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My view on Manchester City

August 24, 2011 Leave a comment

Samir Nasri has finally finalised his transfer to Manchester City this week for a reported £25million with the Frenchman allegedly receiving £175,000 per week and becomes another piece in the expensive jigsaw that Roberto Mancini is assembling in a bid for domestic and European honours.

In August 2008, Manchester City were purchased by the Abu Dhabi United Group owned by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan which instantly became a pivotal moment in the club’s, and in my opinion, the Premier League’s, history. The appointment of Sven-Goran Eriksson the previous summer certainly suggested that the club had visions of greater things which I think is a vision we are beginning to see come to fruition with Mancini the man being given the steering wheel to drive the success.

However, the process which Manchester City are adopting to gain success has received much opposition and the accusation of attempting to ‘buy success’ has been thrown at them.

Manchester City finished third last season and begin an adventure into the Champions League for the first time this year alongside a very realistic target of winning the league championship for the first time since 1967/68. I may be in a minority but I am glad to see a different side challenge for domestic honours rather than the inane and rather dull merry-go-round of red and white or blue ribbons adorning the Premier League trophy.

I find it amusing to see so many people cry foul in relation to how Manchester City are muscling their way into the group of teams who realistically have a chance of winning the league; it strikes me as being an element of envy being shown by supporters of sides who a few years ago were sitting at least on a par with Manchester City, if not holding greater aspirations, and a rather conceited arrogance being shown by supporters of the red half of Manchester. I understand concerns levied at Manchester City in terms of the reported wage structure that is in place at Eastlands but that aside, I don’t understand the issue with Manchester City pursuing a method of accelerating their rise to prominence by being able to purchase the best players around.

Manchester City may be using money which they haven’t ‘earned’ as so many people seem quick to point out, but Manchester City’s recent past hasn’t been their most glorious, and opportunity for the commercial sell-out approach adopted by their neighbours and others has not been a viable one. I am sure that if they continue to be successful, a similar model will be put in place and they will reap the dividends that their fellow title contenders enjoy. Some people may be forgetting that Manchester City were in the third tier of English football (only for one season I know) in 1999, and have an average final league position of 17th over the last 14 years. Maine Road (as amazing as it once was) could hold only a fraction of Old Trafford and as a global brand, Manchester City was not in the same league as their nearest rivals.

It frustrates me the continued superciliousness shown by other teams’ supporters in terms of ‘Manchester City aren’t doing it the right way’, yet it seems okay and fine for Manchester Utd and Liverpool to spend millions ‘because they aren’t being bankrolled by foreign investment’; although Chelsea appear to also be tainted with the same brush as supporters of Manchester Utd look down from their pedestal. I struggle to see the difference between receiving lots of money from one single foreign investor and lots of smaller amounts of money from millions of foreign investors.

Other teams are in the Premier League because of initial cash injection by individuals; have we forgotten both Fulham’s and Wigan Athletic’s meteoric rise or is that okay because they are not an immediate competitor for the title? It is becoming increasingly more difficult to enter the elite group of teams as they share their pots of gold between them and castigate any outsiders for daring to enrol.

David May... Superstar and Champions League winner

As for purchasing the best players and the cost of these; this is surely relative to the quality of the league in 2011/12; you no longer can go to your nearest championship rival and buy their two best defenders for circa £6m (see David May and Henning Berg) or the league’s most prolific striker (see Andrew – or Andy as he was still known then – Cole). The real issue is that Manchester City have the money and everyone knows this and therefore inevitably inflates prices. Maybe there have been some examples of costly purchases that have not lived up to their price tag (I’m thinking Jo, Benjani, Roque Santa Cruz and Robinho here); but has any club managed to be successful with all of their purchases?

I for one am pleased that Manchester City are hopefully going to provide the neutrals with the opportunity to see a different name on the league trophy this season; the sooner we begin to lose the virtual autocratic nature of the Premier League the better.

