My thoughts on: The new Liverpool Manager

May 30, 2012 Leave a comment


The new Liverpool manager?

Swansea City’s Brendan Rodgers now appears set to become the new Liverpool manager, and alongside Wigan Athletic’s Roberto Martinez, he has been the bookmakers’ favourite to succeed Anfield legend Kenny Dalglish. Whether Rodgers is appointed into the role or not, the whole process has become so drawn out that I think there will be a huge collective sigh of relief once the debacle is resolved.

This managerial appointment is arguably a crucial one for Liverpool. After the disappointment of new England manager Roy Hodgson’s short stint in charge, followed by the poor league showing last season under Dalglish, despite reaching two cup finals, has left the club sitting quite a way behind other Champions League suitors. All of this of course has been played out in front of a backdrop of off-field drama which has possibly seen the close link with supporters the club has been famous for previously begin to erode.

Supporters appear to be becoming increasingly frustrated with how the club manages key issues, be it the redevelopment of Anfield or the relocation to Stanley Park, the Suarez issue and now the relieving of Kenny Dalglish from his managerial responsibility and the chasing of a series of new managers all under the public gaze.

Hot property. Liverpool and Aston Villa both chasing the Wigan manager

Amidst this though, for me, is quite an interesting story. From the phone-ins I’ve listened to and the blogs I’ve read, it would appear the consensus don’t consider Messrs Rodgers or Martinez suitable candidates for the Anfield vacancy, mainly due to their current club’s stature and reference to the need for an experienced ‘World Class’ solution.

I’ve made reference previously that I think Liverpool supporters may need to begin to realign their immediate expectations. Liverpool FC remains an excellent brand with international notoriety, yet I cannot envisage there being a clamour of managers, in the bracket one might associate with ‘World Class’, queuing up outside John W. Henry’s office.

I would add to this that the appointment of an internationally renowned manager does not necessarily guarantee success… Luiz Felipe Scolari and Andre Villas-Boas at Chelsea are testament to that and there are many other examples of expensive failures. With this in mind, and with both Martinez and Rodgers advocates of the style of football that Liverpool supporters crave, I fail to see the danger in approaching and appointing either one of, in my opinion, two of the most promising young managers in the Premier League.

Both Martinez and Rodgers appear to be ambitious without being conceited; both have developed exciting young squads at minimal cost yet have increased in value, both appear to be much more adept at handling public relations than what supporter’s had to endure last season, and again, most importantly, both like their sides to play attractive attacking football.

I think there is a misnomer around the need to appoint an experienced manager. Surely a young ambitious manager with new ideas is a better, and more prudent appointment?

A younger looking Sir Alex Ferguson

The most successful manager in British football, Sir Alex Ferguson, could hardly have been classed as an international ‘heavyweight’ when appointed manager of Manchester Utd in November 1986. Arsene Wenger was dubbed Arsene ‘Who?’ when plucked from Japanese football and then you could easily make reference to Liverpool’s city rivals’ Everton who appointed and showed faith in Preston North End’s David Moyes when highlighting that sometimes it pays dividends to not be so predictable when looking to appoint a figurehead to lead the club into the future.

I think both would be an excellent and refreshing appointment, although it would appear that Rodgers may be the man given the opportunity; however, it has been shown before, his success will largely be dependant on whether the Liverpool supporters give him a chance and give him time.

My thoughts on: England’s Euro 2012 squad part V

May 11, 2012 Leave a comment

The new England manager

England have a new manager or head coach or whatever title they have decided to give Roy Hodgson. Much debate has been had whether he is the best man for the job with the media-backed Harry Redknapp apparently being the ‘people’s choice’ not being interviewed; but for me, I am happy with the appointment and I desperately hope the players, supporters and media get behind Hodgson and at least give him a fighting chance of succeeding.

The FA have confirmed that Hodgson will name his preliminary Euro 2012 squad by May 16th which is then followed by two friendlies, against Norway and Belgium, before finalising the squad prior to the May 29th deadline. Who will be in that squad is so difficult to call, but as always, I’ve given it a go:

Polish/Ukraine phrase book bought and polishing the accent

1. Joe Hart, Manchester City (GK) No change

2. Scott Parker, Tottenham Hotspur (MF) No change

3. Wayne Rooney, Manchester Utd (FW) No change

4. Ashley Cole, Chelsea (DF) Up 1
Like many of Chelsea’s senior players, Ashley Cole’s form has returned since the temporary appointment of Roberto Di Matteo and Cole’s performances, particularly in the two legs against Barcelona, have been back to the quality we would expect from England’s first-choice left-back.

5. Glen Johnson, Liverpool (DF) Down 1

6. Leighton Baines, Everton (DF) No change

7. Ashley Young, Manchester Utd (MF/FW) No change
Although Ashley Young’s recent ‘falling-over’ antics for Manchester Utd have not been widely appreciated by the English football following public, he is one of our main attacking threats in terms of either creating opportunities for others (which we desperately need in the absence of Wayne Rooney), or being in the right place to add the finishing touch to a move. He may even win us a penalty.

8. Gary Cahill, Chelsea (DF) Up 11
I think there is huge debate over who England’s centre halves should be, which feels strange as it hasn’t really been an issue in recent years. Both John Terry and Rio Ferdinand are getting older, not playing as many games and are more susceptible to making mistakes now, but in addition, it would appear that both won’t be included in the squad because of Terry’s impending court case. Gary Cahill hasn’t fitted in smoothly at Stamford Bridge, but has begun to find form, unfortunately for him, that was curtailed by injury in the Nou Camp but hopefully he should be fit for Chelsea’s date in Munich.

9. Steven Gerrard, Liverpool (MF) No change

10. Theo Walcott, Arsenal (MF) Up 3

11. Gareth Barry, Manchester City (MF) Up 3
Barry’s form has been one of the key factors in Manchester City’s recent resurgent form which has seen them overhaul city rivals United and have one hand on the Premier League trophy. He shouldn’t be in the first XI in my opinion, but I think he may go as Scott Parker’s holding midfield understudy.

12. Kyle Walker, Tottenham Hotspur (DF) Up 3

13. Danny Welbeck, Manchester Utd (FW) Down 5

14. Frank Lampard, Chelsea (MF) Up 12
As per Ashley Cole, Lampard’s form and confidence has returned and equally, his performances against Barcelona in particular stand out. It feels odd to still talk about Gerrard, Ferdinand, Lampard and Terry in the build-up to Euro 2012 as I think we all expected England to have a very different look about them post South Africa. I doubt we will see the return of the Lampard/Gerrard debate in terms of how can we fit both players into the team, but for his experience and recent form I think this could be his international swansong.

15. Rio Ferdinand, Manchester Utd (DF) Down 5

16. Scott Carson, Bursaspor (GK) Up 1

One of England’s most consistent defenders this season for me

17. Joleon Lescott, Manchester City (DF) Up 12
I think that Joleon Lescott has had an excellent season, proven by his role in the Premier League’s meanest defence. He is naturally left-sided with pace and experience and I don’t think should be too far away from a starting position.

18. Adam Johnson, Manchester City (MF) Up 2
In my opinion, Adam Johnson is one of the true wingers England has got, and although I doubt he will start, I think he is truly an exciting and game-changing option from the substitutes bench.

19. Phil Jones, Manchester Utd (DF) Down 8
I’m not sure I would take him as on far too many occasions he just looks like a glorified headless chicken. He is quick, athletic, strong and clearly has ability, but at the minute I think he is suffering from his versatility and not being played consistently in one position. He should never be considered for right back for me and if he is going, it would be as fourth choice centre half or reserve for midfield.

20. Robert Green, West Ham Utd (GK) Up 3

21. Jermain Defoe, Tottenham Hotspur (FW) Up 1
England are really suffering with a lack of strikers I think, and unfortunately, I think Jermain Defoe is our most natural finisher but is not a preferred option at White Hart Lane. I think he might go, again because of his experience, plus he does seem to have that knack of scoring on the international scene.

22. Daniel Sturridge, Chelsea (FW) Down 4

23. Stewart Downing, Liverpool (MF) Down 2
For me, I think Stewart Downing’s international chances have gone. He has been given a fair few but I am yet to see him actually beat an international defender… I still think he might slip onto the plane though without anyone noticing.

Don’t book that holiday to the Caribbean just yet… you might get a nice week in Krakow!

Andy Carroll has proven to be a real handful at times… his first touch has improved also!

24. Andy Carroll, Liverpool (FW) Up 10
All of a sudden there has been a clamour for Liverpool’s once labelled £35million misfit to be on the plane since his near game changing appearance at Wembley in the FA Cup Final. He has a habit of scoring big goals, as he did in the semi-final also, and has proven to be a real menace when he is on his game as Chelsea certainly found out in that Cup Final cameo and the 1-4 reverse at Anfield in the league the following week.

25. John Terry, Chelsea (DF) No change
Putting aside his court case and the debate over the potential fall-out with Rio Ferdinand, John Terry’s form has been blighted by some major hiccups of late; most notably his performance at Anfield in the 4-1 defeat and also his lack of intelligence, maturity and responsibility with his needless sending off in the Nou Camp.

26. James Milner, Manchester City (MF) Down 14
Something of a forgotten man now I think. Not sure where he fits in at Manchester City let alone England.

