When Eric Dier broke onto the English football scene nobody was quite sure what to think; supporters and Premier League followers gawked upon Dier as if a unicorn had been bestowed upon them. An Englishman plying his trade outside of England seemingly comes around less often than Halley’s Comet, so when the 20-year-old defender arrived and scored twice in two games it got me thinking – are there any more going unnoticed?
When Englishmen have played on foreign soil it has largely been in Italy since the late 70s; players such as Paul Gascoigne, Paul Ince, David Platt, David Beckham and Mark Hateley have all found relative success playing south of the Swiss Alps, whereas other leagues fall behind in numbers. La Liga hasn’t housed much beyond the names of Steve McManaman, Gary Lineker and Beckham with the Bundesliga bearing a similar sized list with Kevin Keegan, Tony Woodcock and Owen Hargreaves. Now, however, the numbers are poorer than ever as English footballers are going farther afield to work a career in the sport we all love.
Major League Soccer is the breeding ground for the future of football in the United States. As proved in the World Cup, USA are an ever-improving nation with many players popping up on the radar of Premier League clubs, but it’s also English players who are flying out to participate in the one of the world’s fastest improving leagues.
There are many programmes in England which are designed to identify players who could go out to America on a football scholarship, playing through the university system before eventually finding a club in the draft. Dom Dwyer, 24, is a player who has done just that after playing youth football at Norwich City before going stateside.
Currently playing for Sporting KC, Dwyer is having a fantastic season in America scoring 16 goals in 23 starts, proving to be the highest achieving Englishman in America who has graduated through USA’s player development programme.
With a scoring spree which shows little sign of drying up, it’s only inevitable Dwyer will get linked with an English club in the next few years and it’s likely he’ll return to England if he wants to further his career. However, Dwyer’s success on the other side of the Atlantic offers a legitimate question; should more players look to play abroad to adapt to different cultures and in turn improve the national side?
England’s national team have been subject to a slow demise in parallel with the modernisation of the Premier League. The constant search for foreign talent has led to English players becoming neglected at some clubs, and the current generation are behind technically when it comes to competition with other nations.
The insular attitude of English players contributes hugely to England’s poor performances, and as Ashley Cole said upon completing his move to Roma:
“English players are probably afraid to come abroad; they’re in a comfort zone in England.”
There is little to no desire to learn from how other clubs work. Few clubs can offer a better financial package than the Premier League, and with the oft-repeated fallacy that the Premier League is the best in the world some players firmly believe there’s no benefit from moving, where in fact it couldn’t be further from the truth.
Charlie I’Anson, known for being the only Englishman contracted to a La Liga club, was once playing his football for Grimsby Town in the Conference. After two years in the club’s first team, I’Anson decided on rejecting a new contract and moving to Spain where his parents were living and to try his luck in Spanish football, which is what brought him to Elche.
Whilst I’Anson’s role at Elche isn’t prominent, the Luton-born defender has done something that English players in the higher echelons of football simply refuse to do. The move to a better climate may have been motivated by other reasons, but now I’Anson is a much more complete footballer for it.
The year 2015 may be on the horizon, but maybe English players should consider taking a look at the 70s and 80s when success was to be had away from the comfort of home. Mediocrity has become accepted with the national team, but the same can’t be said for the rest of Europe’s top nations.
Written by: Lucas Swain
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After the release of his squad list for the latest set of international games, Roy Hodgson has come under obscene amounts of scrutiny. This is to be expected, of course, after many being unfamiliar with some of the names on the list. But this is Hodgson’s time for experimentation with players ahead of Euro 2016; you would much rather experiment now than a couple of months before the tournament starts.
So why the uproar?
There appears to be a lack of quality in the England side, sure, but many are forgetting that Hodgson has 12 potential players injured. Ross Barkley, Adam Lallana, Luke Shaw… The list goes on. These are players that will definitely be around the Euro 2016 squad and, right now, they are unavailable.
Hodgson has to play with the hand he was dealt, and has therefore included a heap of young players that many of us did not expect to see in Fabian Delph, Jack Colback, John Stones & Calum Chambers. The people who are maligning these inclusions are probably the same who would complain if the squad was identical to the squad that failed at this summers World Cup. Experimentation is key, especially when you are two years away from the next major tournament where you hope that your now-youth squad will have matured and be ready for the challenge.
