Sunday, 17 October 2010

A quick observation for the Premier League

Are football clubs like Arsenal, Manchester United and Liverpool getting weaker or beset by problems as seems to be the case? Or is it possible that the rest of the league is now much stronger than ever before, making them harder to break down and more difficult to resist? Has the squad system blurred the winning formula? Is this a phase that will be overcome by Christmas?

Monday, 20 September 2010

North Kelvin United Match Report – Saturday 18/09/2010

Paisley and District League tie

Location: King George V playing fields

North Kelvin United (T2) 0 v 3 Glenburn AFC

MOM: Tom White; he was extremely solid today- he held the line well, used the ball from defence and made many crucial interceptions. He played with an authority unmerited by the score line.

Match Report

After a number of early and crushing defeats thus far T2 were optimistic ahead of a very winnable game against an average Glenburn side suffering a similar start to the season. Overall we have been very poor in the key areas of defending and attacking, conceding 15 goals in 4 matches and only scoring 1 in the same length of time. Though the performance last week was much improved last week, we were looking to get ahead in this fixture and get a result on the board. This game also marked an end to the T2 career, for the foreseeable future, of Alister Eden who will be touring Australia for 3 months. As such, in recognition of his dedication for signing up to the club for a few matches, he was named captain for the day, taking up a familiar position at right back. In other team news, Davidson’s absence in the T2 goal would be taken up by the versatile Scott McKinnon, showing his leadership qualities.

The game itself started well for T2 and we looked to get on the ball and take the initiative in the early stages. There were neat interchanges between Kay and Roberts reflecting the holdup play we had put in at training, but the Glenburn defence snuffed out most of these premature attacks. Then a moment of contention. From losing the ball whilst in possession it ballooned up into the air and looked to have been taken down by the arm of opposition winger; appealing for handball, T2 players switched off allowing him enough time to pick a pass between defenders, finding his centre forward who slotted home from 10 yards. Despite the dispute over the decision, it was a blatant handball, we didn’t defend it well and were waiting for an unforthcoming whistle.

However, T2 didn’t fold as in previous weeks after the goal. At times are passages of play were well constructed, we looked to create chances with Seywright wriggling into the box and snapping a shot down the keeper’s throat and Kay gambling on a 50/50 in an attempt to lob the onrushing Glenburn goalkeeper. Despite the efforts of the forwards they had very little real service from which to test the Glenburn defence. The Glenburn side were giving as good as they got and only a last gasp challenge by Thompson kept it at 1-0 at half time.

Into the second half T2 did start well and we aimed to get something from the match. The early chances went T2s way, McMillan driving through the challenges to pick out Kay whose instinctive lay-off to arrival of Rehman was timed allowing him space, but the finish didn’t match the build up. Similar play led to a through ball by Seywright to the advancing White but his shot hit the keeper. At this point T2 were all over a Glenburn side in disarray but the chances came and went and suddenly we were on the back foot again, with McKinnon to thank for some useful saves despite his unfamiliarity with the position. A simple long throw was poorly defended with men up the pitch seeking an equaliser and the Glenburn attack had men over at the back post, although the initial shot was saved, the rebound fell kindly to the Glenburn striker for him to smash it in from 3yards . At 2-0 it was game over. There was time for Glenburn to add a third whilst T2 looked despondently back from forward positions as defending was abandoned altogether. Despite the one-sided score line T2 were in this game for a large part of it, but we fell apart again when it became obvious we weren’t going to get a goal.

Whilst it is obvious T2 need to look within themselves to find a result, bravery, determination and an iron will to win are things we need to find; but perhaps more importantly is a belief that we can win tight affairs like this one that is so far proving elusive. Having only scored 1 goal in 5 games now, we need to find the net on more occasions. If we had scored while this game was still close there is no reason we might not have gone on to draw or win. As it was it proved to be another poor performance.

