayes and after the game the Hayes manager approached Robin, offered him more money and told him it would be closer to his home and Robin joined Hayes. It was also here that Robin started working with some of his team mates in asphalting and it was then, age 20, that Robin had his near death experience on a scaffold. Apparently a hoist rope was stuck so Robin jumped on the scaffold trying to loosen the rope and fell straight through, a metal spike shooting up his backside and piercing his stomach, missing his lungs by inches according to doctors. Those at the site said Robin pulled himself off the spike and managed to get to the nearby St. Thomas Hospital where they operated and managed to save his life., however this accident was to have an impact on him for the rest of his life, being attributed to his wild ways and flamboyant lifestyle along with his ‘live for the moment’ attitude.

Hayes beat Bristol Rovers in the F.A Cup and were drawn against Reading and it was here Charley Hurley, the manager of Reading, saw the player that he first knew would become something special as well as a handful. Charley had done his research and knew very well about Robin’s off the pitch lifestyle but he said he went down a couple of times speaking to Hayes fans and they said that as long as he did it on the pitch they didn’t care what he did off it. Hurley also took this view reasoning a 4th division team couldn’t be picky over ignoring a player this good for moral reasons and eventually, after some games for the reserves he signed him for £750, although Friday was reluctant to sign at first as he was earning more money in the building industry than he would earn as a professional footballer, however Charlie Hurley went round to his flat, spoke to him and his family and persuaded him to sign. Reading historian David Downs tells the story of Robins first training session where he ran around kicking as many established players as possible before Hurley told him to calm down otherwise he wouldn’t have a team left!

In his debut for Reading he didn’t score, one shot went just inches wide however he made a lasting impression on fans and teammates alike with some moments of skill and trickery. In his second game, a 3-2 loss to Barnsley in which Friday scored his first goal the home team sent on a defender as their sub which Charley Hurley said he found a little strange, after the match Friday told him that player had been sent on to ask him if he wanted to sign for them! 3 days later however he signed professional terms with Reading and eventually, after some persuading from Hurley, used the money to buy a flat in Reading so he could travel easily to training every day. In his home debut against Exeter the game was 1-1 when Robin beat four players and the shot from 18 yards before grabbing a second with a delicate low diving header leaving fans marvelling and his skill and wondering just how long Reading would be able to hold on to this star. A few games later Reading beat Doncaster 5-0 with David Downs seeing Friday do something he’d not seen a Reading player do before or since, hitting the ball on the outside of his foot and swerving it past the goalkeeper and in off the inside of the post and that was his 16th goal in just 5 games in a Reading shirt.

It wasn’t long in to his career though before Robin started spending his spare time in the pubs around Reading, at one point he was barred from the Crown in Caversham after jumping around from table to table with the landlord shouting at him that he was barred, eventually Robin was dancing on the bar before being persuaded to leave. A few months later he tried to come in to the same pub for a pint when the landlord said to him that he was still barred which Robin argued with furiously, eventually leaving the pub when it was clear he wasn’t getting a drink. Moments later however a window next to the bar popped open and Friday leant through shouting ‘fine, I don’t want to drink in your poxy pub anyway’ to which the landlord started laughing before letting him back in to the pub.

Robin finished the end of the ‘73/’74 season by playing the last 4 games with a cracked bone in his foot however still managed to score 2 goals but even with Fridays magic Reading missed out on promotion and started for the next season with Friday scoring and setting up goals like he was the season before and by September scouts were being sent from first and second division clubs to watch this new talent, Charlie Hurley revealing that he was approached by Sheffield United to take over them in the 1st division however he stuck to his word to stay at Reading until they got promoted and it wasn’t long until they were asking after Friday but Reading refused to sell and he didn’t want to move, feeling he owed Reading for giving him his chance, Arsenal also sent scouts down but were apparently put off by rumours of his off the field antics, however this gives you an impression of just how well known this player from the 4th division was becoming and just how much talent he had. It also wasn’t long until Fridays on the pitch disciplinary problems became apparent, picking up several bookings and finding himself in front of the F.A on a few occasions resulting in fine’s & ban’s and missing several games and in 1975 he became the first Reading player to be sent off for nearly 8 years but Friday loved playing so much though he would even put himself forward to play in reserve matches when they were short on numbers.

Despite liking a drink or two Robin wasn’t as heavy drinker as some people at the club, he’d drink a beer called colt 45 or southern comfort but he wouldn’t drink two days before a game however his real weak spot was drugs and he would do things like LSD or speed and smoke marijuana again though he wouldn’t do this the night before a match. John Murray, a player who joined Reading after beating up his manager at Burnley, used to give Robin a lift home from training and on Friday mornings he would give Robin a lift to a house and wait outside for him, half an hour later Robin would be back out and his whole weeks wages would be spent.

Reading again missed out on promotion but Robin Friday stayed at Reading for the following season and scored 4 goals in the first 5 games, and he was being described as a revelation, a wizard and a magician for the things he was doing on the pitch and there was a real buzz around Elm Park that Reading could finally get promoted if Friday kept playing like he did. Come December Reading were sat in the promotion places and looking good to go up, but this didn’t mean Friday behaved any differently, during an away trip he ended up kicking down a hotel room door to see what a girl a team mate had in his room looked like before vanishing for half an hour but was soon discovered in the bar area with a swan under his arms but he was soon persuaded to return the bird after threats of police were made.

