Saturday, 4 December 2010

Why Belgium could be a force to be reckoned with come 2018

With all the attention of the recent 2018 and 2022 World Cup bids, I think we’ve all forgotten that it doesn’t matter where the World Cup is held, it only matters who wins it. Yes it would have been nice for England to host the 2018 World Cup, but since we’re not let's start focusing on rebuilding the nation. Something which the Belgium Football association have been doing for awhile now and whilst Brazil 2014 may be too soon for their budding squad, Russia 2018 may be the time for the Belgians to really take on some of the other top teams in the World.

Belgium in the 80s and 90s where after all, a very god side giving England a tough game in Italia 1990 until David Platt nicked a winner in extra time. It was the time of the midfield maestro Jan Ceulemans and the attacking midfielder Enzo Scifo, both of whom were highly regarded players in their time. Now however a new breed of Belgium footballer is rising. As far as football is concerned, Belgium is famed for created strong, physical defensive players, just look at Thomas Vermaelen or Vincent Kompany as examples, now however the Belgium squad has some bright attacking talents.

Romelu Lukaku is the newest sensation in European Football at the minute, with clubs like Real Madrid, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal all interested in the 17 year old striking sensation. And there’s good reason because at just 16 Lukaku became the Belgium league’s youngest ever top goal scorer, netting 15 goals in 25 games for Anderlecht. That achievement began many to liken Lukaku to Chelsea’s own Didier Drogba and with good reason because he’s the complete package as far as strikers go, with pace, power, precision and positioning all bundled together in a giant 6ft 4in muscular frame.

It wasn’t just his goals in the Belgium League that got all the big clubs raving. Lukaku performed in Europe for Anderlecht when he became the youngest goal scorer ever in a UEFA competition when he put 2 goals past Ajax in the Europa League. He then went on to score again against Hamburger before Anderlecht was knocked out.

But one player doesn’t make a team, however a strong midfield backing up Lukaku will certainly help the Belgium National team. With a potential midfield line-up including Eden Hazard –dubbed the next Zinedane Zidane and said to have more potential than Messi, Everton’s Marouane Fellaini who’s a defensive rock in the Premier League and playmaker Steven Defour who has attracted big attention from Manchester United with passing and attacking abilities likened to Paul Scholes.

Then of course there’s Manchester City’s Vincent Kompany, a £6m bargain signing by Mark Hughes and now a key player in Roberto Mancini’s defence for the Blues. He’s also proved to be a key man for the Belgium defence after being capped 32 times by his country and even scoring a goal.

It’s of no surprise then that three of the key players in the new look Belgium squad are actually some of the youngest players to ever play for their country, with Hazard, Kompany and Lukaku all playing for Belgium since they were 17 and currently the first three names on the team sheet. Better yet all three will be in their prime and either 30 or younger come 2018, with a strong attacking force up front, a solid defence at the back and a midfield packed with talented playmakers such as Defour and Fellaini, things are starting to look good for the Belgium National Football team which has lost its identity over the past few years.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Theo Walcott - one of english football's mysteries

Theo Walcott.

The young lad who had the option to join either Chelsea or Arsenal and chose Arsenal. This is probably why I never really liked the lad. Until recently I had an unexplained hatred of the Gunners, something I feel was indoctrinated into me by my teacher at school, who was an overtly smug Arsenal fan. But that's beside the point and I've learnt to appreciate the Football Arsenal and Wenger play.

Anyway, Theo Walcott this season has become a very good player. Yet for me he's still a winger who can't cross a ball properly, mainly due to how Arsenal play, but his finishing until this season was never anything to write home about and he only had one asset, his pace. This season he's worked on his ability to put the ball in the back of the net, and he's not just one of those wingers who only have one trick up their sleeve, their pace. No nowadays he's a much trickier customer.

I suppose one of the reasons why Walcott has become a better Footballer is experience more than anything. For a while at Arsenal he was beginning to look like the impact sub who only turned up for the little games. Whilst he's still not a regular starter this season, it seems like not going to South Africa has spurred him on to be even better at Arsenal to prove his worth for the National team.

Wingers these days also seem to be cutting inside the box from wider positions to greater effect. Possibly a sign of the times more than anything as we saw from Robben at the World Cup. Milner and David Silva for City are also tasked with a similar role at they've had success as well. Walcott however is better than those two at getting out wide, then cutting inside to create a pass or shooting opportunity. It's a style of play that the fans love and coaches are beginning to see just how effective it can be.

This style of play that Walcott has had to adopt whilst at Arsenal (joining them as a striker rather than a Wing Forward) is something that can very much be an asset to the England National Team. It's been a while since a genuinely different type of English Football player was developed in this country, but Walcott on the right, with possibly either Milner or Ashley Young on the left Wing, could give England that extra dimension they've lacked for some time. We could even play 4-3-3 if we stick Rooney or Defoe in the middle of those two to create a very fast paced attacking line.

Still, I feel it's very early doors for Walcott. He's coming to that age now were he really needs to show to Wenger he warrants a first team start nearly every game. For me he's better than Arshavin and more effective than Nasri in that attacking 3 Wenger plays (personally I feel Nasri is a much better Central midfielder alongside Fabregas).

So Theo Walcott. I can honestly say I was wrong.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Inter Milan v Tottenham Hotspur Match report

Inter Tottenham match report

Inter got off to an astonishing start against Tottenham on Wednesday Night in a Group A Champions League tie at the San Siro.

Zanetti got the hosts off to a flyer within 68 seconds after a brilliant flowing move from Samuel Eto’o put the left back through on goal who then slotted it past Tottenham goalkeeper Gomes.

Things got from bad to worse for the London side, who then saw Gomes sent off for a clumsy challenge on Maicon in the box. On came reserve keeper Carlo Cudicini and off came Luka Modric as Eto’o stood up to take the penalty and smashed it in the top left.

With Spurs down to ten men and already two goals down, Inter went further ahead after just 14 minutes, keeping tight possession of the ball until Dejan Stankovic, found space for a through ball and go on to score a third inside the first quarter of an hour.

However after conceding three Spurs seemed to find their feet a little bit as they began to find their rhythm, with lone striker Peter Crouch missing an excellent headed chance inside the 6 – yard box after Lennon whipped in a cross from the right. Gareth Bale on the left also gave the London outfit a much needed attacking mentality looking every bit as World Class as his opponents down the left wing.

It wasn’t meant to be a night for Spurs however as Coutinho found the ball in midfield and out classed the Spurs midfield and defence before putting Eto’o through on goal who poked the ball past Cudicini into the back of the net.

Trailing 4-0 to the Italians at half time then and a shellshocked Spurs looked down beat and trodden as they walked into the dressing room to a furious Harry Redknapp without a doubt.

After half time Spurs came out a different team with Gareth Bale leading the charge down the left wing from inside his own half all the way to the oppositions box before smashing low driving shot into past Cesar and into the bottom right hand corner of the net.

Tottenham behind then 4-1 and looking confident after Bale’s goal and Cudicini finally looked settled in after David Santon for Inter found the ball in midfield and cut inside from the left, past Alan Hutton a took a low driving shot only for Cudicini to deflect it out for a corner.

Things started to look brighter for Spurs still when Peter Crouch flicked on a header for Gareth Bale who controlled the ball with a nice bit of skill only to cut it back to Benoit Assou-Ekotto who blasted the ball way over the Inter goal.

