About Me

Football purist, realist and general sports fanatic. Interested in all aspects of the game, from all corners of the earth.

Sunday, 25 January 2015


Sheikh Shakhbut bin Sultan Al Nahyan peered into his neighbours’ gardens and caught a glimpse of his Emirate’s future. Abu Dhabi was once reliant on the pearling industry but The Great Depression of the 1930’s had cut it to it’s knees. Unlike other states surrounding the Persian Gulf (including Bahrain and Kuwait) he had no oil, so agreed to grant expanding oil companies concessions to hunt for the commodity he craved. In 1950 the Iraq Petroleum Company drilled the first boreholes in the ground of what would soon be known as The United Arab Emirates; a year, a million pounds and 13,000 feet later the mission was deemed unsuccessful.

A small provincial club in north-west England wasn’t even a dirty though in the Gulf state’s mind back then.

The Sheikh grew more desperate. A subsidiary of British Petrolium, Abu Dhabi Marine Areas Ltd., was given permission to raid the sea in the hope of extracting oil from beneath. Jacques Cousteau was called in to survey the seabed. In August 1958 using a drilling platform imported from Hamburg, ADMA struck black on their first attempt, 8,755 feet deep into the Umm Shaif field. “A nice sweet crude”, said the engineer on the barge.

50 years later, today’s Manchester City were born.


Manchester City hadn’t tasted major success in over forty years when they clinched the Premier League title from their cross-city rival’s back pocket in the most exhilarating fashion in 2012. The club is now a Champions League regular and has collected two of the previous three domestic championships whilst enjoying some cup success on the side; fifteen years ago they sat in the third tier of English football. Dunne, Barton and Dickov are gone; it’s now Kompany, Toure and Aguero.

Based on this transformation it seems delusional to suggest the club have underwhelmed; they currently sit just five points behind Chelsea at the top of the table and could reduce that to two in their next fixture.

The elephant in the room here is cash. City have more money than God and aren’t afraid to show it; yet they’re still shooting par for the course.

The next month and a half will be integral if Manuel Pellegrini’s side want to shed this perception.

The club aren’t given the credit they deserve for their first title success; people often suggest it wasn’t a totally credible victory because goal difference was required to separate them from Manchester United (and also Ferguson’s team’s slump towards the end of the season). This bitter contention neglects the fact City delivered an outstanding performance in the must-win clash between the two sides on the last day of April that year; Joe Hart wasn’t required for any of United’s meagre five shots over the ninety minutes.

The problem lies in the fact that the display in the club’s biggest game in decades that night stands as an exception as opposed to the rule. City have struggled in games against the sides they should be competing against; last season Chelsea took six points from them including a comprehensive beating at the Etihad, they lost to Liverpool at Anfield after regaining the momentum of the game during the second half and their Champions League knock-out round debut was anticlimactic.

After their defeat to Arsenal at the weekend Gary Neville argued the side today hasn’t displayed enough signs of progression since they won their first title three years ago and looking at results it’s impossible to argue against him.

“The majority of them have been together for a long time now; three, four, five years. It’s a mature team now. They’ve got to progress, they’ve got to get better… back-to-back titles, Champions League semi-finals (because) that’s the ambition here. I’m not sure whether this team are as good as when they first won the league”.


Ferran Soriano was appointed CEO of Manchester City four months after their comeback against Queens Park Rangers. By the end of October he was joined by Txiki Begiristain, a former colleague of his at Barcelona, who became City’s Director of Football.

As a businessman Begiristain doesn’t spend money like it is his own. In the summer of 2013 Martin Demichelis signed for Atletico Madrid on a free transfer after his contract with Malaga expired; two months later the 32 year old Argentine signed for Manchester City for five and a half million euro.

Big money deals have been orchestrated by the Catalan but the group of players City rely on remain the same; Aguero, Silva, Toure, Kompany, Zabaleta.

An even more pertinent issue is the club’s aging squad; only seven of their current squad (excluding Scott Sinclair for obvious reasons) are under the age of 28. Yaya Toure, Vincent Kompany and David Silva are among those on the wrong side of time.

In order to lower the average age of the squad while remaining competitive, serious financial clout is required. Fortunately for City they have some cash to throw around. If however UEFA begin to impose effective punishment for going against Financial Fair Play regulations the club will rue the way they spent their money in the last few years.

During the Laporta Era at Barcelona Soriano’s policy was always geared towards fulfilling what the club’s governors referred to as ‘The Virtuous Circle of FC Barcelona’. The first step in this cycle was simply “sign the best players”. The best are only the best for so long.


