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Another England World Cup failure

December 3, 2010 1 comment

 

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It seems that English football has had such a terrible year. An awful World Cup showing and now the humiliation of our 2018 World Cup hosting campaign.

It would appear that our standing as a nation in world football is certainly not what it used to be. The fact that we are seen as the inventors of the beautiful game and the memories of 1966 do not hold any pull with the voters.

We rolled out all of the big guns for this particular campaign. Royalty, the Prime Minister and David Beckham are national icons known the world over but all of this was not nearly enough to bring The World Cup home. Our exit at the first stage of voting really does ask the question: where do we go from here?

FIFA, from the outside, look like they are wanting to spread the World Cup hosting out to countries who have never hosted a World Cup. This has many advantages of course, all of which push England even further down the pecking order. It will bring new supporters of football to the world game. It will bring new stadia and facilities to new countries to enjoy as a legacy to the next generations.

The English bid used many great arguments which went in their favour. We have the stadia and facilities. We have the experience of holding tournaments of this size. We have a multi-cultural society and would embrace a World Cup whole heartedly. But the fact remains that the decision makers always wanted new countries to be hosts.

We could argue that the recent bribery scandal has been a major factor in the voting process. We will probably never get to the bottom of the real truth unless an independent enquiry takes place. Even if this does happen it would be covered up and watered down. FIFA are such a huge animal that they have the power to limit any such proven accusations to a minimum.

I think there is a mentality in this country to believe that we are the best at everything and that by being English we deserve more than we get. This only goes to prove, as in The World Cup, that maybe we are not as good as we were or think we are. 

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Is Capello to blame for England failure??

November 18, 2010 Leave a comment

 

 

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Another occasion passes where we see England second best. This time it was the French who had our number. Although the score line looks close I believe that there was quite a large gulf between the two sides. We even finished the game stronger in the last twenty minutes or so which could delude us in to thinking that we are not that far away. For me, we were outclassed on our own turf by a country that has had more recent problems than us. Their own World Cup showing was worse than ours, they have had to discipline many of their players, have a new manager too. All the excuses are there for the French if they want them.

As always, the manager takes all of the blame almost single headedly. I think that you must look beyond the criticism that Capello receives and look at the bigger picture when we see our national team failing as it does, and maybe this is the time to be doing so. We weren’t just beaten at home to France. I think that they were comfortable for the majority of the match, in second or third gear even. They kept the ball for long spells and closed us high up the pitch. We never manage to do this often enough or well enough against the top teams in the world.

As it was a friendly I think Capello was correct to give opportunities to some of our youngsters. We can’t have it both ways. We can’t expect to win every match but not risk blooding new players when the time arises. Although nobody covered themselves in glory it would be wrong to judge the debutants on this one appearance.

For me far too much is expected of our national football team. As a nation we almost feel that it is our right to win World Cups and European Championships. I am really not sure why that is. Apart from 1966 and 1990 we have never really threatened. So why do we believe that we will now? This expectation certainly has a negative response to those that play. Body language suggests that they don’t feel completely comfortable in an England shirt.

Now we have a decreasing pool to choose from. This is only going to get smaller as the amount of foreign players here shows no signs of letting up. Even the youth teams of the top clubs are full of foreign players these days.

Technically and tactically we lack the top teams too. This is not Capellos fault, nor the current players. We need to make our youngsters more technically and tactically aware from a younger age. I have coached young players and have seen it first hand. The majority of kids just want to play a match. They are not interested in actually learning how to play. They  just want to play. For me this is where one of the biggest factors in our decline as a top footballing nation lies. I’m not blaming children for any of our failures but the mentality that surrounds playing football at an early age. We need to install a new mentality that young players want to be educated on the finer points of the game. It happens abroad. I have done it myself whilst a player at AJ Auxerre at age 16. We  had weekly tactical lessons in the classroom. I also saw it in Holland at FC Utrecht. Those players always know the weaknesses of the opposition system for example, where the spare man is and how to use him.