27. Michael Carrick, Manchester Utd (MF) Up 8
Appears to be injury-free and back to his simple passing and possession maintaining self. Some doubt over whether he could be England’s holding midfielder as I don’t think his tackling ability is near Parker or Barry, but his form and passing range is good and he might just be a reasonable outside shout for the final 23.

28. Phil Jagielka, Everton (DF) Up 10

29. Aaron Lennon, Tottenham Hotspur (MF) Up 4

30. Peter Crouch, Stoke City (FW) Up 13
Crouch may just benefit from the change of manager to one who has previously tried to sign him and the lack of other options. He has got a good scoring record for England, but others will point out the quality of that opposition.

Might just have to listen to Jim Beglin describe the action

31. Tom Cleverley, Manchester Utd (MF) Down 1
I fully expect Cleverley to be involved with the England squad post tournament and hopefully for a few years to come.

32. Darren Bent, Aston Villa (FW) No change
How much have Aton Villa missed the striking ability of Darren Bent? I wonder if they would have been looking over their shoulder at the spectre of relegation this much if he had been fit. I think it’s a real blow for him personally and for England  that it looks likely he will miss the tournament, however, there has been a suggestion there is a slim chance he could be fit.

33. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Arsenal (MF) Down 5
I did think a couple of months ago when he burst into the Arsenal team that he would be in with a chance of being the Theo Walcott addition to the squad. It now appears as though he will have to bide his time for his full international bow… he may need to make sure he cements a place in Arsene Wenger’s first XI though.

34. Micah Richards, Manchester City (DF) Down 18
When Fabio Capello walked out on the England job I think everyone expected Micah Richards to stake a real claim for the right-back position. Despite his inclusion against Holland, his absence from Roberto Mancini’s team I think has proved to dampen his hopes and I think he will miss out.

35. Fraizer Campbell, Sunderland (FW) Down 8

What a season it would represent for Holt if he got the call

36. Grant Holt, Norwich City (FW) NEW ENTRY
The bustling striker’s form and goals this season for newly promoted Norwich City have certainly caught the eye, although, I can’t help but feel that his name is only being mentioned due to the lack of English strikers around at the moment. I think he definitely deserves consideration based on his approach, teamwork, contribution and goals this season… for him to be included would surely be an amazing story for the former Rochdale and Shrewsbury Town forward.

37. Ben Foster, West Bromwich Albion (GK) NEW ENTRY
I wonder whether Roy Hodgson might be able to tempt Ben Foster out of his self-imposed international absence to become a capable understudy to Joe Hart. He’s certainly had an excellent season and would be my choice for number 2.

38. Liam Ridgewell, West Bromwich Albion (DF) Up 6

39. Jack Rodwell, Everton (MF) Up 3

Might want to have a look if they have an Irish grandmother

40. Bobby Zamora, Queens Park Rangers (FW) Down 3
A couple of months ago I had Zamora just finding a way into the squad… at least that move to QPR has not had any sort of detrimental affect on his career.

41. Scott Sinclair, Swansea City (MF) Down 1

42. John Ruddy, Norwich City (GK) NEW ENTRY
His form certainly surprised me this year but he may finally be finding the promise that led him to Everton a number of years ago now.

43. Danny Graham, Swansea City (FW) Up 3

44. Joe Cole, Lille (MF) NEW ENTRY
Roy Hodgson did take Cole to Liverpool and he is having an excellent season in Ligue 1.

45. Kieran Gibbs, Arsenal (DF) Down 4

46. Gabriel Agbonlahor, Aston Villa (FW) Down 7

47. Michael Dawson, Tottenham Hotspur (DF) No change

48. David Stockdale, Fulham (GK) No change

49. Paul Scholes, Manchester Utd (MF) Down 13
It would seem that we all have finally seen sense and realised that post-retirement Paul Scholes looks very accomplished against those sides lower down the league, but against quality opposition his decision to retire looked like a good one.

50. Nathan Dyer, Swansea City (MF) No change

My thoughts on: Liverpool FC

May 8, 2012 4 comments

With Roy Hodgson’s appointment as England manager being openly debated this last week, with particular reference to his short stint in charge at Liverpool being (unfairly in my opinion) considered a major blot on his curriculum vitae, coupled with further defeats for the Kopites against Fulham in the league and to Chelsea in the FA Cup Final, I find myself becoming increasingly frustrated with the blame for Liverpool’s recent poor form being laid firmly at Hodgson’s door.

Roy Hodgson was appointed manager of Liverpool in July 2010 having just overseen Fulham’s unexpected Uefa Cup final appearance against Atletico Madrid of Spain; 6 months and 31 games later he was sacked.

The statistic that is commonly thrown around as evidence of his failing is the new England manager’s win ratio at Anfield which is the fifth lowest post war at 41.94%. This is a figure that cannot be denied, nor can the Premier League table at the time of his departure, but I would question again whether Roy Hodgson can be solely blamed for that predicament.

It never really worked out for the new England manager at Anfield

When I was growing up and first started watching football, Liverpool were the dominant force, however, they haven’t added to their 18 league titles since 1989/90, a gap of 22 years and represents the longest period without a league title since the 24 years that separated their 1923 and 1947 triumphs, albeit there was the small matter of The Second World War during that time. What is more apparent however is the lack of true realistic attempts at taking the title back to Liverpool since the birth of The Premier League and Manchester Utd’s dominance. Reviewing Liverpool’s performance over this time may suggest that some supporters may need to adjust their expectancies as 62% of the time, Liverpool have finished outside of the top-3 and prior to Hodgson’s appointment, Rafael Benitez’s reign petered out with a seventh placed finish; they currently sit ninth under Kenny Dalglish.

In my mind, Roy Hodgson wasn’t going to Anfield to challenge for the title, it was more about a rebuilding job which needed to start with some consolidation. Amidst this, there was the backdrop of the club being put up for sale, the lack of confidence or support for the then owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett, and the general instability in and around the Anfield hierarchy. In addition to this, Hodgson had Kenny Dalglish as a prominent figure above him, the true Anfield legend and in my view a key perpetrator of his role being undermined.

Then we look at the squad that was available at the beginning of the 2010/11 season. Roy Hodgson was attributed with the signings of Joe Cole (who I had thought would’ve  excelled at Anfield but struggled for form and fitness and at least now appears to be enjoying his football again as one of England’s few exports), Raul Meireles (who is now a Champions League finalist at Chelsea), Paul Konchesky (who had just enjoyed an excellent season at Fulham and was anticipated to fill the problematic left-back position but never really settled), and Christian Poulsen (which was possibly poor judgment). People tend to forget that Alberto Aquilani, Sotiros Kyrgiakos, Jonjo Shelvey and Milan Jovanovic were Benitez signings. In addition to these, Hodgson had a squad that remained heavy of underperforming individuals such as David Ngog and Ryan Babel; it certainly wasn’t a vintage team by any stretch of the imagination.

The return of ‘The King’

When Hodgson departed, in came ‘King Kenny’ and he was afforded the ability to make huge inroads into the transfer market. Out went Fernando Torres to Chelsea for a cool £50million (how I bet Hodgson wishes he had that money available) and in has come hugely expensive young Englishmen Jordan Henderson from Sunderland, Stewart Downing from Aston Villa and Andy Carroll from Newcastle Utd in addition to the tricky Uruguayan Luis Suarez and Blackpool’s Charlie Adam. Although Liverpool have won the League Cup this season (albeit via a penalty shoot-out against a side from a lower division), and also managed to make the FA Cup final, Liverpool’s league form has been abysmal, particularly at Anfield where they have built a history of being solid and consistent. Sunderland, Norwich City, Swansea City, Blackburn Rovers, Stoke City, Wigan Athletic, Aston Villa, West Bromwich Albion and Fulham have all gone home with at least a point; this can’t be blamed on Hodgson and in my view is the reason why Liverpool have not even come close to looking like they may contend a Champions League place next season.

Kenny Dalglish may have been the right appointment when Roy Hodgson left; I do feel for Hodgson but it may have been a case of wrong time wrong place, but I think for Liverpool to begin to challenge at the top-end of the league again they need to invest in a world-class manager… Jose Mourinho would be perfect on Merseyside. If he got the financial backing I believe he would turn Liverpool into a force… if that was the case he would be spoken about in the same breath as Dalglish, Paisley and Shankley and that would suit Mourinho’s ego just fine.

My thoughts on: Changes to improve the game

April 19, 2012 2 comments

The key talking points over the last few weeks once again revolve around issues that continually irk supporters, be it poor decision-making by officials, players feigning fouls or a lack of technology to help ensure decisions are made accurately. Football is a game born in the 19th Century and has managed to remain popular due to its simplicity and hasn’t really changed a huge amount since the days of Old Etonians, Wanderers and Royal Engineers. It has however shown the capacity to evolve, and we have seen it respond positively in England in response to catastrophes such as Hillsbrough and Bradford; however, with the increasing amounts of money being invested into the sport (or is it more of an entertainment product nowadays) and the huge amount of television coverage it receives, there is now, more than ever before, a growing call for changes to be incorporated at a greater rate.I am not a fan of Game 39, the introduction of the Old Firm into the English league, the reduction of games, a Premier League 2 or any other quite selfish ideas in my view perpetrated by those clubs keen to hold onto the huge swathes of cash that comes with membership of English football’s senior division. I think there are some much more sensible and less radical amendments than can be made which would benefit the game greatly which, although appear quite straightforward to me, I doubt the ‘powers-that-be’ will be too keen to adopt too swiftly.

