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.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

FIFA – one of the most corrupt organization’s in the world?

A massive revelation was made on Sunday 5th September and, contrary to what the English media might have you believe, it wasn’t Wayne Rooney fooling around with hookers but the latest revelations in to the murky pool that is the football governing body FIFA.

A Norwegian newspaper, Dagbladet, ran an article in early August claiming that 60,000 names had been sold on the black market from a FIFA list of ticket holders from the 2006 World Cup finals, including such information as full names, dates of birth and passport numbers. A week later they then ran another story saying as many as 350,000 names were on list’s sold on the black market and 250,000 of these names contain full names and sensitive identity information and some of the people included were the Head of the Norwegian national bank, Olympic gold medal ski star Anja Parson and former Swedish PM Ingvar Carlsson, so clearly the people responsible for selling these tickets had access to a full range of names. The paper goes on to claim that a ‘respected black market dealer’ told them several countries refuse to send personal information to FIFA as they worry it will end up in the wrong hands.

This is nothing new in the world of FIFA, in 2006 before the world cup it was revealed that FIFA vice president and head of CONCACAF Jack Warner was acquiring tickets through his FIFA contacts and then selling them at massive increases in prices to travel companies. He was also responsible for all the Trinidad & Tobago 2006 group tickets being sold through one Travel Company called Simpaul, a company that he and his son ran and owned. When FIFA found out about his interest on the side he was called before a hearing but by the time a judgement was made he had officially left the board of this company but his son still stayed on as managing director and, despite being told they couldn’t sell any more World Cup tickets, they still carried on. Although FIFA’s punishment was supposed to be kept confidential and in house the stories leaked through the media and its alleged that Warner was fined a paltry $50,000 (nothing to a man in his position and with his wealth) and told to pay it when he could – a fine that allegedly is still outstanding. Considering that Warner allegedly made $54,000 just from selling tickets personally to an agency called Kick Sports. Despite the fact that Warner was found guilty of the accusations against him FIFA could not remove him from the executive committee as only his confederation can remove him, a federation that Warner effectively controls.

‘I am deputy chairman of the finance committee of FIFA. I oversee a budget of US$2 billion and I have never seen one iota of corruption.’
Jack Warner, Trinidad Express 12 December 2004

On the 15th of August this year some of the most dramatic revelations in FIFA history were made by Sepp Blatter, with the current president admitting that some FIFA executive committee members took massive kickbacks from the ISL marketing company. This date backs to allegations bought against the executive committee in May 2006 when Andrew Jennings released a book called Foul! The Secret World of FIFA: Bribes, Vote-Rigging and Ticket Scandals (a book Sepp Blatter tried to get banned worldwide using FIFA funds) claiming that ‘cash for contract’ deals were rife between FIFA and its marketing partner ISL which collapsed with debts of over $300m. Blatter & Warner had both said they had never seen any corruption or evidence of corruption in football previously but Blatter quickly changed his tune when he was questioned by Thomas Hildbrand, an investigating magistrate from Zug in Switzerland, FIFA’s base of operations. Nearly 10 years after first facing questioning about the fact that FIFA officials took kicks backs for Blatter to suddenly change his tune is quite amazing considering that he has always claimed bribery and corruption are not rife in FIFA. Andrew Jennings excellent Panorama investigation into this turned up some exceptional information with insiders at ISL admitting they received and paid bribes in various off shore accounts to top ranking FIFA officials. The official liquidator of ISL, Thomas Bower, was asked by Jennings if he’d uncovered any evidence of bribes and his answer was ‘I have found football related payments from ISL, some are very large, in excess of one million francs. I have written to the recipients asking them to return the money’ it seems that this money still hasn’t been returned. Originally suspicion was aroused after a payment of 1m francs (around £400,000) was meant to be sent to a ‘very senior FIFA official’s personal bank account turned up in FIFA’s official accounts! It’s also alleged after this payment arrived Blatter asked for the money to be moved to the named official’s account – when this was put to FIFA this is the reaction Panorama got

BBC Panorama Reporter Andy Davies:
‘A one million franc bribe … is it not correct that Mr Blatter asked that it be moved to the FIFA official who was named on the payment slip?’
FIFA Director of Communications Markus Siegler:
‘If you do not stop now, then we call the security and we put you out.’
FIFA Press conference, Zurich, Tuesday, 11 April 2006

If you take time to read the reports, court room statements and reactions to this case it is clear that FIFA & ISL had a very ‘cosy’ relationship and that despite denials by Blatter for nearly 10 years his recent admission that kickbacks and bribes were taken should be looked in to as a matter of urgency.