A wasted opportunity for Spurs but they were soon on the attack again with Jenas running down the left wing only to be stopped abruptly by the Inter defence who cleared the ball out of danger.

Tottenham continued to create problems down the left as Bale surged forward with ball only to be taken down by Eto’o, who soon got the ball back up field to Coutinho who shot just outside the Spurs box only to see his effort go just wide past the far post.

After 65 minutes Harry Redknapp decided to change things, taken Crouch off for Robbie Keane, his first appearance this season but the Irishman failed to make an impact against the likes of the superstars at the San Siro.

Rafa Benitez also made a change, taking Chivu off for the attacker Goran Pandev only for it to back fire as Gareth Bale down the left yet again smashed in another brilliant goal after another surging run to score his second. Then seconds later Bale powered in his third for his hat-trick, beating Cesar for the third time in the dying seconds of the game in the bottom right hand corner.

Three goals all practically the same and Inter were forced to hang on as Spurs put in a brilliant second half performance.

You perhaps have to think, had Tottenham had all eleven men on the pitch, whether Inter would have dominated as they did. At the end of the 90 minutes however, Inter Milan lead Group A with Tottenham Hotspur in second place, thanks to a 1-1 draw in Holland.

An Incredible match and an incredible performance from perhaps the best left winger in the World at the minute.

Friday, 15 October 2010

The End of 4-4-2?

With greater pressures for teams to do well and not lose, has the traditional 4-4-2 formation been replaced with something more attacking?

This year's Champions league and the recent 2010 World Cup in South Africa saw a major shift in how tactics in football are evolving. The standard 4-4-2 with two wingers, two central midfielders and two attacking forwards, is no longer good enough on the World stage and clubs in Leagues all over Europe and in the Champions League especially, are finding better results with more open and free-form formations.

The 2010 World Cup in South Africa proved that a 4-4-2 formation isn't good enough to get to the latter stages of the tournament. The majority of successful teams this year used a fluid 4-2-3-1 attacking formation that provided width on the flanks, compact in the middle and can provide a decent goal threat with a talented playmaker behind the lone striker.

The two obvious examples at the World Cup were the Netherlands and Germany. It can be argued that Spain also used a similar system but with a midfield trio of Xavi, Iniesta and Alonso, with Villa, Torres and David Silva up front, it can be argued that Spain played a more fluid 4-3-3 system that reverted to a 4-5-1 when on the defensive.

Germany and the Netherlands however, used a more extensive system that provided width and an attacking danger as the likes of Thomas Muller and Arjen Robben would cut inside the area and attack the goal, a tactic that saw Muller win Top goal scorer. Up front, both teams had lethal centre forwards who knew how to hit the target in Miroslav Klose for Germany and Robin van Persie for the Netherlands.

However, the main issue that teams using different formations to the tried and tested 4-4-2 used by England and some of the other weaker teams in the competition, was the lack of options and possession the system offers. Without possession you lack goal scoring opportunities and the fact that England only managed 3 goals in the entire competition (Gerrard vs. USA, Defoe vs. Slovenia and Upson vs. Germany), not counting Lampard's disallowed effort, it seems the rest of the World agrees that a 4-4-2 can't get you very far.
In fact the only team to do well with a 4-4-2 formation, strangely enough was Uruguay, who played a much more rigid game then England, yet with that organisation, goals from Diego Forlan, player of the Tournament and Suarez's hand ball, the managed to get to the semi-finals before losing out and falling against Germany in the third place play off.

Now the advantages a 4-2-3-1 and a 4-3-3 system have over the two banks of players in a traditional flat-line 4-4-2, is the all important “creation of passing triangles” (Jonathan Wilson for Guardian and writer of the brilliant 'Inverting the Pyramid'). Triangles, if you don't all ready know, are the most important shape in Football and will always beat out the passing in a flat line.

As you can see from the three above diagrams, the triangle patterns in both the 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3 formations used by Holland/Germany and Spain respectively create a lot more passing options, which goes into creating more dangerous attacking options. The 4-4-2 on the other hand gives limited options for the strikers and attacking midfields and wide men. It also leaves a team quite unbalanced in terms of attacking and defensive balance. The greater passing options for a 4-4-2 come in a team’s own half, with each defender having two midfielders to pass the ball to whereas in the attacking half of the pitch, midfielders only have the two strikers up front, who can be left isolated without a link between attack and midfield.

This missing link was the key to the poor showing by England in the World Cup, especially when they have creative attacking midfielders in Joe Cole and Steven Gerrard who can happily fill that void. This however wasn’t a problem for the Dutch who had Wesley Sneider and Robben linking the attack in the middle or on the wing. Spain too had the perfect balance in midfield and attack with Xavi and Iniesta pushing forward to link up with the strikers and Xabi Alonso staying deep to cover the midfield in case the opposition break forward. A 4-4-2 system cannot really offer this sort of luxury and now this year club teams are seeing this clearer than ever before.

Barcelona have for a long time player the 4-3-3 system made famous by Johann Cruyff whilst he was Manager and is now implemented by the Spanish National team because the players are so used to the system. Arsenal too uses a system very similar to Barcelona, which gets the best out of players such as Cesc Fabregas and Sami Nasri (when he plays part of the midfield 3). Chelsea as well have three up front in Malouda, and Anelka playing on the wings with Drogba as a target man in the middle, with Frank Lampard linking midfield and attack as Essien keeps tight in front of the defence.

In fact the 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3 formations are finding popularity all over Europe this year, with 20 of the 32 teams in the Champions League using a variation of one of the two. But should this surprise us really? The Champions League is for the top teams around Europe and to get to that stage you need to win matches and score goals, which a possession based system will give you. Of course there are teams like Manchester United who do well with a 4-4-2 system, but as we saw last year in the Champions League, they crashed out to Bayern Munich who outplayed them at the Allianz Arena to eventually go through to the final. Similarly Fulham in the Europa league had a lot of success with a 4-4-2, knocking out Shaktar Doneskt, Juventus and Hamburg before being beaten to an Athletico Madrid side playing 4-5-1 and led by that man, Diego Forlan.

So has the 4-4-2 had its day? Well, yes and no. It’s still a great formation for teams to use, who perhaps don’t possess the type of creative players that can push forward from midfield and link up the attack effectively. It’s also a staple tactic to use away from home in the league or in Europe, as it allows you to get players behind the ball and leave two attackers up front to nick a goal. A bit like Michael Owen used to do.

Then again saying that, Michael Owen recently said himself the 4-4-2 has had its day, which is a shame considering it’s the only formation he himself can play. A message then, from a striker whose career is long since passed perhaps about a formation that has perhaps passed its time.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

England 0 - 0 Montenegro - England look hopeless...

So England drew nil - nil with the Eastern European super power of Soccer that is Montenegro. Or more correctly, England but on a display so dismal and without hope for the future that it begs the question, why bother?

England's shortcomings at the World Cup and the shortcomings of some of our best players this season meant that Capello threw out a team that looked light on big names and caps. Granted the likes of Jolean Lescott returning at the back doesn't exactly install confidence, given his drop in form since his switch to Man City, but you know the lad can do a job against a Montenegro side. And a job he did helping returning Captain Rio Ferdinand and Joe Hart keep a clean sheet.

