Monday, 27 December 2010

The Worst XI of 2010 Premiership Signings

Right, just a quick one in this busy Christmas period. As a follow up to my best XI of this season's Premiership signings a couple of weeks ago, I thought that I would go to the other end of the spectrum and compile a side of the season's worst XI from signings in the 2010 summer transfer window. So here it is in all its glory (playing in a 4-4-2 formation):

GK: Brad Jones (Middlesbrough - Liverpool)

DR: James Perch (Nottingham Forest - Newcastle)
DC: Jerome Boateng (Hamburg - Manchester City)
DC: Winston Reid (Midtylland – West Ham)
DL: Paul Konchesky (Fulham - Liverpool)

MR: Stephen Ireland (Manchester City – Aston Villa)
MC: Ranieri Sandro (Internacional – Tottenham)
MC: Christian Poulsen (Juventus - Liverpool)
ML: Joe Cole (Chelsea – Liverpool)

ST: Mario Balotelli (Inter – Manchester City)
ST: Mauro Boselli (Estudiantes – Wigan)

So let's have a quick run through the team and see why each of the players had the displeasure of making such an elite squad.

Goalkeeper. Brad Jones was chosen by default really. He is the only goalkeeper that was signed who has failed to impress at his new club, obviously through a lack of playing time, so he got the gloves. Not too much to read into there though.

Defence. James Perch, on the several occasions I have seen him, has looked a quite terrible player in the Premiership. He is an example of a player who belongs in second tier football. Boateng has, in my eyes, been relatively disappointing since going to Eastlands. He has failed to live up to the hype but, to be fair, he is yet to have an extended run in the team and he may well prove to be a good signing in the future. But so far he has not seemed worth his hefty price tag. Winston Reid may be a name you don't recognise and with good reason. He has played just three times for the Hammers this season and looked largely out-of-sorts. Konchesky, despite being foolishly mentioned for my 'best signings of 2010 team', has received huge amounts of criticism from Liverpool fans since his transfer from Fulham. Maybe a disproportionate amount of blame. Nevertheless he has been the poorest left back signed.

Midfield. The midfield foursome was quite straight forward. Ireland has been in dreadful form after moving to Villa as part of the James Milner transfer. Sandro received a large price tag and has not looked worth a fraction of it. The Brazilian has struggled with the frantic pace that comes with being a central-midfielder in the Premiership. Poulsen and Cole make up the rest of the Liverpool quartet in the team. When the season was about to kick-off I said these were both good signings for the Merseysiders but how wrong I was. Both have been impressively poor in the disturbingly below-par Liverpool team.

Strikers. Boselli came from Argentina with a good reputation. He had scored 32 goals in 56 games for Estudiantes but has failed to score in eight for Wigan. His partner up top, Mario Balotelli. Big transfer fee, huge wages and even bigger ego. He may have masses of talent but his attitude and constant need to take long-range pot shots have not impressed many. His bad boy reputation has only been enhanced at Eastlands and despite his superstar attitude, his selfish play has been anything but.

So there it is. Some big-money-flops, some has-beens and some never-will-bes. What do people think of the team? Who doesn't deserve to be there? Who should have been there? Let me know what you think.

Thoughts, comments and opinions...

Friday, 24 December 2010

Is Welsh Football Flying High?: Paul Fisher examines the current state of the Welsh game

Polly's Pause for Sport has one more post just in time for Christmas. Paul Fisher has kindly written a piece examining the current state of Welsh, and to an extent Scottish, football. Paul can be found writing at and you can follow him on Twitter. I hope you all enjoy it and have a Merry Christmas...

Cardiff and Swansea are flying high at the business end of the Championship and, as we enter the New Year, both will now be hoping to progress to the top flight of English football. Yes, English football.This of course begs the question of whether or not these teams should be playing in their own country or be integrated into the English leagues. If Cardiff and Swansea can do it and succeed, why can’t the other Welsh teams, Old Firm clubs or any other Scottish team do the same?

As it stands, the Welsh game has become polarised. While Cardiff and Swansea have both grown as teams in the second tier of English football, the rest of Welsh football has been left stagnating in their own leagues. The highest attendance in the Welsh Premier League this season being a lowly 1,030 for Bangor City versus TNS compared to Cardiff’s last home match at over 21,000 and Swansea’s more paltry 13,500. This just shows you the gulf between the other clubs in Wales.

The almost comical fact is that the winner of the Welsh Premier League has a chance to play European football while their counterparts, that play in the bigger league, would have to win the F.A Cup for this to happen. 

So who is having the last laugh? Undoubtedly the big two are far superior to any other team from Wales and if they keep playing the same way then they will go on to achieve greater things. This year could see either or both clubs promoted, thus bringing Welsh football into one of the world's leading football leagues. This, in turn, would further polarise the standard of the Welsh game.

None of the current Welsh National team ply their trade in the Welsh Premier League and only ten players play with either Swansea or Cardiff including former Manchester City and Celtic striker, Craig Bellamy. One of the most famous former players who played in the Welsh League was Cliff Jones; part of Tottenham Hotspur’s 1960/61 double winning side played with Bangor City towards the end of his career and is still Wales’ 6th top scorer of all time. 

The situation is mirrored in different sense north of the border as Celtic and Rangers rarely get a challenge for the league title, the same as it would not be a challenge for the big two Welsh teams against their smaller counterparts. If the money was available, what stops other Welsh and Scottish teams playing in English leagues?

A select number of Scottish clubs have participated in the FA Cup since the end of the 19th Century. Perhaps allowing British clubs to enter the FA Cup would be a good means of integrating the different leagues in one competition. This would also help to bring extra money to the clubs outside of England.

If and when the SPL gets reformed then I think this will give us the answers and maybe bring more money to the Scottish game. It depends on what happens to the Scottish leagues as there are many different ideas flying about. If the changes to help the SPL, or whatever it will be called, to become more competitive than the current format then the Old Firm will surely stay and show their worth, but if it changes make it just as easy for the Old Firm then surely they will want a bigger and better challenge.

Whether or not the Welsh or Scottish leagues can or will be integrated into the English leagues remains to be seen. But one thing is certain. Welsh and Scottish football need it. Each country have two clubs who reign supreme over the rest, such a system is not cohesive with creating the necessary strength in depth to help the respective football in both countries.

Good luck to both Cardiff and Swansea and if they realise their dream of reaching the Premiership then maybe it will spark a revolution but for anything major to happen in the near future it will need strong backing from many different sources. Money being the source of many problems and the answer to many questions is the key to success and failure as we have seen and will see again many times. Is there the financial opportunity there to make it worth certain people's time?

Thought, comments and opinions please...

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Why Write About Football?

Sunday saw the 100th post put up on Polly's Pause for Sport. I would firstly like to thank everyone who has taken their time to read any of the previous hundred pieces that have been put up on this site. It has proven to be an extremely enjoyable venture for me personally and I hope that it has provided at least some enjoyment to those of you who have followed it. Also, a special thanks to the guest writers who have chipped in from time to time, there promises to be more of them in the very near future.