Team

1. 1.Scott McKinnon

2. 2.Alister Eden (c)

3. 3Ritchie McCluskey

4. 4.Tom White

5. 5.Dughall Thompson

6. 6.Keiron Roberts

7. 7.Umar Rehman

8. 8.Sat Uppal

9. 9.Fraser Seywright

10. 10.Adam Kay

11. 11.Derek McMillan

Subs

12. 12.Ryan McGregor

13. 13.Rammo (10)

14. 14.Harry Colegrave

15. Matt Owen (7)

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Spain can't take the moral high ground any longer.

Morality is a human attempt to apply notions of good and bad, light and dark to some exterior thing, whether it be behaviour toward others, politics, executions... etc etc. This has included football and the debate is again apparent on the eve of the World Cup final. When the Netherlands, the inventors of Total Football take on Spain on Sunday evening there seems to be an assumption that the game is yet another example of morality. The Netherlands, it is argued, have abandoned their ideals and style for a more pragmatic approach, one that ensures winning is the most important element of the footballing philosophy and style has taken a back seat. It has become secondary, because the art of winning is the more important and enjoyable form of pleasure. The Netherlands have never won a World Cup and are 90minutes away from achieving that success. The team that stands in their way is a Star-studded, reigning European Championship side, which has apparently reinvented Total Football. Spain are the overwhelming favourites for victory, and not just with the bookmakers, their team's style is the most admired in world football, they are many people's preferred team to win.

Yet there is a sense that 'Tiki-Taka', the Spanish variant of Total football shares many of its less likeable qualities. For proponents of that style of entertainment whilst playing, there seems to be the same moral high ground mentality, as if they have a right to such superiority. There is no doubt that it takes consummate skill and outstanding ability to be able to dissect a team as Spain can do, but taking a moral righteousness form such play is dangerous and arrogant. Whilst watching the formation of this style a few years ago, when Barcelona went to Rangers in the Champions league. The match was a dour affair and the scoreline was 0-0. A young Lionel Messi reflected the views of his team-mates and fans by claiming the Rangers had simply played "anti-football" and that their part in the match was the weaker, inferior one. For me, this is a misunderstanding of football. Rangers battled to a draw, they worked hard and gave teams a template in order to stop this style of play, admittedly, devastating at it's best. Rangers' heroics at least earned them praise from Thierry Henry that evening, perhaps a pointer as to why he didn't do as well as he might at Barcelona. I would like to say here that "tiki-taka" for all it pretends to be, the perfect passing game, is still reliant on individual brilliance to win matches. Lionel Messi is the complete example of how, when plan A doesn't appear to be working for Barca, there is always the little flea as a back up, to invent something that can win the match.

This is not to say that it is not a commendable to attempt to mesmerise the opposition with pinpoint passing and dizzying movement. It still is an achievement; but it is not better football. Against Germany, Spain controlled the game from start to finish by retaining possession almost permanently, I didn't feel at any point that the Germans could beat this team, and as such Spain sucked the life out of the match, acting like a boa-constrictor suffocating it's victim, slowly, methodically. In it's own strange way, "tiki-taka" is almost as anti-football as the defensive stance taken by Rangers. It is so apparent that players like Iniesta and Xavi are ruthlessly trained to pass rather than to shoot, and it robs them of that individuality that the very best have. After the Germany game, Miroslav Klose had commented that his team, once they had got possession, if only fleetingly, were so tired from chasing Spanish players that they couldn't do anything with the ball. Spain ensured a one-side match through their tactics, but also a very uninteresting game. This presumes that the object of the game itself is to ensure a contest between evenly matched sides, to entertain the audience, a view that it is also presumed Spain have adopted, the heirs to Total Football . This is categorically untrue. Spain's tactics are as pragmatic as the Netherlands', they aim to win, even if they have to control a match from start to finish, they proved against Germany that to them, only one goal matters.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

English football... the world's hypochondriac.