So how can we change it? I believe that we need ex players within the game promoting this type of mentality. That would be a start anyway.  It is such a big job that it wont be done overnight and I do not have all of the answers.

Hopefully The FA will at least do something.

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Is Pires too old for The Premier League ??

November 17, 2010 Leave a comment

 

The imminent signing of Robert Pires will raise eyebrows amongst many football followers. The age of Pires, 37, will bring potential criticism towards Gerrard Houllier if this doesn’t prove to be a useful signing.

All managers like to make a statement with their first signing when they arrive at a new club. With the transfer window closed this provides an opportunity for Villa to obtain a signing when all other clubs cannot do likewise.

Pires has been without a club since the summer since his release from Villarreal so it will be interesting to see what his level of fitness will be like. I know too well that as you get older it is much harder to achieve the same high level of fitness as in previous years. His match fitness will be even tougher to rediscover. The longer you go without competitive football, the longer it takes to be properly match fit. Although he may have been ‘ticking over’ since the summer, the high intensity of The Premier League is a long way from anything he has been used to during the last few months.

His ability though is unquestionable. He brought a huge amount of class to The Premier League during his Arsenal days. I’m sure that when he left Arsenal in his early 30’s he thought that he was winding down for a year or two in Spain. Now, at 37 though, it seems that he still has something left in the tank. Gerrard Houllier would not be signing him if this was not the case and I’m sure that Pires himself would not want to ruin his reputation if he thought he wasn’t up to it.

Myself, in my early 30’s signed for Lincoln City. I managed to add another few years onto my career when I thought that it was sharply coming to an end. Sometimes you find a place where it all seems to click for you. Lincoln City was that place for me and Villarreal was that place for Pires  it would seem.

Houllier does have some experience of extending the careers of top players. His current assistant Gary McAllister was brought in at Liverpool and enjoyed a successful end to his illustrious career. 

To play at any level at that age requires a manager who will provide the right conditions. I trained less, was given the occasional extra day off here and there as well as being rested from some matches. This all helps to prolong the career of a pro in his 30’s. The facilities at Premier League level will have all of the right conditions to prevent injury and improve recovery time, all things which an ageing player needs.

So I look forward to seeing if Pires will inspire Villa as he inspired Arsenal in the coming months of the season.

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Will the young guns provide a new era for England ?

November 15, 2010 Leave a comment

 

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The recent England squad has found many of our young performers added to the squad to face France.

The inclusion of Cardiff’s Jay Bothroyd has sparked talking points from many sections. His status as a Championship player will raise eyebrows amongst many England followers.

Many will be thinking that we could be scraping the barrel with us having to delve in to the second tier of our game to produce our next batch of England stars. This maybe just a sign of things to come. The career of Bothroyd is an interesting one. Having spent his early years at Arsenal and not made the grade he has done the Championship circuit and always looked a handful at that level. With the pool of players available to Capello he has no choice but to look beyond The Premier League.

This is a result of the huge influx of foreign players to our shores from years gone by and it could become normal practice if the trends are not reversed.

I am not suggesting that Bothroyd is not worthy of a call up. He must have been watched on many occasions by the scouts in the England set up. His performances must certainly have merited this inclusion, so why not give him a go. 

I just feel a little sorry for Kevin Davies. He must be wondering what he has done wrong to be excluded from the previous squad. He only played a few minutes for England and his form since has been good, so why has he been axed, and what message does that send out ?

From the original squad list I like how the England team is evolving on paper. Carroll, Henderson and Wilshire look to be standing out in The Premier League. They could prove to have long international careers ahead of them. I also think that Kieran Gibbs is a capable understudy to Ashley Cole at left back.

The experience of Steven Gerrard and Rio Ferdinand will provide some substance to the team so I look forward to seeing if any of the next batch can grow in to becoming our future England stars.

