A Magnificent Seven Years

December 29, 2010 in Scotland

I have spent my afternoon watching the first half of the Total Larsson DVD. If it isn’t obvious it’s a DVD that shows you nearly every goal Henrik Larsson scored for Helsingborg, Feyenoord, Celtic, Barcelona and Manchester United. It is an absolute pleasure to watch the man in his prime.

Something occurred to me while enjoying some of his best goals and I feel very very lucky. Although I had already been to Celtic Park on many an occasion I finally purchased my first season ticket in the same season that for a measly £650,000 Celtic secured the signature of Henrik Larsson from Dutch giants Feyenoord.

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C..C..C..Changes

December 13, 2010 in Scotland

Twelve SPL clubs will meet on the 20th of December to decide the future of Scottish football. The plans are to create a two-tier SPL of 10 teams each. Included in the reconstruction are the return of play-offs, an earlier start to the season and a winter break.

Out with the two leagues of ten the other teams in the country would be regionalised, which is probably the best thing being proposed in the current plans.

Talks of change have been ongoing for years now and people always find it hard to agree on what is best for Scottish football to move forward. Things need to change if the league is to move forward, moving from 10 teams from 12 is surely a step backward, the league has tried 10 teams before and the quality was pretty much the same as it is now. What’s changed really?

It would make more sense to increase the size of the top division and come inline with other divisions around Europe. Moving to 16 or 18 teams would mean less games, the winter break would be easier to incorporate and it would surely freshen up the league in a few different ways.

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The SPL is rubbish

December 12, 2010 in Scotland

The quality of the SPL gets questions time and time again. And of course it’s not La Liga or the EPL but it has it’s moments.

It doesn’t help when big mouth idiots like Robbie Savage come out with derogatory statements. Saying that Joe Ledley is too good for the SPL is just a ridiculous statement. A player that has played average at best, and has not set the country alight is in no way “too good” for the league.

No one is saying the SPL is the greatest league in the world, but it is nowhere near the worst, luckily every so often you get a moment of brilliance that makes you smile and happy that you watch the SPL.

Thank You Jonny Hayes!

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Rangers v Manchester United – Reaction

November 25, 2010 in Champions League, England, Scotland

Rangers' forward Steven Naismith vies with Manchester United's Ryan Giggs -Champions League action in pictures

A disappointing night at Ibrox tonight, both teams not learning from the mistakes of the first game. For me Sir Alex got his team selection wrong, no width where it mattered, Rangers didn’t attack enough when in possession. Everything that went wrong can be found in my STV article that depicted the first game http://bit.ly/huQyL6

It took Manchester United 176 minutes to break down the Rangers defence and Walter can take credit from that, but he needs to find a way of playing with this tight defensive system and letting the players break forward when they have the ball. Scottish teams aren’t good enough to play tiki-taka passing up the field and play round the opponents.

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Celtic v Rangers – Old Firm Preview

October 23, 2010 in Scotland

Over the next 24 hours you will hear all the stereotypical clichés in football “form goes out the window” “it’s a battle of who wants it more” etc etc. This is a very arcyic view of modern day football, with the lush playing surfaces and players in peak physical condition it is no longer a “battle of the fittest” it’s a tactical battle played under extreme pressure, and no match in Britain if not the world comes close to the pressure of an Old Firm derby.

In a way you can throw form out the window as both teams have 100% records. Rangers have a slight edge in the goals scored column, but Celtic even that up with fewer goals conceded. This will be manager Neil Lennon’s second Old Firm in charge although last season’s meant very little as the title was already gone. Lennon is likely to pick seven players for their Old Firm debuts this could put a little advantage the way of Walter Smith’s side, all of Walter’s predicted starting line-up have played in an Old Firm game before and of course Walter himself has an amazing record in this fixture.

Rangers will most likely line up with five in the midfield 4-5-1 would possibly be Smith’s preferred formation for this fixture, leaving Kenny Miller to run the line on his own preferring to pack the midfield and hit Celtic on the counter attack. Celtic’s formation of late has been a fluid 4-4-2 with Antony Stokes playing wide right his instincts push him far forward leaving Wilson exposed at times down the Celtic right. This game will be won in midfield, it would be very surprising if Lennon picked Ki Sung-Yung and Joe Ledley in the centre of midfield putting them against McCulloch, Davis and Edu would be a very tough ask. More likely the Mexican Efrain Juarez will return to the centre and his stamina and hard working ethics combined with his ability on the ball would give the Celtic midfield more dig and bite and someone who can put their foot on the ball and control the play.