In 2007 a judge in the U.S Court of appeal described Blatter as ‘a wolf in sheep’s clothing’ after it was ruled that FIFA had to pay $90m to Mastercard after breaking an agreement and instead of offering Mastercard first rights to sponsor the World Cup offered the deal to Visa. Once the court case was settled Mastercard declared they didn’t want to work with FIFA (or more specifically Blatter & his team) any longer. Although no irregularities with regards to payments have been suggested the simple fact that Blatter and his FIFA team ignored a contract stating Mastercard should be offered first refusal for sponsoring the World Cup is bad enough, but Blatter claim’s the deal is for $170m, $10m lower than the previous deal, suggests to me that this isn’t as straight forward a deal as it seems, but it’s just another story that will doubtlessly be forgotten and buried. This is what Mastercard had to say after the court case

‘Lying and deception and bad faith are standard operating procedure at FIFA.’
Adam C. Silverstein, a lawyer for MasterCard in their successful action against FIFA, New York, December 1, 2006

FIFA will be holding presidential elections in 2011 and at the moment it seems that neither Platini nor Bin Hammam are unwilling to challenge Blatter for this term, the complicated corridors of power at FIFA it seems restricting both as the South American vote will already be behind Blatter, he has an arrangement with Ricardo Teixeira (current CBF president) who is the son in law of former FIFA president Joao Havelange with Teixeira backing Blatter in 2011 & in return Blatter will back Teixeira in 2015 when Blatter is expected to step down, and it is rumoured that Brazil hosting the 2014 world cup is partly to do with this deal as well, just as South Africa hosting it in 2010 was designed to help Blatter secure the African vote in previous elections. Both Bin Hamman & Platini have publicly said they are looking to secure terms as heads of their respective confederations when elections take place in 2011.

Whilst there is very little hard evidence of any corruption at the top level with FIFA it is clear that something isn’t right in the top level of FIFA and that Blatter use’s his connections and position to broker shady deals and run things as he wants be it inside or outside the law. The snippets into these recent scandals should help enlighten anyone that had doubts over FIFA and there ‘transparent approach to football’ as well as their attitudes to anyone who tries to dig deeper or dares to ask questions.

‘FIFA is a healthy, clean and transparent organisation with nothing to hide. There is huge public interest in FIFA, therefore we have to be as transparent as possible. We will try to communicate in a more open way so the world can believe us and be proud of their federation.’
FIFA General Secretary Urs Linsi, January 2003, on

Friday, 10 September 2010

England & Mediocre Managers

So today 3 managers have said they would be interested in the England job with Harry Redknapp, Steve Bruce and Sam Allardyce all declaring that they would be interested in taking the job – a job that, at the moment, is going to have a manager in place until 2012 anyway.

So why are these managers putting themselves forward now? Well this is, as usual, mainly the fault of the media and there not so secret campaign to oust Capello in favour of an English manager – you don’t hear managers in other countries asked if they’d be interested in a national team job that is becoming available in 2 years time so why do we do it? If a young, incredibly talented manager is around and asked ‘would you be interested in the England job at some point in your career?’ like the Portuguese media ask Mourinho who obviously has a long list of trophies so young is understandable but not boot the England job in 2012 around with these managers is just pointless.

Yes none of them have had a crack at a big title winning team but there’s a reason for that – because they aren’t on that level when it comes to management. The media, and it seems the F.A, have become so blindingly obsessed with having an English manager it seems that the whole question of whether they have the ability and skill to take England to the next level now doesn’t matter – and isn’t that how England ended up with a foreign manager in the first place?

If the job became available in 2012 and Jose Mourinho said he wouldn’t mind having a go at it does anyone think that the media would say thanks but no thanks, you’re not English? Of course they wouldn’t, they’d all fall over themselves to have him appointed because he’s a media darling and also happens to be a half decent manager. The FA couldn’t even decide on whether the next manager should be English or British, the only difference being Martin O’Neill would be eligible under the latter, with Club Wembley and F.A chiefs arguing over this technicality. Nationality should not matter, no one knows what the situation will be in 2 years and if Jose wants the job it would look very foolish if he couldn’t get it because of the F.A’s silly statement. It would be as foolish as trying to appoint Luiz Felipe Scolari the new manager only for him to turn it down because of the media pressure and watch the media squirm as they try to blame everything else but them.

