August 11, 2009

4 days to go until the start of the REAL season…

The inevitables of this season: Big 4 at the top? Check. Mike Ashley sold Newcastle? Check. Barcelona to retain the Champions League with the ease they won it (they were just teasing Chelsea)? Check. I’ve never done a blog before, so I don’t know how well sarcasm is well conveyed but there you go. Some things are inevitable though: Wolves will go straight back down with an GD total nearer to absolute zero than the normal zero; Alex Ferguson will have a “war of words” with “inexperienced (in English football)/crazy/optimistic” Ancellotti and Arsenal will have to wait another year for their eggs to hatch into babies who will take another 5 years to win a trophy. But whilst these are yet to come, and are only to pass during these few seasons, there are some events, debates and tributes which occur every year often with the same conclusion. Players will get richer; should more technology be introduced into football and the legend Sir Bobby Robson’s passing away to give examples. But who is to say this year will be any different in changing opinions? And more importantly will those who have the power to make differences, make a change of heart finally?

Leaving his death to the third day of this blog I feel a tad disrespectful to Sir Robert William Robson CBE, but without any mention would be the greatest travesty and I do not fall foul of that. I have to admit his greatest work at the manager’s desk at least was slightly before I got interested in football which was at around 1995, but his work in his charity will last much longer. Now I come to think about it, I think I always played football at every possible moment at school: Before school, break, lunchtime, after school, sometimes in between lessons, and when situation allowed, during them too, with weather permitting. But I started following football at around 6 years old; it was just to make friends at my new school after moving from Preston. Obviously Preston would make the natural choice for my favourite club, but at that stage they were so low, nobody cared (well no 6 year olds anyway). So Liverpool it is, which I kind of convinced myself it was because my uncle supported them too, since my Dad didn’t follow football. Anyway what has this got to do with Sir Bobby? It’s to prove he had a whole lot more dedication than me! He was a loyal, knowledgeable, generous, successful and most importantly kind man. He stuck to his teams through thick and thin. Ok, I admit you’re not going to hear anything new here, but it absolutely must be said again and again so that his moral values live on in a troubled game lacking in what may seem at times any sort of conscience.

I admit when I hear about the death of a celebrity, I feel often the praises are too often given without true reason, but this has never been the case with the stories I’ve read about Robson. He seems a man who was there in the sun and the rain, and even during the tornados and blizzards. Whether you were a security guard, or a future England star, he was guaranteed to give you what he could, his respect and it was yours to lose at your own peril. I’ll leave you to find the numerous stories in newspapers, websites and TV reports given by his players and colleagues who often refer to him as a friend, never as a foe. Nobody has a bad word to say about him now; there were times where the pressure was on, and he could have left, but he stuck through his tenure at England especially to come good and could be seen as the 2nd most successful manager of England of all time. But as I said before, it was his generosity, especially in his later years after suffering with cancer numerous times, that made him truly special. Giving all his players, staff, fans, the press and even opposing teams his time and wisdom (albeit his often misunderstood quotes, note “In a year’s time, he’s a year older” for example). Recently his money and time have been spent towards his own cancer charity and setting up a replay of that classic 1990 World Cup Semi-Final for this cause, where this time he believed the right team finally won. It is inevitable the legends we aspire to be will pass away, but he achieved a massive amount not only in football, but in helping others too. A truly remarkable man will be sorely missed not only in the football world, but one that needs his sort of true kindness more often.

