Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Laudrup Sacked.

Swansea City tonight took the astounding step of sacking Michael Laudrup, merely a day after Huw Jenkins claimed they had not discussed his future. The Welsh outfit took the league by storm last year, finishing eighth, and qualifying for the Europa League via a brilliant League Cup triumph.

However, this season, injuries to star striker Michu, Wifried Bony's slow start to life in England, and the added fixture list led to a slump in league form which currently leaves them with six defeats in eight games and only two points off the relegation places.

This decision can never come as a total surprise, given the volatile nature of today's Premier League, but victories at Manchester United and Valencia should not be forgotten, and if Jenkins truly thought his side was no better than at least three of the sides around them, he has severe paranoia issues. They may have been in a bit of a sticky patch, but Swansea remained only one win from a top-half placing, and one must wonder who can hope to follow in Laudrup's footsteps.

Surely, given last season's mishaps, Laudrup deserved more time to turn things around. Mike Ashley at Newcastle is guilty of many footballing misdemeanours, but he at least allowed Pardew to remain the captain of his ship through even choppier waters. Sixteenth last season was followed by what (for now) is a comfortable eighth place position, with less of the growing hassle that is the Europa League. If Pardew can do it, so can Laudrup, a man who is generally much more saught after, and was touted around Spain in the summer. He probably won't stay jobless for long.

In the statement attached to the sacking, Jenkins pointed to the fact that he hadn't sacked a manager in ten years, as if it makes the timing and actual carrying out of the decision any less ludicrous. It is easy to be loyal when managers are bringing you success. Not so long ago Swansea were struggling to stay in the Football League, but having been spoilt with Roberto Martinez, Brendan Rodgers, and now Laudrup, the Swansea hierarchy may find that their impatience will come back to haunt them.

Jenkins may have a Pochettino-esque ace up his sleeve, and Swansea do seem to be similarly set up, to allow for a revolving door managerial system. But Southampton got lucky - there are only so many managers who would be able to do what Laudrup did. It is not even a year since that glorious day at Wembley, and Laudrup, along with the vast majority of football fans, will be stunned at what they are seeing.

Kinnear Resigns From World's Easiest Job.

After eight months in charge of Newcastle's overwhelmingly underwhelming transfer activity, Joe Kinnear has resigned as the club's director of football, in the latest twist of the Irishman's bizarre Tyneside adventure.

As shocked as the fans were that he was the replacement for Kevin Keegan as manager back in 2008, to be put in charge of Newcastle's recruitment drive last summer really took the biscuit for strange decisions made by Mike Ashley. Alan Pardew was already feeling the heat after a desperately disappointing 16th place last season, and Kinnear's appointment read like a blatant attempt to undermine him ahead of the new season.

Against all the odds however, Pardew has outlasted Kinnear, with the boss becoming more and more frustrated with a transfer policy that has yielded only two loan signings and the sale of star player Yohan Cabaye. Pardew, in the wake of the shocking 3-0 home defeat to Sunderland, intimated that if he was in charge of player incomings things would have been different - it looks like Kinnear has listened, and jumped before being pushed.

More cynical observers would suggest that Kinnear was merely doing the job set out for him by Ashley. Newcastle have been the most profitable club in all the most recent transfer windows, so from a business point of view the Irishman hasn't done badly. From a football point of view however, the perspective that the manager and fans hold, he badly let the club down. In a season of transition for all the top clubs, with a bit of ambition Newcastle could have been fighting it out for fourth place. Instead, a top-half finish will take some doing, with form and morale low.

Ambition doesn't have to mean splashing millions out on players the club can't afford, as was the case when Freddie Shepherd held ownership. However, to not ensure the replacement of players like Cabaye, or properly strengthen the attack, leaves Newcastle in danger of losing what quality they have. Yet again, an opportunity has been missed, and one suspects that with Ashley in charge the pattern will continue.

Monday, 3 February 2014

Man City 0-1 Chelsea - City's Invincibility Ended By The Old Master.

For perhaps the first time this season, Manchester City never really looked like scoring. The team that has broken all the records, yet still went into the evening behind Arsenal at the top, may look back on tonight as the night their dreams evaporated. It was by no means a title decider, but perhaps a reminder that for all the talk of quadruples, and history-making, there are 19 other teams in this league, and at least two others in the title race.