I would have liked to see some fresher faces at the back, such as Stoke's Ryan Shawcross or even Gary Cahill, surely either one of them could have stepped up to the plate? Then of course there's the question of why Capello keeps snubbing Joe Cole? Especially when he's playing with Liverpool skipper Steven Gerrard who has been the only England player to prove his worth since the 4 - 1 caning by Germany in South Africa,

Of course the main story of the night goes to that of Kevin Davies, the Bolton hitman who bangs in the goals come Saturday's but never got picked for England. Presumably because he never hit the tabloids like the likes of Rooney, Terry and Beckham. Still the striker whose skill set defines what it means to be a Target man - physicality, heading, a nose for goals and most importantly strength and love of the game. He may have won his first tonight but he looked comfortable during the match and he looked assured before coming on.

It's unfortunate then that at 33, Davies has no real England future. Come the Euro Championship in 2012, the big man will be 35, surely too old to compete at International level?

What I would like to know however is why aren't we getting the injection of new blood into the England squad? Ashley Young and Adam Johnson are all well and good, but goals win you games and the service these two provided tonight was questionable.

Both Young and Johnson had good games to be fair, but their service was inconsistent at times. They can definitely do a job given time but tonight all we got was a lot of cutting inside and a lot of chances wasted from outside the box, mainly from Johnson on the set pieces. It seems to me that both of these wingers suffer the same problem as Theo Walcott, mainly being wingers who can't cross a ball.

Still my disdain for Walcott is an issue for another time. All that matters to night is England remain unbeaten in the 2010/11 season, remain uninspiring, remain hopeless, remain looking foolish after the World Cup shambles.

Still super striker 'J-Def' is yet to return. Maybe when he does he can show Rooney how to do his job, mainly sticking the ball in the back of the net.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Has an Influx of Foreign talent in the Premier League affected the Development of the National Football Teams of the other Home Nations?

Many will agree that England in South Africa for the 2010 World Cup were not great. In fact they were bloody awful. An embarrassment to the Nation? Perhaps, but shocking nonetheless.

People have quite rightly come out and criticised the players, Capello, the tactics, the lack of fight, the lack of spirit, the lack of ability and mostly the lack of form carried over from the Premier League season. Then others began to scratch the surface and see how deep-rooted the problems the England National Team actually go.

The major criticism was the coaching ability, or lack of coaching ability, found in this country among the most impressionable talents, the youngsters found in the school parks and in the Under 8’s Leagues. The future talent pool of English Footballers was taken a harsh look at by Sir Trevor Brooking, who made a comparison between World Cup Top goal scorer, Thomas Muller , 21 and Chelsea Reserve Daniel Sturridge 21. He made the comparison that Muller as a promising youngster in the Bayern Munich Squad, had cemented a secure spot in the First Team, getting regular action on the pitch and scoring goals, later became the top goal scorer at the 2010 World Cup, just a year later after getting regular first team football at high league level. Daniel Sturridge on the other hand made just over a handful of League appearance, mainly as a sub and his future potential is beginning to look questionable.

So as we can see the main problem seemed to be the inability to get promising youngsters regular first team football. The solution then, is the Premier League’s 25 man Squad registration system, which I’m all for, as a requirement is the team must have 8 registered Home-grown players, which have been playing in the English Football system for 4 years since under the age of 21. However criticism then begins when you realise foreign players like Cesc Fabregas of Arsenal, qualify under this rule too.

However in comparison to the other Home Nations, you have to say England did marvellous! Now this is in no way meant to be insulting to the National Teams of Scotland, Wales and both Ireland and Northern Ireland, but at least England qualified for the World Cup. The English performances at the World Cup and European Cup are actually quite good compared to the rest of the UK and Ireland.

So has an influx of foreign talent into the Premier League really affected how well England plays? Have the foreigners of the Premier League, who change the dynamics of the game, and force teams to be better, have they really hampered the abilities of our National Team? Or have the likes of Carlos Tevez, Didier Drogba, Ruud van Nistlerooy, Fernando Torres and Dennis Bergkamp, not actually forced our English players to play better week after week, year after year since the Premier League's beginning all the way back in 1992? The Premier League after all, is regarded as the best League in the World, and since the start of the Premier League in 1992 England have only failed to qualify for the 1994 World Cup, led by Graham Taylor and the 2008 European Cup led by Steve McClaren. Both of whom are now regarded as poor choices as manager.

That stat alone should go some way to show you that the foreign players of the Premier League have served the National team well, so well in fact that every World Cup England has been in since the creation of the Premier League, they've advanced past the group stage. Not too bad in retrospect really, when many say the League has too many foreign players. With 66 different individual countries represented in the Premier League, I'll let you be the judge if there's too many foreign players, but most cities have that many different nationalities represented within their respective area.

The main problem for me caused by the influx of foreign players in the Premier League is the detrimental affect it has had on the likes of the Scottish, Welsh and Irish national sides. Particularly the Republic of Ireland National Football team who in 1990 were a very good side, but today they struggle to qualify. What's gone wrong?

Firstly we can blame the poor quality of the Football Leagues in the other home nations. The Welsh League is regarded by many in England as the lowest professional tier in Football, very much akin to League to or even the Conference League. Just look at the Cardiff Football team, their Welsh League is so bad Cardiff want to play in England, and even then they're only a mid-table Championship side (although with Craig Bellamy at the helm that may change). The Irish League is almost a joke with no team ever qualifying for Champions League and the SPL is such a two-team league it may as well be called the Scottish La Liga.

This doesn't mean to sound disrespectful to the respected teams of each league or any fans, but these comments generally match the quality that each league represents. My biggest gripe however is the way that some of these leagues are set out, mainly the SPL.

For those that don't know the SPL uses a Split format, which ends up with every team playing certain teams 3 times, once home and possibly twice away. However all are not happy with this highly unusual format, in fact Rangers manager Walter Smith branded the format as "unfair" and called for an 18-team league to be considered. The SPL has defended the split format, however, and dismissed the possibility of expanding the league due to a lack of strong enough clubs within the Scottish Football League. It’s a sad state of affairs for Scottish Football when you can’t find 18 “strong” teams for your top flight.

It should also be noted that in the Scottish league, a large proportion of SPL clubs' squads are being made up of Scottish players (73% in 2004–05). The figure in England is much closer to around 40% which would suggest that despite a lower amount of top English players in English teams, the National Squad still does a lot better than Scotland’s National Football team.

In fact when you take a look at Scotland's National Football team, the majority of players are either playing at Championship Clubs (e.g. Middlesbrough) or SPL teams. Their best player in the Squad is arguably Darren Fletcher of United, who many see as a fringe player of the United Squad until recently. Then again had Owen Hargreaves not been out the squad for an extended period, would Fletcher still been selected as often?

The states of other National Teams from other Home Nations and Ireland aren’t much better. For a long period of time David Healy was N. Ireland’s best striker, a player who struggled to make an impact at just about any level of competitive Football in England. Of course before Healy there was George Best, but he never really bothered to play for the National Team, and whilst the man was very gifted at Club level, but we never really witnessed his true potential on the World’s finest stage. Now the Welsh National Football team possess some decent players such as Craig Bellamy (Now at Cardiff in the Championship), Gareth Bale, one of Tottenham’s star players and a quality left back, but after those two? Joe Ledly in the centre isn't a bad player but his lack of high level competitive Football really shows in the International games, and the team overall suffers from severe lack of depth.