Sociologists seem to examine the effects of the modern world on people, their relationships, their attitudes, how large, even incomprehensible forces affect their lives; essentially what society does to them, for them and what they do for it. The same forces are at work in trying to explain why the England national team couldn't beat a young and so called inexperienced German side in the 2nd round of the World Cup (Although that Germany side contained Lahm and Schweinsteiger, amongst many others with Champions league experience, but also the four younger players, Mueller, Neuer, Khedira and the brilliant Ozil, who won the European U21 tournament in Finland last year, crushing the 2nd best team, England, in the final 4-0) . All week there has been outcry and intense speculation as to the various causes that have led to the demise of English football; and quite simply, there is no demise. The England internationals, as individuals, are extremely talented football players, and some of the better ones, like Rooney, Gerrard and Lampard are considered among the foremost names in world football. England is producing fantastic footballers and will continue to do so. However, with the England team having been considered by everyone within England to have underperformed yet again there needs to be some sort of introspection as to possible conditions for failure.

Firstly, Fabio Capello, who has been criticised for his tactics, his squad selection and his command as manager has not had a good World Cup and is symbolic of the side's fate in 2010. It has led some to call for his sacking, some to question how such a brilliant manager, with an almost perfect record can do nothing to improve the fortunes of this ageing, yet gifted team, leading them to feel that there must be a root cause for such inability, a much deeper, cloudier problem. In this 2010 case, he has explored the same tactical decisions as his predecessors' and has discovered the same problems, visibly showing that England's fine individuals are unable to work together on the highest stage, he knew what he was doing. Capello is comparable to Gregory House. He was hired because he is a manager of remarkable quality, who can see a football diagnosis. The England stars are too big, they are for many reasons undroppable. To put John Terry, or Frank Lampard on the bench is unthinkable as they are two of Chelsea's, England's best team last season, best players. They cannot not be in the team... until now. Their ages, and poor performances have assured that only a few of the will survive toward the next tournament.

Secondly, there seems to be a lack of younger players emerging with enough quality to usurp those in the starting 11. With only James Milner and Joe Hart in the squad making their d├ębuts in recent years, does this mean a lack of quality in English football's grass-roots? It is a terrible disappointment that younger players are not given a chance when there are obvious opportunities, such as on the left wing, where until recently Joe Cole was almost certainly out of the running to make the 2010 squad. Capello's instinct is to entrust in experience, the Italian mantra; and invariably this works for the Italians. However, it may be possible that English footballers simply peak earlier, the best seasons from Gerrard, Terry, Ferdinand etc, are now memories. We are, however competing at the highest level in youth competition, as mentioned before the U21 side reached the final losing to Germany and the U17 team recently beat Spain 2-1 in the final of the European Championships. The highly rated Connor Wickham grabbed the winner, only months ago. That team has some of the best young talent in Europe which suggests that the grass-roots and club format for producing young players is working very well. It is opportunity that is missing. A good example is Danny Welbeck at Manchester United. He had a few sub appearances for United, scoring a 30metre strike against Stoke and making an instant impression on the fans, but lack of opportunities has seen his development tail off. He spent some of last season on-loan at Preston and hasn't really played since then. My argument here is that the Premier league's rigorously libertarian policy of only allowing the best talent in the team to survive is causing gifted younger players to hit a glass ceiling of development because of the nature of the top flight. It is not the fault of anyone however; though not English, Darren Fletcher is a textbook example of how a perceived weaker player (Roy Keane once scathingly attacked him as 'not good enough') can improve and become a quality player, he would certainly have played ahead of Barry in the England side. Younger players should use him as the example to make it. Sheer effort and hard work will mean that those players will be given the chance to take the place of the million £ superstars of the league. Their only solution is to shine when called on, as it is certain they will not be given time. They must be ruthless.

Finally, England must be flexible in their approach. Tactics are perhaps the only thing that matter on the International scene. There should be few certainties for a starting place, save the defence and goalkeeper, many variations and players who are interchangeable. England have all these components available now, they must look to whatever tactic can beat the opponent in front of them. As mentioned in an earlier post, Maradona used 107 players in qualifying for 2010, critics have argued that he was unsuccessful in qualifying but his flexibility and attacking style has been almost unplayable. His defence, it is speculated by some, is shaky, but it forces Argentina to base their play only on attack. It will take similar brilliance to stop them. England could do with taking some advice from Maradona, or perhaps Larry David. There is nothing wrong with the players coming through, the grass-roots system or the manager himself. These are all conditions that we should be pleased with, we should be asking ourselves to do Whatever Works, and aim for that.

