Wednesday, 5 December 2012


The league table is beginning to take shape. That's what most observers tend to say around this time of year, as the pumpkin lanterns turn to Christmas lights.

 For fans of Arsenal and Liverpool, they will be hoping there is a little puppy fat still to be trimmed from the widening waistline of their own seasons. Champions League progress for Arsenal, and possibly soon Liverpool in the Europa League will not paper over the cracks of what have been disappointing seasons for them both.

 However, while only two points separate the two sides in 10th and 11th, and the Gunners have another last 16 draw in Europe's premier competition it is arguably Liverpool's current trajectory that promises more in the long-term.

Arsene Wenger, a legend of the game, whose fast-paced free-flowing attacking football lit up an otherwise safety-first approach favoured by many others in the Premier League's 00s era, is coming towards the inevitable end of his wonderful career. Whether Arsenal will allow him to retire gracefully is another thing, but they do appear to be on a slow downward spiral.

 On the other hand, Liverpool seem to have already reached their nadir. The twin eras of Hodgson and Dalglish, while providing crumbs of comfort in silverware that Arsenal would bite hands off for, saw a deterioration in league form that Wenger's side is yet to suffer - but perhaps that is coming this season. Brendan Rodgers, in many ways, has been forced to start again - blooding youngsters like Raheem Sterling not out of preference, no matter what his press conferences may tell you - but out of neccessity.

At the same time, this is ideal for Rodgers, as it means he can impose his passing philosophy on a squad that is willing to learn. As veterans like Steven Gerrard are phased out, Rodgers can fashion a team of youngsters playing his way - after the splurges Dalglish embarked upon, there will not be much money to spend, but this can be used to his advantage.

Big names can be forsaken for teamwork and sponge-like minds. Given two or three years, Liverpool could be back in the top 4, and Rodgers will find that the 'Liverpool' brand can sell all over the world as he adds ever more star quality to his recipe.

We have already seen the good football his side are capable of playing - and this is supposedly without a natural finisher. Suarez has picked up the mantle for now, but add a poacher into that mix, and a lot more squad depth/experience - guaranteed long-term success.

As for Arsenal, they can only hope they stumble across a manager with a long-term plan, not for his own interests but the club's as well. Unfortunately, even a waning Wenger is better than most other candidates out there.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

That.... was a goal.

Alan Partridge referencing aside, Zlatan Ibrahimovic was the toast of Sweden's new 50,000 capacity Friends Arena. It was a fitting goal to mark a new era in Swedish football, from the man who must surely go down as the greatest ever Swede to play the game at international level.

Although I didn't see it live (I was watching Northern Ireland batter Azerbaijan 1-1) the technique must be applauded nonetheless. It may also be the fact that I didn't see it live that leads me to struggle to proclaim it the Greatest Of All Time, as many pundits are rushing to do.

Maybe it's the fact that he's a lanky lad, at 6ft 5in. Someone that tall should simply not be able to do what he did. It is perhaps the most technically challenging goal to have been scored, but in terms of being 'easy on the eye' I make it my mission to find a selection of goals that I rate more highly.

Somehow I suspect if Faroe Islands were the opposition the British media networks would not be quite so forthcoming in their praise. With Joe Hart making an undistinguished appearance last night, it somehow seems easier to focus attention to the four-goal Swede maestro, as the Man City keeper is the darling of the press.

NOTE - I am not suggesting at all that Ibrahimovic's goal was not outstanding, and it's probably the best you will see this year, but of all time? We'll see about that...

Complete with that signature elongated Latino roar, this goal by Matias Fernandez, created entirely with his right foot, is just mesmerising.

Just to underline the fact that that I am not an Ibrahimo-hater, here is a superior goal from his history, while playing for Ajax against NAC Breda. He displays the close control, technique, and elusiveness that big guys like him would normally dream of.

This sizzler from Oktay Derelioglu was sadly for him a consolation goal in Turkey's 3-1 home defeat to Belgium back in 1997. They say it's a team game, but he will be forgiven for having gone to sleep happy that night!

If anyone can tell me that this goal is better than all the previous three, then so help me God I will...... respect their opinion. Great goal sure, but give me a mazy solo run any day of the week.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Where to start...

