Archive for June, 2012

Typical isn’t it? A guy manages a team to 23 consecutive unbeaten games and then as soon as he gets linked to the Spurs job, he manages to lose two on the spin. Laurent Blanc has been widely acclaimed as one of the leading football managers around at the moment. His three years in charge of Bordeaux between 2007 and 2010 saw him win the league in his final season, setting a record for 11 consecutive wins at the end of that season. Having taken charge of France his first job was to suspend all 23 members of the World Cup squad that had embarrased themselves in the 2010 competition in South Africa, for his first game in charge. Blanc has been widely tipped as Sir Alex Ferguson’s successor at Old Trafford and clearly he is held in high regard by his peers.

However, Blanc’s France were widely tipped to do well in Poland and Ukraine for Euro 2012 yet a solitary win against Ukraine is all that they have to show for their efforts. A draw against an unfancied England and successive losses to Sweden and Spain have seen the French return home with the usual fanfare of stories of discord and unrest amongst certain members of the squad. They always were a rebellious bunch these French guys and it seems that not even Blanc has managed to tame the French propensity for self destruction at tournament finals.

OK their second defeat was to a Spain side famed for their keep ball tactic of “tiki taka” football that for once had my eyes refusing to stay open long enough to witness the “ole’s” that the Spanish fans tend to fill their time with in the absence of meaningful goalmouth incident. But I digress and that in itself is a topic for another post. The fact is though that when it mattered, I mean when it really mattered for France to rouse themselves in the spirit of La Marseillaise – “To arms citizens, form your battalions, let’s march, let’s march! Let an impure blood water our furrows…” the looked like they were instead on a casual stroll to the boulangerie. Monsieur Blanc managerial capabilities did not so much lead a side to battle but were instead contained by the fear of loss. He was intimidated by the technical superiority of his opponents and instead of allowing gallic flair to flourish and play to its potential he allowed his troops to withdraw and adopt a strategy of damage limitation. And this against a team that played without a recognised striker until the last quarter of the game. Needless to say it backfired and whilst France were marginally better in the second half, a late penalty award by the referee ended this sterile encounter and it appeared with that award that even the official had grown weary of France’s inability to compete.

We should not of course judge books by covers (even if some covers are really good) and we should also therefore not judge managers by one or even two games. Yet this was Blanc’s audition. This was his announcement to the football fraternity that “I have arrived. Watch me” and whether he is indeed a candidate for the vacant Tottenham post or any other post for that matter, then it has to be said that the interview didn’t go too well. Spain are world champions granted. But this is France. France with Benzema, Ribery, Nasri et al and they should have competed, but didn’t.

It will be interesting to see if Blanc does make an appearance in the English Premiership at some point, whether with Spurs or anyone else. Personally I doubt it. After all the last time Spurs recruited a French Manager following a major tournament we all know how that ended up! However, sometimes people do need to fluff their lines so that they can ensure that they eliminate the chances of doing so again. The proverbial “lessons learnt”. The Euro 2012 tournament would certainly have been a learning curve for Larry. We’ll wait and see what the value of his learning will be. As for manager of Spurs? Who knows? Well Daniel Levy might!

So far the Euro 2012 tournament has been in my opinion one of the best finals we have had for a while. Goals a plenty and games full of incident. However the one thing that has stood out for me has been the performance of Russia under Dick Advocaat and in particular their captain Andrey Arshavin. We have stood back and wondered whether this is the same Arshavin that plays for Arsenal and is on the receiving end of endless criticism from the gooner masses. His performances have been full of energy and creativity. He has been prepared to run with the ball, pass, cross, in fact he has been at the core of all that has been good about this Russian team so far. So why the transformation from the player in the premiership to that of the player we are seeing now?