Premier League Predictions 2011/12

August 12, 2011 10 comments

With the Premier League season about to dawn, I thought it was high-time I made some predictions:

ARSENAL

Fabregas to Barcelona... one of the most protracted transfers ever

I’ve already made it clear on a previous blog my thoughts on Arsenal, and I think there is only going to be an increased level of pressure on Arsene Wenger’s team going into the new season. With Cesc Fabregas looking set to move to Barcelona (finally!!) and Samir Nasri also looking more likely to be joining the Manchester City revolution, I think there is going to be an awful lot of pressure on Jack Wilshere and Robin van Persie to take up the mantle of talismanic figure next season. Wenger’s two high-profile signings are quite typical of his transfer policy; Oxlade-Chamberlain is an expensive acquisition for the future and Gervinho is a foreign import which relatively little was known about outside France until last season. In order for the Gunners to compete more consistently next season, I feel they need to address the issues that has plagued them for seasons; sign a commanding centre-half (it appears that this may be Birmingham City’s Scott Dann although I would question why they haven’t gone for Gary Cahill), a holding midfielder (Scott Parker is still available) and I think another striker is needed to take the burden off Van Persie. With Nasri potentially going, Arsenal will also need another creative figure in the mould of Valencia’s Juan Mata; it all seems odd that activity is only just happening when all of this could have been finalised earlier in the summer, which I am sure would have given Arsenal fans a little more optimism for the year ahead. I can see them slipping out of the top four this season.

Prediction: 5th

ASTON VILLA
It seems to be have been a strange last 12 months for Aston Villa since the departure of Martin O’Neill on the eve of last season. Villa appeared to be progressing nicely and looked worthwhile contenders to challenge the top four, however, since then it appears as though they have hit some relatively choppy waters. Although many would have argued that they were never likely to get relegated last season, you can’t ignore that they were involved in a relegation fight in the early part of the year. A modest 9th place finish may mask some more serious problems at Villa Park and there are some familiar calls for money to be invested in the squad.

Villa will be hoping Darren Bent continues his excellent scoring record

However, it is who has gone out of the door that has made the headlines with Brad Friedel moving to Tottenham, Stewart Downing to Liverpool and Ashley Young to Manchester Utd. The summer of frustration for Villa fans was surely not tempered by the introduction of their arch-rivals manager who had just been relegated and although they have seen a couple of shrewd acquisitions in the form of Shay Given and Charles N’Zogbia, I think it is quite clear that Villa will be reliant on their youth system next season. The frustrating thing with Aston Villa is, in my eyes, that they are a ‘nearly team’. They nearly have a very good squad with an excellent mix of youth, experience and home-grown talent. I believe in Darren Bent they have one of the most consistent English strikers around, and if N’Zogbia settles quickly and Agbonlahor returns to the form from 2009/10 they may challenge for a cup.

Prediction: 7th

BLACKBURN ROVERS
Do you remember when the Venky’s came in to English football? Do you remember when Blackburn reportedly bid for Ronaldinho? Do you remember that last game of the season to ensure survival? When Rovers were taken over last November and Sam Allardyce was removed and replaced with Steve Kean there appeared to be a promise of a new dawn in Lancashire almost akin to when the great Jack Walker decided that he needed to put Blackburn back on the footballing map. It all seems a long time ago now and I get the impression no-one really knows what to expect next from Ewood Park. Even without selling prize gem Phil Jones this summer, I anticipated that Kean would have had ample opportunity to spend and improve what to be fair is not the greatest Rovers side of the last 20 years. Undoubtedly there is some talent there and I particularly like the look of Junior Hoilett; but I feel it may be difficult to retain the services of players like Paul Robinson and Chris Samba unless Blackburn begin to get things right both on and off the field. A new striker is a must, not just anyone, but someone with proven ability, and Rovers fans will hope that David Goodwillie will find the transition from Scotland to England not too daunting. What appears to be key to any sort of success though for Rovers is that they need to invest in quality in midfield and up front, and rid themselves of players who clearly are being paid too much and aren’t good enough to be in their squad, however, I can’t see too many sides clamouring for Blackburn’s cast-offs. I think it will be a long hard season for them.

Prediction: 19th

BOLTON WANDERERS
Owen Coyle has done a magnificent job of eradicating the stigma attached to previous Bolton teams’ style of play and has adopted a more entertaining approach to games compared to previous managers, which has begun to win over some previously sceptical neutrals. The departure of Johan Elmander is unfortunate and it now looks like Daniel Sturridge may actually get a chance in the Chelsea team; so the big question for me is where are the goals going to come from? Keeping hold of Gary Cahill is unbelievable considering there are a number of teams desperate for a classy centre-half and I’m sure Coyle will hope he will be able to pick him as we move out of Autumn into Winter. A lot will be expected from Kevin Davies and as per usual he will deliver, and the responsibility for delivering goalscoring opportunities is likely to fall to new acquisition Chris Eagles. Coyle is furthermore aiming to strengthen this department with the capture of Shaun Wright-Phillips and Wolfsburg’s former Middlesbrough and Stoke City forward Tuncay; however, as yet no-one to replace the goals plundered by Elmander and Sturridge. Losing Chung-Yong Lee and Tyrone Mears to serious injuries even before the season has begun is a big blow also and has possibly diverted funds away from the striker that Bolton need. Following their terrible performance in the FA Cup semi-final in April, Bolton only managed to win one game, their following match against Arsenal at The Reebok, and ended the season with five consecutive defeats. It’s important they start strongly.