You know there is controversy when Match Of The Day interrupts their broadcast to break some news. This news was that Chelsea had reported match referee Mark Clattenburg for alleged racial comments towards two of their players.

In addition, the wrongful (in my opinion) sending-off of Torres and questionable Hernandez winner were probably enough to make the back pages on their own.

What many won't know is that Clattenburg was once sacked from his job by the Professional Game Match Officials. He had allegedly sent threatening emails to business associates, and was said to have debts totalling £175,000.

It is difficult to make a comment without knowing precisely what was said at Stamford Bridge during Chelsea's 3-2 defeat to Man United. However, one would have hoped that Clattenburg would be a bit more careful, given his history. He has clearly put himself in a position of vulnerability and he will not want to read the sport sections of newspapers for the time being.

Back to the more football-related matters, and Chelsea's first defeat of the league season came in a predictably see-saw fashion. Two awesome attacking forces came together on Sunday, and in the end United's posed the greater punch. Eleven versus 11 may have given us a different outcome, but that's football. I would expect both to be key contenders for the title come May.

In an equally anticipated Merseyside derby, Luis Suarez predictably stole the headlines (and even more predictably not just for his football). His swan dive in front of David Moyes was a bit over the top for a goal that he didn't even score himself. He should've saved it for Liverpool's second goal - although Leighton Baines was probably relieved to see attention diverted away from his unlucky deflection.

Another poor referee's decision left the score at 2-2 - Suarez's last-gasp finish should definitely have stood. As it stands, Everton can still claim to be Mersey top dogs, but Liverpool are on the way up. A thin squad will be stretched to the limit for Brendan Rodgers - an improvement on last season's league position would represent a real achievement.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Factual sport analysis with a bit of fiction thrown in..

To start off this chunk of sporting news, I am pleased to announce that I am a Football Manager 2012 Europa League champion.

My mighty Newcastle United side, currently at the end of the 2013/14 season, battled through a tough knockout draw of Valencia, Borussia Dortmund, Udinese, Leverkusen, leading to a clash with Bayern Munich at the Vicente Calderon stadium in Madrid. Not for me the dour 0-0 that Chelsea ground their way to - 1-1 after normal time gave way to 2-2 after extra-time. Penalties was again the decider, 3-1 to the Toon was enough. I think that makes me the first Northern Irish manager to conquer Europe..

In real news - Man United's Tom Cleverley thinks Man United's Wayne Rooney should be England captain. Talk about sucking up. Young Mr Tom should concentrate on cementing his own place before letting his own opinions loose - although he was probably gently nudged in the direction by a desperate journalist searching for a quote in the barren wasteland of stories that is the international break.

In tennis, 20 year-old Heather Watson has become the first British women to win a WTA singles title since four years before she was born. I must admit, after the Olympics I thought Laura Robson would get there first, but the two seem to be pushing each other to greater heights, which is exactly the way it should be in professional sport.

The same seems to be happening in the men's game - Djokovic got a measure of revenge over Murray in winning an epic Shanghai Masters final. While it would be foolish to write off Federer and Nadal, it is undeniable that the Scot and the Serb are in their own little private duel at the moment - I get the feeling they will trade the number one spot for a couple of years before another new generation sweeps the rug from under their feet.

Formula One's musical chairs is well underway. Well sort of. With Lewis Hamilton's move to Mercedes a cert, Vettel and Massa are also currently in the headlines, with rumours of Vettel moving to Ferrari in 2014 and Massa's place perhaps being under threat if he does not deliver the goods next year. After the injuries the Brazilian has had to recover from, I hope he fends off the double world champion's play for his seat.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Clash Of The International Titans

So England got the job done - although it would have been an alarming first 35 minutes until Wayne Rooney opened the scoring from the penalty spot. It has been well reported that the 5-0 defeat was actually better than the average margin of defeat that San Marino have experienced. The tiny nation's record defeat was 13-0, at home to Germany in 2006.

What usually happens in circumstances like this is a combination of massive overconfidence on the part of the favourites and a raising of the minnows' game. Well here's a look at the stats - 86% possession for England. In a year's time, when Roy Hodgson is probably on the ropes for one reason or another, the possession stats will of course be wheeled out in an attempt to prove that at least England's ball retention has improved since that 0-0 hammering dished out by Italy. The fact that San Marino were part of the itinerary will be gleefully brushed under the carpet.