It wasn’t long after this that Robin Friday scored a goal that’s been dubbed ‘the greatest goal you never saw’ against Tranmere Rovers. The ball was played up from midfield to Friday who is on the edge of the box on the left hand side and in one motion he controls the ball on his chest where it sits up for him and he volley’s it in to the top corner, turning through 180 degrees after he’d hit the ball so he had volleyed it over his shoulder, causing the attendance of 10,961 to fall in to a stunned silence. The referee that day was Clive Thomas who had been involved in games with people like Pele & Cruyff as well as refereeing in World Cup games yet when he saw this goal his immediate reaction was to put his hands up to his face with his mouth open in shock. After the game he went up to Friday and said ‘I have to tell you that is the best goal I’ve ever seen’ Friday, in typical fashion, just looked around and said ‘Really? You should come down here more often, I do that every week.’ Reading ended the season by getting promotion to the 3rd division with Friday ending the season on 22 goals and scoring the last goal in Reading’s final day win at Elm Park.

Sadly after this season the relationship between the club and Robin Friday went a bit sour, Robin wanted pay that he felt justified his worth to the club and he was also unhappy with what he perceived as a lack of ambition by the club. He did end up signing a new contract, around the same time he got married for a second time to Liza Deimel which it was hoped would help him settle down however this wasn’t the case and by October Charley Hurley knew something was up with Robin as players he should have been beating easily he was struggling to beat, and Hurley knew it was the drugs that Robin was now using more freely but worse was the fact the players knew. He’d become a problem with the other players who kept working & training at full throttle but Robin would only turn up when it suited him and by the end of October 1976 he was on the transfer list and this time there was no coming back from it as Charley Hurley & Assistant Maurice Evans had decided they could have Friday ‘running the club’ but still he kept playing. After Hurley took him off against Mansfield he ‘relieved’ himself in their bath but it wasn’t long after that before Cardiff City offered £30,000 to Reading for him and the board as well as Hurley decided enough was enough and accepted the offer, considerably less than the £100k they were turning down just over a year before. In one of his final conversations with Hurley as a Reading player Robin said that he knew he wasn’t the same player he was before and Hurley told him that, combined with his off the field problems that were affecting his football meant he had to go.

In typical Friday style he got arrested at Cardiff station for travelling with only a platform ticket before Cardiff officials got him released. He made his debut in 1977 and scored 2 goals against a Fulham team that had George Best & Bobby Moore in it, although Best withdrew at the last minute with injury fans soon got over the disappointment when Friday got going, scoring a lovely second goal from 15 yards out and running rings around Bobby Moore. If you’ve ever seen the incident where Vinnie Jones grabbed Paul Gascoigne by the family jewels and thought it was funny, well Friday had done the same thing years before to Bobby Moore and succeeded in causing the usually calm Moore to lose his cool and utter a four letter insult in Friday’s direction. It wasn’t long though until Cardiff manager Jimmy Andrews had to fine Friday for turning up late to a home game and soon after that Friday called Charlie Hurley asking to come back saying ‘I can’t play for that little bastard, you’re the only one I can play for, can I come back?’ Hurley said they couldn’t pay for him and if he could get a free transfer then fine but that would be the only way and that was the last time they spoke.

Not long after that Friday scored two goals against Luton, his second spawning an iconic picture that was used on the cover of the Super Furry Animals single 'The Man Don't Give A F***, as just after taking the ball around stranded keeper Milija Aleksic Robin flicked him a V-sign in revenge as just moments before this goal the referee had lecture Friday for an incident with the goalkeeper who Friday claimed had kicked him on the knee. That was his last appearance for the season and by the start of the next season Robin was totally off the rails, he’d gone AWOL from pre-season training and ended up in hospital in London with a mystery virus that caused him to lose nearly 2 stone (he claimed it was hepatitis but doctors said this wasn’t the case) and then turned up at training apparently looking like the fittest player in the world. However all was not right in Robin’s world and he made one more appearance for Cardiff, in a 4-0 loss at Brighton which he ended up getting sent off after kicking a certain Mark Lawrenson in the face. The kick was in relation for some tight marking and hefty challenges from Lawro but Friday lost it and after Lawro dived in and fouled Friday he saw red, in both his actions and the colour of the card. Still not happy Friday then went to the Cardiff dressing room and defecated in Lawrenson’s kit bag. This was the last time Friday played professional football, Jimmy Andrews lost his patience with the forward, fined him £1000 and transfer listed Friday before Friday announced he was quitting the game for good and with his second wife filling for divorce he moved back to London and worked as an asphalter and decorator. In his time at Cardiff he played 25 games and scored 8 goals but it’s at Reading he is most fondly remembered by fans, scoring 46 goals in 121 appearances and setting up countless more goals for team mates.

Robin Friday tragically died on 22nd December 1990 from a suspected heart attack in his flat in south Acton at the tragically young age of 38. His skills will never be forgotten in Reading & Cardiff and just reading about him makes me remember what it is about football that I love with his care free attitude and outstanding talent willing to try anything to win. If you’ve never read the book ‘The Greatest Footballer You Never Saw’ I strongly suggest you get hold of a copy because it is one of the most interesting football books you will ever read and shows just why Robin Friday should never be forgotten even though he never made it to the same level as George Best or Stan Bowles, so called ‘bad boy’s’ of their time whom Robin could put to shame in both behaviour & football skill.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Brief thoughts on the crazy world of football

Where to start? Best place is probably Spurs game last night, where they got spanked by Young Boys (first and last pun, promise) in the first leg of their qualifier for the Champions League. Maybe it was because of the plastic pitch, maybe because they were very cocky before hand with fans at the end of last season celebrating making the Champions League without thinking of the fact they had to qualify to get there. Then when the draw happened the fans were convinced they would get through no problem but, of course, with all these things you have to worry no matter who you’re playing. Some fingers of blame must be pointed at ‘Arry for his very strange selection in the first half but in the 2nd half they recovered well and will more than likely get through with a home win after losing 3-2 but scoring 2 all important away goals. Maybe ‘Arry thought that by putting out a strange selection and flopping abroad he’s meet the F.A criteria on being the new England manager?

