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Fortune Hides Cracks

Monday, November 01, 2010

It's the 84th minute and Spurs are on the end of another slightly farcical episode at Old Trafford. The match ends 2-0 to the home team, yet all anyone can manage to discuss is that controversial goal at the end which yet again exposes the difficulty referees face when officiating a big game. This isn't a critique on the referee's performance, nor will it suggest with the aid of hindsight what should've been the correct course of action, what it will postulate is how yet again Redknapp has managed to escape with his record intact.

Now allow me to make something extremely clear; I am in no way saying I think Redknapp is rubbish. With that established I will go on to question his tactics and selections.

With Huddlestone injured, Redknapp was forced to choose between Palacios, Jenas and Sandro to start alongside the diminutive Croat. The choice inevitably falls to one of Palacios or Jenas with Redknapp invariably preferring Jenas in these high profile matches, perhaps due to Palacios' somewhat volatile nature (although he's only received 2 red cards in his 3 seasons at the club). His aim is to go for 2 ball playing midfielders, discarding the traditional ball winning midfielder. As a result, Tottenham were overrun in the midfield.

Up front things weren't much better. I can only assume that Keane was preferred as he plays deeper, perhaps linking up nicely with Van der Vaart in training. However for Redknapp to discard Crouch (who has been in decent form, connecting deliciously will Van der Vaart so far), and then introduce an untested partnership (with a player who hasn't played a decent game of football since joining Liverpool) in one of the most threatening grounds in the country was a bad idea on paper and turned out to be a bad idea on the pitch.

Against Inter, Tottenham were undone in quite some fashion. However fast forward to full-time and the subject on everyone's lips is Gareth Bale.

For some time now there is an assumption that Harry Redknapp is a media darling, that he can no wrong in the eyes of the press. Perhaps because of this association journalists are afraid or simply don't feel the need to bring up his tactical naivety.

Too often when watching Spurs do I feel irritated by the way they seem to roll over in these away games. Too often it seems to be the same symptoms, a pedestrian midfield, unthreatening wingers and very busy centrebacks. The issue isn't with the players themselves, as they have enough quality to do some damage, but I do think the issue is with the gaffer.

'Arry is a man manager. There is no doubt about it. Sure along the way he gets his teams to play some decent football, but his continual insistence on 4-4-2 or "big man/little man" striking partnerships is out of touch. Tottenham have got where they are because of excellent financial management, and some managerial consistency. They got there on merit and hard work. But if they are to stay there or even make the jump their fans crave then Harry Redknapp is not the man for the job.

posted by teedoubleyou


Just who is going to buy Wayne Rooney?

Monday, October 18, 2010

With the press being dominated by the Wayne Rooney saga, the inevitable question is this; “Just who is going to buy Wayne Rooney?”

Having spent upwards of £25 million on Rooney back in 2004, and having sold Cristiano Ronaldo for £80 million, it would be reasonable to assume that United wouldn’t sell Rooney for anything less than £40 million. And that would be cheap of them.

Toward the end of the last season the figure being bandied about was closer to £60 million, and with his current wage demands reportedly hovering around the £160k p/w mark the possible candidates for his signing can only be Manchester City and Real Madrid.

At a push Chelsea, Barcelona and Inter could be included but the reality is a little different; Barcelona got burnt with the Zlatan transfer, and Rooney doesn’t seem like their “kind” of player. Inter are reportedly trying to deal with vast debts incurred by Moratti over the last 5 years, debts which resulted in an unprecedented trophy haul for the Milan side last season. Regardless, this blog doubts somehow that Benitez would be able to persuade Rooney to move to Inter. And Chelsea? The club needs a (young) striker, and being British certainly helps his cause, but the wage demands will be far too high, and with the club aiming for an operating profit an outlay of £40+ million won’t help.

So we come to the 2 financial giants in European football. Manchester City have the cash, that much is clear, but for Rooney to switch from the red half to the blue half of Manchester would be scandalous. Once bandied about as the boy who would bring United further European glory and be “the man” until he retired it would be unthinkable for him to change his allegiance.