Prediction: 13th

CHELSEA
I’m not going to spend too long on Chelsea as I think far too much is written about them and not enough people are that bothered. Another season and another new manager. I think we are all beginning to see a transition from that successful Jose Mourinho side as Petr Cech, John Terry, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba all seem to have lost something in terms of how the opposition and supporters see them. Although all still excellent footballers, I feel that the opposition has maybe begun to lose that fear that was prevalent, even prior to playing them. We may begin to see a new style of play under Villas-Boas with Fernando Torres spearheading their attack… it will clearly have to be different as Torres is surely the definition of opposite in terms of style to Drogba. Their relentless hopes to sign Modric ties in with this notion as rather than bullying their way to the title, which they have been accused of before, we may begin to see a more refined Chelsea in the years to come. For me though they won’t be picking up any silverware next season, at home or abroad.

Prediction: 3rd

EVERTON

Another season without investment for Moyes

I feel sorry for David Moyes and wonder what he would be able to do given half the funds some of his counterparts demand. Everton have an attractive and hard-working side which includes players which many sides would like in their squad, and that has been the problem in previous summers. Moyes has had to spend too long fending off enquiries and newspaper speculation rather than being given the opportunity to improve his team. This summer though has been different, despite Arsenal’s brief flirtation with Phil Jagielka. No-one has asked about Tim Cahill, Mikel Arteta, Leighton Baines or Jack Rodwell so we’re to believe, but I still don’t see there being much opportunity of any real improvement in terms of success. The bigger issue on the blue half of Merseyside is whether Everton will ever get the extra investment needed to take them to the next level, either by moving out of Goodison Park or Bill Kenwright selling up. Neither are likely to be answered next season and without the extra bit of quality (particularly in the final third) and the luck needed to keep their players injury free, Everton will once again find themselves scrapping around for the final Europa League spot (which, with their relatively small squad, they will want to avoid). At some point though they surely have to either take the step up to the next level or risk being caught up by teams such as Stoke City and Sunderland?

Prediction: 8th

FULHAM
Fulham’s season started in June and that may define the next nine months. We may find that they are fitter and sharper in these early days, but once the weather deteriorates and we move into January it will be interesting to see how they fare. Despite Mark Hughes leaving and the appointment of Martin Jol, nothing appears to have really changed at Craven Cottage. Fulham have modelled themselves on consistently being well run and well liked in recent seasons and I see no reason for this to change. Their foray to the Europa League final in 2009/10 is unlikely to be repeated, but I see no real reason why they can’t see relatively good progress in this or a domestic cup competition. It is vital they keep Andy Johnson and Bobby Zamora fit, and if Moussa Dembele can also remain off the treatment table they have a potent attacking trio backed up well by Danny Murphy, Damien Duff and Clint Dempsey. I can’t see Fulham getting into too many scrapes this season and mid-table mediocrity may be seen as relative success in Jol’s first season in charge.

Prediction: 11th

LIVERPOOL
We’ve heard of a match of two halves, but Liverpool fans had to endure a season of two halves. Firstly, for whatever reason, under Roy Hodgson’s stewardship it just didn’t work out, but the impetus created by the return of the legendary Kenny Dalglish and the support he received from his paymasters proved that there may be hope for this season.

Kenny Dalglish's arrival was like the Second Coming

The sale of Torres now looks a stupendous piece of business, and Liverpool will hope that Andy Carroll will remain fit and Luis Suarez will come back from the Copa America buoyant and ready to carry on the form he showed in his inaugural season in England. There may be some question marks raised over the fees Liverpool have paid for a number of players, most notably Carroll and Sunderland’s Jordan Henderson, however, it is clear that Dalglish is building a side not just for the short-term, but in the hope of returning his beloved club to the levels he witnessed as both player and manager in the Seventies and Eighties. It will be interesting to see how Charlie Adam, who had an amazing season at Blackpool, copes in a much, much bigger pond (lets not forget though that Adam tasted victory twice over Liverpool last season!) and in Stewart Downing, have Liverpool finally answered the call for someone to fill that wide left position effectively for the first time since John Barnes graced Anfied? Newcastle Utd’s Jose Enrique is also reportedly set to sign and although I feel that they would benefit from another central defender (and I think Dalglish does too with their interest in Phil Jones and Scott Dann), I think 2011/12 could be a bright season for them. The emergence of Lucas as a fine central midfielder as well the benefit of seeing academy products such as Kelly, Spearing and Flanagan emerge, shows that there now is strength in-depth, and without the distraction of European competition this season, I can see Liverpool regaining their position in the top four and the potential to begin to challenge for the title once again.