Soriano (on the field at least; he has broadened the City brand) and Begiristain have done little to suggest their roles at City couldn’t have been filled by others. The latter’s time in Catalunya was littered with expensive, abysmal signings (Keirrison, Chygrynskiy) and poor sales like Samuel Eto’o. Despite this, the 17 players he signed (although he wasn’t responsible for some like Ronaldinho and Eto’o) who went on to play a role in winning a Champions League title with Barcelona will be remembered with more affection.

His job at City in comparison however has been poor; he has acquired players who belong on the fringes of successful teams, but no world class talents who will define a club’s fortunes. Their importance and competence has been, to some degree, inflated because of Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona side at the turn of the decade.

The logic behind the make-up of the current City squad is bewildering. Their biggest weakness is at the heart of midfield where they lack a player capable of stitching together their play. Fernando, Fernandinho , Frank Lampard and Yaya Toure are players with a number of functions but none possess the ability to control a game, thus increasing the burden on the more cerebral David Silva.

Up front Sergio Aguero’s preference to play alongside a striker means they often line up with two forwards, limiting their numbers in midfield. While that may be perceived as a slight toward old school 442, it isn’t. Manuel Pellegrini’s insistence on possession play isn’t compatible with the formation in the way Diego Simeone’s Atletico side is for example.

A revamp is required at the club in the near future. In order to prove this current side hasn’t merely stagnated after their initial success they must beat Barcelona in a rematch of last year’s knock-out stage tie. In order to banish the idea that today’s City are happy to rest on their laurels they must get to the Champions League quarter finals at least. They must wrestle it out with Chelsea to prove they have balls.

If the season ends without a major trophy ending up at the Etihad the men in the Gulf will be entitled to ask serious questions when they check up on their toy during the summer. If the right questions are asked it’ll see changes on the pitch, in the dugout and in the stands.

Monday, 19 January 2015

The Wrong Man in the wrong place at the wrong time.

There is a club out there for every manager. The best of the best carry their success around with them like a watch on their wrist.

Alex Ferguson created unimaginable periods of success at both Manchester United and Aberdeen, Carlo Ancelotti solves footballing equations regardless of the language they’re posed in, Jose Mourinho’s teams may as well enter the Champions League at the semi-final stage.

Others must sail from job to job to find themselves. Diego Simeone was responsible for River Plate’s demotion from the top division in Argentinian football before masterminding the footballing achievement of the decade by almost clinching the double at his beloved Atleti. Brendan Rodgers didn’t see Christmas as Reading manager.

Paul Lambert is in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Lambert’s time at Norwich was extremely successful. Not only did he oversee back-to-back promotions, he guided the Canaries to safety in his sole season in the Premiership at Carrow Road.

Comparing the squads and spending power in the division there was a case to be made that Lambert overachieved more than any other manager in the Premier League that season.

The most impressive aspect of his time in charge of Norwich was the tactical nous he displayed in the top tier; often out-thinking managers more experienced (and more renowned) than himself. The side often pressed high disrupting their more talented opponents’ ability to dictate the game in dangerous areas.

Norwich, despite their limited squad, were capable of playing in a number of formations; their primary shape was 4-4-2 (in a diamond) but proved equally adept with a flat midfield four or a 4-2-3-1. Importantly, they were able to alter how they set up during games; often without even making a substitute. This tactical flexibility highlighted Lambert’s ability to coach his players as well as his own ability to intelligently approach games.

After an acrimonious departure that threatened to escalate to a legal dispute, the Scot left a stable club possessing a squad he knew inside-out for Aston Villa in the summer of 2012. Lambert found himself at a bigger club who naturally had more ambitious expectations than those in Norfolk.

Instead, Villa have found it difficult to show their fans even a modicum of progress. There is next to no creativity in the team; the midfield consists of three players incapable of controlling or willfully dominating the game.

Lambert’s side rely on the counter-attack, completely ignorant to the fact that relying on Gabby Agbonlahor and Andreas Weimann for consistency is probably not the most logical idea in the world.

Last night, willed on by fans who sniggered his direction just months ago, Fernando Torres netted a brace at the Bernabeu to send Atletico through to the next round of the Copa Del Rey. The night before we smiled when David Moyes accepted Cheese Puffs from a fan after being sent to the stands in the Basque country. While this has nothing to do with football we saw his contentment with life and that’s human; we lost sight of ‘Moyes the man’ and saw him as ‘Moyes the tarnished soul’ after his experience in Manchester.

