Thursday, 26 May 2011

Now is the perfect time for Fergie to retire.

It is now time for Sir Alex to retire. I have no doubt that the man who will go down as the greatest club manager of all time should step away at the end of this season. It is the perfect ending to an amazing tale.

All the great stories end at the right time. Lord of the Rings, The Office and Fawlty Towers to name but a few. Going on too far is only guaranteed to sour your legacy. Muhammad Ali is the greatest sportsman to have ever lived yet I challenge you to think of him without thinking of the sad sight of the great man defeated by Trevor Berbick in his final fight. Fergie deserves a better ending.

With United’s historic nineteenth title sewn up he has taken the club to the top of the pile, the front of the history books. He has succeeding in creating the most powerful footballing dynasty that this country has ever seen. He has seen off challengers, conquered Europe twice and has created no less than four separate great teams.

I know that there are those of you reading this of a red Mancunian tilt that wish the old master to go on forever but it can not happen. One would excuse United fans the occasional anxiety attack over what comes after him. Looking into the future and seeing uncertainty where for decades there has been for clarity is unsettling for all concerned. But that should not ruin Fergie’s ending, it is a question for later.

The chances of United improving on this season’s outcomes next year must be in doubt. They will surely face better opposition in Europe than they have this campaign whilst even if they win the league it will not be as special as this title has been in terms of what it means to the club’s fans. Fergie will forever be the man who overtook Liverpool.

For all that it is worth, I think that all this is pointless pontificating. I am almost certain that he will carry on beyond the end of the month because of the same reason that has got him to where he is now. He is so competitive; he does not know when to give up. Without this quality he would have never become what he is today but it does threaten to damage the way that he is remembered in decades to come. Fergie, please stop now.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

I'm back and with a radical idea.

First an admission. I haven’t written anything for a while. The last few months have been hectic for me. I have got engaged, started a new job and started the process of moving house. As a result I would say that this season has probably seen me watch less football than I have done for quite a while.

And yet I feel more passionate about the game now than I have ever done. Which got me thinking, are we suffering from football overkill? Can we actually have too much football?

I realise that maybe your natural reaction to such a question is one of incredulity. How can you have too much of the best sport in the world? But I am certain that the relative break I have had from the game has helped my appreciation of it deepen.

The simple fact is that because I have watched fewer games I have appreciated much more those that I have managed to see, a principle that could well benefit the game as a whole.

Football is by far the most dominant sport in our society. The papers are full of it, it dominates the sports bulletins and its big events are written into our national calendar. Sometimes it appears as though we all get so caught up in the stories around the game that sometimes we forget about the beauty of the game.

I am not saying that there is anything wrong with following all the off pitch stories and season-long narratives but the reason we all fell in love with football is the simplicity, the pure beauty of watching a team in full flow. Sometimes all the extra stuff that we are treated to comes in between us and that truth.

In my utopian view of what football could become there are less games in the Premier League and no top flight involvement in the League Cup, leading hopefully to a greater appreciation of the best that English football has to offer.

There is another, more practical reason why I believe a bit less top flight football would be a good thing. We all know that lower league clubs are struggling to survive. How many people would go and see some local lower league football once in a while if there were fewer games at the top? Maybe we might see a return to real localism within football. Fans could form an attachment to their local side as well as following a side in the top flight without being force fed an endless amount of top flight football, a lot of which often means very little.

There is precedent for this idea. The NFL has only 16 games in the regular season and fans of the sport appreciate hugely the short time they get with their team every year. It is a successful league with passionate fans and a successful commercial history. Meanwhile college and high school football thrives on a more local level, bringing together communities around sport.

Frankly, football could well be getting too big to sustain itself. A radical solution may be the only way forward for the sport whilst radical rationing of your own football intake may well produce some very surprising results in your own lives.

Friday, 13 August 2010

Premier Predictions

In what seems like less than the blink of an eye the domestic football season is back.

Last weekend saw the Football League roar back into life and this weekend the elite twenty clubs will emerge from their summer slumbers and once again build and then almost certainly crush the hopes of millions.

As that intro clearly demonstrates this is the most cliché ridden time of the year, save perhaps Christmas. And as clichés go there are few better than the annual guesses, sorry predictions, as to who will finish where. So here we go.

Champions: Manchester United

No team bounces back like United. They have held onto all their major players and have brought in young starlets Bebe and Javier Hernandez. Pressure from cross-town rivals City will help to focus minds. Wayne Rooney must rediscover his form from last season whilst the only real worry in the squad is defence. Rio Ferdinand is injured again but the retaining of Nemanja Vidic is excellent whilst Jonny Evans is an able deputy for Ferdinand.

