With Three Lions on their shirts, and a fudged compromise of a game plan on the pitch, England looked like a team caught between two eras in Brazil this summer.
For all the promise shown by the occasional flurry of attacking intent, it was a familiar story of mixed priorities and on-field contradictions. Raheem Sterling and Ross Barkley were called up to Roy Hodgson’s squad, but any hopes of a fresh start for England, energised by some youthful revolution of debutants and wonder kids, went unfulfilled – largely because the revolution never really came to pass in any substantial way.
Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney remained the first two names on Hodgson’s team sheet, and both played like luxury players that needed accommodating rather than wise old heads with the experience to accommodate others.
What could have been the passing of a baton became one last final hurrah for the surviving individualist stalwarts of England’s failed “golden generation”, paid for by the selfless toil and intelligence of their would-be successors.
But wasn’t it ever thus for English football? The national game seems forever locked in some self-perpetuating cycle of boom and bust; from the excitement of bright young things emerging to the disappointment of watching them shrivel up into spoilt, burnt out husks under the hot lights of international football.
This flip-flopping between finding new teenage messiahs (like Rooney in 2004) to castigating them for failing to fulfil the false prophecies that have built up around them (see Rooney today) doesn’t just sum up the lack of perspective and attention span in English football. It also throws a steamer in the national talent pool.
With so much emphasis placed on the shock of the new and the scolding of the old, (relatively) late bloomers and players who never enjoyed any such teenage buzz fall through the gaps. That’s why it should be so heartening for fans to see the names of Jack Colback, Fabian Delph and Danny Rose in England’s latest list of call-ups, alongside other youngsters who didn’t make it to Brazil like Calum Chambers and John Stones. Considering the early signs of rehabilitation shown by Jack Rodwell at Sunderland and Tom Cleverley’s potential escape to Villa Park this summer, the number of mid-20-year-olds in the national team squad from outside the top four could yet rise for future fixtures.
But why does the age of the players capped matter? If they’re good enough, they’re old enough, right? It matters because the excuse that England isn’t able to produce talent is a myth. Sure, other countries may be more productive and prolific with regards to their output of top-level prospects, with larger ranks of better qualified coaches, but there is talent available. The problem English football has is turning the high quality, raw ingredients that fill its youth teams into finished articles comparable to their counterparts across the channel.
For years, England fans have gazed enviously over the water at the functional yet technically sound utility and squad players of France, Germany, Italy and others. They rarely seem to struggle to find the right sort of average yet well-rounded players to pad out their systems while over on the island that supposedly invented the game, good technique, tactical intelligence and quality first touches can’t be taken for granted.
This won’t be fixed overnight by calling up mid-table English midfielders of course, but it can’t hurt to start valuing and utilising the overlooked skill and potential of those that did slip through the cracks, especially with first team opportunities at a premium at top clubs.
And in a way, Rooney does make for the ideal captain to bring this lost generation back into the mainstream fold. He has already seen his billing as post-Gascoigne wonder boy become distorted and subverted into a weapon of critique by which to dismiss his achievements. Though the former Everton prodigy may not have become the “White Pele” No. 10 many expected him to – a player of fury, flair, guile and destiny – his tally of goals, assists and medals is hard to argue with, however scrappy and mundane his football may now be.
He is a nightmare for those who view football through the prism of perfectionism, but his ability to force his flawed abilities into an unarguable output is the mindset England perhaps need. Rather than constantly looking for the immaculate, the unspoiled and the new in the next wave of exciting young talents, Hodgson and his eventual successors must instead work more with what they’ve got, especially with regards to the unheralded middleweight players that slip by.
A few years ago, Adam Johnson looked like he was to become England’s first-choice winger following a breakthrough season that saw him move to Manchester City. Today he seems to be in international exile, regardless of his form for Sunderland. It’s a grown-up version of the drop-off that takes place from the underage setups, where key players are somehow allowed to drop off the map and into the lower leagues, while over in Europe other nations can boast continuity from their U16 teams into their full national sides.
England must do better at working with what they’ve got rather than falling for the highs and lows of hype, and the age gaps and threadbare player stocks it causes as unhappy by-products. A new, subdued dawn for a more sensible approach to squad selection could be exactly what English football needs to break the habit of bombast that currently holds it back.