Generosity is something which is often seen as a trait which today’s footballers and managers fail to bear. We only expect them to be so generous because their club is so generous towards them, with wages and transfer fees increasing and seemingly failing to be hit by the recession. What players do with their money is up to them and usually keep it private, if they aren’t on the NOTW bug hit list, but for some reason people see there is room to debate when it comes to what clubs do with their money. Whether it is how much they pay their players on a weekly basis or how much it takes to get rid of the ex-manager, inevitably the tabloids decide it’s too much. Let’s say they do, then where should the money go? Premiership tickets are not the easiest to get, especially the higher the league you get, so can we expect ticket prices to decrease when demand is so high? More on community projects, where often players give up some of their personal time to give back to those who are not so fortunate in places which are often full of schemes to help such children? More on larger stadiums, which would still leave the largest of clubs in hundreds of millions of pounds of debt? Or give it to those which earn these clubs their reputation and money; those who the fans pay to see. Having watched “The Big Questions” when such a topic was discussed, one of the UK’s top psychologists/sociologists/idontgiveacrapologists believed that Ronaldo should be paid a pound above the minimum wage and was followed by a roar from one half of the crowd and pure laughter by the other. Basically a cap is beneficial... for those at the bottom and that usually means you!

An option for all this money is a promotion of technology. But is it inevitable that in the near future, goal-line cameras and replay footage will be used by referees straight after it is seen on the pitch? I hope it is, as there have been cases in cricket and tennis, where it works, admittedly not without a few flaws at first. But when you are comparing rock solid video evidence to a person’s personal view, which can be up to 50 yards away from the incident. Sepp Blatter, the current FIFA President, expected goal-line technology to be in place by 2007, so why is it we have failed to see his plans come into existence? Opponents argue that human error is just part of a game, and reliance on technology is not sportsman like, but surely the most accurate result between two sides is what both teams want. Especially if you’re a Watford fan expecting a replay versus Reading! Another argument, is that relying on technology will imply even less respect for the referee, but surely knowing the result is correct will cause fewer arguments with the referee and better communication between the officials themselves.

I’ve never experienced playing for a proper club at any level at football. I admit the furthest I got was playing for my primary school B team, where my record was an impressive played one, won one and how many players can say they have a hundred percent record? Gareth Bale can’t manage a one percent at the moment! Even as a supporter to the A side we held a 100 percent record when I was there, which was all but the two matches we lost, ironically to the primary feeder school of the secondary school where I ended up. But nevertheless I have read many stories and talked to a few young footballers who tell me of the harsh world of youth football and that annoying American innuendo/phrase “making the cut”. To be fair, many young players want it so badly they would make the cut to make the cut, but if they don’t, is there any hope left for them? Do they try at a lesser league or just get on with their “normal” ambitions? Turn to religion or maybe to Glenn Hoddle, whom they could be calling their saviour if his camp has worked its miracles. The Glenn Hoddle Academy opened in 2008, designed to get players formerly of the top two English leagues back into the game at the top level. The club has had some relative success, but it must be a massive blow when you’re told for the second time and what must be the final time, that it’s time to let go of your dream. It is of note that the Academy is actually based in Jerez, and that it is not only English clubs who have their eye on these players, but if they do move, it is Hoddle’s Academy to receive any compensation fee when a club decides to take the player from the Spanish resort. As we’ve seen recently, England managers are inevitably going to appear in the news and for Glenn, this is no different!

August 10, 2009

5 days until the start of the REAL season

Well it may have been Norwich who endured an embarrassing 7-1 drubbing at home to Colchester but its Southampton at the foot of the table on a rather impressive minus nine points. Whether you had sympathy for the Saints at the end of last season is now irrelevant; they seemed to be freefalling into football oblivion not too dissimilar to Leeds, who are stuck in League One for the third year running, which some say will be ambitious for Southampton to achieve. However despite their debatable administration issues (who cares, since they were going down anyway!), they were bought out by a German business man, whose name translates as Mr Love-man. But it won’t be love that will save Southampton from the abyss; it will be fortune and more of the money than luck kind. Again it did not take long for the investors to make the necessary moves to take the club forward, and just 9 days after taking over, named ambiguous Alan Pardew (“rakes/rapes”?) as manager, who has never had managerial experience at the third tier of English football. Third tier football for a team who in the past 6 years had been FA Cup runners-up and experienced UEFA cup football is a daunting task, but again is not too unlike Leeds and also Leicester City. But while Leeds have taken their time on returning to the Championship, it required just one season from the Foxes after a dominant start of the season turned into a journey which was bumpy along the way yet always seemed destined for a return to the second tier. However Leicester did not lose the amount of players Leeds have been forced to sell due to administration, a list which includes Bradley Wright-Phillips, Danny McGoldrick and Stern John as well as Michael Svensson due to retirement. In my opinion, Southampton will hold their place in League One comfortably and will be making their due return to the Championship in a few years time, as long as their financial backers are reliable and increase the numbers on their tiny squad, but I am certain of that about the same amount I am of Mike Ashley winning a popularity contest in Newcastle.