A problem I have found during this international period is that people seem to question the fact that fixtures like this should even take place. I may myself be somewhat dismissive in the above paragraph - but if people are so adamant that the likes of San Marino shouldn't be taking part in international tournaments like this, then why not apply the same logic to the Premier League? This blog has previously railed against a closed Premier League (ie. no relegation) and one way to ensure San Marino never improve is to bar them from playing better opposition. I don't see how that could benefit anyone.

The same could have been said to apply to Wales in recent years. Obviously Wales have always been a couple of tiers above international football's true cannon fodder, but had their good form under Gary Speed (RIP) come at a better time they may themselves have been competing at Euro 2012. Who'd have thought that?

San Marino may only have a population of 30,000, the smallest of any UEFA country, but to get rid of them from the international arena would be heartless. Not everyone can be Spain.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Take that, Blogosphere!

The big talking point in English football this week was the new St George's Park centre. This centre of excellence is the brain-child of Trevor Brooking and aims to bring the glory days back to English international football. It is certainly a step in the right direction. However, a glossy new building will do nothing to help reverse a hoof and hope footballing culture unless the coaching staff can really drill the key technical and mental skills neccessary to mould a team that fans are willing to get behind.

When Arsene Wenger eventually retires/resigns from Arsenal the FA should do all they can either to appoint him to the top job, or at least a backroom advisory role. His footballing philosophy is one that can and should be taken on board. His lack of success at club level in recent years is not important - the transfer market is not his strong point. However, the amount of lesser-known players he has welded together into fluid teams is astounding. When you marry that with traditional English brawn, success can be expected.

Ryan Bertrand has kept Twitter firmly in the spotlight, claiming the injury that kept him out of England's titanic clash with San Marino was something rather more than a sore throat - how long before the BBC football page has a dedicated Tweet Beat news-section. If they steal that name for their advantage I will not be amused.

One thing that Bertrand's rant proves is that clubs should always have cover for each position. If one Chelsea left-back cannot provide hilarity for us all, then another should be able to step in at a moment's notice. In emergencys I suppose on-loan Patrick van Aanholt can step in - I checked his Twitter, he needs to step up the controversy factor. This was the highlight -

"Morning yall... can't wait to see my car when it's finished"

Tame tame stuff.

In other slow news - Lewis Hamilton's wondering out loud whether or not to use Twitter has seemingly found its way onto the BBC Sport front page (sorry BBC, you're really getting it in the neck today). I'm telling you.. the dedicated Tweet Beat (TRADEMARK) is only days away....

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Made of 90% football and 10% tennis

Oh Ashley Cole. Just to add to the growing list of Twitter-related storms in football, he felt it appropriate to call the FA a "bunch of t***s." He may have a point, but he has surely sealed himself some sort of exile from the national side. Or at least a seat as far away as possible from any FA directors on the next England away trip. For someone who wasn't directly involved in the Terry/Ferdinand fiasco, aside from providing a character testimony in court, he is showing up in headlines a worrying amount.

On a similar note, for any agoraphobics looking for bedtime reading, here's the published FA ruling

Sunderland's trip to Man City has drawn a quote worthy of being pinned up on the away dressing room wall. Roberto Mancini has rightly spoken of the threat posed by Adam Johnson, knowing full well he shouldn't be scared of someone who he deemed not good enough for his own Man City side. This is a key quote though from a BBC story:

"I am sure he will do well for Sunderland and go to another top team because he deserves this."

A sneaky attempt to stir discontent in his opponent's dressing room? Who knows what goes through the Italian's head - one thing is for sure, he's taken tips from Sir Alex on mind games.

Another manager who could probably stand to spend a week under Fergie's wing is Chris Coleman. As if the morale of his Wales squad wasn't low enough after the 6-1 thrashing in Serbia, this delightful nugget has come out of the woodwork, pleading for Craig Bellamy to commit to the national side.

""I hope he's in. He is a terrific player. It is not as if we have two or three Craig Bellamys coming through. Players like Craig don't come along all the time."