Samaras as he always does will drop back into the midfield looking for the ball, this will occupy McCulloch, leaving Maloney, Stokes and Hooper to take on the Rangers back four. Leaving Samaras time to create chances could be lethal for Rangers, although he is a very frustrating player to watch and many chances go to waste the Greek has unquestionable talent and eventually he will make you pay, it will be Lee McCulloch’s job to keep him under wraps.

In recent weeks Rangers have shown great ability to break forward at pace, Naismith, Miller and either Lafferty or Weiss will again look to capitalise on any loose balls Celtic may gift them and charge forward look to expose the weaknesses of Loovens and Mastrojovic at the back, the duo are untouchable in the air but can be susceptible against pace. Miller will play on the shoulder of the last defender looking for any sniff of a chance and how would he love to score a goal back at Celtic Park, giving the form he is in the odds will be short to see his name on the scoresheet.

Don’t let the tabloids fool you, tactics matter in every game, this match will be full of interesting battles at both ends of the pitch, the team that wins the majority of these battles will win the match.

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Rangers v Valencia – Tactical Preview

October 21, 2010 in Champions League, Scotland, Spain

This is the article I wrote for STV Sport before the match between Rangers and Valencia

After the dust settled on Rangers 4-1 win over Motherwell on Saturday, thoughts would have turned to this week’s opponents and early La Liga pace setters Valencia. A few hours after the full time whistle at Ibrox, Valencia were in action with the small task of taking on Catalan giants Barcelona in the Nou Camp and any fans who tuned in to cast their eye over their midweek opponents would have witnessed what truly was a “game of two halves”.

In a first half that consisted of Los Che taking the game to Pep Guardiola’s star studded side, dominating the play and deserving their half-time lead, Unai Emery’s team could have easily been held more than the slim one goal advantage. The second half was a much different story.

Pep Guardiola’s team talk worked a treat, with Barcelona pinning Valencia back in their own half for much of the half. A superb team goal finished by Iniesta gave them their equaliser, mimicking the movements of Kyle Lafferty and Steven Naismith earlier that day. Xavi’s pass sliced through four defenders and Iniesta applied the finish, making it 1-1 and later Carles Puyol left his defensive post unguarded to crash a powerful header into the net and give Barca a crucial home win.

The heroics of Cesar Sanchez in the Valencia net kept this game close, denying Villa and Messi countless times, but the defeat dropped Valencia down to third in the league after a bright start to the league campaign. There was, however, enough in the first half to show any Rangers fans watching that this is a team to be respected.

For many observers, this was supposed to be the season where Valencia fell away, the pressure to sell key players finally telling and seeing Valencia living in reduced circumstances, with results to match. David Villa and David Silva were the most notable departures from the Mestalla but Valencia also said goodbye to Nikola Zigic, Carlos Marchena, Alexis and Ruben Baraja. All six were regular starters last season, forcing Emery to utilise his squad to cover the gaps.

Predicting Valencia’s line-ups this season have been a job impossible for even Mystic Meg. In the league alone an astonishing 22 players have been used. Having two players in each position is a situation most clubs dream of, and for Emery to go on and use each player is a method seldom used in football these days.

In La Liga the manager has set his team up for the majority of games in a 4-4-1-1 formation, deviating slightly to 4-2-3-1 against Barcelona. It seems very likely he will use one of these formations for the trip to Ibrox.

Cesar Sanchez has been the only ever present so far. After spells at Real Madrid and Real Zaragoza, and the ill fated time at Tottenham Hotspur, the goalkeeper moved back to Spain at the tender age of 38 to make the number one jersey his own. Still playing at a very high level his performances have boosted the performances of the back four.

With Portuguese international Miguel out injured, Bruno will start at right back. He’s a tough tackling no frills full back, more defensive minded than Miguel although he sometimes gets caught out of position.

In the centre should be the pairing of David Navarro and Ricardo Costa. Navarro is more famous for the seven month ban he received after the much documented fight against Inter Milan, but he remains a no-nonsense, solid defender who is very strong and good in the air. His partner Ricardo Costa is one of Emery’s six new signings.

He spent half of last season on loan at Lille in France where he played at centre back and left back and has the ability to play anywhere along the back four. This positional knowledge helps out the defence no end, able to fill gaps left by the full backs he then has the pace to track attackers down the wing.

