Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Capello's England Revolution

The game against Ghana last Tuesday night was supposed to be Capello’s “9-1 Revolution” which turned out to be nothing more than a realisation that Joleon Lescott couldn’t mark the far post, never mind Asamoah Gyan in the area. The City defender was so rigid inside the box it’s ironic he was a part of a 4-3-3 attacking formation concocted by Capello, a man known for his use of a rigid 4-4-2 formation.

Looking at the positives from England’s International’s against Wales and Ghana, the new 4-3-3 formation looks dangerous on the attack and tidy when out of possession and on the defensive. Ashley Young proved to be the real star against Ghana, cutting inside from the left wing a looking a real threat with his long range shots and crosses. Truthfully he should have scored in the first half and thoroughly deserved a goal when it looked like England would struggle to break through the Ghanaian defence. But thankfully Carroll burst through and got his name on the score sheet for the first time in an England shirt.

No one can really argue that the Ghana game wasn’t entertaining, but it seems that even with a new tactical system in place, England still look like a jaded side, still recovering from their World Cup beating.

The new system should in theory offer a new depth to the attack, after all three attackers are better than two. However with Carroll up front the England team got too comfortable hoofing the ball into the box, hoping he’d get a touch. There were some genuine moments of flowing football when Stuart Downing managed to free Andy Carroll space in the box for him to strike it clean for England’s goal.

Milner and Wilshere worked a treat as part of the midfield trio, with Wilshere playing that holding role Capello is so fond of, linking the defence and midfield whilst at the same time joining in on the attack. Man City’s James Milner also managed to play a few decent crosses and passes but didn’t look his best and was slightly anonymous in an unfamiliar role compared to playing for club.

The main strength to Capello’s new 4-3-3 is the flexibility and creativity the system offers, especially compared to the rigid 4-4-2 he was so desperate to use in South Africa. With creative players such as Wilshere, Gerrard and Ashley Young in your squad, you would expect more fluency to an England side. Fabio Capello stifled that creativity during the World Cup but seems to have had a change of minds, much like with the Captaincy and unleashed the flair players England actually has at its disposal. With the potential of a front attacking 3 including the likes Young, Walcott and any one of Rooney, Bent or Defoe, there’s plenty of flair, pace and attacking creativity available to Capello that could not be unleashed whilst constrained in such a disciplined system.

The problem is however, when you don’t have the flair players at your disposal, England will struggle under this new formation and thankfully Capello recognised that last night at changed to his trusty 4-4-2 half way into the second half, keeping the width and attacking pace yet allowing Ashley Young and free roaming role behind Defoe, keeping a flair element to the team. It was at this time when England switched formation however, that Ghana really started to press forward and the 2 in the middle of England’s midfield proved not to be enough when Gyan finally managed to break through the England lines.

For Capello and England the 4-3-3 formation has proved to be a success, with Jack Wilshere looking comfortable and playing as good for England as he does for Arsenal, and the pace of Young and Bent being unleashed in the attack. It would be interesting if Capello continues on playing the formation when it comes to the big games if we qualify for the Euro Cup in 2012, considering how conservative he can be when it comes to the big games. Before the Ghana game, Capello called his new system the “9-1 Revolution,” implying the whole team offers service to the solitary striker. Based on the past two performances, this revolution hasn’t quite succeeded yet.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Is David Moyes losing Patience?

Last weekend saw two teams managed by Glaswegians, Owen Coyle and David Moyes, unfortunately only one team turned up with the typical Scottish fight, pride and passion. That team was Bolton who smashed Everton 2-0 to force the Toffees into a potential relegation battle. One managed looked proud and inspired as his squad played a good looking game of Football for 90 minutes. The other looked a jaded character, fed up and ready for the coach trip home.

That man was David Moyes and after nearly nine years at Everton you have to wonder whether he can take a team that was once aspiring to European Football and a fourth place finish, any further. Without a doubt David Moyes has proved himself a more than competent manage with many Everton fans I’m sure, regarding him as World Class. Unfortunately for Moyes several cracks have begun to show around Goodison Park which has seen a traditionally competitive team slip down the table over the years. Now they sit just three points above the relegation zone in 13th.