Read as - I don't think my young players, which were good enough for Gary Speed (RIP) are good enough for me. No one is trying to claim that Wales have youngsters to match the Spanish or the Germans, but a bit of public support might get them playing for their manager, as they've shown they are better than recent results. Is Coleman better than recent results? He's had decent, if unspectacular success on the pitch in his previous two jobs, but his record with British players (Coventry and Fulham) is unimpressive.

In tennis, Andy Murray's unstoppable run has come to an end, losing in the Japan Open semi-finals to Milos Raonic 6-3 6-7 (5-7) 7-6 (7-4). I guess he's just a sham. Strip him of his Grand Slam title and Olympic Gold. We all knew he wasn't really good enough. Etc.

Sunday, 30 September 2012

The alternative Sunday paper..

There's only one place to start dissecting yesterday's action, and that place is Old Trafford, where Tottenham grabbed their first league win at the home of Man United for 23 years. It's fair to say that Andre Villas-Boas' reign as Spurs manager, having begun to gather momentum since those awkward opening encounters, has just slipped into a high gear. It's only one match, but the mental effect of claiming such a prized scalp can only benefit all concerned.

A key criticism of AVB's ill-fated period in charge of Chelsea was his poor record against the league's bigger sides. He certainly never managed an away win against any of the superpowers. Yesterday's 3-2 win puts that issue to bed. Admittedly, the ease with which the likes of Lennon and Bale waltzed through the United defence is not befitting of a club aiming to win back their title from the noisy neighbours. Still, the counter-attacking verve shown by Spurs in that first-half was well-deserving of all three points.

The main cause for concern in Sir Alex's post-match post-mortem would be the holes that his defence left - in particular Rio Ferdinand, whose inability to keep pace with Gareth Bale for the second goal will have given his boss food for thought ahead of the January transfer window. Many scoffed at the millions spent on Robin Van Persie when reinforcements were so desperately needed further back. Having said that, a midfield containing the ageing trio of Scholes, Giggs and Carrick is hardly likely to provide the most energetic or solid cover.

To add a touch of comedy to proceeedings, Sir Alex then had the gall to complain about the amount of time added on at the end of the game. Apparently four minutes wasn't enough. We all have a good laugh about 'Fergie time' but he verges on self-parody with this comment.

I quote, "It denies you a proper chance to win a football match." Where to start!? Well first of all, Spurs seemed to be able to win the match just fine. Also, one can't help but notice the liberal use of the word 'win'. Did he really think his team would score two goals in the time he claims that should have been added on? I suppose the man has been spoilt with late comebacks of that nature. I also suppose that he was merely deflecting criticism away from his side's sub-par performance. But hey, the man gives good soundbites - who am I to ignore them.

Moving on then, and the Brendan Rogers era is also looking much brighter this morning, after Liverpool's 5-2 win at Norwich, featuring a hat-trick from their main man Luis Suarez - a few other players even decided to pitch in at last. They also could potentially have had a sixth goal - if only someone other than the Uruguayan had been on the recieving end of that Leon Barnett challenge.

Edin Dzeko rescued Man City from dropping more points at Fulham, while boss Mancini attempted to paper over the gaping cracks in their title defence by claiming that the decisions are going against his side.

The one team where everything seems rosy in the garden (well maybe not John Terry) is Chelsea. A 2-1 win over Arsenal sent them three points clear, which is a hell of a lot at this early stage of the season. They benefited from some wayward shooting from Arsenal's Oliver Giroud - although it wasn't quite as easy as some were claiming, considering the widening angle and defender in his way.

As for Newcastle - Demba Ba again salvaged a point for his side with another two goals. The rest of Pardew's side better start turning up soon though, or this year's European sojourn will not be repeated next year. It's ok though - Pardew has eight years to get it right.

I wouldn't bet against Everton being this year's surprise package - but is it that much of a surprise? Three more points for them, and they climb to second.

See you tomorrow!

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Not So Keen Anymore..

It's finally happened. Steve Kean has fallen on his own bluntest of swords, resigning as Blackburn boss after a turbulent 22 months in charge.

In truth this has been coming since the day he took office, and the inevitability was underlined by relegation from the Premier League earlier this year, and that laughable Shebby Singh press conference threatening him with the sack on the eve of the new Championship season filled the Sky Sports News 24-hour bulletins with worrying ease.