The choice of left-back on Wednesday could help determine not only how Valencia attack, but also could show a weakness that Rangers could exploit. Jeremy Mathieu and Jordi Alba have been fighting for the position so far this season. On Saturday against Barcelona both were picked to link up down the left hand side and though the original team sheet showed Mathieu at left back with Alba slightly further forward, throughout the game both swapped positions taking it in turns to defend and attack.

Emery’s decision to leave out Juan Mata made this selection possible but with Mata’s return on Wednesday almost guaranteed this leaves the kind of selection headache managers dream about.

Whether playing as a defender or a midfielder Mathieu is not scared to go forward and join the attack. Against Malaga and Bursaspor he was used in a defensive role but very often when the team on the attack it is no surprise to find him in line with Valencia’s forwards.

With only 11 minutes of the game gone against Barcelona, Mathieu (red) had already decided to break forward. Nearly on the shoulder of the last defender, with Alba (yellow) pushing up trying to release Mathieu down the wing, there is acres of space behind the full back which forwards and midfielders could easily use against them. In these situations the alertness of Ricardo Costa is hugely important.

Against Bursaspor, Mathieu did a fantastic job of controlling playmaker Volkan Sen though. Whenever the ball was played into his feet Mathieu was touch tight and he frustrated the Turkish international giving him very little time on the ball. When Valencia pushed forward looking for more goals though, Sen started to exploit the space Mathieu vacated.

A simple ball over the top caught Mathieu (red) out of position in one instance. Costa (yellow) had to come across quickly to close down Sen (blue) and stop the attack. In this situation Bursaspor didn’t do a good job in supporting the attack, as a darting run from any of the midfielders could have exploited the space left by Costa and easily have led to a great chance. Rangers’ midfielders will need to be alert when Costa covers Mathieu’s position, Steven Davis is wonderful at breaking from the midfield and as his thunderous shot against Motherwell proved he is also good enough to take advantage of any space given.

Unai Emery might decide to play Jordi Alba on Wednesday to keep things tight. Not picking Mathieu does however mean Valencia are without a player who has great aerial presence and is a very technically sound defender. The team would also miss his ability on the ball, his pacy breaks from the back and his aptitude for turning defence into attack very quickly.

Alba too has these abilities, although not to the extent of Mathieu. The young full back was extremely impressive while marking Lionel Messi on Saturday, showing he has the speed and the strength to keep up with one of the world’s best. His size could be his downfall though. Up against Lafferty, Broadfoot or Whittaker, Rangers would win the aerial battle giving them an effective out-ball. Mathieu at 6 foot 3 wouldn’t be as easily beaten.

Defensively, the full back area is one that Rangers could punish if worked properly, Valencia’s midfield worked very hard to close down Barcelona and win the ball back, with four midfielders (yellow) closely chasing the ball, and the defenders’ attention also trained on the ball.

This led to Bruno (pink), being caught in a central area, unaware of David Villa (red) pushing down the flank followed closely by Maxwell (blue). The majestic skills of Iniesta (green) beat the midfield and he was able to find Villa in acres of space supplying him with a chance to shoot on goal.

With Steven Naismith in good form recently, it is important he is wise to Bruno’s positioning and tries to use this to his and Rangers advantage. It is obvious Rangers don’t have the quality in midfield that Barcelona do, but the space is there to be exploited.

One of Valencia’s great strengths this season has been the pressure the midfield puts on the ball, turning this into countless fast break situations. Emery will likely play with a four in midfield, favouring a creative player to support the front man rather than playing forwards Aduriz and Soldado up front together. The latter, now fully fit after missing the start of the season will lead the line, the five players picked to play behind him will be the result of hours and hours of discussion and deliberation.

Nine players have occupied these positions so far this season, each bringing their own attributes to Valencia’s style and success on the counter attack. One of the first names on the team sheet will likely be Juan Mata, who was rested against Barca with the trip to Ibrox in mind.

Mata was let go by Real Madrid and signed for Valencia on a free in 2008 and for two years he has quietly been making a name for himself. Now out of the shadows of Villa and Silva this could be Mata’s breakout year. Undoubtedly talented on the ball, he has the ability to play off the front man in a creative role but seems to be more effective starting from the left and breaking into the box.

His excellent finishing abilities have led to 26 goals for the club so far and at only 22 it will not be long before the big club vultures are back at the Mestalla waving their chequebooks. Right now he is a Valencia player and one to be very wary of.