Written by: Greg Johnson
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The past 14 months have been a horrendous time to be a Manchester United fan – or at least when you compare it to the 25 years before it, it has been. Obviously, a season ticket holder down at Portsmouth will laugh at the fact that United fans believe this to be a catastrophe, but to those who have followed the team through trophy-laden seasons and for younger fans who have known no different, this is something of a shock.
Pre-season was incredibly refreshing, particularly as a team with little difference to it between stewardships was beating notable clubs such as Real Madrid, Roma and Liverpool to win the Guinness International Champions Cup. But in reality, this is a pretty hollow competition win; the regular season has arrived, and we’ve been forced to endure another brand of boring mediocre football thus far.
It is well-documented that last season was beyond the nightmares of many United fans, yet simultaneously beyond the dreams of Liverpool and Manchester City fans. Sir Alex Ferguson signed off his glittering career with one last Premier League trophy and an entertaining 10-goal thriller at the Hawthorns in 2013, yet at this moment in time, such a league finish is something supporters could only dream of.
But how has arguably the biggest club in England found itself in such a dramatic fall from grace? There are plenty of different people whom fans have pointed the finger at, and I have decided to look at where the potential blame rests.
We’ll start off with the most unpopular Americans in the red side of Manchester since, well, ever. Fans have a divided opinion of the Glazers following their takeover in 2005. They decided to buy Manchester United with a large loan then transfer their own debt to the club – something which should have never been allowed to happen.
The Glazers have also continuously been accused by the fans of penny pinching and using the club as a cash cow for NFL franchise Tampa Bay Buccaneers. However, the owners have undoubtedly supported the club financially during their time in England, have broken United’s transfer record on several occasions (and now the British record) and the club have always remained competitive, albeit under the leadership of a great manager.
Sir Alex states in his autobiography that they have never refused to provide funds as and when he asked for them, however, this could be seen as more of an obligation that the truth from Fergie’s behalf. The main problem with the Glazers is the fact that the large amount spent in debt and interest repayments is seen as money that could have helped develop the squad. They also appear to have shot themselves in the foot by forecasting the club’s finances on the promise of Champions League football with no real contingency plan.
Sir Alex Ferguson
Our next suspect is the great man himself, Sir Alex Ferguson.
He is said to have led the “worst-ever” squad to a Premier League title in both 2011 and 2013, and the man is simply a genius if he can build teams that allow the likes of Jonny Evans to boast more Premier League medals than Steven Gerrard.
Regardless of his magic, it has been felt since the sale of Cristiano Ronaldo, Sir Alex has simply “papered over the cracks” instead of replacing members of his squad sufficiently.
Fergie has always taken pride in giving young players a chance, which is admirable given the current global trend of throwing money at clubs as a quick fix. With many of the youngsters their potential is huge, but it runs the risk of not being fulfilled. I feel that Fergie was perhaps too persistent with younger players who were never really going to reach the appropriate standard, with Tom Cleverley a prime example.
Ferguson praised his ability and we saw some appearances that made us think he could be a star of the future, particularly at the start of the 2011-12 season where he starred in the 8-2 victory over Arsenal. Injuries hit Cleverley, though, and he never seemed to recover his form, but this didn’t stop Ferguson from continuously selecting him.
The Scot always had a positive track record in developing young players, but his final crop – the lasting crop – were not up to scratch. He has also been blamed for the downfall of United by personally recommending fellow Scotsman, David Moyes, as his successor.
Moyes had eleven seasons at Everton where although he won very little, he transformed a relegation candidate into a team that challenged for Europa League positions on an apparent shoestring budget.
I always felt that his job at Everton merited a chance at a big club and I honestly wished that he was a success, but it just wasn’t to be. His tenure at United was put under the magnifying glass constantly, so there is no real need to repeat what you already know, but he made a vast amount of errors that made his position untenable.
As much as Old Trafford were always behind him and it was great to see the classless plane banner booed in the 4-1 win against Aston Villa, deep down, he was never going to get it right, regardless of the time he was given.