Any Seinfeld fans amongst these readers will no doubt see shades of George Costanza in Kean's steadfast refusal to quit. Even Costanza knew the game was up when he found the door to his office plastered over. One can only imagine when the penny dropped for Kean.

The decision he took can hardly come has a complete surprise, but the timing of it was somewhat unexpected. Earlier that same day he insisted that "positive talks" had been held with the board. Certain sections (probably the majority) of the Ewood Park fanbase would still call this outcome positive.

Rovers have been the butt of far too many jokes since the Venkys takeover, and while the target of most of fans hatred has been removed of its own volition, the board must now fear that they themselves will become the sole destination of dissent. Tim Sherwood is rumoured to be the man wanted to take Blackburn back to the Premier League.

Kean's successor will have an admittedly solid base to work from, and a strikeforce containing Jordan Rhodes and Nuno Gomes will not require much tweaking to score the required goals. However a greater sense of unity is surely required. Ironically the man to get this job done would probably be Sam Allardyce, the vanquished ex-boss whose sacking started this epic downward spiral. It has certainly be a couple of years to forget for those in blue and white.

Friday, 28 September 2012

Balls Of All Kinds. Also Cars.

The main football (if you can call it that) story of the week has revolved around John Terry and his racial court case. Sadly in 2012 this is the state that football finds itself in. Added to the Suarez/Evra insult/handshake debacle, it has been far from a stellar year in terms of promoting football as a sport worthy of the same respect as those represented at the Olympics.

For a start, there has been no consistency shown by the FA in the scales of their punishments. Terry, the former England captain, was handed a four-game ban and a £220,000 fine for his misdemeanour, despite having been found not guilty in a Crown Court. My understanding of the legal systems in the country lead me to believe that this means he was probably guilty (he even admitted making the remarks) but that it could not be proved beyond doubt that he meant them in an insulting or racist way.

Luis Suarez was last year also found guilty of racist abuse, but was banned for eight games - twice as long as Terry. To add to the confusion he was fined only £40,000 - much less than the Chelsea skipper. I, and many other football fans, would like to know the reasoning behind this. A large part of the sentencing system in this country is based on precedence. The FA may not have exactly the same authority - nor should it - but why does one person's punishment focus on his time on the pitch, but the other's on his pocket? I'm not suggesting any preferential treatment, as both could feel hard done by, but the FA should come under pressure to outline fixed punishments for racial abuse or risk further unpleasant headlines.

Back to happier, more relevant ground, and it was a successful week for most of the bigger names in the Capital One Cup (typed Carling Cup before swiftly realising my error). Only Man City will feel they let themselves down in their 4-2 defeat to Aston Villa - but then they have always had bigger fish to fry this season. That the competition's previous two winners are Liverpool and Birmingham shows its lack of importance.

On to cricket, and England's World Twenty20 defense is creaking worse than my gran's old attic floors. The mighty Afghans were swept aside initially, before India and West Indies threatened to spin England out of contention. Eoin Morgan is doing his best, but when he watches his openers stagger to 0-2 in the first over he must think to himself: if I wanted to be the one man in a one-man team I could have stayed with Ireland.

At the time of writing, the Ryder Cup was just getting underway - the scoring is pretty even so far, but we've already seen a magical chip from Rory McIlroy to set the course alight. As I write this sentence I am passing through Holywood on the train. If that's not a sign I don't know what is.

Finally, Formula One is currently making the headlines again. This writer loves wordy metaphors, and Lewis Hamilton's decision to leave McClaren for the Brawn-backed Mercedes is ripe for the picking. The 2008 world champion is about to find out what it's like to be a man who has decided to leave his wife for another woman but has to stick around for a week for his kid's birthday. Awkwardness awaits. It is hard to imagine team principal Martin Whitmarsh going all out now to help Hamilton win his second world title. It is very easy to imagine Jenson Button silently pumping his fist and whispering to himself, "I win."

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

New York, New York

At the fifth attempt, Andy Murray has finally cast aside the shadow of British male failure in Grand Slams. It only took 76 years. My own grandmother had only been alive for two years at the time of Fred Perry's Wimbledon success.