It would be easy to blame David Moyes but a closer look at Everton’s team and the club setup tells a chilling tale which would suggest their manager is a miracle maker. Last weekend Moyes admitted "I've thought we were in a relegation battle since the third weekend of the season." When you take a look at the first team squad you can understand why.

With no funding available to him at the beginning of the season, the big signing for Everton and Moyes was Jermaine Beckford. The ex-Leeds hitman who banged in goal after goal to help Leeds soar up the table, then he hit a dreadful goal drought which saw the fans and players lose confidence and patience in the lad. This year it has clearly been a struggle for him to adapt to the Premier League after the colossal jump from League 1.

However Beckford was supposed to be the man to cover for the ever-so-fragile Louis Saha, another great goal scorer but you can’t guarantee his fitness from one week to the next and its hurt Everton in the one place they can’t afford to strengthen and that’s up front. This season Tim Cahill and Marouane Fellaini have been drafted in as makeshift strikers on so many occasions, it’s no surprise then that between them they’ve bagged 10 league goals, the same amount that Saha and Beckford have scored between them.

The squad however isn’t just in dire need of rebuilding up front, all over the pitch there are problems for Everton. Mikel Arleta looks like a shadow of his former self from last season, yes he’s had his injuries, but when he’s had a good run of games he hasn’t performed like everyone knows he can. It may just be that seeing Spain win the European Championship and the World Cup without him being involved, may just be getting to him a little this season, especially as the media have questioned his exclusion from the Spain squads and as a player he must be asking questions of himself as well.

Then of course there’s Jack Rodwell, the onetime future of England who seems to be fighting fitness at the moment as well as a regular place in the Everton midfield. In contrast to the rapid rise of Jack Wilshere this season it seems Rodwell isn’t improving as quickly as Moyes, and Everton, had hoped for. If anything he’s stalled and that big money move may be a while off just yet.

Whilst Everton may be seemingly suffering from a lack of squad depth at the moment they have found a hidden gem this season with Seamus Coleman, who’s made his way up the Everton ranks for a place at right back and occasionally as winger, smashing five league goals in along his way. But it will take a lot more than one really in form player to turn the sinking Merseyside outfit around.

Their next three games are crucial though, with Chelsea in the FA Cup this weekend a win could lift spirits for their upcoming league games. Everton then take on Sunderland at home, a game that ended up 2-2 at the Stadium of Light and since Sunderland have dipped a little form-wise, Everton can expect a hard slog. Then it’s a trip up to Newcastle who will be looking to definitely take all three points from Everton, especially after the 1-0 win for the Toon earlier this season, thanks to a Ben Arfa wonder strike. It’s a tough run of games for sure.

It will be very interesting to see where Everton end up at the end of the season, relegation would seem unlikely with the few quality players in the squad. There are certainly 7 worse teams below them in the league right now, but with Moyes losing faith in the squad and the club not giving funds to strengthen the team, it will be interesting to see if Moyes decides to stay on as manager at Everton. After all he has led them to a fourth place finish and the last four years he’s guided them to top half and UEFA Cup finishes. Either way Everton Chairman Bill Kenwright should do all within his power to keep Moyes on and provide them the funds he badly needs and wants to strengthen a squad that not too long ago was a constant threat to 4th place. But at the minute it seems unlikely with no new plans for a stadium and the stadium-share with Liverpool has been thrown out window for a long time.

It is a shame however to see a decent top-half of the table club struggle as much as Everton this season and with Liverpool slipping away as a powerhouse within English Football, it seems these days both Merseyside clubs have lost the standing within the Premier League as teams to be respected.

Fernando Torres we loved you so...