For this, the post to celebrate the blog's centenary, I have chosen to address a question that seems perfectly apt for the occasion. It is, perhaps, a question I should have answered back in February when I started this blog but there we are. The question - why write about football? (The answer, I will forewarn you, is quite a lengthy one but justice could not be done to the subject with only a brief response.)

It is a question that is posed to me on a regular basis. As someone training to be a journalist, people often assume that I should be applying my time to a more worthy or noble cause. To a higher art form. To a more meaningful subject. After all, as the critic would say, 'it's just a game'.

It would be too easy to dismiss such sentiments on account of my passion for the subject. That would be to miss the point. In its simplest sense, football is indeed 'just a game' and yet there are hoards of websites, publications and media outlets devoted entirely to it. Why have we as a community here in Britain become so largely fixated on football? Not that I am suggesting that the entire community shares a love for the sport, I am simply saying that football has become a corner stone of modern British culture. It walks hand-in-hand with our society's love for celebrity gossip, cups of tea and the weather.

Conversations in pubs, Saturday afternoons and children's playgrounds are spent talking about, watching or imitating what twenty-two men do on rectangular patches of grass across the country. Large portions of society read the newspaper from back-to-front. 'Real' football fans will keep at least nineteen weekends a year free on which they can spend their hard-earned money to watch a collection of players from around the world, who are getting paid ludicrously large sums of money, kick a ball around while they, the loyal spectators, cheer these strangers on purely because they wear the right colour shirt.

There is something counter-intuitive about the whole thing. This is the reason some people declare a resentment towards a society that worships at the feet of individuals who, in their eyes, do so little. A society which uses these men, who are so often shown to lack a moral compass, as role models. Football has become more than a game, more than sport, it is a way of life. It consumes people's time, money and emotions and yet when one attempts to rationalise the game of football and assess why it holds the gravitas it now does, they will often be found wanting. Thus are we to say that we are all fools for loving the sport? No.

Let's start by examining why we love football.

Like all sports, it appeals to a very primitive, humanistic instinct - competition. The desire to test ones strength against another and to see who will prevail as the victor. This is why football in its most pure and basic form captivates so many. It is the same reason why nearly all societies around the world, both now and through history, have contained sporting competitions in one form or another. Such competitions have comprised predominantly of men which may well explain why the followers and competitors in such sports today are too predominantly male, but this is a whole other matter for discussion. Nevertheless, the instinctive appeal of football alone explains why it achieves such universal attention. It justifies why we would go to a stadium or sit in front of a TV and watch 'twenty-two men run around and kick a ball', because in reality it is much more than that.

But football is more than this. It would be wrong to portray people's love for football as being simply our instinctive desire for competition. There is also admiration to be taken from what can be seen on a football pitch. Football is a game of flair, technique, fitness, teamwork, tactics, physicality and finesse. There is joy to be had in watching greats like Pele, Maradona, Cruyff and Messi do things that an standard person could only dream of. People love the sport because of the intricate nuances and glimpses of what ought to be called 'genius'. When played the right way, by the right team, football does become an art form. It is not a collection of Neanderthals grunting around a pitch as many would dismiss it as. Football has the potential to be the 'beautiful game' when played right and many appreciate it as just that, in much the same way as others appreciate classical music or the ballet.

Football has, of course, grown beyond just ninety-minute matches. It is more than merely a game insofar as its influence extends beyond the chalk lines of the pitch. I have commented before on how central football is in within society, using the comparison with religion. From a functionalism viewpoint, football performs an important role in British community. It unites people, it offers them a sense of belonging. The support of a team is passed down through generations and brings together neighbourhoods. The African spirit shown at the South African World Cup illustrates this point perfectly. Localities come together to watch their club or country. They stroll to their stadiums, the focal points of their passion, and pass the iconography of past greats with their like-minded brethren. Beyond the enjoyment to be taken from the competition between two teams, football and its teams have become part a city, region or nation's identity. It must be accepted that football is not just a game but also a universal cultural phenomena.

This is not to say that football is not a sport without its faults. It would be wrong for me to ramble on about how great the sport is when it has so many flaws. We are all too aware of them. It is subject to much criticism and some of these must be addressed.

Overpaid, misbehaving players. Short-sighted, money-hungry chairmen. Brands and advertisers attempting to suffocate every opportunity for financial gain. These are all undesired bi-products of the globalisation of football, collateral damage of an ever-expanding sport being driven by the capitalist West. FIFA's recent escapades are all too indicative of these problems. Furthermore, violent and occasionally barbaric fans often give football a bad press. These, however, remain an uncondonable minority that ought not to distort people's view to make them see the stereotypical football fan as an uncivilised yob.

Another major flaw of football is its coverage. So wide-spread is the media attention that it receives, the quality of the coverage fails to remain at a consistently high standard. In the battle between quality and quantity, the latter seems to be winning. You only have to watch the punditry on Match of the Day, which lacks insight and interest in equal measure, to see how the media's coverage of football often fails to do justice to the sport. So too, in the mass of material readily available for world-wide readership, does the quality of the writing produced do a disservice to the sport and, moreover, to the industry of journalism. I am well aware of the fact that as a blogger I have, from time to time, contributed to this problem. Ultimately however, none of this ought to detract from football as a sport. It may be part of the sport but it is not representative of the sport. It is, rather, a reflection of our own social and economic culture. To criticise the sport of football because of the media's lens through which it is often distorted would be the equivalent to saying that you dislike singing because of the X Factor.

Finally, an increasingly worrying problem within football is the role of journalists who cover it. Namely, the way that the attitude that 'dog doesn't eat dog' seemingly rules supreme in the industry of sports journalism more so than any other. Sports journalists rely heavily on a list of contacts, be it managers, players, FA executives or chairmen, which they use to produce their articles. The fear of alienating said contacts often means that a blind-eye is turned to suspicious activities. The investigations that have been launched into corruption or dodgy dealings in football have been done by journalists who apply their trade in other sectors. Andrew Jennings' various works, the Sunday Times exposé and the documentary 'Football Dirty Secrets' did not predominantly involve sports journalists. As such, sports journalism often receives a hard time. It is labelled as 'lazy'. The role of journalism, as well as reporting the news and informing its audience of what is going on, is to hold the unaccountable to account. Matt Le Tissier's autobiography explicitly outlined how he had taken part in an incident of spot fixing, FIFA have been shown to be corrupt on numerous occasions while managers and agents are known to take their own illegal cut from transfer deals. Yet often sports journalists often take the easy approach of leaving such matters to others or accepting that it is part and parcel of the game.

Now I am well aware that it is all too easy for me to sit on the edge of the industry and make such criticisms with only limited experience. Nevertheless, this ideological stance of wanting to address these problems that lie within sports journalism is another reason for why I wish to make a career out of being a sports journalist.

