Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Mark's Noble Decision

Mark Noble is eligible to play for the Republic of Ireland.

He was born in England.

He has played for England.

He has even captained England.

But his Grandparents are Irish.

According to FIFA, this makes him eligible.

It’s that simple.

If Mark was to play for the Republic of Ireland in their next game against Gibraltar - nobody could have a problem.

Not the English FA.

Not the FA of Ireland.

Neither UEFA nor FIFA.

Nobody could have a problem at all.

Nobody except Mark that is.

After all is said and done, with rulebooks checked and applications processed, there remains only one simple hurdle in the path of the player playing for the birth country of his Grandparents.

Mark Noble does not want to play for the Republic of Ireland.

Or perhaps more pertinently, Mark Noble does not want to play for the Republic of Ireland, yet.

And it’s the use of the word ‘yet’ that has turned this story into a debate.

Dave Kitson was available to represent the Irish national side.

He made it clear from the beginning that he didn’t feel Irish and didn’t feel it would be right to play for Ireland.

He falls into the category of ‘not wanting to play for Ireland’.

So too, do Zat Knight, Anton Ferdinand and Curtis Davis.

All players eligible to play for Ireland.

All players who’d rather have represented their country of birth and were prepared to finish their careers uncapped than represent the birth country of a member of their family.

The difference between all of them and Mark of course, is the little word ‘yet’.

Mark has already told us he would rather play for England.

He has told us this for many years.

And for that he deserved respect.

He was biding his time for an opportunity.

But as the door opened with the retirement of Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard, it subsequently closed with the call-ups of Jack Colback and Fabian Delph.

This was the chance Mark had waited for.

Instead it went to two younger, fresher midfielders.

If Mark wants to play international football, he will most probably now have to switch allegiance.

A topic which is not unfamiliar.

The Republic of Ireland have benefited aplenty in the past.

Most nations have at some stage.

Only last year did a tug of war take place between Spain and Brazil for the services of Diego Costa.

The same Spain and Brazil who were favourites to lift the World Cup.

Diego had the opportunity to play for both and chose Spain.

He turned down the chance to play for Brazil in a World Cup in Brazil.

That’s how much he wanted to play for the Spanish national team.

Winners of the actual tournament Germany, had two Polish born players.

Runners-up Argentina had a Frenchman.

Third place Netherlands had players born in Portugal, Canada and Switzerland.

But for every Miroslav Klose, Lucas Podolski and Gonzalo Higuain - there is a Kevin Prince-Boateng.

Mercenary extraordinaire.

At the age of 27, he has amassed a grand total of fifteen caps for Ghana.

Seven of which came in World Cup tournaments.

Five in World Cup build up games.

And only three other ‘non World Cup related’ appearances.

You get the feeling if he was in Mark’s situation, he might wait until the Euro 2016 campaign starts to show more than just promise.

No show of national pride like in the case of Diego, who turned down the opportunity of playing for his country of birth at a World Cup in his country of birth.

You don’t get much more noble than that.

Not every switch of allegiance is as extreme a case of course.

For every Kevin-Prince, there is a Kevin Kilbane, a Clinton Morrison and a Paul Butler.

The question of Mark’s ability compared to these guys should be asked.

Not his ability on the football pitch mind.

His ability to affect the Irish squad.

Of which he can affect massively.

Just maybe not in a positive way.

Or just maybe not in a positive way, yet...

Monday, 1 September 2014

Does England Have The Premier League?

The hyperbole machine is in full flow this month.

We’ve been told the best league in the world has returned.

We’ve been told the most entertaining league in the world has returned.

We’ve been told the most competitive league in the world has returned.

Problem is - We’re just not sure if it’s returned to England.

The Premier League hyperbole machine will tell us it has of course.

They’ll tell us just about anything about how eminent the league is.

But it continuously fails to mention the most pertinent description it can offer - the best branded league in the world.

The Premier League has an awful lot going for it.

Most fans.

Most watched.

Most money.

Off the pitch it’s unbeatable.

