Posts Tagged ‘football’

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Two divisions below

January 2, 2008

Five days ago I posted my “Eight for 2008” – my list of 8 things I hoped would come about in the New Year.

Well one of my 8 has come to pass, on New Year’s Day, when Sheffield Wednesday did beat Preston North End at Hillsborough. It may well sadly be the only one of the eight to come to fruition.

The three points were obviously very welcome, but there was really nothing else to cheer about. I had taken my wife and two of the kids as a New Year’s Day “treat”. At the end of the first half, with Wednesday trailing to a goal given away by a hair-pullingly shocking Lee Bullen underhit back pass, I felt I had to turn to my family and apologise for bringing them to the game. The standard of football from both sides was so abject that my wife remarked “This is supposed to be Championship football. There are two divisions below this*! What on earth can they be like?”

It was indescribable. No-one seemed able to make a pass to a colleague. Balls were just hoofed aimlessly. The Owls would win possession and immediately give it away again. No sense of urgency or purpose. Above all no confidence. I can’t recall a more desperate performance, even in the depths of League 1 under Chris Turner.

Another one of my wife’s observed comments was that there was no way anyone was going to score by constructive football; it would take a defensive lapse. And so it proved. Preston benefited from Bullen’s howler in the first half and Wednesday equalised when Preston’s goalie Lonergan panicked in the face of the onrushing Akpo Sodje, misjudged his run, let the ball bounce over his head and left Akpo with an open goal. It was somewhere between farcical and tragic.

Wednesday’s winner, around 10 minutes from time, was courtesy of a penalty for a needless handball.

It’s hard to claim the Owls deserved the win. They did play a good deal better in the second half (Laws must have have given them a good roasting and basting) but still created little. The only two real chances created from open play fell to Preston. They were very good chances indeed and Wednesday had a real let-off on each occasion.

What was refreshing was Brian Laws’s honesty when interviewed on the radio after the game. His assessment was brutally frank and accurate. The game had been shocking and bereft of discernible football, particularly in the first half, and he had the good grace to come out and say it in as many words.

All power to you, Brian. An honest man, committed and professional.

Let’s hope the board can see their way to giving him just a bit of support in the transfer window. If they don’t we’re sunk and it would make no difference if you put Capello, Scolari or Mourinho in charge.

*In the professional game – Ed

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Fabio Capello: More crewcut than haute coiffure

December 14, 2007

Fabio Capello is not the ideal manager for the England football team (for a start he is not English, is not a fluent English speaker and is not famed for playing the beautiful game), but he is quite categorically the right man for the FA to put their faith in at this time. In the current circumstances he is as ideal as we are going to get.

I have had my doom and gloom binge in the immediate aftermath of England’s bungled and calamitous failure to qualify for Euro 2008 and the inevitable departure of Steve McClaren. It is still true that only by making a spectacularly good choice of new England manager can there be any hope of averting the descent into footballing oblivion I alluded to in my earlier post. Thankfully, Capello is the right choice, the ray of hope to pierce my despondency.

Capello is the kind of manager to turn to when you’re in a bind. If your overpaid, decadent, under-motivated, arrogant Golden Generation is not performing, you need Fabio Capello to come in and sort them out. Language is not a problem. He doesn’t need anyone to translate “prima donna” for him.

Don’t expect much on the style front. But you can expect results.

Twice Real Madrid have called on Capello as their Mr Fix It in times of dire decline. The first time in 1996 and again in 2006. On the latter occasion his challenge was to arrest the downward spiral caused by Real’s over-reliance on their ageing and underperforming Galacticos, the “untouchables” past their sell-by dates who needed a good kick up their pants or just a kick out the door. Capello won La Liga at the first time of asking (as he had done in 1996/7) and was again rewarded with his P45.

Fabio Capello

Real see him as the man to stop the rot, clear out the chaff, bring back self-belief, get results when only results matter. They don’t see him as the man to produce the sort of football they want to watch. Capello (incidentally the Italian word for “hair”) is more crewcut than haute coiffure. Once the emergency repair is done they’ll find someone else to inject the style the fans demand. Dear Fabio can busy himself elsewhere until the club goes off the rails again.

And busy himself he will, with the England team. Real’s loss, our gain.

Kudos to the FA for keeping their heads down, their mouths shut and getting on with the job. No bungling, this time. No farcical leaks, ill-judged approaches or embarrassing public rebuffs.

Rather less kudos to the media. No sooner had McClaren been given his marching orders than Fabio thrust his arm up in the air and said “I want the job! I can do it for you!” And the response of the British media? “Oh, apparently this Capello bloke wants the job, but never mind, lets look at the wider field of possible candidates. Which English managers might be an option this time? And wouldn’t it be great if Mourinho took the job?”

Mourinho is the darling of the British press. Far less qualified in terms of track record than Capello, but far higher profile here and his antics have captured the imagination of many. I really could not see Mourinho as England manager. Thank heavens he turned it down.

So the arrival of Capello has lifted my gloom a little, but there are still some unanswered questions:

Is he a short term fix?