It is perhaps the Republic of Ireland’s National Football Team taking the biggest dip in quality however. In the early 90’s, Rep. of Ireland lead by “Big” Jack Charlton was quite a force to be reckoned with. The achieved the quarter finals at Italia ’90 and even qualified for USA ’94. The team used to have some damn fine players as well, Roy Keane for one, former Liverpool striker John Aldridge, and a whole host of players from top Premier League Clubs, all of which were getting regular Football. Nowadays the ROI Football team lacks the many quality players required to mount a decent challenge in the competition. The only standard out players in their squad today, are arguably Robbie Keane, who can hardly be called “World Class” and Shay Given who’s Manchester City’s no.2 ‘Keeper now behind Joe Hart – an Englishman.

When we consider the impact of foreign players on the Premier League and the National Football teams of the Home Nations, the 2010 World Cup in South Africa gives us some interesting statistics. For example The Premier League was the best represented league at the tournament, with 108 players, while Italy's Serie A provides 75 names and Spain's La Liga 57. Along with Germany and holders Italy, England were the only country at the finals to have a squad chosen entirely from their domestic league, which goes dividends to show just how strong an asset the Premier League is for the National Team. The Germany squad had a very successful tournament and the Bundesliga has grown in popularity and technical ability and skill. Yet as a result, a lot of top foreign talent has moved into the German league this season, on top of the talented foreigners such as Ribery and Robben, who were already playing in Germany.

So whilst many bemoan the fact that the foreign players have hampered the England National Team, look at the other top football leagues of France, Germany, Italy and Spain and look at how well their National teams have done recently (less so Italy and France at this year’s World Cup) and in the past. Maybe those foreign players are actually helping the technical development of domestic players.

Just look at the next crop of young English talent, Connor Wickham, Jack Wilshere and Jack Rodwell – all fantastic prospects playing alongside the top foreign talent in their respective leagues, maybe the English Football Association needs to look at the coaching quality for youngsters in this country, rather than allowing the media and managers to lambast the amount of foreigners in the Premier League.

Sunday, 26 September 2010


Not updated in a VERY long time but expect a feature article soon regarding Foreign players.

Dont Worry! You've not heard it all before!!

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Season Preview Double Header! Man City and Liverpool

Well last night Liverpool suffered a 3-0 stomping at the City of Manchester stadium after a man of the match performance and goal from Gareth Barry, and a brace from Carlos Tevez gave the Citizens the 3 points.

With both teams from last night giving performances that just may well sum up their season, I thought it appropriate to give an season's preview double header.

We'll start with Liverpool who had a shocker last night, being out-played, out-manoeuvred and out-classed by a Manchester City side that many will argue, wasn't at their strongest. Javier Mascherano was the key man missing last night, with reports stating he refused to play, which will only fuel Barcelona's transfer attempts, then there's the choice of formation - 4-4-2, something Liverpool haven't played for quite some time and a system which didn't suit either Steven Gerrard or Lucas Leiva.

A lack of general talent however, amongst the Liverpool squad and especially the bench is Liverpool's biggest concern still. It was a problem last season and looks to be a problem again this season. David N'Gog may have had an okay game against the Gunners last Sunday, but last night he was nowhere near good enough and his talent in general shows little promise. Joe Cole last night begun his 3 match suspension, but whilst the lad has been keen to show off in front of the Kop, he's missed a penalty and been shown a red card first game of the season, surely then you'd hope there's more to come very soon. The only signing that has performed to any credible standard so far is Milan Jovanovic and he's nowhere near good enough to drag Liverpool back into that Champions League spot.

BBC 5Live's Robbie Savage hit the nail on the head when he said Liverpool need another World Class Striker in order to compete with the Premier League's big boys. It's the sad to hear then that Liverpool's transfer target in mind is Swedish and PSV striker Ola Toivonen, who with the greatest respects, doesn't inspire faith. I do put this lacklustre transfer budget and targets down to the Club's situation rather than the manager. Roy Hodgson is a good man and can help steer this rapidly sinking ship to some sort of safety, if the Club's ownership is soprted out sooner rather then later.

From a club in crisis then to another club that is on the up, Manchester City, owned by the Mighty Sheik Mansour and managed by the stylish figure of Roberto Mancini. City's millions have completely revamped the first team squad and brought in the likes of Yaya Toure, David Silva and Super Mario Balotelli.

Their first nil-nil draw away at Tottenham was, for some fans, alarm bells who thought the team wouldn't gel and it would be a repeat of last season, so-near-yet-so-far. However last night Mancini proved he's got the magic touch and is gradually getting his philosophy of attractive, attacking Football across the team. Last night's result was a good one, let that not be in doubt, but don't expect it to be a one-off, it's more than likely that the like of the other Premeir League Top 4 could suffer the same fate as Liverpool did. Last night wasn't enough the strongest City side they can put out - no Boateng, no Silva, no Balotelli, no Adebayor, no Vieira and no Kolarov. All of those players are still to return to the team and to full fitness, frightening stuff really.

All this though, couldn't be possible without the man in charge, Roberto Mancini. Last season he did little justice in proving he was a competent successor to Mark Hughes. He promised fourth and then achieved fifth, so many football fans in England may have already dismissed Mancini's ability. Let's be honest however, Mancini has brought these players in, strengthened every position on the pitch and made Carlos Tevez club captain, showing the Argentine just how much he means to the club. A clever man really who tactically outclassed Liverpool last night.

The Man City squad is so strong, their manager is very accomplished and together the club can overcome a clear majority of the Premier League's opposition. I can't see City losing very often at home, the Italian mentality of Mancini will mean he'll want to make the Home ground into a fortress, akin to that of Chelsea's Mourinho years.

However, one thing that City's miillions can't pay for is history. Man City at the minute are a great squad, however in terms of stature and history, they aren't a great club. The opposite for Liverpool then, is perhaps the truth as well. Liverpool are a great club, with a proud history and an accomplished past, but at the minute, they haven't got a great squad.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Manchester United - A season of new Promise

With the first few days of the new Premier League season already behind us and the sumer transfer window closing soon, I thought it only appropriate to look at the Premier League clubs that will be making all the headlines this year.

Starting today with the title challengers Manchester United, I'll be looking at the old top four and whose contending for fourth this year, the also rans of last year who are Europa band and finishing off with the relegation candidates and certainties.

So Manchester United, always in the running for the title and always winning something every season and as usual led by the one and only Sir Alex Ferguson. I've said before that the Red Devils need a more attacking midfielder than the bunch they have got now. However, after their 3-0 thrashing of Newcastle orchestrated in large part by iconic United playmaker, Paul Scholes, perhaps maybe they'll get by and manage just fine.

Whether they can go on to win the League is another story altogether, however they did look good at home against newly promoted Newcastle, but Chelsea looked twice as good agaisnt also newly promoted West Bromwich Albion.

One thing we can say about the United squad is their pure strength in depth will come in handy, especially under the new Premier League squad rules. Many of their second and third string players would easily be snapped up by any other Premier League club, just look at the transfer battle over Danny Welbeck, (currently on loan to Sunderland for the season) between Stoke, Birmingham and Sunderland as proof of the quality of their fringe players.

