Category Archives: Football

The English Can Coach!

With the recent end of the 2015/6 Premier League, the headcount of English managers is at an all time low. Three English coaches are in place with clubs that retain their top flight status.

Eddie Howe has done a tremendous job with Bournemouth, Alan Pardew has kept Palace in the division whilst reaching the FA Cup final and Sam Allardyce has, yet again, performed a minor miracle in keeping Sunderland afloat for another year.
To be completely fair, others including Tony Pulis and Mark Hughes are from these Isles and have spent their playing/coaching careers here. Sean Dyche and  Steve Bruce will re-enter the battle for 2016/7.

But one look at any shortlist for clubs in the market provides reason to conclude that ‘big Sam Allerdicci’ has a point when he claims the odds are stacked against Englishmen in terms of opportunity. It seems that big clubs, and many others, believe that only foreign or non-British managers can encourage a culture of passing football, cope with a big club and develop players into valuable assets.

Not only is it a nonsense claim, Eddie Howe has built a club culture of the highest order, Dyche inspires and develops in equal measure and Sam himself organises a club better than many,he has taken over from foreign managers and had to sort out awful messes more than once!

It is very easy to forget the lessons of sporting history. English managers have coached clubs and nations all over the globe and produced exceptional results:

Sir Bobby Robson:

PKT5141-380922 SIR ROBERT (BOBBY) ROBSON FOOTBALL MANAGER 1990 It was almost the final question of my last major Press conference which encapsulated the highs and lows l have experienced in the last eight years as the manager of England. 'This may seem funny coming from a newspaper like mine,' said the reporter from The Sun. 'But have you enjoyed the last eight years?' The query raised a few giggles from the audience of newspaper, radio and television journalists on that morning after England had succumbed so cruelly to West Germany in the World Cup semi-final. ln eight years l have learnt to pause for thought before replying to what might appear on the surface to be the most innocuous of questions. 'Technically,' l replied, 'l have enjoyed every minute of it, particulary the big match occasions. 'This is a big job abd the man filling it in is going to be subjected to all kinds of stresses and strains. If he can handle it he can get on with the job. If he can't then it will defeat him. It's been a lovely experience and l mean that in all sincerity. lt's been nice to work at the highest level in my industry. lt's been lovely to work with a prepare the best players to play against the best opponents. It's been marvellous to pit my wits against the other coaches similarly at the peak of their profession.

Fulham, Ipswich Town, England, PSV, Barcelona, Sporting & Porto, Newcastle.
Try telling fans at any of the above clubs that the English can’t coach/manage. Robson achieved minor miracles with Ipswich and qualified England for two World Cups reaching qtr and semi finals. Still our best results away from home.

But in case the reader thinks he could only cope with English football, a trip to Lisbon will swiftly correct that notion. Nick-named ‘Bobby 5-0’ by Porto fans, due to the number of 5-0 wins only leaving the club, after two league championship wins, due to Barcelona calling. Again, at Barca Robson, was highly rated and won three trophies in his only full season. Following his spell as England boss he claimed the Dutch league with PSV and even his brief emergency return to Eindhoven ended with them qualifying for the Champions League.

Sir Bobby proved himself in each type of football and across the continent of Europe, combining success with ambassadorial skills of the highest level. He even managed to restore some glory and common sense to the basket case that is Newcastle United!
Yes, this Englishman could coach a bit.

Brian Clough

clough black and white
Hartlepools, Derby County, Brighton, Leeds United, Nottingham Forest.

Enough words have been written about OBE (Ol’ big ed) to fill any other managers office. They would do well to read them.

At Derby County, Clough took a small unsuccessful provincial club and won the league title. He crashed into the European Cup and was only denied in a quarter-final now accepted as totally corrupt.
Not to be discouraged, by being cheated, and later sacked in controversial circumstances, Clough repeated the trick with another East Midlands club.

The name of Nottingham Forest appears on the top division roll of honour in England and twice in a row on the European Champions Cup. Moulding players others rejected or deemed manageable, was his Clough’s speciality.
But the idea that he did not coach or think about what was needed to win is errant nonsense. Forest’s style in winning the European Cup was entirely different to that employed in winning the English league. He, and Peter Taylor, had worked out exactly how to play against mighty sides of the time and emerged triumphant almost every time. Clough’s other gift was that he made payers believe that they could do anything and were better than anyone else. Then each were given a simple job to do. The model concentrated more on Clough’s sides assets, than the strength of the opposition.

Sadly we will never know how he would have adapted to International football. My hunch is that he would have taken to it like a duck to water. Imagine an England side with the confidence to play and the belief they were as good as anyone in the world, it would have taken an awful lot to stop them.