So, to conclude, why write about football? Because it is something that is both psychologically and now sociologically a fundamental part of British culture. It has become more than a game, more than a sport. It has the ability, contrary to what some people may say or think, to be a beautiful art form. Furthermore, the criticisms that are levelled at the industry of sports journalism act as motivation to attempt to do things differently, even if that is hopelessly ideological.

Thoughts, comments and opinions please...

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Cactus Carter and Magic Rich: A look at the dramatic player trades in and out of the Orlando Magic

It has been a startling and dramatic 24 hours in the NBA. Thankfully, Andrew Gibney has written this great overview to bring us all up-to-date on the latest revelations...

It was announced today that the Washington Wizards, Orlando Magic and Phoenix Suns have made moves that will see eight players wear different jerseys come next week.

Former All-Star Rashard Lewis has moved to the Washington Wizards traded for bad boy and trouble maker Gilbert Arenas. The headline making move though comes from the six player trade between the Magic and the Suns.

The Suns have sent forward Hedo Turkoglu, guard Jason Richardson and second year forward Earl Clark to Orlando for forwards Vince Carter, Mickael Pietrus, centre Marcin Gortat and a future first round pick plus cash.

Turkoglu has moved back to the team where he played his most successful basketball, reaching the NBA finals in 2009 with the Orlando Magic. It is thought that the Suns have been disappointed with the Turkish forward’s play so far this season. Thoughts were that he could play the Power Forward role combining his size with his superb ball handling and shooting skills.

The failure to click with talisman Steve Nash and with Goran Dragic seemingly losing his spark since Hedo’s arrival will soften the blow for Phoenix fans worried about this trade.

Earl Clark had a bright reputation from his college days at Louisville but had yet to show this potential in a Suns shirt. He could have a great career ahead of him in the league but with Jared Dudley, Josh Childress, and Hakim Warrick ahead of him in the rotation Clark was never going to get time on the floor to develop.

Losing Jason Richardson is a big loss to the line-up. He is currently the Suns highest scorer with an average of 19.3 PPG. However, to make these type of trades work you would never pick up an All-Star like Vince Carter without giving up a large piece of the puzzle. The question is can Vince Carter regain the scoring abilities he showed at New Jersey and Toronto or have the Suns taken a gamble on a falling star?

The Magic line-up will look vastly different once all the trades go through. Dwight Howard and Jameer Nelson joined with Hudo Turkoglu and old Golden State buddies Gilbert Arenas and Jason Richardson could be a very exciting set of starters. The problems could come when they have to turn to the bench.

Currently sitting in ninth place in the Western Conference the Suns needed to change things to get their season back on track. With a 12-13 record this season it is not too late to go on a charge, the trades are quite risky but might just work in their bid to revitalise their campaign.

The biggest question is whether Vince Carter still has the talent to play at a high level. If Coach Alvin Gentry can resurrect the Carter we all know and love from his New Jersey Nets days then it could be a phenomenal move. If the Carter we saw at the Magic arrives then it could make the move a disaster. There is a safety net that Carter’s contract is only guarantees $4 million next season after the $18 million paid this season.

Vince Carter this season is averaging 15.1 PPG, a massive 7.6 points down on his career average. Not since the Nets days has he averaged over 20 PPG. At New Jersey Carter excelled in a team that saw him link up with Jason Kidd. Steve Nash could prove to be the catalyst that gives Carter the ammunition to bring a spark to the desert.

Marcin Gortat adds much needed size to the Suns inside game; the 6’10” centre has been muted in the past as the “best back-up centre in the NBA”. He got rewarded with a new $34 million contract after his performances in the 2009 Finals. He may not become a scoring threat for the Suns but he is a much needed defensive option and rebounding threat.

At Orlando Mickael Pietrus, like Gortat, played his best basketball in 2009 but has been plagued with injuries since then. Averaging less than 9 PPG at first glance he doesn’t seem like a good offensive option. With Mickael shooting nearly 40% from the 3-point line this season and the Suns shoot-on-sight policy philosophy there is a chance he could flourish though.

The Suns now have a strong 10-man rotation. Nash, Carter, Grant Hill, Channing Frye and Robin Lopez will likely start most games. Dragic is the natural replacement for Nash. Pietrus and Jared Dudley could come off the bench and add the shooting fire power.

Hakim Warrick and Gortat would be fantastic back-ups for Lopez and Frye and give a much stronger presence near the basket. Coach Gentry could link Gortat and Lopez together for a formidable inside combination. With Dudley and Pietrus on the perimeter the Suns haven’t had a stronger perimeter defence since Raja Bell and Boris Diaw were in the line-up.

There are quite a few ifs and buts’ about this trade from a Suns point of view. The squad looks stronger, add to the mix Josh Childress who is also averaging 17 minutes a game and the Suns look an impressive eleven men deep.

Reaching the play-offs is a must for the Phoenix Suns; if the moves work it will be seen as a master-stroke by President of Basketball Operation Lon Babby. If they finish outside the eighth play-off spot the decision to trade the team’s top scorer will in this dramatic trade will come under heavy scrutiny.

You can find Andy over at the Gib Football Show, for which he does a fantastic, award-nominated, football podcast and you can follow him on Twitter.

Thoughts, comments and opinions please...

Friday, 17 December 2010

The Best XI of 2010 Premiership Signings

On the day of the Champions League draw, this post may seem to be somewhat of an oversight. That being said, there is plenty of time to reflect on some of the mouth-watering ties at a later date, as I don't doubt I will. Instead, I have opted to do something different.

An interesting suggestion I had for a new post was to compile a best XI of new Premiership signings and, with the transfer window set to reopen in a fortnights time, I thought I would give it a go. So, here is my side comprising of the 2010 summer transfer window's finest acquisitions.

GK: Ben Foster (Manchester United – Birmingam)

DR: Nedum Onouha (Manchester City – Sunderland)
DC: Laurent Koscielny (Lorient – Arsenal)
DC: Titus Bramble (Wigan Athletic - Sunderland)
DL: Carlos Salcido (PSV - Fulham)

DMC: Yaya Toure (Barcelona – Manchester City)
DMC: Cheick Tiote (FC Twente - Newcastle)

AMR: Moussa Dembele (AZ Alkmaar - Fulham)
AMC: Rafael Van der Vaart (Real Madrid - Tottenham)
AML: David Silva (Valencia – Manchester City)

ST: Marouane Chamakh (Bordeaux – Arsenal)

Danny Welbeck, Paul Konchesky and Raul Meireles were the other main players who almost made the cut.

Now, I think the one thing that should become abundantly clear from looking at my team is that the last transfer window was a particularly poor one. The majority of this team are bargain purchases or players that have exceeded expectations with their performances so far this season.

As I have commented on before, the recession has unquestionably impacted upon the Premiership, but we all know that. Excluding the signings by Manchester City, no other player in this team cost more than £10 million. Ultimately, this best XI acts as a clear indication of the fact that the quality of the players entering the league is certainly not what it once was.

Nevertheless, I would like to hear who other people feel deserved, or did not deserve, to make the team, so please let me know.

Thoughts, comments and opinions please...