Juan Mata's important second 'goal' for Chelsea v Spurs at Wembley

1. Goal-line technology
Every now and again this issue is raised due to a contentious decision that infuriates those who follow football. I think there is collective amazement that we are now in 2012 and it appears that we are no closer to introducing this sort of technology into our game and remain less forward-thinking than other sports such as rugby, cricket and tennis. My view is that I wouldn’t endorse a blanket introduction of technology; I wouldn’t be keen to see it used to determine the severity of a challenge during play or to support claims for a penalty (or non-penalty) or other decision. I believe that there are alternatives to this and I doubt this would work too effectively in practice. For instance, I have sat and watched a replay of a penalty decision and disagreed with my peers on a number of occasions; just because we are affording someone the ability to review it in slow motion doesn’t necessarily mean that they will make the ‘right’ decision, after all, a foul is down to individual interpretation and isn’t always ‘black-and-white’ whereas reviewing whether the ball has crossed the line or not clearly is.

It could've been 2-2 and then who knows?

The sooner some sort of camera is placed into the goalposts which, either automatically, or through someone else reviewing it, it can be clearly identified whether the ball has crossed the line or not, we will see a reduction in the poor decisions such as those attributed to the Frank Lampard incident in World Cup 2010 and that at Wembley in the FA Cup semi-final. FIFA could easily endorse this as a requirement into international competition (i.e. for a competitive international match to take place, this technology needs to be available at the stadium), equally, UEFA could stipulate that this is a necessity to compete in European competition and could also support each of its members to incorporate it into domestic leagues. It wouldn’t happen overnight, however, I think the clamour for this advancement is such that something needs to be put in place sooner rather than later.

2. Transparency in decision-making

Young and the FA should be embarrassed of themselves!

Although there is a general feeling that over the course of a season the number of poor decisions (or unfair, unjust, unfortunate, whatever word you choose to use) evens themselves out, and that there is a huge amount of television time and pub discussion discussing these events, I think it is about time people take responsibility for their decisions. I have a huge amount of respect for officials, they are clearly undertaking a very difficult job (which could be made easier as I hope I highlight within this blog), and they are only human. I would propose that on a Monday afternoon of each week (or 48hours post match in this era of football 24/7) there is a decision transparency review. This would allow officials and the authority (as a collective, let’s not single individuals out) to justify some of their decisions in a game. This could be instigated by each side having a maximum of 5 decision reviews per match which are submitted within 2hours of the game finishing which the necessary officials would then respond to. In my opinion this would be a huge step forward in club and official relationships; I think people have no problem if an official comes out and apologises and admits they got a decision wrong and this would be the perfect vehicle for that to happen. In addition, this would also clear up any confusion in how certain rules are interpreted as collectively we are given explanation as to why a foul was or was not given, and I would also hope this would contribute to the eradication of players feigning injury. For instance, if this system was in place, I am sure Mark Hughes would have raised the sending off of Shaun Derry at Old Trafford recently as needing explanation. I would hope that the collective response from the match officials, FA and PFA would highlight that it was an error; Ashley Young was offside in the first instance and although slight contact was made, on second review it was agreed that the Manchester Utd forward went down in the aim of gaining an advantage and that a penalty was possibly not the right decision, and subsequently the red card should be rescinded. Simple.

3. Respect

An abiding image

The notion of players and managers showing respect to officials has been ongoing for some time and to be honest, I doubt that I have seen any significant improvement in relationships or behaviour. Football fans across the country often refer enviously to our ‘egg-chasing’ cousins and the relationship that referees and touch judges have with players and how this appears to be light years away from what we see regularly on football pitches. The abiding memory for me was of Roy Keane et al surrounding Andy D’Urso (although this is the image I have, I shouldn’t single Manchester Utd out as there are many other instances on a weekly basis) and the impact this would have on young supporters and players; “if the best players and the best team in the country can do it, so can I”. I believe a zero tolerance policy should be adopted where post match, any player identified as encroaching the referee, overly disputing a decision or general harassment of any of the officials (how many times do you see a player undertake a tirade of abuse at a linesman and go unpunished?) will have a black mark placed against them. As soon as they clock two black marks then they miss the next game. Respect is either shown naturally or needs to be nurtured, and for those who we have to nurture, there currently isn’t any significant punishment to discourage their behaviour. By adopting a strategy of suspension, it wouldn’t be long before managers, supporters and club owners lose patience with players which in turn will affect their value as player or a commodity (for those more high-profile players). It is imperative that respect isn’t a hollow gesture and is something that can be seen in order to ensure that future generations don’t have to be nurtured or coaxed into being respectful, it just comes naturally.

4. Retrospective punishment
I think it would be unfair for us all to expect the officials to see, note and respond to every single infringement on a matchday; however, with television cameras so prominent at stadiums nowadays it is now becoming much easier to identify misdemeanours that have been missed. In tandem with my suggestion of a decision transparency review, I think the authorities should have the power to punish a player or team retrospectively based on specific actions. This could be managed by drawing up a matrix that identifies the required punishment for a specific action. For instance, violent conduct like throwing a punch or pushing a player over would be deemed worthy of an immediate 3-game ban; thrusting your head forward (although not actually headbutting) in a stag-like fashion gives you a 1-game ban; blatant diving (where no contact has been made) can be also be worthy of a 1-game ban and so on. Players could go on report as I mentioned previously where again, if they are found guilty of multiple diving then they receive black marks similar to if they are found to be hostile to officials; if you receive two of these then you are suspended. We have the capabilities to identify these instances so I think it should now be fair to ensure that they don’t continue to go unpunished.

5. Re-find the romance of the FA Cup
Despite what the FA will have us believe, the FA Cup is no longer considered a priority by many clubs. Those that are competing for the top-4 positions and Champions League qualification and clubs that are fighting relegation see the competition as a hindrance evidenced by team selection. Even with supporters there seems to be a general malaise to this great competition as attendances dwindle albeit this may be a result of additional spiralling admission prices. To counter this, and to reinvigorate the competition, boosting attendances and promoting the cup atmosphere that was once synonymous with the competition, I would propose there being a cap on ticket prices which could rise on a round by round basis. For instance, in round 3, tickets could either be fixed at a maximum of £15 or a percentage of what the seat would ordinarily cost, which is something I have suggested previously. People either aren’t interested or can’t afford to pay out in addition to their initial outlay on season tickets. I would also add to this that I feel the competition has been devalued somewhat by the FA’s decision to house semi-finals at Wembley indefinitely. The recent semi-finals provoked debate once again around the sense in this with two sets of supporters having to travel from the same city in the North West to London to contest a game when there are perfectly good alternatives much closer. Not only does it not take into account supporters’ costs (particularly when petrol prices are at an all-time high), it also devalues the FA Cup Final in my opinion and those of current and ex-footballers who I have read recently. The sham and financial farce that is taking place is horrendous with the FA hiding behind the fact that Wembley can house more supporters as a valid reason to hold the games there being flawed with Wembley both not being full for either game and Club Wembley supporters taking a huge chunk of the attendance. Surely The Emirates would have been an excellent venue for the Chelsea v Tottenham game and Old Trafford for the Merseyside derby? The FA need to reconsider any ridiculous notions of no replays or Wembley semi-finals and refer back to what made the FA Cup so successful for over a century in order to ensure this great competition doesn’t go the same way as the League Cup.

6. Fines
I’m beginning to get a little fed up with what appears to be a rather random punishment system in terms of fines. There appears to be no consistency or consideration to what the fine is supposed to represent. In an era where players are earning considerable wealth, fines are having little impact on their manner and I would guess are seen as nothing more as an inconvenience. I don’t think the PFA should be getting too heavily involved either as per their presence in the Carlos Tevez affair earlier this season; players should be responsible for their actions and a fining system should be in place that matches the considerable money which they earn. I would again endorse a simple matrix that easily recognises the punishment for each offence which could be determined by a fine as a percentage of a players wage. In addition to this, these fines should be preserved into one big pot of money which could then be reinvested lower down the league pyramid. On a bigger scale, club fines are equally ridiculous with a recent example being that Manchester City received a more hefty fine for arriving on the pitch late than FC Porto were for their fans racially abusing opposition players. Where is the sense in this? If clubs’ supporters are found guilty of racist or homophobic chanting, a much more serious form of punishment should be promoted; points deduction, transfer embargo removal from European competition; all are surely within the remit of UEFA and/or FIFA?

The big clubs ladening their bench with multi-millionaires

7. Squads and substitutes
The Premier League appears to have tried to do something about managing the size of club’s squads in an attempt to dissuade certain teams buying up multiple players to sit in the reserves and to also endorse growing young talent. English football followed European counterparts in adopting 5 substitutes and now it is 7 in the Premier League which for a short while the Football League also allowed their members. This was reduced to five again this season which I see little sense in. I understand the reasoning behind this was to scupper any advantage clubs with bigger squads (particularly those relegated from the Premier League) had although I think it has proven to be detrimental to offering opportunity to club’s youth products. I would rather see a requirement that within the seven substitutes named, at least two have to be aged 20 years or younger as at the start of the season. By doing this I can see huge benefits for clubs similar to mine where we are aiming to develop our Academy players and provide them with opportunity which is much easier if there is a degree of flexibility on the substitutes bench. I would also be keen to see this implemented in the Premier League also, again, with the notion that this is encouraging youth development as well as aiming to provide a greater level playing field as those clubs with bigger bank balances and huge squads of internationals are not benefitting further by their increased wealth and are discouraged from spending millions and millions on players who are likely to only ever sit on the bench whilst could previously have been pivotal to a side with lesser aspirations.