Another issue is people rapidly assuming that Calum Chambers’ call-up is because he now plays for a “big club”. Whilst I accept that the big club tag will always be a factor in who gets called up or not, I strongly disagree that this is the reason Chambers has been called up. Hodgson would never have called up Chambers earlier in the year when he was at Southampton. Why? Because it was a World Cup year. Very few Managers will tamper with their squad ahead of the biggest footballing tournament, especially with inexperienced youth. Yes, he is now at Arsenal, but what needs to be remembered is that Hodgson is beginning to build a youthful side, which he hopes will gel together, in anticipation of another major tournament in two years.
The burden of Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard is no longer. For a while they were golden boys, but many will agree that, in recent years, they have been clogging up the squad list and keeping out perhaps more deserving players. Without the two, Hodgson can now rebuild the heartbeat of any side: the midfield. Whilst some of the names may be uninspiring, it is a chance to give some of these players newly found belief, to take a little bit of a risk. England as a national team don’t do ‘risks’ very well, if not at all.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is explosive in midfield and could offer England a youthful, exciting box-to-box display. Jack Wilshere, who many seem to either loathe or love, can spearhead a midfield or even operate in deep positions – albeit it with a slight lack of discipline and awareness. Henderson can execute both what Wilshere and Chamberlain do, so there’s already a midfield three which, despite a lack of defensive cover, could work against the lesser international sides with less quality to exploit this.
Whilst Hodgson may experiment with personnel, how likely is it that he tinkers with the system? Unlikely. I find that my issue with the English national team is that there is always a lack of change, risk-taking and experimentation. Whilst Hodgson is experimenting with names, will he be experimenting with different styles or will he get someone to be the Gerrard/Lampard instead of themselves?
There can sometimes be a lack of clarity and cohesion in England’s game. Some players seem more intelligent than others, and therefore aren’t on the same wavelength. But this issue isn’t pertinent to club level – at least more often than not – so why is it so at international level? Perhaps there’s a lack of belief in their own personal qualities, but I think it’s down to some players having to emulate roles and styles of former players that have passed. There’s always this fascination of having “the new Gazza”, but why should these players have to emulate things from the past?
How about having Raheem Sterling? Or an Oxlade- Chamberlain? Without the pressure of having to play like previous England icons. It’s sad that players like Chambers can’t emerge without quickly being labelled “the new Terry” or “the new Adams”. When they fail to perform to these excruciatingly high levels expected of them, it’s then a case of them stagnating or injuries getting the best of them. No-one making these comparisons is quick to stop; it’s like a merry-go-round.
Is Hodgson the man to take England forward, revamp the style and formation as well as ensure that the players play comfortably? Probably not. Hodgson strikes me as someone who is aware of his role as England Manager and does not want to do something, such as experimentation with style, that will lose him his job. He is someone who seems rooted in his archaic footballing beliefs and this could end up holding England back massively. Whilst his squad selection, in my view, isn’t as bad as many make out, the real issue is that these players will have to play with the same restrictions as the past.
The English FA will never take a managerial risk, stylistically, because they’re scared of being deemed “flops”. But the reality is that they’re doing their nation a disservice by appointing managers who are either familiar with the country, or have managed a host of clubs. A huge revamp is needed, and an up and coming manager who is ready to chop and change with tactics is, perhaps, what the national team needs. Not someone who has experience, but rather someone who is hungry, intelligent and brings something fresh to the table.
Some will play devil’s advocate and malign the lack of quality in the England squad, but sometimes you have to look at teams like Costa Rica, Algeria who, at the most recent major tournament went further than England by perfecting a style and finding squad unity over individual quality. Maybe that is what England need: squad harmony and a system that works. Off to find that one manager, then…
Written by: Chris Moar
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For one night only, the stars were back in Monaco: Gucci suits, Rolex watches, Cartier sunglasses, it was almost as if Martin Scorcsese was shooting a sequel to Goodfellas. Locals down on the Monte Carlo will have seen more superstars exit than arrive this summer; James Rodríguez departed for Real Madrid in a £71m deal in July, whilst his Colombian teammate, Radamel Falcao is expected to leave those at the Stade Louis II behind, too, in the next few days. The only noticeable signing thus far saw Tunisian centre-half Aymen Abdennour arrive from Toulouse for less than £9m.