It’s on the pitch the problems lie.

Season after season the best the Premier League has to offer seems to be off to La Liga.

Cristiano Ronaldo was the first major talent to leave in recent seasons.

Manchester United’s main man.

He was followed by Cesc Fabrages.

Arsenal’s main man.

Gareth Bale then picked up both player of the year awards.

Then promptly picked up and left.

The trend continued this summer when multiple player of the year award winner Luis Suarez landed in Barcelona.

Yet when we look at the reverse transfer dealings, it’s not the top players or star men of Spanish clubs that head for the shores of England.

As usual, Diego Costa aside, it was another summer of England’s finest picking off what Spain’s finest decided to cast off.

Barcelona decided Cesc Fabregas was surplus to requirements after they signed Suarez.

Alexis Sanchez too.

Much like when Bale arrived last summer and Mesut Ozil was allowed to leave, this year it was the turn of Angel DiMaria who was free to go.

Available for transfer only after Real Madrid had sufficiently bolstered their squad with the best there was to offer.

When it comes to individual awards, the English league’s top players rarely feature either.

Since 2010, only Wayne Rooney and Nemanja Vidic have made the FIFPro team of the year.

Not that the Germans or Italians have featured prominently either.

It’s the Spanish who have dominated completely.

Of the 44 players chosen since the turn of the decade, 34 have come from the Spanish league.

32 players more than the ‘best league in the world’.

Of course, It’s not just the players who make the league.

The teams are primary.

And right now it’s hard to look past the elite of the Spanish and German leagues.

An all Spanish affair in the final of the Champions League last season.

An all German affair the season before.

In fact, if it wasn’t for Chelsea flying the flag for the Premier League, it would be pretty poor reading in the Champions League over the past three seasons.

Manchester City have gone out in the group stages twice and the last 16 once.

Manchester United have gone out in the group stages, the last 16 and the quarter finals.

While Arsenal have not made it past the last 16 any of the seasons.

Even Chelsea, with their triumph 3 seasons ago have exited the competition at the group stage too.

Hardly statistics to back up the title of best league in the world.

Hyperbole will argue that the Premier League is more competitive of course.

It’s only the big two in Spain and the big one in Germany.

A quick look back over the last 10 years reveal otherwise.

All three countries have had a dominant club in the league - Manchester United (5 times winners), Barcelona (6), Bayern Munich (6).

Followed by a secondary team - Chelsea (3), Real Madrid (3), Borussia Dortmund (2).

And some less successful clubs - Manchester City (2), Atletico Madrid (1), Wolfsburg (1) and Schalke (1).

Tough to argue it’s more competitive when only 3 teams have won the league in the last 1o years - the same as it’s La Liga counterparts and 1 less then the Bundesliga.

The battle for the Champions League places, or top four, is even less compelling reading.

Only 7 teams have qualified from England in the last 10 years.

The supposedly less competitive nation of Germany has had 9 qualifiers.

The supposedly even less competitive Spanish league has had 12.

Examining the top 4 of each league last season pours further cold water on the argument of competitiveness.

The top 4 in the Premier League dropped a combined total of 125 points last season.

Only 3 points more than the combined total of the top 4 in both Spain and Germany - equal on 122.

Hardly convincing evidence that the other leagues are dominated by just the elite.

A look further down the league tables suggests the strength lies in the other two leagues as well.

In the last 3 seasons 5 teams from Spain have made the semi-finals of the Europa League, winning it twice.

Just the 1 English representative here - Chelsea again.

In the week that Hull City crashed out before the group stages even begun, it was another reminder of what little success English clubs have had of late compared to their Spanish counterparts.

It’s not all grim reading of course.

The likes of Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal are still up there with the best in the world.

Likewise players such as Angel DiMaria, Cesc Fabregas and Alexis Sanchez.

Even the clubs that have competed in the Europa League from England are good clubs who have had success in the past.

All pointing to England’s elite competition being one of the best in the world.

But that’s not being questioned.