His armband said he was a red, Torres, Torres. You’ll never walk alone it said, Torres, Torres. The ever endearing song the Kop used to belt out at its much loved striking hero, Fernando Torres, for the best part of four years summed up everything the fans thought of this great Anfield legend and great Liverpool number 9.

The former Liverpool number 9 was once simply adored by the fans for all his time at the club despite the fact that for the last two and half years almost the Spanish striker has been badly out of form as the club’s position and stature in the Premier League has plummeted. It seemed that even the arrival of another Anfield legend in Kenny Dalglish couldn’t convince El Nino to stay on and play for the club he once confessed to loving as he grew up as a child.

Fernando Torres for a time was the badly needed striker that could win Liverpool the title. In his first season he scored over 20 goals for Liverpool, a feat many Kop strikers at the time were struggling to accomplish. He linked up fantastically with the likes of Gerrard, Xabi Alonso, Mascherano and even Dirk Kuyt. But as Alonso left for Real Madrid and Mascherano for Barcelona, Liverpool have looked like a shadow of their former selves and the “will he won’t he” sagas floating around Torres come every transfer window since his arrival seemed to test his seemingly unending loyalty to the club.

However his recent switch to the “Pride of London” Chelsea F.C. seems to reinforce what everyone thinks lately, that there’s no loyalty in football anymore. Many Liverpool supporters seemed to think Torres would never leave the club, that his contract was somehow like a marriage certificate, he couldn’t leave, it wouldn’t be allowed. The problem here lies in the notion of loyalty that hangs around Liverpool. The saying around Anfield is “no one is bigger than the club” and to ask for a transfer or go to a rival club is something that a Liverpool player simply does not do. Liverpool let’s go of you, not the other way round.

The truth is however, loyalty in Football probably doesn’t exist. The idea that Torres is a lifelong Liverpool fan has probably been taken too far by PR people and Liverpool fans. The sad, sad truth is that Torres’ heart probably never lied with Liverpool. His first love is and always will be Athletico Madrid and I’d dare say Torres still remains fiercely loyal to the club and probably the reason why he did not return to Spain to go to Real Madrid or Barcelona. Instead he chose Chelsea, and for a man who has won the European Cup and the World Cup, he’ll most likely want to win a League title at some point. With Chelsea it is more likely to happen unfortunately.

In reality Chelsea is the only club big enough and rich enough to afford El Nino and for Liverpool and for Torres himself, it was probably the right deal. To put it into context, Chelsea have paid £50million for a player that has been out of form for the past two years, injury prone and out of sorts. Torres will have to start scoring quickly and consistently for the London club otherwise he’ll quickly look like another expensive flop, another Shevchenko. Chelsea will also have to adapt their strategy for a striker who has expressed how he prefers to be the lone target man, in a team that combines the attacking trio of Drogba, Anelka and Malouda. Then of course there’s club captain, John Terry, who has a dislike for the Spaniard, which many Liverpool and Chelsea fans will know has a long history behind it.

As Torres leaves as Liverpool fans we have to look at the future. Luis Suarez made his debut against Stoke in good fashion, nicking a tidy goal, complete with nimble footwork and placement. Let’s ignore the fact it was unlucky the defender couldn’t clear it off the line quicker because even coming from the Dutch league, Suarez has more Van Nistelroy about him rather than another Afonso Alves. Then of course there’s the Andy Carroll, a true lad in every sense of the word, who jets off to Dubai to get over injury and gets smashed on 30 Jagerbombs only to aggravate his injury further by falling off a bar stool. His ability may be under scrutiny at the moment but at least the Liverpool Christmas parties will be significantly better.

At the end of the day Liverpool have lost one legend yet gained to promising talents, that potentially can link up together incredibly well and it will be the first time for a fair few years that the Merseyside club will have two damn good strikers in the team. Dalglish loves his striking duos and maybe just maybe, as Liverpool players we may finally see a striker play up front, rather than out wide and out of position. After all, that’s all we really want.

At the end of the day though, good luck to Torres at Chelsea, he may no longer be a Liverpool player but I’m sure he’ll receive a warm reception from Liverpool fans who still sing him a song: Fernando Torres! Terry’s bit on the side!