Those at the Grimaldi Forum on Thursday evening were in town for the Champions League group stage draw, of course; Cristiano Ronaldo, Manuel Neuer, Arjen Robben, Iker Casillas – how Monaco boss Leonardo Jardim must have wished they were there to sign up with the Ligue 1 outfit, particularly after a difficult start to their campaign. Instead, the quartet, along with several representatives from Europe’s elite football clubs would observe a thirty-minute draw which brought about some interesting match-ups. In fact, Casillas was one of those, along with former winners Fernando Hierro and Karl-Heinz Riedle, who was plucking the balls from the pots and fixing up some juicy fixtures: Real Madrid v Liverpool, Bayern Munich v Manchester City, Barcelona v Paris-Saint Germain, ah yes, and of course, Arsenal v Borussia Dortmund.
2011, 2013 and now 2014. Messrs Arsène Wenger and Jürgen Klop will lock horns. Again. There have been nine goals in four meetings between the duo across the last three years, the first of those encounters taking place in Germany in September three years ago when a Robin van Persie opener was cancelled out by Ivan Perišić’s last-minute thunderbolt. Olivier Giroud, Robert Lewandowski, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and, most recently, Aaron Ramsey, have all been amongst the goals since. You’d think the sides were sick of each other by now, but it seems it’s the opposite.
“He is really something,” Klopp explained in November last year. “He is Sir Arsène Wenger.” Whilst there are similarities between the adorable pair: managers of major clubs not quite as financially well-off as their rivals, loved and respected by the supporters and purposeful philosophies with clear identities, it’s there where the comparisons perhaps end. Arsenal’s “orchestra” charms Klopp, “but I like heavy metal”, the 47-year old continues. Outrunning the opposition matters dearly to the ex-Mainz boss. It’s what gets the deafening 80,000 at the Westfalenstadion going every week. “I want to win the game the right way and run 10km more (than the other side),” Klopp mutters on.
If Dortmund’s home is vociferous, then the Türk Telekom Arena won’t be much quieter. Galatasaray’s 52-000 capacity stadium will be rocking for Arsenal, Dortmund, and the final side in Group D, Anderlecht’s visits. Wenger’s men will be making their third trip to Turkey in just over a year, following journeys to Fenerbahçe and Beşiktaş in their previous two Champions League qualifiers. Cesare Prandelli’s side may have lost veteran forwards Didier Drogba and Johan Elmander this summer, who have both caused the Gunners difficulties in the past, but having edged out Juventus at this stage in last season’s competition, Arsenal must be wary.
There must have been some apprehension at the Grimaldi Forum by this point; after watching Napoli join Arsenal, Dortmund and Marseille, from pot four a year ago, there would have been an eagerness for all sides concerned to avoid Roma, and even Monaco, despite their relative current predicament. Then, Hierro held up ‘R.S.C. Anderlecht’, Riedle held up ‘Group D’ and a sigh of relief quickly followed.
BesnikHasi’s Belgian champions lost versatile Senegalese CheikhouKouyaté to West Ham this month, but did manage to snap up (rivals’ Standard Liège boyhood fan) Steven Defour from Porto. The club’s failure to reach the knockout rounds in their last seven attempts doesn’t bode well, however, and a premature exit from Europe is expected.
None of the sides in Group D are likely to be celebrating Champions League victory in Berlin next May. Nevertheless, there will be some intriguing battles across the twelve games and some fabulous talent on show; Mesut Özil, Marco Reus, Wesley Sneijder…it’s not the worse cast list. Perhaps not as glamorous as Ronaldo, though, who picked up the UEFA Best Player in Europe Award during the evening. It’s his Real Madrid side, the Euopean champions, who are the team to beat.
Written by Samuel Collins – Sam’s Slot
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There was a time when the phrase, “he’s good, but he’s just not good enough to be a Manchester United player” was a real thing.
Sure, it had elements of Manchester United arrogance but it was an arrogance that had been earned over the course of two decades. When Manchester United were the benchmark of brilliance in one of the best leagues in the world. The proof was in the pudding, or in this case, it was in the trophy cabinet.