Cynics will say that he is playing for a move/contract and there may well be an element of that, however whatever the reason we are at least seeing glimpses of why so many teams were prepared to pay good money for him in 2008 including Barcelona, Newcastle (under Allardyce) and my own club Tottenham. In fact so rife were the rumours that it was a done deal at Spurs that I was genuinely upset when the transfer window came and went and he was still a Zenit player. This was even harder to swallow given that the following season he signed for our arch rivals. He exploded on to the scene and four goals at Anfield in a sensational 4-4 draw in 2009 was a significant introduction to the Premier League. However things have gone backwards for Arshavin. He has looked lethargic and disinterested at Arsenal and you have to wonder why? He has been asked to play on the left of midfield when it seems that he prefers the freedom to roam in off that left hand side. You would have thought that an Arsenal team that promotes (or at least used to) free flowing football with an interchangeable and rotating midfield would suit Arshavin. However the opposite has been true with many Arsenal fans wondering if he is “fit to wear the shirt”. At least that’s what the Arsenal fans I know say.

Could he just simply be homesick? Does he miss being the main man? Certainly at Arsenal that title currently belomgs to RVP and prior to him Thierry Henry. Is he just unhappy with the way he is being asked to play? And why can’t Wenger motivate him to play as he does for his country? Is it just that Russians don’t do well in England (bar Kanchelskis)?

Having written all this I suppose he will have the obligatory “stinker” in the next game, but somehow I doubt it. It is clear that he is instrumental in what Russia do and even though the rising star that is Dzagoev is likely to become the most successful Russian footballing export it is clear that Arshavin can offer a whole lot more to a team than he is currently doing at Arsenal. All he needs is someone to entice him to produce it and to do so on a regular basis at club level.

It is hard to understand that with less than an hour until today’s opening ceremony that the debate over racist chanting, from elements within the host nation support primarily, is still raging. It is clear and it has been for years that areas of Eastern Europe has had issues with racism rearing its nasty voice. We have had incidents of this in both Champions League and Europa League competition as well as qualifying games for international competition. UEFA will generally pass a derisory fine to the offending clubs and off we go again. The problem has never been fully dealt with and in the governing body’s desperation to transport the game to the far flung reaches of the ‘footballing family’ nations under the guise of inclusivity, it seems that corners have been cut and principles abandoned. But why am I surprised since FIFA gave the 2022 World Cup tournament to Qatar! And call me a cynic but aren’t Ukraine and Poland two of the few economically developing nations in Europe?

To compensate for this somewhat desperate decision and UEFA’s abdication of responsibility, they have now passed the onus of control on to match referees. Instead of ensuring that the relevant footballing, policing and legislative authorities get tough on these issues, root out the troublemakers and administer appropriate sanctions, the match officials have received “instructions” on how to deal with incidents of racist chanting/behaviour within stadia. If it gets too much, the referee has been advised that he can remove the players from the field of play. How utterly ridiculous and on so many levels.

Firstly at what point does this happen? Does the racist abuse towards an individual player or group of players have to be tested for severity or emotional stress? What if a team is losing and facing elimination from the tournament? Do the players of that team succumb to the temptation of getting the match abandoned? Conversely what if the fans of the losing team decide that it would be best to influence the tournament outcome by having matches routinely abandoned or delayed? Imagine the final group games when two matches of each group are played at the same time. Would a 20 minute delay due to racist chanting allow sufficient advantage to any team by allowing them to find out what the score is in the other match?

The whole situation is one that was wholly avoidable from the outset. England has been a pioneer in handling racism and violence in football and yet UEFA shudder at the thought of having anything to do with the English authorities. Knowledge sharing could have assisted in dealing with this issue if indeed UEFA were really adamant in holding the tournament in these nations. What should definitely not be happening is for UEFA to dump this issue into the laps of the referees who are there to officiate the matches. For such a prestige tournament to go ahead under this cloud is unacceptable and leaves yet another stain over the objectives, credibility and principles of UEFA.

