Monday, 30 January 2012

The grass is always greener on the football pitch.

Exactly two months have passed since Gary Speed took his own life.

It’s amazing how quickly the only story being talked about in the footballing world can dissipate from the mainstream.

Football ‘is’ more important than life or death.

Not in the sense of it being more important to an individual than his or her’s own life.

But in that even when we do lose one life, football will continue on - long after they are gone.

The Gary Speed story has made me realise just how important football can be to society.

It has a power that no one man can match.

No one team.

No one country.

It has the power to move people.

All types of people.

From all walks of life.

It has given a lot to many people.

It gave a lot to Gary too.

And from the outside looking in, Gary had it all.

But maybe having it all is not what it’s made out to be.

Maybe the profession that is football, is not the holy grail after all.

The grass never looks more green than when cast upon the pitches of football.

And Gary was a master of these pitches.

Great talent as a footballer coupled with great longevity in his career.

Outside looking in, suggestions he had it all.

And then he took his own life.

Presumptions were wrong.

Most of us dreamt of being a professional footballer, unbeknownst that life’s problems were part and parcel of that dream.

Just ask Ryan Giggs.

If any ‘normal’ person was dealing with the problems associated with having an affair, the whole country wouldn’t be reading about it on the front pages of the newspapers.

Paul Merson, Tony Adams, Paul Gascoigne to name a few, all had their private lives dissected by the punters on the terrace.

Each of them had it all.

We build footballers up to be these demigods yet are so quick to bring them back down once they’re finished.

Packed stadiums screaming their names the world over every weekend.

Yet pick up an injury for a long period of time and even the tabloids aren’t interested in where you buy your milk anymore.

Week 36 of your cruciate ligament recovery may be important to you.

But it won’t sell newspapers.

That’s not the arena that fans demand.

The arena that Gary didn’t experience much of his life outside of.

Broke into the Leeds team at an young age and when he bowed out 20 years later, Gary had virtually spent his entire life adorned by thousands of fans week in week out.

How tough it must be to lose that in an instant.

He can now go a week round Cheshire and not get ‘hassled’ once for an autograph.

What Gary made me realise through this was that we all have problems, no matter what we do.

Even inside the bubble we all look upon so enviously.

Footballers seem to have it all.

But having it all includes problems.

With the transition out of the game seeming a bigger problem than most.

Paul Scholes another who is testament to this.

Retiring at 36 years of age after 17 seasons at the top and winning almost everything there was to win in the game.

Yet he still found, just five months into the season, that he missed it too much.

Dean Windass came out last week and admitted to feeling depressed since he left the sport.

He carried on until he was 40.

Much longer than the average player at his level.

There are options to stay in the game of course.

But 80,000 people don’t greet Gary Neville when he arrives at Sky for work.

The coaches at Everton don’t get asked for their autograph.

And managing your own country doesn’t appear to be a big enough fix either.

It may have looked liked Gary had it all.

Quite clearly he didn’t.

No doubt the grass he walked on seemed greener to most.

It’s just a shame, that like a bad pun intended to sell just another newspaper in our arena - it all faded too fast for Gary Speed.

Thank you Gary for everything.

The grass just seems a little less green since you’re gone...

Monday, 23 January 2012

The Villans have a new Hero

Robbie Keane returned to the Premier League with great impact this weekend.

Two goals against Wolverhampton Wanderers showing he has lost none of his quality since making the move to Major League Soccer last summer.

In only his first start for his new club, Robbie managed to score both the equaliser and the subsequent winner, with two strikes of the highest order from outside the box.

In a team struggling since Alex McLeish took over, Robbie might just well be the difference between an Aston Villa relegation battle and an Aston Villa push for Europe.

For a team that have found goals hard to come by this season, the signing of Robbie couldn’t have come at a better time.

Lose to Wolves on Saturday and they remain in the bottom six, dangerously close to the relegation zone.

Win at Molineux and suddenly the Villans lie just outside the top half on goal difference.

A shrewd piece of business by Alex to supplement his strikeforce of Darren Bent, Gabriel Agbonlahor and Emile Heskey with the type of quality vision that Robbie possesses.

The only thing that surprised me about the transfer was that one of the bigger teams didn’t come in for him.

A team like Liverpool, Newcastle or higher, might have been a better move for the Republic of Ireland captain.