After losing in the play off semi-final last year, bookies believe that it could well again be Leeds year and that it is all theirs to lose again. Once again the number of outgoing players far exceeds the number of incomers, but it is the loss of notable youngster Fabian Delph to Aston Villa whose fee could help United to secure promotion. Others in the running include also recently relegated Charlton, Huddersfield and MK Dons. Midlands club Walsall, who had mixed fortunes last season finishing 13th but opening a training complex, are again looking for a possible promotion through the playoffs having only just promoted two years ago. A promotion to the Championship is what everyone wants, but it requires 46 games of pure work: is it worth it?

Undoubtedly yes; you have to admit, the Championship is something else, more class than Coca Cola League 1 and more grit than the Premiership and also has the unique element (from all the leagues that I know of), where there are more teams who are able to finish in the top four than those who are not, (unless you’re referring to the seemingly controversial ladders that Warwick 5-a-side run???).

I admit: I was naive. I admit: I didn’t take Hull City, Stoke City and West Bromwich Albion seriously when they entered the Premier League. And I admit my final sin: I still don’t. But to see two of those sides stay up because of their grit and at times forcing clubs from the top 4 read their script (note Arsenal’s defeat to Hull and Liverpool’s frustrating draws against Stoke) forces you to take a look at where they came from, a league which many say is nothing in comparison to what true Premier League football is about. I accept a lot of the time, the football isn’t pretty but when has Blackburn versus Bolton ever been a pretty match? Like in every high positioned league, you see glimpses of football which is reminiscent of those, who are at the top. I’m not saying that I expect Ebanks-Blake to claim the Golden Boot in South Africa, I am saying that playing in the Championship has to be seen as a opportunity which is itself to be seen by those top flight clubs, may it be Arsenal (Theo Walcott/ Aaron Ramsey) or Wolverhampton Wanderers (Kevin Doyle). So Wolves may start the season at the bottom, but like Arsenal at the top, I would be surprised to see them finish that way.

But back to this year’s Championship. As suggested beforehand, it would take me far too long to go through each club’s chances and although I consider these holidays empty, predicting how many managers QPR will have this season is a step beyond boredom. As I said at the start, I will start at the bottom, and this means Leicester City, my local Football League side, whom I have had the pleasure of never watching. After winning League one by a considerable margin, the Foxes didn’t hesitate to make some moves in the market, signing youngster Jack Hobbs from Liverpool and the more experienced championship midfielder Richard Wellens from Doncaster Rovers. The bookies quite rightly give them a very good chance of staying up, with putting their odds of them leaving it the right way about the same as them doing it the wrong way.

Fellow promoted sides, Peterborough and Scunthorpe are not so lucky, and are amongst the favourites to go down with Blackpool, Plymouth and Barnsley. Despite coming good last season for expected relegation battlers Watford, with a formidable 14 goals for a struggling side last season , Tamas Priskin has been sold on to Ipswich Town, despite being told he would stay in Malky Mackay plans for this season.

Town, who were in dire need of attacking power last season as they failed to achieve a playoff place, have seen many changes this summer, but the most important one came as an early present a few games before the end of last season in the form of Roy Keane, former manager of Championship conquerors Sunderland. The changes have come, but not always inward; but to say he has got rid of rotting wood would be a bit harsh on the likes of Tommy Miller and Danny Haynes. His signings may have not been that high profile, but one expects he has some inside on knowledge on the signings of Manchester United midfielder Lee Martin and Black Cat Jack Colblack (easier to type than say). However this exciting and in Keane’s optimistic yet reckless eyes, promising season ahead might have to go through the turmoil Sunderland had at first, with defeat- the first coming at the Ricoh losing 2-1 to Coventry City.

