Sunday, 27 February 2011

My Favourite Premiership XI: Michael Hudson

It is Sunday which means, of course, it is time for the latest instalment of the 'My Favourite Premiership XI'. This week's selection comes from Newcastle United fan (in case his piece did not make that clear enough) Michael Hudson. Michael can also be found writing over at his own site - The Accidental Groundhopper.

Some people think it was signing Faustino Asprilla that cost Newcastle United the Premier League title in 1995-96. Others still say Keegan’s “I’d love it if we beat ‘em” rant at Leeds United was to blame, or Graham Fenton’s late double for Blackburn Rovers, or losing 4-3 away to Liverpool. But most of us who were there remember the two games against Manchester United, Keith Gillespie getting injured in a post-Christmas defeat at Old Trafford, and Peter Schmeichel single-handedly saving his side from annihilation in the first half of the return at St James’ Park. Newcastle battered Ferguson’s side, pouring forward in wave after wave of attacks. Impossibly, the two teams went into the break still goalless. Fifteen minutes after the restart, Eric Cantona scored the winner. For obvious reasons, the Dane wasn't everyone's favourite goalkeeper - but he was undoubtedly the best.

He was sent off three times in the inaugural Premier League season, became the last ever Liverpool player to score a goal in front of the terraced Kop, and finished top scorer for West Ham with ten goals in 1995-96, but Julian Dicks gets his place in the team for something he did off the pitch before the Premier League began. In February 1992, as West Ham fans protested against season ticket price rises and being asked to pay between £500 and £950 to guarantee their seat in their ground, Dicks told newspaper reporters: “The Bond Scheme is wrong. You can’t ask an ordinary bloke to pay £975 just to watch his favourite football team”. Disregarding a club warning, he repeated his comments in a fanzine interview just a few weeks later: “I wouldn’t buy a Bond because they are a lot of money and are morally wrong”. The West Ham board eventually saw sense. Unfortunately, football didn’t.

Elegant, comfortable in possession of the ball, and defensively underrated, Philippe Albert epitomised many of Newcastle United’s qualities in the mid-1990s, scoring the fifth and final goal of the game which, together with that 4-3 defeat to Liverpool, still defines Keegan’s team to this day. Gathering a pass from Robert Lee, he touches the ball to the left, pushes it forward into space, and flights an almost effortless chip over the heads of two defenders and Peter Schmeichel into the centre of the net. Partnering him is Colin Hendry, a man who looked and played like he’d just been plucked from a medieval battlefield. Although the plaudits went to Shearer and Sutton, Blackburn Rovers would never have won the title without Hendry and Tim Flowers in defence.

Never the greatest defensively - “Nowhere near good enough for the Premier League,” a commentator once sniffed - I first came across Lee Young-Pyo playing in midfield for Anyang Cheetahs (later franchised out of existence by the Korean FA and LG Group) at home to Daejeon Citizen in the K-League. A year later, I watched Ahn Jung-hwan head his curving right-footed cross past Gianluigi Buffon to knock Italy out of the World Cup, and didn’t have to buy another drink for the rest of the night.

Nicknamed ‘The Little Maestro’ by Diego Maradona, Nolberto Solano scored 37 goals in 230 league appearances for Newcastle. My favourite came at Elland Road, two days before Christmas 2001. 3-1 down to goals from Bowyer, Harte and Mark Viduka, Newcastle equalised through a Robbie Elliott header and an Alan Shearer penalty. With only a minute left to play, Craig Bellamy won a tackle against Erik Bakke, Kieron Dyer picked up the loose ball on halfway, raced through the Leeds midfield and rolled a pass into Solano’s path. As Nigel Martyn belatedly edged left to cover his near post, the shot slid along the ground and into the opposite corner of the net. It was, people later said, the defeat that started Leeds’ near terminal decline.

