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.

Ireland.

Germany.

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.

Ever.

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...

Monday, 23 July 2012

Players Only Loyalty is to the Game

Loyalty does not exist in football.

And nor should it.

Yet the topic of players and disloyalty rears it’s ugly head in the transfer window as frequently as players move club.

The problem with loyalty is simple.

The subject matter is always broached from a supporters point of view.

But supporters aren’t in football.

They are always only the support that allows football to live.

Football supporters can be the embodiment of loyalty.

Some will tell you they haven’t missed a games in 30 years.

Others have tattoos of crests twice the size of their heart.

But it is because of this almost blind loyalty that supporters believe their players will feel the same way about their club.

After all, these players are getting to live the dream of so many of these supporters.

They must love the club to do so.

They
must therefore be loyal.

After all, every supporter would be - if given the chance to play for their club.

Or so some supporters would believe.

Wayne Rooney grew up joining his boyhood heros Everton.

They gave him Premier League football.

Yet Wayne wanted more.

As loyal as he was to the blue half of Merseyside, he wanted to win major honours.

He joined Manchester United.

He won major honours.

Jamie Carragher has now spent his entire career at Liverpool.

The biggest rival to Everton, whom like Wayne, he also supported.

Jamie would never have won the Champions League with the Toffees.

‘Loyal’ to the reds.

Yet I use the word loyal loosely.

True, Jamie and also Steven Gerard have stayed at the one club their entire careers.

Through thick an thin, supporters might argue.

But the reality is, they both stayed because they were getting something in return.

Their careers were benefitting from playing for a club who regularly qualified for the Champions League.

Who won the Champions league.

Along with numerous other cups.

But even after capturing the biggest club prize of all, Steven’s head was being turned by another team.

Liverpool supporters will say he was loyal in the end when he opted against the switch.

But if winning the Champions League was almost not enough to keep the player who joined them at the age of 10 - imagine what finishing mid-table would have done?

Or getting relegated?

Like the Leeds United team of 2003.

A great team that had taken a gamble on Champions League glory and when success on the pitch wasn’t achieved - the wheels came off rapidly.

A player exodus commenced.

Amongst them was a young Alan Smith.

A Leeds man through and through.

Made up of equal measures of love for his club and hatred for
his rivals.

No bigger rival to
his team of course was Manchester United.

The team he joined 3 weeks after Leeds left the Premier League.

No championship for Alan.

No, straight to the Champions League for this loyal supporters favourite.

Even those who stayed with the sunken ship cannot claim loyalty.

Gary Kelly hung around for 3 more seasons in the Championship.

Unlikely he could have found another big club at his age.

And he was the third highest paid full back in England after all.

Manchester United have their loyal bunch too.

Gary Neville, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs to name a few.

All loyal one club men.

All achieving every ambition imaginable in the game at one of the biggest clubs in the world.

No sign of the championship for them.

There are of course players who remain ‘loyal’ to their smaller clubs.

Matt Le Tissier perhaps the most overt.

Regularly coveted by larger, more successful clubs.

It would have been easy for him to move on.

But he was the star man at Southampton.

The center of everything.

And he was guaranteed Premier league football.

Finishing his career at Southampton was great to see.

Loyal to the team that gave him his break.

Yet Matt grew up in Guernsey - hardly a haven for Southampton supporters.

Supporters adorn some of the aforementioned players.

They see them as ‘loyal’ servants to the cause as they have remained at their beloved club.

The truth is, the ‘loyal’ ones always made sure it suited them to stay.

This was their career after all.

They don’t support their clubs.

Their clubs support them.

‘There’s no loyalty in the game anymore’ is heard up and down every terrace come transfer window season.

Could it just be that is heard during the period since the Bosman ruling came to fruition?

No longer could the clubs decide where and when the player would go.

Instead the player inherited the power.

The power to remain loyal.

Loyal to the club.

Or loyal to their career...

Monday, 9 July 2012

Ireland’s Performances Are Not the Peak of the Problem

Ireland’s performance at the European Championships in Poland was a harsh reality.

But a review of the players decline in the squad brings forth a reality even harsher.

Talk of retirements usually surface after era ending markers such as this.

The big 5 getting a constant mention at the moment.

Shay Given in goal had an extremely poor tournament by his own highest of standards.

Always considered one of the top keepers in the English Premier League, if never the top, his decline in form has coincided with father time and his inability to recover sufficiently from ever increasing injuries.

The first signs came when Shay finally landed himself at a big club only to find after 1 season, he was demoted to the reserves to allow the returning Joe Hart claim first choice.

His decline cemented when he sealed his transfer to Aston Villa a year later.

While Manchester City were being crowned champions of England last month - Shay had to look back on a season that saw his new team finish 16th.

The same team of course, in which Richard Dunne played.

Similar to Shay, when Man City started getting big, they realised they could afford to bring in whoever they wanted.

Despite 4 player of the season awards at the Ethiad in a row, it wasn’t long before Richard was replaced with players the calibre of Vincent Kompany and Kolo Toure.

Much like Ireland in Poland - he never stood a chance.

Damian Duff was once a diamond in Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea dynasty.

Valued as high as €17 at one stage - it wasn’t long before he took a step down too.

The dizzying heights of Champions League football and Premier League titles were replaced with relegation involving Newcastle and his current spell at the never threatening Fulham.

John O’Shea spent 12 seasons at one of the biggest clubs in the world.

11 major honours in total - including the Champions League.

Only 3 Irish players have ever won more.

Yet last summer it was pastures new for John and the not so dizzying heights of the Stadium of Light.

And of course, our Captain and talisman, Robbie Keane.

After finding his home at White Hart Lane, one last big money move looked on the cards when Liverpool came calling.

But after only 4 months at Anfield, it was back to Tottenham and soon a drop further to West Ham on loan in double quick time.

For the amount of goals Robbie has got in the Premier League over the years, it’s tough to think our greatest goal threat is spending his early 30’s in the less than impressive Major League.

Outside the senior 5 there are plenty of examples of decline in the Irish squad too.

With the exception of Aiden McGeady, most of the squad are in worse shape than they were when Giovanni took over.

Kevin Doyle, Stephen Hunt and Stephen Ward will all begin next season in the Championship with Wolves.

Kevin had been linked with Arsenal not so long ago.

Sean St. Ledger has gone from promising young defender on the cusp of the Premier League to a Championship regular.

Keith Andrews has had a lot of ups and downs in the past 3 seasons culminating in him currently being without a club.

And the reserves don’t fare off much better either.

Kieron Westwood has gone from being in the Championship team of the year 2 seasons in a row to warming the bench of Sunderland.

Paul McShane has dropped out of the top flight.

Darren O’Dea and Paul Green are both unattached.

And Darron Gibson followed John out the Old Trafford door.

It could be argued that Shane Long, Glen Whelan and Jon Walters have improved.

But in truth, their talents have - their club status has remained the same.

That just leaves us with the young James McClean, who could do nothing but rise if he was to make the squad.

And it is with this youth that the next campaign may lye.

So many of this squads are no longer heading skyward - with this summers Championships seen as one of their peaks.

2 years from now when Brazil comes around, it’s hard to see many of the squad being in a better position.

But perhaps it is this reason alone that Giovanni should look for new blood.

The next generation are already looking better off than they were when Giovanni took over.

James McCarthy, Seamus Coleman, Ciaran Clark to name a few.

Indeed Brazil in 2014 might be a peak for some of these players.

Let’s just hope it’s not their highest peak...