Proof that heart and grit can be keys to success

No one is going to claim that Rangers played pretty flowing football in their UEFA Cup Semi Final 2nd Leg against Fiorentina. The Italians had all the flair and passing and fleetness of foot you could want. They created many a chance. Trouble is, they didn’t stick any of them in the net. Now that’s not to say their strikers were inept athough a couple of the missed chances were pretty simple. What really happened was that Walter Smith and Ally McCoist manufactured a tactical masterpiece and their players followed the plan faithfully for every minute of the 120.

The defensive organisation should be studied for years to come. The sheer will not to conceed needs to be understood by psychologists and lectured to other football teams. And the raw energy, belief, heart, grit, determination and all the other words that mean ‘precious little flair but plenty of basic football skill allied to desire’ was uplifting, frankly.

I hadn’t meant to watch this match but it became, as these games do, utterly compelling. And as the minutes ticked by, my desire not to see Rangers concede grew in concert. I love seeing sportspeople put themselves on the line. Really give absolutely everything in pursuit of their goal. I love it when genius is involved and I love it when strength of character is involved. And the bald fact was that Rangers did not want to concede more than Fiorentina wanted to score.

Thence to penalties and the lottery that this is. It was the level playing field Smith had been after. And despite Ferguson’s early miss, there was always the knowledge that somehow, Rangers would prevail. And so they did. The Rangers keeper, Alexander (an ex-Ipswich man, by the way whom our Manager, Jim Magilton let go with his blessing to play on a bigger stage though under no pressure to sell) pulled off the one vital save and put enough pressure on Vieri for the once great man to miss over the bar. Nacho Novo finished the job with a coolly taken winning kick.

There may not have been guile and beauty in Rangers’ victory but there were the mechanics of an astute plan deployed to perfection. And actually, who’s to say that there is no beauty in that?

Well done, Rangers. Well done indeed.

• May 1st, 2008 • Posted in Football • Comments: 0

This should worry every football fan

This is, or should be, of deep concern. Sven Goran Erikson’s possible departure could easily be the tip of the iceberg. I’m talking about rich owners of football clubs being utterly unable to see the facts in front of their face. The Thai bloke (and I won’t quote his name as that might denote some form of respect for him) who owns Man City is demonstrating confounding ignorance. What Sven has done is turn a relegation threatened club into one that plays attractive football and will finish the season comfortably inside the top ten. This is a platform that gives the club real potential to get into Europe next season. Thai bloke apparently expected Europe, or maybe a cup or two, in his first season as owner. Pratt. Rather than applaud the progress, invest a little more and get a club built on strength, belief and respect, he is going to undermine a decent season and start again from scratch. I’d say I hope they fail next season but I don’t bear Man City fans, the victims of this, such ill-fortune.

And perhaps as worrying are the rumblings that Avram Grant might be removed from the Chelsea helm if he doesn’t win the Champions League. WHAT?? I despair. Into the last two games Chelsea are still in the Premiership race. He made the Carling Cup final and is in the final of the Champs league. How can this not be good enough for a man in his first season in charge? Dear God, save us from stupid club owners. Have neither of these people looked at why it is the Man Utd and Arsenal are so consistently successful? And why it is that Aston Villa are making quietly impressive progress?

It worries me because some are treating clubs like personal play things. Meddling in matters they plainly don’t understand and displaying childish impatience that makes them unfit to be owners of our biggest clubs. As more and more clubs are sold to the super rich the problem will only get worse. And what no one wants to think about is what happens when these children tire of their toys and look for something newer and shinier to play with…

• May 1st, 2008 • Posted in Football • Comments: 0

‘Respect’ in football

Look, it’s quite simple. So simple, in fact, that even football players could understand it. When a foul is committed, the man who has committed the foul and his team captain are allowed to speak to the referee about it. No one else. That is because it is no one else’s business. The player fouled need say nothing. After all, the referee has agreed that he has been fouled. None of his team need say anything either for exactly the same reason. Thus, the referee can talk to the offending player and his skipper in a calm and considered fashion (with only thirty thousand fans baying for blood) before explaining what action, if any, he is taking in addition to the free kick given.

If any other player decides to get involved, they should be booked. If they persist, they should be sent off (under current rules there is no sin bin and this is another place where a sin bin would be perfect, by the way). You could throw in this as an extra deterrent. If another player from the offending team joins in, the ball moves forward ten yards. If a player from the oppo gets involved, the decision is immediately reversed.