Monday, 13 December 2010

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly: Part II and a contents page for the last week

It has been an extremely busy week and so, with that in mind (and to offer a very brief respite from blogging), here is a round up of the various pieces that have been on Polly's Pause for Sport and also some of my appearances elsewhere.

I would not be as lazy as to leave you with just that list, though. So I have also compiled part two of the video series 'The Good, The Bad and The Ugly'. This time the theme for the clips is goal celebrations. Enjoy.

The Good - Here is a montage of all the celebration from the inspired choreographers/Icelandic football team Stjarnan FC.

The Bad - This is a video of what, in terms of goal celebrations, can only be described as, in a word, fail.

The Ugly - Now this last clip could well have featured as the good, the bad or the ugly but I have gone for the latter. Bolo Zenden celebrating like a uncle at a wedding.

Thoughts, comments and opinions please...

Saturday, 11 December 2010

The Changing of the Guard: Politics, wealth and influence in modern day sport

After having time to reflect on the dramatic events of nine days ago, Dan Sabato has written this piece about the globalisation of sport and the price at which it comes.

December 2nd, 2010 - the day the nation of Qatar was catapulted from their position of sporting anonymity onto the world stage by the decision of FIFA’s 22 executive members. Sepp Blatter’s revelation that awarded football’s flagship tournament to a nation ranked 113 in the world represented more than just the unveiling of a new era in world football, it hammered home the idea that many were already full aware of; money and influence breeds success.

In truth, football is late to the party.

The globalisation of world sport is not something that is new or extraordinary. The focus of sport has been changing for several years, in line with the changing nature of political and economic power-broking. The man leading the exodus from tradition has been Formula One’s diminutive but astoundingly powerful President, Bernie Ecclestone. The F1 landscape, one steeped in history and tradition, has been subjected to a dramatic upheaval during the last decade. Comparing the 2011 calendar to its 2001 counterpart gives you some idea of how far the sport has evolved. Gone are the traditional Grand Prix at Imola, Magny Cours and Austria, replaced instead by circuits in Bahrain, Abu Dhabi, Singapore and for the first time, India.

Formula One – part sport, part marketing extravaganza – brings with it immense prestige alongside astronomical costs. Fortunately for the Formula One brand, the global economic spectrum shifted in such a way that it naturally fostered suitors with the financial clout and insatiable thirst for personal reputation. These backers were symbolic of the changing nature of world politics and economics, which allowed vast amounts of money to be invested in the sport and allowing Formula One to exploit previously untapped markets.
Seemingly, everyone was a winner.

It is perhaps symbolic of Formula One’s new global era that in the last four weeks of the season, the constructors were scheduled to race in Korea, followed swiftly by races in Brazil and Abu Dhabi. Air-miles indeed.

Have Sepp Blatter and Co followed in the footsteps of Bernie Ecclestone and his cronies? At this juncture, the answer, by awarding the 2022 World Cup to a nation that intends to dismantle any development (and legacy) come the end of the tournaments, appears to be yes . We have been told to “Expect Amazing”, but what we can really look forward to is the searing temperatures (up to 50 degrees celcius in the Summer months), a nation where alcohol is illegal (I’m not saying that this makes or breaks a World Cup) and a remote chance of the host nation even scoring a goal if recent evidence is anything to go by. 

FIFA followed the money trail; that much is clear. The decision to award the tournament to Qatar was based on nothing less. Sepp Blatter justified the choice by preaching the lasting legacy that the tournament will produce by hosting the tournament in an Arab nation. Additionally, FIFA's private members club were won over by the promise of new stadia being transported to third world nations. In truth, the decision reinforces the idea of sports evolution along more political and economic lines. Qatar represents another Arab nation with money to throw at a pet project and a thirst for greater respect on a world stage. For the Qataris, the opportunity was there to announce themselves to the world, and in that respect they succeeded. On the other hand, FIFA’s blatant pursuit of wealth and influence has brought disgrace and suspicion on the much maligned organisation.

This is where Formula One and football differ. The heavily criticised extravaganza that has become of Formula One has identified the future of global political and financial influence, incorporating these pockets of support into the sports annual calendar. In doing so, Bernie Ecclestone has ensured the long term stability of his brand. In stark contrast, FIFA’s attempts to infiltrate new markets and guarantee long term stability may well have turned into an unmitigated disaster. Simply put – those that felt wronged; the traditional protagonists of world football, notably the English FA – are all too willing to restore the status quo. 

Bernie Ecclestone successfully adapted Formula One to the current political and economic climate. The power behind the Formula One brand is now truly global. 

Capitalism and sport are now intertwined. The events of the 2nd December served purely to highlight how chances for money-making come very much ahead of idealistic concepts such as fans' love for the game in FIFA's list of priorities. This is not to say that World Cups in Russia and Qatar do not have their merit. I think it is fair to say though, that FIFA's motives for making such decisions were based more in their capitalist hungers than sense of obligation to take football to new pastures out of a duty to 'try new things'. As such, the credibility of football’s governing body is once again being questioned, and rightly so. When a sport is being run out of a thirst for money and profit, the true essence of the sport itself can be lost. When winning bidders are chosen on the principle of 'where can we make the most money', then the integrity of the game is under threat. The now seemingly vague notions of fairness, equality and loyalty are discarded in favour of the chance to expand the game for the economic benefit of those who run it.

FIFA’s attempts to globalise their brand may prove to be their most destructive and divisive decisions in their history.

Thoughts, comments and opinions please...

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

"Sack The Board!" : Some thoughts on the shocking events at Newcastle United

Betting has been suspended, the rumours are gathering momentum and BBC Sport reports the announcement will be made within 24 hours. This is, of course, the news that Alan Pardew is looking almost certain to be named as the new Newcastle United manager. With that being the situation I am going to jump the gun and offer some thoughts on the unjustifiable madness present in the St. James' Park boardroom.

I wrote a piece over at on the news of Chris Hughton's sacking (apologies if you read that, there will be some overlap). To paraphrase that article, Ashley's treatment of Hughton was shocking, disrespectful and disloyal. Hughton took over the club when it was at its lowest, lead them to a Championship title and now established them at 12th in the Premiership table. All of which he has done with unfaltering dignity and with next to no money to spend.

Some of the results and performances Newcastle have shown themselves capable of this season were far beyond expectation. 5-0 smashing of Aston Villa, 6-1 hammering of Sunderland, 1-0 win over Arsenal at the Emirate and a 1-1 draw against champions Chelsea, who they also knocked out of the League Cup. Newcastle's next four games are Liverpool (home), Birmingham (away), Manchester City (home) and Tottenham (away). These are the sorts of games that Hughton had the team doing so well in but the team would do well to salvage any points from these games now.

Hughton had the squad united and had the big names (Nolan, Barton and Carroll) playing at their best. As Sol Campbell came out and said after Hughton was so unceremoniously given the boot, he had the respect and admiration of all the players and they have understandably taken the news badly. The motivation of the players will be at an all-time low and it would be surprised in performances did not suffer heavily.