When you look at the likely candidates none of them are likely to reveal themselves to be tactically astute motivational geniuses, Harry has got a chance at Spurs to test his hand in the Champions League however I think he will struggle to get his players to adapt to this level, he was incredibly naive with his formation and team selection for the first leg against Young Boys Bern. His record is not really one that justifies a manager of a national team that is still highly thought of in the footballing world, he also enjoyed his wheeler dealer reputation until recently, and it won’t go away no matter how much he swears at interviewers because he encouraged it in the past, but now his name is mentioned with England he wants to be taken seriously and not seen as a wheeler dealer character – enhancing this image with a well past the deadline day £8m deal for Van Der Vaart only hours after saying he wasn’t bringing anyone in. The incident with Robbie Keane and several of the Spurs players that went away for Christmas in 2009 also shows that maybe he doesn’t have the discipline and respect that he needs over the England players.

The only other English manager of note is Roy Hodgson who is facing a torrid time at Liverpool with recent stories about RBS taking a more aggressive stance with Liverpool’s debts and the owners, if Hodgson can perform some sort of miracle and get Liverpool in to the top 4 then that will seriously reinforce his claims to be given a chance and he does have experience in both European football and International football as well however in 2 years time he might not want the job because he feels a duty to Liverpool, or they get some mega rich investor that will give Hodgson a chance to be the man to take the league back to Liverpool, or it could also go downhill and see him not really take the club anywhere but just slide into mid table level but we shall see what happens, although this further proves the point that talking about a manager now for 2012 is a pointless as many things could change.

Until Sam Allardyce or Steve Bruce do something like win a cup or develop a good team then their names shouldn’t even be mentioned with the England job, have they really done anything between them to be considered? Fabio Capello has won 5 Serie A titles, 2 La Liga titles and of course the Champions League but Bruce or Allardyce are more qualified to do the job because they are English. Sounds a bit stupid really put like that, there is no way either of those 2 are more qualified for the job so why should it make a difference?

The fact of the matter is that for the next 2 years, finishing with Euro 2012, Fabio Capello will be the England manager and the whole country, media and fans alike, need to get behind what we currently have and stop being too extreme with reactions of ‘oh we could win the thing’ or ‘our national team is so rubbish’ and other responses that get trotted out because at the end of the day it makes it sound like were paying Capello £6m for 2 years to just baby sit the team until he goes and an English manager comes in, is that really what the England job as been reduced to? Any English manager that will be linked to this job wouldn’t be able to compare their club record to Capello’s and the only reason they’d be considered is because they are English.

These 3 managers have been pushed now, by both the media and themselves, because they understand that now an ‘English manager of England’ is the hot topic and if they can force the issue now then it they can keep it going, imagine if Capello masterminded a Euro 2012 victory (and I’m not saying for 2 seconds he will), would the press care then about the fact that he’s Italian? Would anyone care? Of course not, the FA would probably make a last ditch attempt to keep him on because when it comes down to it nationality doesn’t really matter.

Steve McClaren was English and look how that went......

Thursday, 9 September 2010

England results & thoughts

England recorded a comfortable 4-0 against Bulgaria last Friday in what ended up being a good opening qualifying game and exactly the sort of response England needed after the calamity that was the World Cup.

When the team was announced I thought they’d line up in a standard 4-4-2 as Capello gave his critics two fingers and showing that he’s still in charge and within 3 minutes England took the lead after a beautiful through ball from Rooney to Cole on the left hand side of the box Cole cut in and, 2nd time round, got a cross from just outside the 6 yard box to Defoe who volleyed home and set Wembley rocking. The first half was a display from England of what they can do but the Bulgarians were especially poor, they had no natural shape when England had the ball and there were frequently huge gaps between the defence, midfield and attack which the England players found themselves knocking the ball around in big spaces with no one really pressing them or rushing them. The gaps left Wayne Rooney lots of space to help him come deep to get the ball when he needed to and it gave him time to run at the Bulgarians or give him time to pick out a pass but the main thing was he was given time and he started to look dangerous again for England.