Even the heartless love a redemption story. The most glaring sign of stagnation this year in the Midlands wears the number eight in Claret and Blue on the weekends.  After years of ridicule even a couple of decent performances would see a spate of atonement pieces on Tom Cleverley; yet he still can’t trigger any degree of decency from neutrals this season.

After beginning the season promisingly it all reverted to type for the Villains. The cancellation of their goal of the month competition in October may have been because they only played three games that month, but it seemed apt; in total they’ve scored 11 goals so far this season, 7 behind second-worst Sunderland. Villa fans can only hope new signing Carles Gil aids them as they struggle forward.

So far the only player Lambert has brought in who has attracted significant interest from elsewhere is Christian Benteke. In part, the manager is unfortunate to have come in under Randy Lerner post-Martin O’Neill; the Northern Irishman had the club on the brink of financial ruin (and had the gall to walk away when Lerner warned of the need to balance the books), with wages accounting for 88% of the club’s total revenue.

You could admire Lambert for his decision to join the club in the first place. It’s unlikely however, potential suitors will see it that way in the future. This wasn’t the job for him. He walked away on that.

The Rotting Corpse of The Only Choice

"No why. Just here." - John Cage.

On the 8th of February, 2012, Harry Redknapp discovered what he was born to do in life. Just hours after successfully slipping away from a court case where he was accused of cheating the UK revenue system after receiving payments in a Monte Carlo based bank account from former Portsmouth chairman Milan Mandaric (if Ronseal did somewhat seedy financial dealings it would probably say that on the tin), news broke of Fabio Capello’s resignation as England manager. Fortune favours the bold.

Having hurdled over the obstacle of the Southwark Crown Court an innocent Harry was seen as the only candidate for the job. As England were going through the ‘indifference to foreigners’ stage of their managerial cycle, Redknapp, flying high with Tottenham, was regarded the ideal man to finally inject pride into the Three Lions.

Players were amongst the first to endorse the Londoner’s credentials; Wayne Rooney name-dropped him on Twitter while Rio Ferdinand called him his choice “by a distance”.

Alex Ferguson was in no doubt as to who was the best man for the job. “He has changed the fortunes of every club he has been at", said the Scot. Supporters of Portsmouth, now languishing in the bottom half of League Two, couldn’t argue with the factual accuracy of that statement.

While he initially insisted he couldn’t allow his focus to drift away from Spurs, Redknapp understandably admitted the role at the head of the national team was “the ultimate job for an Englishman”.

Equally as understandable was how he firmly believed the job was his; no other candidate was considered in the media. Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers later spoke about how Redknapp “was obviously very confident - as was the nation - he was going to be offered the national team job”.

His hilarious, overt celebrations during his first game in the dugout after he was cleared, a 5-0 home victory over Newcastle, were as revealing as a resignation letter; his mind was on the England job, this was his farewell.

The FA hired Roy Hodgson as manager in May. Harry Redknapp the manager has been inching closer to death ever since.

The certainty he once fought to suppress was replaced by indignation.

"I wouldn't trust the FA to show me a good manager if their lives depended on it. This isn't about them giving the England job to me or Roy Hodgson, but English football being run by people who really haven't got a clue… Everyone said I was the people's choice, the only choice”.

Redknapp’s career since isn’t as much a career as a pilgrimage to a Nirvana of failure; a tumbleweed rolling across the desert, only the tumbleweed is in flames.

Immediately, everything he touched collapsed like a house of cards. Having bottled finishing above Arsenal for the first time in seventeen years, Spurs’ consolation prize of a Champions League spot was stolen by Chelsea’s Champions League success. Daniel Levy sacked him after Redknapp overplayed his hand while pushing for a new contract that summer.

His time at Queens Park Rangers has been littered with discontent in the stands. Fans raged when Redknapp waved to the Spurs’ faithful while losing 4-0 at the beginning of the season. His excuse was vintage ‘Arry; plead ignorance.

“I don’t know which punters are sitting up where, do I? Whether that’s the home fans or the away fans”.

The stadium was his home pitch for 4 years.

All great managers have the same brazen, grass-is-blue demeanor the QPR boss exudes. The difference between them and Redknapp however is they tend to display it when pressure comes onto their players; not themselves.

This is the reason Redknapp is never seen as a success or a failure; only a punchline.

On the field his nadir was QPR’s relegation in 2012. The London club’s demotion wasn’t even the most pathetic part of the ordeal; that belong to the insipid, flaccid goalless draw with Reading that sealed their fate. Both sides needed to win to maintain hope of staying in the division; neither could muster a goal.