Most importantly though, Hughton gave the club the one thing that it had been so desperately lacking for the best part of a decade. Stability. Newcastle had a calm assurance about it which it had been without since Bobby Robson's reign. But one mindless decision has underdone all this.

Ashley and co. have stated that they want a manager with more experience at the top level. And yet they seem certain to appoint Pardew as their new man. It is a ridiculous illustration of the short-sightedness by chairmen up and down the country that is plaguing clubs. They want managers with more experience and yet are unwilling to allow managers to stay on and gain it. Hughton had done all that could possibly be asked of him, he was always going to improve further with time in the top flight but the board did not see it fit to award him the chance to do so.

Hughton's win percentage at Newcastle was 55.71%. Alan Pardew's highest ever win percentage as a manager is 53.13% while managing Southampton down in League One last season. His highest ever Premiership finish was 9th with West Ham back in 2005-06 season. He then led the club to their all time worst run of defeats before being sacked, after which he went to Charlton - whom he got relegated.

It is, by all accounts, a truly baffling decision. Pardew, although he may have more experience in the Premiership, is no more a top class manager than Hughton. Moreover, Hughton had the support of the players and the fans, something that Pardew will have to work very hard to capture, very hard indeed. With the progress the team had been making it seems ludicrous that Ashley would want to undo that by replacing the manager. If he wants the team to grow and improve then surely a shock decision to remove a manager who has been performing so well and had the backing of the entire squad with a manager who can be described as little more than average is counter-productive. Perhaps the mass snow in the north-east has forced the tubby owner to lose all sense of logic and reason.

Some say that Ashley and Pardew are good mates and that Pardew was looking for work. The two supposedly spent a lot of time together as regular frequenters of a London casino. Now, like two drunk idits at a roullette table, they are gambling with the future of Newcastle United Football Club. I hope for football's sake that this is not true. This is one of the biggest football clubs in England and yet Ashley is reportedly treating it like an accounting firm he owns, through which he has got his washed-up mate a job doing the filing.

There is little more I need say. Football fans across the nation have been united in their disbelief of how the events of the last two days have unfolded. The unfathomable actions of Ashley are there for all to see and justifiably rant about. A part of me hopes that Pardew is not appointed in favour of someone else, even if makes this premature post largely pointless. At least if a big name manager is surprisingly drafted in then there will be a little more vindication for sacking Hughton. Another part of me wants Pardew to appointed later today as hopefully this will spark a backlash by fans. Indeed, it would appear as though plans of protests and boycotts already seem in place and quite rightly so.

The Toon Army ought to march on the streets, united by their familiar chant 'Sack the Board!' Ashley continues to make a mockery out of the club and the line must eventually be drawn. Loyalty is hard to come by in football and, amongst chairmen, it seems so too is logic. The last forty-eight hours have shown a disgraceful amount of disrespect towards a loyal servant of the club and an outstanding ignorance of what is in the team's best interests.

Thoughts, comments and opinions please...

Monday, 6 December 2010

Technology in Sport: It is time for football to catch up with the rest of the sporting world and implement technological assistance in the game

Technology in sport is something that I have seldom touched upon since starting this blog. However, following the dramatic incidents at the end of today’s Ashes Test, I thought now would be a good time to ask if technology should be used in the refereeing of football.

For those of you who are not following the Ashes, let me explain what happened. With the final delivery of the day, part-time spinner and double-hundred-scoring Kevin Pietersen took the potentially match winning wicket of Michael Clark. The umpire initially made the decision that Clark had not touched the ball with his bat and thus was not out. After review, which was called for by England (as one of the two reviews allocated to each team), the decision was overturned and Clark was sent back to the Pavilion.

Upon such decisive moments are sporting competitions won and lost.  The referral system in cricket is a prime example of how the use of technology can be used in an effective way. So too is rugby, in both forms of the game. NFL uses challenges and the NBA reviews last second shots to decide if they were taken in time. Tennis now uses hawk-eye. Even snooker uses technology when re-spotting balls after foul shots. What it does is simple; it helps eradicate human error where possible and offers valuable assistance to referees.

Humans will make mistakes. As Rob Marrs wrote during the referee strike in Scotland, people must accept that rather than chastising wrong decisions.  Implementing technological assistance will allow for the areas of uncertainty over crucial decisions to be dramatically reduced. It would also help to stop the repetitive ref-bashing that takes place in almost every post-match interview.

Purists and traditionalists may argue that technology would ruin a sport. They may claim that human error is part and parcel of the game and that the use of replays and reviews would hinder our viewing enjoyment. Ultimately, if done in the right way, I wouldn’t think that it would. That is, of course, crucial though. It must be done it the right way.

In rugby, technology is used after a try is scored to ensure that there is no reason not to award a team the points. This is a natural stop in the game. The match does not have to be put on hold mid-flow for this process to take place. Likewise, cricket is played in short, sharp bursts with breaks in between. A ball is bowled, a shot is played or not played and then the subsequent fielding or retrieval of the ball takes places. Then there is a pause. Thus, it is easy for a review to be called for after each of these sequences without disrupting the flow of the game.

Within football it may be more difficult to use technology in such a way. There would have to be clear rules and criteria put in place to specify when a referee could use the technology at his disposal to prevent the game being altered or becoming fragmented.  Allocating a set number of referrals to each side would not be an option. It would cause too much confusion and allow for the game to be disrupted too readily. Nor could the reviews be used over smaller incidents within a match. For example, it could not be used to see who to award a throw –in to or decide if it is goal-kick or a corner.

Also, I would question whether it should even be used for offside decisions purely because if it were to be used in such circumstances, the game would have to be stopped far too often. These may be important decisions but they are too common to use technological help for. I think here, most would agree, the referee can be entrusted to make a decision to the best of his ability and we can live with the consequences. I would accept that this is where the line becomes blurred, though.

Instead, technology should primarily only be used in a select number of incidents that directly impact upon the outcome of the game. The first and most obvious of these is goal-line technology - to simply check if a ball has or has not crossed the line. These are decisions that are too important to get wrong. With the TV cameras already available it would not be difficult to do either. The fourth official could have a monitor, watch a replay and inform the referee.

Secondly, it could be used for penalty decisions. Play could be stopped to check if a foul was committed, if there was a handball, if a player dived or if an infringement took place just in or outside the box. Again, this a critical moment in a match and if technology can help ensure that the right decision is made more frequently then surely it should be made available.

Thirdly, for off-the-ball incidents. Flailing arms that leaves players on the ground clutching their face can often result in red cards being shown or not shown at the wrong times. When one of these moments takes place, the event can be reviewed and the guilty party, whether it be someone throwing a sly elbow or someone rolling on the floor following a pat on the head, can be duly reprimanded. Putting these things on review for a panel to address at a later date seems somewhat unfair.

Players may be handed suspensions after the match but what consolation is that to the team who just played them and should have had a one-man advantage? It would also help in fighting the art of simulation that is becoming increasingly commonplace in the game. The guidelines would have to created and fine tuned but why not trial it in a select few leagues or competitions across the world and then FIFA can set about implementing it on a wider scale.