Detractors may point to Tevez, however his case was vastly different. Tevez was on loan at United, and although he cared for their fans, it wasn’t as if he’d been there from a young age with the faith of the fans and more importantly his manager resting on his shoulders. I don’t remember anyone being taken aback when he moved to City.

That really only leaves Real Madrid.

Rooney is rumoured to be an admirer of Mourinho, and at 24 this represents his greatest chance to seal a big money move to play under a manager at the top of his game. He would be reunited with Ronaldo, a player with whom he enjoyed tremendous success, and who he clearly got along with as an individual. But it isn’t as cut and dry as that; when Beckham moved to the Spanish giants he was a media magnet, already the poster-boy of English football, already adorning Adidas billboards around the globe. At a time when Florentino was running a club based on shirt sales Beckham represented the holy grail of footballers.

Now things are very different. Florentino is trying to run a football club, and Mourinho will not suffer fools gladly. Having been ejected from Stamford Bridge after a run-in over transfer policy with Abramovich it has become apparent that his current deal is that he and he alone chooses the team. He is rumoured to be interested in a new striker, but what he wants is a Drogba, a Milito, a Llorente, not a Rooney.

Time is running out for Rooney, if Fergie wants him out, then he’s gone. And if no-one comes in for him then he may find himself on the blue half of Manchester, or biting his tongue and getting on with what his focus should be right now; playing well for the Reds.

posted by teedoubleyou


Can you teach an Old Frim new tricks?

Monday, October 04, 2010

Gascoigne, Laudrup, Thern, McCall, Steven... these were but a few of the top class names I could call upon whenever I loaded up a game of Championship Manager 96/97 and selected my favourite team to play with, Rangers. Its not that Celtic didn't have appeal. Larsson, Lennon, McStay and Lambert were also strong performers and either club, if well managed, would bring me Champions League victory eventually. I would look forward to watching them both on Eurogoals or in the Champions League if they were on TV.

Today, they, and the league they play in are derided by pundits and fans alike. A quick peak at their squads reveal decent ex-championship performers in the likes of Lafferty and Hooper coupled with internationals from Algeria, Israel and Bosnia. The best Scottish talent has long gone South of the border where Craig Gordon, Barry Ferguson and Darren Fletcher ply their trade. Even the young talent is leaving early with Danny Wilson being poached by Liverpool and Shaun Maloney's brief sojourn in the Midlands showing the Old Firm's inability to keep their assets.

Partly this decline must be seen as a by-product of the lack of money available in the SPL where 1st and 2nd receive circa £3m each come pared with £20m+ in the Premier League. Celtic and Rangers real debt is around the £32m mark which has curtailed their ability to attract as well as afford top class talent. Furthermore, it implies that all first team players are effectively up for sale at all time and at affordable prices. Expensive and unsuccessful signings, like the £12m Rangers dished out for Tore Andre Flo, have hardly helped matters. It has to be said that the SPL is one of the least competitive league in Europe, and players' unwillingness to ply their trade in such a league is understandable. This problem has been identified by the head honchos at both clubs and their attempt to join the EPL were doomed to failure.

While these problems seem to spell doom and gloom in the foreseeable future for the Glasgow giants there are positives as well as options. Celtic Park and Ibrox boast a full 60'000 an 51'000 filled seats, respectively, in most home games as well as a windfall of £5m through the sale of season tickets every year. As things stand the SPL has two Champions League berths which de facto guarantees Rangers and Celtic some form of access every year which gives it an important financial boost as well as allowing players a taste of the big time, which is one of the greatest draws for players moving to either club.

With such a platform these clubs should be looking to follow the example of Portuguese clubs like Benfica and Porto who snap up young, promising talent across Europe and the Americas. Ramires and Cissokho are examples of players who have performed exceptionally well in the League. The jump to one of Europe's 'big clubs' increased their value and they were sold on for a healthy profit. There needs to be an acceptance in Glasgow, that the Old Firm have to shift their emphasis towards being a springboard to Europe's giants, rather than a giant themselves.