Runners Up: Manchester City

Possibly a surprise here but Roberto Mancini’s signings are good and the new squad rules will actually help him to set a boundary around his squad. Those not in the 25 will have no chance of playing and so moaning is pointless. Yaya Toure is key whilst Jerome Boateng will add real quality to the back line.

Champions League: Chelsea and Arsenal

Chelsea have lost Joe Cole and more worryingly Ricardo Carvalho from last season’s victorious squad. Carlo Ancelotti must replace Carvalho otherwise Chelsea’s defence will rely too heavily on John Terry, not a good idea on recent evidence.

Arsenal, on the other hand, have built on last season. The addition of Marouane Chamakh is a wise one, giving Arsene Wenger a different option whilst Laurent Koscielny will add strength in defence. A goalkeeper remains a priority, Mark Schwarzer would be ideal, as would Shay Given.

Europa League: Tottenham, Liverpool, Everton

Liverpool will be looking to rebuild after last year’s horror show and with Roy Hodgson at the helm optimism is returning to Anfield. Holding onto Gerrard and Torres is important as are the acquisitions of Joe Cole and Christian Poulsen. Will come close to the top four but will just miss out. Much improved though.

Unfortunately for Spurs I can not see them repeating last season’s success. The pressures of a Champions League campaign as well as the in creased competition at the top of the league will, I think, prove too much. Harry Redknapp has been unable to add much quality although should Ashley Young and Craig Bellamy join then there will at least be good depth in the squad.

Everton are a hard team to predict. If all their players stay fit then they will do well but, as Mikel Arteta’s absence showed last year, they do have a lack of strength in depth. Jermaine Beckford will be expected to hit the ground running but most important is the fitness of players like Arteta and Phil Jagielka.

Top Ten: Aston Villa, Sunderland, Stoke

Villa are in trouble. No manager and your best players leaving does not inspire confidence on the eve of the new season. Randy Lerner must appoint a manager quickly to allow the new man to bring in new faces. Everything must also be done to ensure that apart from James Milner no more players are allowed to leave. A small squad was Villas problem last year, they can not afford for it to get much smaller.

Sunderland should improve on last year’s showing. Steve Bruce has bought shrewdly; Christian Riveros and John Mensah are World Cup quarter finalists whilst Marcos Angeleri comes with a big reputation from Estudiantes. If these foreign imports can gel quickly with the increasing number of academy products at the club then a top ten finish is a reasonable aim.

Perhaps the greatest success story of the Premier League era, Stoke will again be looking at mid table certainty. Kenwyne Jones will fit in well with the style of play at The Brittania and help the club to another good season.

Mid Table: Fulham, Wolves, Birmingham, Bolton, Blackburn

In the realm of mid table obscurity we can expect to find the same old suspects. Bolton and Blackburn are about to start their tenth successive seasons whilst Wolves and Birmingham adapted well last year. All four have made some shrewd signings and will hope to completely avoid any hint of a relegation battle.

Fulham are slightly different. Much like their constricted stadium, one feels that there is only so far that the club can go, perhaps last years Europa League run was that peak. Mark Hughes will hope not but it is always hard to follow such a popular successful manager as Roy Hodgson and I fear that he may struggle to live up to the new, higher aspirations of the Craven Cottage faithful.

Survivors: West Ham, Newcastle

West Ham have been very quiet considering the normal brashness of their owners. Perhaps this is to try and not draw attention to the fact that the squad is looking a little short of quality. Holding onto Scott Parker is good but having the very unpredictable Frederic Piquonne as a key signing is a bit of a risk. However, they should be good enough to survive. Note, should.

As for Newcastle they will believe that they are back where they belong. They must be careful though as it was that sort of attitude that saw them relegated two seasons ago. It must be a worry that in essence this is the same team that went down although they have grown together and that can only be a good thing. They will struggle but I think they will survive. Just.

Relegated: Wigan, West Brom, Blackpool

This is always the most horrible part of predicting the league. This year my kiss of death falls on Wigan, West Brom and Blackpool.

Blackpool are simply not good enough and much as the romantic within would love to see them survive I can’t help but thing their promotion came a couple of years too early.

West Brom are better but not good enough. I expect them to be a lot less naive than they were under Tony Mowbray but it will still be a surprise should they be able to adapt to the higher level quick enough.