The question must be asked, though: was really to blame for the demise?
He definitely played his part: Marouane Fellaini was clearly a panic signing and was never going to suit United’s style of play and the idea of trying to transform the Belgian into some sort of defensive midfielder was a complete non-starter. His signing of Juan Mata was another panic buy just to keep fans happy and would never fit into Moyes’ favoured formation, which saw the Spaniard played out of position.
Last season someone said to me: “Selling Mata to Moyes is like giving your Nan an iPad.” This person wasn’t too far wrong in reality.
I also found Moyes to try and talk down the ability of the squad, which I’m sure did not go down too well in the dressing room, particularly as he was talking about the Premier League champions. As time went on, his interviews seemed more negative (infamous statements claiming Liverpool and City to be superior) and reflecting on positives that weren’t really all that positive at all.
Moyes wasn’t helped by a change in the Chief Executive role following David Gill’s resignation and the induction of Ed Woodward to the role. The former Commercial Director was brilliant when it came to promoting Manchester United as a franchise and sealing lucrative sponsorship deals, but this proved to be a completely different skill-set to that need to sign high-profile footballers.
His pursuit of Cesc Fabregas was laughable and it was bemusing that the whole saga was made so public, especially when United have been very much in the shadows with their past transfer dealings. Woodward joined the club along with the Glazers too, so with that association comes distrust toward the man who can be seen as a pawn in the Glazers “bid” to make as much money as possible.
He has improved this summer, however, disgruntled fans are still unhappy at how long it takes the club to act on transfers which become poorly kept secrets and take an age to complete.
The players also need to take a look at themselves in their performances last season and also so far this season.
Fergie clearly ran a tight ship, and while Moyes was like the supply teacher at school who no one ever respected, we are talking about multi-millionnaire adults who have a job that they should be performing to the best of their ability.
With this in mind, it is also hard to forget that these people are human. Like with anyone else’s job, it’s hard to perform if you are unhappy. If you are being asked to perform a role or task that you do not feel comfortable with, it will not show the best in you. If you feel undermined by your superior, your confidence can be shattered.
These are factors some don’t think of when it comes to someone who earns so much money for kicking a ball about, but it can affect anyone. There are some players in the squad who are simply not good enough, and in that case you have to ask, is it really their fault?
Not at all, it’s just hard to tell whether or not they are putting in 100 percent because of the expected standards. Some players will know that they could have done better and will really need to prove themselves this season.
With all of the above mentioned, there has to be an eventual rise.
United’s pre-season without a loss against reputable opposition had all of us seeing a bright future for the club with Louis van Gaal at the helm. He came in saying he wanted the club to be No. 1, something that was refreshing following a season of “we tried” under David Moyes.
The performances were impressive, the style of play was fluid and more importantly, we were scoring goals and winning matches; it looked like the 3-5-2 formation was to be the future of the club. However, once the Premier League season started, we all had a reality check. There is a lot more work to be done.
Pre-season had simply given us a false sense of security and has probably hampered transfer dealings as the team was performing so well. Against Swansea and Sunderland, the team lacked creativity and the defending was lacklustre throughout. Both teams also flooded their boxes whenever United attacked, so getting hit on the counter was always a worry and unlocking the defences was a near impossible task.
The 4-0 demolition by MK Dons also further proves that the depth of the squad is poor and there is not a great deal of quality to rely upon. Van Gaal looks like he is finally starting to remove the deadwood who have just lingered for years, with Nani and Wilfried Zaha leaving on loans and Cleverley’s transfer looking imminent.
Angel Di Maria is a brilliant acquisition for the club and although he was not a priority, he will no doubt provide a boost to the squad and add a bit more creative flair. Di Maria joining the club could also attract others, and on paper, in Di Maria, Robin van Persie, Mata and Wayne Rooney, United have four attacking players who could easily compete with any other attacking players in the world.
It is clear that United are working hard to get a central midfielder in place, which could allow van Gaal to change his system and adapt to his “philosophy.” It is also obvious to all that another defensive player is needed.
As badly as the 2007-08 season started – we drew against Reading and Portsmouth, then lost to a pre-Sheikh Manchester City side – we went on to win the Premier League and Champions League. We should look back to that in hope.