Honestly, could any other governing body make such a pig’s ear of a simple announcement like our own F.A can? According to Charles Sale at the Daily Mail they can’t even decide amongst themselves whether or not they want and English or British manager. Does nationality really matter that much? The last English manager that understood the passion and the desire etc & blah blah was Steve McClaren who of course had an amazing record in taking us to Euro 2008 and beating Spain 4-1 in the final....wait, we didn’t even get there?! Ahhhh so English managers are excellent then, and the shortlist of people like Harry Redknapp, Roy Hodgson, Paul Ince, Tony Adams, Alan Shearer or David Beckham – doesn’t it just fill you with confidence? At least if it was British then Martin O’Neill might get a look in, however as with everything that they deal with the F.A, along with Club England (what is that?!) can’t decide yet. Of course if a major cooperation came out saying they were only going to appoint a boss of a certain nationality they would be in violation of all sorts of EU laws about discrimination etc, but in football it’s ok to make up its own laws and ignore other ones.

Speaking of football making its own laws I was literally wetting myself with laughter at the news Motherwell are taking legal action against Cardiff City over outstanding money owed for Paul Quinn, a player that transferred to Cardiff from Motherwell in June 2009 for £300k. Yesterday Motherwell revealed that, like most other clubs that have dealt with Cardiff (or previous chairman Peter Ridsdale) they are still owed money, nearly £175k and £100k of that should have been paid in January 2010. Motherwell, quite rightly in my opinion, feel that if Cardiff can acquire players like Jason Koumas, Tom Heaton, Danny Drinkwater, Seyi Olofinjana, Martin John, and now, the loan signing of Manchester City's Craig Bellamy then they can pay them the £100k that’s outstanding which is fair enough, especially as reports indicate that Cardiff’s new owners are paying about £1m of Bellamy’s £3.5m a year wages. How this deal was allowed to go through is beyond me and it looks like Cardiff are heading on a Portsmouth like slide to financial oblivion unless the league step in to do something because it seems the reckless policy of previous owners is carrying on and now Motherwell are threatening to send bailiff’s to Cardiff City stadium on match days. What is so funny, for me anyway, about this situation is it’s just another football club that the bubble is going to burst at and end up in a tangled mess as they are chasing the dream.

Finally it was another quiet day at Man City, with new signing Mario Balotelli being unveiled and claiming ‘I’m not a bad boy’ despite rumours of fights with his fans, team mates and managers in just the past 12 months clearly having escaped his attention, but the main story was the conclusion of the James Milner transfer saga, a slightly better than average player being bought for £18m and sending Stephen Ireland, who was City’s best player in 2008-2009 the other way. Aston Villa fans must be sick to death of City waving their bags of money at Villa players however if Stephen Ireland can turn out to be as good as Richard Dunne whilst Milner as poor as Barry has been then Villa fans will be laughing.

Finally it appears that Serie A is so bad these days that giants Juventus have been linked to Jermaine Jenas. I’m not saying Jenas is a bad player but if he can’t get in to the Spurs team then surly he can’t get into team like Juventus? I know there not as great as they once were but still Jenas isn’t good enough for them. Turned out that Juventus knew nothing about this and it was a story that the English media had decided to print without any real evidence just like they ran with the story of Messi’s twitter account praising Ashley Young despite the fact Messi doesn’t have a twitter account! Or the Sun’s quotes attributed to Messi saying he would love to see Mascherano at Barcelona – these of course were quotes from over 12 months ago.

Enough of my ramblings & thanks for reading, as usual you can follow me on Twitter @buster_5265 for all the latest news or join my facebook group called ‘football fan’ for the same

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

England ratings

England v Hungary

Player Ratings

Joe Hart – Solid game from the new England No 1, he was assured and confident when coming for cross’s and made an excellent save in the dying minutes from Gera. Was unlucky not to keep a clean sheet but could do nothing to stop the goal that shouldn’t have been given. 7/10

Ashley Cole - Was targeted early by the boo-boys and was probably the one World Cup player that didn’t deserve boo’s (although his status about hating England didn’t help) went forward well early on and kept Hungarian defenders busy with his runs. 7/10

Phil Jagielka – Was a threat early on as England bombarded the Hungarian area with corners, two chances early on he was close to scoring, was unlucky with the deflection that scored the own goal that was wrongly given. Defended well, using his strength to keep the Hungarians off the ball. 7/10

John Terry – Nothing special but made no mistakes either, coped well with the attacking threat and formed a good understanding with Jagielka early on, also played some nice balls out of defence linking well with players in front of him. 7/10

Glen Johnson – A threat going forward however, as usual, looked vulnerable defensively conceding a couple of silly free kicks. Linked play well but needs to improve defensive side of his game. 6/10