In truth, it has been a while since I have played with either Rangers or Celtic in the new Football Manager editions so maybe I will try this philosophy out for myself.

posted by Niles


Nature vs Nurture

I’m sitting at home with the television on Sky Sports 2. Tottenham are about to kick off against FC Twente in the driving rain, you don’t need an HDTV to see that. When discussing the lineup, we aimlessly wander to the subject of Iniesta. “You know he’ll be remembered forever for that goal in the World Cup Final”. Pause, “Oh, and that goal against Chelsea too”.

This of course is nothing new to any of you, yet it is an incredible feat. The ability to score the most important goal of all when the clock is ticking and the pressure is on is what separates the “great” from the “excellent”. In that one moment with what may be the only chance, you have to have the belief, technique and mental presence to put it away. Iniesta of course is not alone, half the Barcelona team alone are players of this calibre. But is that what really separates them? That innate skill?

I’m reminded of an interview I read with Frank Lampard where he discusses his youth and footballing education. He tells a story of how his father, noticing his son’s weakness in speed devised a routine to improve his touch and quick thinking. He would stand Frank Jr in space with his back to a wall, whereupon he would kick the ball with strength. As soon as Frank Jr heard the sound of the impact he would turn and trap the ball. He learnt to use his right foot, left foot, his chest and movement to do so.

The eternal “Gerrard or Lampard” debate often hinges on this point. Gerrard is widely regarded as a player born with the skills he possesses whereas Lampard is said to be a player who worked at his craft. Yet the successes the latter has achieved as an individual are comparable if not greater.

There are other examples; David Beckham was renowned for staying behind after training to practise his free kicks - there’s a clip him taking kick after kick, one flying above the posts in a rugby fashion bouncing off the roof of the stand behind it. He said that he only ever used one ball, so the punishment of having to fetch it was enough to make him work that bit harder.

For every Lampard and Beckham, there’s a Heskey and a Kuyt. Just as for every Iniesta or a Gerrard there’s a Bentley or a Quaresma .

Tottenham’s David Bentley was once a starlet in the Arsenal academy, who after impressing with his form at Blackburn ended up at Spurs for £15 million. There can be no question over his skills, yet his off pitch issues may have cost him his career. Done for drink-driving in August 2009, Harry Redknapp was less than impressed and spoke of Bentley’s need to “develop a different side to his personality”. Later Bentley revealed how personal issues had affected his performances.

Remember Kieron Dyer? Following his move from Ipswich to Newcastle, the trappings of the off-field stardom of a footballer were too much for him. Once touted as a potential England star back in 2000 he found himself involved in a sex scandal with other England hopefuls Rio Ferdinand and Frank Lampard. Whereas Ferdinand and Lampard went on to bigger and better things, Dyer became notorious for his drinking and injuries. The rest as they say, is history.

Ricardo Quaresma is another; at 27 he is reaching what should the peak of his career yet he has been through Barcelona, Chelsea and Inter and ended up in Besiktas. In his youth at Sporting where he dazzled with his tricks, his understudy was a skinny boy with a heart condition (which later required surgery). That boy with his racing heart was called Cristiano. Cristiano Ronaldo.

Football is filled with those players who work hard and don’t make it to the top table and then there are those who were born with the skills yet don’t have the mental toughness to do the work to improve them. This was embodied in Real Madrid’s “Zidane’s y Pavon’s” policy of the last decade.

That team with it’s galacticos and it’s workers (and a terrific manager in Del Bosque) were superb for a good couple of seasons, however over time when the workers became of lower quality and the galacticos of bigger egos things turned sour.

Remember the playground? It’s lunchtime and everyone’s lined up against the fence waiting to be picked. Standing between big Hugo and toothy Matt are lanky Steven and little Andres. Next to them are pretty-boy David and stocky Frank. If someone asked you which two you’d rather have in your team you’d probably gun for Stevie and that little Spanish lad. But if you really want to win and go to Geography smiling from ear to ear, you’d need to pick David and Frank too.

P.S. What a great goal by Van der Vaart.

posted by teedoubleyou


Hip to be square.