Only Fumaca (who made one start and four substitute appearances for Newcastle United in the 1999-2000 season, and was disparagingly nicknamed Formica for his complete inability to trap or keep possession of the ball) comes anywhere near rivalling Ali Dia as the worst player in Premier League history. A 30-year-old Sengalese amateur, Southampton manager Graeme Souness signed him from Blyth Spartans on the recommendation of a man claiming to be FIFA Player of the Year George Weah. Named as a substitute for an away game at Leeds, Dia came on for the injured Matt Le Tissier after 32 minutes. “His performance was almost comical,” the watching Le Tissier recalled. “He kind of took my place, but he was just wandering everywhere. I don't think he realised what position he was supposed to be in. It was embarrassing to watch.” Dia lasted until the 53rd minute before Ken Monkou was sent on instead. His next league appearance was for Gateshead. Le Tissier himself completes the midfield three. As Xavi once said, "For me he was sensational".

From the moment Faustino Asprilla turned up at St James’ Park wearing a grey fur coat in a snowstorm, he was sublimely dissimilar to anyone we’d seen before. Contrary to popular misconception, Tino was arguably Newcastle’s best player in the title run-in, scoring three and turning a near certain defeat against Middlesbrough into three points on his debut, after sinking a pre-match glass of wine in the team hotel. Preposterously talented, he had a deceptively languid running style, his feet operating like an octopus’s arms trying to keep a predator at bay. When he was in the mood, he was almost unstoppable: only two of the best goalkeeping displays I’ve ever seen stopped him running up cricket scores in back-to-back games against the Uniteds of Manchester and West Ham in April 1996. The following season, Barcelona weren’t quite so lucky.

Andy Carroll wasn’t the first Newcastle United centre-forward to be sold in the middle of a season. But when Keegan let Andy Cole join Manchester United in exchange for £6 million and Keith Gillespie, he already had his replacement lined up. I’d seen Les Ferdinand destroy our defence in a 3-0 defeat at Loftus Road, but he was even better in black and white stripes, scoring fifty goals in eighty-three games and winning PFA Footballer of the Year in 1996.

Roker Park, January 1997. Paul Merson finds Dennis Bergkamp twenty yards out from the Sunderland goal. The Dutchman miscontrols, drags the ball back as a defender closes in, shifts it onto his right foot, and curls a shot past the despairing goalkeeper into the far corner of the net. Rafael Van der Vaart and Robin Van Persie are good, but Bergkamp was better.

Thoughts, comments and opinions please...

Friday, 25 February 2011

The French Footballing Revolution

The English national team is still struggling in an attempt to recover from their woeful World Cup. Their rivals across the Channel, meanwhile, have set a shining example of how to go about the much needed transformation, so writes Samuel Geny...

The 22nd June 2010 - the day the revolution in French football began. It was the moment that their star-studded team was knocked out of the World Cup in the group stages. Since then there has been a remarkable improvement in the side. Here is my assessment of the changes that have seen them beat both Brazil and England in their recent friendly encounters.


The coming of age of the French U17’s, U18’s and U21’s has meant that there is now a wealth of talent from which the new French coach Laurent Blanc choose. These players can be developed over the next two to four years for the European Championship and World Cup respectively.

Here is a list of the latest crop of fresh French young talent with their age.

M’Vila 20
Menez 23
Payet 23
Rami 25
Sakho 21
Remy 24
Matuidi 23
Nasri 23
Sissoko 21
Gameiro 23
Gourcuff 24

This list contains the best hopes for the future of French football and with them all having fewer than 10 caps to their name, with the exception of Nasri who has 17, things look good for the future.

With this strong talent base and a few wise older heads these young players have been allowed to flourish. The balance has been struck with the likes of Mexes, Malouda and Abidal playing amongst this young squad while the huge ego complexes and imposing personalities of the likes of Henry, Anelka, Evra and Gallas have been removed.