Gareth Barry – Should be worried by the threat of a natural defensive midfielder in Jack Rodwell, was tidy but didn’t keep a close on Gera when he should have been closer. If Owen Hargreaves was fit then Barry wouldn’t get a look in, will keep his place by default until Hargreaves is fit or Rodwell plays more. 5.5/10

Steven Gerrard – A quiet first half when alongside Lampard but after half time was a different player, a threat going forward scoring a lovely long range shot we’re used to seeing him do with Liverpool and for the second displayed excellent footwork in beating the players close to him before a lovely finish to seal the win, deservedly picking up MOM award 9/10

Frank Lampard – His automatic starting place has to be under question now after another mediocre display. Misplaced passes and didn’t contribute much in the first half except holding back Gerrard. When he went off at half time Gerrard was freed up and the midfield looked a lot more attacking without him, easily the Flop of the match 4.5/10

Theo Walcott – His pace was always a threat however this match further showed why Capello left him behind for World Cup with his poor final ball & decision making. Once he gets his delivery sorted he will be a real threat to any defence, clearly listened to Capello’s instructions and tried to beat his defender on the outside and get to the by-line. 6.5/10

Wayne Rooney – Again suffered from close attention of defenders but worked well for the team, winning and holding the ball up effectively and drawing fouls. Nearly scored with an excellent run but was just a yard offside, targeted by boo boys and was booed when he was subbed, unfairly so in my opinion as Rooney is a key player and he has to deal with a huge amount of pressure. 6/10

Adam Johnson – Could have scored after 12 mins with a cracking long range effort but was unlucky to see it sail inches over the bar, suffered in the first half as his team mates didn’t find him very often however was much better in the 2nd half when he was moved to the right, could be a valubale asset if he can switch wings during games. 7/10


Kieran Gibbs – on at half time for Ashley Cole and looked very good, very good defensively and excellent going forward as well, linked up with Ashley Young several times and despite being their first game together at senior level developed a great understanding. 7.5/10

Michael Dawson – Came on for John Terry at half time however looked out of his depth, dived in to a tackle that resulted in the Hungary goal, tried to recover and did manage to clear the ball of the loan atoning for his mistake in the build up but ball was incorrectly given as over the line. 6.5/10

James Milner – replaced Wayne Rooney and linked up well with his team mates, provided a couple of good balls to start attacks with and covers lots of positions, not enough time to make a real impact though. 6/10

Ashley Young – On for Theo Walcott at half time and provided a threat from the left by cutting in and crossing with his right foot. Final ball was not great but gave a good account of himself and is an option on either flank, linked up well with Kieran Gibbs to provide good attacking options down the left. If he improves his final ball he will be pushing not only for a squad spot but also a starting place. 7.5/10

Bobby Zamora – In one game showed himself to be better than Emile Heskey at the Emile Heskey role, put himself about the defenders very well causing all sorts of problems and held the ball up well playing in his team mates. Had a ferocious 25 yard shot well tipped over by Kiraly after taking the ball and turning well, only thing against him is being 29 years old for his debut but can do a very good job for England if given the chance 7/10

Jack Wilshere – First impact was to give away a free kick for a studs up tackle and didn’t really have much time to make an impact. However showed some promise with a few neat pass’s and could be a good replacement for Lampard in the future. Rating n/a

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

A look at the England problems

England, a new start?

So tonight is England’s first post World Cup match playing Hungary at Wembley and, not for the first time, a nation expects.

This time however, rather than expecting something like a great run in a major tournament or even a thrashing of a smaller team, England expects a team to be rejuvenated, to be able to play football like the better teams in the World Cup did to at least try and make up for the poor attempts they made 2 months ago. The problem’s though are never ending with some sections of the media calling for a total change in the squad and some sections of the media saying that the manager is running on limited time and needs to go. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the problem does not lie with Capello the problem is with the players, or more specifically the same old players that will continue to turn out tonight and carry on trundling along till the next major tournament, capitulate against the first big team they encounter and we will go through this all again.

Sadly for Capello it seems every where he turns people are out to sabotage him. Paul Robinson should be hung out to dry for the way he’s treated an England call up but instead Sam Allardyce has praised him saying it’s the right thing to do. I don’t know whether ‘Big Sam’ still has issues with the fact he was never considered for the England job (and rightly so in my opinion) but aren’t managers supposed to want international players in their team? Wasn’t this the same Sam Allardyce that before the World Cup was saying Robinson should be called up? The fact is that Paul Robinson is pretty much in the same class as Rob Green & David James, he was in the international team by default not because he deserved to be there as a world class keeper. After that howler against Croatia he never really seemed the player he once was and sadly when you can only have one goalkeeping spot available he will be moved aside, however to be given a second chance should be seized rather than sulking because his experience and knowledge in helping people like Joe Hart and Ben Foster in the England team would have been invaluable. Instead though, like a kid who’s had its favourite toy taken away for being naughty, he’s sulking and refused the call up. Capello has been bold enough to admit that he made a mistake calling up Rob Green & David James by overlooking them (even when he’s calling up U-21’s instead) and asked Robinson to come in and help the team but clearly his pride is irreversibly damaged and he can’t be the bigger man and come back. Considering Robinson last played 3½ years ago you’d have expected him to either get in to the squad, knuckle down and try and break in to the team or retire when he wasn’t included in the world cup squad, but clearly he was making a point and this quote ‘Only now have I been able to make this decision as previously I haven't been in contention for selection’ kind of shows this. You don’t have to be considered for selection to retire you just have to do it to try and prove a point, and if Joe Hart suffers an injury or dip in form Robinson may well regret his rash decision. England doesn’t need someone with that kind of attitude, so he can carry on playing at mid table mediocrity under a manager who has an over inflated opinion of himself and how good he is.