Whoever Emery picks to support Soldado and Mata, be it Pablo Hernandez, Manuel Fernandes, Ever Banega or Tino Costa, Rangers must not give the ball needlessly away in midfield or up front as many of Valencia’s goals this season have come from breathtaking fast breaks.

 

When Valencia go forward, regardless of their formation, there are always players in support. Against Malaga when it was 4-4-1-1 four players broke forward providing options left and right of the man in possession. Then, against Barcelona, while playing 4-2-3-1 a very similar break saw four players bombing forward giving the man on the ball choices and leading to the opening goal, Right midfielder Pablo (red) cut in from the right to get on the end of Mathieu’s cutback, Soldado’s run (blue) to the back post caught the attention of Puyol and Maxwell gave Pablo the space needed to apply the finish.

Another great example of Valencia’s strength in attack was the fourth goal against Bursaspor. With 14 minutes to go and already three goals to the good, Valencia won the ball back next to their own bye-line (red). Three passes and 10 seconds later, Soldado (yellow) found himself one on one with the goalkeeper and had an easy job to make it 4-0. It was a fine example of the counter-attacking style the Spanish team have shown so often this season.

Undoubtedly Wednesday night will be a very tough test for Walter Smith’s team, and if Rangers are to have a genuine hope of advancing from the Group Stage some kind of result will be needed. At home, the Rangers fans will want a victory and this pressure to go forward could fall straight into Valencia’s style and strengths. Rangers can’t afford to sit back and defend but caution must be taken when attacking in numbers.

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They think it’s all over…

October 9, 2010 in Euro 2012, Scotland

Last night in Prague Ivan Bebek put the whistle to his lips and signalled not just the end of Scotland’s match against the Czech Republic but with it could end any chance of the Tartan Army reaching the European Championships in 2012, a quick glance at the table and they look in not too bad a situation, and there are ways to spin it to make it sound much better than it is. If we fast forward to the last week of the qualifying games, taking for granted that Spain will win every game, Liechtenstein lose every game, by some kind of miracle Scotland then record victories against the Czech Republic and Lithuania at home, the last week would see Craig Levein’s men travel to Spain and Lithuania play host to the Czech Republic.

If everything went according to play and it usually doesn’t for Scotland, Spain would sit top of Group I on 21 points, Scotland 2nd on 13, with Lithuania and the Czech Republic level on 10 points each, Everyone would expect Scotland to suffer a defeat in Spain and that would leave the winner in Kaunas level on points with Scotland, so if you live in the optimistic world there is still plenty to play for and it will also probably mean you haven’t watched any of Scotland’s earlier games, the problem with this scenario is it requires Scotland to win 3 matches, and right now that scenario is as far fetched as they come.

The point away from home against Lithuania on paper doesn’t look like the worst result after Lithuania’s victory in Olomouc but anyone that watched the game will know it should have been three points to start the campaign off, Scotland have played against much better Lithuania sides and come away with more than a point, this Scotland team is just not up to the job, the midfield worked very hard the whole game but was devoid of any patience on the ball or the ability to break down a stubborn defence, no creative spark on the field, Kenny Miller isolated upfront, at times there was good width created by the full backs inevitably there was no one in the box able to convert or the quality of cross was just not there, the 0-0 score line did not describe a game full of excellent saves and great tackles it described two sides unable to create any clear cut chances.

Liechtenstein at home is a game most teams in Europe maybe apart from San Marino would expect to win, the archive results in the end will show a 2-1 victory to Scotland, the score line in no way reflects the match and how abysmal the team played that night, with McFadden returning and Kris Boyd added to the line-up the expectant 37,000 that turned up at Hampden Park wanted goals, a good three or four nil win to kick start the campaign and lift the spirits of a nation. This was not to be Boyd went missing, McFadden did not seem match sharp and the defence allow Liechtenstein to look like a decent team. Level at half time it surely couldn’t get any worse, it could. Mario Frick once of Siena in Serie A was allowed time and space to collect the ball outside the Scotland penalty area, and with a quick turn and flick of the right boot he sent the tiny amount of away fans in the crowd into jubilant celebration, not since October 2007 had Liechtenstein won a match Iceland the unlucky opponents that day surely Scotland couldn’t join that elite club.

It was not to be, the country with a smaller population than the attendance that night in Glasgow couldn’t hold on, Kenny Miller’s strike on 62 minutes followed by the 95th minute winning header by Stephen McManus meant Scotland’s blushes were spared and the hopes of a nation to qualify for a major tournament again were still alive, could this be the kick up the backside the team needed and a good performance and result again the Czech Republic in Prague would go a long way in making the country believe again.