Prediction: 4th

MANCHESTER CITY

Can Aguero fill Tevez's boots this season?

It’s only a matter of time isn’t it until the blue half of Manchester get their hands on the Premier League title? Last season’s achievements saw Roberto Mancini’s team cement their place in the top four with silverware to add to their success and he, the owners, and I’m sure the fans, will want to see them continue to progress at such a rapid rate. Despite their defeat to neighbours Utd in the Community Shield last week, I think City have plenty of optimism for the upcoming season. Although we are not likely to see Carlos Tevez in a blue shirt this season, which is a loss to the whole of English football in my view, City have effectively replaced him with someone as equally talismanic and exciting in his fellow Argentine Sergio Aguero.

If City can find the right balance between caution and flamboyance (which in my opinion they never seemed to master  consistently last year), they could really prove to be title contenders. Defensively they appear quite sound; Joe Hart has matured into surely the goalkeeper of his generation, and they have added competition in the signings of Stefan Savic and Gael Clichy. Central midfield for me would remain a concern, De Jong has grown into a destroyer to be reckoned with, but I don’t think James Milner has settled well into his role with City and Gareth Barry is beginning to look laboured against younger opponents; both players I think are fortunate to remain in the England manager’s thoughts. I wish Mancini would employ Adam Johnson much more than he does as I feel he is one of the most exciting prospects we have in this country, and he, alongside David Silva and Aguero are a frightening attacking proposition. What will be interesting next season is whether they manage to capture Samir Nasri and how they will perform in their debut Champions League season; are they possibly going to ‘bite off more than they can chew’?

Prediction: 2nd

MANCHESTER UTD
Similarly to Chelsea I am not going to write a lot about Sir Alex Ferguson’s team. I think they will win the league. What is frightening is that they managed this last season with relative ease, despite not looking at all good at times. Their form at Old Trafford carried them through, only dropping two league points all season and more than masked their indifferent performances on the road. Ferguson is preparing another young team, in my opinion one that will be his legacy once he retires, with strong emphasis on young British players forming the backbone of the squad. The Spaniard David de Gea arrives for a huge amount of money, and it will be interesting to see how this young goalkeeper copes with the pressure; Ashley Young has been one of the Premier League’s outstanding performers over recent seasons and in acquiring Phil Jones, many think Utd have England’s centre-back pairing of the future alongside Chris Smalling. The emergence of Tom Cleverley fresh from his loan spell at Wigan Athletic, and Nani who appears to just be getting better and better, provides depth and creativity in midfield, and Danny Welbeck appears ready to now fight for a place in the champions’ line-up. I think the look of Manchester Utd’s squad this season is infinitely better than last; it will need to be if they want to wrestle the Champions League trophy from Barcelona, which I think is ultimately what Ferguson has his eyes on.

Prediction: 1st

NEWCASTLE UTD
The Toon always appear to attract headlines  and this summer has been no different. The high-profile departure of Chris Hughton last season was only appeased by the relative success of the Alan Pardew appointment in that there were a number of ‘stand-out’ performances (Everton away, Sunderland and Arsenal at home for instance) in what was effectively a season of consolidation back in the top-flight. But it seems that the club aren’t happy unless they give their support something to get angry about, and in January it was thought the best way to do that was to sell their home-grown striker Andy Carroll to Liverpool, just as the transfer window was closing. Now, although this was an incredible sum of money, and Newcastle did not get relegated, you would expect that Pardew would have got his shopping trolley out in supermarket sweep fashion and spent big on finding the firepower to lift Newcastle up the table. This hasn’t been the case, and to further divorce themselves from their support, the club sell Kevin Nolan to West Ham Utd in what was one of the most surprising deals of the summer. There appears to be a fair bit of politics around this sale in terms of broken promises and what feels like a new policy in the North East of putting an end to the long contracts and high wages they have not shied away from in the past. This was then further exacerbated by the Joey Barton debacle and I’m not sure if anyone knows whether he is going to remain on Tyneside or take his troubles elsewhere. Performances at St. James’ Park have to improve for Newcastle if they are going to better 15th position, and they are going to hope that Hatem Ben Arfa comes back fit and shows the inspirational glimpses he provided us with prior to his injury last term. Generally, Newcastle’s signings have been low-key and have re-affirmed the notion of success on a budget; as will be the case when Jose Enrique completes his move to Liverpool I’m sure.

