Monday, 26 March 2012

Mind the Games

So Patrick Vieira has chosen this week as the week to kick off the end of season mind games.

Every season come ‘squeaky bum’ time, the clubs going for the title all look for any little advantage they can get over each other.

What a surprise then that Patrick should open his mouth this week without the care to actually think about what he was saying.

Especially considering the fact that he is a student of a former master of the art - Arsene Wenger.

He should know better.

Arsene usually did.

So used to doing his talking on the pitch, Patrick has opened his mouth to the press and played straight into the hands of Sir Alex Ferguson.

Kevin had ‘Love it’.

Rafa had ‘Facts’.

And if Manchester City capitulate over the coming weeks, don’t be surprised to find numerous mentions of Patrick and ‘Tevez’.

Manchester United were going about their business in their own way and keeping shut - knowing full well that they had the Carlos Tevez card to play at any stage if needed.

Roberto Mancini knew this.

David Platt knew this.

Yet somehow, inexplicably, Patrick judged the situation entirely different to everyone else at the club.

If you are going to fire the first shot of the mind game season - then make sure you have a good defence.

Patrick attacks Sir Alex’s decision to bring back ‘the greatest British midfielder of the last 20 years’ on a free.

A complete legend at the club.

One of the nicest guys in football.

And 9 league games later, having amalgamated 25 points from a possible 27 in the games Paul played, Patrick decides to call it a sign of weakness on United’s part.

In the same period, Manchester City also brought back a player of their own.

A player who refused to go on to the pitch during a key game this season.

A player we were told would never play for the club again.

He goes on a five month holiday in his homeland and is pretty much been condemned from every corner of the footballing world for being the kind of player who personifies everything that is wrong with the beautiful game today.

His return coincides with his team dropping a lead at the top of the table that at one stage was 8 points.

Yet Patrick believes bringing back Paul was the sign a weakness?

A disgusting situation that wouldn’t go away in January despite City’s best attempts to off load their Argentinian has once again reared it’s ugly head thanks in no small part to Patrick’s attempt at mind games.

The last thing Roberto would have wanted is any more press surrounding Carlos Tevez.

He knows himself that by bringing back the player he said would never play for him again - he has invited scrutiny upon his title charge.

Carlos has become a spotlight for weakness.

A spotlight for desperation.

A spotlight that could potentially derail his clubs title challenge.

And it was his own clubs ‘football development executive’ who turned it on.

Patrick has once again demonstrated just how effective a talker he is.

It’s just a pity that Patrick can no longer do his talking on the pitch...

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Spain are not yet leagues ahead of England

A lot has been said about Athletic Bilbao’s extremely impressive win over Manchester United last week.

Defeating the current English champions both home and away led to a comprehensive score line and a place in the quarter finals.

A lesson in football and incontrovertible proof that the Spanish league is superior to the English Premier - I’m afraid not.

Firstly, it was one tie.

Not 5 seasons of dominance.

Secondly, you have to question the motives of Sir Alex Ferguson and look at the benefits of getting knocked out.

The Europa League is a great competition for the likes of Shamrock Rovers, Stoke City and Athletic Bilbao.

But it quite simply isn’t entertained by clubs the size of Manchester United, Manchester City or Tottenham Hotspur.

Especially when they are going for the league.

They all want to be sitting at the top table with Europe’s finest and if they fail to do so, see very little point in taking part in European competition.

So while Athletic did so comprehensively defeat United, you can’t help but think that Sir Alex was more concerned with his weekend trip to face Wolves.

This season has been a strange one for English clubs.

So dominant for much of the previous 5 years, they now find themselves with only 1 team remaining in the Champions League quarter finals.

Chelsea are the only side performing to a similar level that we have come to expect.

Manchester United took a calculated risk in trying to qualify from a relatively easy group.

Unfortunately for them, they got their calculations wrong.

It doesn’t make them a bad team overnight.

They took a risk and it backfired.

Had they scraped through against Basle however, they would surely be vying for what would have been their 4th final in 5 years.