As for Wigan I think their time is up. They were poor last year and have not really added any great quality to their squad. This couple with the fact that the standard at the bottom of the league should be higher in general than last season will mean that Roberto Martinez will have a huge fight on his hands. Unfortunately I think it is a fight that he can not win.

Whilst these predictions are clearly just hypothetical musings, what is undeniably true is that the coming months will at least provide us with more entertainment than England did in the summer. Thank God for domestic football.

Let us know what you think of these and be brave, tell me where you think I am wrong.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Time to Think

The football season has not even started for the country’s elite teams and yet we already have one team looking for a new manager and continued debate surrounding the England team and its manager.

The resignation of Martin O’Neill caught many by surprise, something that can not be said about the criticism still being aimed at the head of Fabio Capello.

The England manager has named his first squad since the dismal showing in South Africa and has immediately found himself the focus of yet more criticism from all areas of the media.

However for the first time in a long while it seems as though the mainstream English football press have completely misjudged the public’s view of the situation. A quick read of the reader comments on BBC Sport editor David Bond’s latest blog ( reveals that instead of Signor Capello, the majority of England fans appear to place the blame squarely at the feet of the underperforming players rather than the extravagantly paid manager.

In fact, as well as blaming the players, a number of readers have pointed the finger straight at those who write and talk about football for a living. One reader blamed the media for building us all into such frenzy in the weeks leading up to the World Cup. Personally I find that more than a little pathetic, surely we are all capable of making up our own minds when it comes to how good a football team really is.

Pathetic it may be but it does highlight a refreshing change in the attitude of the average fan. The players now know that they are not exempt from the anger of the supporter. No longer can they hide behind the struggling manager or the wrong formation, they must surely now realise that they are the only people who can affect the result once that whistle blows. Surely they must now understand what it means to be a footballer representing your country.

This is something that I am sure we will not find out for a while yet, let alone tomorrow night at Wembley. If we have learnt anything about footballers it is that it takes a while for change to occur. Think evolution, or the movement of glaciers. However we also know that sloth is a word absent from the minds of many sports journalists and their editors and so please do not be surprised that, should England perform well tomorrow night, the whole sordid process of delusion begins again.

And please do not fall into the same trap as before. Think for yourselves.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

England face South Africa exit

England 0-0 Algeria

A display lacking any verve left England staring the distinct possibility of a group stage exit in South Africa after a goalless draw with Algeria.

On a night were fans and pundits alike were expecting to see an easy victory for England in Cape Town, the Three Lions could not roar, only whimper.

They must now beat Slovenia in Port Elizabeth on Wednesday if they are to avoid falling at the first hurdle of the World Cup for the first time since 1958.

As expected David James was brought into the starting line-up after Rob Green’s mistake against the U.S.A. with Gareth Barry also starting in place of James Milner. In defence Jamie Carragher was the replacement for the injured Ledley King.

Algeria started the game the brighter side, passing the ball well and attempting to stretch England. David James was the busier keeper in the first half but there was little in terms of imagination coming from either side.

Whilst Algeria lacked the ability to really break England down, England lacked any cohesion, pace or purpose whatsoever.

Wayne Rooney looked a shadow of the player he does for Manchester United whilst Steven Gerrard struggled to get into the game from the left hand side.

England finally managed to construct an attack after half an hour. Aaron Lennon found space out wide and his cross eventually found Frank Lampard whose shot from ten yards was well saved by Rais M’Bholi in the Algerian goal.

Despite the obvious deficiencies in the performance Fabio Capello decided against any changes at half time.

Unsurprisingly then, with players either out of form or out of position, the second period continued in the same fashion.

Capello waited until the hour mark until making a change, sending on Shaun Wright-Phillips for Aaron Lennon but sticking to the same shape. The Manchester City winger failed to make any real impact apart from winning one free kick after beating his man.

With Rooney playing so poorly England lacked a focal point in attack, a role that Emile Heskey was unable to fill.

The Aston Villa striker found himself through on goal midway through the half but his shot was deflected over, whilst Gerrard could only head straight at M’Bholi from a corner.

But still England lacked passion and incision and could not create any clear cut chances with Algeria rarely looking troubled.

Jamie Carragher was booked after bringing down Hasan Yebda, meaning he will miss the match with Slovenia, giving Capello another headache in central defence.

As the match edged tediously towards its conclusion Capello switched Heskey for Jermaine Defoe, another move that had little effect on the game. The Tottenham man failed to get the ball on the target when he found himself through in the area and then hit a shot from outside the area well over.