Terry Venables

El Tel. Leading England with style in Euro 1996

El Tel. Leading England with style in Euro 1996

Crystal Palace, QPR, Barcelona, England and Spurs

It is often forgotten that “El Tel” was the first player to represent England at every level available. Whilst going through a wide-ranging playing career Tarry Venables applied his shrewd mind to coaching from an early stage. His first opportunity in management showed his approach. Combining select signings with his own youth players who he had coached through the club. As a result he took Crystal Palace to the top division from the 3rd tier within three years. They briefly lead the division, for only time in their history, finally finishing in solid mid table. Moving to second division QPR was brave but resulted in promotion, a cup final and finally a fifth place finish and qualification for Europe. Spanish eyes were now smiling on Venables.

The history of FCB is littered with legends of football. Michels, Cruyff, Rykaard, Ronaldo, Messi and even Maradona (briefly). It should therefore be to Terry’s huge credit that Barcelona came calling for him due to his reputation for success, style and coaching ability.

Although his reign could be viewed as mixed, his successes were remarkable. His side won FCB’s first league for 11 years and reached its first European final for over twenty years. Lineker and Hughes were  successful imports and the club was propelled back onto the major stages again.

In an age dominated by Liverpool, Venables return to England put Spurs straight back into the limelight and they did not disappoint. The club is as famed for entertainment as winning and Terry lived up to both. Lineker and Gascoigne ensured goals and skill were aplenty. The highlights included an FA cup win and 3rd place in the top division.

England Calling.

Quite simply Venables coached an England side, that previously were not highly regarded, to the semi finals of a major tournament and was only defeated on penalties. He picked players others thought were risky or unsuitable. Stuck by his players through thick and thin. Venables found a way of making all his best players play together and produced entertaining attacking football of a type not produced by England since.

Venables lasting football monument is the recording of England vs Holland in Euro 96. A 4-1 win over a Dutch side, favoured to succeed, is simply a superb piece of coaching and man management. Shearer and Sherringham are superb. Gazza is off the leash and unstoppable and everyone else knows exactly what job to do and does it perfectly.

Only the English FA could dispense with his services following such a tournament.

Vic Buckingham

vic_buckingham_ajax-nl1

Before Rinus Mikels, Johan Cruyff and Pep Guardiola, there was Vic Buckingham. Englishmen have been quite a strong influence in the foundation and development of Barcelona with Buckingham being one of the first and finest.

Some things are best stated in simple terms, Vic Buckingham managed West Bromwich Albion, Ajax of Amsterdam, Barcelona, Sevilla & Olympiacos, all before 1976. At all of these clubs he achieved some success and instituted youth programs and philosophies of football ahead of their time. West Brom won the FA Cup and were runners-up in the League ( almost The Double for West Brom!) Ajax won the Dutch league and Barcelona won the Spanish Cup.

This chap could coach/manage! Ajax asked him back for a second spell, during which Mr Cruyff made his debut and both Johan and his mentor Rinus Mikels held Buckingham in the highest regard. Strangely he barely is acknowledged in his UK homeland and only recently has some credit begun to find its way.

Roy Hodgson

roy-hodgson-profile (1)

It has proven easy for the English press to denegrate Hodgson as a bit of a stuffed shirt. An FA yes man who has more in common with your Grandad than he does with the sexy super coaches in the style of Mourhino et al. Yet even a cursory glance at Hodgson’s CV will reveal a rounded coach of huge experience and no little success.

Hodgson’s first managment job was in Sweden, he took a side almost relegated the year before and won the league title. He repeated the feat a couple of years later. After a brief spell at financial disaster that was Bristol City, Hodgson returned to Sweden where he would eventually take charge of Malmo. Beggining in 1985 Hodgson oversaw a remarkable spell at the club. Five League Titles, two cups and decent European including the European Cup Winners Cup defeat of Inter MIlan in 1989. Roy is held in very high regard in Malmo and known to fans as Royson.

International Management

Soon Hodgson was asked to coach Switzerland, after a successful spell in club management there, whom had not qualified for a major event since 1966. Roy rectified that at the first attempt, from a tough group, then managing to reach the knock out stages of the 1994 world cup in the USA. He easily qualified the side for Euro 96 and would have been in strange position of managing against his home country in the opening game. However as soon as qualification was secured Hodgson left to take over at Inter Milan. Switzerland were at the time ranked 3 in the fifa rankings!

Inter Milan

Speaking about Hodgson’s time at Inter, club president Massimo Moratti said: “Roy Hodgson was an important person in the development of Inter Milan to the point we have reached today. He saved us at the right time. When he came we were in trouble and things appeared dark. He didn’t panic, he was calm and made us calm. Disaster was averted at the most important time. Everyone at Inter will remember him for that and his contribution. He is considered by us all as an important person in our history. He left an endowment to this club that’s important in our history.”

It is fair to say that after this followed a eclectic spell in Hodgsons career, manging in Norway, Italy, Finland and United Arab Emerites to name a few.