Categories: Football

My thoughts on: England’s Euro 2012 squad part IV

March 13, 2012 Leave a comment

I’ve had a little time to reflect on how the England squad is going to look since my last blog, and I think the last month has provided more questions than answers. No longer does Harry Redknapp look the certainty to manage England into the Championships as Tottenham Hotspur’s domestic form has seen a recent wobble; his role next season may well depend if he fancies another tilt at the Champions League or not if Spurs manage to hold onto their top-four position. Stuart Pearce was put in charge for the friendly against Holland selected a rather youthful looking side which, in my opinion, once again looked completely outclassed at times by a much superior opponent. Anyway, here’s the latest standings as I see it:

On the plane, packed and raring to go

1. Joe Hart, Manchester City (GK) No change

2. Scott Parker, Tottenham Hotspur (MF) Up 1
It is remarkable to review Scott Parker’s international fortunes since he broke into the Charlton Athletic team as a teenager. Aged 31, he was given the captaincy in the recent friendly defeat to Holland in what was only his 11th cap; eight and a bit years after making his England debut. Most likely candidate I think to captain England in the tournament too

3. Wayne Rooney, Manchester Utd (FW) Up 1
Bang in form and banging in the goals for Manchester Utd; it is becoming increasingly likely that Rooney’s suspension could be much more costly than initially anticipated

4. Glen Johnson, Liverpool (DF) Up 1

Ashley Cole, still likely to be England's left back this summer

5. Ashley Cole, Chelsea (DF) Down 3
Although Ashley Cole played against Stoke City last weekend, he has been struggling with injuries and form. Chelsea clearly have problems, however, I wonder how much of these will change now Roberto Di Matteo has been put in temporary charge? I’m still confident Cole will be given the number 3 shirt this summer

6. Leighton Baines, Everton (DF) Up 13
The Everton full-back will be watching Ashley Cole and Chelsea’s form closely as his and Everton’s recent performance continue to impress

7. Ashley Young, Manchester Utd (MF) Up 11
I think both England and Manchester Utd are grateful to see the former Aston Villa winger return from injury as he continues to try to rediscover some form. He offers a goal threat for England, is able to play across the front-line, and is one of the few players we have who is capable of running with the ball. I think the bigger question is where will he play in the starting XI? Wide left, right or centre?

8. Danny Welbeck, Manchester Utd (FW) No change

9. Steven Gerrard, Liverpool (MF) No change
Was fairly disappointing against Holland whilst on the field, but as was the rest of the team I thought. However, if Gerrard can shake off his injuries, his driving runs could be something that England rely on in the absence of Wayne Rooney in the first two games

10. Rio Ferdinand, Manchester Utd (DF) Up 15
This is the first time I have put Rio Ferdinand in the squad, and, just like Manchester Utd, I think he has timed his return to form just at the right time. I think he will prove to be pivotal in the title run-in, and having endured what was a fairly uninspiring defensive performance against Holland, there may be a need for a more experienced head at the heart of the defence; and I don’t think it will be John Terry

Possibly England's future... but is he the England now?

11. Phil Jones, Manchester Utd (DF/MF) No change
The more I see Phil Jones, the more I am impressed with his athleticism and pace; however, I think he really needs to improve his positional sense, which is possibly being hindered by him being employed in a number of different positions. That aside, I think he will go, however, if it was up to me, it wouldn’t be so clear-cut

12. James Milner, Manchester City (MF) No change

13. Theo Walcott, Arsenal (MF) Up 3
I find Theo Walcott incredibly frustrating. For England he rarely shines, but for Arsenal, I am often impressed with his directness and ability to get the ball into danger areas. I think his position in the squad may finally be cemented

14. Gareth Barry, Manchester City (MF) Down 7
I thought once again that against nippy and technical opposition, Gareth Barry can easily be exposed. I can’t fault his commitment but I think his inclusion in the squad could begin to be questioned

15. Kyle Walker, Tottenham Hotspur (DF) Down 9
A couple of months ago, the right back position was all sewn up with Glen Johnson and Kyle Walker set to battle it out to be first choice. However, Fabio Capello resigns, Manchester City’s Micah Richards comes back into contention, and all of a sudden it is game on. Walker will hope his form doesn’t suffer as Tottenham’s season comes to a close

16. Micah Richards, Manchester City (DF) Up 17
Richards provides cover for both right back and centre half, so could be a viable inclusion in the squad now Capello has left. There has been a fair few calls for his inclusion, but much will depend if, whoever is in charge, wants to take 3 right-backs, or whether they see the versatility that both Richards and Johnson can offer?

17. Scott Carson, Bursaspor (GK) No change

18. Daniel Sturridge, Chelsea (FW) Up 4
Offers width, pace and trickery. It would have been nice if he put his chance away against Holland rather than face the proposition of him, Welbeck and Campbell being England’s first three forwards and neither of them managing an international goal as yet

19. Gary Cahill, Chelsea (DF) Down 4
Unfortunately for him, I think Gary Cahill’s reputation is suffering from being part of what is a fairly calamitous period for Chelsea by their standards. The performance of his partnership with Chris Smalling against Holland wouldn’t have done him any favours either (although I don’t think Smalling is at all ready for international football yet); however, his superbly taken goal will hopefully remind people that he is a fairly decent footballer

20. Adam Johnson, Manchester City (MF) Up 4
I have had Adam Johnson floating around the cut-off mark since I began listing who I thought would make it into the squad. I still feel he has something to offer, however, I don’t think he can be assured a place until he gets that phone call

21. Stewart Downing, Liverpool (MF) Up 9
I thought Stewart Downing’s chance had gone with his continual disappointing shows in an England shirt and the promising start to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s Arsenal career. However, his inclusion in Stuart Pearce’s squad makes me think that he is still in with a shout of making it onto the plane

22. Jermain Defoe, Tottenham Hotspur (FW) Up 5
I think Defoe is the player who is most likely to benefit from Darren Bent’s misfortune

23. Robert Green, West Ham Utd (GK) No change

On the fringes

24. Chris Smalling, Manchester Utd (DF) Up 2

25. John Terry, Chelsea (DF) Down 15
I have a feeling that John Terry will miss out and his England career has come to an end. I can’t see both him and Rio Ferdinand being selected in the same squad, and I think there is possibly a need for some experience alongside what is a fairly inexperienced set of centre halves; and with Ferdinand and Manchester Utd in form, and more importantly, out of the papers, I think that Terry will be the one who misses out

26. Frank Lampard, Chelsea (MF) Down 6
He needs to begin to find form; so do Chelsea

Frazier Campbell deserves some fortune having been terribly unlucky with injuries

27. Fraizer Campbell, Sunderland (FW) New Entry
A surprising inclusion in the squad against Holland but with Darren Bent’s injury, there weren’t that many other viable alternatives. I’m sure he will be as surprised as anybody if he ends his season at the European Championships

28. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Arsenal (MF) Down 7
I was surprised to see he wasn’t selected by Stuart Pearce, particularly as he appears to be a player in form and shows no lack of confidence and a fairly mature manner for an inexperienced player. I thought he might the Michael Owen or Theo Walcott of this summer’s tournament, however, that omission may indicate that this is a tournament too soon

29. Joleon Lescott, Manchester City (DF) Down 16
I think Lescott has had a superb season and would put him ahead of other likely candidates coveting that centre half position, namely Chris Smalling. He was left out of the Holland match squad and this may mean he is a bit further down the list of candidates than I originally thought

30. Tom Cleverley, Manchester Utd (MF) Up 15

Hoping for injuries and loss form by others

31. Jack Wilshere, Arsenal (MF) Down 2
Despite him not kicking a ball this season, and his comeback consistently put off, I still think that if he gets some games under his belt before the end of the season, whoever is in charge may be tempted to pick him

32. Darren Bent, Aston Villa (FW) Down 18
Hugely unfortunate to be injured which is likely to now mean he won’t be going to the European Championships… still fancy his chances ahead of Bobby Zamora though!