The key figures which the new French team is basing itself around are the extremely talented Gourcuff and Nasri in the centre of midfield. Laurent Blanc has a strong belief in Gourcuff from their time together at Bordeaux where he mastered their midfield and was the architect of the movement up the pitch and helped Bordeaux to their first League 1 title in ten years. With his big money move to Lyon in the summer he struggled at first but has now settled in to life at the Stade Gerland and has started to show the promise he had at Bordeaux.

Next is Samir Nasri an ever evolving figure since he signed for Arsenal from Marseille. He has shown great skill and a wide range of passing that has allowed him to play all across Arsenal’s mid field over the last two seasons. Having mastered the difficulties of the English Premier League he is quickly becoming hot property in Europe and will be a key member of the future French team.

The Coach:

Laurent Blanc's appointment was two years too late. The shenanigans of former France coach Raymond Domenech went on for too long and the team suffered. But under Blanc all the silly selection decisions, tactical inconsistency and astrology has gone. Now France look like a team who are organized and threaten every time they move forward with the ball whilst also having a solid defensive base. Blanc has instilled a new mentality into the French team that has allowed them to play with confidence and play an attractive football without the ego centered former players who tried to conquer the world on their own. Before France used to scrape wins over minnow nations and made all their games look like an arduous task when they should have been formalities.


No Frank? There is a lot more to come from France with Ribery having not featured in their last two games that were considerable scalps against England and Brazil. If they can get him fit and put into the system that Blanc wants to play, their attack will become even more potent.

Benzema’s move to Real Madrid put him in the spotlight. He seemed to struggle under the enormous expectation that comes from playing for such an illustrious club and he failed to make an impact from the bench in his first couple of seasons – playing second fiddle to the prolific Higuian who scored 29 in La Liga last year. However, with the unfortunate injury to Higuian, Benzema has had to step up and has done so with good effect helping Real keep in touch with Barcelona in the title race by scoring some important goals notably a tricky 1-0 win against Real Mallorca.

To conclude:

Les Bleus' future once again looks promising. Under their new coach the French national team can look forward to an exciting generation of footballers who will be challenging for major honors again shortly. Their recent friendlies against Brazil and England have shown that this is a progressing side with plenty to learn. Yet, while missing some key members, this is a team that can already challenge the big teams despite still being in the early stages of their transformation. If you compare this French side to the Brazilian one who has never had a lack of exciting potential youth, their recent feats seem even greater. They have done the same thing as France choosing to go with a new coach who has no international experience and removing the dead wood from the side and keeping a spine of older stable players around which to base the side whilst having a wealth of young talent at his disposal with the likes of Breno, Luiz, Rafael, Sandro, Ramires, Pato, Douglas Costa, Neymar and Andre to name but a few.

As the likes of England continue to struggle in their post-World Cup transformation, France have put themselves on the road to success. With new management and faith being shown in a young and exciting crop of players, they are building a team with the long term future of the national side clearly in mind.

Thought, comments and opinions please...

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

A Premiership All-Star Weekend

The inspiration for this post was very simple - the NBA All-Star weekend. It took place last weekend and, having watched some of the events, it got me pondering whether or not it would be possible to implement a similar feature into the Premiership season.

The NBA weekend is run over three days. It consists of a rookie versus sophomore match, a D-League (the minor league) All-Star match, a team shooting challenge, a skill course, a three point shooting competition, a dunk contest and culminates with the East versus West All-Stars. Indeed, all American sports have the same mid-season for similar event-packed, star-studded affairs. The break can prove problematic for players and clubs alike, though. A weekend break for such festivities is not ideal for a team trying to gather or maintain momentum and form.

It remains, however, something that I think would be extremely interesting and entertaining to see transferred across the Atlantic. It allows fans to see a different side to the players, witnessing some absurd bits of showboating and it often is a useful means of raising money and awareness for various charitable causes.

The way it would work is relatively straight forward. Players, managers and journalists would vote for the players that they believe deserve to feature in the All-Star match (not fans - this prevent clubs with larger fan bases simply getting all their players in the team). Other players, meanwhile, would be selected to take part in the individual events which I will outline in due course.