Wes Brown is another one who was called up and then retired although he did his slightly better than Robinson. Brown wasn’t in the world cup squad because of his injury problems and lack of games although having a player like Jamie Carragher called out of retirement before you is a bit of a kick in the teeth. Brown could also have retired after the world cup squad was announced but instead he left it and only once he was selected did he decide to retire. However he did his the proper way, he went to the England hotel, met with Capello and explained his reasons why he didn’t want to play and that was that. Whilst highly rated as a youngster two cruciate injuries & a broken ankle seriously hampered his development as a player and his pace and whist he’s a solid back up he’s not an international class of player that England need. It also wouldn’t surprise me to see that Sir Alex Ferguson had a word in his ear telling him to prolong his club career by cutting his international career short which is understandable for an outfield player

Some press areas are reporting that this is Capello’s fault for not communicating with his players but why should it be his responsibility to call up and ask them if they fancy playing for their country? To a man like Capello being called up to your national team is seen as a huge achievement and if you haven’t made yourself unavailable for selection then why shouldn’t you be selected? Carrick is another one there was some confusion over with the player being declared injured and out for 2 weeks before making a miraculous recovery and playing 90 mins in the charity shield. According to Sir Alex Ferguson (not the biggest England fan around) Carrick turned up on Friday and said he was fit and ready however just failed to mention this to Fabio before the squad was announced on the Saturday. I suspect however that he was told by Sir Alex not to tell Capello as he didn’t want one of his players playing a needless friendly if he’d just been injured and it wouldn’t surprise me if the injury Carrick suffered was slightly exaggerated to keep him from the England team. However after an international career littered with mediocre performances it’s no great loss for England and if Carrick didn’t make the England team again I don’t think too many national fans would be disappointed.

Capello has done as much as he possibly can with the Premier League managers & players conspiring to undermine Capello doesn’t help him. It fascinates me as to what the sections of the media that are criticising him think he could do better however none of them seem to be forward with any other ideas. Instead of their constant moaning and criticising they should be supporting Capello and backing him, in the aftermath of the world cup people suggested we needed to be more like Germany and call up youngsters that have come through the ranks (something that Germany had to do not through choice but through injuries) however we can’t just call up a bunch on inexperienced youngsters as we need some balance in the team. A few blogs ago I suggested that we needed a blend of youth and experience and whilst this is what Capello seems to be doing I still feel that people like John Terry & Gareth Barry shouldn’t be in the squad it’s good to see Jagielka, Dawson, Cahill, Gibbs, Wilshere & A. Johnson being given the chance they deserve. It’s also good to see Young back in the squad and with Darren Bent withdrawing I think Agbonglohor should be given a chance, his pace could be a valubale asset to a counter attacking style that I feel would suit England seeing as we can’t keep the ball for very long which is the flaw the Germans soon exploited in the world cup.

Another interesting problem in the England team is the goalkeeping problem, with Robinsons sulk and Foster’s injury and the realisation that Green & James aren’t good enough Capello has been left calling on the U-21’s in Scott Loach & Frank Fielding. Whilst I’ve seen Scott Loach a few times playing for Watford I don’t know a huge amount about Fielding who is a reserve at Blackburn. Loach is a very solid keeper who made a sensible decision in not moving to Spurs (or at least not demanding a move) to take a place on the bench instead staying in the championship and learning his trade which will be beneficial in the long run along with this England call up, which I think will help him further as well. Fielding I don’t know if he will make a break through any time soon, Robinson won’t be leaving Blackburn anytime soon so I can’t see him getting a breakthrough. However it doesn’t really matter who the backup is as Joe Hart will finally get his chance at number 1 and I fully expect him to make it his own. Capello’s decision to leave Green & James behind hasn’t received much coverage but I think it shows the ruthless streak we expected from the Italian and with any luck this will be a sign of things to come

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Aston Villa – now in crisis?

So, Martin O’Neill has shocked the footballing world and walked away from Aston Villa and the main question floating around is why?

When you look at Martin O’Neill’s career he isn’t one to shy away from a challenge, in fact his whole history as a player & as a manager involves him standing up to challenge’s, even his reason for leaving Celtic was to face a challenge and help his sick wife back to full health, a decision that everyone could understand. So why leave Villa just 2 months after re-affirming his commitment to the club and 5 days before the start of the season?

A lot of the early stories say he’s left because of the ongoing Milner saga however I don’t think it’s that simple, Milner was going to leave ever since City showed interest in him and every one at Villa realised this, the story has dragged on through the summer and the early reports suggest that O’Neill was upset at the amount of money he was going to be given to spend from this deal, however looking over his transfer style you see that O’Neill doesn’t go out and spend loads on one player. When Barry left the biggest signing was Downing for £12m (£7m less than Barry went for) but that had been going on for a while, I doubt O’Neill went to Lerner saying he wanted to spend all £20m+ they get from the deal, especially if Stephen Ireland is included in it. No, the Milner deal and transfer money isn’t at the heart of this problem otherwise O’Neill would have gone in May when this saga first started as I think O'Neill knew how much he would have to spend.

