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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.

My thoughts on: Wayne Rooney and England

October 10, 2011 4 comments

Wayne Rooney shows the petulance we all thought he'd grown out of

On Friday night we saw England qualify for next summer’s European Championship finals in Poland and Ukraine due to a 2-2 draw in Montenegro. It was a strange game I thought. For the first 40 minutes England seemed to be relatively in control without playing particularly well, and thanks to taking their chances, had secured a two-goal lead.

Although Montenegro had shown signs of causing problems for the England defence and had reduced the deficit before half time, the sending off of Wayne Rooney could arguably be referred to as the catalyst for the sustained pressure Montenegro applied in search of the goal that would secure their play-off spot.

Rooney’s red card, in my opinion, is incontestable, despite Joe Hart’s protestations, and I think is an act of stupidity that he  unfortunately remains capable of. It is debatable whether Rooney ought to have started considering the news regarding his father and uncle, and it is only speculation whether that was a contributory factor to his poor performance and ultimate sending off.

I thought Rooney was poor in the first half in Podgorica; his touch was unusually slack, his passing poor and I thought his general contribution was not equal to the level we would expect from a supposedly world-class player against this sort of opposition. I felt you could visibly see Rooney becoming increasingly more frustrated with his own performance and was surprised that Capello didn’t succumb to the urge to bring him off and move Ashley Young behind Darren Bent.

Rooney’s petulance could have had far more serious consequences if Montenegro were a slicker and better unit. The home side and the support were lifted by England’s reduction in personnel and I wonder what would have been the final outcome if they had managed to find the equaliser 5 or 10 minutes earlier? My gut feeling is that they may have gone on to get a third goal and England would have found themselves in the lottery of the play-offs, but I think more importantly raises a question over his temperament, an issue I think that many of us had thought he had learned to handle.

Rooney will get at least a one match ban and will miss England’s opening fixture next summer; it could be worse pending the referee’s match report. Capello has publicly stated that the Manchester Utd frontman will be omitted from the warm-up matches (well, at least the starting XI) as the England manager has now claimed he wants to “test new players, a different style and a new different movement”.

I applaud the decision to exclude Rooney from the build-up to the competition and I would urge Capello to consider why he hasn’t already considered an England team without him anyway? Amidst the adulation linked to the removal of the reliance on previous stalwarts such as Ferdinand and Lampard, Rooney appears to be immune to ‘the chop’ despite his recent record in an England shirt being relatively uninspiring.

Will Daniel Sturridge be given a chance?

Who is to replace Wayne Rooney though? Much will depend on how Capello wants England to play. Will he want to see Steven Gerrard returning from injury to play a more advanced role or will he opt to move Ashley Young inside (which may depend on the form of Adam Johnson, Theo Walcott, Shaun Wright-Phillips and Aaron Lennon)? We are led to believe that the forwards in with a chance of claiming a starting position are Darren Bent, Jermaine Defoe, Peter Crouch, Bobby Zamora, Andy Carroll, Danny Welbeck and Daniel Sturridge; but what I don’t understand is why has it come to Wayne Rooney being suspended before Capello realises that you just cannot rely on one player and in the modern game, the era of the squad, alternatives need to always be considered.

This isn’t intended to be an opportunity to bash Wayne Rooney; I rate him very highly and I think it is clear that Manchester Utd function far better when he is playing. However, for England, I struggle to recount the number of games where Rooney has excelled and rather than react positively to having a ‘world class’ striker leading our nation’s line, I now feel that his inclusion is on name rather than merit.

Since the start of 2010, England have played 19 international fixtures (of which 7 have been friendlies) and have won 57.9% of them. The six draws and the opposition and circumstances that these have come in I think are a totally different discussion but if presented with the names of Montenegro, Algeria, USA, Ghana and Switzerland I would have expected more positive results from the English national team.

Wayne Rooney has played in 76.1% of the total game time during this period; and as England’s main striker I would have expected a better goal ratio than one every 433.7 minutes (or 4.8 games). Wayne Rooney has scored just 3 international goals in this time, which I think is quite a stark statistic, particularly if you take into account that two of these goals were scored in Bulgaria only last month.

Jermaine Defoe secures England's only win at World Cup 2010

Over this same period, Jermaine Defoe has been given 453 minutes in an England shirt, including 4 competitive starts, playing 26.5% of total available game time. Defoe scored in two of these games; a hat tick against Bulgaria at Wembley and the winning goal in England’s solitary win in South Africa in the World Cup. Defoe’s four goals however show a ratio of a goal every 113.3 minutes and is almost 4 times better than that of Rooney. The Tottenham forward has had periods of injury but has accumulated only 31 minutes of international football in the last nine England matches as Capello has sought a player to play alongside Rooney with Kevin Davies and Bobby Zamora amongst others to be given a taste of an opportunity.

Peter Crouch was once a maligned figure when representing England, but his 22 goals have over time meant he has been largely a mainstay of the national squad. Crouch’s last run-out was a 5 minute cameo in the 1-2 defeat to France in November 2010 on an evening when England looked embarrassingly second best; he scored. Other than 70 minutes in the previous game against Montenegro at Wembley, Crouch’s opportunities have been bit-part at best, with him accumulating just 17 minutes in total at the World Cup (which I think is remarkable!) and then a couple of halves against Mexico and Egypt as part of the build-up to that tournament. Crouch scored 3 goals in those two warm-up games which makes the fact he was given only 17 minutes against opposition such as Algeria, Slovenia and USA even more astonishing! Since March 2010, Peter Crouch has scored 4 goals whilst playing 10.8% of the total game time for England; that’s one goal every half and I think raises serious questions as to his under-usage in South Africa and to why he seems to have been cast aside so easily by Fabio Capello. I hope he begins to find the net regularly for Stoke City.

Darren Bent finally appears to be given opportunity and I am glad about that. I am a big supporter of Bent and I think far too often when people talk about him they refer to the negative things (his miss against Switzerland, his move from Sunderland to Aston Villa and Redknapp’s famous quote), rather than concentrate on his excellent goalscoring record. In the 12 games England played in 2010, Darren Bent played 75 minutes and scored one goal; the third in the 3-1 win in Switzerland. Since then, he has been involved in 4 of England’s subsequent nine matches, scoring 3 goals in the process. Similarly to Defoe and Crouch, statistically, Bent poses a much greater goal threat than Wayne Rooney as in the 409 minutes Darren Bent has played, he is managing a goal approximately every 100 minutes.

I think for too long, Wayne Rooney’s inclusion in an England shirt has been uncontested as the general consensus is that he is capable of doing something extraordinary or being capable of producing a match winning moment. I’m struggling to recall many of these in recent years and therefore think that his role in the team needs to be examined. As a striker, Wayne Rooney’s value to the team surely is primarily how many goals he scores; particularly if, as Capello has been known to do, he is played as a sole forward. I hope we can draw a positive out of his sending off in that it encourages Capello (and hopefully provide his successor with some ‘food for thought’) to challenge Rooney’s position and offer encouragement to other strikers by utilising a different system with different personnel. The three players I highlighted, Defoe, Bent and Crouch, may have all not been in form during the period I highlighted, however, when selected they have produced goals as their statistics show; something Rooney cannot claim.
 
Player Total mins Game time Goals Min per Goal Games per Goal
ROONEY 1,301 76.1% 3 433.7 4.8
DEFOE 453 26.5% 4 113.3 1.3
CROUCH 184 10.8% 4 46.0 0.5
BENT 409 23.9% 4 102.3 1.1