His legacy will be seen in the transfer window, although the Londoner wont appreciate hearing that. He will be as synonymous with Transfer Deadline Day as the mischievous elfins surrounding reporters across the land.

Redknapp is a manager who in the past has selected two goalkeepers on the bench for an important league clash against Manchester City just days before the window shut; an attempt to draw even more money from the pocket of wealthy but equally inept chairman Tony Fernandes.

His search for the public’s pity (and transfer funds) is never-ending; this week he lamented that he only has two strikers at his disposal (Charlie Austin, Bobby Zamora, Mauro Zarate, Eduardo Vargas). The rest of his squad reads like a list of recycled goods; Rio Ferdinand, Richard Dunne, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Sandro.

What must puzzle ‘Arry is how it has come to this. He has changed very little over the last decade. He interacts with the press the same way; he’s as active in the market as ever. Redknapp is the same tactically nihilistic leader he was at White Hart Lane where transfer committee signings like Luka Modric and Gareth Bale elevated Spurs to the cusp of breaking into the Champions League.

Watching his demise, as sadistic as it sounds, is quite funny at times.

Redknapp wont see it that way. He must wonder why the best manager this generation of England players never had ended up at QPR. There is no why. He is just there.

Ross Barkley: Leave him be

Steven Gerrard is broken. During his time he was so often the talisman; the catalyst behind Liverpool’s successful battle against total mediocrity. In the last twelve months Demba Ba, the World Cup and his own aching joints, Gerrard’s Unholy Trinity, amalgamated. The demolition ball they formed pounded into the Liverpool captain’s spirit and knocked him across the Atlantic. Watching Gerrard’s interview after accepting his fate no longer lay at Anfield the evidence was obvious; Steven Gerrard is a broken man.

Jamie Carragher approached the subject with a touch of realism. “Enough of Gerrard now, he's leaving”, he tweeted. Then he lodged his tongue firmly against his cheek. “Replacement has to be Ross Barkley, offer 10 million go to 12 tops job done”.

Barkley must have been insulted. Throughout his career he has constantly been lauded by influential people within English football. Nobody seems content to allow him become Ross Barkley; he’s been touted as ‘the next’ Wayne Rooney (Frank Lampard), Michael Ballack (Roberto Martinez) and Paul Gascoigne (Roy Hodgson). Twelve million pounds to a player swimming in a maelstrom of appreciation could only have been interpreted as an insult.

The irony of Carragher’s comment is that it wasn’t a preposterous valuation.

Ross Barkley is a gifted young footballer. At twenty-one he’s shown himself to be fearless player; constantly asking for the ball and attempting to force play regardless of whether his endevours have been coming up short on any particular day.

Roberto Marinez noticed this trait in Barkley just weeks into his time at Everton. “Football is a game of errors. What I look for from players is how you react to a mistake: does it stop you getting on the ball again? Do you become a bit more cagey? What I have seen from Ross is that it doesn’t matter whether he makes a mistake; he is ready to get on the ball again. He just carries on playing in the same manner.”

While an admirable trait, you can guarantee the Spaniard is growing slightly frustrated at the fact Barkley still hasn’t laced his raw, visceral style with patience and football acumen.

Yesterday he described the imposing midfielder as “a phenomenal talent” although he also questioned the midfielder’s consistency, calling him a young man who is still learning but one who “needs to get through certain periods where he can make decisions in a better way”.

Barkley’s individual talent ensures he will occasionally decorate games with stunning runs, or even goals, but Everton, particularly during their miserable season, require a more reliable attacking player at the moment.

Reliable is a word alien to Ross Barkley at this admittedly early stage of his career. He neither possesses a goal threat or the capability to create chances for his teammates.

Paul Riley (who has produced some excellent work on Barkley, Everton and Premiership teams in general) created this (https://twitter.com/footballfactman/status/499641258076569601) revealing shot chart displaying all of Ross Barkley’s shots last season. Not only does Barkley appear to find it difficult to hit the target from inside the box but there are also far too many shots from unfavourable positions (ie. outside the box).

Unfortunately for Barkley and Everton the youngster doesn’t compensate for this by contributing to his side’s attack in other ways. Despite his manager moving him between a position out wide and a more central role this year he continuously fails to carve open the opposition or even recognise when a teammate is in a better position than himself.

His sole assist during this Premiership campaign came in his first game against Aston Villa in October and since then he’s failed in playing teammates into dangerous positions. In fact the last time Barkley played a pass into the box that resulted in a shot was at White Hart Lane on November 30th.