As the first half wore on it became clear that England were playing a mix of 4-2-3-1/4-4-1-1, Milner probably wasn’t forward enough to be called a full on 4-2-3-1 but Rooney was dropping deeper this game, like he was in a controlled free role, and he linked up well with Ashley Cole down the left hand side. The first half wasn’t all England knocking the ball about like Spain though with Bojinov having a great chance but Jagielka managed to catch him before he pulled the trigger and put in an excellent tackle. Glen Johnson also tried his hardest to bring Bulgaria back on level terms, nearly side footing a Bulgarian cross into his own net but Joe Hart was alert to it and managed to save it. England looked more solid at the back, Dawson & Jagielka settled well although Dawson did make a slight slip that let the Bulgarians through but they shot wide, however moments later Dawson’s game ended when he twisted his knee and ankle but fortunately he’s only out for weeks and not months. This gave Gary Cahill a chance to come on and it was good to see a younger, more mobile player being given a chance over the usual players like Matthew Upson who, in my opinion, is lucky to still be anywhere near the England team and Cahill justified his call with a terrific block less than 10 minutes later. On the hour mark England sealed a second and it was reminiscent of the counter attacking football Germany used to devastating effect on England, Joe Hart blocked a powerful shot blasted straight at him and in 14 seconds Rooney had the ball, slipped it through to Defoe who rifled the shot home and sealed the game for England. It was excellent link up play between Rooney & Defoe and showed just why Capello picked these two players, but they weren’t done there and Capello decided to make a change bringing on Johnson for Walcott who failed to hit top gear again for England but still looks a threat with his pace.

Johnson had a chance not long after coming on but a weak shot was saved well however the next time he found himself in the same situation he unleashed another shot and this time the ball found the back of the net for his first England goal, but England weren’t finished yet and Defoe managed to seal his hat-trick after a Rooney run ended with him sliding the ball into Defoe’s feet for a great finish, although he injured himself in the process and was taken off to be replaced by Ashley Young for the last few minutes.

It was a very solid performance from England who managed to keep the ball well, create a fair few chances as well as looking a livelier unit than they have done for a while, although this was a very poor Bulgaria team they were facing. The centre of defence looked a little shaky as you would expect with 3 inexperienced players at this level not having anyone with real experience alongside them but the few times Bulgaria did sneak through Joe Hart looked more than up for the task, at one point putting on his own little juggling show with the ball. It’s great to see an English keeper with so much confidence and belief and getting an established run in a team however I hope the media don’t build him up to silly heights so we can just knock him down, I read an article saying that Peter Shilton established himself around the same time so Hart could break his appearance record, we should just be worrying about him on a game by game basis, a keeper’s confidence can be shattered with 1 mistake and its stupid to be talking about him setting any records yet.

Capello has been criticised for not moving the team on and sticking with the same old names, but with a defence that has a structure of Hart, Jagielka, Dawson & Cahill this is moving on from the usual line up of James, Terry, Rio & Upson even if the 2 centre backs have missed out due to injury but the fact is they aren’t getting any younger, injuries are making them less mobile which is becoming a massive problem for them. Remember Terry’s heroic diving header at the World Cup, the only reason he had to launch himself was because he dived in for a tackle that he got wrong, scuffed the clearance which fell to a Slovakian player and couldn’t recover in time so had to launch himself to try and stop the shot that came in as a result of his mistake. This isn’t heroic defending, this is suicidal last ditch defending that you don’t need at international level least of all during a must win World Cup game. Maybe it’s time to look at younger more mobile defenders as an established pair and not rely so much on our over 30’s defenders who can’t get around as much anymore and I’m sure part of the reason Terry won’t get dropped is because of the fear of reaction from Chelsea fans if there brave hero gets dropped.

Of course there was still the much trickier game to face in Switzerland, the team that beat eventual World Cup winners Spain in the first game of the World Cup. First shock was to hear Lescott playing alongside Jagielka however they did play well together when they were at Everton and Lescott has a bit more experience which Capello clearly felt was needed in this area. Jagielka’s display was assured and confident, he defended well and kept it simple when he had the ball which was good to see and Lescott didn’t make a mistake either also defending well and although it was against a weak attack the confidence boost will do both defenders well.

The first goal was very well constructed, 10 simple passes that unlocked the Swiss defence with a lovely ball down the wing by Walcott for Johnson to run on to who hit an inch perfect cross across the 6 yard box for Rooney to slot home, understandably his celebrations were muted to say the least, leaving England 1-0 up and looking good in the game although it came at a price with Theo Walcott being stretchered off after being injured as he collided with a Swiss player as he was running into the 6 yard area although this meant the early introduction of Adam Johnson in to the game. Just like in the Bulgaria game England waited about an hour to score their 2nd goal, a lovely through ball by Gerrard splitting the Swiss defence and leaving Johnson to run round the oncoming keeper and slot the ball home, although as with the 1st goal this was tainted by a player being stretchered off injured with Defoe leaving via a stretcher and Darren Bent coming on to replace him. Moments later however the Swiss player Xherdan Shaqiri, who was linked with quite a few top clubs over the summer, scoring a lovely 25 yard shot he cut in from the right and was given a little too much space and tucked the ball away in the top left corner with his left foot leaving Hart with no chance. England still had enough time to bring a smile to Capello’s face when they scored a third goal, Cole with a lovely through ball for Bent to smash home with his left foot from about 15 yards leaving the score at 3-1 and England leaving all there doubters and critics disappointed as they took 6 points from 6.