33. Aaron Lennon, Tottenham Hotspur (MF) Down 2

34. Andy Carroll, Liverpool (FW) Down 2

35. Michael Carrick, Manchester Utd (MF) Up 2
Whilst watching the game against Holland I considered why, if Gareth Barry is playing, why wasn’t Michael Carrick? I’m not saying that either of them should be, but, Carrick does have the ability to be almost metronome-esque in his ability to keep the ball moving and holding onto possession in a much more stylish way than Barry

36. Paul Scholes, Manchester Utd (MF) Down 1

37. Bobby Zamora, Fulham (FW) Down 9
Unfortunately, I think Zamora’s season has taken a huge turn for the worse. Left Fulham and joined relegation threatened QPR and now appears to have seen his fledgling England career disappear

38. Phil Jagielka, Everton (DF) No change

39. Gabriel Agbonlahor, Aston Villa (FW) Up 4

Sun tan lotion, check, swimming trunks, check, WAG, check

40. Scott Sinclair, Swansea City (MF) Down 1

41. Kieran Gibbs, Arsenal (DF) Up 6

42. Jack Rodwell, Everton (MF) Up 2

43. Peter Crouch, Stoke City (FW) Down 2

44. Liam Ridgewell, West Bromwich Albion (DF) Up 2

45. Ledley King, Tottenham Hotspur (DF) Down 9
His inclusion is possibly most likely dependant on Harry Redknapp being given the position prior to the Championships

46. Danny Graham, Swansea City (FW) Down 4

47. Michael Dawson, Tottenham Hotspur (DF) Down 13
His injury is more likely to be a bigger blow to Tottenham than for England

48. David Stockdale, Fulham (GK) No change

49. Martin Kelly, Liverpool (DF) No change

50. Nathan Dyer, Swansea City (MF) No change

My thoughts on: England’s Euro 2012 squad part III

February 13, 2012 Leave a comment

The next England manager?

Plenty of things have changed since my last post, and I think these need reflecting in how I currently perceive the race for inclusion in England’s Euro 2012 squad. With Fabio Capello no longer the England manager, Tottenham Hotspur’s Harry Redknapp appears to be the leading candidate to replace him, and I wonder how this will affect players’ chances of selection? The whole John Terry saga may momentarily be overshadowed by the Luis Suarez and Patrice Evra affair, however, there are many question marks over the Chelsea captain’s inclusion.

On the plane and in the squad
1. Joe Hart, Manchester City (GK) No change

2. Ashley Cole, Chelsea (DF) No change

3. Scott Parker, Tottenham Hotspur (MF) No change

4. Wayne Rooney, Manchester Utd (FW) No change
Rooney is beginning to find some form again for Manchester Utd, and if he continues to replicate this until the end of the season, it may just highlight how important he is to the national side’s chances of progressing further than the group stages

5. Glen Johnson, Liverpool (DF) Up 1
Beginning to look equally as comfortable in either full-back slot for Liverpool and is beginning to find some consistency in his game

6. Kyle Walker, Tottenham Hotspur (DF) Up 1

7. Gareth Barry, Manchester City (MF) Up 1

8. Danny Welbeck, Manchester Utd (FW) Up 2
Welbeck’s partnership with Wayne Rooney is looking increasingly dangerous as he is rapidly maturing

9. Steven Gerrard, Liverpool (MF) Up 6
There is plenty of clamour for Gerrard to take over the captain’s armband for country (again), and as he regains fitness for Liverpool, I can see him becoming a more integral feature of the Euro 2012 squad

10. John Terry, Chelsea (DF) Down 5
The whole Capello and removing Terry from captain’s duties fiasco has made his position slightly more intenable. The question of whether Terry should be playing for England for some is not related to his impending court case, but reflects that his form this season hasn’t been up to the standards he has set before. I no longer think he is a certainty to go

11. Phil Jones, Manchester Utd (DF) Down 2

12. James Milner, Manchester City (MF) Up 2

13. Joleon Lescott, Manchester City (DF) No change

14. Darren Bent, Aston Villa (FW) Down 2
After being managed, having his striking credentials questioned, and then sold by Harry Redknapp, Darren Bent may be forgiven for possibly not wanting his former manager taking charge of the national set-up. More importantly for Bent, Aston Villa are beginning to need to look over their shoulders at the sides below them as they continue to struggle for form

15. Gary Cahill, Chelsea (DF) Down 4
I would have thought Cahill’s move to the capital would have not only cemented his position in the England squad, but would also have also helped him in his quest for a regular starting place. However, he has only played one game for Chelsea since his transfer, in that they conceded 3, and it would appear that his manager is not that overwhelmed with this signing as he has been left on the bench in preference to others so far

16. Theo Walcott, Arsenal (MF/FW) Up 5
I think Theo Walcott’s place in the England squad may be debated throughout his career. This last week has seem him do well and possibly puts him slightly ahead of some of his competition for the wide births for this summer’s competition

17. Scott Carson, Bursaspor (GK) No change

18. Ashley Young, Manchester Utd (MF/FW) No change

19. Leighton Baines, Everton (DF) No change

20. Frank Lampard, Chelsea (MF) No change
If Uncle Harry is given the role, Frank Lampard may find his position in the squad is a little more secure than it was under Fabio Capello

21. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Arsenal (MF) Up 1
The youngster is continuing to impress at the Emirates Stadium, and I would almost go as far as saying that it may be a shock if he actually is not included now

22. Daniel Sturridge, Chelsea (FW) Up 3
Sturridge continues to look lively for Chelsea and is showing a willingness to track back and perform defensive duties when necessary. His form and ability is further highlighted by Chelsea’s general poor showing this year and Fernando Torres’ continued struggle in front of goal

23. Robert Green, West Ham Utd (GK) Up 15

Might just miss out
24. Adam Johnson, Manchester City (MF) No change

25. Rio Ferdinand, Manchester Utd (DF) Up 1
Ferdinand is now fit and back at the heart of Manchester Utd’s defence. It would not surprise me to see him wearing an England shirt in the summer, however, I can’t see him going as an understudy and he may take John Terry’s place in the squad

26. Chris Smalling, Manchester Utd (DF) Up 1

27. Jermain Defoe, Tottenham Hotspur (FW) Up 4
Although not in Harry Redknapp’s starting XI at White Hart Lane, Jermain Defoe may find his position in the England set-up strengthened as he won’t be competing with the likes of Adebayor and Van Der Vaart for a starting place

28. Bobby Zamora, Queens Park Rangers (FW) Down 5
Having scored on his debut, Zamora has been part of two defeats for his new team, and again, similar to Darren Bent, Zamora has history with Harry Redknapp

29. Jack Wilshere, Arsenal (MF) No change

30. Stewart Downing, Liverpool (MF) No change

May be a fair few in the queue before them
31. Aaron Lennon, Tottenham Hotspur (MF) Up 3
His return from injury may be very well timed, but Tottenham are flying, and much may rely on how much game time at club level Redknapp affords the winger between now and the summer before he can be assured a place on the plane

32. Andy Carroll, Liverpool (FW) No change

Now Capello has gone, will Richards get a chance?

33. Micah Richards, Manchester City (DF) Up 3
The cheers in the Richards household must have been emphatic on the news that Capello had resigned. This now makes the fight for right-back very interesting with Glen Johnson and Kyle Walker both performing well currently whilst Richards remains many people’s choice for England right-back

34. Micahel Dawson, Tottenham Hotspur (DF) Up 10
The possible appointment of his club manager may see him leapfrog Phil Jagielka for a place in the final squad

35. Paul Scholes, Manchester Utd (MF) New Entry
I was appauled when it became knowledge that Fabio Capello had tried to tempt the Manchester Utd midfielder out of international retirement for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. With Harry Redknapp expected to become the new England manager, Paul Scholes returning to playing and Redknapp’s recent exclamation means that I wouldn’t rule him out of a startling return to the international scene. A step backwards I would say

A dramatic return for Scholes?

36. Ledley King, Tottenham Hotspur (DF) New Entry
King oozes ability, if only his knees were up to it. However, again, like some of his teammates, the potential appointment of Redknapp may provide him with an international opportunity

37. Michael Carrick, Manchester Utd (MF) No change

38. Phil Jagielka, Everton (DF) Down 10
Currently injured whilst others are playing well. His chances of making the final squad I think are looking slimmer

39. Scott Sinclair, Swansea City (MF) Down 6

Have you booked your holiday yet?
40. Joe Cole, Lille (MF) Up 2

41. Peter Crouch, Stoke City (FW) No change

42. Danny Graham, Swansea City (FW) Up 7
He is still scoring goals but would represent a huge gamble. He may get an opportunity next season if his form continues

43. Gabriel Agbonlahor, Aston Villa (FW) Down 8

44. Jack Rodwell, Everton (MF) Down 4

45. Tom Cleverley, Manchester Utd (MF) No change

46. Liam Ridgewell, West Bromwich Albion (DF) Down 7

47. Kieran Gibbs, Arsenal (DF) Down 4

48. David Stockdale, Fulham (GK) Down 32
Mark Schwarzer has returned to keep goal for the Cottagers and I can only see Stockdale going as third choice and for experience

49. Martin Kelly, Liverpool (DF) Down 1

50. Nathan Dyer, Swansea City (MF) No change

My thoughts on: England’s Euro 2012 squad part II

February 2, 2012 3 comments

Following on from my previous blog and with England’s one and only pre-tournament friendly drawing in, competition for places in Fabio Capello’s squad continues to be a pertinent issue. With the January transfer window now closed, and a number of fixtures taking place since my initial review, I think there have been some notable changes in my list.