With Luis Suarez suspended for 8 games, Robbie could potentially have been an astute short term solution for Kenny Dalglish.

While not having a very successful period under Rafa Benitez, his time spent there would have made it all the easier to settle in fast, knowing he would only have two months to make an impact.

With their season starting to derail over the last six games or so, Robbie might have been the man to reignite their push for a Champions League place by filling the void left by Luis.

Newcastle of course have just lost their seasons star man - Demba Ba.

15 goals in the league already, he will be sorely missed for the next month.

The addition of Robbie to fill this void for the next few games would surely have helped Alan Pardew retain their push for that last lucrative Champions League spot.

With just his wages to consider, a loan deal for either of these clubs would represent good value for money.

Robbie, of course, is not the only senior player making a return to the Premier League during this transfer window.

Arsenal have taken a chance on bringing back Thierry Henry in a bid to help his team secure fourth place.

Everton as well, have taken back Landon Donovan, having previously enjoyed a loan spell on Merseyside.
Manchester United have resigned Paul Scholes, having just retired last summer.

While some seem riskier than others, particularly with Thierry and Paul’s age, Robbie looks the best business of all.

Sir Alex Ferguson has opted to treat the problem of Paul’s absence from the game as the equivalent to him having an injury over the last few months.

Arsene Wenger does not seem too worried about Thierry’s game not having that devastating pace anymore, instead hoping his presence in the dressing room can have the desired effect.

Whereas Robbie has no such concerns at the age of 31.

He has been playing regularly since he departed England at the end of last season.

Not to mention captaining the Republic of Ireland to qualification for the European Championships.

Bringing in experienced campaigners during the January transfer window has proved quite popular in the Premier League.

In particular this season.

Each manager hoping these players will give their side a timely boost going into the business end of the season.

While Thierry, Landon and Paul all returned to clubs for second spells, it was the fact that Robbie didn’t return to one of his that proved the most surprising.

What may prove to be Liverpool’s loss, or indeed any of the sides fighting for European places - is most definitely Alex’s gain.

The Villans have gotten themselves a new hero, if only for a short time.

But as Robbie has shown already - he only needs a few games to make all the difference...

Monday, 9 January 2012

One year on - Is Kenny still King?

Kenny Dalglish completed one year in charge of Liverpool Football Club over the weekend.

A lot has been said about how Kenny has had an excellent year when comparing Liverpool’s standing in the league now to where they where when he took over.

But Liverpool shouldn’t be comparing themselves to their lowest point of recent history - rather the height of just a few seasons ago.

Rafa Benitez did have a poor season to finish off his tenure, but he also had 5 great years.

And Kenny took over just 5 footballing months after Rafa.

Any comparisons should be made between Liverpool now and Liverpool under the great Spaniard.

This is where I have great difficulty in believing Kenny has done an excellent job so far.

He is not a patch on the master tactician and while you could argue that Rafa never lifted that elusive league title, that just goes to show how much further Kenny will have to go if he is to realise the dreams of the Anfield club.

Rafa never played the attractive brand of football that has become synonymous with teams like Manchester United or Arsenal, but his defensive set-up and tactical shrewdness meant he endeared himself to the purists of the game.

There was nothing more fascinating to watch than Rafa’s team defy the far superior attacking sides time and time again, bringing great success to Liverpool, namely in the Champions League.

Kenny, having spent over 10 years out of the game, has brought back all the passion, belief and inspiration that is loved on the terraces up and down England.

But he hasn’t added any tactical shrewdness - something that Rafa had in abundance.

The sort of tactical mind that is needed to take a team from being happy to compete for 4th place in the Premier League every season to a team that has their sights set on actually winning it.

What helped Kenny land the job was being a former player and manager of this great club.

If any Liverpool supporter actually thought about it objectively for one moment - handing the reigns of the club over to a man who had been out of the game for 10 years was ludicrous.

All this talk of ‘The return of the King’ was bound to cloud the issues for supporters - given the phenomenal support that Kenny could expect on the terraces from past glories.

Ultimately, they will be judge, jury and executioner for Kenny.

But walking into a courtroom when all 12 men are heralding you as a ‘King’ can only lead to clouded judgement.

For starters, his dealings in the transfer market have been questionable at best.

The signing of Andy Carroll his biggest mistake so far.

£35 million for a player of his quality was a massive misjudgment on his part.

However, his decision to sell Fernando Torres was both shrewd and brave.