Again England looked comfortable in what was perceived to be there toughest test, away at the team that’s expected to come 2nd in the group, although I think Montenegro away could be a pretty tricky match and there is certainly no room to become complacent and Capello will know this but after such a terrific start to the campaign with 2 comfortable wins he must be wondering to himself if maybe the absence of Lampard & Terry has anything to do with this. Terry especially over the last 12 months or so has not looked like the player he once was, and with Rio’s injury problems there is no guarantee that either of them will be around for the Euro’s, so why not try and build a central defence on younger more mobile players? We all saw Terry’s press conference and whilst you can never doubt his loyalty to the shirt or his fierce pride in playing for England you can doubt if his ability is what it once was and you can certainly doubt if he is a positive influence on the dressing room or behind the scenes.

Frank Lampard is another interesting one, for years all we’ve heard is ‘How do we get Gerrard & Lampard to play together’ and it seems the answer is we don’t. Gerrard again excelled without Lampard alongside him and below are some stat’s from @OptaJoe on how England play when only one of the 2 are playing -

1 - England have lost just one of their 17 competitive games with Gerrard starting without Lampard, winning 13.

Played 9, Won 7, Drawn 1 & Lost 1 in competitive games with just Lampard starting.
7 - S.Gerrard has assisted the most England goals (7) under Fabio Capello, followed by W.Rooney and G.Johnson (5 each).

So it seems both have good records for England when they play just on their own however it also appears that Gerrard is the more productive of the two so far, so the inevitable question is with England playing so well in the last 2 games, as well as looking better in the 2nd half against Hungary when Lampard was taken off, is it time for Lampard to take a role as a ‘squad player’ instead of a ‘nailed on to start’ player?

Lampard had one of his best ever seasons last season for Chelsea and certainly excels for his club but year after year he has failed to turn this into international performances, especially in Germany 2006 & South Africa this year and by the time its Euro 2012 he will be 34 and one important lesson we learnt at the World Cup is that you need to have mobile midfielders that can get up and down the pitch easily which is something that Gerrard does a lot better than Lampard. Gerrard is in possession of the shirt and has a better all round game than Lampard I feel so why disrupt things? Why try and fit Lampard in to the team and move Gerrard around? Surely a better performing Gerrard is better than an underperforming Gerrard/Lampard partnership? Gerrard has put up with being shunted around the midfield to try and accommodate the inflexible Lampard and maybe now it’s time for Gerrard to have an uninterrupted role in the middle alongside a player that doesn’t hold him back. Let’s not forget that part of the reason Paul Scholes retired from England because he was sick of being out on the left whilst Lampard played in the role he preferred so rather than carrying on putting in sub slandered performances he moved aside, Gerrard has stuck at it but we’ve never really seen the best of him for England so maybe now it’s worth a chance in 2012 he’ll be 32 and it will probably be his last chance to put in a good shift in an England shirt.

I’m not saying Lampard should be dropped from the England team completely, he’d certainly be a good player to have around the squad as he always seems to get on with the players and has a lot of experience he could pass on to the younger players but more importantly he would be an excellent ‘Plan B’ if he was needed. I do however think John Terry should be kept away from the England squad until he’s back to his best and he has his ego under control. One thing England has never been short of is good quality centre backs and with people like Phil Jagielka (28), Gary Cahill (24) and Michael Dawson (26) in the squad we seem to have another generation coming through and peaking so to speak at the right time and they are certainly more mobile than Rio & Terry and the perfect time for them to get experience at this level is through playing more games so it might well be time for them to be given a chance as well. This would of course mean no room for Rio and I think after his recent injury problems this will be the right decision, the few games he’s played over the last few seasons he hasn’t looked the same and certainly has lost a bit of pace as a result of these injury’s but I think that like Lampard he should be kept around the squad because of his experience.

The next match against Montenegro should show what Fabio’s mindset is, if Rio, Terry & Lampard are all fit and picked for the next squad and start it will show that either Capello is very stubborn or hasn’t learnt anything and although I think the latter isn’t the case at all I do worry that maybe part of Fabio wants to prove he can get Lampard & Gerrard to play together but I hope I’m wrong.