The English League is no doubt up there with the best in the world.

It may be that it’s just not the premier league...

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Mourinho could manage Manchester United’s expectations

Nigel Adkins was relieved of his managerial duties last week following a noteworthy tenure.

Southampton had just completed back-to-back promotions and at the first time of asking, have given themselves a real chance of staying up as they reached the midway point of the Premier League.

Give this option to any Southampton supporter two seasons ago and they would have snapped your hand off.

He didn’t need years to lay foundations and build from the ground up.

He didn’t have substantial backing.

He didn’t even have much time.

Yet Nigel could not have achieved much more.

Not so long ago, Tottenham Hotspur were struggling in the relegation zone when they moved for Harry Redknapp.

In four seasons at the club, Harry finished 4th, 5th, 4th and even managed to take the club to the quarter finals of the Champions League.

No lengthy regime.

No extensive rebuilding project.

No complaint from Spurs fans.

As for David Moyes, he is highly regarded for his achievements at Everton.

Ten seasons of stability is all he has really achieved though.

Despite being in the Premier League for his entire reign, selling numerous players for vast sums, David has never won a major honour for them.

This during a period where clubs like Blackburn, Portsmouth, Birmingham and even Middlesborough have won silverware of some sort.

All of whom have had various candidates at their helm.

Then there’s Jose Mourinho.

It’s been nine seasons since Roman Abramovich took over at Chelsea.

In that time, Roman has hired or fired nine different managers.

His first appointment was Jose.

While his treatment of a selection of these managers, namely the special one, has sparked vociferous debate in the stands - his methods have proved massively successful.

Chelsea hadn’t won the league in fifty years.

The only time they’d won it.

Three times they’ve won it under Roman now.

Last season they went one better.

Adding their first ever Champions League to the trophy cabinet.

In fact, they’ve qualified for the tournament every season Roman has overseen proceedings.

Coupled with four FA cups, two league cups and on numerous occasions reached the final four of Europe’s elite competition.

Jose was responsible for five of those major honours.

Not a bad period at all.

And no comparison with their former rivals Arsenal - the epitome of stability in the modern era.

Arsene Wenger has governed every single aspect of Arsenal football club for sixteen straight seasons now.

He has full control in decisions made yet hasn’t managed a major honour in his previous eight campaigns.

No contest when it comes to finance.

And no contest when it comes to success.

The idea that a manager must embody longevity is a distinctly British one - throughout the major European leagues anyway.

Since Sir Alex took over at Old Trafford, Bayern Munich have had twenty managers.

Ajax Amsterdam eighteen.

FC Porto the same.

All clubs dominating their domestic leagues as well as conquering Europe throughout this period.

A similar picture in Italy too.

Juventus fourteen.

AC Milan sixteen.

Internazionale as much as twenty seven.

All hugely successful in Serie ‘A’.

All winners of the Champions League during Fergie time.

Then comes the biggest club of all.

Real Madrid.

Jose Mourinho’s home right now.

The Spanish giants have had twenty five managers since Sir Alex took up his reigns.

Won eleven La Liga titles.

Three Champions Leagues.

Plus numerous World Club Cups, European Super Cups and Copa Del Reys.

Never one to have a problem with moving on a manager at seasons end - no matter how successful.

Fabio Capello won the league yet didn’t do it stylishly enough.

Jupp Heynckes won the Champions League in his only season in charge.

Vicente Del Bosque won two and it still wasn’t enough for him to retain his job.

Yet despite all this, Real Madrid remain the most successful club in the world.

Even more remarkable is that by the end of this season, Jose should be their third longest serving manager in their one hundred and ten year history.

He has had two and a half campaigns so far.

Brought in to end Josep Guardiola’s Barcelona dominance - labelled the greatest club side of all time.

It took Jose just one season before he started to overturn the Catalan giants.

No better manager in the world to undertake such a massive challenge.

And it will be a similar challenge that faces the next Manchester United manager - taking over from a man who has been in charge for almost thirty years.