Monday, 21 June 2010

The Revolution will not be televised?

Lets get this straight. Football is not quite political enough to mention revolution in the England camp without having the distinct purpose of attempting to engineer such a situation. It is perhaps most striking that the nation's current favourite jester, James Corden, was confused as to the basis of disharmony and infighting caused by the relationship between Fabio Capello and deposed and mutinous captain John Terry. Striking because Corden, on his show World Cup Live represents the feeling of the average football following Englishman, and perhaps most other casual football fans. How did a 15 minute long interview with John Terry placed centre stage yesterday, where he set out ideals and plans that most England supporters wanted to hear, turn into an act of sedition? Terry had spoken about his time in the camp, his desire to improve and speaking on behalf of the other players reflected their commitment to work tirelessly to get through to the next round. All in all, he said all the right things. Except for the peculiar fact that the media circus that follows the England team like a swarm of midges in the Scottish Highlands (Scots hate those midges just slightly less than they do the English football media), had meticulously planted the seeds of the next days sensationalist news in the details of their questions.

The first one of the conference was this; "We are hearing stories of disorder and disharmony in the camp this morning, what is your view?... Terry's reply...There is no unrest in the camp at all." However the section of his answer that was reported was Terry's declaration that he was speaking on behalf of the players against Fabio Capello. This is categorically untrue. He was speaking on behalf of the players to present a united front to the nation and critics of the team. The overwhelming message of his conference was a determination to solve the obviously apparent problems with the performances of the players, whatever the method. There seemed, perhaps more than there has been at any footballing tournament before, a blatant need to generate a rift between power-hungry villain John Terry and the floundering Capello. The stories were already written, Terry has just played his staged role and incriminated himself. Essentially Terry's uttering about the qualities of Joe Cole, prompted by questions, have been spun into a challenge to the authority of Capello in his ability to pick the team. Again this is not the content of Terry's answer, he was professing a professional trust in the abilities of Cole and noted that if required (by Capello) could do a good job for England, in his opinion. Frank Lampard had discussed similar themes in his outing with the media savages the day after.

Capello has talked of a 'big mistake' in Terry's judgement for mentioning Cole by name, as he stated clearly that it is unhelpful to mention players as it will be disrespectful and a more difficult choice for the manager if a storm is generated for the inclusion of a player, in the public frame, when it could contravene his tactics. This does not entail that Terry is a mutineer, but that is the frame presented by the English media now, culminating in the ITN evening news presenting this episode as a 'showdown' between Capello and Terry. If we weren't in trouble after 5 minutes of playing Algeria on friday, we certainly are now and not because we are playing badly, but because the media fuelling the team's downfall. Oddly enough there are comparisons which can be drawn with 2006 in Baaden Baaden. Essentially Eriksson's attitude to the media was to allow them celebrity style access to the player's and thus distract them from the detail of winning football matches. As such, when England have performed disappointingly in the microcosm of the England contingent in South Africa, the media have had only one choice, to dismantle the team and create the ensuing inquisition. The England team might to best to refuse any media exposure 2 days before the crucial game of Capello's era. If it pays off a line can be drawn and built upon, if it fails Capello will be eaten alive, by the media and John Terry will be blamed, by the media resulting in a week's media coverage and calls for the revolution to be conducted swiftly, publicly and openly with televised executions. They have prepared the guillotine... now John Terry and co must make the crucial choice; whether it is better to die on your feet against Slovenia or to die on your knees... but perhaps the media have framed Zapata to meet their own ends too.