The main problem I think is that over the weekend Tottenham allegedly went to Randy Lerner and asked about buying Ashley Young, a player that O’Neill like’s a lot and has helped develop and made quite clear he wanted to keep, things get a bit sketchy from here but it appears that rather than speaking to his manager Lerner started talking prices with Spurs and this seemed to be the final straw for the manager, he’d made it clear what Milner’s value was and it seems this is being undercut, he was told to sell before spending which he tried to do however was tied back by waiting for the deal to go through rather than making moves for players before the funds are in. A small problem I know but if you know Milner is going start making moves to replace him, O’Neill wouldn’t want to spend the last few hours of the transfer window arranging quick deals (I expect this deal to be finalised in the last few days of the transfer window). All of these things I think he could deal with but finding out your chairman is trying to flog one of your best players before your even aware would irk most managers. Could you imagine if Hill-Wood or Gill went to their respective managers and said ‘were selling Cesc for this much’ or ‘were selling Rooney for this much’? Course not, that would never happen so why should it happen at a team with ambitions of finishing 4th?

O’Neill learnt from one of the best in Brian Clough and one thing he valued highly was loyalty, Cloughie wanted to believe in the people above him and around him and O’Neill is the same. Whilst many people question his transfer dealings he can point to just as many good deals as bad and can happily point out his excellent record at Wycombe, Leicester & Celtic to show that he should be backed, and all managers make bad signings (say it quietly but even Wenger has signed a flop or two). If O’Neill didn’t feel he had the support of the people above him then he wouldn’t stay on, he would rather leave on his own terms than stay around and try and make excuses.

People have also suggested that his relationship with the fans was strained, I’d love to meet these fans and ask them why they weren’t happy with him, I find it hard to believe a club that had just finished 16th when he came in could be unhappy with a manager who in the last 3 years guided them to 6th three times in a row as well as a League cup final, F.A cup Semi final and nearly 4th place twice could complain. Yes he devalued the UEFA cup trying to chase 4th place, but if they’d got 4th no one would have complained they would have hailed him as a great manager however they missed out and now I don’t think they will be able to push for 4th again, and maybe with the lack of funds and players leaving O’Neill just felt it was too much to try and better what he’s done so far. In fact if he was given the money to buy a top quality goal poacher things would have been so much better but sadly in football you have to invest a lot to get what you want (look at Spurs).

Now Randy Lerner has a massive problem on his hands, who is the right man for the job? Mark Hughes is out of the running, despite the fact some media sources seem to think he could walk out on Fulham that’s not his style and I can’t see him doing that, Sven is another name being mentioned but that would be a huge step backwards. For starters he has been out of club football for years and I doubt very much that he would be able to motivate the players in such a way that they are used to and that some of them probably need, I also don’t think the Villa fans would be keen on a man that every day seems to pop up saying he has always followed this club or that and would love to take over a club so close to his heart (think Liverpool or Fulham comments) his huge salary would also be a problem, if he gets paid so much why not give O’Neill that extra money to spend on players rather than replace him with an over hyped boss on a bigger salary? Bob Bradley is another name being touted around and whilst this probably looks the most likely it could seriously sourer the relationship Lerner spent so long building up with the fans.

The two main problems with Bradley would be that he’s never managed at such a level before (high premiership or European team) and the second, most painful one would be that he’s American. If he is appointed he will be under more pressure straight away as it would be seen as a ‘Yank appointing a Yank’ and some fans would feel this is the only reason he has the job, it would almost be as if Learner was appointing him to help promote football in the States and the fiercely proud Villa fans would not stand for this. If Bradley was to come in and by Christmas Villa were languishing around mid table a lot of anger would be directed not only to the manager but the chairman as well and this would be a destructive appointment. Whilst I personally think Bradley is a good managed (all be it a bit negative when it comes to tactics) I think he should go to a club where he won’t be seen as a friend of the chairman.

The only other name that jumps out would be Martin Jol but again this would carry problems with it. Whilst he’s got the top level experience as manager at Spurs, Hamburg & Ajax the problems Fulham went through trying to get him might be off putting, with the escape clause in his contract now having expired Ajax are free to ask for however much they want, especailly seeing as Jol probably wouldn’t walk out on a club very close to his heart without a deal being reached, although his problems at having a decent sized transfer budget still seem to rumble on it appears that key players such as Suarez won’t be leaving now and he won’t want to leave Ajax in the lurch so to speak. It was reported at the time of Fulham’s interest Jol feels he wants another go at the EPL after the way he left Spurs and I’m sure he wouldn’t mind stealing 4th off Spurs he might not want to join a club that he has to sell players to buy players or one that can't compete at the level he would want

Personally it wouldn’t surprise me to see Bob Bradley turn up at Villa Park however I think this would be a backwards step and cause friction between fans and the owner something Learner would like to avoid given the hero status O’Neill had after taking Villa so far and doubtlessly the whispers around the fans that he is to blame for O’Neill going. Whatever happens it will be a very interesting few days at the club and could well set the tone for the rest of the season.