Monday, September 27, 2010

When watching the highlights of Man City v Chelsea on MOTD on Saturday night, it struck me how many chances Chelsea had to take the game. The highlights package showed about 3 chances for the Citizens, yet when watching the game it felt to me that City were the better side.

The battle was won and lost as many of these tense affairs often are, in the midfield. With Chelsea lacking midfield talisman Frank Lampard, a trio of Mikel, Ramires and Essien lined up in the centre of the park with the attacking trident of Malouda, Anelka and Drogba ahead of them.

While City’s 4-5-1 is ostensibly a 4-3-3 in a similar vein to Chelsea’s, there is a crucial difference. City’s aim is to contain, and break at speed with all the attacks coming through Carlos Tevez’s running. Chelsea on the other hand aim to score with wave-upon-wave of attacks. City employ Milner and Johnson to great effect on the wings, but against Chelsea opted for the more short-passing oriented David Silva. Together with the now customary trio of Barry, De Jong and Yaya Touré, Silva aimed to drop deep looking to release Tevez or Milner.

Usually when in possession players look to position themselves in triangles, thereby offering 2 choices for the player on the ball. When done well (Arsenal and Barça) it often results in lethal counter attacks at breakneck speed. During this game we saw 2 different interpretations of this triangular movement; in City’s case what we often saw were rhombuses in the midfield, and in Chelsea’s the positioning was extremely flat.

As they worked the ball through the midfield, any City player more often than not had 3 passing opportunities. They created these lopsided squares which moved through the pitch comfortably retaining possession and dragging Chelsea’s midfield around. Conversely when Chelsea were on the ball their midfield remained flat, forcing players to attempt long balls over the defence for the strikers to run onto. Eventually Anelka was forced to come deep to collect the ball which took a man out of the attack, leaving Touré, Kompany and Boyata (who did a great job) to marshal a lonely Drogba.

Oddly for Man City their tactic was very unbalanced; Milner rarely if ever left the left-wing, whereas Silva rarely remained in the same position. With Adam Johnson they seem a much more threatening side, as he enjoys cutting inside dragging defenders with him, but perhaps for the bigger occasions Mancini wants to play it safe.

In the end the only goal came from a counter attack. Yaya Touré released the little Argentine engine and the rest is history.

Chelsea would’ve fared a great deal better with Lampard’s involvement, his positioning in that hole behind the strikers is superb. As a result he would’ve forced Barry or De Jong to sit a lot deeper, and the knock on would’ve been a more open midfield battle. As it stood though, neither Essien nor Ramires took up the mantle.

A fairly contested affair, with some interesting tactical battles. Just don’t expect to be wowed by City very much this season.

posted by teedoubleyou


Liverpool. A bad day in the City.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Last night Liverpool were undone by an excellent Manchester City side. But 3-0 doesn't tell the whole story.

Hodgson set the reds up in a 4-4-2, with Lucas playing a more holding role theoretically allowing Gerrard license to roam. Up front N'Gog partnered Torres for the first time in a Premierleague game. Possibly not the best time for Hodgson to have experimented.

N'Gog too often found himself drifting into the right hand channel, a position surely better suited for Kuyt. As a result Kuyt was too often in no man's land, N'Gog was not in the centre of the box and Torres had too little involvement.

In the midfield Hodgson grossly underestimated City's prowess. With City ostensibly playing 3 DMCs (although Barry was the more advanced of these), Liverpool had no space to play the ball into. When a red shirt did receive a pass in the City half they weren't allowed to turn and lost possession easily.

With Johnson and Richards having a cracker on the right against an out of position Agger, Jovanovic was forced deep into a supporting defensive role. A similar thing happened on the left as Milner caused all sorts of problems for Glen Johnson.

Steven Gerrard was the busiest of Liverpool's team. However he was sitting far too deep trying to cope with the attacking threat of City's midfield, and never quite found himself in those positions from which he is so dangerous. Towards the end of the game he resorted to long passes all of which were unsuccessful.

In short this wasn't the game for Hodgson to tinker. With the absence of Mascherano it seems obvious that Poulsen should've started with one of N'Gog or Torres on the bench. The situation is reminiscent of Spurs v Young Boys last week where Harry lined up with a 4-4-2 only to find his team 3 goals down. The difference there was that Redknapp was quick to see the problems and change his team accordingly; Huddlestone came on to bolster the midfield and the result was a decent performance.