How to find the next Alex Ferguson is the question people keep asking.

Not a job that Jose seems made for.

But what they should really be asking - is who will manage Manchester United next?

And expect Jose to be able to manage that...

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Daniel Sturridge is the New Andy Carroll

Daniel Sturridge opened his Premier League account for Liverpool on Sunday.

He did so by scoring against their biggest rivals.

Which means he’s now scored as many league goals for Liverpool this season as Andy Carroll has for West Ham United.

It was his league debut.

Liverpool dipped into the January transfer window to sign Daniel last week.

Two years on from signing Andy Carroll at the same stage.

Both attackers.

Both unproven.

Both moving for big money.

The main difference being that Daniel cost almost three times less.

When Andy had signed for Liverpool, he was relatively unproven.

Despite it being his fourth season in the first team, he had only managed eleven goals in the top flight.

He had yet to play for England.

As Daniel signs for Liverpool this week, he too is relatively unproven.

After unsuccessful spells at Manchester City and Chelsea, he comes with nothing more than promise.

It’s only on loan at Bolton that he managed nine goals to bring his top flight tally to sixteen.

Four caps for England.

But both players had potential.

It was never a problem for Liverpool fans that Kenny had bought potential when he signed Andy in 2011.

It was just the thirty five million pound price tag.

The egregious figure that must still haunt every Liverpool supporter the world over.

The corridors of Anfield still reverberating with questions as to why Kenny was supported with a war chest that size when the permanently appointed Roy Hodgson wasn’t.

How Brendan Rodgers could do with that money now as he rebuilds their great and famous club.

A club too great and famous for Andy.

Whereas Daniel didn’t come from a small club like Newcastle who were spending time in the Championship.

He came from the European Champions.

And should thrive with the less pressure on him at Anfield.

He struggled to cope with the responsibilities of playing in a side with aspirations of winning the league and conquering Europe every season.

He knows Liverpool are at least a few years away from that now.

And will hopefully have matured into the side by the time it comes around again.

Andy went from a small club with a big fan base who had just spent time in the Championship.

The step up to a much bigger club under Kenny proved too much for the man who had never experienced that before.

He was used to being the main man at a small club where everything was focused around his strengths.

Liverpool had enough good players to not have to rely on this one dimension.

Daniel will have played with much better players.

The step down will only serve to make it easier.

This all makes him the new Andy Carroll.

The answer to Liverpool’s attacking problems.

The main difference of course, being the price tag.

Andy came as a thirty five million pound player.

That came with all the pressures of being the eight most expensive player of all time.

More expensive than Rooney, Van Persie, even Luis Suarez.

12 million pound more than Luis in fact.

The pressure was too much.

They are both attackers.

Both unproven at Premier league level.

Both signed for their potential.

But luckily for Daniel, both not costing the same...

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Too Easily Hurt

Ireland 1.

Germany 6.

The type of score line the Vidiprinter had to write in brackets to confirm it wasn’t a mistake.

Ireland 1.

Germany 6 (Six).

That hurt.

That really hurt.

No matter what way you look at it.

Even if the team was severely depleted.

Missing the big four of Shay, Richard, Damien and Robbie was always going to be tough to cope with.

Not to mention the withdrawals of James McClean, Sean St. Ledger, Glen Whelan, Darron Gibson and Kevin Doyle.

That’s nine players who would have all felt they could start had Giovanni been able to choose from a fully fit squad.

But that hurt.

It still hurt knowing that goal difference actually counts for little in this group.

And defeat to Germany was mathematically at least, just 3 points dropped against the team everybody expects to win the group.

It was unlikely we were ever going to challenge Germany for top spot anyway.

So the result for once, actually does sound worse than it is.

That still hurt.

But it also hurt to think that we have a world class manager and this was the best he could do.

I always felt Giovanni might have a problem utilising the players at his disposal.

He was extremely successful when the players executing his orders were Totti, Brady or Mattheus.

With Ireland he has only ever been able to call on players from the lower half of the Premier League and beyond.