Have just read Lerner's right hand man's (General Charles C Krulak) comments today i get the feeling that the confidence between manager and people above him was damaged irreversably before O'Neill left. Comments such as "As an aside, no one person is bigger than our club ... not me, not Randy, not Paul, not Martin. What is interesting is that, apparently, only three of those named understand that fact." which clearly is a dig at O'Neill. I personally think this is a stratergy to protect the 'higher ups' at the club as someone like O'Neill, who has managed smaller clubs before, will understand perfectly how wages work. The fact he's sold of Shorey, selling Milner & was trying to shift Sidwell shows he was perfectly aware of the situation and doubtlessly was trying to rectify it however if Lerner meant what he said about trying to break in to the top 4 this season his pals in the board room, and himself, have to understand that a level of money will have to be spent to keep up with people like Spurs & City because the amount of money they are spending will pull them further clear of the chasing pack.

If Villa are serious about competing with the top 4 as Lerner said in May when he backed O'Neill then they need to realise they can't do this on a shoe string budget, Everton have been trying for years and got no where (one CL qualifying round they got knocked out in) and that was before Spurs had taken the 4th spot and didn't have money bags City chasing them. Whilst i appreciate that a wage turnover over £71m per annum is high, i still don't believe that a man like Martin O'Neill would quit over something as trivial as this and i feel that the people above him are moving rapidly to cover their backs before more to this story is revealed

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Time to build

So, Harry Redknapp has a problem with the England game next Wednesday because it's a 'pointless' friendly. He's not the only person that has had a problem with international friendlies in the past; nearly every Premiership manager has had a go at one time or another especially under the reign of Sven, who turned them in to a complete farce.

However this time it’s different, after all the talk and post mortems from England’s world cup campaign this friendly is a real chance for Fabio Capello to stamp his authority on the team and get rid of the let downs and trouble makers once and for all. Although he will be working towards qualifying for Euro 2012 (his last contracted tournament) really he should be focusing on the 2014 world cup and developing a team that will be at its peak then following the leads of Brazil & Italy, both of whom had disappointing campaigns and have overhauled their squads dramatically in the wake of this, although some of Brazil’s players that have been left out (Julio Cesar & Kaka) will make their ways back in.

My point is though they are using this time to try and test other players that are younger, hungrier and more to the point haven’t let the team down time and time again. People like Ganson & Neymar for Brazil and Balotelli & Cassano for Italy have been called up giving a new, fresh feeling to the team and now England need to do the same with certain players needing to be moved aside to make way for upcoming youngsters.

I know every time England crash at a major tournament we hear the usual ‘more investment in young players, there’s not enough youth coming through’ but the fact is there are some great youngsters coming through, just look at the recent records of the younger teams, the U-17 (winning the European Championship’s in 2010 beating Spain in the final) U-19 (reaching European Championship’s semi finals and losing to Spain) and U-21 (finishing runners up in 2009 also in the European Championship’s losing to Germany) which clearly isn’t the record of a team not producing young & talented players.

If you look at this current generation of players (since 2000) they have all struggled on the national stage, Euro 96 was an excellent tournament for England even if you could argue that home advantage was a factor, but even in France ’98 the team was exciting and only lost on penalties to a strong Argentina team. However after that the record is pretty awful, and the supposed spine of the team (also called the ‘golden generation’) have always failed to perform when it’s really mattered. David James seems to have called time on his career by joining Bristol City but the other players, people like Terry, Carragher, King, Gerrard , Lampard, Barry, Wright-Phillips & both Cole’s all made their names in the team & debuts in and around 2003/2004 so 6 years, or 4 major tournaments (3 as they couldn’t qualify for Euro 08) is enough time for the them to have reached their peak and done their best for England and after reputedly showing us they can’t do it the only one from that list that should still be guaranteed in the starting XI is Ashley Cole. I’m not saying none of them should play for England ever again; however I think there is a case for most of them becoming squad players and bench warmers.

For years we have heard about the Gerrard/Lampard problem and how can they work together and most recently we heard that Capello had solved it by shunting Gerrard out on the left in a 4-2-3-1 formation that had solved the problem, although for a few games (Croatia at home springs to mind) it did seem possible it wasn’t to be as usual they failed miserably in the World Cup, Gerrard having a good half against the U.S then falling silent & Lampard repeating 2006 up till the Germany game when he had one of his best games in an England shirt but no one else really turned up. This discussion has to stop now and Capello has to be the one to stop it by dropping one, if not both, from the England team and making way for Jack Rodwell who can play either as a defensive or attacking central midfielder although after seeing him against Germany (U-21 game, 1-1 22/6/09) in the defensive midfield role I think he could well become the player England needed this summer but of course it’s all down to where he plays for his club as there’s no point in playing him out of his usual position.

I’m suggesting dropping 3 central midfielders so obviously you’ll have to look at other options and another option, in my opinion would be Lee Cattermole. It’s easy to forget he’s only 21 yet was so highly sort after when he left Middlesbrough and again when he left Wigan. Whilst he’s by no means a finished article and certainly has a lot to learn on the pitch I think he is the sort of player England could do with, whilst like Rodwell he’s a defensive midfielder he doesn’t have the elegance or style or Rodwell he certainly is a tough tackling customer who is always 100% committed and works his socks off through 90 minutes and could be the ‘water carrier’ that England have been lacking (except when Owen Hargreaves is fit) almost being the ‘dirty player’ that a team needs like Van Bommel or Busquets both of who did excellent at their ball winning/pass to a better player jobs in the World Cup. Cattermole can tackle with the best of them and is certainly a more defensive minded player that Gareth Barry who was our answer in this role at the world cup, his injury being hyped to almost Beckham (’02) and Rooney (’06) levels of importance for a player that’s average at international level.