Prediction: 15th

NORWICH CITY

A big leap for Norwich City after two successive promotions

After two successive promotions, there isn’t much Paul Lambert can do wrong in East Anglia. His Norwich side showed great battling qualities to get out of the Championship at the first time of asking, underlined by their tenacity and ability to score late goals. Norwich have ambitious owners who want to see the club stabilise themselves back in the top flight and have backed their manager with money for signings. With no disrespect intended, Norwich are never going to be a club that is able to attract the big names, and I think Lambert appreciates this and is why he has focussed his summer spending on players who have achieved relative success both in the Championship and League One. To be successful you need to be able to score goals and keep the ball out of your net. In terms of scoring, I’m not sure the Canaries have the firepower to keep them up. Grant Holt performed a terrifically valuable role for them last season, and Simeon Jackson weighed in with a number of important goals; these two have been added to in the form of Millwall’s Steve Morison, who at nearly £3m I think is a poor investment on someone who was playing for Stevenage two-years ago, and Everton’s James Vaughan, although has suffered misfortune with injuries, has never really managed to fulfill his promise. Defensively I think there is a concern. The loan signing of Tottenham’s Kyle Naughton is a good one in my opinion, but I think they might struggle in the middle of defense against some of the better strikers in this division, and I am not convinced that John Ruddy is of Premier League quality. Norwich do however appear to have a glut of talented midfielders with Wes Hoolahan being the pick in my opinion. Much will be expected of him, Andrew Surman and new signings Bradley Johnson, Ashley Pilkington and Elliott Bennett to not only create chances but also to chip in with goals. I think Norwich will be attractive on the eye, but won’t have enough quality in the key areas to survive.

Prediction: 18th

QUEENS PARK RANGERS

Post match interviews should be interesting with Warnock

Neil Warnock will be a breath of fresh air on Saturday nights and I for one will be glad he is back in the Premier League, although there have been rumours this summer that he may actually be replaced (not sure how this could even be considered!). His side won the championship at a canter last season and showed the required qualities to be successful outside the top division; experience, flair, doggedness and consistency. Adel Taarabt got the plaudits, but many pointed to the likes of Clint Hill and Shaun Derry as being as equally important in terms of what clearly was a collective success and not based on the ability of one player. The signing of Plymouth Argyle’s Jamie Mackie was astute and I think if he had stayed fit, QPR may have rested a little easier a little earlier. Despite the wealth on the board at Loftus Road, QPR have not been that willing to splash any money this summer with Warnock relying on picking up players for free with the exception of DJ Campbell. They have managed to keep hold of Taarabt which may prove vital if they are to survive, and I think that Campbell and Bothroyd have the potential to cause some defences problems. I have no doubt that QPR will ‘give it a go’ against each side they come up against this season, I don’t think any Warnock side would not, but I feel the quality of their defence, although marshalled by a decent ‘keeper in Paddy Kenny, is going to be good enough to keep them up. Out of the three promoted sides, I feel QPR may actually fare the worst.

Prediction: 20th

STOKE CITY
Under Tony Pulis, Stoke City have gone from strength to strength, and have emerged as being a solid Premier League outfit who have begun a new European adventure. Their presence in last season’s cup final being enough to guarantee the kudos of football on the continent for 2011/12, and has taken Stoke City to a new height for many younger supporters. I think many people are now beginning to see that the tough, battling side that Pulis and Stoke were initially famed for on their arrival into the Premier League, is now being moulded into an attractive playing, yet functional outfit. The signings of Upson and Woodgate are Premier League household names with England caps to boot, and has provided Stoke with improved strength in what is a key position, however, you can’t help but feel that Pulis has been thwarted on a number of occasions this summer. He initially was reported to have bid for Birmingham duo Scott Dann and Cameron Jerome, only for the joint deal to never come to fruition; the deal for Carlton Cole also fell flat, and now we are in the middle of the joint bid for Tottenham pair Peter Crouch and Wilson Palacios. Pulis obviously, and quite rightly in my opinion, feels that Stoke need extra quality and extra depth if they are continue the progression they have enjoyed under his management. This season’s exposure into European football shouldn’t do them too much harm. but they will need to ensure they have enough bodies to be certain that they maintain the high standards they have set themselves in each and every game. A new striker, to take the burden off Kenwyne Jones and Jonathan Walters, and a commanding midfielder are on Pulis’ shopping list; it would be ideal if he could capture these sooner rather than later, and they may just have an outside chance of qualifying for Europe again.