There are a couple of obvious problems in trying to introduce such an event. These are, firstly, the Premiership has a hectic enough schedule as it is to try and fit it in and secondly, the league is not split into two separate conferences (as American sports leagues are) from which to select two sides. These problems can, however, be easily overcome. To fit the game in the season could either be prolonged by one extra week or simply add one set of midweek fixtures. To form the two sets of ten teams from which the 'All-Stars' could be chosen, a simple solution would be to divide the the league between the northern and southern clubs. This would mean that the pools of teams would look like this:

North – Newcastle, Sunderland, Blackpool, Blackburn, Bolton, Wigan, Manchester City, Manchester United, Everton and Liverpool.

South – Stoke, Wolves, West Brom, Aston Villa, Birmingham, Tottenham, Arsenal, West Ham, Chelsea and Fulham.

On balance the north/south divide seems to split the teams quite fairly which would allow for a reasonable mix of the Premiership's elite players to face off against one another. As for the events. The focal point of the day would, of course, be the north versus south All-Star game. But other competitions would be required to make the whole thing more interesting.

There would have to be some form of skill-based time trial, something akin to what you would see on Wayne Rooney's Street Striker. This would involve dribbling and passing into or through targets so we could see which Premiership player has the best “tekkers”. Another event could be a skill showdown as features on Soccer AM or a skill shot contest (alla Ronaldinho's shot from behind the goal, below). Others could be simple challenges to see who is the quickest player at dribbling the ball half the length of the pitch and a test to see who has the most powerful shot. It could even tie in with 'The Match' by featuring the celebrities versus ex-pros game.

Amidst the mayhem of the Premiership campaign, an All-Star break for one weekend of the year would offer some light relief and allow us to appreciate a different side to the league's footballers, and indeed football itself. This is just a quick example of what some potential line-ups for the events could be... you know you would want to see this:

Tekkers Trial – Rooney, Gerrard, Lampard, Arteta, Modric, Nasri.
Speed Dribble – Walcott, Bale, Lennon, Guitierrez, N'Zogbia, Agbonlahor.
Skill Showdown – Berbatov, Adam, Anelka, Silva, Young, Van der Vaart.
Power Shot – Huth, Alex, Hitzelsberger, Van Persie, Taylor, Kolorov.
With an All-Star match of the League's best performers of the season.

Now some may not want to see such a weekend introduced as a distraction from the Premier League season. Moreover, managers would almost certainly not want to lose their players for such an occasion. But tell me you would not want to see the Premiership's finest go head to head over a series of irrelevant yet intriguing challenges.

Would very much like to hear people's thought on this idea. What kind of events would you like to see footballers go head-to-head in? Who would you like to see take part in such challenges? Which players would make your All-Star XI from the respective north and south divisions?

Thoughts, comments and opinions please...

Sunday, 20 February 2011

My Favourite Premiership XI: Dave Peacock

Last Sunday I posted my all time favourite Premiership with the view to making it a running series. As the response to the concept was resoundingly positive I will be doing just that. Thus every Sunday I will now be posting the all time favourite Premiership XI of a different football writer, blogger and/or enthusiast. This week it is the turn of Dave Peacock and so, without further ado, here is his selection. 

As per the criteria, the following 11 players aren’t necessarily who I think are the best players to have graced the Premiership, more the players that I personally like and have enjoyed watching over the years. I will also say that I have picked these players as a team that could function – hence the 4-2-3-1 formation.