However the fixture list has been harsh on Liverpool and Roy Hodgson, he needs to discover his best 11 and until then this will be the best time to play Liverpool.

posted by teedoubleyou


Wigan. The right style, the wrong results.

Monday, August 23, 2010

When Wigan lost 6-0 to Chelsea, Martinez's reaction was "'The way we let things slip had nothing to do with our style of football." And he's right.

The final stats support his theory, Wigan retained 52% possession and even successfully completed 82% of their passes compared to Chelsea's 80%. So how could they fail to even realistically trouble the Chelsea defence?

Stam and N'Zogbia were some of Wigan's more industrious players, with Stam attempting 61 passes of which 52 were successful. The same goes for N'Zogbia who also on the right wing had 32 successful passes. However it was their unsuccessful passes which were their undoing.

Of the 9 unsuccessful passes by Stam, 7 were in the final 3rd. 6 of those were intended for the box yet failed. The situation is similar for Rodallega and Figueroa on the left wing (although if you observe Rodallega's passing stats, it's all too apparent that he doesn't pass enough in comparison suggesting he is wasted out wide).

When Wigan did find themselves in dangerous areas they resorted to long shots from outside the 18 yard box. Chelsea on the other hand scored all 6 goals from very close to, or inside the 6 yard box.

So was Wigan's problem in the final 3rd that Chelsea's defence was too good for them? Or that they lacked ruthlessness and belief?

A bit of both would be the unsatisfactory answer. There can be no doubt that Wigan played some excellent passing football (as supported by the stats), and Rodallega game Ivanovic a torrid time until Ferreira replaced him. However it seems that by playing Rodallega out wide they lack a player to focus passing to in the centre.

Diamé, McCarty and Thomas all occupy similar areas of midfield, with McCarthy being the most advanced yet even his positioning is that of an attacking midfielder. Their number 9, Boselli had an awful afternoon, completing 4 passes and not seeing very much of the ball. After his £6.5 million move from Estudiantes it may be too soon to expect him to lead the line solo. He clearly found it difficult against both Blackpool and Chelsea, and Martinez's insistence on playing Rodallega as a winger/striker means Boselli cuts a very lonely figure at the tip of the trident.

Compare that to Drogba's involvement as the contrast could not be greater. Drogba exhibits a greater range of movement around the pitch and an excellent work rate aided by the excellent Malouda and Anelka.

Martinez clearly has the right ideas; the passing at times is excellent and their insistence on playing an attractive brand of football is admirable.

Wigan will continue to leak goals at the back (that article is for another day) but until they work on their positioning and movement in the final 3rd they won't score any at that end either.

posted by teedoubleyou


Captain Ronaldo; the denouement.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Just over a week ago this blog wrote a piece for the Guardian. It suggested that Ronaldo was not the correct choice for Portugal captain; inevitably it got panned and accused of just jumping on the "Ronaldo sucks" bandwagon. 10 days later and it seems that it was correct all along.

The words of former captain Luis Figo say it all, "in the most difficult moments the captain must always face up for the group". And what did our beloved CR7 say in the aftermath of the Spain defeat? "Talk to Carlos Queiroz".

Ronaldo wants to be the face of Portugal when it suits him. Following the 7 nil drubbing of North Korea where Ronaldo was awarded the Man Of the Match performance, he publicly and correctly handed it to Tiago who had been superb. But when the chips came down and Ronaldo retired to the shadows it was Tiago who spoke up, "that's his opinion. The captain won't talk, but the rest of the players are here to talk".

Tiago was ready and willing to take on the responsibility of Portugal's exit. And why not, Tiago had a very decent tournament, so maybe was not afraid of the personal attacks which would surely be aimed at Ronaldo. Afterall, Tiago is not at fault for the defeat as he's 'merely' a midfielder whereas Ronaldo is the hero when we win and the enemy when we lose. That is what comes with being a captain.