Are there enough English managers in Football’s Top Flight?

The number 4 is a very crucial number that sums up everything wrong about English football at the minute. Forget the influx of foreign players or even foreign owners that don’t know anything about the game or how to run a football club. Instead take some time to consider how many managers in the Premier League are actually English? The answer is of course just 4; Ian Holloway, Harry Redknapp, Steve Bruce and Alan Pardew. Of course there are plenty more in the lower leagues, but out of 20 Premier League clubs only 1/5 are actually English. This is a horrendous amount when put into perspective against the other major leagues of Italy – 18 Italian managers out of 20, Germany – 16 German managers out of 18 and Spain – 16 Spanish managers out of 20.

Some may argue that the amount of domestic managers is irrelevant when the Premier League is the best in the World; whilst I tend to agree you have to look at the evidence that suggests otherwise. The recent Ballon D’or award boiled down to a final three of Iniesta, Xavi and eventual winner Messi, all of whom play in the La Liga and play for Barcelona, managed by the Spaniard Pep Guardiola. The best manager of the year award went to Real Madrid’s Jose Mourinho and even the International Federation of Football History and Statistics, boasts that Spain has the best domestic league in the World, with the Premier League in second place.

It’s not just a lack of managers or coaches in the Premier League however, it’s a severe lack of coaches across the entirety of England. Before the World Cup only 2769 English coaches held a UEFA Pro Licence, which allows you to manage in the country’s top flight on a permanent basis and allows you to manage in the Champions League. Germany had 34,970, Italy 29,420, Spain 23,995, and even France had 17,000. The figures show a severe lack of depth within the English coaching system which affects the overall quality of a countries youth development and national team performance. The England National team for instance haven’t reached a final since 1966; Spain, Germany, France and Italy however, have been in a combined 8 finals since 1998 in the World Cup and Euro Cup.

With Fabio Capello to step down after the 2012 Euro Cup, the FA have already stated their intention to appoint an Englishman as manager of England, a wild idea considering the last one was Steve McClaren, but the past most successful England managers have been Sir Bobby Robson and Sir Alf Ramsey, both of which were English, one of the them won us the World Cup.

The question is however which current English managers in the Premier League would take the England job and who would have success? Harry Redknapp is the obvious candidate and many wanted his appointment after the World Cup in South Africa last year, but would he take it now Spurs are becoming a dominant force in the League? Have Ian Holloway and Steve Bruce got the credentials or experience to even warrant being considered? Is Alan Pardew even worth mentioning? Then of course there’s the unemployed Roy Hodgson, probably one the most successful English managers without a job at the minute, but would he be welcomed as the next England manager?

Whoever it ends up being, we should wish them success and give them our support. Because with the way the Premier League is going at its current rate, English managers are going to be as hard to come by as decent English players in an import heavy league.

It would perhaps be of benefit to the ‘English’ way of playing football if more Englishmen were given chance to manage the bigger clubs in England, instead of owners getting managers who’ve had success abroad. However before that happens there has to be a drastic improvement on the standard of coaching and that begins at youth level. The quality of youth coaching is detrimental to the development of our national team and the development of coaches themselves, just look at Germany for proof.

English coaches need to improve drastically in order to even stand a chance of getting a Premier League job and for the England team to stand a chance of winning another major tournament. It’s a necessity though to create coaches that think beyond hoofing the ball 60m up towards Peter Crouch or Wayne Rooney otherwise the England team is going to continue to suffer the embarrassment that met them in South Africa over and over again.

As of right now we’re nowhere near solving the problem. The FA are striving to improve their coaching systems and are currently looking for more people to step into football coaching, focusing on youth development and working their way upwards. But for now all we can do is hope that the number of English Premier League managers begins to grow, we’ve fallen way behind other countries and whilst our clubs may continue to do really way, we need to consider the future of our National team for our country’s pride which has taken a substantial hit over the years.