Something happened that has mystified fans, players and pundits alike now for over a year. The end of the “Fergie era” and the new beginning was ushered in with the appointment of David Moyes but his subsequent sacking has seen bold optimism and confidence turn into fear and uncertainty amongst the fans. One good thing that Manchester United executives might take from their recent failings is that standards from the terraces have dropped and it appears “being good enough to be a United player” now classifies, well, anyone good enough to play in the Premier League.
There are players amongst the squad who will surely not be around for much longer in the likes of Tom Cleverley, Ashley Young and Javier Hernandez et al. Cleverley might be mistaken for a cat at this stage having been given so many lives and Ashley Young, who has improved drastically under the stewardship of Louis van Gaal, is still not up to the standard required to play at Old Trafford, while Hernandez needs a new environment where he might get a run of games as opposed to sporadic cameos that have turned him into a frustrated figure on the bench.
Another player who seems to have benefited from the lowering of fans’ standards is Danny Welbeck. The curious case of Danny Welbeck is an interesting one and while it is nice to see a team stick with a young lad from Manchester giving him the benefit of the doubt, there must come a time when a balanced teamsheet and success on the field overrules emotion. Welbeck, listed as a striker has scored a paltry 9, 1 and 9 goals while averaging 27 appearances over the last three seasons.
Last year saw Welbeck enter a run of form from the opening day, up to the middle of December, without registering a goal. Following this up with six goals in six games Welbeck then disappeared again. A solitary goal against lowly West Brom in a 3-2 victory reminding us all he was still actually playing.
David Moyes launched a personal attack at Welbeck when he claimed that he had to urge the England international to stay on the field to hone his dwindling football ability and while that claim was faced with angry claims from Welbeck’s camp, one has to believe that there is no smoke without a fire. Manchester United’s loyalty is one thing but when did all guts and gravy become a replacement for the ability to finish to the net on a regular basis or to show a steady stream of improvement, or at the very least flashes of brilliance?
It is time that Welbeck reinvented himself, learned how to cross, take on a man and become the player that Daniel Sturridge is and Wilfried Zaha wishes he was and it is time for him to move to a club where he might become a bigger fish in a smaller pond. Welbeck, now 23, is nowhere near finished developing his skill-set and still has some years to go before he plateaus to the point of stagnation, but the time is near for him to do something about it. He can become a goalscorer, he can improve his first touch and he can fulfill his potential but he needs a new environment. A loan deal or a permanent transfer are now essential to the players’ career.
The Manchester United camp seems torn on the Welbeck issue but it’s about time that United cut their losses on the hometown hero for fear of a more ruthless team like Manchester City or Chelsea taking them over for the long haul.
Written by: Robbie Dunne
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Funny how 90 minutes can change so much. I intended stating how things would be alright.
“Don’t panic, the new season has just started”
“There have only been a few games played so far”
“These things take time”
“You can’t impose a new tactical system on a depleted squad still requiring significant reinforcements and expect things to run smoothly”.
Then Man Utd were thumped 4-0 by MK Dons on Tuesday night and I needed to alter the narrative. I had to change my perspective. It’s not going to be alright…
With their season already in disarray despite being handed the easiest start to a season in Premier League history, an overrated manager finding out just how tough the Premier League actually is and an ability to repeatedly pay over the odds for average players yet fail to address key weaknesses within their squad, it’s probably best if Man Utd simply admitted defeat and scuttled off, accepting the lofty heights of 7th place right now as an acceptable position this season. If Man Utd really do have aspirations of trying to get back into the top 4 of the Premier League, never mind actually win it, they need to start investing seriously in their squad once more and adopt a long term plan to build success. The end is nigh for Man Utd and it’s all the fault of the persistently overhyped Louis Van Gaal.
Well, not really.
It’s quite amazing just how many inaccurate or plain wrong statements can be squeezed into a couple of opening paragraphs. What’s more amazing is how when you repeat an inaccuracy often enough, it starts to gain legitimacy in some quarters. Maybe you really can fool some of the people all of the time.
The problem for Man Utd has not been underinvestment as so many have claimed. The real problem has been that they have made extremely poor decisions on what players to purchase and the positions that have been strengthened. Better quality players have been available at lower fees elsewhere. Ander Herrara is a fine player but is he really worth £35 million? Probably not, but there is a premium to be paid for players acquired from Athletic Bilbao which makes the failure to pursue Cesc Fabregas, a better player and on offer at a lower price, all the more strange. Is Angel Di Maria worth £59 million? Again, possibly not, but the versatility and qualities he brings to the team will be key components moving forward.