Prediction: 9th

SUNDERLAND
The sales of Jordan Henderson and Darren Bent have netted Sunderland a fair amount of money, and I get the impression it was needed if Steve Bruce was going to have any opportunity of developing his side which at one point looked an outside bet for Europa League qualification. The 3-0 victory at Chelsea last season was definitely a highlight, but without players like Bent, Campbell (injured) and Welbeck, there is an awful lot of pressure on their Ghanaian striker Asamoah Gyan to continue the form he showed last season. Bruce has improved all areas of his team, signing Keiron Westwood from Coventry City as adequate replacement for the perennially injured Craig Gordon, raiding Manchester Utd for Wes Brown and John O’Shea to add experience and a winning mentality to his defensive line, Seb Larsson, David Vaughan and Craig Gardner have really revitalised a rather ordinary looking midfield, and Ipswich Town starlet Connor Wickham has joined up front, although there may be question marks over his ability to have an immediate impact. Steve Bruce will be wanting his side to show a bit of consistency next season, and if they manage to get lucky with injuries, and maybe add one or two more signings, there may be a great deal to be optimistic about… a great deal more than their neighbours anyway!

Prediction: 10th

SWANSEA CITY

Swansea win the Championship Play-Off final

The first Welsh club in the Premier League and the first to don the English top flight in three decades. The groundwork put in by the now Wigan Athletic boss Roberto Martinez and former Portuguese star Paulo Sousa, has been carried on by Brendan Rodgers. Swansea City, in my opinion, were the most fluent and attractive looking side in the Championship last season. There is an ethos ingrained into the side in terms of how they should play and it will be interesting to see how they fare against much better opposition. Swansea are not a side of household names, and the signings Rodgers has made is consistent with this. A new goalkeeper was needed with Dorius de Vries’ move to Wolverhampton Wanderers and the fact that they have been thwarted with their attempts to lure Nottingham Forest’s Lee Camp to the Premier League may come back to haunt them. I like the look (and sound) of Angel Rangel, and in Ashley Williams they have a real cool customer at centre half. The acquisition of Tottenham’s highly rated Steven Caulker is another astute move by Rodgers although some may question that they need some top-flight experience in this part of the pitch. Wayne Routledge has joined and is in the same mould as Nathan Dyer and Scott Sinclair (who I will tip now to emerge as a full England international by the end of the season… £500k is all he cost!) in that he is direct and quick, and very keen to take on defenders. I think Swansea’s forward-line may terrorise a few teams this season. The Championship’s top scorer, Danny Graham, has arrived for a club transfer record, and I am sure he will be keen to make the most of this opportunity having never really hitting it off with Middlesbrough. You get the feeling with Swansea that their players enjoy playing for their manager and the club. There is a real collaboration of players who’ve never made it into the top-flight or have had opportunities which have never been grasped for one reason or another. I think Swansea will surprise a few people next season and their style of football is sure to win a few neutrals.

Prediction: 16th

TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR
I don’t really know what to make of Tottenham. In 2009/10 they were exhilarating to watch and qualified for last season’s Champions League which they forged memorable evenings against Europe’s best talent; most notably the two Milan clubs. I think many were expecting further investment this summer but this hasn’t really come true, and I wonder whether that is because there is now a need for a balancing act in terms of the finances. The major story coming out of White Hart Lane last season was the decision to not redevelop their home, but to invest in securing the new Olympic Stadium which ultimately ended in failure. With a capacity of only 36,000, you may wonder how can Tottenham compete financially with the other teams with the same goals? I think we are almost moving into a transitional period for Spurs. I think there is a need to freshen things up slightly and I think Harry Redknap is trying to do this, although it is proving to be not as successful as he had hoped. Only Brad Friedel of note has been signed, and despite his age, I think he will be a real challenge for the number one spot with Huerelho Gomes. Chelsea have made repeated attempts to lure Luka Modric across London, and Tottenham have stood firm with the realisation that if they are indeed to compete with the top four, then they don’t need to be selling them their best players, even with the carrot of Yossi Benayoun being thrown into the equation. I’m sure Redknapp would much prefer players like Alan Hutton, Wilson Palacios and Robbie Keane off the wage bill before anyone in his first eleven. Tottenham have reasonable depth in quality, but they just seem incapable of taking that leap to start challenging Manchester Utd for the title. It will be a lot to ask for Gareth Bale to repeat his performances in those Milan games all season next year, and Redknapp needs to decide who his first choice front pairing is… in my mind I don’t understand why there is so much indecision about Roman Pavlyuchenko… I think he is superb, and with him, Jermaine Defoe, Rafael van der Vaart and another striker, I think they have the firepower to re-emerge as a Champions League contender. We’ve yet to see Steven Pienaar reproduce the form he showed on Merseyside, but with him, Bale and Lennon, they have potency and pace from wide positions, and if they keep hold of Modric, and Tom Huddlestone continues to develop into one of the finest ball playing midfielders in the division, we might just see Spurs pick up a trophy.