These facts suggest to a number of things. Perhaps Barkley is still easing into the season after beginning it two months later than his teammates. Maybe Barkley is finding it more difficult than expected having being taken away from central areas to learn how to play out wide where there’s less space.

One thing that can’t be disputed however is Ross Barkley’s inexperience. Even at 21 he has endured a number of serious injuries. While he has fought back from each one honourably they have eroded into the amount of games he has played. In total the Wavertree-born prospect has only just played enough minutes to amount to a full Premier League season (reached over the holiday period).

So instead of prophesying that Barkley will become England’s greatest player ever maybe Roberto Martinez should focus on developing him as a player. Barkley has talent to spare; if Martinez can allow it to blossom he wont find himself in the bother his team are in now and it’ll have the added benefit of being a worthy addition to his cv.

How old is a Prospect?

The rise of Harry Kane is somewhat inconceivable to modern football fans. Despite people beginning to come to terms with the idea the aging curve for athletes is shifting to the left, his influence on the Tottenham squad this season has been significant for a 21 year-old. That hasn’t stopped people belittling his achievement however; for everyone other than Spurs fans Kane is a ‘flavour of the month’ footballer. The inevitable loss of form will see him out of North London and kick-start a career touring around bottom-half clubs, probably under Harry Redknapp. Twenty-one is too old nowadays.
If a prospect hasn’t been discovered in their teens today there’s a degree of scepticism attached to them. Paul Pogba was 18 when he became known as the boy who’s self-importance dwarfed Alex Ferguson’s at Manchester United. Norway’s Martin Ødegaard made his international debut at 15 last Autumn and is currently touring European powerhouses from Madrid to Melwood; teasing fans desperate for the next big thing to inject stardom into their academy.
Kane has neither the dynamism of Pogba nor the velocity of a player like Raheem Sterling; he doesn’t appear to be a natural footballer. Despite this, and his slack-jawed appearance, he’s proving himself to be an intelligent player; his ability to find space across the pitch is superb for someone with so few minutes under his belt at the top level.
Bayern Munich once had a similar player in their academy. According to a scout for a renowned European club a young Thomas Muller “was uncoordinated, ugly to watch. He’d try to trap the ball and it would bounce three meters away. He was always in a hurry, always scrambling, like a guy who was terrified to make a mistake. In my experience, guys like that don’t have a future in the top flight”. Fortunately for the youngster the Bavarians’ manager Louis van Gaal was in awe of his positional awareness and introduced him to the first team. When other’s questioned his place the cocksure Dutchman insisted “under me, Müller will always play”.
“The idea that I should trust my eyes more than the stats, I don’t buy that because I’ve seen magicians pull rabbits out of hats and I know that the rabbit’s not in there.” – Billy Beane.
Nobody is touting Kane as a future Bayern Munich forward, but there’s plenty evidence even at this early stage to suggest he belongs in the top half of the Premiership. While eight of his goals have come in inferior competitions his tally of fifteen for the season stands out amongst Roberto Soldado and Emmanuel Adebayor’s contribution this year, particularly when you take into account the fact Kane has both led the line and played behind the striker.
In Premier League games where he’s played for over half an hour he has eight goals (a rate of one every 138 minutes or game and a half), none of which came from the penalty spot. While his shot output in this period is good but nothing special at 3.5 a game he has been extremely efficient. This is a consequence of Kane’s uncanny ability to take shots from ‘the Danger Zone’ (55%, the Premiership average is under 40%), or the centre of the box, as Michael Caley discussed here (hyperlink).
There are deficiencies in Kane’s game. While his link up play is impressive in wide areas he fails to get involved in play in central areas of the opposition’s half (penalty box aside). Even against Chelsea where he bagged a brace he failed to penetrate central areas from twenty to forty yards out.
While some could point to the presence of Nemanja Matic at the heart of Chelsea’s midfield for this it is a pattern that repeats itself across a number of games.
To prove he deserves his place in the starting eleven at a club as ambitious as Spurs Kane will have to strive to improve his link-up play, try to keep the inevitable dry-spell as short as possible and more importantly maintain his current level for the next 18 months. The clamour over an England call-up beckons ahead of their clash with Lithuania in March but Kane should display something he fails to show on the pitch, selfishness, focus on his own game for the next year and serve his time in the Under-21 set up.
For now however the signs are good and in the short term he should be a lock in for you this weekend as he attempts to make it seven goals in seven games as the in-form North London club travel across the Thames to Crystal Palace.