I have a problem with Harry Redknapp. As much as I want to like him I just can’t. Well not enough anyway. Yes he has done some good things for our club and we have come a long way since those “two points from eight games” that HR kept reminding us about when it suited him. We have a good squad and we have established ourselves as one of the top teams in the country. However there is a certain uneasiness about having HR at the helm. For a guy that jumped between Portsmouth, Southampton and back again you just know that you can expect the unexpected with him. So the problem I have with HR is firstly the feeling that if something better came along he’d go at the drop of a hat which makes me wonder how much he believes in what THFC are trying to build; the second is his love affair with the media; and lastly his seeming lack of accountability.

Now when things were going well for spurs as we were flying high in third place with a seemingly unassailable points advantage over our rivals, I have to confess into getting sucked into chants of “Harry Redknapp’s blue and white army” at the home game versus Everton in January as we cruised to a 2-0 victory without hardly getting out of second gear. However the measure of a manager comes when things are not going so well. We saw glimpses of this when during the 2010-11 season the club finished two points off the Champions League places in 5th. Costly performances at home (defeat by Wigan whom spurs had thrashed 9-1 the season before), a case in point. As is Harry’s way, in the November of that season he was talking about “why can’t we win the league” and yet by the following February he was complaining in his post match interviews that the fans that were airing their concerns should temper their expectations and be realistic. After all we had never been constantly challenging for top 4 before so why should we demand it now? This despite the fact that the squad was more than capable of so doing. Oh and lets not forget the pop he had at the fans who were complaining about such on the radio phone in’s and such like, which is a bit rich as HR loves a camera and a microphone to comment on all things football!

Talking of the media, there are many times when i just wish he would be gagged. But the media know that he is ripe for a quote and of course he has his own column in a red top. I have never seen a manager talk about his club in the third person as often as HR has and it is clear that he has used the media to try and influence club transfer policy as well as now his own contract negotiations. Last summer for example he was willing to talk about Luka Modric at the drop of every and any microphone, when it was clear that his chairman was going to try and keep the player at the club. Perhaps the thought of £40m to spend on players was too big an emotion  for HR’s mind to contend with but as the face of Tottenham Hotspur you just wished he’d shut up and tow the party line. You can’t build a harmonious club when the mouthpiece of that club is talking in terms of his own agenda. It pains me to say but he needs to take a leaf out of Arsene Wenger’s book. That guy protect’s his board, protects his players and mostly acts like an official of his club. Sometimes HR should just say that he doesn’t want to talk about a certain subject. End of. He has the option not to wind his window down outside the training ground and he also has the option to decline to comment on whether he would like to see Chelsea win the Champions League at the possible expense of his own team’s qualification for the following season.

And has any manager talked publicly about their own contract situation as HR has done in The Sun today? You do not play a game of dare with your chairman in the public gaze of everyone. Well not in my opinion anyway. You keep that away from the fans and you keep that away from the players. You do not cite the unrest that the uncertainty might cause at the club when it is you that is publicising that uncertainty.

In terms of his accountability, I have already referred to the pop he had at fans for the slip ups in the 2010-11 season. And whilst he was quite willing to remind everyone of the 2 points from 8 when he took over, there was absolute silence over the 6 points from 9 games last season that saw the team blow the points advantage that they had over Arsenal and the others. He considered 4th a successful season, which in isolation it might have been. However objectives and targets are fluid in their nature and by January a minimum 3rd place finish would have been a realistic revised target, especially given that the further Chelsea progressed in the Champions League the more precarious a 4th placed finish became.

Should he stay or should he go? I personally think he should go because despite the good job he has done, he had it within him to do better. He had the tools to excel with an A* and got a B+ and he seems to be content with this and believes that he is worthy of a new three/four year contract. If I felt that his heart was in the job or even that he would stop “stirring” in the media then I’d say retain him, he probably deserves a chance to carry on. But what you get with HR is sweetness tinged with a little bit of sour and a professional club does not need that constant annoying aftertaste. People would argue as to who would replace him and that is a valid point. Capello is unemployed and has a club CV that HR could only dream about for example but perhaps by not qualifying for the Champions League it has actually worked in HR’s favour as managerial targets short listed in the event of him becoming England manager would have been drafted with almost certain CL qualification in mind. But whatever happens, whether his services are retained or not, something needs to happen quickly. The uncertainty can affect the confidence of fans and players as well as the potential transfer strategy of the club that is crucial this summer.