Scotland wouldn’t be Scotland without shooting itself in the foot however, the rumours began days before the Czech Republic match that Levein was thinking of leaving out the SPL’s top goal scorer Kenny Miller for uncapped QPR forward Jamie Mackie, Mackie’s 8 goals this season is an impressive tally playing for a very exciting QPR side that lead the English Championship we will be full of confidence, to give him his Scotland debut in Prague in place of the inform Miller was indeed a idea straight out of left field. Reports continued to flood out of the Scotland camp, Mackie would not be the loan front man in Prague…there wouldn’t be one.

Confusion spread throughout the country the 4-6-0 is a brand new idea for the Scottish people, although used around the World and Europe throughout the last few years, to try and adapt a team to this new style the week before a massive qualification game was a bold idea from Levein, if successful he would be a genius, if it went wrong the daggers would be at his back and questions about his managerial ability would be raised.

A few years ago a 1-0 defeat to the Czech Republic would not seem that bad a result, however the days of Nedved, Koller, Galasek and Co. are long gone, Tomas Rosicky and Peter Cech remain in the side but as the 1-0 defeat to Lithuania showed they are a shadow of their former self, missed out on the 2010 World Cup and fighting with Scotland and Lithuania for a play-off place for 2012 is not where we are used to seeing the Czech side doing business. For the majority of the match Scotland’s striker less system worked, all eleven players working hard for the team, and when Scotland tried to get forward the same faults appeared as always, no patience on the ball a lack of creativity, at times there was an outlet pass then other times there was nothing, away from home I always feel you need someone who can hold the ball up for you and let the rest of the team advance forward, this is not a call for Kenny Miller to have started either as at times this is not a strong point of his game, he does however give an option down the channel and that can be very useful to get you out of a defensive situation.

The home side dominated the possession and controlled the game the breakthrough finally came in 69th minute Rosicky’s corner was flicked on by Bednar and Roman Hubnik was there to apply the crucial finish, people can blame the system till their blue in the face but you can lose a goal from a set piece regardless of how many strikers you have on the field, there are good and bad points to how Levein put out his team, at the end of day though Scotland have left Prague with no points and needing to win three games to finish 2nd in the Group.

It would be very surprising to see Levein try this system again, Scotland just nation does not have the players available to make this work. Levein has said this was a system to be used solely against the Czech Republic, so it would look most likely to see the 4-5-1 rolled out on Tuesday for the Spanish, a match were no one really holds out any hope of a Scotland point never mind a victory.

Defeat would still leave Scotland with a slim chance of qualifying, the home ties against Lithuania and the Czech Republic would be must wins, they can’t afford no more slip ups and judging by the previous performances confidence is not high.

Who knows Scotland being the unpredictable nation that it is, it might not be too crazy to have a little punt on a win this Tuesday at Hampden, it’s only the World and European Champions.

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Deadline Day Moves

August 30, 2010 in Bundesliga, England, Italy, Scotland, Spain

With less than 24 hours now until the transfer window closes agent and managers phones will be ringing off the hook as teams try and complete their squad before the clock reaches zero.

Tomorrow we can look for endless rumours of players in taxi’s and in airports, rumours of the world’s best moving teams only for Stoke’s 3rd choice keeper to move on loan to a team that won’t challenge, however we all love the Transfer Deadline Day and wouldn’t have it any other way.

I have picked five players that are likely to either move or just spend the whole day being linked with various teams, by coincidence most of them have moved on deadline day in the past so they know what it’s all about.

EIDUR GUDJOHSEN – AS MONACO

Teams Linked – Stoke City, Tottenham, Liverpool

Unable to find a place in Monaco’s starting line-up again the Icelandic striker is looking for a move away from the principality, last year he move on loan to Spurs scoring 2 goals in 13 games, since his move away from Chelsea he has played for 3 clubs most successfully at Barcelona.

Questions remain over the quality the Bolton legend still has left in his legs, he has only managed 11 games for Monaco, Prince Albert’s team don’t exactly have a wealth of striking talent so for Eidur not being able to force his way in, might explain the ability he has left.

Would he fit into Stoke’s physical style, Roy Hodgson might see his versatility as an asset and an adequate substitute for Fernando Torres, or maybe Harry Redknapp will come back in and take him back to White Heart Lane.