A surprise return to England came with Fulham, He rescued them from relegation in the first season and built what began to look like a decent outfit. A remarkable 7th place finish the next year led Fulham into the new Europa League. An astounding run led all the way to the final, with a recovery from 1-4 to defeat Juve being the highlight.

Hodgson was voted manager of the year in England by a record margin. It appeared that all the knowledge gained across the world coaching, managing and even as a director of football, was finally being translated into success in his homeland. A move to a big club was finally offered. Hodgson took over at Liverpool in time for the 2010/11 season.

Sadly, due to an unusual background story, club legend ignored in managerial appointment, and never seeming to quite have the personality for the job , the two parted in January 2011. Hodgson was swiftly taken on by West Bromwich Albion, and immediately produced superb results again, soon finishing in the top 8 and producing quality players and good football.

In a repeat of the a situation from 1983/4 ( Clough & Robson) England again recruited the safe pair of hands whilst the public clamoured for the more colourful character. This time Hodgson was the beneficiary of the FA’s conservative outlook, whilst Harry Redknapp was left to rue what might have been.

So far Hodgson has done a steady job with England, qualifications have been achieved and decent performances put in. Tournament results have been mixed. With Euro 2012 regarded as a qualified success and the 2014 World Cup as a failure.

The Euro’s of 2016 will be, perhaps the final, testing ground for this world traveller of a coach from the heart of England!

 

Martin O’Neil – Often Underestimated, Rarely Defeated.

The Doctor, as Brian Clough christened, Martin O Neil.

The Doctor, as Brian Clough christened, Martin O Neil.

Unusually, in football, Martin O Neil gives off the impression of intelligence that is not restricted to his chosen sport. Having stalled a law degree, to attempt to make the grade at Nottingham Forest, he was christened Dr.,by Brian Clough, due to this intelligence popping up at times that the maestro found irritating.
An immense playing career followed the arrival of Clough at Forest, The League Title, European Cups and more silverware were followed by International caps, then the captaincy and successful World Cup campaigns with Northern Ireland. Yet throughout this time MON never seemed to get the credit he deserved. It was no fluke that he was selected, bought or retained, by great managers, in successful sides. A strong will, good touch and keen reading of the game made him highly valued within sides that often had players with higher profiles or reputations.

O Neil was hugely succesfull as an international player.

O Neil was hugely succesfull as an international player.

Due to his understated success no obvious managerial role was presented to him when he called time on that playing career, and so another day job, until non league management gave him an avenue to apply the skills, and experience, learned from the very best, in combination with his own thoughts and ideas on coaching and club management.

MON’s management career has been an almost continuous run of success with lower league, low resources and often lesser talents. Along the way there he been a couple of unusual decisions, on points of principle, and another couple of non descript spells. Just as it appeared that this superb career was fading and might be forever catagorised as “what might have been…..” A move to another team of lesser obvious talent and resources presented itself. Those who thought O’ Niel was a busted flush, or thought he was simply Mr Movtivator who had been found lacking, should have looked more carefully at his whole career, influences and character.

The Republic of Ireland are relatively new to the higher echelons of International football. The 1980’s and 90’s had seen the phenomenal success of Jack Charlton. Reaching the later stages of two World Cups with a mix of Irish talent, plying their trade mainly in England, and Irish qualified players whom could not make their “home” national team. That success was built on method, team sprit, hard graft and commitment, big Jack actually new how to win a World Cup! Since that time however, despite brief resurgences under Mick McCarthy and Giovanni Trapatonni, times had been tough. The talent pool appeared to be dwindling,the better players ageing and the opposition getting stronger. Yet, of course, the country wanted continued success despite these factors. Thus the clarion call went out and, courtesy of the financial backing of a wealthy Irish businessman, Martin would be given the responsibility of solving this conundrum . It did not take a genius to see that this was a perfect stage for O Neil’s talents.

Masterful decision. Keane could not have been an easy appointment.

Masterful decision. Keane could not have been an easy appointment.

His first decision upon being offered a hero was to build a management team fit for the job. Like his mentor MON functions well, and succeeds with players, when the senior partner in  double or small team. His regular counterpoint John Robertson, he of the golden left foot, was happy in semi retirement and so O’Neil borrowed from a Jose Mourinho tactic and found a “home team” assistant. Never frightened of controversy, or backing his own judgment, He persuaded the Irish Football Association and their paymasters to recruit Roy Keane. Due to Keane acrimonious falling out with the authorities while a player, and the many comments made by both sides since, this was a big achievement in itself!

Although it is an oversimplification, it is possible to now combine a few elements of MON’s football career and see them applied to his biggest challenge:

Influence of Ol Big Ed.

Although no clone of the master, it is clear that O’ Neil absorbed a huge amount, both consciously and on a sub conscious level. The assembling of a small team around him, with a complimentary right hand man, sore both Clough and O Neil at their peak. Other influences include giving players simple jobs, investing total belief in his view that they can do them brilliantly and being slightly removed from the day to day matters.