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So what does it take to be a pro ?

November 12, 2010 Leave a comment

 

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So what does it take a professional footballer ? Not just a run of the mill player but a world class player: technique, pace, desire, luck, athleticism, consistency, strength (mental and physical), and possibly a few more.

This is why when we watch a Premier League match that we see some players make football seem a simple game to play. The fact of the matter is that if it were that easy then everybody would be doing it. I don’t mean the previous comment flippantly but it’s true. That is why top footballers are seen as heroes, because they can do something that many, many other people only dream of being able to do. One reason why the top clubs around the world pay such high wages and transfer fees is because only 1 or 2 people can replace or improve the squad they have. Take the current Wayne Rooney situation. How many players in the world could replace Rooney and how much would it cost. It probably made financial sense to give him his reported £230,000 per week. Put simply, it is a supply and demand scenario.

So, on, the flip side of the coin can you imagine a scenario where there were many players, hundreds maybe, who could replace or even improve a team or squad. As there are so many players available the value of the player would be much lower because the club would know that if player A will not sign then there is a queue of another 100 players who will be very happy to. Well, this scenario is what happens year on year in the lower leagues. An estimated 600 professional are out of contract at the end of each season. If players are deemed not good enough for the Premier League then they will, in a lot of cases, find themselves one tier below in The Championship. This then forces those released by Championship clubs down to league 1 and so the trend continues to where players released by a league 2 club have nowhere to go but non-league or retirement. With lower league clubs always looking to cut costs, sometimes it comes down to he who will be cheapest will get the contract. I have heard of instances where clubs have asked players the least amount of money that they will sign for. If they ask 10 players then you really need to pitch it low to get the contract.  Normally it is young players with little first team experience who are seen to be cheapest and is for this reason that many youngsters can be found in the bottom two leagues of English football, many not good enough but thrown in anyway because a higher wage cannot be afforded.

With the majority of the media attention focusing on the Premier League this has taken the lion’s share of money to the top flight.  Much smaller sums are filtered down the league ladder. That is just the way it is. More people want to watch Premier League football so that is where the largest percentage of the money is. Let’s be honest here. Premiership football is a lot easier on the eye. Even a die-hard lower league football fan would have to admit it.

So what makes a lower league footballer? Well, firstly, in order to be a pro footballer at any level still requires many attributes. Although the standard can sometimes seem poor you do need to possess many strings to your bow.  What you do find though is that maybe a lower league player will have a few, or many, less of the attributes needed to play at the top. Let us use Rio Ferdinand this time as an example. How easy does he make the game look? To watch him we see his pace very evident. Not many players knock it past him and get the ball on the other side do they? We also see how composed he is on the ball. Another facet of his game is his distribution. Add to this his aerial ability, desire to win, physical strength, concentration and outstanding level of consistency then we can appreciate what a great player he is. So let’s imagine a centre back with some, but certainly not all of these attributes. If there was a centre-back who had decent aerial ability but lacked pace then he would not make a top class player. Or even a centre-back who has outstanding pace but cannot pass the ball too well, or who has poor positional sense. This player too will not play at the highest level. So where do they go? Well, they filter down the divisions eventually finding their level. So when you have a manager who has a centre-back on his hands who has poor distribution then why would he ask this player to attempt intricate passes from the back putting his job in jeopardy?  The line managers take is ‘just head it and kick it’ and who can blame them. What we then see is a long ball brand of football where players are seldom asked to do much more than get the ball forward at the earliest opportunity. It eliminates the risk. If you imagine this for every player then you can begin to see why the lower leagues are played in the way in which we see. There is a saying that is often heard in the lower leagues that you can’t play your way out of the bottom divisions. The thinking behind this is quite simple. Lower league players are not good enough to ‘play’. If you close them down and give them less time on the ball they will not have the technical ability individually or collectively to play under pressure. The other team members do not have the necessary ability to control and pass the ball too and therefore they will give the ball back to you by either kicking it out of play or being re-possessed. This then creates a ‘let’s not give the ball away close to our goal’ mentality and therefore the ball is played forward earlier and more often. I would even go as far to say that if a team was to try a passing game they would quickly be tagged as a team who ‘over-plays’. Opposing managers then change tactics when playing against them and close them down to the extreme. 