These are merely some brief thoughts on how technology could be utilised in a way that would not tamper too heavily with the fabric of the game. If it was only called upon for specific, game-changing moments then it would help prevent both the game becoming disjointed and wrong decisions at crucial times. There are working examples around the world of sport of using technology to help officiate a sport. It seems foolish for football to lag behind. If it is only brought in for two percent of decisions in a match then so be it, games are won and lost on such fine margins. 

Thoughts, comments and opinions please…

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Polly's Pause for Poetry: Part I

'Variety is the spice of life', or so the saying goes. With that in mind I am happy to say that Polly's Pause for Sport is offering something quite different for its latest post. While I have been writing a couple of pieces for and (those posts, or links to them, will follow later this week), Pardaad Chamsaz has been on hand to offer us the first in what will hopefully be a series of poetic insights into the game of football. Whilst you may gasp at the concept of poetry and football, I would hope that we are all able to stray from the stereotypical view of the football fan as a primitive creature... at least for long enough to read this piece. Enjoy.

The fur-coated dictator peers out onto the smooth green-felted surface he has just acquired.
He thinks of the nights of gambling ahead, the dollars, yens, roubles he will throw down – and how much he will leave with.
Through the window he sees the cameras staring back from the opposite side, hundreds of them, focused on the empty green below.
The line of cameras divide the thousands of empty plastic seats from the rooms above, like the one he is in.
I need more, he thinks.

In front of his reflection, the front-page star adjusts his appearance hair by hair.
He has never, and never will, employ himself better.
He will retire soon after all. Not long now, he thinks.
He dreams of his emancipation from the production line, the release from the 3 – 5 on Saturdays. He packs his uniform in his leather hold-all and heads for work
– his driver has just arrived.

Like an academic, the “tactician” loses himself in piles of paper and reads his scribblings by lamplight.
He studies the back pages and throws down the paper, the rest blow to the ground, where they stay.
They are all untouched anyway, untouched templates, untouched formations of that familiar game.
Everything sacrificed for profitable reputational gain.
Instead he picks up the newspaper once more.

The weekend has arrived for the regular – he is there every week.
Handing over what remains of his pay slip at the gate he enters his second home and heads to the bar.
It is midday.
Four hours later he stands inside and watches the spectacle. It is not a game any more, he says.
He sits down for the rest of the hour and looks at his half-arsed heroes play.
The pitch lights up with the sporadic sparks from the cameras.
Adverts dominate his view.
This used to be real, he says.
Now he watches a show, an episode of a long-running show that has no longer any semblance of what it was before.
He leaves.
They won.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

England's Failed 2018 World Cup Bid: The true failure will be if England does not now finally pursue the truth and expose FIFA's corruption

So, now we know that England has failed in its bid to host the 2018 World Cup. The tournament was awarded to Russia, a decision that has left English football fans screaming blue murder. England's failure has inevitably been met with contempt amongst cries of FIFA's corruption being the reason for Russia's victory.

It is difficult to make assumptions about any untoward reasons for why Russia and Qatar succeeded in their bids, although evidence would suggest that there are secretive payments behind the majority of FIFA's decisions. Such is the well documented level of corruption within FIFA that is almost impossible not to jump to the most cynical conclusions.

If England had won the bid however, would we have been wondering how much David Cameron or Prince William had slipped into Blatter's pocket? It would be overtly Anglo-centric to assume that England had the best bid by default and thus should have won. Personally, I think that, even though I would have loved a World Cup in my own country, a World Cup in Russia or Qatar will offer something new and interesting. Although their facilities cannot match those in England presently, their proposals, if realised, promise to make for great tournaments.

In the build up to today's decision there was a wide ranging debate over the impact of the attempts of Panorama and the Sunday Times to try and expose some of FIFA's corruption. Many labelled this as 'unpatriotic' and 'detrimental to England's chances'. I don't know if it was. But, more importantly, if that was the case then we should re-evaluate our own priorities in this country.

Some would have preferred the BBC and the Sunday Times to refuse to broadcast the investigations of their journalists, at least until after today's announcement had been made. This would have been merely playing into FIFA's hands. Such is the sway and power of football's governing body, people have always feared tackling its corruption.

Exposing FIFA's corruption was, and indeed is, in the public interest. This is critically different from what the public is interested in. The public may have wanted for the Sunday Times and BBC not to realise the respective works damning FIFA but this would not have been in the public interest. The bidding process touched upon a more fundamental weakness within the British media, namely an unwillingness to stray away from what Cheryl Cole had for lunch to attempt to pry into the expansive corruption and illegal activity of the otherwise unaccountable individuals who serve in the most senior positions of football.

It is a self-governing authority. As such it is not accountable to anyone but itself. Such organisations are always going to be open and prone to dishonest dealings. This problem has grown though. Corruption is a cancer that is eating away at football's governing body. FIFA is now rife with it. So much so that it has become an accepted facet of the organisation itself.

The work of the Sunday Times and Andrew Jennings in his Panorama documentary were at least indications that there are people in England that are willing to take on the 'devils' (to quote Blatter himself) within FIFA. If that means jeopardising England's World Cup bid, so be it. The age old debate concerning journalism is whether it functions as a watchdog for society or a lapdog for bigger corporations. Too often, when it comes to football, it is the latter.

FIFA's corruption is one of sports worst kept secrets and yet attempts to expose it are rare. Perhaps a true blessing in disguise from England losing in their bid will be that the country's media will now be free to pursue the truth and uncover the dirty web of lies constructed by the overlords of football. It is an idealistic view but the primary objective of a journalist should be to tell the truth. Knowing the truth and not telling it is surely as bad as lying. Now there is added motivation and nothing stopping English journalists from digging into the murky darkness of FIFA's corruption.

From a financial viewpoint losing the bid may not have been the worst thing. Could we afford the economic burden of hosting the tournament in our currently fragile state. The bid alone cost the country £15mllion, a sum of money that it is being reported as having only won England one meagre vote in Zurich today. This is money the country could ill-afford to lose and yet, as with the London 2012 Olmpics, no journalists wanted to comment on this. It suited them for England to succeed and so the too 'backed the bid'. What they and the public were interested in once again overruled what was in the public's interest, being honest and pursuing the truth.

No one will deny that it is a genuine shame that England lost the bid. This ought not to diminish from the chances handed to Russia and Qatar to shine under the world's spotlight, though. Moreover, if the English press' attempts to uncover a fraction of FIFA's had a negative impact on the bid, then surely this is something we should be proud of. It shows that some at least have chosen not to play by FIFA's game of secrecy. If losing the bid gives journalists the incentive to try and expose the corruption within FIFA, that fans are assuming accounts for Russia's victory in Zurich, then something has been gained. Only when consisted and thorough investigations take place will there be any chance of change within FIFA.

