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.