For the moment though I’d just like HR to shut up and get on with doing what he is paid to do. Represent and manage THFC to the best of his ability and for the betterment of the club.

To pick or not to pick. That is the question. Poor Roy was an a loser from the outset with this one. Does he pick Rio? Does he pick JT? Does he pick both? And all because of an incident that occured on 23rd October 2011 which has yet to be adequately dealt with. The ill feeling that the said incident was meant to have caused between two long standing stalwarts of the England defence (and until that date “team mates”) has no doubt had a bearing on Roy Hodgson’s first meaningful team selection. Whether he came to the decision himself or whether he was given a helpful steer by the FA no one knows but we are told that the decision was for “footballing reasons”.

By this I can only assume that Roy’s assessment of Rio is in keeping with my own in that he has lost his lustre and his usefulness for England. Yes he still plays for Manchester Utd, however would he have done so had Vidic been fit for the majority of this season? Maybe but even so rumour has it that Sir Alex is looking to off load Rio and even if he isn’t then in Sir Alex’s own words Rio just “couldn’t do one game every four days” (as will be the case in Ukraine and Poland). Rio is understandably upset and I can sympathise with that, however getting his “representative” to do the moaning for him through the media yesterday and fanning the disgruntled flames once more lacks class of the highest order. Take it like a man, support your country and move on.

Of course the media are loving it. They have been picking the England team for years and in a slow sports news week behind the Queen’s diamond jubilee, they need something to fill their paper space and the airwaves so why not concentrate on the fact that Rio has been disrespected. And lets spend hours debating why Martin Kelly and anoyone else associated with Liverpool gets the reserve call up instead of him that has been left behind? I’m sorry but weren’t the reserve players already chosen at the time of announcing the squad? Was Rio’s name on that reserve list? No? Ok so why should he be called up now?

The only problem that I have with all of this is that JT is going. It’s not that Hodgson ought to have picked one over the other but by so doing it has given the media dog a bone to seize amidst a bout of lockjaw. The only way to have addressed the Ferdinand/Terry “issue” was to have left them both in England. No one had high expectations of this upcoming Euro 2012 tournament and so perhaps the way had inadvertently been paved for the new man in charge to say “I will be taking a young squad and therefore many players that have served the country so well in recent years will be omitted for this purpose”. Everyone then knows where they stand. The media backs off and there is no drawing of comparisons between who has gone and who has been omitted. This really was a chance missed and by that token Hodgson has indeed created a rod for his own back.

As for John Terry, one can only marvel at his good fortune. He has been allowed to participate in what has ultimately turned out to be a successful season for Chelsea despite the turgidness of their season for long spells. One FA Cup and one Champions League celebration later (shin pads and all) and Mr Terry is on his way to the Euro’s. I wonder if one Mr Suarez of Liverpool can comprehend how one similar allegation can be dealt with so swiftly and the other not so much?

When Doug Ellis finally sold his stake in Aston Villa, the new American owner was heralded as the man that would take the club back to the heady heights of 1982 as the majority of Villa fans still apparently live in that time warp. Well at least the club would make the Champions League and with Martin O’Neil finishing in the top six three years in a row then that would be a sign that they were not too far away. Sadly though things have taken a major backward step for Villa. O’Neil left on the eve of the 2010-11 season for reasons as yet unconfirmed although player investment has been cited in reports; many of the clubs best players have since been sold; the Houllier experiment failed dismally; and the McCleish appointment was an unmitigated disaster as Villa toyed with relegation and played a brand of football that is on the polar end of the enjoyment spectrum. More crucially however, the funds to invest in the team have suddenly dried up. A £24m blip aside when Darren Bent was acquired it seems that Mr Lerner has had second thoughts about pumping more money into the club.