The self-governing body responsible for running football has been a force for dishonesty for too long. Perhaps when the dust settles from England's disappointment, journalism can once again serve the role of watchdog against the unaccountable and corrupt.

Thoughts, comments and opinions please...

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

A Glance Across the Atlantic: A look at the NBA season so far

There is certainly plenty happening in the world of sport right now. I was spoiled for choice today when choosing what to write about in this post. I thought that an attempt to reflect on Barcelona's breath-taking 5-0 demolition of Real Madrid last night would almost certainly do no justice to the quality of their performance. More posts about the Ashes are almost guaranteed so I decided to refrain from writing about that for know. And a piece on the latest attempts to expose FIFA's corruption will be written after we know the fate of England's bid to host the 2018 World Cup, the announcement being made in two days time.

Instead, I have opted for writing a more general post about my thoughts on the new NBA season so far. It always proves very difficult to dip into a sport that I write about so infrequently as there is so much scope for things that I could talk about. For now though, I will look at the struggling form of the Miami Heat and the developing two-horse race for Rookie of the Year.

The Miami Heat had been labelled the team to watch long before the season began. When it was announced back in July that Lebron James was joining Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh on the east-coast, shock-waves were sent through the basketball world. With James, the league's best player, joining the tremendous talents of Wade and Bosh in Miami, it was assumed that a period of unrivalled dominance would follow. The reality has been quite different.

After 'The Decision' (when James revealed he was going to join the heat) there were drastic changes in the Heat squad. Some were forced out to balance the books, some because they were surplus to requirement and others because they were unwilling to settle for a season sat on the bench. Many left and many came in. The Heat's performances thus far this season have been little more than what could be expected of a team in their position.

Miami still have a winning record at 10-8. In many people's eyes, however, this is an abject failure from a team containing a triumvirate of all-stars. The team are struggling with teething problems. From the several matches of theirs that I have watched, they seem unclear of how they are meant to play, both as individuals and as a team.

Wade and James are having to adapt to sharing the role of primary play-maker and point-scorer, roles they had previously held uncontested. Bosh too has had to make this adaptation. He no longer receives the amount of attention as an attacking option as he had been used to in Toronto. The fringe players seems unsure of their roles coming off the bench, all of which has contributed to the confused and clumsy performances that have characterised the Heat's season. These weaknesses have been exposed by the Boston Celtics on two occasions already this season. The Celtics illustrate perfectly how meaningless it is to have numerous big names on the court if they are unable to play effectively together. It is a lesson they ought to have taken note of.

They will not be panicking though. Each of their big three are warming to challenge of altering their games for the good of the team and their individual stats have been steadily increasing. The defensive intensity still seems to be somewhat lacking but this will probably come with the increased understanding that more time playing together will bring.

No one would argue that they have failed to meet the expectations that most had for them. This is probably more a result of unrealistically high expectations than of their own failings. People, myself included, expected too much too soon. They are still managing to win matches despite being disjointed and frustratingly inefficient at both ends of the court. Needless to say, they will only improve as the season progresses and by the time the playoffs come around, which they will be part of, they will probably be hitting top form. When this happens they may well prove to be as dominant as some hoped and many feared.

Aside from the faltering Miami side, I have been very interested in the progress of the league's two finest rookies this season. Blake Griffin was the number one overall draft pick back in 2009 by the LA Clippers. However, Griffin then missed all of last season with a knee injury he picked the day before the season was due to start, thus making this his début season. Now, after a year on the injured list, Griffin seems determined to make up for lost time.

His rival in what is seemingly a two-horse race for the Rookie of the Year title is John Wall. Like Griffin, Wall was the first overall pick in the 2010 draft when the Washington Wizards snapped up the young point guard. He has suffered some minor injury set backs himself this season but when he has been available for selection he has not failed to excite.

Both Griffin (left) and Wall (right) are making names for themselves as stars in failing teams. Despite the Clippers' dismal record of 3-15 (the worst in the league), Griffin is averaging 20 points and 11 rebounds a games so far this season. He has been producing spectacular, high-flying dunks on a regular basis and, despite a year without being able to play, is beginning to show why he entered the NBA with such hype.

Wall's Wizards are on an ever-so-slightly better record of 5-11. Yet he too has been one of the league's stand-out performers in the opening two months. The 20 year-old has averaged 18 points and 9 assists per game. His electrifying pace and ability to find a way to the hoop has boosted the solid reputation he brought with him to the NBA. The point guard position is often recognised as being the most difficult to play in the sport and yet his scoring and passing has shown a level of both talent and maturity beyond his years. It will be very interesting to see how this race for Rookie of the Year develops and to see if the two emerging stars can reverse the fortunes of their failing teams.

There are various other things that I would like to go on to write about and I am sure I will revisit some of them in due course, in particular the prevailing older squads in Boston and San Antonio (if it continues), the emergence of Derrick Rose as the 'real deal' in Chicago and the success of the league's new 'Respect the Game' initiative.

Thoughts, comments and opinions please...

Sunday, 28 November 2010

El Clásico: The world's finest take to the stage

El Clásico. One of the rare moments when a domestic match holds the gaze of world football. Barcelona face Real Madrid at the Camp Nou tomorrow night and I thought that I would throw my proverbial hat into the ring along with many other sports writers by looking ahead to this special game.

On the simplest level, it is the biggest collection of world-class footballers you can witness in any match outside of the International arena. This is a match-up, however, that is anything but simple. It comprises of numerous intricate battles and sub-plots.

The first of these, which has received predictably large amounts of attention, is the showdown between indisputably the two greatest footballers in the world right now, Messi and Ronaldo. While the debate over who is better rages on, this match offers fans the opportunity to see the two compete for the headlines on the same pitch.

Either Messi or Ronaldo are able to change or win a game with one moment of brilliance. We all know this. Nevertheless, there are tactical complexities that perhaps warrant greater consideration. To allow ourselves to become preoccupied by the Ronaldo versus Messi battle would, of course, be doing a disservice to the spectacle that is El Clásico.

Another fascinating battle will be on the sidelines. Mourinho will take part in this historic derby for the first time tomorrow and all eyes are on him to see how he approaches the match. Can he mastermind a performance to put an end to Madrid's four-match losing streak in this fixture. When his Inter Milan side knocked Barça out of the Champions League last season, the majority of the footballing world applauded 'The Special One's' tactical masterpiece. Needless to say though, his current Madrid team does not in anyway, shape or form resemble that of Inter Milan.

Madrid, as ever, are defined by their attacking prowess rather than Mourinho's well documented approach last season which was to stifle opponents. Some have questioned whether Mourinho will adapt his tactics for this match. He may abandon his use of four attacking players in the 4-2-3-1 formation, usually using Di Maria, Özil, Ronaldo and Higuain, and replace one of them with another deep-lying midfielder to play his more common 4-3-3 formation, with the option to revert it to a 4-5-1.

It is hard to see who he may drop though. Ronaldo, maybe not. Higuain represents their genuine striker and Di Maria has been in good from cutting in from the right wing while Özil has adopted the role of puppetmaster, pulling the strings in the Madrid attack. Nevertheless, he may choose to play Lassana Diarra, Xabi Alonso and Khedira to attempt to try and combat the threat of Xavi and Iniesta's creativity.