Not World Players of the year like before.

Instead, hard grafters and honest professionals.

Gifted to a certain extent but not in the same league as Michel Platini for instance.

Giovanni was able to build successful team after successful team around some of the world’s greats.

Now he must rely on players from L.A. Galaxy, West Bromich Albion or Stoke City to form his focal point.

Meaning Irish players are extremely restricted when it comes to world class talent.

And this was never more evident then when faced against a giant like Germany.

But it is Giovanni’s job to make sure these players play above themselves.

Give more than they are capable of as a team than they are as individual parts.

Yet even lowly Premier League players have more than what we saw on Friday night.

Championship players too.

Even Toronto FC.

But none of this was evident at the Aviva.

And it hurt.

Teams like that shouldn’t lose so heavily.

But they do.

The Germans thumped a full strength England side 4-1 at the last World Cup.

Only this summer, Spain handed out a 4 goal drubbing to Italy.

As for losing 6-1 at home - that’s the same score line that occurred when both Manchester teams met at Old Trafford last season.

England, Italy and Manchester United can all boast far superior playing squads than Ireland.

Yet all succumbed to heavy defeats.

Just like Ireland.

Losing to Germany is not a travesty.

Losing to Germany 6-1 isn’t either.

But the way that Ireland lost was.

And that’s what hurt the most.

They may not have the level of ability of their opponents.

But they can match them for heart.

Match their fight and spirit - so synonymous with Irish teams of the past.

Not the spirit that underpinned so many moral victories.

But the spirit that let the supporters know they were giving it their all.

Playing above themselves.

The sort that has been sadly lacking from Giovanni’s team for some months now.

Whether or not he can find it again is a serious question.

And all this is making it hard to defend Giovanni of late.

But defend him we must.

He took us to a first major championships in 10 years.

He deserves the chance to take us to the next...

Friday, 12 October 2012

Same Pitch. Different Playing Fields.



Aviva Stadium.

The road to World Cup qualification has begun.

And tonight’s fixture will go a long way to deciding who qualifies from Group C.

Ireland have just come off the back of qualification for their first major tournament in 10 years.

Germany have failed to qualify for a major tournament just once.


In all 29 tournaments they've entered.

Failed just once.

At this summers European Championships, Ireland of course, failed to win a single point.

Germany won every game in a group containing Holland, Portugal and Denmark before being knocked out in the semi-finals.

Their loss to Italy ending a run of 14 straight competitive victories.

Meaning in their last qualification campaign, the Germans won 10 out of 10.

In fact, Germany can boast such an impressive qualification record that they come to Dublin having never lost a World Cup qualification game away from home.

Let me repeat myself.

Since 1932, Germany have never lost an away game during qualification for the World Cup.

Ireland’s last notable away victory came in 1987.

And it was Scotland who won it for them.

They also go into this match without their 4 most influential players of the last decade.

They will start a competitive match without one of Shay Given, Richard Dunne, Damien Duff or Robbie Keane for the first time in 13 seasons.

In fact, their squad has been so decimated with injuries and retirement that it contains only 3 players from the top half of the Premier League.

It has a grand total of 1 player from this seasons Champions League.

15 less than their counterparts.

Ireland will start the match with Sunderland’s reserve team goalkeeper.

Germany will have the second most expensive keeper of all time between the posts.

The home sides defence will be made up from Everton, Sunderland, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Toronto FC.

The away side will include players from Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and Arsenal.

Midfield will pith Bolton Wanderers against Real Madrid.

Birmingham City against Bayern Munich.

And Nottingham Forest against even more Real Madrid.

In attack, one notable absentee will be a L.A. Galaxy centre forward.

No such worries on the other side with options from Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and Arsenal to choose from.

The type of clubs that Germany usually pick their players from.

The type of clubs that has allowed Germany finish at least 3rd in the last 3 World Cups.

The type that has them ranked as the second best team in the world.

Second only to Spain.

The team that punished the Irish so severely when Ireland had their full strength side out.