I don’t expect the same outcome, though I do believe it can only get better and there will be exciting times ahead for Manchester United.
Written by: Q7
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Super Sunday saw Aston Villa’s unbeaten start to the Premier League season continued as goals from Gabriel Agbonlahor and Andreas Weimann put away Hull at Villa Park.
Villa had the look of a crisis club towards the end of the 2013-14 campaign, with manager Paul Lambert under intense pressure, owner Randy Lerner trying to sell the club and internal discord rife, but seven points from a possible nine paints a rosier picture this time around.
Villa had to settle for a 2-1 victory but should really have enjoyed a more handsome scoreline, dominating first-half proceedings completely with neat finishes from Agbonlahor and Weimann sandwiched by shots against the woodwork from Fabian Delph and Ashley Westwood.
Meanwhile, Alberto Moreno’s exquisite solo strike capped a dominant Liverpool performance as Mauricio Pochettino’s perfect start to life at Tottenham came to an abrupt end.
Brendan Rodgers’ side produced the ideal response to Monday’s defeat at Manchester City, with Raheem Sterling, Steven Gerrard and a wonderful effort from Moreno condemning Spurs to a 3-0 loss at White Hart Lane.
Sunday’s Villa/Liverpool combination meant that, off the back of Saturday’s topsy turvy, roller-coaster of a days results, 14-players would share Game Week 3’s FREE £2,000 ‘prediction pot’ – with each player netting themselves £142.85!
On Saturday Wilfried Zaha snatched a point for new manager Neil Warnock as Crystal Palace emerged from a 3-3 thriller at Newcastle with something to show for their efforts.
Zaha, on loan at the Eagles from Manchester United, struck five minutes into stoppage time at the end of a dramatic encounter at St James’ Park just as it looked as though the Magpies had secured their first Premier League win of the season.
He and Newcastle counterpart Rolando Aarons lit up a nail-biting conclusion to the game with fine cameos after Daryl Janmaat and Aarons himself had cancelled out earlier efforts from Dwight Gayle and Jason Puncheon.
Mike Williamson’s 88th-minute finish — his first goal for five years — looked to have secured the points, but Zaha dashed the home side’s hopes in front of owner Mike Ashley and a crowd of 49,226.
Morgan Schneiderlin scored twice as Southampton secured a first league win for new manager Ronald Koeman by beating West Ham 3-1 at Upton Park.
The France international — who had been linked with a move to join former Saints boss Mauricio Pochettino at Tottenham — produced a couple of fine close-range efforts either side of half-time as the visitors came from behind following Mark Noble’s deflected effort.
Graziano Pelle, signed for 8 million pounds from Koeman’s old club Feyenoord, wrapped things up with seven minutes left.
Charlie Austin eased Queens Park Rangers into life without Loic Remy, who looks set for a move to Chelsea, by ending the Loftus Road club’s goal drought in a 1-0 victory over Sunderland.
The former Burnley striker bagged his first Premier League goal to end Rangers’ 315-minute scoring drought in their fourth clash of the new campaign.
Harry Redknapp’s men were desperate for both goals and points after successive defeats to Hull, Tottenham and Burton, and had Austin to thank for a thumping first-half finish.
Predictions In Numbers:
- 4 x Correct Predictions – 3% of players
- 3 x Correct Predictions – 14% of players
- 2 x Correct Predictions – 35% of players
- 1 x Correct Predictions – 35% of players
- 0 x Correct Predictions – 13% of players
Match Outcome In Numbers:
Newcastle 3 – 3 Crystal Palace
(9% of all players predicted a draw)
Queens Park Rangers 1 – 0 Sunderland
(23% of all players predicted a QPR win)
West Ham 1 – 3 Southampton
(27% of all players predicted a Southampton win)
Aston Villa 2 – 1 Hull City
(53% of all players predicted an Aston Villa win)
Tottenham 0 – 3 Liverpool
(49% of all players predicted a Liverpool win)
MAXIFY: Leicester ? – ? Arsenal
After Olivier Giroud suffered a serious-looking injury against Everton last weekend, Arsenal fans feel that their side is crying out for a new striker more than ever.