On the plane and in the squad

1. Joe Hart, Manchester City (GK) No change

2. Ashley Cole, Chelsea (DF) No change

3. Scott Parker, Tottenham Hotspur (MF) No change

4. Wayne Rooney, Manchester Utd (FW) No change
Despite being ineligible for the first two games of the tournament and currently being injured and out of form, there is no way Capello won’t take him

John Terry is likely to lead England this summer

5. John Terry, Chelsea (DF) No change
Missed Chelsea’s draw in Wales at Swansea City and he still has the court case hanging over his head. However, the news this week that the hearing will now take place after the European Championships is likely to mean that Terry will keep his place in the squad and the captaincy

6. Glen Johnson, Liverpool (DF) Up 1

7. Kyle Walker, Tottenham Hotspur (DF) Up 1

8. Gareth Barry, Manchester City (MF) Up 1

9. Phil Jones, Manchester Utd (DF) Down 3
Although not playing poorly, he is struggling to rekindle some of the early season form he showed in the Autumn. Injuries have certainly not helped, and he will hope that he will find fitness and form at the right time

10. Danny Welbeck, Manchester Utd (FW) Up 2
Goals at Manchester City in the FA Cup and at Arsenal in the league and his ommision against Stoke City appear to show that Welbeck is the current first choice partner for Wayne Rooney at Old Trafford. I think this is likely to continue and he may have a shout of being England’s number one striker come the summer

11. Gary Cahill, Chelsea (DF) Down 1
I expected his move to Stamford Bridge would cement a partnership with John Terry at international level, however, three games in and he is yet to kick a ball. His exclusion surprises me, particularly considering the lengthy pursuit Chelsea endured to get their man. I doubt he will remain on the bench for long, however, he needs to be playing in order to be selected

12. Darren Bent, Aston Villa (FW) Down 1

13. Joleon Lescott, Manchester City (DF) Up 1

14. James Milner, Manchester City (MF) Up 1

15. Steven Gerrard, Liverpool (MF) Up 2
His steady return to fitness will, I believe, cement his role in the final 23. A fit Steven Gerrard with his drive and experience could be a useful asset for England

16. David Stockdale, Fulham (GK) Up 5
17. Scott Carson, Bursaspor (GK) Up 5
Whoever is in the squad for England’s next friendly are likely to got to the European Championships as back-up to Joe Hart. I doubt there will be any surprises in this role although Rob Green may get a shout

18. Ashley Young, Manchester Utd (MF) Down 5
What is worrying is that Young has only played in excess of 75 minutes of football on two occasions since that 1-6 defeat at home to Manchester City in October. Young needs to return to fitness soon as he offers pace and, more importantly, an end product, an attribute that some of the other options available to Capello don’t consistently provide

19. Leighton Baines, Everton (DF) Up 11
After another inspiring performance by the Everton full-back against Manchester City, coupled with Ashley Cole’s dismissal at Swansea City, I think with the uncertainty of who may play out wide in midfield, this may dictate that an actual left-back by trade would be more prudent to take as support to Cole rather than consider playing Glen Johnson or Joleon Lescott out of position if the need necessitates

20. Frank Lampard, Chelsea (MF) Down 4
Lampard continues to have a difficult season. Not only is he no longer seen as first choice at Stamford Bridge, but he also currently injured. The fitness of Jack Wilshere may influence Lampard’s international career being extended into the summer, but, with Chelsea’s apparent lack of creativity and goals of late, Lampard may find himself becoming a key member for the Blues which won’t do his chances any harm at all

21. Theo Walcott, Arsenal (MF) Down 2

He's been dubbed the new Theo Walcott... I hope he's not!

22. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Arsenal (MF) Up 12
After his recent performance against Manchester Utd and his inclusion against Aston Villa in the FA Cup, the indications are that the former Southampton winger may become a more pivotal figure for Arsene Wenger. I think he has a good chance of making the squad, particularly with Stewart Downing, Theo Walcott and Adam Johnson all struggling for form and Ashley Young currently injured; arguably he is the in-form winger at the moment

23. Bobby Zamora, Queens Park Rangers (FW) Up 2
His move across London is an interesting one. He has swapped competing with Moussa Dembele, Bryan Ruiz, Andrew Johnson, Orlanda Sa and Fulham’s new signing, Pavel Pogrebnyak, for a regular start, for a relegation battle with his former manager Mark Hughes. I would guess the logic behind this is that he may feel he will get more opportunity to impress Fabio Capello at Loftus Road as he, and QPR supporters, will hope he forms a quick understanding with fellow new signing Djibril Cisse

Might just miss out

24. Adam Johnson, Manchester City (MF) Down 4

25. Daniel Sturridge, Chelsea (FW) Down 2

26. Rio Ferdinand, Manchester Utd (DF) No change

27. Chris Smalling, Manchester Utd (DF) No change

28. Phil Jagielka, Everton (DF) No change

Wilshere's injury has stopped him playing this summer and is likely to mean he misses Euro 2012

29. Jack Wilshere, Arsenal (MF) Down 11
Arsenal have missed Jack Wilshere desperately this season, and it would have been nice to see him in an England shirt to see him continue his good start to his international career. The news this week that he has endured a stress fracture of his heel whilst recovering from injury, I fear may mean that he misses out on this tournament

30. Stewart Downing, Liverpool (MF) Down 6

Probably can take the phone of the hook

31. Jermain Defoe, Tottenham Hotspur (FW) Down 2
Things are going great for Defoe at the minute, which sounds odd as his record shows that when given the chance at Tottenham, he scores. However, most recently, his miss away at Manchester City and the rumours that were rife surrounding a possible departure, may reflect that Defoe is no longer considered indispensible. He may need to infiltrate the seemingly preferred partnership of Emmanuel Adebayor and Rafael van der Vaart if he is going to make it to the tournament

32. Andy Carroll, Liverpool (FW) Up 1
His performance at Wolverhampton Wanderers will be something that the Liverpool supporters will want to see continue. If Carroll is going to manage to get into Capello’s thoughts, I think he is going to have to really raise his game and continue to put in these sort of performances, coupled with goals, and get about it fairly quickly

33. Scott Sinclair, Swansea City (MF/FW) Up 2
I would love for Sinclair to be given an opportunity in England’s friendly against Holland later this month; particularly with other players being injured or out of form. His, like Swansea’s, first season in the Premier League, has been a good one, and, as I stated at the start of the season, I think he is a future England international

34. Aaron Lennon, Tottenham Hotspur (MF) Down 3

35. Gabriel Agbonlahor, Aston Villa (FW) Down 3

36. Micah Richards, Manchester City (DF) Up 3

37. Michael Carrick, Manchester Utd (MF) Up 6

38. Robert Green, West Ham Utd (GK) New Entry

39. Liam Ridgewell, West Bromwich Albion (DF) New Entry
I like Liam Ridgewell and am surprised that many other teams didn’t show an interest in a player who has shown versatility in playing both central and at left back. At Birmingham City, he showed that not only was he becoming an accomplished defender, he was also a danger in opposition penalty areas. With Arsenal’s Kieran Gibbs still injured, I am struggling to find a realistic alternative to Ashley Cole or Leighton Baines at left back

Get the sun tan lotion and speedos out; you’ll be going somewhere sunnier

40. Jack Rodwell, Everton (MF) Down 3

41. Peter Crouch, Stoke City (FW) No change

42. Joe Cole, Lille (MF) No change

43. Kieran Gibbs, Arsenal (DF) Down 7

44. Michael Dawson, Tottenham Hotspur (DF) Down 6

45. Tom Cleverley, Manchester Utd (MF) Up 5

46. Jordan Henderson, Liverpool (MF) No change

47. Stephen Warnock, Aston Villa (DF) No change

48. Martin Kelly, Liverpool (DF) Down 8

49. Danny Graham, Swansea City (FW) No change

50. Nathan Dyer, Swansea City (MF) Down 5

My thoughts on: the England Euro 2012 squad race

January 20, 2012 1 comment

Can Capello and England get it right this time?

The European Championships are due to be held in Poland and Ukraine commencing on June 8th. England obviously failed to qualify for the finals of the previous tournament in Austria and Switzerland and achieved nationwide derision for their showing in South Africa in the 2010 World Cup finals. With this in mind, the squad that Fabio Capello assembles to represent our nation in Eastern Europe has a huge amount of responsibility in terms of redressing the poor performances in the previous two competitions as well as offering optimism for the new incoming national team manager.

With a little over 4 months remaining of this current season, I thought it be interesting to begin to predict how the final squad of 23 will look and map this as individual and team performances fluctuate between now and the summer; basically this will be a dynamic list that I will update periodically

The top 23 – current rankings of who I think Fabio Capello will select

1. Joe Hart, Manchester City (GK)
Literally the first name on the team sheet and secured of his starting berth barring anything cataclysmic happening between now and the plane departing

2. Ashley Cole, Chelsea (DF)
Has been arguably one of England’s most reliable performers for a number of years now and I don’t think has any real competition for his place

3. Scott Parker, Tottenham Hotspur (MF)
For far too long Scott Parker was overlooked for England in my opinion, and finally his consistency and combativeness has been rewarded with regular selection. His importance to how Capello has begun to shape his formation is as critical as his role is in Harry Redknapp’s championship contenders

4. Wayne Rooney, Manchester Utd (FW)
There was plenty of discussion around the prospect of omitting Rooney from the final squad pending his 3-match ban for the act of stupidity against Montenegro in October. His international, and more lately, domestic form, have equally been questioned, but Rooney remains one of the few players who have the ability to ‘make things happen’. The reduction of his ban to two games I think means that there is no doubt whatsoever that he will have a squad number

5. John Terry, Chelsea (DF)
Terry’s role for England provokes much debate, and his inclusion may ultimately rely on the outcome of his court appearance on February 1st. However, if we are solely assessing footballing merit, I think Capello will select Terry and will only debate whether he gets the captain’s armband or not