In the past five years, the club has spent £315m on transfers and recouped a paltry £12m. That’s a net spend of £303m or just over £60m per season. Man Utd have more players costing over £15m (15) and over £25m (7) than any other club in the Premier League yet gaps remain within the squad. Managers have been backed substantially in the transfer market but these same managers have bought players who simply haven’t performed or are unable to perform at the requisite level.
Is Van Gaal really as good as the superlatives being thrown about by the tabloid writers would have us believe? Probably not to that extent but if you’re the sort of person that believes tabloid hype in the first place, that’s really an issue for you to contend with.
Ignore the World Cup adventure with Holland. There’s no need to consider that when he has achieved so much more at domestic level. Titles in Holland, Germany and Spain suggest that he is the real deal. And please, spare me the “Premier League is more competitive and so much harder to win than those leagues” routine. It’s been replayed so much by so many that it’s now a parody.
“We have lost [against Swansea]. It always depends in football on the result. But I know it’s not like that. It depends on the process, with the information at the end – we shall improve.”
Van Gaal has constantly referred to the process during his managerial career and even after the opening day defeat, compounded by a highly embarrassing defeat by MK Dons, the Dutchman was still discussing the positives of the process. It sounds laughable and for many rival fans it will provide an enjoyable source of amusement in the short term but in an era where the result is all that matters for many, the small details contained within the process can have a big impact upon future improvement. Van Gaal should know this. He has done this throughout his entire career and it’s brought him success.
Beginning the league campaign with just one point from two fixtures won’t figure too highly on Van Gaal’s CV but if the club finish in the top four this season, will anyone bother about the start? History has taught us that Van Gaal starts poorly at new clubs, a consequence of his methods and often the imposition of a new tactical system. Barcelona were 10th after 14 games yet won the league title that season. Bayern were 7th after 13 games yet won the league title that season. Man Utd won’t win the title this season but let’s not start panicking before August is over.
“Always long term, never short term. Because I’m not here for myself, I’m here for the club”
He won’t shy away from promoting younger players either as his past has shown and as he is presently showing with Utd. Don’t mistake the arrival of high price signings as abandonment of his ideals. This is a long term project but one that has to be accelerated.
Van Gaal is arguably the most influential coach in European football right now. It’s difficult to think of another who’s influence and ideas stretch as far or as successfully as his, dating back to one season in Barcelona when Van Gaal had Mourinho, Guardiola, Cocu, Luis Enrique and Frank De Boer all coaching or playing for him.
Van Gaal has a clear idea on how football should be played. A disciple of the Dutch School, attacking football is key but he differs from those who follow Cryuff by favouring a more tightly controlled system of play with continuous ball circulation to tire the opponent and find gaps taking precedence over individual expression. The collective trumps the individual in that regard.
The formation aspect will change. The basic structure of how you set your players up on the pitch is not a reflection of your philosophy. The key is implementation. Van Gaal wants attacking football with quick passing and movement. Whether it’s three defenders or four defenders or even five defenders, the style of play will remain constant.
And that’s the one issue that is so strange; the preference of Van Gaal to enforce the 3-5-2 formation on Man Utd given the players at his disposal don’t readily fit into such a template. Control of Holland at the World Cup hinted at further pragmatism and a willingness to move away from a traditional Dutch 4-3-3. Or maybe Van Gaal is simply evolving? The Dutch 4-3-3 always became a 3-4-3 when in possession. Perhaps Van Gaal is not as fundamental and entrenched in his approach as some would claim?
Does this exonerate Louis Van Gaal from the criticism he will receive if things don’t progress this season? Of course not, but equally the context has to be considered when assessing the contribution. You can’t just rebuild amidst the ruins.
I stated in black and white at the start of the season that Louis Van Gaal would steer Man Utd into 4th position, securing Champions League football and I’ll stick with that assessment. It’s going to be tumultuous at times and there will be more setbacks, possibly some real low moments although the man himself is certain:-
“My team shall improve through the season. That is not a question. They shall improve.”
Will there be more pain at Old Trafford over the next two or three months as the team understands his methods and adapts?
Will Van Gaal be a successful Man Utd manager?
Written by: chalkontheboots – Winging It
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