What was most impressive of all was the plucky Scot's mental fortitude throughout his epic five-set win over Novak Djokovic in the US Open final. When the Serb broke serve at the start of the fourth set, many would surely have predicted more British heartbreak, as the momentum had undoubtedly shifted. Where once Djokvoic had been ailing, he was now prospering and sensing blood with each powerful groundstroke.

Yet somehow Murray prevailed. You got the sense that with the match back in the balance the Brit lost his nerves. Those nerves had undoubtedly been present at 4-0 up in the second set, where he somehow contrived to allow Djokovic a double break-back. But also present in that second set was the guts and drive to drag himself over the line and take it 7-5. That pattern was to be repeated as a two-set lead became the most gut-wrenching of victories. If the win over Federer at the Olympics was a walk in the park, this was a swim against the mightiest of tides, as the Serb world number two is a fearsome competitor who never gave up.

A key part of Murray's undoubtedly personal triumph was the recognition that he couldn't do it alone. That he lacked the ruthlessness and self-confidence to go that one step further. Step forward Mr Ivan Lendl. Widely thought of as a shrewd move at the time of his appointment, the Czech legend added the extra 1% that was missing to Murray's already world-class game, and you wouldn't argue if his name was etched in very small print onto this year's US Open trophy.

So where to go from here? Well, repeated Grand Slam glory will have to wait until 2013, and the Australian Open in Adelaide. But before that Murray will want to put down a real marker at the season ending ATP Championships in London. He is yet to win one of these - should he do so it would undoubtedly be classed as Murray's 2012. With the following Grand Slam record - one win, one final, one semi-final and one quarter-final - coupled with Olympic Gold, we may yet see a dominance to rival that of Djokovic in 2011.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to catch up on my sleep. Well done Andy, you've finally silenced your critics.

Monday, 6 August 2012

Play ALL the sports...

It's been a heady week for British sport to say the least. Early August is normally reserved for the transfer rumour silly season, as sports dailys search in vain for stories in a barren wasteland. Now the only pressing issue is which medal winner to plaster over front and back pages.

One story that probably transcended the Olympics was Andy Murray's gold medal victory over Roger Federer. Undoubtedly, he has arrived at the top table. Yesterday he even brought his own cutlery - tearing the Swiss maestro to shreds. There have been suggestions that Federer was maybe not giving his all, and that the Olympics didn't matter as much to him as a Grand Slam. On the contary. He has been giving interviews for years now saying how much he would love to win a gold medal at Wimbledon. His record-breaking victory over Del Potro in the semis displayed dedication and desire. Perhaps he had simply run out of gas.

As for Murray, to win five unreturned sets against the top 2 players in the world, playing the relentless attacking tennis many have longed for him to show in the big matches, really underlines his Grand Slam and world number one potential. It's possible that best-of-five victory will lift the mental barrier of his.

Mixed doubles gold eluded the Murray/Robson duo however, although Robson in particular can be proud of her efforts. She went toe to toe with the best singles player in the women's game, and the best men's doubles player. Occasionally her serve let her down in an understandable fit of nerves - Murray will know all about that, having fallen short in sight of glory so many times before. Overall though, she can expect a swift rise in the rankings very soon. Whisper it quietly, but we may have a top ten player on our hands within the next few years.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

The Football Will Never Stop

So, to business. Kicking off this extravaganza is the news that QPR are considering loaning Joey Barton out to a Football League club to speed up his twelve-game ban. As loopholes go, that's a bit of a gaping one, and one that the FA should close. If this attempt is followed through, QPR would morally have a lot to answer for. Such blatant bending of the rules to benefit a player that could not control his temper on the field does not set the best precedent. To many neutrals this will leave a sour taste.

Two transfer sagas that could do with being put to sleep are that of Robin Van Persie and Luka Modric. While Man United's bid for RVP was slightly unexpected (although probably not as much as the fact that Fergie publicised it) the fact remains that he is a top player who has handled his desire to leave with a degree of dignity. Probably no longer worth top dollar, as age begins to politely cough in his ear, and his knee is always a question mark. Nonetheless he deserves the chance to really challenge for the top honours. Like most people who leave Arsenal, I'd say money is only about 20% of the reason to leave. Buy low and sell high is the name of the game at the Emirates – and while that strategy is admirable, and good for the future of the game, it runs the risk of an empty trophy cabinet year after year.