Meastro & Inspiration. Brian Clough.

Meastro & Inspiration. Brian Clough.

In the stop start world of international football this ensures players and staff are happy and relaxed, now what is expected of them and are on their toes at all times.

Siege Mentality

Although this was another of Clough’s skills, Martin may even out rank Brian in this area. Since his very earliest management job, with Grantham Town, he has consistently bonded a group of players, staff and supporters into believing, that although the odds were against them, they could achieve more and bloody the noses of the more fortunate along the way. This brings out the best in all groups and the he “We’ll show em” style suits Martin as well.

MON Celtic

Whilst in club management this was best demonstrated at Leicester City with three cup finals, winning two, and consistent top eight finishes in the top division. The extreme tribal nature of Scottish, and Glasgow, football mean that, despite being a huge club, siege style mentality could be applied at Celtic especially early in the job.

Thus the draw for his first qualification tournament was right up O’Neil’s Street. The, newly crowned, World Champions Germany, highly ranked and rated Poland, a fierce local rivalry with Scotland, a tough traveling assignment to Georgia and newcomers Gibraltar must have added up to a mouthwatering prospect.

After a nice opening run in friendly games, suffering only one defeat, the real business of qualification got under way with some solid display and steady results, a late goal away in Georgia would prove vital at the end of the campaign. Despite a few negative grumbles, after a draw and narrow loss to Scotland, O’Niel seemed to have settled on a method and was growing into the role. A superb ending to the campaign saw the Irish defeating world champions Germany and coming within a whisker of automatic qualification in a narrow loss to Poland. However the momentum seemed to have turned and be with the men in green. A tough play off draw against Bosnia was followed by a superbly earned draw in the away leg, despite a hostile atmosphere and a squad without several key members.

Ever one to pull a surprise, from the hat, O Neil went on the attack, in the home leg, and unsettled the Bosnian side. The selection of Brady at left back proved a masterstroke providing attacking menace and ammunition for ROI hero John Walters.

Walters could be said to have typified O Neil’s approach to the campaign. A huge amount of togetherness and team spirit, a never say die approach and not a little talent had been blended with O Neil’s knowledge of European football and getting the best for the underdog. O’ Neil thus qualified his side for a major championship at the first attempt and will a talent pool generally accepted as worse than many of his predecessors.

The thoughts of those at the FA, who turned down O Neil for the England job a few years ago, would be good to hear and may be even more sought after when the championships are actually played! I suspect I will be in very good company when watching how MON and his team perform in the tournament itself. However I would not be foolish enough to underestimate him.

 

Premier League Fan Rip Off ? Think Again.

Premier-League-LogoDuring a recent lively social media exchange, with a friend, the claim was made that, in 1968, it was possible to see the league champions for a small sum of what previous generations called “old money”.
This claim was used as a stick with which to berate the devil that is modern football, specifically The Premier League. Being a glass is half full type of guy, while suspecting that my friend suffers from “jumpers for goalposts” syndrome, I thought that this was worth a little investigation.
So is the Premier League the devil? Have things changed that much? If so, is it peculiar to The Premier League or football in general. A look at the price of the lowest & highest season ticket prices at a successful club over that period together with a general look at peoples wages should give us an idea.
In the fabled year of my friends recollection, 1968, the average wage, as claimed by the Financial Times, was around £1500 per year. The cost of the lowest season ticket at our anonymous club was £9.50 and the most expensive was £13.50. For the average wage one hundred and eleven of the more expensive or a hundred and fifty eight of the cheapest tickets could be bought.
Fast forward a decade to 1978, average wages had increased to £5,500 per year and season tickets had risen to thirty and thirty six pounds respectively. Thus a bumper time, in terms of average salary quadrupling, saw ticket prices  basically trebled in the same period. You could now buy one hundred and eighty of the lowest price seasons tickets. The dramatic increase in average wages slowed little over the next decade, £15,000 was now the reported figure not quite treble the 1968 figure. Again ticket prices increased heavily, this time the lower price had more than trebled to £100 but the highest priced tickets had increased had not quite reached the £138 price, that would have meant a three fold increase, weighing on at £114.

The forth decade, following the our 1968 starting point, 1988-98 sees wages rise to £25,000 whilst tickets are now £247 or £361. Here the reverse of the previous decade happens the highest price ticket has more than trebled, whilst the lower end ticket at £247 has not quite made two and a half times its previous cost. Only 101 of the lower priced ticket and 59 of the higher option could be purchased with the average salary. The 1988-98 decade can be seen as a 40-60% split between the old football league and the new Premier League. At the starting point of the premier league in 1992 both tickets both tickets had risen to £190. A very large percentage of the increase in the lower priced ticket and a much smaller one in the case of the higher priced version. This reverses over the Premier league period where the higher price ticket rises sharply and the lower one very slowly indeed. In 1992 at the start of the Premier League matters had slipped to 105 tickets being afforded in exchange for the average annual wage.