Branislav Ivanovic hauled Chelsea level on points with City, with a beautifully struck 32nd minute effort, and truthfully, the away side fully deserved it. All the talk in the build-up was of Chelsea showing us a masterclass of parking the bus, and of Jose Mourinho's inevitable hypocrisy. He would be sent packing with a heavy defeat and Sam Allardici would smirk to himself over a pint in one of West London's numerous pubs. Not the case. Instead the masterclass was of counter-attacking; a compact midfield three of Nemanja Matic, Ramires, and Willian providing the ideal platform for Eden Hazard to run rings around a decidedly suspect-looking City backline.

The movement was hypnotic, the passing was crisp, and the space Chelsea were finding should have been punished by more than the one goal. The woodwork came to City's rescue three times, and Hazard gave evidence to support his claim as the Premier League's standout attacking midfielder, at least this week. A Man City side containing Yaya Toure and David Silva looked bereft of both urgency and creativity, something that must be reversed if Manuel Pellegrini is to come anywhere near his bold predictions of quadruple glory.

Fortunately for the home side, they are unlikely to come across a team so well-organised as Mourinho's Chelsea again this season, but to not only fail to win but lose could yet prove costly at the end of the season. Mourinho has time and time again played down his side's title chances, claiming that second place would be ahead of schedule for his plan, but secretly he will smell blood. Both Arsenal and City are wonderful to watch in full flow, but Mourinho has the most recent experience of the three managers in winning the Premier League. It would be foolish to call the Stamford Bridge men the new title favourites, but their odds would have been significantly shortened on the blowing of the final whistle.

Pellegrini and Man City may yet re-write the history books, but tonight acted as a gentle reminder of mortality - they can be beaten, even at the Etihad. The next visitors - Gus Poyet's rejuvenated Sunderland - will perhaps not feel quite the same trepidation, as the cloak of invincibility has fallen from the Sky Blues. About bloody time.

The Italian Jobby.

The situation at Leeds United is one that practically invites sweeping statements. Brian McDermott, the respected manager, already somewhat harshly treated at Reading, is now at the centre of a situation threatening to tear Elland Road apart.

Massimo Cellino is the latest in a long line of foreign owners; some being more suitable than others. It is wise not to tar all new arrivals with the same brush, as Manchester City and Southampton are examples of clubs who have blossomed with foreign intervention.

The problem is, some bring with them financial instability, while at the same time claiming to be the solution to a club's woes. Leeds are thought to be in yet another spot of monetary bother, and growing ever more desperate for a suitable buyer to dig them out of their latest hole. It looks like they will have to wait a while longer after a quick skim through Cellino's financial misdemeanours.

Cellino has a criminal record, containing two suspended sentences, one for defrauding the EU and Italian Ministry for Agriculture out of £7.5m, the other for false acounting at Cagliari. He may yet face further action, as he will soon stand trial for embezzlement related to the Cagliari stadium rebuilding. The Football League's regulations already bar Cellino from taking over at Leeds, despite the Italian claiming to have bought 75% of the club.

Financial/criminal problems aside, does he really have the knowledge of English football, or the due respect for a manager who has stabilised the club? When McDermott took over in April, the club was in disarray - Warnock had left Leeds five points above the relegation with six games remaining. McDermott steadied the ship, delivering 13th place for a team that had been expected to challenge for promotion.

While Leeds have fallen off the pace in recent weeks, the 5-1 thrashing of Huddersfield leaves them eight points off the top six, with a game in hand on some teams above them. Relegation is not even crossing the minds of the Elland Road faithful, and nor should it with crowds of over 30,000 every week. McDermott performed a miracle to get Reading into the Premier League, and if he remains in charge next season should be backed to go all the way again.

The FA's much-maligned 'fit and proper person' test is all very well for financial purposes, and will probably eventually bar Cellino from ever taking charge of Leeds, or any other club in England, but tradition and courtesy is just as important for new owners to take into account. At Blackburn, Cardiff, Man United, Newcastle, and countless other clubs, fans' feelings have been dismissed as old-fashioned in today's glitzy glamorous footballing world. To dismiss a well-respected manager by phone via a lawyer, before even formally taking charge, is quite low on the moral-ometer indeed.

Leeds should pray the FA stick to their guns, and tell the Italian arrivederci.