Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Shearer Destined To Fade Into Obscurity?

It has been two years since Alan Shearer's brief and unsuccessful sojourn as Newcastle United manager. His lack of managerial activity since then would make Mark Hughes' blood boil. Content to sit on Match of the Day's sofa, in what is admittedly a very attractive and stress-free job, it seems as though Shearer's urge to manage has waned somewhat in recent times.

His recent flirtation with Cardiff City was nothing more than that - a flirtation. In the evening we had news of his talks, but by the morning he had ruled himself out. We may never know which side pulled out of discussions first - it could indeed have been the Cardiff board who decided they needed more of an experienced man to steer their promotion ship into promised waters- but the feeling remains that Shearer was never a serious candidate.

Since his Tyneside spell, he has been linked with Blackburn. Sheffield Wednesday. And Cardiff. For the amount of time he has been out of the game, that isn't exactly the picture painted of a man desperate to get into management. Having said that, it is quite possible that his couple of months working under Mike Ashley, and the treatment he undoubtedly suffered, have left him with a needlessly cautious mentality when it comes to his prospective chairmen. One would imagine him interviewing them, rather than the other way around.

In order to really earn a bit of respect, Shearer should start as low down as League 2. Let us not forget that he only has eight games of managerial experience. And while he can hardly be blamed for Newcastle's relegation, the fact remains that he only won one of those eight games. Can it therefore really be that much of a surprise that clubs aren't beating down his door to sign what would undoubtedly still be a huge personality. However, should he apply for a job further down the pyramid, at a club such as Barnet (no offence to any fans) he could do what Paul Ince did and cobble together some sort of CV. I get the impression however that Shearer is happy to sit back on the sofa and hope that one of the growing number of mad-cap Premier League owners is happy to risk their club's future on a still relatively untried manager.

As for Cardiff City, their own managerial search is fast taking a rather desperate turn of its own. Gone are the days when a club could go about their appointments without mass press intrusion. Malkay Mckay has already been denied the chance to speak to Cardiff, and no doubt we will hear of countless more candidates before the job is filled. The joys of an international-free summer.

Also, to carry on the tenuous Newcastle link of this blog, I am now hearing that Kevin Nolan's exit is closer to fruition. West Ham have made a bid for his services that has been accepted. As a Newcastle fan, this move fills me with dread. Our two top scorers from the previous season are now gone. New strikers are yet to be purchased. Come on Mike Ashley, show us you mean business! And not the money-saving sort of business....

Monday, 13 June 2011

Can Murray's Grass Court Season Get Even Better?

Earlier today, Andy Murray captured his second Queen's Club championship, with an impressive battling display against the fiery Jo-Wilfred Tsonga. This week has seen the completion of his road to recovery, with a first title of 2011. Having reached a first French Open semi-final only a week ago, this is in many ways one of the best periods of his career.

However, we have seen this before. Two years ago Murray also lifted the Aegon trophy, and carried on this form throughout Wimbledon, until Roddick blew him away in the semis.
There is so much to admire at the moment about Murray's game. His first serve is much more reliable and potent. He is much more aggressive, while still remaining solid defensively, yet the feeling lingers that over 5 sets against any one of Federer, Nadal, or Djokovic, he will retreat into his shell at key moments. Until he proves me and everyone else wrong, there is no point in getting overly carried away.

He must approach Wimbledon in a confident manner, and as number 4 seed anything less than a semi-final place will be must be viewed as a failure. Should he get to this point, which in his current form should be trouble-free enough, he would do well to remember what has got him to the latter stages of big tournaments in the first place. As one BBC commentator rightly stated, if he could bottle the form shown at Queens and take it to Wimbledon with him, that would be ideal. Andy Roddick was surely below par in the semis, but Murray's display will surely fill him with confidence heading into Wimbledon. As for the final, well Tsonga played a fantastic match. Murray was unable to break his serve until the decisive point of the final set, and on many individual points the Scot was blown off the court.

What won Murray this tournament was the ability to win key points. Towards the end of the second set, he looked shattered, and it looked as though a French victory was a formality. Yet when it really mattered, in the tiebreak situation, Murray won some important points, and this pattern continued into the final set, where he finally converted a break point at the 11th attempt. Even on the previous 10 occasions, he failed to break purely because his opponent was serving so well.

In previous tournaments, particularly Grand Slams, Murray would crumble when faced with a power player in red hot form. Perhaps this victory is a sign that he is now able to hang in there when the pressure is on, and play some breaktaking shots of his own. That is certainly what he did today, with an outrageous through-the-legs shot to make it 5-3 showing his supreme self-confidence.

There is not much more that Tsonga could have done to win the match, and in his post-match interview he seemed in awe slightly that his efforts were not enough. Murray has been in that position enough times to know what that feeling is like, and maybe he is finally ready to make a leap worthy of Tsonga's on-court acrobatics, and take that first Grand Slam crown.

Friday, 10 June 2011

Liverpool Roll the Dice

Back in January, few would have predicted Liverpool would be the Premier League's biggest spending team at the year's halfway point. Then again, few would have predicted Kenny Dalglish being the one to spend the money. Andy Carroll, Luis Suarez, and Jordan Henderson have all arrived for a combined total of more than £70m in the past six months, and there are murmurings of discontent from those who fear the money is being wasted on players who are simply not world-class.

I can understand this view, and as a Newcastle fan I would particularly like to mention that I don't think Andy Carroll is worth any more than £20m. But then, a big part of what Kenny Dalgish and co are gambling on is potential. Should these signings go on to be masterstrokes, they will either have helped Liverpool to the higher echelons of European football once again, or be poached for similar fees to which they initally cost. Should they all flop, which is already looking extremely unlikely in the case of Suarez in particular, they are at least young enough to rebild their careers elsewhere, and young enough to still attract large sums of money.

I think what Liverpool are doing is much more admirable than the lazy cherry-picking that Chelsea have resorted to do in recent times, with Fernando Torres at £50m looking increasingly like the move of a desperate man in Abramovich. While Chelsea-esque amounts of money are being spent, each signing has still to prove themselves as top-class footballers to an extent, and they do not turn up at Anfield with trophies already in the bag. Success is there for the taking, and faith is there to be repaid. Many footbll fans have reacted with derision to Kenny Dalglish's extraordinary faith in British (and Urugayan) youth. Imagine the motivation that gives him and his players. All he has to say to them is - "Go out there and prove them all wrong. Prove we were right to break the bank to get you."

As for Liverpool's actual chances next year, I think they stand an excellent chance of returning to the top 4. Their failure to reach the Europa League could well be a massive blessing in disguise, and I think this alone will see them leapfrog Spurs back into 5th. There are still question marks over the whole current top 4 to an extent, and should Carroll and Suarez continue their blossoming partnership I think the Anfield boys will be well-placed to take advantage of any slip-ups.