Attempting to second guess Mourinho would be foolish. One thing does remain certain though, he will have worked on extremely specialised tactics for this game. These will probably revolve around preventing Xavi and Iniesta the opportunity to run the game while stopping service to Messi as much as possible. He is the world's most prominent tactician and his preparation for this match will have tireless, all of which makes this El Clásico all the more exciting.

His opposite number, Pep Guardiola, rarely strays from Barcelona's trademark style. With Busquets sitting in front of the back four, Xavi and Iniesta will push forward and act as the lynchpins in the Catalan side's formiddable attack. Messi, Villa and Pedro will rotate and push more narrow as the wing-backs, Maxwell and Alves, provide the width outside of them. Describing their likely approach is one thing, stopping it is quite another. With each attacking player being so comfortable on the ball and so adapt at beating their man or playing the killer ball, it becomes almost impossible to stop them creating chances.

The tactical battle that seems certain to unfold tomorrow night adds a new dimension from the usual 'we will score one more than you' nature of the game. How will the respective defences cope in trying to contain the other side's numerous attacking threats? Who will dominate the midfield and thus have the greater possession with which to breakdown their opponent? Will either manager change tactics or personnel for this match? These are all questions which add an intriguing depth to the all-star cast of El Clásico.

Through all this intrigue though, there are fears. The game has made for such a spectacle in the past because it was often both sides playing all-out attacking football. As sublime as Mourinho's treble winning achievements were last season, if he takes the same defence-minded approach tomorrow, many football fans will be left unsatisfied. The saving grace remains that with the number of fantastic players on the pitch, the match rarely fails to excite.

It is a clash between two of the most recognisable clubs in the history of world football. It is the duel between twenty-two of the most talented footballers on the planet, two of which reign supreme in a league of their own. It now has the added edge of being a tactical battle between two of the premier managers in the game right now. Under the spotlights, on the stage of the Camp Nou, the greatest domestic football match will be played out once again tomorrow night with the footballing world intently watching open-mouthed.

Thoughts, comments and opinions...

Friday, 26 November 2010

The State We're In: Why the latest criticism levelled at the Premiership needs to be acknowledged not ignored

There are two articles that have particularly caught my eye over the past couple of days. There is this one about the levelling out of the quality of the Premiership and this story about Carlos Tevez once again threatening to quit football in his prime.

To save you having to read them to understand what I am going to go on to talk about, here is, in my opinion, the essential parts of the respective articles. These are two quotes concerning the state of football in England (which is ultimately what each article is concerned with).

Zeljko Petrovic, Avram Grant's No. 2 at West Ham until he was sacked: "Everybody has great words for the Premier League but it is a myth... The Premier League is a crap league, it is nothing. In truth the level is shocking. Every team has just three good players. If you take those players out of the teams, then there are only players left who would not be playing in the bottom team in Holland. The Bundesliga is far better."

Carlos Tevez: "Football is only about money, and I don't like it. There are so many agents with really young footballers... it's awful, as these young players are not interesting in winning titles, they only want money. The young players think that they have won something in football because they have two mobile phones and a house."

Now these views are, of course, not representative of the footballing world. They are, however, indicative of the waning reputations of both Premiership football and footballers in the Premiership.

Petrovic's less than favourable view of the Premier League is undoubtedly distorted by his recent dismissal by West Ham. To put the quote in context, the Guardian's Paul Hayward was writing about how the Premiership has become far more open due to improvements from smaller combined with a faltering big four.

Ultimately, the big four no longer exists. With Tottenham and Manchester City now bridging the gap, Liverpool struggling and teams like Bolton exceeding expectations, the league, thankfully, no longer conforms to the predictability of just four teams competing in their own elite league while the other sixteen are left fighting for scraps.

The recession unquestionably impacted upon Premiership clubs. The money was no longer available clubs to draw in the the star players when needed and this has, to an extent, taken away the advantage the big clubs held over the rest of the league for so long. Whereas they once could afford the better players now they, like the rest of the clubs, are having to make the most of what they've got. The rather uninspiring strength-in-depth of many squads, as highlighted by the untested youngsters now making their way on to the substitutes bench, reflects this trend.

The new found fallibility of the big four comes as a welcome relief to most Premiership fans. Nevertheless, it illustrates Petrovic's view that the quality of the Premier League is in decline. The big teams have lost their dominance over both domestic and European competitions. Big name signings, excluding Manchester City's spending sprees, have largely dried up and the thinning number of ageing stars are being replaced by, as Tevez says, young players who “are not interesting in winning titles.”

Tevez's criticism too is almost certainly a little harsh. Like Petrovic though, he touches upon a genuine problem in English football, namely, the attitudes of the young up-and-coming stars. It is something I wrote about back in October when Ryan Giggs shared a similar sentiment. The money and fame that is thrust upon footballers still in their teenage years can only be of detriment to their growth both on and off the field.

The preoccupation that young players reportedly have with securing bigger wages and sponsorship deals detracts from their focus on what really matters – winning football matches and winning titles. Andy Carroll and Jack Wilshere, too of England's brightest young talents, have both faced police action this season for their behaviour off the pitch. They are not necessarily to be blamed though.

They are the products of a new footballing culture that has been created in England. A culture that places the tag of 'celebrity' on footballers and the attention, money and fame that this in turn brings is often too alluring for players to resist. Cameras are shoved in their faces and ludicrous sums of money are deposited into their banks accounts having a negative impact upon them as footballers and as human beings. This is, whether we like it or not, part and parcel of the modern game and the disillusioned words Carlos Tevez epitomises the problem.

This culture hinders England's ability to produce players of the required quality in the necessary quantity. With the big names no longer coming in and the new stars not emerging at a rate that the FA, or any England fan for that matter, would be content with, it is easy to understand why England's stronghold over European football five years-or-so ago has come to an end.

It need not be all doom and gloom, however. The example of Aston Villa's emerging core of young and exciting English talent is reason for genuine hope. Moreover, the very fact that the quality of the so-called big four is not what it once was has resulted in the Premiership being more exiting than ever as, to use the old sporting cliché, the playing field is becoming far more level.

The Premiership still remains in the top tier of world football, even if it is no longer at the very top. The current lack of excessive spending could be to the advantage of English football, too. If the media and fans in England can learn not to create and then destroy the reputations of young players with such speed and ease then green-shoots could appear.

There is a lesson to be learned from the quotes of Petrovic and Tevez which have prompted this post. Although they may be overtly critical, they ought not to be ignored. Their views are based on elements of truth which English football, whether it be the FA, clubs, press or fans, should acknowledge and attempt to correct. The climate, from my viewpoint, is becoming increasingly suited for these changes to take place or at least gain recognition. In the aftermath of the World Cup the inquiry has begun and these are just a few of the issues that now need to be addressed.

Thoughts, comments and opinions please...

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