Like Welbeck, a lot of United players will be looking to prove their worth this year after disappointing World Cup campaigns and the European Championship looming closer. The spotlight will surely be focused on the likes of Wayne Rooney, after a poor World Cup showing and the jury is still out on whether Nani and Valencia are good enough on the Wing-play, both had sporadic form at best last season. Berbatov is another player looking to silence critics. He may have bagged his first goal of the season against Newcastle but he's never replicated the form he showed at Tottenham and the fans the fans are losing patience and possibly the manager too.

Then there's the new talent, Javier Hernandez aka Chircharito and unknown entity Bebe, two strikers that will be looking to make the jump up to the Premier League. Hernandez has already showed his ability against Chelsea with a goal in the Community Shield and Bebe's rags to riches story may be just enough to pull on the heart strings of the Manchester faithful. However Fergie will want goals and good performances from both, with Wayne Rooney his only in-form striker from last year, he'll want his newly bolstered strike force to show some killer instinct and rack up the goals.

The thing to look forward about United this season though, is for once a Premier League club lacks any major squad problems, minimal injury crises, they've retained their best players, still got an experienced manager and have a diverse squad full of experience talent and youth. This season United will surely win a trophy (if you don't count the Communtity Shield), be it whatever shape or form, whether they'll win the League and beat Liverpool's record is a different matter, but the pundits for sometime have declared the league a two horse race and United is the one to have a cheeky punt on.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

3 Days until a new Season Dawns...

Yes, just three days at the Premier League starts all over again. Another 38 games will decide the winner of the 10/11 season, with the usual suspects of Manchester United and Chelsea looking like the only real contenders for the title. United though have already succeeded in getting the first honours of the season, winning the Community Shield in comfortable fashion, hammering Chelsea 3-1 with débutante Chicharito getting on the score sheet in the progress, as well as Dmitar Berbatov looking like the player he was at Tottenham, scoring a beautiful chipped goal. However let's not forget that it was Hilario in goals for Chelsea...

Martin O'Neil has resigned just three days before the season has even begun, well...we might as well get the managerial sackings started, after all every year someone loses their job. My money would be on Roberto Mancini to be next, too many signings, no squad stability and heavy pressure to succeed might prove too much for the superstar Italian to stay committed to the Eastlands outfit. I think Roy Hodgson will be safe enough, after all Liverpoool could barely afford to get rid of Benitez!

This season will also mark a comeback for the veterans of the England squad who flopped at the World Cup in South Africa. Those who deserved to be booed: Lampard, Rooney, Green, Carrick, Barry, Terry, Glen Johnson. Those who maybe don't deserve to be booed but will be: Gerrard, Lennon, Wright-Phillips, Milner, Defoe, Upson. Those who we still can't work out why they went: Joe Hart and Emile Heskey.

With that in mind, this season and today in fact, should be an opportunity for the youngster of English football to try and make their mark. Jack Rodwell really does need to have a brilliant season to prove he's the sort of midfield player the future England squad needs, same goes for Wilshere and James Milner (who failed to convince some whilst in South Africa) and of course the enigma that is Adam Johnson, some think he's crap, others think he should have been in South Africa for the World Cup. Carlton Cole is another one who needs to have a great season, more because some West Ham fans still think he's a waste of space, England fans have already labeled him, perhaps unfairly as another Emile Heskey (who scores more often than not at both levels). Then of course there's Joe Hart who might be reduced to bench fodder or the man who forces Given to retire, most likely the former unfortunately. Finally Michael Dawson; good player who should do well if he remains injury free.

Then of course there's the race for fourth which will begin much, much earlier than it did last year. Many will have you believe Tottenham are the favourites yet again, but Man City will get third or Liverpool in theory have the experience and pedigree for fourth place finish, whether they get it might rely yet again on the form of Gerrard and Torres, but the arrivals of Wilson and Joe Cole may give the squad some freshness and depth which they've lacked for a few years now, plus they haven't lost any of their stars.

City will win something. They have to. Spurs on the other hand are very hit and miss, hopefully with Redknapp at the helm they'll be more hit and should challenge the whole league table. Obviously I want Liverpool to do well, but I'll have to wait awhile to be convinced because a season that begins away at Arsenal cannot bode well.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

The Rise of the Deep Lying Playmaker

England's Humiliation. Germany's incredible performances. Spain's World Cup victory. Man United's somewhat lacklustre season (in comparison to the past few seasons). Inter Milan's Champions League victory as well as Bayern Munich's Bundesliga dominance. All down to one thing in my opinion, the playmaker in the centre of midfield who sits just in front of the defence, otherwise known as a deep lying playmaker.

Think Michael Essien, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Xabi Alonso and Xavi, Makelele of Chelsea old, Esteban Cambiasso, Sami Khedira and perhaps greatest of them all, Franz Beckenbauer. All of them are or were great players who dictate the game with their passing ability, great vision and technical skill, such as seeing that killer pass from the halfway line to the striker to set him for a chance on goal. Not only does the Deep Lying playmaker sit deep, dictating play, but he'll surge forward to bolster attacks, knock crosses into the box from deep or even have a pop at goal near the edge of the box.

This position in football is still an early phenomenon in Football, especially in English Football. Look at the England squad that went to South Africa. Our best attempt at the type of player who can dictate play from such a deep position as well as get forward when necessary, was Gareth Barry. A man who struggled to take control in all of England's matches in the World Cup, especially against Germany. Granted he had just come back from a bad injury but his passing ability was poor regardless of this, and Barry showed little imagination going forward and didn't look capable of bossing the midfield, unlike Bastian Schweinsteiger who dominated the central midfield.

It's fair to say that the English game will create more of this type of player eventually. The Premier League now has strong examples such as Darren Fletcher of United, Paul Scholes has developed into the role as well. Michael Essien is obviously the strong example named earlier. Tottenham's Tom Huddlestone looks to be developing into this role as well, although when backed up by the like of Niko Kranjcar and Wilson Palacios in the midfield, the attacking duties are left to the more experienced/better players. Then there's Everton's Jack Rodwell who has been remarkable for Everton this season (who unsurprisingly have made it their top priority to keep the gifted youngster), showing not only great ability and strength in midfield, as well as great composure going forward and in front of goal.

Despite the emergence of players in this position, it's easy to confuse the Deep Lying Playmaker with the more familiar role of Defensive Midfielder. It's the Liverpool squad of the 08/09 season that shows us the greatest contrast between these two very different roles, with perhaps the experts of each job showcasing the different attributes required.

The 08/09 season was a very entertaining one, not only because Liverpool did well, but because for once it wasn't a two horse race between United and Chelsea but the race for the title for once, was better then the relegation and "the race for fourth." There was also some really good football on display as well.

Man United had become clinical with their style of play, Tevez and Rooney like six yard box hitmen, whilst Cristiano Ronaldo was the gifted Winger who battered the goal nets every game he played. Then there's Ryan Giggs, the silver fox of the Premier League, who proved Footballers are like fine wines that season, getting better with age.

Chelsea, aggressive but still defensively sound but no more grinding of results, one route football straight down the middle, but not to be confused with the route one football of Long balls into the box. Drogba was like a beast, smashing past the defence and smashing the ball in the net by one of those free-kicks.