And now to the home of not only myself, but English football itself: Preston North End. I’m about as optimistic as Mick McCarthy will be this season, but I am still sure plenty of PNE fans were pleasantly surprised at their late rise to the playoffs (their 3rd in 5 years) last season, even if it did end in failure. I’m not saying it was unjustified, as their home record was the best in the league, but our away form was dire. Basically we were Stoke for the Championship, but better. Preston have never been known for their buying power and once again is a relatively quiet time compared to some of their rivals, however Paul McKenna, a veteran at his hometown club has been sold to Nottingham Forest for 750k after 12 years of valuable service to the club and Simon Whaley leaves after a dispute with manager Alan Irvine. It is clear why McKenna has been moved on, but whether the club can move forward without his guidance at times may be asked many times this season, no less than on Saturday when the Lilywhites conceded twice at home against Bristol City, despite creating a few good chances and Paul Parry having a wonderful debut. They had it in them to bring it back in the final 10 minutes through an impressive finish from Jon Parkin, whom I feel PNE will rely on again this season, and a controversial last minute penalty converted by Callum Davidson. Well they’ve got summat special! But as I said before, so do more than half of the League!

Deepdale may be the home of English Football, but when you ask the majority of Championship fans which stadium do they look forward to travelling to, it’s St. James Park. Yep it happened, water kept on trickling in through the breaking seams of the Geordie ship despite SOS shouts from players and its owner. It sank and took the team and the fans with it, because nobody was listening? Or because nobody believed it was going to fall to the realms of the second tier? I have to admit I was one of them, until two thirds of the way into the season that is, then I thought: How have Newcastle played not only this season, but the last few? The answer in short is below average. They lack creativity, teamwork and any sort of respectable defence. Names such as Martins, Owen and Viduka rarely performed well enough in my eyes, and when they did, it was even rarer to see them play well together). Worst defender in the Premiership last season? Well, although I’m tempted on personal bias, Andreas Dossena for what seemed to be consistent attempts to sabotage a title-challenge, it has to go to Fabricio Colocinni. Slow to react as well as just plain slow, are just a couple of the hundreds of words I could use to describe how pathetic this guy is, and on Saturday he proved me right once again. To be fair, he made the football more entertaining; that is his only cause for being on a football pitch and so that couch potatoes and potentially the odd woman can shout at their TV: “I could defend better than that piece of shite, give me a contract of a million plus a year!” But enough Argentina bashing, what has changed? Well all of a sudden quite a lot. I watched a whole half of Championship football on the BBC was the first change and the second was that I saw Newcastle actually play some nice football even if they were to concede a scrappy goal. Their return in the second half however was a just reward of the football they had been playing, and I was particularly impressed by Alan Smith in his DM role, with still the same amount of passion and vigour as ever. Andy Carroll I hope will flourish in the Championship, and hopefully they will find a replacement for Colocinni before the transfer deadline. Question marks are still being put over the manager and owner positions with Mike Ashley now re-re-rethinking his decision to sell the club, but now almost in place to install David O’Leary as manager. O’Leary experienced the start of the crisis at Leeds at the start of the Millennium, but whether he can end the one at Newcastle is the big question and I am quite doubtful he is the right man especially considering he has not managed since Aston Villa in 2006. Big names have gone at the club, but fans remain, and they must do so throughout the season, however bitter the defeat may taste, if Newcastle have a chance of bouncing straight back up.