First off, let me explain my choice of ‘keeper. Clearly, the obvious choice would be that red nosed Danish glove man who won a few league titles. As mentioned above, this isn’t about that though. I’ve chosen Nigel Martyn as he was a very solid goalkeeper. Had it not been for David Seaman, he’d have won many more England caps than the 23 he earned

Now, on to the defence. Here I’ve tried to mix style, speed, strength and aggression. My right back is Lauren, a main stay of the unbeaten Arsenal side of 03/04. For two or three seasons, Lauren was the best right back in the league (yes, even better than Neville). He was the modern day full back, strong, quick and athletic, always up and down the flank. On the other side, I’ve gone for Stuart Pearce. Maybe the Premier League years weren’t when he peaked, but nevertheless he was still good to watch – he never shirked a tackle. Would have been fascinating to watch Ronaldo try and dance around him! My first centre half had to be Sami Hyypia. Sami was a revelation when he came to Liverpool. He never had much pace but such was his awareness, he was always in the right place at the right time. I feel he and Sol Campbell would complement each other well and would be unbeatable in the air. Campbell had that raw speed that any defence needs.

In midfield, I felt I needed two players in front of the back four to cover my more attack minded wingers. David Batty was always a favourite of mine. He rarely lost a tackle and was a much better footballer than he was given credit for. With the engine of Paul Ince next to him, these two would be a formidable midfield partnership. In front of them, I had to find a place for Steven Gerrard, who could easily have played further back. But this way, he was licence to roam and create, and would almost guarantee 10-15 goals a season.

A more obvious choice is my number 7 – Cristiano Ronaldo. As a Liverpool fan, there was many reasons to hate Ronaldo. Arrogance, petulance and selfishness – to name just a few of his less desirable traits. But for two seasons (at least) he was untouchable in the Premier League. Breathtaking goal followed breathtaking goal as he dragged Man United to victories almost single-handled. On the other wing, I’ve gone for the mercurial David Ginola – because he’s worth it! At his best he could drift past players with ease and he had a classy touch.

And finally… every team needs a good striker. There’s not been many better than Alan Shearer. As the record Premier League scorer, he’s an obvious choice perhaps. The reason I admired him so much was that he wasn’t a striker who’d pass the ball into the net. Whether he was 5, 15 or 25 yards out, he’d smash it (not in the Richard Keys style, mind). As he grew older and a few injuries took their toll, Shearer lost some of his pace. But he adapted his game and became a stronger, more physical centre forward. One thing never changed though – goals!

Thoughts, comments and opinions please...

Thursday, 17 February 2011

The Plot Thickens: The importance of plots and characters in our love of sports

No one ought to need to be made aware of the electrifying news that Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson has returned to wrestling. This is a man who played a central role in the childhood of many a fan of the fictitious entertainment show. WWE is just that after all. It is scripted, planned and rehearsed. Yet ultimately the reason people love it is because of the characters and the plots and, in that sense, is it not like all sports?

I have written before about the role of sports within modern society and why it holds such gravitas in the lives of millions many times (there was my Football as the Opium of the Masses parts one and two as well as my post Why Write about Football which covered this topic). My arguments then stemmed from a sociological and functionalism viewpoint. Indeed, as well as this we have the appreciation for the game itself, this being the art of playing football - the technical and physical skills that are on display and which we fans could only dream of being able to replicate.

These factors, however, do not fully account for why so many people's lives centre around football or, more generally, sport. Of fundamental importance is the role of characters, history and Hollywood-esque plots. Just like the WWE, our intrigue in sport relies on the subtle sub-plots, the stories of the individuals and the ongoing rivalries.

Let's look at the match between Arsenal and Barcelona last night as an example. Now this was always going to be an excellent game of football. But the skills of the respective players that were witnessed on the stage at the Emirates last night were merely the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Tactics can be analysed, attacking moves assessed and defensive errors scrutinised but as worthwhile as this certainly is, a large part of the appeal of the game relies on something different.

Yesterday's match was a clash between two teams who have, in some ways, become European rivals. Both clubs are based on a footballing philosophy of what could be called, to make things simple, 'total football'. It was a contest between two sides who approach the game in the same way, an approach which is relatively rare due to its extreme intricacy.