The other midfielder I think should be included is Jack Wilshere. Yes he’s only 18 but so what? Age was never an issue with Rooney or with Owen so why should it be with Wilshere? He spent a good second half of last season playing regularly with Bolton and in pre-season he’s been pretty good according to reports and highlights and Wenger has already ruled out a loan deal because he plans on using Wilshere more. He would be the attacking part of the midfield and the creative player adding a bit of the attacking flair that hopefully Wenger will help nurture and develop. I think if Dennis Bergkamp ever ends up on the Arsenal staff he would help Wilshere’s development massively and would hopefully see a player develop to his full potential but that’s all it is at the moment, and I think experiencing the taste of international football right now would only help develop a player who is used to training at that level with Arsenal’s squad and would certainly better prepare him for 2014 when, at 22, he will surely be a member of the squad.

The key thing this footballers have all shown is good footballing brains, Rodwell is able to play in many positions as he’s shown at Everton and for England youth playing as a centre back, defensive or attacking midfielder all to an excellent level whilst Cattermole has developed an excellent reading of the game and has great positioning as a result and can time a tackle pretty well making him a great ball winner whilst Wilshere posses great anticipation of the game around him for someone at such a young age, able to read the movement of both his team mates and opposition very well for someone so young. Whilst I think these guys can all start together against Hungary they don’t have to, and I don’t really expect them to, but starting 2 of them along side Gerrard or Lampard would be a great way to bring them in to international football.

The set up at the back is another area to come under scrutiny for reasons both on and off the pitch. Capello’s decision to bring Jamie Carragher out of international retirement was worrying and he never looked confident or up to scratch at the back and the same can probably be said for Matthew Upson who is a player that can do a job at a certain level but against a truly top team he is exposed and this has been the case to many times. I think Phil Jagielka certainly deserves a call up after allying fears over his fitness since recovering from a cruciate ligament injury, playing the 2nd half of last season for Everton and playing well.

Another name on the defensive side that I feel should no longer be on the list is John Terry who shot himself in that infamous press conference, expecting the support of his team mates by naming them and then being humiliated as they all denied anything to do with it, some reports saying certain players were angry at him doing this, and also seen in some sections as making a play for the captains armband again, an issue which apparently he’s never got over. Other than an OK game against Slovakia (one despairing diving header doesn’t make it a good game) which in hindsight was a game that was given more credit than it deserved doesn’t justify another guaranteed run in the England shirt. Rio is another one who’s time could be limited, depending on what his injuries and form are like in the coming season, although if he plays like last season I think he will have problems justifying his place as he is another one who it could be said has had enough chances. Ledley King would probably be an excellent choice but his injuries on top of his ongoing knee troubles don’t really seem the hassle as his performances in an England shirt have never really justified the trouble. I’d certainly say Dawson is worth a look as a starting centre back, if he can show the form he’s shown at Spurs then he can certainly be considered a starter and I think another one that should be considered is Gary Cahill who was cruelly robbed of the chance to lay his claim to a world cup spot with a blood clot in his arm. Back to full fitness he has become a key player at Bolton and has been linked with top teams, he’s certainly shown a number of times he deserves to be at a team challenging for a European place and I’m sure Man City probably wish they bought him instead of Lescott.

Whilst Ashley Cole is probably the only player that came out of the World Cup with his reputation intact he’s not getting any younger and it might be worth giving a younger left back some experience as well, Kieron Gibbs at Arsenal is certainly worth a call as he can also play on the left side of midfield as well and at 19 has shown a lot of progress so far for Arsenal, and if it wasn’t for injury some say he might have displaced Clichy as left back already.

In goal David James international career has to be considered over, he certainly won’t be in consideration in 2012 at 42 and definitely not 2014 so why carry on with him now? Rob Green will probably only be in the squad as there isn’t anyone else that can lay claim to the 3rd slot except maybe Scott Carson who seems to have under gone a pretty solid rehabilitation at West Brom, although it remains to see how he’ll cope in the premiership. Joe Hart should finally be given the No 1 shirt, if anything to strengthen his case for the City No 1 shirt or at least be allowed to move on if he’s going to be Shay Given’s understudy again and also given that on last season’s form he is one of the best keepers in the EPL, certainly English keeper. Ben Foster should be given another chance in the squad I think, his move to Birmingham should kick start his career and I think being under less pressure at club level will help him develop as well, sadly like most other young English keepers he made the jump to a big club to early in his career and the fact he’s still in the premiership at a top 10 team is a testament to his ability.

Players like Adam Johnson, Theo Walcott and Bobby Zamora should come in as well, Theo will have learnt a valuable and painful lesson from missing out on the world cup squad and I think this will help him improve as a player whilst the same tournament was too early for Johnson now is the time for him to step in to the squad and Zamora would probably have made the squad over Heskey had it not been for his injury. I think bringing these players through now will help set the team up towards the next world cup, and like I said I’m not suggesting dropping all the players I listed at the start, in fact other than James & Terry I think most of them should stay in the squad as their experience could be useful to the other players and they will also help take the pressure off, but we have to move away from this reliance on players that can’t perform at the highest level. My starting XI would play as a 4-5-1 and be Hart, G.Johnson, Dawson, Jagielka, Cole; A. Johnson, Gerrard, Rodwell, Wilshere, Lennon; Rooney

Just as a last thought I still think the idea of Mikel Arteta playing for England shouldn’t be written off, yes he’s not able to get in the Spain team but that’s because the players in front of him are superior and not because he’s a bad player, but that will never happen