Luka Modric, to my mind, deserves much less sympathy. After an unsuccessful attempt to moan his way out of White Hart Lane last summer he is kicking things up a notch this time around – missing training and Tottenham's pre-season training camp. If I was Andre Villas Boas, I would transfer list the player, get the highest price possible (which should be a tasty figure) and get him on the first bus out of there. If AVB has any hope, he needs a happy dressing room – one that will buy into his methods. It is not inconceivable to imagine Modric flourishing in the young coach's attacking system. But personal respect for your manager, your team-mates, and your fans is more important. Modric possesses little of any of that. Joao Moutinho could yet prove an ideal replacement, should events transpire that way.

To round off – I suspect quite a few cunning managers and scouts will be along the North Coast of Northern Ireland for the Milk Cup this week. If you are in the area, keep an eye out...

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Transfer Window Debate For The Whole Family To Enjoy

Now that we are reaching the mid-point of July, we can finally whisper to ourselves that yes, the new season is approaching.

The rumour mill is well into full swing, as Andy Carroll gets whored out to anyone who will listen. The £35m Liverpool misfit is inevitably set to leave Anfield in some shape or form, with Newcastle already ruling themselves out, and ‘big man’ fetishist Sam Allardyce understood to be hovering over his club’s chequebook licking his lips.

Sorry about that last sentence. Anyway, is it really wise to let Carroll go? As every sensible football enthusiast knows, it is wise to keep a variety of options open. While Brendan Rodgers’ commitment to Barca-esque football is admirable, what about those last ten minutes when all you need is to throw balls into the box? You turn to Carroll of course. (I should probably note at this point that I rate the striker a lot more highly than that, and feel he can play a competent role in an eye-catching unit). While it is very nice of him to not want to reduce Carroll to a bench-warming role, the new boss maybe needs a bit more selfishness. But then I only write about the football (and my Football Manager record needs some severe brushing up..)

Keeping things Northern Irish, Linfield and Portadown continued their unstoppable march to Wembley with Champions League victories this week.

Speaking of unrealistic expectations, Andre Villas-Boas is settling into life at White Hart Lane, as he tries to build his side’s (and perhaps his own) self-confidence ahead of the new season. He has his sights set squarely on title success, which let’s not forget didn’t seem out of the question to Spurs around six months ago. However, this was after three years of incredible consistency under Harry Redknapp. He had Gareth Bale, Luka Modric, Kyle Walker, among others, playing the best football of their careers. While this bubble of course burst and carried Redknapp in its wake, that side had a very distinct style. AVB also has a very distinct style. He appears to be planning for life without Modric, and has earmarked his old midfield maestro Joao Moutinho as a replacement. Jan Vertonghen has also been confirmed as a signing from Ajax to boost the previously glass-like central defence of Dawson and King. While this recruitment drive will surely continue, I hope AVB isn’t expecting immediate results with his title challenge. Most sane Spurs fans will surely bite his beard off for a return to the Champions League.

In a move that is surely a coincidence, Man United have responded to the sale of Ji Sung Park to QPR with a move for 23-year-old Shinji Kagawa from Borussia Dortmund. Gotta keep those Asian shirt sales ticking over…

On a more politically correct note, Steve Cotterill has been sacked by Nottingham Forest’s new Kuwait-based owners. I hear Sven-Goran Eriksson is out of work. Watch this space.

And follow my blog!

I leave you with a nugget from everyone’s favourite FIFA sound-tracking retirement-taking Englishmen. That’s Chumbawamba to you and me. Cheerio.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Stuff for you to Read. Maybe some football Stuff.

So into the deep end at Euro 2012 we go. Not a goal-less game to speak of, despite the vain attempts of Giovanni Trapattoni’s Ireland (I get the feeling three 0-0s would’ve suited him just grand). Greece have provided the shock of the tournament so far. Now where and when did we hear that before? Any hopes of a reprisal will surely come to nothing against a far superior Germany side. The Germans will be well aware of the potential for upset, given the Euro 2004 miracle. There will be absolutely no complacency I can assure you of that.