Then there was Liverpool, a team that every year the fans get excited. Too excited. Every year Liverpool are going to win the League. Every year Liverpool are "unlucky". That season though, Liverpool were unlucky and pushed United all the way for the Championship. Playing good, fluid, attacking football. The whole team attacking as a team and defending as a team, Jamie Carragher playing the ball forward from defence, Gerrard playing in the hole between opposition defence and the midfield and Fernando Torres. Oh Torres. Single handily destroying Premier League defences, making the likes of Vidic and Ferdinand look like overweight Sunday leaguers and for the first time in awhile, a Liverpool striker bags 20 Prem goals.

But I've digressed. Liverpool had an excellent season for numerous reason but one was surely key man Xabi Alonso, Liverpool's original Deep Lying playmaker, either seeking Gerrard or making those killer through balls that go straight past defenders and are caught by Torres. Next to Xabi Alonso however, was Liverpool's next important player, Javier Mascherano. Purely in the midfield to regain possession, holding up play to give Alonso space for the ball or more frequently putting in the tackle against the opposition to win back the ball. These two players have to work in tandem with one another and at Liverpool they did, throw in talents like Gerrard and Torres, who both have a nose for goal, and you've got a winning combination. It's unfortunate that we let Xabi go then and that's perhaps one of the reasons why Mascherano is currently unhappy at Liverpool.

The point here however is the importance that this type of player can have. Jose Mourinho's teams revolve around the Deep Lying playmaker's abilities, the current norm for international teams employs usually one or two of this type of player. Man United has four players who can play this role; Carrick, Scholes, Fletcher and Hargreaves, one is a permanent visitor in the specialists clinic, one has lost all form, one is getting on and the last one has no-one going forward to help him out.

In a few years to come, the Deep Lying Playmaker will become one of the necessities in the route to success for the bigger teams, particularly in continental competition. How long it takes for England to really develop this type of player however is anyone's guess, but currently our youth system doesn't really develop these types of players, fortunately this is where the clubs can step in and mould youngsters into their visage.

Whatever the case may be, Football will only get better with the development of players prepared to go from defence to attack with a simply pass of the ball.

Friday, 23 July 2010

A Word on Mourinho and Football Tactics

For five weeks this Summer some little tournament distracted from the most entertaining thing in Football to date, Jose Mourinho. Yes, for five whole weeks the World of Football forgot about the special one to see Spain triumph in South Africa. However, now that normality resumes we can begin to hear more about Real Madrid and their new 'Galactico', Jose Mourinho.

Real Madrid's President - Florentino Perez, has had the philosophy for some time now that every year Madrid must make a 'Galactico' signing each year (Think Cristiano Ronaldo, Luis Figo, Kaka etc.) except this year, their Galactico is Mourinho, who is set to be the man to win something at a club that hasn't won anything in years now.

Jose Mourinho has always a coach renowned for his tactical discipline and genius, two Champions League titles, the Treble in Italy last season and numerous accolades in England with Chelsea, is just proof of his mastery. Yes, there are managers out there that have won more, Fergie is one example, but no other manager really has the charisma both on and off the pitch, with the fans, media and players, that the football World (and press) craves for.

For many, his tactical prowess reached its height in the Champions League Final 2010 against Bayern Munich, when he took out the threat of Arjen Robben, restricted the German sides attacking options despite allowing them enough of the ball, then throw in the defensive trio of Chivu, Walter Samuel and Esteban Cambiasso, as well as the experience and skill of hitman Diego Milito. It was his sublime finishing and Inter's ability to turn defence into attack with a clinical efficiency, saw Mourinho's Inter Milan win 2-0, winning the Champions League on top of the Coppa Italia and Serie A championship.

Mourinho has always been a stickler for the tactics involved in football, something that has perhaps been missing at Real Madrid, after all, a team composed of Kaka, Ronaldo, Higuain, Karim Benzema, Rafael van der Vaart, Xabi Alonso and Raul shouldn't need tactics? The talent should be able to win the match alone, brushing past all those who dare to step in front and challenge the might of Football's biggest club.This hasn't been the case, with Real Madrid left empty handed last season after early exits in the Spanish cup to Alcorcon and Lyon in the Champions League and despite clocking up 96 points in the League, Barcelona lifted the La Liga title.

Tactics will play an important role in Mourinho's success at Real Madrid and that will be the one thing he brings to the club above all else, apart from maybe two or three defence minded players. Afterall, it was Mourinho who showed the World who John Terry and Ricardo Carvalho were exactly.

The only question that remains is, what will Mourinho do with the wealth of talent available to him? At the minute he has a lot of stallions but no jockeys to control them. He has a wealth of attacking options, but no one that really gels a team together. Of course he'll have opportunities and the cash to bring those players in, some from his previous clubs no doubt. If Mourinho looks at his current squad however he might realise the likes of Xabi Alonso and Kaka can be moulded into the same midfield force seen at Chelsea with Essien and Lampard and at Inter with Cambiasso and Wesley Sneijder. Cristiano Ronaldo may find his creativity restricted and may even be forced to develop into an out and out striker under the strict and rigid Mourinho regime and I'm sure the Madrid back four will be whipped into shape too.

Real Madrid have turned into the dangerous club the World thought they'd be last year, all because of Mourinho and these little things called "tactics."

(Thank God they're not in Europa - Liverpool fan)

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Playing the beautiful Game...9 vs. 8?

So with the World Cup fever slowly dying down, the excitement of the transfer window and a new football season slowly takes over. Couple this with the somewhat great weather we've been having in the Midlands the past few weeks and there is only one outcome, an afternoon kick-about.

Now, when we were all younger, a kicking a ball about the park was exactly that, when you're older the craving for a full 11 vs. 11 game gets a lot stronger and with the dawn of the mobile phone it's easy enough to get your mates involved.

However, getting a full sized game going is nowhere near as easy as you'd like to think, with people making commitments to work, girlfriends, parents, other sports (e.g Cricket teams) and previous engagements all go hand in hand to create the situation of the Post Title.

It's not as if the local football leagues at the gym and 5-a-side centres either are any better either. Absolutely horrendous refereeing riddles one 7-a-side league at a local outdoor Football league. I'm talking about clearly poor decisions, such as an inability to keep consistency, one minutes the ref will blow his whistle, yet if players keep playing the game apparently carries on too.

A 5-a-side league in Derby, whilst brilliant is also rubbish at the same time, with amateur players forced to endure conditions which would make a gulag look lush. On the upside, they've got a variety of leagues at a variety of levels and a proper and well thought-out relegation and promotion system in place, even prizes for top goal scorer and best keeper.

The problem is when you try and play at a proper level of football, the 11 vs. 11 game isn't easily organised, especially at park level, but then again unless you join a local league or pub team, where can you go that offers a recreation 11 vs. 11 league?

This is something that the FA should look into rather then spending time on finding pitches. What's the point of having a football pitch if you can't get a full 22 man game going?

Sports centres should just offer a service whereby 11 mates can show up and play against another group of 11 mates in a controlled environment with a trained (or trainee) referee. Get each team to fork out £11, £22 altogether and you've paid for some tempt's wages for the day. If the FA could get behind a scheme like this, it could really help young talent get notice and develop English Football.

