Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Why Reading may have been wrong to sack McDermott

There are lies, damned lies, and statistics. Allow me to present you some of these statistics. Brian McDermott's somewhat surprising sacking as Reading manager yesterday again threw up the debate on whether there are too many irresponsible owners and chairman in Premier League football these days.

As I write, Reading are 19th, four points from safety, and with nine games to save their skins. While I would certainly have chosen them as the first team to go down, I never imagined the boss would get the chop. As many have already commented, McDermott performed miracles to even get the Royals this far - and they certainly haven't disgraced themselves in the top division.

What this blog is about though, is whether sacking the manager at this stage ever improves a team's position.

My own personal logic would dictate that once the January transfer window is out of the way, it is harder for a new manager to make changes, and that any improvements made can only be psychological - the 'honeymoon period'.

So here we go - in the ten years since the transfer window was introduced, let's see whether rash late-season managerial decisions ever help the league position. All sackings (and sackings only, not resignations) will be included, from February onwards.

2003 - Terry Venables (Leeds) - 15th/15th NO
            Jean Tigana (Fulham - 15th/14th YES

2004 - No sackings after January

2005 - Kevin Keegan (Man City) - 12th/8th YES

2006 - Graeme Souness (Newcastle)- 15th/7th YES
           Mick McCarthy (Sunderland) - 20th/20th NO

2007 - Chris Coleman (Fulham) - 15th/16th NO

2008 - No sackings after January (Mind you, there were eight managerial changes between the start of the season and Allardyce leaving Newcastle in January, including seven sackings... panic stations!)

2009 - Tony Adams (Portsmouth) -  16th/14th YES
           Felipe Scolari (Chelsea) - 4th/3rd YES
2010 - Phil Brown (Hull) - 19th/19th NO

2011 - Roberto Di Matteo (West Brom) - 16th/11th YES

2012 - Mick McCarthy (Wolves) - 18th/20th NO
           Andres Villas-Boas (Chelsea) - 5th/6th NO

So on 12 occasions in the last ten years, chairmen have decided to remove their managers, giving new incumbents no chance to make their own personnel changes. Does it work?

On the face of it, it seems to be an equal split. In six out of 12 scenarios, the league position was improved. Glenn Roeder, Guus Hiddink, and Stuart Pearce proving late season miracle workers at Newcastle, Chelsea, and Man City.

When dealing with the worst relegation concerns however, changing the guard has historically had no effect. Twice the departing manager has been Mick McCarthy. His Sunderland side were down anyway, and went on to become statistically the worst side in Premier League history. Wolves had more of a fighting chance, but Terry Connor blew it, managing no wins.

Ian Dowie had a similarly fruitless attempt at reviving Phil Brown's sinking Hull.

So, Mr Anton Zingarevich faces a challenging task in replacing Brian McDermott. Not one chairman of a team in the relegation zone has sacked their manager after the transfer window and escaped relegation. In each instance, they have been dismissing the manager that got them into the Premier League in the first place.

So late on in the season, with no new signings on the horizon, it is perhaps best to plan for bouncing back. Who better to do that than the man with proven success in that area? If Reading buck the trend, perhaps the men upstairs will get some credit. For now, they will earn the contempt they deserve.


Wednesday, 6 March 2013

A Night At The Opera

Grand larceny may have long been abolished as a crime in the UK, but it appears everyone associated with Manchester United not only want it restored, but the penalty increased to hanging. A quick trawl through the murky depths of the BBC comments section revealed one particular fan urging his fellow aggrieved to make referee Cuneyt Cakir's life a misery forever and ever more.

For anyone who blacked out around 7.30 last night from the all the pre-match excitement, here is an action replay of the incident in question, where United's Portugese winger Nani stuck a few studs in Alvaro Arbeloa:

While obviously a red card seems a harsh decision, and a yellow would normally suffice in the Premier League, we have to remember the context.

European referees have always been somewhat stricter, when it comes to applying the rules to the very letter. And the English myth of decisions never going the way of the visitors at Old Trafford can be put to bed, as United are just another quite big fish in a pond full of them - few bigger than Real Madrid.

My own take on the situation - the ball was not in a dangerous area of the pitch and there was no need for Nani's boot to be that high. He didn't get the ball and his studs made contact with the opponent. As soon as your studs start showing in a key European encounter such as this, you are asking for trouble. Man United can consider themselves unlucky to be out - the ten minutes after the sending off are when they were cut open with the most ease.