To thicken the plot, these two teams met in the same competition last season adding immediate history to their rivalry. Then Barcelona emerged the victors after two thrilling games of football, yet now, one year later, Arsenal have seized the upper hand as they do battle once again. The young pretenders have matured and improved and come back to avenge what happened twelve months ago. The history between the two clubs, albeit a rather recent one, adds extra depth to the encounter.

Furthermore, there are the always the stories of the individuals, or the protagonists if you will. In this case all eyes were on the Arsenal talisman Cesc Fabregas. A life long Barcelona fan who left the club at the age of 16 to move to North London, in recent years he has seemed destined to return to the Catalan club but, for now at least, he remains at the heart of their opposition. If he were to score the winning goal in the Camp Nou in the second leg it would be much more than simply a decisive goal because of his emotive and well-documented history. The subtle layers underneath what happens on the pitch is what makes sport so time-consumingly fascinating.

Every team has their history, their achievements, their moments of agony and their rivals. Every individual the same. As fans we have our memories, our heroes and villains which we carry into every match we watch. This is why it was always so entertaining to see Roy Keane and Alan Shearer or Patrick Vieira line up alongside one another in the tunnel. This is why we all watched to see if Wayne Bridge would shake John Terry's hand. This is why we love to see an underdog triumph over a bigger team.

The plots, the back-stories and the characters that we watch develop and change are what gives sport its edge. Transfer sagas, players swapping loyalties and ongoing feuds build on the technical beauty of the sports themselves. All these things, like the action on the field, are not predetermined or scripted but unashamedly real. Whereas WWE may be more explicit in its use of plots and character stories to appeal to their audience, all sports adhere, although not consciously, to the same basic principle which makes our interest in them almost unfaltering.

Thoughts, comments and opinions please...

Sunday, 13 February 2011

My Favourite Premiership XI: Polly

Firstly, I would like to apologise for the absence of any blogging over the last week. Work and laziness conspired against it. Secondly, you can see pieces that I did for Ghostgoal's 'My Favourite Goal' and Talkingsports' 'My Sporting Hero' series.

Today, as I have been writing pieces for series run by other sites, I thought I would start a new series of my own. The concept is simple. Over time I will get different people to share their Favourite XI of the Premiership era. To get the ball rolling, I will start.

Each player is unique, rare and embodies a different aspect of the game that I love. But that is not simply to say that this is the best team to ever play in the Premiership. This is a team of players who endeared themselves to me for various reasons, usually a mixture of personality and ability. So, without further ado, this is my line-up of the favourite players I have enjoyed watching in over the last twenty years with a quick explanation of why each player was included.

3-4-3 Formation:

Starting in goal. Peter Schmeichel was simply an outstanding goalkeeper. The iconic star jump saves, red nose and ear-full he would give his defenders live long in the memory and I am not sure if a better, more dominant keeper will ever grace the Premiership.

At the back I have opted for three 'hard bastards'. From a centre back all I ever want to see is a blatant disregard for both their own and their opponents well-being. The combination of Martin Keown, Neil 'Razor' Ruddock and Julian Dicks capture this mould of player perfectly.

With the nitty gritty of the team out the way, the rest of side is put together through consumate class. On to the midfield. First we have Patrick Vieira. A hybrid of strength and elegance, one of the most complete midfielders of the Premiership era. Next up is Jay-Jay Okocha, so good they named him twice. A regular feature on Soccer AM's 'Showboat' feature, the man excited whenever he touched the ball. He was never afraid to try the audacious and for that he must be applauded.

Paul Scholes is quite possibly, in my opinion, the best player the league has had. His passing and vision still impresses me seventeen years after he emerged on the scene. A small, understated man that was under-appreciated by the national team but has been at the heart of Manchester United's dominance of English football over the last two decades. Just in front of the ginger maestro I have opted for Georgi Kinkladze. His time at Manchester City in the mid-90s saw him become somewhat of a cult figure. His jinking runs and dribbling ability always astonished me. He scored remarkable solo goals and was always a joy to watch.