Friday, 18 June 2010

I'm fighting Lions with a strong chest and a broken left arm

The England equation is a simple one and has been since Paul Scholes, someone Zinedine Zidane remarked amongst his favourite players and arguably (or though I do not see another candidate) the ablest and most dexterous attacking midfielder of England's past, was shipped out to the left, a position he not only doesn't play but isn't equipped to play. You could argue that this means our problem is on the left; this is not the case. When a manager looks at the players at his disposal and sees many talented central midfielders that play in the same position, he notices the strength in depth in that area. Automatically it seems the right policy to try and incorporate a system where all of the most talented players play, a policy which proved effective against giants like Belarus, and Kazakhstan. The difference is that at the World Cup there is a considerable step up in the opposition, both Algeria and Slovenia beat seasoned opponents to make it this far and we have underestimated them.

However, this is not a concrete excuse for a dismal performances in the last two group games, England should have beaten both of them with a team containing our talents. The problem as ever is not confidence, not lack of effort, or chances, it is a glaringly simple reason. We are playing our best midfielder, who plays either behind the striker or in an advanced position on the left wing, a position, like Paul Scholes he doesn't play and isn't equipped to play. We are not playing someone who attacks the left flank as a result (or effectively down the right either), who will give what should be two aerially dominant strikers in Rooney and Heskey even half chances resulting in a bastardised version of Spain's passing football, great exchanges through midfield, then tragically nothing else.

Fabio Capello is paid £6million a year, a similar amount to his predecessors, to make this England team play well, but more covertly and sinisterly he is paid that sum to make that difficult choice. Lampard or Gerrard. In the 442 that we see now only one can play in the attacking midfield position, their position. We treat them as if they are professionals and use old adages like "they can play together". This is a falsehood, they are not central midfielders, but attackers and as a result one must make way. Traditionally, (from 2002) England Managers have decided that the more talented player should move to the left, incorporating the most talented players into the team and retaining Frank Lampard in the centre. This has the effect of braking a Gladiator's left arm and throwing him into combat, even though he is strong in the heart and chest area, his central cage, without his left arm he doesn't stand a chance against those Lions. If England are to salvage anything from this campaign he must be dropped. In theory this means we now can play two wide men, probably Joe Cole and Lennon and cross the ball. I would much prefer to play Rooney on his own up front and use pacey wingers who might be able to catch up with the recklessly deficient Jabulani ball, but we unfortunately left Theo Walcott and Adam Johnson at home. Shaun Wright-Phillips is allergic to the left flank. As such it seems like we may plod along with the same stubbornness to our eventual demise, but like a Gladiator with a broken arm fighting lions, the effort will be cruel, inevitable, and perhaps even comically bad.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Why Maradona is more than just an entertaining clod

The perception that Maradona is a fool is a myth. Despite what people feel about his life, his style, the gambeta (The idea that off balancing opponents is the way to win), he lives football; he is immersed in it, and it augments him. As such I have confidence in his ability to help, what is possibly the most gifted attacking line-up a nation has ever possessed, get through tough matches and win the World Cup.

Argentina had a strange qualification, but it counts for nothing here, many critics are using this as the litmus test for his ability as a coach, but did he not qualify? The Argentina side he inherited was in stagnation, despite it's talent. He made tough decisions in dropping stalwarts of the side in Cambiasso and Javier Zanetti, and after such excellent European campaigns, it seems to Europeans such as ourselves that he is mad for not taking them. Whereas lesser men may have buckled to the pressure, he is going with his game plan, Mascherano screening, bullying midfielders and Veron metronomically making the side tick. (A la Capello and his views on Heskey).

Furthermore, he has been labelled as clueless for using too many players in qualifying, 107 in total, but most of these were Argentina based players, giving them a chance for international exposure against opposition that is not as strong as the final tournament. We often say here how good it would be for Capello (and by the same token other England Managers of the recent past) to give in-form players a game. Not just friendly matches however, ones which Darren Bent plays alone upfront and is offered no ammunition for goals, real qualification games where the aim is only to win.

In a strange way, Argentina, because of this mentality, are the best prepared team in the tournament (only Germany can lay claim to being more prepared, their players have used the Jubalani for an entire season compared to the 20 days that has been given to the rest of the teams.), they have the attitude of a flexible team that plays in different manners when required and with the ability of Messi, not only talismanic, but malleable (I believe he may be dropped back into midfield in Veron's absence), they have a player that can win them the tournament through sheer genius.