An absolute hero to the Liverpool fateful and one of only two genuine world class players at the club.

But Kenny had seen signs of his demise and managed to top up his transfer kitty with £50 million.

Luis Suarez, whilst having undoubted talent, has question marks hanging over him following his 8 game ban for racism and 1 game ban for making an obscene gesture to opposition supporters.

Kenny was already aware of the disciplinary side of the ‘Cannibal of Ajax’, so aptly named by a Dutch newspaper following his 7 game ban for biting an opponents ear in Holland.

He will have his work cut out to make sure Luis doesn’t go the way of someone like Carlos Tevez.

However, the potential is there for Kenny to turn Luis into a world class player, if he can get the best out of his little South American.

Charlie Adam, whilst only costing £7 million, looks nothing more than a decent squad player, looking desperately short since the recent return of Steven Gerard.

Steven has shown immediately in his few games back, what is needed to be a general in the Liverpool midfield.

Good judgement on Kenny’s part was the signing of Jose Enrique, who has slotted in excellently to a defensive unit that Kenny is starting to build for the team.

But Stewart Downing until this weekend, had zero goals and zero assists.

Not the sort of return needed from an attacking winger.

Kenny just can’t seem to get the best out of his signing.

But with only one year in charge, and not even a full season to date, now is not the time to judge him.

He has his work cut out and should be given time during this transitional period.

However, with £115 million having already been spent, he is only in touching distance of fourth place because Arsenal and Chelsea are massively underachieving this season.

In a season without distractions like European competition either.

Kenny has appeased the terraces so far when supporters compare him to Roy Hodgson.

But he has a long way to go before he gets back to where Rafa had this great club.

Let alone to where the supporters really want to be...

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Sorry Liverpool Football Club

Not in an apologetic sense.

But the actual sorry state of the club right now.

They are completely wrong in their handling of the Luis Suarez racism situation.

And it’s time to change their staunch attitude towards supporting Luis and try save some grace.

Because the way things are going - they are on course to do some serious damage to the reputation of this great club.

Following the release of the 115 page document from the Football Association, it has become quite apparent just how guilty Luis actually is.

But Liverpool Football Club seem insistent on giving their full backing to a player who has unequivocally being found guilty of racial abuse.

The show of ‘unity’ from the club by wearing t-shirts supporting Luis before the Wigan game was a disgraceful decision.

If they had t-shirts supporting anti-racism - I could understand.

But to stand by a player who has just been convicted of racism, completely undermined the whole idea of zero tolerance against this disgusting side to the sport.

What was going through Glen Johnson’s head as he warmed up for the game?

It was a baffling decision by Glen as an individual - let alone by a club the size of Liverpool.

At the start of this unsavoury incident, it was unclear as to whether Luis was a racist or actually misinterpreted.

To support a player at this stage is what one would expect from most clubs.

But Liverpool, and Kenny Dalglish in particular, must have known from an early stage that Luis was going to be found guilty.

If they didn’t, then why didn’t they instigate an internal investigation immediately?

Liverpool’s defence was built on misinterpretation, because of the different cultures.

Put a Uruguayan and a Frenchman together in England and it’s easy to understand how that could happen.

But as soon as Luis admitted to actually saying all of the numerous different expressions of the insult that he used, it became clear that he didn’t have a leg to stand on.

According to the 115 page report from the FA, Luis admitted to calling Patrice Evra ‘Negro’ seven times.

He also admitted to saying “Because you’re black” when asked by Patrice why he had kicked him.

He continued with “I don’t speak to blacks” and “OK, blackie, blackie, blackie” during the exchange.

Luis and Kenny were joined by Dirk Kuyt and Damien Comolli in issuing statements regarding the incident.

The FA found them to be ‘inconsistent’ and ‘unreliable’.

At least one of them was lying.

The report suggests at least two.

It is both thorough and conclusive.

And the FA should be commended for their handling of the case.

Clearly stating facts and providing hard evidence.

All of it leading to no doubts about Luis being guilty.


It was one thing supporting a player before his conviction.

But an entirely different situation if you continue to support a player in this way when found guilty.

An appeal now, would be irresponsible beyond belief from a club that has held so much respect in the footballing world for as long as I can remember.

Liverpool Football Club should back down immediately from their current stance.

Because they aren’t just supporting Luis.

They’re supporting racism.

That part of the situation is black and white...