Besides who wants to find a pitch, only to get there and realise it's been over-run by teenagers smoking dope and larking about?

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

The 2010/11 Silly Season has dawned upon us!

So with the Pre-season beginning and the Transfer Window well and truly under way, all the rumour, speculation, and gossip has begun to hit the footballing World in what Sir Alex Ferguson penned, "the silly season."

It is difficult to know where many of these transfer rumours come from, ranging from the absolutely absurd to the sometimes quite sensible. Since the window opened up on the 1st of July I have read that Liverpool are signing Jesus Navas (I wish!), Gervinho (Ivory Coast star - not a far off possibility), Joe Cole and Edin Dzeko (Wolfsburg top goal scorer). What? Where do the papers and news sites get these stories from? Liverpool didn't even have a manager until recently and so who's making these transfer targets? Kenny Dalglish?

The transfer season is also fantastic for two reasons, or with Man City now multi-billionaires, perhaps three reasons. You always want to know what players your club is signing or chasing and who the other top four clubs are after, then with City it's what ridiculous money are they offering to some 'above-average' players?

It's the wealthy Manchester City that so far have made the biggest transfer headlines, signing three players already in big money deals. First their acquisition of Yaya Toure for £24m with a contract of roughly £200k a week, which I think makes him the highest earner of the Premier League and possibly the World? Then of course there's David Silva in another audacious £24M swoop of La Liga, after the Spaniish and former Valencia Winger performed well in the World Cup. Although I'm sure one of the Golden Rules of Football management is not to buy a player after he's had a good World Cup? It rarely works out. And finally there plans to spend a much inflated price of possibly £30m on Winger turned Central Midfielder - James Milner, who before a mixed World Cup was hailed as the future of English football, although he may have stiff competition from a certain Evertonian.

However the whole James Milner story, theory and price tag just seems outright stupid. Why demand a move to a club that already has a midfield talent pool to rival most Jose Mourinho sides, Patrick Vieira, Adam Johnson, Gareth Barry, Nigel De Jong, Stephen Ireland, Shaun Wright-Philips, Vladimir Weiss and the newly recruited Toure and Silva, how does Milner expect to achieve the same level of First team football he gets at Aston Villa?

I believe Man City's reasoning behind Milner and Villa's price-tag both go hand-in-hand. From the start of the 2010/11 campaign, all 20 clubs will have to adhere to new squad regulations. They dictate that each club will have to select their 18 names on a team sheet from a pre-nominated squad of 25. In that list of 25, eight must be "home-grown".

Now don't get me wrong, I'm all for the young English talent being brought forward quicker into the Premier League but it creates two possible problems, both of which James Milner represents.

The first problem is obvious to many critics, the price of decent, not good but just decent English players will increase quite a bit. A player like Milner, who has great ability and buckets of potential will have his price tag greatly inflated because of these new PL guide lines, which isn't fair on clubs. The really good English players were already very expensive and probably one of the reasons why none of our players buy from the English talent pool. I mean how long have Inter been after Ashley Cole? Years. His price tag? £100m plus player probably.

The second major problem is the fact that it isn't a requirement for these "Home Grown" to actually be English! They just have to serve 3 seasons in English (or Welsh) competition, meaning the academies can continue grabbing great foreign youngsters and continue pumping the Premier League with foreigners, just this time they'll be younger. When you consider the fact that under these new guidelines this means players like Liverpool's Insua and Arsenal's Fabregas are "Home Grown" talent.

However these new guidelines are a step in the right direction and much better than the originally proposed 6+5 rules that the FA were considering at some page. With the Premier League officially the best League in the World, we can afford to make these smaller changes to the way our country's league is run in order to fuel a better future for our national team.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

España son Campeones del Mundo or Spain are World Champions

Well Spain have proved to be worthy World Champions, despite my predictions last Wednesday.

Whilst many fancied Spain from the outset I saw something in the Holland performances against Brazil and Uruguay that I thought could take them to the top. Unfortunately the final match of the tournament wasn't to feature the hard working Dutchmen , rather their aggressive and brothers, however despite this Arjen Robben showcased his ability to the fullest extent with two golden opportunities to break the deadlock. It's a shame for Robben and when he went to pick his Silver Medal up you coulkd see the gut wrenching disappointment in his face, you cold see it in all the Dutch players face to be honest.

However the full time result is the only one that matters and Iniesta's strike 4 minutes before the end of extra time sent the whole Spanish team into overwhelming Joy. Spain have now not only made history with their 1-0 victory over Holland, but have become one of only three teams to hold both the European and World Cup titles.

We have to consider though, was any other outcome really likely? Disregarding their defeat to Switzerland, Spain have passed, scored and skilfully outmanoeuvred all that stood in their way. Whilst 90 minutes of 0-0 may not be everyone's cup of tea, it proved that both teams were equally matched and deserved to be in the final and the end result just proved that the best team won.

When we look at the individual performances of some of the Spanish team's players we can understand why they've been crowned World Champions.

David Villa is the most obvious stand out player for me in the Spain squad with 5 goals and an assist for his team, he has been a fundamental and key component in the throughout the whole campaign. Whilst he didn't find the net tonight, his goals took Spain to the final and what more can you ask of a striker?

Carlos Puyol and Iker Casillas at the heart of the Spanish defence have been impressive all tournament. Puyol took Spain into the final with his headed goal against Germany and Casillas prevented Holland from taking the lead after his outstretched leg deflected a golden opportunity for Dutch winger Arjen Robben.

It certainly wasn't a classic performance from Spain, or from Holland for that matter but South Africa 2010 has definitely been one of the more rememberable World Cup's.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

The Future's Bright, the Future's Oranje and one Yanks idiocy

So the bright talent of Spain have proved to be victorious over the hard working and youthful Germans. At the end of the day though, the mighty Paul the Octopus had forsaken his countrymen, so a Germany win was unlikely for all.

Now Germany face Uruguay in the third place play-off, a match no one wants to be associated with and will most likely see the B teams rolled out for each side. On to bigger things however and the Netherlands will play Spain in a World Cup final which will see a brand new champion and the 8th different country to lift the World Cup trophy.

For me I still fancy the Mighty Dutch, who've had a brilliant World Cup so far, beating Brazil and Uruguay on their way to to the finals, both of which were no pushovers. Spain haven't had it easy either and their superb performance against Germany was quite possible their best of the tournament. Who would have thought that the team who lost to Switzerland in their opening fixture would go on to the final?

Stepping aside from these two lucky nations, we look at the USA and in particular the jingoistic Gregg Doyel of CBS, a man who has the audacity to write: U.S. allows other countries to win the World Cup.

Now to be fair, I know Football, or Soccer as it were, isn't the most popular sport in the USA, either the MLB or NBA takes that crown, but to say Team USA was made up of " C-plus students" in terms of athleticism is disrespectful and delusional. The statement makes even less sense when the author, Gregg Doyel actually believes the finer US athletes go on to play American Football is also ridiculous.

Some American Footballers like Tom Brady for instance, are good physical athletes, but look at most defensive players in the NFL and they aren't athletes at all, just hulk's of mass. Which makes sense because the average American Football play must last no longer than five minutes.