That’s it. No more surrounding the ref brandishing imaginery cards. No more intimidation of the official. Let him do his job and he will do it better than he does now.

Great scott, how much simpler can it be? Is there anyone out there who doesn’t understand this?

• April 28th, 2008 • Posted in Football • Comments: 2

I agree with Sepp Blatter

There I’ve said it. I didn’t think the day would ever come but it has, courtesy of the extraordinary arrogance and greed of the Premier League. It’s staggering when you sit and think about it. That any country should think their domestic league so important that it should be exported all over the world. How wrong can they get? Supporters across the world don’t love the premier league, they love Chelsea, Man Utd, Arsenal and Liverpool. With the greatest respect, no one cares about Wigan and Bolton. And neither would they care about Ipswich if we were promoted either.

Let’s get one thing straight. All these ‘supporters’ in far flung countries are really nothing of the kind (ex-pats excepted). They are armchair footie-watchers who buy shirts and put up posters of the better-looking players on their walls. They do not understand the culture that underpins English league football. They have no idea what it means for a proud Geordie to be a Newcastle fan and to watch his or her team at St. James’s Park. They know nothing of the joy and pain of being a lifelong fan of your home team. And they never will.

On another tack, I’m trying to work out if these matches could be played at any other time than in a mid-season break. I don’t think so. This is the mid-season break that is needed (so we are told) because it would reduce the number of injuries suffered in the latter months of the season due to the attritional nature of weekly football. Someone needs to tell me how these injuries would be helped by transatlantic flights, a game in God knows what climatic and pitch conditions, appearances, jet lag, acclimatisation training etc.

This is a plan that cares not about the players. It cares not about the home supporters who remain the lifeblood of every club. And it cares not about the essential fairness that MUST underpin a league championship. Look. In a league, every team plays each other home and away. This is fair and equitable. How can having another random round of games meaning you play one club three times be anything else than a mortal blow to the very basic ethic of league football?

It is simply a moronic idea that has the making of money as its only goal. Richard Scudamore would like you to think there is an element of missionary work involved… taking the great game to the provinces and all that. Bollocks. This is more like a crusade, looking to crush other countries’ professional leagues under its steel shod boots. If the Premier League really wants to make money overseas, far better to suport the construction of properly supported pro leagues in places where beamed in TV from Europe makes them struggle so badly. Feeder clubs, places to loan your players, places to find new players for your team. All these can be achieved to the long-term benefit of our league. But it’ll take a bit of altruism to achieve. And I suspect that is a word Scudamore would have to look up. Idiot.

• February 15th, 2008 • Posted in Football • Comments: 0

The return of King Kev. Marvellous

Kevin Keegan’s return to football management at all is good news for those of us who love the characters of the game. That he has come back to manage Newcastle is the perfect storm made flesh.

Whether he succeeds (and I hope he does) or fails, football lovers are in for some terrific times on and off the pitch. Keegan the manager will turn Newcastle into a dynamic footballing force. I’m predicting St James’s Park becoming a true fortress for them once again. And on the road, just bags of goals at either end. At every club he’s managed, this is what we have seen to a large extent and I don’t see his style changing. It must be wonderful to be a Newcastle fan right now. Expect excitement… and rightly so. Expect success… well, a tougher challenge but if he can attract the right players, why not?

Keegan the media face has always been gold dust. He carries his passion for the game and his job to every interview, to every dugout, and he is unafraid to express himself. Most of us will recall the shattering of his dreams in the ‘I would love it if we beat them!’ interview when he had been well and truly ‘Fergied’. I doubt we’ll see such an outburst again. But having watched his press conference this afternoon, and seen the determination and the humour shine through, er are set for some really precious moments.

Gawd love ‘im, it’s great to have him back.

• January 18th, 2008 • Posted in Football • Comments: 0

Capello set for England hot-seat

Almost a done deal, we are told. Here’s why it is a good appointment:

1 – He has a phenomenal track record in club football. Proven to be able to win championships in extremely tough leagues like Spain and Italy.
2 – Not scared of players. If his reputation is true, we might actually see players willing to die for their shirt when they pull on the three lions. We won’t see players shoe-horned into areas where they are not compfortable and we will play a recognisable system as a team. Hallelujah.
3 – Will not stand interference from the FA. This is a very good thing. He won’t be a patsy or a puppet of the board. If they stick their noses in, he’ll walk. We need a manager who will do it his way or not at all.
4 – He actually wants the job.
5 – But most importantly of all, and the reason he was the number one choice… his name is the greatest Christmas gift ever to the tabloid headline writers. Years and years of puns and plays on Fab and Cap and ‘ello!’. They must be drooling with anticipation.