Myself, I had no height (obvious there!), no real strength, not a lot of pace (especially towards the end of my career). I did have good technical ability, awareness, an eye for a goal and a good football brain. I had some, but not all of the attributes to play at the top. So this is why I played the majority of my career wherr I did. 

 

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The magic of The FA Cup

November 5, 2010 Leave a comment

FA Cup first round day is upon us already. This is always a special day in the calendar for all fans as well as players who are connected to lower league clubs.

If your team is in a positive league position then you really don’t care who you draw out of the hat. If your team is on a run of bad form then you can dread the draw in the expectation of being paired against a non-league team away from home. We see it year in and year out, where a team struggling in the league is drawn away to a non-league team who turn them over.

As a player I endured one such experience as a Northampton Town player. We drew Canvey Island away and had the added pleasure of it shown live on BBC1 on a Sunday afternoon. It was probably the lowest day of my career. At the time I think they were 3 or 4 divisions below us and they turned us over quite easily following a bright start to the match. We didn’t take our early chances and paid the ultimate price.

So why do these FA Cup shocks occur ?

Many reasons I think. The lower ranked team raise their game significantly knowing that there is a bigger audience watching and an opportunity to grab some headlines. The higher placed team have an off day. Lower league players are playing in the lower leagues because they lack the consistency required to play higher. Many lower league players have some of the attributes required to play higher but lack that all important quality of consistency. Non-league pitches are not usually in as good a condition as their league counterparts. This is a huge ‘levelled’ which can stifle the game of a league opponent.

For me though the biggest reason is all in the mind. Although, as a player, you don’t go in to any match consciously complacent, once this attitude sets in there is very little you can do to recover it. The longer the game goes on while the scores are level there is always a chance that you could concede.

Somewhere it will happen. A league team will be beaten by so-called inferior opposition. We can try to give our reasons but maybe we must admit that it is because of the magic of The FA Cup.

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Hull City V Scunthorpe United

November 4, 2010 Leave a comment

Hull City V  Scunthorpe United

As another two of my former clubs play against each other  I thought I would post my pre-match thoughts on the match.

Hull City, surprisingly for me, have not managed to produce enough winning performances at The KC Stadium this season. The relegation from The Premier League has had an adverse effect both on and off the pitch there. I thought that The KC would be something of a fortress this season but that is not yet the case. During the match at Barnsley I thought Hull City showed signs of a change in form but as yet the results suggest that Scunthorpe United will be confident that they can gain all three points. Anything other than a victory at home to Scunthorpe United could see Hull City looking closer over their shoulders at the bottom three.

Scunthorpe United too are struggling to find their best form at home so far this season. Last seasons form at Glanford Park was a massive reason for The Iron’s survival. The recent away form has seen two great wins at Watford and Preston. Ian Baraclough has strung enough good results together recently to be four points away from the relegation zone. I’m sure if Scunthorpe United finished in this position come the summer then everybody connected to The Iron would be pleased.I have been impressed with how well he has taken to management. He talks very well and has a very good understanding of the players there which has allowed him to spot any weaknesses early on and act on it by bringing in the recent batch of loan players.  The influence of Steve Parkin can only help Scunthorpe United in their endeavours too. His knowledge of Hull City will provide an added benefit to the cause.

So the form guide would make Scunthorpe United slight favourites given their recent away form and Hull City’s home form. A derby match, at any level, always throws the form guide out of the window. I have played in this fixture for both teams and the atmosphere, wherever it was played, was always one to remember.

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