António Simões, legend of the 1966 Portugal team "os Magriços" spoke up demanding a "greater sense of responsibility" from the captain, and putting his finger on the pulse suggesting that "when providing statements [he] must be consistent and coherent with the stature and responsibility he has".

Of course it has been overblown, and the player himself has come out and apologised. But to this blog, apologising after an act of extreme immaturity (I refer of course to the spit) and blame-pushing comments is cheap. It's easy to say "it was in the moment", but just like Rooney's petulant "nice to see some loyal support" comment, it's not what you come to expect from a captain. Perhaps that is why Rooney is not considered for the role just yet, as he's yet to mature.

Let me make something very clear; I am not lambasting him for his outburst per se, nor am I blaming him for Portugal's exit. I am not suggesting he is anything other than a special player either. What I am saying is that he is not captain material.

At the end of the Guardian blog, there was a quote by the man himself saying that "it's not through being captain or not that I will change".

That quote is clearer than ever now.

posted by teedoubleyou


Tournament takes shape

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Now that half of the groups are complete we can begin to form a picture of the "real" World Cup, and how it could pan out.

With Uruguay and USA topping their groups a situation has been created where one of Uruguay, South Korea, the USA or Ghana will be in the Semi-Finals of this World Cup. Had we been told this fact prior to the tournament a "scoff" would've been heard echoing in the room. As it is, Uruguay seem the stronger of the 4 teams.

In Suarez, Cavani and the exceptional Forlan they have a very threatening side who will give the South Koreans a lot to think about. Portuguese based fullbacks Fucile and Maxi Pereira have looked dangerous in attack, and in Lugano they have a very intelligent (although inconsistent) centre-back.

The Koreans were very lucky against Nigeria, took an absolute pasting from Argentina and beat a very poor Greece. They are the weakest team in that group of 4, but with enough discipline and pace they can cause an upset.

Ghana vs USA is a very intriguing tie, however Ghana have found it very difficult to score goals and indeed have not managed to score a goal in open play having to rely on 2 penalties for their qualification. USA on the other hand have scored 4 goals, and had a couple ruled out along the way, and had it not been for that awful call on the 3-2 in the Slovenia game they would've assured their 1st place qualification earlier.

The most likely quarter final would seem to be Uruguay v USA, with Uruguay the stronger of the two should Forlan continue firing on all cylinders.

The other side of the draw sees Germany, England, Argentina and Mexico fight it out for a Semi-Final berth. This is of course what the World Cup is all about and all 3 fixtures leading to the semi are mouth watering. Mexico could cause an upset as up until now Argentina's opponents have been an inconsistent Nigerian side, an awful Greek side and against a decent South Korean team they conceded an awful goal. Demichelis and Gutierrez are their weakest players and haven't really been tested, and on the occasions where they have been called on they have disappointed.

Mexico are an excellent team going forward, Salcido is a very dangerous fullback and could pin back Argentina's defence. Giovani is looking superb at front, as is Chicharito aka Javi Hernandez of Man Utd. However as good as Mexico have looked, Uruguay were the better side when these 2 met earlier this week and Argentina are a significantly better attacking unit. Looks like a great game.

Finally we come to England v Germany. On paper the Germans have to be the favourites, they are faster more organised and in Ozil have one of the most exciting players in the tournament. Klose will be back for this one after seeing red against Serbia, he will be rested and wanting to prove a point. Together with Podolski they have one of the most dangerous tournament-based attacking pair. At the back however they are shaky, and had it not been for prolifigacy in front of goal Ghana may have changed the outcome of this group.

As it stands, England improved immeasurably against Slovenia and their confidence will be their greatest asset. Should Rooney find his form then they are a significantly tougher opponent, as it stands though England's midfield will be where the battle is won or lost. Khedira looks an excellent player, and 25 year old Schweinsteiger is a very strong presence and should cause England's immobile midfield a lot of problems.

The quarter-final is likely to be Germany v Argentina, however that is too tough to call.

Nevertheless the tournament is starting to take shape, and a very exciting shape it is. Can't wait to see how the other half of the draw works out.

posted by teedoubleyou


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