Reasons why we ought to be worried about this appointment:

1 – It has happened in a big rush. The root and branch investigation into English football’s failings appears to have taken three weeks. And even if it is still ongoing, it will be shoved on to the back burner while the FA board cross their fingers and pray Capello delivers success on the field.
2 – It misses the point about the most successful England manager of recent times. Bobby Robson, that is. From small club on limited budget to England manager. The key skill of any national coach is to get the best out of the available talent. This is the same model operated by almost every club outside the top 4 in the premiership. A national manager cannot but in the big player. This is a test for a man like Capello. All very well having millions at Madrid. So we’ll see ifa good CV really does make a good national manager.
3 – All England players will need to learn how to roll over six times following the briefest of contact with an opposition player, or failing that, a stiff blade of grass. Seriously though, I do fear an indulgence of play acting (worse than now…) when we really get to the bones of how to win football matches, Italian style.
4 – He knows nothing at all about English football or its players bar what he has seen on the telly. This was the same for Sven, of course. He didn’t win us the world cup, did he?

Got to say I’m in favour of this move. I think Harry Redknapp would have made a fine choice too and his time will still come. But for now, this appointment will restore hope and that is exactly what English football needs just now.

• December 14th, 2007 • Posted in Football • Comments: 0

No way Jose for England


• December 10th, 2007 • Posted in Football • Comments: 0

FA ‘makes approach’ for Mourinho

Oh, Blimey. Look, everyone. He’s a decent coach, blah blah blah and that he has been approached is not at all surprising if it is true. But read further down the piece. The England job, it says, is not his first choice. That’s what we want for our national side, is it? A coach who’s eye will be forever on La Liga just in case a more attractive job turns up? It says absolutely everything about the commitment we would get from Jose right now. Let him play with Real Madrid. Now there is a cauldron. If he can succeed there, then yes, get him in to coach England if he would then be 100% commited. But not now, or we’ll end up replacing a totally committed coach who was not good enough with a good enough coach not totally committed.

• December 7th, 2007 • Posted in Football • Comments: 0

Stop looking for excuses

There’s going to be a whole lot of fall out after England’s failure to qualify for Euro 2008. A load of soul searching, star gazing. What I’m fearful of is that everything else other than the obvious will be blamed. The number of foreign players in the Premiership, the pitch, the occasion, the position of the planets, biorhythms. Whatever. The bare fact is that, we do not have enough players of the requisite quality to qualify for tournaments, forget winning them. We were without five of our first team last night and the holes they left were enormous.

It should be blindingly obvious to everyone that the reason there are so many foreign players in the Premiership is because they are BETTER THAN THE ENGLISH PLAYERS. Wake up. Our technical skills are woeful. Croatia gave us a lesson in how to play international football last night. Their players are not based in the Croatian league. They play in Holland, England, Italy… all over the place. If we really want English players in the Premiership in greater numbers, they have to prove themselves good enough. And cheap enough, for that matter.

It is clear that our coaching and schooling of young players is wrong at the most basic level. Youngsters should not play anything other than five a side until they are ten, or even older. Physical presence can be developed as a player grows into adolescence. What they need when they begin is to learn the abilities to trap, hold, pass, move, shield, press, control. I don’t care how fast they can run or for how long. It is immaterial. I cringe with embarrassment too often seeing how ‘lesser’ countries are so comfortable on the ball. How easily they pass and move.

There is a reason why Owen Hargreaves is the best technical player in the England side. It is because he learned to play football in Germany.

You do the maths.

• November 22nd, 2007 • Posted in Football, Sport Tech • Comments: 0

But sack him now

England 2, Croatia 3. Actually, you won’t get the chance because he’ll resign. Or he should. It barely matters that this was the game that decided our Euro 2008 fate. The fact is that it was so abject and depressing that had it been the first game, we’d have been howling for change. I’m not going to point the finger at individual players, that is pointless. The real problem is that in a game we only had to draw, we didn’t ever look like doing anything but losing. The formation was wrong for 45 minutes, the players were lacklustre, scared I think. They played poorly (apart from Crouch). There was a fundamental failure in leadership and management here and Maclaren has to carry the can for that. We were given a second chance and we absolutely blew it.

I’m too disappointed to say anything clever and incisive. Next summer is going to be a desert for England fans. And that will hurt.

• November 21st, 2007 • Posted in Football • Comments: 1