From 1998 – 2008 the entire period was within Premier League and Sky TV influence and tickets increased to £475 & £798. Wages were now stated at £37,000. By now only 78 of the cheaper price tickets or 46 of the higher price ones could be purchased for this annual wage estimate.

The final period up to the present day is only 7 years long and should be treated accordingly. Wages are stated at £45,000 and prices are now £532 & £950. This represents something of a reverse with 85 and 47 tickets available for the national average annual wage. An increase for the first time since the 68-78 decade.

It appears then that my friends rose tinted view of the past, and black view of the Premier League monster, although having merit in places is somewhat simplistic. The best period in terms of value for money would appear to be  1975-85. Fans had seen a large increase in the average wage vs ticket price equation and the difference between highest and lowest ticket price was not yet the huge margin it was to become.

The worst period for fan value overall was the four years before the founding of the premier league. The wage verses ticket ratio fell by a third in that short time. During the initial period of the premier league this was slowed to almost nothing for the lower price ticket. Since that time the equation is pretty simple wages are rising by approx. £10,000 each decade, low price tickets have stabled to a £16 per year increase. High price tickets remain disproportionate in as much as they are nearly double the cheapest ticket cost. However they are rising slower in terms of percentages over 10 year periods than at any time since the late 60’s.

The best way to sum up this, rather unscientific, study, would be to say that the average football fan has been subject to ever rising costs for at least 50 years.  The costs have risen less in tougher times and sometimes fall slightly. The real change, from those times referred to by my friend, is purely in who benefits. During the 50’s and 60’s players were subject to maximum wage rules and very restrictive contracts. In effect they were owned by their club. Chairmen and other owners were the direct beneficiary of the fans money with very little going to those who actually played, managed or were otherwise actually involved in playing the game!

This is the area that has changed with player now receiving a far higher % of the money that their skills and effort bring into the game. In addition there freedom of movement and control of their image rights, and other income sources, demonstrates the reversal of previous situation.

The Premier League then is no more the devil than were previous organisations or the owners, directors and chairmen of old. Brian Clough once stated that there “were a lot of villians in football, 92 League chairmen for a start”, It would appear, as always, he was correct.

clough green sweater

 

In praise of Gerrard : A Titan amongst Pygmies!

Steve G YNWAThe statement of his intention to leave Liverpool at the end of the season sums up Steven Gerard in many ways. His influence and value to the history laden club is less easy to understate.

Now into his 17th year of 1st team action it is impossible to separate the captain from the 21st century chapter in Liverpool FC history. Gerrard’s debut came in 1998 and within two years he was a mainstay of the 1st team, taking over the captaincy from Sammi Hypia in 2003. The new millenium has been dominated by the Manchester Clubs, Arsenal and Chelsea with Liverpool being forced into a a secondary role and often struggling for the top few league places. Yet they have still added 7 major trophies to the greatest list in British football. The FA Cup has been captured twice, The League Cup three times together with one UEFA Cup and the 2004/5 Champions League. It is no coincidence that Gerrard remains the only player to have scored in finals of all available cup competitions, League, FA, UEFA cups and The Champions League.

The debate about greatest players ever often rages, whether within a club, a nation, a continent and even globally. Yet nearly always the candidates have huge success with the clubs and or nations and are as such part of great teams. Gerrard is a glaring exception to this. The Liverpool teams that he has been part of have moved between the poor or mediocre up to decent sides at best. Compare the AC Milan side of the 2005 final to a Liverpool team that contained Dudek, Finnan, Jimmi Traore and Harry Kewell. As usual Gerrard had only 2 world class support players, Jamie Carragher and Xabi Alonso on this occasion. Milan fielded Maldini, Nesto, Stam, Pirlo, Cafu, Kaka, Seedorf and Shevchenko.

Stevie G Champions league

The 2001 UEFA Cup winning side could be looked at as even worse, however it did give Gerrard genuine world class support both up front in the form of Owen and Fowler and behind with the ever present Carragher. This treble winning outfit also finished runners up  to Man United that season. United featured Stam, Neville, Keane, Scholes, Cole, York, Giggs, Beckham and Sherringham as well as Butt, Solskjaer, Berg and Irwin.

The 2013/14 squads of Liverpool compared with Man City or Chelsea is almost laughable. It is nothing short of a miracle that they managed to get that close and shows what can happen when Gerrard has a smattering of genuine world class around him. Luiz Suarez, Gerrard, Sterling and Sturridge gave Liverpool every shot at the title. This time however the immense Jamie Carragher was not present and thus the side were short of any real class in defence. No other side would have gotten anywhere near the title whilst shipping goals at the rate LFC managed. The galvanising effect and remarkable leadership of Gerrard together with the unreal Suarez dragged them toward the impossible. It should be remembered that Suarez was missing for the first section of season and still LFC competed with the top sides.