Bouncing straight back up seems natural for WBA, having done it twice before, and they have been labelled as bookies favourites for the Championship crown. The other relegated team Middlesborough, who have managed to keep a surprising amount of their players, are not far behind evenly matched with Newcastle, and then it is Sheffield United and the Tractor Boys. I will mention Nottingham Forest, who despite finishing 19th last season are believed to have a better season under former PNE and Derby boss Billy Davies. I mentioned him before, and here I will mention him for his father’s sake since the comparisons will be made a million times by others, so I’m allowed one: Nigel Clough does not have too tough a job on his hands, since he knows he has the players to at least get a playoff spot, despite only sealing Championship football with just a game to go last season, but any improvement on last season will be heavily welcomed. He will have an interesting time explaining his two signings from last club Burton Albion though...

Tomorrow: The inevitables?

August 09, 2009

6 days to go until the start of the REAL season…

Pig! It was me with the flu last night, but it was my TV hogging sister who was the one laden with swine like qualities as she demanded the football be turned off! But wait a minute, the REAL football season is still 6 days away, and here I was, watching Championship football on the Beeb, and live championship football at that! And furthermore I was enjoying it!

The summer has been filled with rumours, speculation and some spectacular rumours as well as some actual transfers. However it still seems empty without a European Championship or a world cup, so we all eagerly wait for the start of the domestic season, which I suppose technically started on Friday night at the Riverside where Championship teams Middlesborough and Sheffield United played out the first dull 0-0 of the term. I may have been a bit harsh on the Football League, but I'm making a new start, to give it some credit and not be a Premier League snob.

But if I'm going to do this, I'm going to do it right, but where do I start? At the bottom of course. Well not Bristol Downs Football League division 4, but from Coca Cola League 2. Slight problem there though, I don't know too much about this area, but I'll give you what I do. Burton Albion, having waited 59 years, have finally made the jump to the Football League. They're one of my local teams here in the east midlands, but to you they were that really small team that held Man U to a replay a few years back. The rise of the club is in large part down to Nigel Clough, son of Brian, who held the manager's post for over 10 years before moving down the road to Derby. Whether they will last I have no idea at the moment, but I do know they have a Canadian manager... oh and that they lost 3-1 away to Shrewsbury in their opening fixture.

And now to the biggest shock in the football world during this summer at... Meadow Lane. Sven "He's got Jimmy Saville's haircut so how'd he get a lovely girlfriend" Goran Eriksson has been appointed at Notts County as "Director of Football". When asked on Football Focus, what this job entails, he must have named at least 3 different duties as Coach, Scout and Academy Manager as well as a general helper (does this mean boot cleaner too?) which might go an inch into explaining why he's being paid 2 million pounds a year. He's doing what all of us Sports Interactive Football Managers have always simulated to do: win the duodecuple for a decade and being voted "Best manager of all time" for the 5th year in a row, to then go to one of the worst teams possible and bring them to the premiership and further glory. Hmmm, not sure if the rest of the Football League will let that script run out. How do Notts County go about paying this chap? Well through foreign investors of course! They have been given multi-million pound backing by a Middle Eastern Consortium, part of Munto Finance Ltd. After just a week of taking over, they already had Eriksson on the books. Understandably, the manager (but for how long?), Ian McParland, is in a tricky situation, almost being stalked by the Swede. He and Notts County have a lot of work to do, not even finishing in the top half of League 2 last season, in lowly 19th. However the partnership has got off to a great start with a 5-0 victory over Bradford at home.

With such an emphatic start and with hopes and finances so high at Meadow Lane, it might be understandable to see why Notts County are runaway favourites to top League 2, followed by Rotherham, who during the pre-season beat Manchester City (XI) and have made several signings during the summer, including record signing Tom Pope from Crewe. Rotherham also under new ownership since last season, enjoyed cup runs in the JPT Northern section where they reached the final, where they were defeated by League 1 side Scunthorpe United, and the Carling Cup where they defeated Championship sides Wolves, Sheffield Wednesday and Southampton on the way.

But lets remember, not every consortium takeover turns to success, just look at Portsmouth and more local to Notts, Leicester City.

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  • Norwicho will rocks soon… nice thoughts to share.. like to read more from you rajinder.. by kumar on this entry

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