Obviously he will sign up for an extended contract, but then so did Steve McClaren. The question remains: are we (or should we be) looking to him the way Real Madrid are apt to, as a short-term troubleshooter? Will we enjoy the upturn in our fortunes but tire of his brand of football after a while?

Will Capello play “British football”?

The raw materials are different. English players are used to football at break-neck pace, not the measured possession football more characteristic of the continent. Capello will want discipline, strong defence, effective marking, control of the ball on the pitch. Can our players play that way, or can he find English players with the qualities he needs? Will he retain any of those elements of British football which mark us out and sometimes discomfort the opposition, for all their silky passing skills?

Will Capello’s methods translate to the International arena?

Capello’s method is based on discipline, on hard work, on doing it his way. He does not suffer fools or wise guys.

He can establish his tough regime when he is installed at a club and has hands on influence over everything, every day. Can that still work when he only has the players for a week here and a week there? Will they go back to their clubs in between times and revert? How will Capello’s football ethic be sustained?

I don’t know the answers but Capello will work it out. He is an intelligent and supremely confident man. A winner.

Not only that, but a winner who actively wants the job. He does not fear the reputational damage of an ignominious exit such as McClaren’s. The notion of failure does not come into it. He is not so young any more, and has only success on the International stage left to crown a peerless career in football.

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England football team relegated to the wilderness

November 29, 2007

The consequences of England’s defeat to Croatia last week go far beyond mere failure to qualify for the 2008 European Championships. That particular unedifying result has consigned our national football team to the sporting wilderness. We will be frozen out for years. Hasta la vista, England.

Maybe you’re thinking this is just a blip. After all, we’ve missed out on qualification for major tournaments before and bounced back. You might be forgiven for imagining we need only pick a manager a bit better than the last one and we’ll storm back for the 2010 World Cup.

steve mcclaren

Maybe not so easy this time. We saw the impact of the loss to Croatia almost immediately. That result affected our position in the world rankings so the following Sunday, when the draw for the World Cup qualification rounds was made in Durban, we were not one of the top 9 seeded countries allocated to the 9 European qualifying groups. Our top seed status had gone to Greece. To qualify for the World Cup finals we now have to come top in a group including Croatia (again), as the top seeded country, or finish second and win a play-off against another team finishing in second place in their group.

How good are our chances? We were well behind Croatia’s standard in the European qualification group and have a lot of catching up to do. If the best we can manage is second (which is not itself a given), we are still likely to be facing a tough play-off. Would we come through that? We bottled it against Croatia last week, despite having been given an unlikely and undeserved second chance courtesy of Israel.

On balance, I am not at all confident we will make the 2010 World Cup. If we fail again, our world ranking will tumble further and qualifying for Euro 2012 will become harder still. Is it my imagination or are we staring into the abyss?

To stave that off we have to pull off a miracle, beat the odds and qualify for the 2010 World Cup. That means finding a new England coach who truly has what it takes to turn the ship around. What hope of that?

Brian Barwick is still there at the helm for the FA. The man who botched the job last time around. Admittedly, last time the FA found themselves (through their own mishandling of Sven Goran Eriksson’s departure) having to make an appointment in a hurry. This time they have all the time in the world so it should be easier.

Except that, as a legacy of the previous England manager appointment process, some of the best candidates are already out of the frame. How likely that Felipe Scolari might reconsider, or Martin O’Neill, after the way they were treated by Barwick in the past?

There is another factor that will put many of the best candidates off. Taking on the England job is looking a less and less attractive proposition. Particularly in the aftermath of the McClaren sacking, the job is looking ever more like a recipe for having to live with intolerable pressure of expectation, incessant intrusion from the media and the real risk of it all ending in career-limiting reputational damage.

The best job in football? Ask Graham Taylor, or Steve McClaren. Terry Venables did not benefit from being put under the spotlight, nor Glen Hoddle. The same is true of Sven. He has landed up in a reasonable position with Manchester City, after a while out of football, but still his stock has fallen considerably.

And all this despite being blessed with the “golden generation” of players. More like the iron pyrites generation. What about the next generation, the one we need to be platinum to get us out of this rut? All we hear is that English talent is being squeezed out of the Premiership by the influx of foreign stars. We get the best league in the world, but at the expense of our national team. Add to that the fact we have totally failed to grasp the nettle when it comes to sorting out football at the grass roots, creating the academies to teach our best young prospects the footballing techniques to complement their natural skills and turn them into future world-beaters. Our next generation of England footballers will probably be the plastic generation.

One possible opportunity to claw our way back into the bigtime might be to land the privilege of hosting the 2018 World Cup. Our chances looked quite decent until recently, but now…

It’s a horrible snowball effect, set in train by that awful “sliding doors” moment when we thought Crouch’s equaliser had saved the day, took our foot off the gas and invited Croatia on to us, setting the scene for their deserved winner.

And all this doom and gloom is just the impact of the Croatia defeat on our footballing prospects. Add the social and economic impact of England’s exclusion from forthcoming major football tournaments and the picture is even worse.

This time we do have to get the right manager. This time the FA must be professional, take their time, ignore the media, get the right man. This time, the FA must secure the investment to reorganise football at the grass roots and upwards.

This time. Because we might be in the wilderness for 40 years before the next time.

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