The games since the announcement of his departure have provided more evidence of the immense influence Gerrard retains. AFC Wimbledon were prevented from a famous result by the sheer force of the Skipper’s will. The first leg of the league cup semi final vs Chelsea may hint at the return of Liverpool to last years form, all be it without Suarez, but again Gerrard inspired and galvanised the side after they slipped behind. They remain just one titanic performance away from another Wembley final for the departing hero.

There remains the possibility of cameo returns from his MLS duties and then a return to the fold in another role. Surely the only way is for LFC do do the same for Gerrard as Manchester City did for Patrick Viera. A roving role within the club for a period in order for him to find where he can be of most value to the club and those who will always cherish what he gave them.

The new fan banner from last nights Chelsea semi final may sum it up. The best there is, The best there was & The best there ever will be?

 

Why, Why, Why ? Ban Delilah!

Tom Jones ImageThe silly season is upon us again, by this we mean the season in which perspective and reality are lost to small mindedness and ignorance. This time honoured tradition recently saw the notion of banning Delilah from sporting stadia, Wales Rugby Union & Stoke City FC, put forward by Dafydd Iwan.

The motive behind this was that the song glorifies a murder and speaks lightly of the murder of a woman.The fact that the song is a tale of the severe regret at a momentary loss of reason and even begs forgiveness, did not appear to have been considered. It would not have taken a genius to put this ridiculus notion to bed and ensure that the superb sound of 40,000 people singing the Jom Jones classic with full voice and their own particular spin would remain. Luckily it would appear that common sense is prevailing and even Dafydd has seen the error of his ways.

However with this current trend, of picking apart songs, rhymes and other innocent entertainments in order to damn them with modern sensitivities, attitudes and interpretation, it occurred to me that this could be the start of a very slippery slope. A look at a few other songs enjoyed by supporters at various sports grounds suggests this could be the mere tip of the politically incorrect iceberg.

West Ham fans will have to desist from from “forever blowing bubbles” due to it possibly xenophobic, bubble being short for the rhyming slang bubble & squeak meaning Greek. This could be taken even further if the blowing was considered with a modern edge………

Everton supporters will have to do without the Z Cars theme in case it is scene as promoting the heavy handed police brutality of the 1960’s.

Liverpool followers will have to suspend the “Fields of Anfield Road” as its original can be seen as anti English and has been used by IRA supporters.

Those who follow Man United and other must stop “Looking on the bright side of life” as this is associated with Monty Python mocking the bible!

Surely Middlesborough FC ‘s use of “Papa’s got a brand new pigbag” will offend vegetarians , Muslims and Jewish people.

Oh where would it have all ended? I for one am deeply appreciative of the interventions that have seen the anthem of my local club saved, as I am sure are Neil & Lou!

Neil Baldwin and Lou macari

Always back Harry Redknapp!

redknapp

The above phrase has been a mantra in our house for over a decade. I have always liked a bit of a gamble and over the years Harry has provided me with family holidays, consumer goods and a great deal of smug satisfaction. Yet for reasons best known to themselves there have always been a large and loud group who decry Harry both personally and his skills and achievements.

Most recently the naysayers have been cranking up the pressure on QPR to dispense with the services of this remarkable manager. Granted QPR appeared to have had a poor start following their return to the Premier League. This time however owner Tony Fernandez appears to have backed a winner and is sticking with it.

Despite being bottom of the table at the start of this weekends round of fixtures the position was not near as bad as it was being made out to be and following a comfortable 2-0 win over Burnley, Rangers now move up to 17th and are only separated from several places above them on goal difference.

A realistic look at QPR’s games and results since the beginning of the season shows, that far from being relegation fodder, they are performing in a way likely to see them be less under pressure in the second half of the season than the first, and thus favourites to consolidate in the division. Harry managed this same trick after bringing Portsmouth up in the 2002/3 season and finishing in 13th place with 45 points.

The truth of QPR’s season is simply stated , so far they have beaten Burnley, Leicester, Aston Villa and Sunderland, they have drawn with Stoke and Manchester City. Both of their worst losses came early in the season to opposition likely to finish in the top 6. Harry’s men lost out by the odd goal to Hull ( opening day), Liverpool, Southampton, Chelsea and Newcastle. Two goal reverses to West Ham and Swansea make up the rest of their 15 games so far.

QPR Crest

Thus it is clear that the Hoops are defeating most of the sides thought to be relegation favourites and others in the lower half. They are losing games to those likely to finish in the middle but are pinching points from some of those and even those higher up.