Prediction: 6th

WEST BROMWICH ALBION
Roy Hodgson was appointed manager after Roberto Di Matteo was ‘put on gardening leave’ in February. The decision was one of great interest as Di Matteo had a number of supporters as well as Hodgson having the stigma of his recent performance with Liverpool. Hodgson went on to lose only 2 of his final 13 games, and Albion ended the season very clear of safety in 11th position. This summer they have made a handful of signings which haven’t really excited supporters as Billy Jones and Gareth McAuley arrive from the Championship, and Zoltan Gera has returned on a free transfer from Fulham. However, the acquisition of Reading’s Republic of Ireland international, Shane Long, is a piece of business I am sure Hodgson is proud of as for some time, Long’s services have been allegedly sought by other sides. I think finally, with Odemwingie and Long, Albion have the potential to be a goal threat, and although I have severe suspicions about their defensive capabilities, I have a feeling, under Hodgson’s tutorship and ability to put together a well-drilled and organised side, West Bromwich Albion supporters will have no need to be biting their nails come the end of the season.

Prediction: 12th

WIGAN ATHLETIC

Wigan managed to stay up courtesy of a win at Stoke on the final day of the season

Was it a miracle that Wigan stayed up; was it down to the excellent management of Roberto Martinez (who in my opinion should have taken the offer and gone to Aston Villa but completely respect his decision which momentarily gave me hope that some kind of loyalty remains in our game), or was it down to Charles N’Zogbia? Wigan have the ability to scrape results out against the sides around them, and then pick up the odd win or draw when everyone least expects it. This is the formula needed for a team to survive. The permanent signing of Ali Al Habsi may solve their need for a consistently good goalkeeper, but losing N’Zogbia to Aston Villa is a huge blow. Without N’Zogbia, last season Wigan looked a little toothless. There is plenty of promise in players such as Victor Moses and James McCarthy, but it is also worth remembering that Martinez had Manchester Utd’s Tom Cleverley at his disposal last year too. There are suspicions that McCarthy is on the radar of ‘bigger’ clubs and Hugo Rodallega is reported to have other admirers also. I think it is paramount they keep hold of these players if they are going to maintain their Premier League status for another year. I think Wigan will stay up, only because I think they have the experience and the ability to beat those sides around them when they have to.

Prediction: 17th

WOLVERHAMPTON WANDERERS
Mick McCarthy’s team showed last season that they are capable of being a decent side with notable victories over both Manchester teams and Chelsea. I don’t think their record against the better sides in the division is their problem (highlighted by the fact that for results against those sides finishing 1-10, Wolves are 9th), it is their inability to beat those sides in and around the foot of the table. The fact that only a late Stephen Hunt goal on the final day of the season meant Wolves stayed up outlines how poor they were against sides in the bottom half. On paper, McCarthy has built a decent squad; I like the look of Wayne Hennessy in goal whose performance away at Bolton Wanderers was one of the displays of the season. In defence they have strengthened in signing Roger Johnson from Birmingham City and McCarthy will hope his leadership qualities will help keep more clean sheets. In midfield, in addition to Matt Jarvis (who did appear to go off track a little after his England bow) and Stephen Hunt, they have added the permanent signing of Jamie O’Hara, and there is hope that Michael Kightly will return soon. Up front, Stephen Fletcher, Sylvain Ebanks-Blake and Kevin Doyle show promise, but all too often McCarthy does not have a full squad to pick from. Injuries need to be kind to Wolves, and they desperately need to start to beat sides around them in the lower half of the table; it’s an awful lot to ask to keep beating those teams with greater aspirations.

Prediction: 14th

Too many games?

August 10, 2011 Leave a comment

With the news that England’s friendly international against Holland was cancelled, I’m sure the odd Premier League manager will have breathed a sigh of relief with its proximity to the opening day of the top-flight calendar. However, needless to say, no-one would have wanted the tie to be postponed under these circumstances driven by the actions of mindless idiots.

The friendly received little support from managers and Capello also raised concern regarding the timing of it in relation to player’s fitness; but it is a designated match window in the FIFA calendar and it was thought that England would benefit from the game-time in preparation for next month’s qualifiers against Bulgaria and Wales.