BUT. The vitriol that has poured from the United camp since smacks of bad sportsmanship. Rio Ferdinand's aggressive clapping in the face of the officials at the final whistle flies in the face of the 'Respect' campaign. Yes, emotions run high in such a scenario.. but I wonder whether he even saw the incident.

Despite all I have written, would I give a red card for the tackle? The answer would be no, but I could understand why a red was given. Cakir was a very brave man. It was hardly in the league of incorrectly disallowed goals, or a missed offside. No mistakes were made. It is a matter of interpretation, and I have seen far more clear-cut decisions. I guess the only difference is that ITV's beloved Manchester United have been knocked out as a result, and 'that night in Barcelona' can no longer be wheeled out.

Roy Keane may have been looking for a fight in the ITV studios, and looked ready to spontaneously combust if anyone dared to question his opinion in the wake of the match, but he had a point. In no way was it a definite red as he claimed, but the challenge could certainly be deemed to be dangerous within reason. It is not the outrageous miscarriage of justice that the Old Trafford PR machine would like us to believe.

It could even be argued that the controversial decisions were evened out five minutes later. Rafael's clearance against Varane's header had more than a hint of handball about it. Sure, it maybe wasn't intentional, but it stopped a goal, and his arm shouldn't have been in that position. Had that penalty been given, it would've been a certain red card.

On to the action itself, and it is hard to escape the suspicion that the red card changed the game. Man United were containing Madrid quite professionally, but Jose Mourinho earnt his stripes by sending on Modric in place of Arbeloa. He may even have been trying to spare Arbeloa a possible retribution tackle. Whatever the logic behind the decision, Modric's equalizer was wonderful.

With ten men, United looked all at sea - unable to cope with Real attacks. Ronaldo's winner was as inevitable as Fergie sending Rooney on to try and rescue the game - which he couldn't do.

The wait to replicate that fantastic 1999 treble will go on then - as will United's season. Ironically, their European exit may have been the final nail in the coffin of City's own title chances. Fergie's boys were already coping quite well with the rotation required to juggle Europe and the league. Now they can take it easy, with no unwelcome long trips away.

That will be of no consolation to the Old Trafford thousands who trudged away dripping with despair and hurt. As far as the playing staff goes, any burning injustice they feel would do well to go into next season's campaign. Fergie's team talks will be easy next season - 'You should have gone on to win last year, make sure of it yourself this time around.' For now though, it's all a bit sour grapes.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

A match already being described as on tonight...

Probably the biggest sporting event this side of the Atlantic this year takes place this evening. But what can you say about Cheltenham versus Chesterfield that hasn't already been said?

What's that you say? Manchester United are playing Real Madrid? Now there's a match that doesn't need any more spoken about it. So instead let's drop down a couple of levels and look at the nPower Championship.

Cardiff have been showing signs of finally breaking their promotion curse and joining Welsh neighbours Swansea in the Premier League. A seven point lead over third place seems positively nailbiting compared with the country's top division, and manager Malky Mackay will want to stretch that lead as his contenders host Derby tonight.

Derby are a funny club. Since Nigel Clough took charge on the back of dewy-eyed veterans, fondly recalling the Brian days, they have never looked in serious danger of promotion or relegation. Even as I write, they are closer to the bottom of the table than the play-off places. His final positions read - 18th, 14th, 19th and 12th. Derby currently lie 13th. This frustrates me, as whenever I've seen them play, they have shown some good football, and they are always capable of a big win. I hope Clough keeps his job long-term, and slowly inches Derby up the table, but I wonder whether if he wasn't his father's son would there have been more pressure on him?

Another big-name manager hoping to haul his side into the top flight is Gus Poyet at Brighton. Four wins in five games has given the Seagulls promotion push fresh bite. The FA Cup victory over Newcastle in January showcased a brand of football that would light up the Premier League. New signing Leonardo Ulloa has added cutting edge, with a hat-trick in Brighton's 4-1 win over Huddersfield at the weekend. I would love to see them in the top division, as I remember the days of them struggling in the old Third Division, with a young and sprightly Bobby Zamora as their goal machine.

For what it's worth, I predict a 2-1 win tonight for Fergie's men. Just so I can't be accused of ignoring the day's MASSIVE STORY completely. I'll leave that to the Beeb.