A team that will line up tonight against a nation who are on a different playing field.

But this game doesn’t take place on a playing field.

It takes place on a pitch.

A pitch where strange things occur.

A pitch where anything can happen.

Where teams ranked 28th defeat teams ranked much higher.

Where 1 goal is all it takes.

A deflection.

An own goal.

A set-piece.

Where one team can completely dominate a game and fail to score.

The same sort of pitch that Greece prevailed on.

Same sort that saw Switzerland put 5 past Germany just a couple of months ago.

The sort that has seen Ireland defeat Italians and Dutch and English and Spanish.

Defeat Germans even.

We may not be on the same playing field tonight.

But we are on the same pitch.

It’s time to believe...

Monday, 10 September 2012

Good Memories Were Had In Kazakhstan

World Cup qualification begun on Friday for Ireland.

A boost was needed to erase the memories of the European Championships in Poland and Ukraine.

A resounding victory over the lowly ranked Kazakhstan and we could all start to move on from those 3 heavy defeats from the summer.

A resounding victory and we may all start to believe again.

Not only believe in Brazil.

But believe in Giovanni once more.

Cut to the 89th minute in Astana on Friday night and calls for Giovanni’s head could be heard all the way back to Ireland.

What transpired over the next 2 minutes had a big effect on our qualification hopes.

But no doubt, it also had major consequences on the next 2 years of Irish football.

Lost, and we may already have had to give up the chase for qualification.

Worse still - lost, and we may have had to find a new manager.

The pressure Giovanni would have brought upon himself following a 1-0 defeat to Kazakhstan, coupled with the memory of the summer, may have proved too much even for the greatest of Italian managers to survive.

So although appreciative Robbie and Kevin’s double got us 3 points, it’s the ramifications they’ve had on Giovanni that we should be most thankful for.

You see, memory in football these days is shorter than it’s ever been.

Calls for Giovanni’s head, despite 3 points in Astana, is no greater proof of this.

Irish supporters seem to forget, that although the performance in both the Euros and on the astro pitch on Friday night were poor - they were a far cry from where we were before Giovanni’s appointment.

Being placed in a tough group containing the 2 finalists in Euro 2012 has been discussed before.

With our squad of players it was very difficult to see us with Giovanni, or any other manager for that matter, getting out of the group.

As for Kazakhstan, the supporters need to realise this was something of a new beginning.

Missing through retirement or suspension was Shay Given, Damien Duff and Richard Dunne.

That’s 201 caps that would usually have been there.

That’s a lot of memories for the Irish supporters.

Keith Andrews was also suspended meaning James McCarthy was starting his first competitive game.

Our defense had 2 players from the Championship, 1 from the MLS and a reserve goalkeeper.

Add to this an astro pitch, a 6,000 km journey and the fact it was the start of the season, meant a 2-1 victory, no matter how we got it, was actually a terrific result.

A bad performance alright.

But a much better result.

A much better result than the 5-2 drubbing received at the hands of Cyprus.

A result which should live long in the memory.

A result which occurred under the reign of the last manager before Giovanni.

The sort of manager we could expect to attract had the FAI decided to rid our nation of this trophy laden Italian.

It’s one thing ridding us of Giovanni after a few bad results.

It’s another finding a manager to replace him.

With us being in somewhat of a decline, it will be tough to attract a manager as successful as Giovanni again.

Losing players such as Damien and Shay coupled with father time catching up on John, Robbie and Richard means this position is hardly the most attractive of propositions.

Not for a manager as successful as Giovanni anyway.

More like a Brian Kerr, Steve Staunton or caretaker Don Givens.

All of who failed to even make a play-off.

Not once.

In 6 long years.

Giovanni of course got us to within extra time of the World Cup in 2010.

Giovanni of course got us to the European Championships in 2012.

The man that could have been out of a job had Robbie and Kevin not intervened late on in a disappointing performance.

Not a memorable performance.

But a memorable result.

As memory in football is very short alright.

Just short of being a disaster this time...