The discussion that interests me though is that of player’s fitness levels and words such as ‘burnout’ and ‘tiredness’ which are far too often thrown around by managers, pundits and commentators on reflection of another failed tournament performance either by club or country. This is particularly of interest this season as we have the European Championships in Poland and Ukraine next summer which England should qualify for from their position in the group.

The discussion around adopting a model that is popular across Europe in appointing a winter break into the Premier League calendar has been around for some time and has a number of advocates in players and managers. Although the idea has merited plenty of debate, it has never been acted upon much to the detriment of the England national team according to previous England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson. Club managers and players have also called for the inclusion of a short break mid-season claiming they play far too many games and Fabio Capello recently blamed fatigue on England’s disappointing draw against Switzerland.

 

John Motson... a true English football image

There is obviously a great deal of support for England to seriously consider following European counterparts in providing players with this short-break, but one argument against is the tradition in this country of playing games throughout the festive period. The Football Supporters’ Federation have a poll which 68% of respondents (at the time of writing) have answered that they didn’t support a winter-break which shows, although not overwhelmingly, that there is a clear majority feeling amongst English fans that we are not yet prepared to give up attending games on Boxing Day in the snow wearing the knitted jumper we received the day before and slurping on our Bovril (or is that an Eighties image too far?).

Personally I’m not sure what the right answer is, but I think the notion of fatigue is a poor excuse for continual underperformance by the national side in competition finals. There is a growing sense that training methods in England are outdated and advancement in this area would probably benefit English players in terms of developing longer-term fitness levels with the example that Spain and Barcelona’s Xavi having played 62 more times than Wayne Rooney in the last five years and covered more ground at the last World Cup in South Africa, to no detriment to his performance levels. This possibly indicates that further investigation needs to be conducted into the relationship of the amount of games footballers are expected to play in and the affects this has on their ability to perform; after all, we are comparing arguably England’s most talented forward with one of the World’s best midfield players.

If the Premier League adopted a two-week mid-season break, where would it fit, and surely this would infer that either the season would need to be extended slightly, or start a little earlier to accommodate the gap in the footballing calendar? I’m not totally adverse to this theory and would have no problem in the FA trialing this for a period of time; I think it could possibly be quite a refreshing alternative for SKY to place a little more emphasis on the Football League for a couple of weeks rather than the incessant playing of Manchester Utd and Chelsea matches. I would like us to trial it to just put the theory to rest once and for all; if in that period of time we have not seen considerable improvement to the national team’s performance then I would expect the league to revert back and to cancel the foreign phenomenon of the mid-season break.

I would support this trial however on the proviso that other alternatives are discussed and reflected on.

Firstly; we hear about fatigue, burnout and too many games, yet we are seeing a much greater number of clubs seek out pastures new to play pre-season tournaments in Asia and the United States. Long flights to play a series of high profile friendlies to adoring foreign crowds in the name of commercialisation and consumerism, it’s interesting to see that there is never any comment here that these are ‘unnecessary friendlies’ that impact negatively on players.

Secondly; and again, this all relates to the growing football world economy; why isn’t there an attempt to reduce the number of games in European competition? Fulham have already played six games in order to qualify for Europa League qualification; if they want to get to the final they have an additional 16 games to endure. Equally, Manchester Utd went through 13 matches last season before being outclassed by Barcelona at Wembley, and although the advent of the Champions League era has brought about excessive amounts of money into the game, it has added to the playing ‘burden’ of modern-day footballers. By comparison, in 1985, Liverpool played eight games on their way to their ill-fated Heysel final against Juventus.

My issue here is that the blame on tiredness is one that could quite easily be resolved. The introduction of penalties and the reduction in FA Cup replays was introduced in the Nineties and League Cup ties were limited to one leg in recent years as the top clubs complained about excessive demands on players. It is an easy argument that there are too many games that players are involved in, but there are other possible alternatives that I don’t think have been given enough consideration as yet such as the significant improvement to training methods, the reduction in European games and the decrease in needless foreign pre-season tournaments.

If a mid-season break is endorsed by the FA, (and to be honest I think it is only a matter of time), then this should be done on a 4-year trial basis which will allow the impact to be measured on the national team for both qualification to the finals of the European Championships and World Cup. My gut feeling is that this would not result in any significant improvement to our fortunes and will prove that burnout and tiredness is not the reason why England aren’t that successful… and if it is, those that matter (i.e. those who look after the money), have chosen the easy option and the one that has minimum impact on the bigger clubs’ bank balances.

Categories: England, Finance, Football, General