6. Phil Jones, Manchester Utd (DF/MF)
The former Blackburn Rovers player has received many admirers this season although he is a long way from a polished gem yet. His athleticism, speed and versatility, I think are traits that Capello will want in his squad, although it is difficult to second-guess the Italian as to where he sees him fitting into the team; full-back, centre-half or central midfield

7. Glen Johnson, Liverpool (DF)
I think Johnson remains Fabio Capello’s first choice right-back, despite the consistency of Manchester City’s Micah Richards. What may prove an issue for him though is Kyle Walker’s form at Tottenham Hotspur and whether Capello chooses him ahead of the Liverpool man, and relies on Phil Jones’ versatility to allow options for other positions elsewhere in the squad

8. Kyle Walker, Tottenham Hotspur (DF)
The former Sheffield Utd full-back has consistently been rated as a player with a bright future. His performances for Tottenham Hotspur this season, seeing off the competition of internationals Alan Hutton and Vedran Corluka, to assert himself as one of the most attacking full-backs in the Premier League can only be topped with his assured debut for England against Sweden. I think he is very real competition for Glen Johnson (although I think Micah Richards should be selected ahead of Johnson anyway)

9. Gareth Barry, Manchester City (MF)
A stalwart of the Capello reign, Barry has the ability to drift through games without being noticed too much. From what I’ve seen of Manchester City this season, he plays an integral role, however, I believe there remains questions over his agility and fitness (with visions of that German goal still very real) with regards to him truly being dubbed ‘international class’. His role may likely depend on what formation Capello opts for

England will hope the Cahill/Terry club partnership will reap dividends

10. Gary Cahill, Chelsea (DF)
Chelsea’s newest acquisition may have assured his place in the England squad by moving to the capital. His partnership at club level with John Terry may not only be a benefit for the Chelsea captain and his club, but the England coaching staff may also be forgiven for hoping that 4 months playing together on a weekly basis will be a solid foundation for a centre-half pairing at the finals

11. Darren Bent, Aston Villa (FW)
Aston Villa’s leading striker hasn’t been firing on all cylinders so far this season, however, it would probably be fair to say that neither has anyone at Villa Park. Bent though remains a real threat whenever he plays and is capable of playing the lone striker role which Capello seemingly prefers. I think he is the current incumbant of the number 9 shirt, however, how much game time Messrs Welbeck and Sturridge get may dictate if that remains the case

12. Danny Welbeck, Manchester Utd (FW)
Although Welbeck remains without an international goal and has had a gentle introduction to the England set-up, his growing prominence in a Manchester Utd shirt will be hard to ignore if he continues in the same manner as he has done so far this season

13. Ashley Young, Manchester Utd (MF/FW)
Although Young’s impact since signing from Aston Villa in the summer may have been curtailed somewhat by his injury, his performances for England have been steadily getting better over the last two years. A fit Ashley Young is an excellent attacking asset and he will hope his form returns quickly when he comes back from this current setback

14. Joleon Lescott, Manchester City (DF)
Has begun to add consistency to his game playing alongside Vincent Kompany and his performance, alongside Phil Jagielka, and the fact he is left-sided, I think may have secured his spot. A lot may depend on whether Capello wants to go with the Evertonian or give Rio Ferdinand one last hurrah

15. James Milner, Manchester City (MF)
Milner’s versatility and honesty has won him many plaudits in both an England and City shirt. I remain unsure whether he can truly compete for a starting position but I think Capello is an admirer. There is a lot of competition in midfield at the minute and Milner is one of many that could be left sitting at the airport

16. Frank Lampard, Chelsea (MF)
Many predicted that Lampard’s England career was over and now the same people are clamouring to draw a curtain on his time with Chelsea too. The problem is though that Lampard continues to do what he is good at, and that is being a goalscoring midfielder. One of the ‘golden generation’, finally not given an automatic starting place, however, I wonder whether Capello will take both him and Steven Gerrard

17. Steven Gerrard, Liverpool (MF)
Gerrard’s return to fitness couldn’t have been timed better as they have to live with the prolonged absence of Luis Suarez. However, Gerrard’s re-emergence could also prove to be vital for England as if he manages to reach the heights he has done previously, he could well fill Wayne Rooney’s role in England’s first two matches. He desperately needs to steer clear of injuries

18. Jack Wilshere, Arsenal (MF)
Yet to kick a ball in competitive action this season and Wilshere, I think, is still likely to make it onto the plane such is the belief in the young Arsenal midfielder. If he’s fit and playing I doubt Capello will leave him behind

19. Theo Walcott, Arsenal (MF/FW)
Walcott narrowly missed out on the debacle of South Africa and pledged to make it a more difficult decision next time. For me, he too often goes missing in games, however, his pace continues to frighten defenders. Arsenal’s wayward season isn’t helping his cause, however, Stewart Downing’s and Adam Johnson’s inconsistency may allow him to keep his place

20. Adam Johnson, Manchester City (MF)
Despite struggling for form recently for Manchester City, Johnson remains an excellent impact player for England and I think it may be a fight between him, Walcott and Downing for two spots… unless of course Capello opts to be more attacking and take 5 forwards that is

21. David Stockdale, Fulham (GK)
22. Scott Carson, Bursaspor (GK)
English goalkeepers seem very keen to not play for England/for Fabio Capello, and with the dominance of Joe Hart as number 1, the two back-up ‘keepers seem to be resigned to a little relaxing holiday. These two seem to be currently playing second and third fiddle

23. Daniel Sturridge, Chelsea (FW)
Sturridge has openly been critical of his lack of game time for Chelsea, and to be fair, he is their leading striker in terms of goals. In addition to that, his performances at the end of the last campaign at the Reebok Stadium, and you would think his place in the England squad would be more secure. Unless Sturridge gets to play a bigger role in Chelsea’s run-in he could see himself considering a role for the Olympic team instead

Make sure you’ve got 6 months on your passport

24. Stewart Downing, Liverpool (MF)
Consistency and goalscoring continues to be an issue for Downing, and with a number of other options, I think he will miss out

25. Bobby Zamora, Fulham (FW)
Fabio Capello likes to have a physical presence up front and it would appear that Fulham’s Bobby Zamora fits the bill. He does appear to be slightly out of favour at Craven Cottage at the minute and unless that situation improves, he may find his one and only chance of appearing on the big stage disappears. If he scores goals regularly between  now and the end of the season, I think he will go in place of either Bent or Sturridge

Rio Ferdinand: Still an England international?

26. Rio Ferdinand, Manchester Utd (DF)
In my eyes, Ferdinand’s England career is over. There are plenty of alternatives and with his age and injuries, he appears to no longer have the aura about him which resulted in his multi-million pound moves to both Elland Road and Old Trafford. I’m still not sure though that Capello shares my judgement

27. Chris Smalling, Manchester Utd (DF)
Much has been made of the former Fulham defender this year, however, for me, I still don’t know what to make of him. He’s played at full-back, but I think centre-half will ultimately where is career will lie. Not quite good enough yet and I’m not sure what Capello would get out of taking him

28. Phil Jagielka, Everton (DF)
Partnered Gary Cahill superbly in the friendly against Spain, and continues to be an integral cog in the Everton side and one of the most sought after defenders in the Premier League. His recent injury may prove to scupper his hopes of making the trip, however, the impact of injuries elsewhere in the squad may dictate the final outcome. If Wilshere is unfit, Capello may see Phil Jones as a holding midfielder; equally the outcome of John Terry’s court case may lead to an opening but I think Jagielka may once again miss out on playing on the biggest stage

29. Jermain Defoe, Tottenham Hotspur (FW)
Once a Capello favourite and often repaid him with goals. Now, he is playing back-up to Emanuel Adebayor and Rafael van der Vaart at White Hart Lane, and unless he can oust either of them, I doubt whether Defoe will get a ticket

30. Leighton Baines, Everton (DF)
Possibly Ashley Cole’s reserve, however, with Glen Johnson and Joleon Lescott both showing versatility, Leighton Baines may see himself omitted as a method of fulfilling more attacking options in the squad

Probably won’t need to wait for a call

Will Andy Carroll get another opportunity in an England shirt?

31. Aaron Lennon, Tottenham Hotspur (MF)
32. Gabriel Agbonlahor, Aston Villa (FW)
33. Andy Carroll, Liverpool (FW)
34. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Arsenal (MF)
35. Scott Sinclair, Swansea City (MF/FW)
36. Kieran Gibbs, Arsenal (DF)
37. Jack Rodwell, Everton (MF)
38. Michael Dawson, Tottenham Hotspur (DF)
39. Micah Richards, Manchester City (DF)



Book your holidays, I doubt you’ll be heading to the European Championships

Joe Cole appears to be enjoying French football

40. Martin Kelly, Liverpool (DF)
41. Peter Crouch, Stoke City (FW)
42. Joe Cole, Lille (MF)
43. Michael Carrick, Manchester Utd (MF)
44. Leon Britten, Swansea City (MF)
45. Nathan Dyer, Swansea City (MF)
46. Jordan Henderson, Liverpool (MF)
47. Stephen Warnock, Aston Villa (DF)
48. Danny Simpson, Newcastle Utd (DF)
49. Danny Graham, Swansea City (FW)
50. Tom Cleverley, Manchester Utd (MF)

My thoughts on: Doncaster and Willie McKay

October 31, 2011 2 comments

Doncaster Rovers are a football club that I think are generally liked and are held up as a great example of how relative success can be achieved without commanding major headlines.