On a similar note, Roy Hodgson will be ensuring there will be no slouching and patting on the back going on in the England camp. His side have done pretty well so far, although I don’t buy into this myth that England have over-achieved to get this far. The side is ranked sixth in the world, and is the fourth highest ranked European team. By that logic, the semi-finals are about par. The England football team is either amazing or awful it seems. Realistically, with sensible management and an ability to shut out the media’s over-expectant nature, they can compete with the best in the world. They cannot expect to win tournaments. But with a bit of luck it is possible.

The Italians will be no easy pickings. Time and time again, they have ground their way to the latter stages of tournaments. The 2006 World Cup victory is proof of that. Andrea Pirlo will be drawing on all his experience to drag this comparatively limited Italy side that one step closer to glory. My money will be on a penalty shoot-out, before England’s legendary generous nature kicks in and they end up flying themselves home. I would love to see Balotelli slot home the winning penalty. He will turn from the darling of the English press to an assassin overnight.

In other news, I’m starting to miss the Premier League. It’s startlingly not long to go!

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Rounding Up Some Choice Recent Events.

A second home defeat in three days for Manchester City has given the rest of the Premier League, particularly Tottenham, some hope. Are the Eastlands rabble in crisis? Compared to their flying start to the season, you could say yes. But using a shred of good sense and perspective the answer would have to be a resounding no.

In the post-match inquest, Mancini looked rather flustered and animated when faced with the glare of BBC cameras. Perhaps he is trying to live up to higher boardroom expectations than my own expectations of his side. I am not sure any club that is three points clear of the pack in January, having not won a title since 1968, should be under too much pressure.

'But they spent all that money' the naysayers will cry. Well the last time I checked, money didn't guarantee success, it doesn't guarantee luck, and it certainly doesn't guarantee a tight-knit squad of players willing to walk on coals for each other. If anything, Mancini should have had the guts to make a few less big-money marquee signings and more high-energy players that Linkcould punch above their weight. I'm thinking along the lines of Scott Parker. Of course, having learnt from his bench-warming experiences at Chelsea that would be a terrible career move for him and he would always have been back-up to the immovable Yaya Toure, but a couple more back-up characters of his ilk, particularly in defence would have seen Man City turn in a more competitive display than they did against Liverpool. Instead, the loss of Silva, Kompany and the Toures turned them into a soulless husk of a side.

The lack of atmosphere at Eastlands can hardly have helped. I know its only the Carling Cup but if you've spent the money to take your place in the stands then a few upbeat chants to try and get the team moving surely can't be too much to ask. In turn, Liverpool had a game plan that worked to perfection. With Andy Carroll the lone striker upfront they were never going to outscore City in an open free-flowing game. So they kept things tight, correctly guessed that City's slow buildup would play into their hands, and they take a crucial advantage back to Anfield.

In a week of Cup comebacks, Thierry Henry and Paul Scholes made winning (but not entirely successful in Scholes' case) returns to their once adoring fanbases. Henry rolled back the years to send Arsenal through to round four with a splendid finish.

Paul Scholes was a strange one. Having not seen the match live, or its build-up, I was stunned to hear a work colleague later talking about the ginger maestro being at fault for the second City goal. 'That's a bit harsh', I thought. 'He's only a coach.' As it turns out, until the end of the season he is not only a coach. As a money-saving favour to Fergie and the Glazers, this should somewhat abate the calls for Wesley Sneijder to be brought to Old Trafford dead or alive, at least until the summer.

Speaking of rumoured transfers that will probably wait until the summer, Newcastle's Demba Ba is a busy man. Not only is he trying to fire Senegal to African Nations glory, he is the current subject of a frenzied auction, with the asking price being whatever figure Harry Redknapp dreams up next. Honestly, does the Spurs manager have nothing better to do? As his outspoken approaches for the likes of Cahill and Samba have since proven, no he does not.

As for Ba himself, well he seems happy enough until the summer, despite his professed interest in a potential move to PSG. Mike Ashley (I won't pretend Pardew has anything to do with contracts or transfers) will have to get his skates on to get a new contract tied up. Even if this only delays a transfer by six months, the asking price would at least be ramped up to one more reflecting of his ability.

And that my friends, is that.