They had a very tough set of early fixtures compared to many others. After an early settling period, where the personell and the system were tweaked and changed things began to kick into life with a visit from Liverpool on October 19th. QPR looked superb for much of the game and gave Liverpool a torrid time. Although they lost the game, through  naivety and surprise at the position they found themselves in, it was a turning point. The 7 games since have resulted in 3 wins 1 draw ( against Man City!) and 3 losses.

The final ingredient in the QPR survival plan will be the collapse of other sides. Whilst the Gers have been finding their feet, and improving steadily, others have started quickly and are now fading fast or have been looking better than they are while others have been improving. Leicester City are now in a spiral that could have no end, Burnley are showing but it is likely to be too little too late. Hull, West Brom have looked below par since the start of the season and with Sunderland and Palace seeming to specialise in pluck draws they too are likely to be in the mix. No doubt Aston Villa will flirt with the lower reaches but use their experience and added maturity to make a better first of it than previously. Is it likely that Harry’s men will perform worse than 3 of that group of 7

For those still doubting the wisdom of my, always back Harry, maxim, here a few more persuasive facts. Redknapp has never been relegated from the Premier League with a team he started the season with. His only two failures came when he entered clubs two late and with little or no background knowledge of club or players. The owner will be desperate not to return to the championship and pay £54 million fair play fines ( however unfair) and thus will again back Redknapp in the January transfer window.

Thus I say again ” always back Harry Redknapp”!

 

Brian Clough, Memories & Legacy.

clough playerThe 10 year anniversary of the passing of the man many call the Master Manager has not gone unmarked. Time will not fade the memories of those who watched,  the man himself, playing for Middlesborough or Sunderland, scoring two hundred and fifty plus league goals in record time. Nor will they forget watching the teams he went on to manage. Starting, as the league’s youngest manager, at Hartlepools, his championship winners at Derby County or the title winning Nottingham Forest who went on to become back to back European Champions.

The notorious spell at Leeds has been immortalised in a tough to accept fictional novel and in a memorable film. His more visual characteristics are still to be found in you tube, scenes of terrorising commentators and interacting with talk-show hosts and even Mohammed Ali. Yet it is easy to caricature Clough and miss the true genius behind the bravado.

clough green sweater

Amidst the banner headlines, of a superlative career, many other superb achievements are not properly recognised. Forest’s capture of the top flight title was achieved in the 1977/78 season and was their debut year after gaining promotion. Rarely done previously it has never been repeated. The ability to galvanise a team, to believe that this was even possible, and then pull it off, would surely test the greatest managers of any era.

The regular development, and re deploying of players, into new positions or with new confidence and belief is a shining example of something missing today. The mercurial John Robertson, turned into the a double European Cup winning hero, the reputed thug, Kenny Burns, turned into the player of the season, the carpet fitter Gary Birtles, turned into one of Europe’s best strikers. Of these achievements Peter Taylor deserves a share of the credit, yet the conveyor belt still continued after his sad departure. Steve Hodge, Steve Stone, Stuart Pearce, as well as the prodigal son Nigel, were all turned into England internationals and they were not alone.

Those , including myself, who eulogize about Jose Mourinho and his ability to forge teams and take much of the pressure onto himself after imbuing the belief of the zealot into his players, should refer to the Clough handbook for hundreds of examples of this school of man management. The examples of unusual tactics and diversions to relax players,  and psych out oppositions, are legendary but also pre cursors of much that sports psychology attempts to teach us today.

Another area of unmatched skill was the discipline with which Clough’s teams played and conducted themselves. Players were fined if they crossed the line with the referee, threatened with non selection if they set bad examples in front of fans or others. The well known quotes about “get a hair cut, young man” would not be half as long lasting if they were not true. Although even Clough may have gone too far with the remark about all Leeds United’s trophies being gained through cheating, he simply believed they had not been achieved the “right way”. The comments of referee’s following his retirement, and later in eulogy, speak more than any statistics can manage. Perhaps this comment from a famous interview with John Motson sums it up “I think that what you do to referees is nothing short of criminal. I do, honestly. And I think that the standard you feel that should be coming from referees at the moment is absolutely incredible…He makes a decision in 5 seconds, or 2 seconds, or one  second or whatever it is, in the heat of the moment, with 22 players and 30,000 people shouting and bellowing. All I’m saying is that you don’t make that point strongly enough. It should be over-emphasised how hard it is to referee a match.” 

clough black and white

The legacy of Brian Clough is manyfold and for that we should be thankful. His many contradictions and charismatic ways have led to a flood of recent books and writings. One pair of books contains over 140 stories and anecdotes from people’s memories of the man and his work. No other manager would inspire such outpourings, the various biographies are often worth reading just for glimpses and perspectives not before in print. From a darker perspective “Nobody ever says thankyou” by Jonathon Wilson is a tremendous piece of analysis and writing. Clough’s legacy in influencing those who played and now manage or coach is comparable with any. Stuart Pearce has managed in the top flight and both England and Great Britain teams. Martin O Neil has had a tremendous record with provincial clubs and great names in England and Scotland and now is combining with Roy Keane to manage Ireland. The interesting link between O Neil and Clough via Neil Lennon’s excellent work at Celtic and Paul Lambert with Roy Keane at Villa seems to have started well. Nigel Clough  has demonstrated an ability to manage clubs and to bring them steady progress and stability, I await the day this is tested at the highest level.