Doyel pinpoints one player in particular, he says: "Landon Donovan's great, but is he really the best the U.S. has to offer?" Yes! This is the same Landon Donovan who sprints 25 yards out of nowhere to grab USA a vital goal to send them into the final 16 of the World Cup, a monumental achievement when we consider the USA's World Cup record isn't brilliant. This is also the same Landon Donovan, who went to Everton and tore up the Premier League with style, helping his team beat Chelsea 2-1 and Manchester United 3-1, the top two teams in the EPL. Aged 28, I'd like to see many of the so-called 'superior athletes' of the NFL, NBA and MLB run around for ninety minutes and be half as effective as Donovan on the pitch.

Doyel's excuse as to why the USA team didn't do any better boils down to the fact that there are other sports the U.S. is interested in, so? In England do we not have Cricket, Rugby Union/ Rugby League as well as Football, all competing for the attention of young talent.

The USA's finest aren't even that good when it comes to their sports, the current FIBA (Basketball) World Champions are Spain, their first championship, which Russia and Yugoslavia have both won 3 times, the same amount the USA have won it.

Going back to the USA Soccer Team, Donovan is just one very good player, there are others, Tim Howard the most glaring example, then there's Clint Dempsey who is wonderful for Fulham and brilliant in the Premier League. Then there's Jozy Altidore - a young lad with buckets of pace that could rival any Quarterback or Wide Receiver in the NFL.

The slight shortcomings of the USA team can be more directly linked to the weaknesses of the MLS rather than just saying America's best play other sports, because that's bollocks.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Building for the Future

With no World Cup matches recently, it has given the English football pundits something else other than the World Cup scandal to talk about, namely the future of the England National Team and English Football in general.

The problem according to many a Sports commentator on Radio, Web and print is the lack of coaching staff that teach the talented footballers aged between 8 - 11. TalkSport radio has been pressing this issue all day, the fact that apparently there's only 50 coaches in all of England teaching the talented youths aged under 11, compared to the 150 odd in Spain, currently ranked number 2 in the World. In Spain as well, the best coaches work with the youngsters, to get them to understand the game and rid them of the fear of losing, something which is apparently backwards in this country, with the best coaches working with the talented adults.

But surely the coaching system in this country isn't as bad as people have been making out? Look for example at the recent succes of the England U17's as they beat Spain to lift the European Championship. Young players such as Connor Wickham from Ipswich, are proving that the English style of coaching and the English game as a whole can produce talented youngsters. Wickham not only scored the winner against Spain for England, but bagged six goals for himself and Roy Keane's Ipswich last season (09/10), which is impressive for such a young, talented player.

However players like Wickham still have a few more years to mature physically and as footballers. Over time good players will only become better, take Wayne Rooney or even Michael Own for example. Both were exceptional talents at 18 and over time both developed into brilliant strikers, Wayne Rooney still has time to become even better and the same should happen for Wickham.

That is not to say we don't have any young, talented footballers right now that couldn't slot into Fabio Capello's squad.

The first is the most obvious: Theo Walcott - The 21 year old Arsenal Winger has brilliant pace, has a fantastic knack for losing his man and getting into the box. Unfortunately it is also well documented that he's not the final product just yet. His crossing is dubious at best and his finishing in front of goal is hit and miss at times, however it's better to be hit and miss rather than never taking the chance.

His speed alone can make up for these shortcomings and this extra element to the England Squad could have perhaps been what was missing during the games against the USA and Algeria when England looked flat at times.

Next is Adam Johnson - A talented individual who only last year was playing in the Championship but since his move to Man City he's grown in leaps and bounds as a player. A brilliant left foot and pace to boot which he can use down the wing or in the centre of the midfield, for many Johnson was certainly someone that we could have done with in South Africa to free up Gerrard to play behind the striker. At 22 he's got a bright future ahead of him and with the arrival of David Silva at Eastlands, he'll not only have healthy competition to earn a start but someone equally talented to learn from.

The last one for today, Jack Rodwell - The defensive midfielder who can play as a centreback for Everton, is perhaps one of the brightest talents in Stuart Pearce's U21 squad. For Everton and England Rodwell has showcased his passing ability and his physicality in the midfield, as well as his intelligence on the pitch, choosing his forward runs with great effect, often resulting in a goal or great scoring opportunity.

Rodwell is definitely one to look out for in the future, as apparently he could be the next Rio Ferdinand according to the lad himself, with Rio being his idol. Everton Manager David Moyes has also apparently stated that Rodwell's future perhaps lies at the heart of the defence as the sturdy centreback everyone can rely on. For now however let's simply marvel at this midfield maestro in his current club position.

These were just three (slightly obvious) young players to look at for in the next season and the Euro 2012 campaign. There are plenty others out there that haven't been mentioned such as Ryan Shawcross and Jack Wilshere but as time goes on I'm sure we'll all be aware of their talent, some sooner rather than later.

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Too late to bandwagon, early enough to predict!

So here we are with the first of what I hope to be are a number of exciting blog entries regarding the World's favourite sport as well as a few life lessons in between.

With the beginning of this blog coming at the end stages of the FIFA World Cup I'm a bit too late to comment on football fever gripping the nation, too late to comment on England's bitter, shameful, humiliating, effortless, pathetic, awful, and limp display in the 2010 World Cup. However I'm sure no-one really wants to be reminded of how bad England were, me especially.

Instead I'll briefly explain how great the Dutch are this tournament and how I think they've got the talent and experience to go on a win the whole thing.

First off they are a very good team, let's not kid ourselves, Kuyt and Babel may have had a mediocre Liverpool season but Babel's pace and Kuyt's work ethic are useful tools, even if they're left on the bench. Then we can look at the teams real stars; Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben. Two great footballers, the later of which I never really understood why Chelsea let go. I also hate Arsenal with a passion so it hurts me a little bit to admit RvP is any good.

The Dutch swept aside 5 times World Cup winners Brazil like they were nothing, whilst the Brazilians were left red faced (literally for Felipe Melo) and embarrassed as the samba spirit was replaced by most likely White Spirit by the end of the night.

The Dutch now face the Destroyers of African hopes, Uruguay who have taken out hosts South African and cheated pass Ghana, an easier opponent of the final three teams remaining for Holland.

Germany face European champions Spain who so far have failed to deliver much evidence of why they won the Euro Cup 2 years ago. Losing to Switzerland in the group stage and then really failing to impress against the rest of their opposition, Paraguay in particular today ,looking a far cry from the Germans who are banging in goals for fun at the minute.

Surely then the most likely outcome is a Holland - Germany final in which a long standing rivalry might just be settled between these two neighbours.

Whatever the outcome, I think we should note that the tournament's big names haven't really shone this World Cup. Rooney was awful, Messi was missing, Ronaldo is not Captain material, Brazil disappointed and all of France surrendered yet again. The real stars have been the talented players that don't let the success get to their heads. Higuain for example, 4 goals and making headlines based on merit rather than hype and scandal. Arjen Robben proving graft is enough to be a great footballer and Thomas Muller and Mesut Ozil. Two young German superstars who have the potential to sit alongside the Beckenbauer's and Kahn's of German football history. Muller in particular for me has stood out, this competition. Unlike many before this World Cup, I was aware of how good Ozil already was, but Muller for me, has been consistently brilliant throughout the tournament, scoring 4 goals as well.

If I was his club manager I would be a worried man indeed.