Having already played with three different forwards in four matches this season, and even playing Tomas Rosicky up front at one stage in pre-season, could the answer to Arsenal’s continuing striker problem already be at the club’s disposal?
Despite the likes of Edinson Cavani, Mario Balotelli, Radamel Falcao and even Nikola Zigic being linked with the club, Wenger is yet to buy a proper striker, though has not categorically ruled out signing a new forward.
The first, and probably most obvious option, is Arsenal’s only other out-and-out striker: Yaya Sanogo. The Frenchman has represented his nation from U-16 level through to U-21 level, scoring 34 goals in the 57 games he has played in the various youth setups. He also had a reputable scoring record for his former club Auxerre and their B side, bagging 10 goals in 13 games during his last season with the Ligue 2 outfit.
His goalscoring record for the Gunners, however, has been non-existent. After Giroud picked up an injury in February, Sanogo got his first start for the side playing in the FA Cup fifth round against Liverpool – a game which Arsenal won 2-1.
He continued to play in the FA Cup, getting a full 120 minutes against Wigan in the semi-final and came on as a substitute in the final too. Despite 15 appearances, the majority coming from the bench, the 21-year old is yet to score a competitive goal for Arsenal.
He did score four goals in one match against Benfica at the Emirates Cup in pre-season, but does he have what it takes to replace Giroud and hold down the Arsenal front line for months to come?
A second option for the Gunners would be Lukas Podolski. Having signed from Bundesliga side FC Koln in the summer of 2012, the German has managed an impressive goalscoring record when it is considered that he has only played the full 90 minutes for Arsenal four times in his 69 appearances.
Podolski has scored 28 goals in all competitions, and the majority of his appearances, as well as goals, have come from an unfavoured left-wing position.
He’s no stranger to playing in a central role, though with Giroud at Arsenal, he has not had many opportunities to play at striker, with no more than 10 games coming from that position.
In his two spells at Koln and over a three-year stint at Bayern Munich, Podolski scored over 110 goals – goals which alerted the interest of Arsene Wenger. In a press conference before Arsenal’s crucial Champions League play-off tie against Besiktas, Wenger said that Podolski would remain at the club despite interest from other clubs.
It’s clear that the manager still sees the German as a part of his plans, but will the absence of Giroud see Podolski shine once more?
A third and as yet untested option for the Gunners is Joel Campbell. The forward, who can also play as a winger, starred for Costa Rica at the World Cup in Brazil, but was unable to play for the club until 2013 due to an inability to secure a work permit. He was sent out on loan to three different clubs, most recently in 2013-14 to Greek side Olympiacos, who have since tried to sign him permanently.
Campbell has made two substitute appearances for the side so far this season, neither of which involved him playing as a forward. He has only played 21 minutes competitively for Arsenal so far, with both games seeing him deployed on the right wing.
Arsenal fans are yet to see the best of Joel Campbell – or at least the best of him in an Arsenal shirt. With Wenger refusing any offers for the player, Campbell is clearly a presence that Wenger wants to use and utilise, and what better time for the 22-year-old to step up to the mark and cement his place in the Arsenal team for years to come?
The final option is the newly-signed Alexis Sanchez, who came in from FC Barcelona in the summer. Sanchez already has four Arsenal games under his belt, playing his first as a central striker against Everton, but disappointed in the role and was hauled off after just 45 minutes in the game.
Sanchez started his Arsenal career with an assist in his opening Premier League match, and scored his first goal for the club against Besiktas.
Sanchez was a star figure at his old sides Barcelona and Udinese, scoring 68 goals in 253 games. In his last season at Barcelona, he managed to score 21 goals from the wing – the most he has ever scored in a single season.
His record doesn’t disappoint for his nation Chile, either: He has 71 caps and 24 goals to his name. Sanchez is also no stranger to winning trophies, helping his respective clubs to eight separate triumphs. Can he lead the line to more Arsenal glory?
The options are there for Arséne Wenger already at the club. With Olivier Giroud out until the new year, and the transfer window shutting in a number of hours, should Arsenal stick with their current crop of forwards?
Written by Tyron McGee
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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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