In 1998, Doncaster Rovers were relegated into the non-league pyramid after amassing just 20 points and conceding 113 goals in their 46 league matches. They returned to the football league in 2003 and celebrated this by subsequently winning the division ahead of Hull City. By August 2008 they had reached The Championship after defeating Leeds Utd 1-0 at Wembley in a play-off final and heralded Rovers’ return to a level they last reached in 1958.

This story represents so many things good about football which is becoming increasingly more difficult to find in this modern era. The test for Doncaster once reaching these giddy heights was about whether they would be able to ‘hold their own’ with clubs with considerably more resources available to them. Finishing positions of 14th and 12th are laudable, and despite being embroiled in a relegation battle last season, the fact that Doncaster Rovers held onto their Championship status whilst close rivals Sheffield Utd slipped down a division, is again a commendable fete.

Willie McKay has been instrumental in securing Rovers' recent signings

However, I feel the recent decision to associate the club with football agent Willie McKay could potentially be a dangerous one and is a huge leap away from the romantic notion of small-town football club on the rise and ‘doing things the right way’ whilst many around them adopt a success at any cost strategy.

McKay has allegedly been provided with exclusive control over transfers at the Keepmoat Stadium in a unique relationship with the intention of not only attracting players otherwise perceived unobtainable, but also a means to generate much-needed income. John Ryan, the Doncaster chairman, has identified there is a need for a change of financial strategy, alluding to the fact that club directors have invested heavily in order to subsidise the club; a model he believes is no longer viable. This is a theory supported by McKay as he outlines that Doncaster “have players on £7,000 a week and a core support of 10,000 people — nobody can sustain that”. “My valuation of Donny was nothing. They have no fan base and everyone in Doncaster supports Leeds, Sheffield United or Sheffield Wednesday, who can all get 30,000 in their stadiums”.

The model that McKay and Ryan are promoting is one that sees Doncaster offer to loan players, currently out of favour at their parent club for one reason or another, for a nominal contribution to their wages, and effectively put them in the ‘shop-window’ for clubs potentially interested in buying them.

West Ham full-back Illunga is on loan at the Keepmoat Stadium

The example that McKay uses to explain this is that of the West Ham Utd full-back Herita Illunga. Doncaster Rovers are apparently paying about 7.7% of his reported £26,000 a week salary, but he is now getting games at a club which “are no threat to West Ham” which may be the catalyst to a potential transfer. The idea is, Doncaster get a player which ordinarily they wouldn’t be able to for very little outlay, West Ham Utd get a player who clearly isn’t in their future plans out playing competitive football, McKay then gets to tout the player’s wares across Europe with the aim it results in a transfer which McKay then gets his commission, Doncaster Rovers receive a fee for their role in the deal and West Ham Utd ultimately get an expensive player off their wage bill and out of their squad for a reasonable fee. That’s my interpretation of it anyway. It sounds complicated and almost quite sensible, although I can’t help but feel a little uneasy with it all.

Currently, as well as Illunga, Pascal Chimbonda has found his way to South Yorkshire and today El-Hadji Diouf has been confirmed as signing a three-month contract, but other players have been linked as part of this innovative model including former Real Madrid midfielder Mahamadou Diarra and Chris Kirkland has already had a very brief spell before an inevitable injury resulted in him returning to Wigan Athletic.

My concerns with this model is that it almost seems as if they are willing to prostitute the football club for the benefit of a few quid and ensuring otherwise surplus players obtain the opportunity to capture another (cue the cynic in me…) lucrative contract elsewhere. The very thought of my club openly inviting players to join for a short spell with the aim of finalising a deal at another club galls me and, in my opinion, represents the heart being ripped out of the club.

What also concerns me is Willie McKay’s history. He has twice been named and cleared in association with football corruption as well as being accused amongst supporters for openly unsettling his own clients with the intention of sealing either more lucrative contracts or a transfer elsewhere to the point where a Facebook page and a petition were both put together voicing disapproval of his antics.

Unlike O'Driscoll, Saunders doesn't have an issue with McKay

Most recently, McKay has been attributed to the transfer of Joey Barton from Newcastle Utd to Queens Park Rangers and has allegedly received £2.5million for his involvement. This he has denied and he claims he has received, in accordance to FIFA and FA regulations, less than 10% of the total value of the deal. The long and the short of it is that there just seems to be a lot of shadiness around McKay and how he goes about his business; the same I’m sure could be said with regards to a number of football agents. What I think speaks volumes is that Sean O’Driscoll who recently left his management post at Doncaster refused to work with him.

Whether this model proves to be a long-term strategy or successful, for sure, I think Doncaster Rovers may now begin to be viewed differently by opposition supporters.

My thoughts on: The Manchester derby

October 24, 2011 2 comments


A scoreline no-one expected

Yesterday’s fixture at Old Trafford was billed as being an early measure of who may go on to lift the Premier League title this season; a spicy fixture that has new added meaning with the emergence of Manchester City as credible championship contenders.

Both sides have been guilty of casting aside opponents nonchalantly this season although have equally shown lesser performances in the Champions League; an issue most notably recognised by the media with reference to Manchester City and the suggestion that when facing a more organised and credible opponent, their free-scoring and open attacking play is stifled and they struggle. This I think was the tag-line to this match; could City dispel these early season claims that they only sit at the summit due to their fixture list and this was alleged to be their first major test. I would argue this but this general view surely would only inspire a team and manager who clearly possess a lot of quality (and winners may I add).

Sir Alex Ferguson has never shied away from making surprise team selections, as shown by his defensive attitude at Anfield last week, and I think there was a general raise of the eyebrow with the inclusion of Johnny Evans partnering Rio Ferdinand and the omission of the Mexican predator Hernandez who has proven already to enjoy these occasions. Equally, the question for Roberto Mancini was; should he adopt a cavalier approach similar to Chelsea, who although lost at Old Trafford, proved to cause a number of problems for the home team. Or, should he revert back to a more solid-looking side with two deeper midfielders which he was often accused of being too negative for previously?

Is David Silva the best player in the Premier League currently?

Mancini got his selection right. Players such as David Silva are often referred to as luxury items; those only the most successful sides can possess as the notion with such a label is that defensively they may not ‘put in a shift’. That was not the case on Sunday as David Silva proved what an outstanding, and dare I say it, world-class performer he is.

Manchester City defended stoutly; and they had to as the home side had the majority of possession early on which although the onus was on Manchester Utd, I was a little disappointed in what I was seeing and questioned whether this was going to show City up for what they are. My concerns however were unfounded. City grew into the game and although some may point to the sending off as being the catalyst to the final score, I disagree.

The sending off (and it was pleasant to hear that Ferguson didn’t question it) obviously opened up a bit of space, however, Manchester Utd’s defending was atrocious. Defenders were too inclined to bomb forward despite there being no cover and midfielders, and in particular Ashley Young, were guilty of not raising their game, and were far too often caught ball-watching.

Chris Smalling, Phil Jones and David de Gea are young, so some may exempt them from poor decision-making; I would point to their transfer fees and international notoriety and counter that despite their relative inexperience, more should be expected. I would however point a harsh finger at Rio Ferdinand and Patrice Evra, both who are seasoned internationals, have captained club and country and have won numerous accolades. For me, Ferdinand’s performance highlights why he shouldn’t be in the England squad. He looked slow, lethargic and poor; often being pulled out of position and appeared to lack the energy or desire to recover sufficiently. I’m sure he would have been very disappointed with his contribution.


Balotelli is beginning to look something special

The scoreline was emphatic. Three goals in injury time could be argued as over-elaborating City’s dominance; however, how easily Utd rolled over will be uncomfortable for Sir Alex Ferguson. Utd ordinarily have a number of leaders across the pitch and yesterday I felt this was  more absent as the game wore on. The sending off proved, in my eyes, not the catalyst for City to believe they could go on and win the game, but it shook Utd and they never looked like they thought they could recover. This is unusual and not a facet of their make-up that we are used to. Manchester City inevitably picked them off with a simple pass-and-move philosophy and I thought were thoroughly deserving of the width of their victory margin. It could have been more and that I think is what is frightening. City looked to have a hunger to not only win the game, but to win it convincingly. They wanted more goals and the three post 90 minutes is evidence of this; if Edin Dzeko showed the finishing prowess displayed at White Hart Lane, City easily could have ended with 7 or 8.

I think this result is great for the Premier League. I think it shows the distance Mancini’s side has come in terms of development as a team and has quashed any doubts about them being ready to mount a serious title challenge. I applaud their manager’s and captain’s comments post match; this was a result for the supporters; in terms of their title challenge, this was only 3 points and is the same amount of points they will get for winning with less style.

I think to say the shift of power has moved is premature. Let’s not forget that Manchester Utd have been incredibly successful for nearly 25 years and I think it is fair to say that they have dominated the Premier League since its conception. Manchester City have a long way to go to achieve such heights but this was a significant step in the right direction. I am sure Sir Alex Ferguson is wily enough to not linger on the past; what is important is what happens now and in the future and for both clubs, for different reasons, the interesting thing is how they will react next weekend to this memorable result.