Manchester City had the misfortune of being drawn in the group of death.

Roberto Mancini’s expensively assembled side is still on a building process and will no doubt be serious contenders for next seasons crown having tasted some Champions League action for the first time.

It’s worth noting however that it was Spanish side Villarreal who finished bottom of that group with 0 points.

Arsenal’s campaign finished with a thumping at the hands of AC Milan in the last 16.

They however, similar to another one of England’s Champions League stalwarts Liverpool, are undergoing a rebuilding process.

A process that the English league seems to be going through too.

This seasons results have not seen the shift in power to Spain.

But rather England’s dominance suffering a blip.

Next season should see the return of Tottenham Hotspur - a team on the up.

The two Manchester clubs will see themselves as major contenders.

And one of either Chelsea or Arsenal, who have both come through a tough season looking that bit stronger will no doubt be looking to reach the quarters at least.

Which league is stronger will not be answered by one victory by Athletic Bilbao.

But it did raise some interesting questions.

English teams, so dominant for 5 seasons now - have had a major blip.

Repeating this next season will cause much concern.

Maybe then the Spanish league will be able to stake their claim as the best in the world.

But for now - they must make do with the best side in the world.

Leagues ahead of everybody else in Europe.

Just not in the best league...

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Age is not on Redknapp’s side

If I was Harry Redknapp, I would think long and hard about taking this England job he is being linked with so heavily.

The positives of staying at Tottenham are obvious.

No longer considered a selling club.

Looking good for a Champions League place for next season.

And perhaps most importantly - a squad that has age on it’s side.

Something you definitely could not say about the current English team.

Harry should look closely at the age profile of England’s best as their golden generation start to dissipate from centre stage.

Only last week Steven Gerard said he would consider his international future after the European Championships this summer.

He was certainly one of the world class players from the golden generation.

He’ll be 34 come the next world cup.

John Terry - England captain and leader, has marshalled the defence for almost a decade now.

He’ll turn 33 for the tournament in Brazil.

His partner in defence may not even make it that far.

With injuries adding up, Rio Ferdinand’s career has been nothing short of stop start over the past few seasons and if he’s still playing will be 35.

It wasn’t so long ago that England could choose between Terry, Ferdinand, Sol Campbell and Jamie Carragher.

They were the main force at the back of the big four clubs as well.

Not any more.

Then there’s Ashley Cole.

He’ll be 33.

Frank Lampard 36.

Paul Scholes 39.

All of these players have gone through World Class stages throughout their career.

But if Harry is thinking beyond the summer in Poland and Ukraine, he won’t be able to think about any of these players playing a central role for him.

He will still be able to pick from numerous great players - just not world class players.

World class players that the future of England look to potentially have.

Those who qualified for the U21 tournament last summer are either at big clubs or have demanded huge transfers to big clubs.

Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Micah Richards, Jordan Henderson, Tom Cleverly, Jack Wilshere and Andy Carroll to name but a few.

Plus at just 24 - Joe Hart can consider himself in the same bracket considering the reality of goalkeepers not hitting their peaks until much later.

They come with huge promise and potential but of course, are players for the future, not the present.

It’s the present that should worry Harry the most.

With the exception of Wayne Rooney, not a single player in his prime in the England set-up can live in the world class bracket.

Not one.

Sure there’s good players.

Great players even.

But Wayne is the only one who can live with the 7 or 8 from the golden generation who are on their way out.

Perhaps in 5 years time some of last summers young stars will have laid claim to being in the same league as Gerard or Lampard.

But not for 5 years will they be performing to such a level.

Performing in their prime.

Harry must be looking at this and thinking to himself - I wish I’d had this opportunity 5 years ago.

Whether he would have made a bigger difference than Fabio Capello is a different debate - but he certainly won’t be starting from as good a platform.

If the golden generation could manage no further than a quarter final - then Harry must be questioning how far he can take this silver crop.

At 65, he doesn’t have many moves left in him.

He no longer has age on his side.

Nor it appears, do this England team...