Now for the front three. This is where things got very difficult. I have gone for Eric Cantona to lead the line. The Frenchman had an arrogance, an air of infallibility about him that meant you could seldom take your eyes of him. Scorer of some stunning goals, utterer of some mind-altering philosophies, he had to make the team.

Behind him I have chosen two superb technicians. Perhaps the two finest. Bergkamp was class personified. The touch and vision of a demi-god and a footballing brain that should be pickled and kept in FIFA headquarters when he passes. While at Arsenal he made things that few other players can do look infuriatingly basic. Completing the team I have picked Zola. Like Bergkamp he had the technical ability that allowed him to do astonishing things with a football. However, his selection comes largely due to his attitude. Rarely did his trademark smile leave his face which is why he was loved by fans, not just at Stamford Bridge, across the country.

It is worth mentioning those who didn't quite make the cut; Stuart Pearce, Le Tissier, Asprilla, Di Canio, Giggs, Theirry Henry, Roy Keane and Vinnie Jones, I am very sorry.

Thoughts, comments and opinions please...

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Those who can, play. Those who can't, manage: Why great players don't usually make great managers

Sometimes, possibly too many times in my case, you get things wrong. I spent much of 2010 criticising Martin Johnson's management of the England Rugby team. Now, however, I probably ought to hold my hands up and admit I got it wrong. This is not in response to England's win over Wales last night in the Six Nations opener, but rather for the way he has changed the whole team over the past couple of years.

Two years ago England needed fresh personnel and revised tactics. Johnson has, contrary to my belief that he was not the right man to do so, delivered with both. This is not a post about Martin Johnson though. I believed that Johnson was not the right man for the job because he was awarded the position for his reputation as a player, not a coach. This ultimately relates to the bigger question which I am going to explore today - do great players make great managers?

To examine this question I thought I would do some research. Using the current crop of twenty Premiership managers, I wanted to see how many medals they had between them, with the help of trusty Wikipedia of course. So here is a list of the league's managers with how many major trophies they won as a player – this includes top division league titles, domestic cups (but not Community shields or the like etc.), European competitions (again not including Super Cups) and International tournaments:

Arsenal – Arsène Wenger - 1
Aston Villa – Gérard Houllier - 0
Birmingham – Alex McLeish - 11
Blackburn – Steve Kean - 0
Blackpool – Ian Holloway - 0
Bolton – Owen Coyle - 0
Chelsea – Carlo Ancelotti - 13
Everton – David Moyes - 1
Fulham – Mark Hughes - 11
Liverpool – Kenny Dalglish - 23
Manchester City – Roberto Mancini - 10
Manchester United – Alex Ferguson - 0
Newcastle – Alan Pardew - 0
Stoke – Tony Pulis - 0
Sunderland – Steve Bruce - 9
Tottenham – Harry Redknapp - 0
West Brom – Roberto Di Matteo - 5
West Ham – Avram Grant - 0
Wigan – Roberto Martinez - 0
Wolves – Mick McCarthy - 3

Total = 87 – that is an average of 4.35 pieces of silverware gathered as players by the current group of Premier League managers.

OK, so what can we learn from this tedious number crunching? On this list of twenty, ten (50%) never lifted a major footballing trophy. Remove recently appointed Dalglish from this list and the average drops to 3.2. The point here is that with a handful of exceptions, the top managers in England right now were not remarkable players in any way. Great players do not make great managers, more often than not great managers did not shine on the pitch. But why?

It is not that complicated. The two are very different areas of expertise and often being an outstanding player will restrict your ability to teach others how to play. To use an example from outside of football, a MENSA member with an IQ of 170 could not necessarily teach an uninterested eight-year old child about the wonders of fractions. A simpler person would, on the other hand, probably have far more success.