In a final fling of the dice, Peter Crouch was brought on for Gareth Barry, although instead of attacking with three upfront, Rooney was pushed out to the left hand side.

After one final corner, over-hit by Gerrard, the whistle was blown and England’s fans could be heard booing their team even over the drone of the vuvuzelas.

In truth this was a display far removed from what would be expected from a team hoping to go far in this tournament and Capello will have had much to ponder as the sun set on his 64th birthday.

What did you think of the performance? What should Capello change for the Slovenia match?

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

A weekend of triumph and disaster

I feel like a bit of a let-down. I know that I promised you all a blog last week and for the lack of one, I sincerely apologise. I would love to pretend that my extended essay writing session was due to a high level of interesting subject matter but, if to be honest, it wasn’t. The treatment of trauma in contemporary literature really doesn’t get me that excited.

However what does every year without fail is the F.A. Cup final. This year’s episode of the greatest series in sporting history saw what many romantics would class as the almost perfect cup final. Champions and moneybags Chelsea against relegated, broke Portsmouth. In the absence of a lower league fairytale to back most of the nation were right behind the south coast club.

Alas, the tale was not to have a happy ending although the telling of it was enthralling as always. There was the seemingly magically protected Portsmouth goal and the penalty which felt almost inevitable.

What there was not was a hero, someone who at the appointed hour would stand up and set the country to laughing at Chelsea. Kevin-Prince Boateng had his chance and he scuffed it. In a cruel twist of fate’s knife, two minutes later Didier Drogba showed him how to make sweet contact with a football as he crushed thousands of Pompey hearts.

But if we neutrals thought that was harsh then spare a thought for the fans at Fratton Park. Most times when a smaller club makes it to Wembley it is on the back of a great season and they go away enthused and hoping to kick on. Not this year.

Portsmouth now drop into The Championship and will be happy if they survive long enough to play in it. The fans will be feeling a strange sense of desolation that really shouldn’t exist just four days after a trip to the home of football.

Elsewhere this weekend England won the World Cup. Unfortunately not the one that we all hope and dream of but the Twenty20 cricket version. Congratulations must go to the team, especially the captain and leader Paul Collingwood who has come in for a lot of criticism over the years, but one has to wonder about the lack of coverage that this success has got.

I know that it is cricket and that a lot less people care about it than football but I must admit to a slight sense of disappointment in the media for not going for this story a bit more.

Maybe the reason for this is the sheer number of ICC tournaments that are thrown at us. There is now a Twenty20 World Cup every year with a 50-over version every four. We have also had the pointless Champions Trophy.

When Sepp Blatter mooted that the football World Cup be held every two years there was outcry from a lot of football people. They knew that this would dramatically lessen the prestige of the tournament and the impact it had on the world stage. As every England football fan will tell you, four years is a long time to wait for another shot at glory and it only increases the excitement.

For possibly the first time on my life I would suggest that FIFA has shown the way to do things.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Long time, no post.

I realise that it has been a while since I wrote anything on this blog. For that you have my deepest apologies and the vague excuse that the last month has been one of the most hectic ever.

In it I have handed in three essays, completed a week long work experience at The Independent and spent far too much time thinking about what the next year might bring.

I am currently in the process of attempting to find a job in journalism, a feat much easier to write about than actually do. It appears my only bet at the moment is at the BBC, which would be a nice!

Anyway, just thought that it would be ruse to go much longer without a little update on me and will say now in writing that I will hopefully have a fully fledged, proper post done by the end of this week, essays permitting (I have another two to do).

For now I would just like to say that I was at Hillsborough for the relegation clash with Crystal Palace and witnessed first hand the violent scenes in and around the game at the end. Even from the press box, it was a disgusting sight.

The fact that the next day saw similar scenes at Kenilworth Road is a warning to us all that there are still mindless idiots out there and that the game has still got a long way to go if it wants to enjoy the type of reputation that other sports do.

Worryingly, a brief look at the message boards and listen to the phone-ins and it becomes obvious that there are also still people stupid enough to try and defend the actions of the thugs with excuse of “passion”. For me this is the scariest thing. Violence is still accepted even by some of those who do not partake in it themselves. I really do worry sometimes about the football fans in this country.

On a more positive note, there is just over a month till the World Cup and I am getting excited already. Mr Capello names his provisional 30 man squad on Tuesday and, if you are listening Fabio, please take Darren Bent!