This is possibly why Paul Lambert has been appointed. No doubt he is a good manager, with the job he did at Norwich City a sterling mark on his CV, however perhaps Mr Lerner is also hoping that Lambert can continue shopping somewhat frugally in order to make Villa competitive again? Perhaps it will be only once Lambert can prove that he is making upward progress in the league that Mr Lerner will in turn be convinced to spend money once again. That is if he doesn’t sell the club first! The problem is that Villa are so far behind where they would like to be at the moment that they need to invest time as well as money (and heavy dose of realism for their fans) before they can set their sights on returning to the top six once more. But we also know that the game is more about money than anything else these days so the handling of this investment conundrum could make or break Lambert being a success at his new employers.

So what of Lambert? He is one of the few exported British success stories. After playing well against Borussia Dortmund for Motherwell, he joined them in 1996 and by 1997 had won the Champions League with them where his contribution against Man Utd in the semi final and against Juve in the final were a key reason for Dortmund’s success. He moved to Celtic and added to his collection of medals. So he knows how to win things and crucially I suspect, his time under Otmar Hitzfield in Dortmund (one of the best German coaches of his generation) will no doubt have enhanced his coaching education.

Lambert could do very well for Villa. He has impressed in his first season in the Premiership with Norwich and perhaps taking the chance to move to a bigger club right now and possibly before his reputation could be tarnished by the dreaded second season syndrome is a timely move for him too. Whether he succeeds however will depend significantly on tempering the expectations of fans and moreover convincing Mr Lerner that in order to compete he must be allowed to enhance the quality of his squad. This transfer window will tell us much about how Villa’s future will be shaped.

The first thing that should be appreciated about appointing Brendan Rodgers as LFC manager is that there is a lot of image restoration to be done. Regardless of how loved “King Kenny” was at Anfield, the fact remains that the handling of the Suarez affair (regardless of the rights and wrongs of the case) and also his tetchyness at post match interviews, did in fact turn a lot of people off Liverpool. All the goodwill that the club had created over the years was sadly sinking in next to no time. As an outsider I personally could not understand how the Liverpool fans were so behind Dalglish. Ok the quality of football had improved, but the results were no real improvement on Hodgson’s time and a fortunate Carling Cup final victory over Cardiff from the Championship only masked the fact that progress in the premiership was not really being made as an 8th place finish testifies.

A former footballing idol is not always the best solution to lead your team. See Hoddle/Ardiles at Spurs, Burley at Ipswich, Barmby at Hull, I could go on and on, and some like Howard Kendall at Everton have proved that you should indeed never go back for a second stint.

So what of Rodgers? The man has studied under Mourinho, has been widely lauded as playing progressive passing football at Swansea and despite a hiccup at Reading (where by his own admission he tried to do things a bit too fast) he is without doubt a man going places. He is one of the “new breed” and it is refreshing to see a big club giving a young British manager his chance. Overall the man is personable, intelligent and can engage his audience. Being a manager is no longer about just being tactically astute. The art of management in any industry is credibility. It is about being an excellent communicator and orator. It is about delivering what you want to say in a measured, thought out way so that the person receiving that message looks past your age, experience, nationality or whatever and is empowered or enlightened by what it is that you are saying. Rodgers does this. He has a gravitas about him and not only in his press conference that confirmed his appointment but in subsequent interviews also, he has handled himself with class. The same class that the likes of Roberto Martinez at Wigan and the new manager at Villa, Paul Lambert also display (we’ll forgive him the blip after the Celtic friendly).

It is also necessary for a manager to think on his feet. To be able to adjust tactics from pitch side beyond merely telling your striker to “run about a bit” and this manager can do that. He will need time. He is realistic in the task ahead and perhaps LFC fans need to take a sip out of the same reality cup, but given time I think that Rodgers will be good for Liverpool. But his first task is to make Liverpool credible again. To make them people’s second team again and no longer the butt of people’s jokes.