Clough’s greatest legacy is simply the demonstration of what can be done. The ability to select, motivate and manage a team of players to, outwardly unexpected, glory. Every now and again in the intervening years a brief flash of this is shown to be true, Porto winning the Uefa Cup & Champions League, Bayer Leverkussen reaching the final. Athletico Madrid winning La Liga and pushing Real all the way in the Champions League final. Notice a common thread? Each has a lower budget and a hugely dynamic, determined, self-possessed and charismatic manager. The enduring legacy is surely that even in today’s climate, it can still be done!

Thank-you, for everything,  Mr Clough. 

 

 

In desperate times, call out the old guard.

WarnockThe appointment of Neil Warnock as manager at Crystal Palace is merely confirmation of the desperate tactic employed by chairmen/owners who then lack the courage of the convictions that drove them to the decision.

It seems that the Premier League is currently beholden to the appointment of young managers from a generation of supposedly progressive coaches. Preferably these individuals will have been seen to serve under the one or more titans from the pantheon of currently working management icons. If this is not possible then one with a similar view of the world and a previous connection to the club is a good bet.

Yet come the witching hour, when these best laid plans for progressive football and a vaguely continental attitude result in the club or players struggling to adapt, and clubs find themselves lurching into the relegation zone, then the panic button is pushed and time and time again the call goes out to the old guard. Often but not always older in years, but generally it is their view of the managers role that is old school.

redknapplevy

After another failed experiment with the Director of football & head coach combination, Daniel Levy hit the panic button and went against every fibre of his being and recruited, at considerable cost, the very blueprint of the old school manager Harry Redknapp. Four successful years later Levy tired of having the football side of his club run for him and sacked him. He is now on his third head coach since 2012. Milan Manderic can at least be credited with realising his folly and returning to Redknapp’s well before it was too late. West Ham tried a number of differing coaches following the Gold/Sullivan takeover. Finding themselves in The Championship, and hemorrhaging money fast, what did they do? appoint Sam Alladice. Despite his superb effort in getting the Hammers out of that division, at the first attempt and gaining respectable Premier League finishes, in his first two seasons, the vultures have been out for Sam for a while. Only the financial precariousness of their situation and the move to the Olympic Stadium have stayed the co-owners hand so far.

When Ian Holloway owned up, to having created a mess he could not get out of, Crystal Palace hunted high and low for a way out. After protracted negotiation Tony Pulis was appointed, less than twelve months later and having proven himself beyond his board’s wildest expectations, TP was on his way. Again a chairman/owner could not cope with managers who want to manage. Arsene Wenger recently stated that he would not have a Director of football, his simple reasoning was that managers are responsible for the performance of players and teams thus they must be in charge of them and their recruitment.

Warnock is another cut from this cloth, though not naive enough to believe he can still do it alone, and with an existing relationship with the club that will serve him well. His selection over Steve Clarke however illustrates that again in the panic hour old guard manager is prefered to a perceived head coach. A look at the fortunes, mainly in the middle to lower reaches of the Premier League following the departures of these supposedly archaic figures offers a harsh warning to those with delusions. Bolton Wanderers and Blackburn now struggle in the Championship. Spurs have both sold their best player and spent over £100 million whilst failing to improve on Redknapp’s reign in either style or results. Aston Villa have spent 3 years battling relegation after dispensing with the services of Martin O Neil, interestingly they have now added an assistant manager very much cut from the old guard cloth.

Stoke City may play the role of the exception that proves the rule, managing the departure of one old-fashioned manager, Then employing a new one, to use the structures and benefits built by the previous incumbent, and chairman Peter Coates, together with a huge contact book and wide experience in an attempt to progress the club. Everton too appear to have pulled off a master stroke in their appointment of a combination of manager and progressive coach in Roberto Martinez.

The view of Wenger combined with the implosion of Manchester United following the departure of the very definition of old guard point to the syndrome not being restricted to smaller clubs. Barcelona are struggling to find another who can run an entire club and represent a philosophy in the manner of Guardiola.

In the next few months, as the panic hour approaches, the same decision will be taken by several clubs. Will Utd panic and re install Ferguson, with Giggs, and how many others in the lower reaches of the Premier League will send out the clarion call for an old-fashioned manager able to cope with both the task and its pressures.  As the supply of these supposed dinosaurs gets less and less the demand may increase. The success of a handful of new potential managers, in the true sense of the word, may yet save these totems of the English game from extinction.