The example if often applied to managers like Roy Keane. Very gifted players who are unable to appreciate how players of a lower quality cannot match his own high standards. The transition is a far from straight forward one. Being able to motivate, man-manage, coach, buy well in the transfer window, have tactical nous and deal with the men upstairs is a long way removed from being a successful footballer. It requires a different set of skills and characteristics that are not connected with being a superbly skilled player.

Diego Maradona serves as a good example of this. His record prior to getting the national job at Argentina was woeful. Yet he was entrusted with the role because he was an icon. A living legend. Unfortunately, his managerial skills do not in any way relate to his dribbling skills. He may gain immediate respect from the players and have charisma but he also opted for playing Jonás Manuel Gutiérrez at right-back in the World Cup. Enough said.

Martin Johnson may have proved me and many other doubters wrong over the last year. He remains, however, an exception to the rule that great players do not make great managers. Football has its own exceptions too, of course, both in past and present. On the list above there are some extremely talented players who are now managing at top clubs.

The news of Gary Neville's retirement also contributed to me deciding to write on this topic. The former United right-back has already earned many of the FA coaching badges and looks certain to coach and probably manage in the future. He was, love him or hate, a great player. Yet it must be remembered he was very successful within a great club, playing under a great manager. How he would fare as a manger himself with players of a lower quality than he had known thus far in footballing career is completely unknown.

My point - great players can make great managers but they are not great managers because they were great players. In fact the reality would appear to be that they succeed in spite of the fact that they were great players, something that often makes the transition into management more difficult.

Thoughts, comment and opinions please...

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Intolerance in the Terraces

It has been a dark fortnight for the game of football in the UK. After the sexist comments made by Sky Sports presenters Andy Grey and Richard Keys there was widespread public outrage. Understandably so, of course.

Due to the sheer volume of material produced about said incident, I have hitherto abstained from writing about it. Indeed, I still do not intend to revert back to all that has been said and done. The fact remains, though, that no one ought to have been in any way surprised by the views they held. Yes, the fact they had been foolish enough to broadcast these views on more than one occasion is perhaps somewhat surprising. Nevertheless, they merely showed us what we already knew – that such out-dated opinions are inherent within football.

The unpleasant truth lying behind the whole story is that football stadiums remain home to a minority of people who are, in some ways at least, very much behind the times. Some people, and it must be recognised as only being a minority of people, leave notions of acceptable social behaviour at the turnstiles and instead, for two hours every Saturday afternoon, act in ways that cannot be condoned in modern society. Unfortunately, we all know this to be true.

Sexism is just one area in which football is lagging behind the times. Homophobia and racism are also both far too commonplace within the game in this country.

There is widespread casual racism from the fans in all stadiums. Fans will unite to sing about how Park Ji Sung eats dogs, Adebayor's dad washes elephants and Kenwyne Jones sells watches on the beach. Although this cannot be deemed acceptable in any way, it remains a lighter side to the racism present in the terraces. This is the 'acceptable face of racism' that is all too widespread.

More concerningly however, there are pockets of football fanatics at stadiums up and down the country who partake in racial abuse every weekend that is much darker than these chants. When a black player goes to retrieve the ball, take a corner or is suspected of unsportsmanlike behaviour, they are subjected to obscenities that are more suited to the deep south of the USA in the 19th Century than a 21st Century developed country. These comments are not meant in a light-hearted manner but have far more disturbing and sinister motivations.

The reason I am writing this, not that a reason is necessarily needed to address an issue with such gravitas, is that today I began on the road to making a film about the racial intolerance that can be found in the terraces of football stadia in England. Hopefully working with the 'Let's Kick Racism out of Football' campaign, players of past & present and football clubs across the country, I will be:
  • Exploring just how commonplace and serious this problem is.
  • Examining why football stadiums act as hotbeds for such behaviour
  • Assessing what exactly is being done, and indeed what can be done, to eradicate this problem.

As such, this is almost certainly an issue that I will be returning to over the coming months as the project develops.

Thoughts, comments and opinions please...

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