CHANCE OF A MOVE 8/10

SHAY GIVEN – MANCHESTER CITY

Team Interested – Arsenal, Fulham, Celtic

Shay came out today and announced he would stay and fight for his place at City, Joe Hart’s form means Shay is poised to spend most of the season on the bench unless Hart drops a clanger or gets injured.

Man City have said that they would not sell to their rivals so Arsenal might be out of the running however do they really see Fulham as a rival, the addition of Given would not make them top 4 contenders, so a move to Fulham could be a very viable option, whether this would suit Shay or not is another question, with Stockdale out injured and Schwarzer looking likely to move on, a bid for Shay could be right up Mark Hughes street.

The other option on the table could be a return to his boyhood club Celtic, City would be keen meaning Shay would not return to haunt them in the Premier League and Shay would be guaranteed first team football, however the SPL is a drop in class, and without European football this season would he really enjoy life back in Glasgow.

CHANCE OF A MOVE 6/10

ROBINHO – MANCHESTER CITY

Teams Interested – AC Milan, Barcelona, Fenerbahce

Not in Mancini’s plans Robinho is allowed to leave City, however they need to find a club with the money available to prize the once marquee signing away from Eastlands.

Last week AC Milan had no money and needed Genoa to buy Kevin-Prince Boateng for them, now they have completed a deal for Zlatan Ibrahimovich, a player in a similar situation to Robinho, the Swede had moved on loan, Milan agreed to pay 24 million Euros next season, maybe a similar deal could be made with City, would new coach Allegri really want Ibra, Robinho, Ronaldinho and Pato in the same team.

Rumours have surfaced again that Barcelona may be interested in a cut price deal, but with the recent documented money problems and the togetherness of the squad Robinho could disrupt the harmony at the Nou Camp.

Fenerbahce made an offer it, sources say it was accepted however Robinho refused the deal, maybe he is holding out for something bigger, as the deadline approaches if no deals are forthcoming would he settle for life in Istanbul

CHANCES OF A MOVE 7/10

ROBBIE KEANE – TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR

Teams Interested – Celtic, West Ham, Newcastle

Robbie moved to Celtic on the last deadline day in January money is on him moving again this deadline day, it seems his move is all down to if Redknapp brings in a striker, then Keane would be allowed to move.

Newcastle and West Ham would be head of the queue, both give different options, West Ham would mean he would stay in London where he is based, a move to the North East would make him an instant Geordie hero, and of course it’s another one of Keane’s boyhood clubs, whether either team has the money to buy Keane is another question.

Celtic would love to have Keane back, Lennon is thought to be on the lookout for a striker, a fee and medical done for Hibs Anthony Stokes, and surely he wouldn’t pass down the chance again to have Robbie Keane lead the line.

CHANCES OF A MOVE 5/10

KLAAS JAN HUNTELAAR – AC MILAN

Teams Interested – Schalke, Tottenham

At Ajax he had the World at his feet, with 76 goals in his 4 years at the Amsterdam club, since leaving them he has played to two of the giants in football, Real Madrid and AC Milan, it has not worked at either, with a decent scoring record at both clubs, it seems he is just not the big name signing both sets of fans ever wanted, and with that Klaas has found himself on the bench more often that not.

Felix Magath has been searching for a striker all summer, and finally looks to have found his man, however with Luis Fabiano signing a new deal with Sevilla today, Redknapp’s targets have shifted and could be in line to try and steal the Dutchman from the Germans.

Both clubs would be ideal for Huntelaar now at 27 he needs to pick the right move, the wrong club again could be disastrous for his career.

CHANCE OF A MOVE 9/10

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Wake Up Britain!!!

July 13, 2010 in England, Scotland

So I have to admit when Germany beat England 4-1 I think happy would be the tamed down version of how I was feeling, and as a Scotsman I’m sure you can forgive me of that, we don’t like to hear the media blab on about how good the Premier League is which means England will win the World Cup so when they get knocked out, I think the other Home Nations and Ireland have a mini celebration of their own, now I get a little grief for the “England Bashing” but it’s how I was brought up so it’s not going to change, I live in England, I work in England, the girl I’m marrying is English, it’s just the media really, good to see them knocked down a peg or two.

The one great thing that has come out of the English defeat was the self defecation of the English football system, youngsters not getting a chance, too many foreigners, and the way kids get taught etc. Everything that is needed to create a successful football legacy was deemed to be sub par in the English game, surely though the other Home Nations can be put into the same bracket, we all have the same set-up and if England are being criticised for not bringing through youth, then what can be said for the rest of the teams on the two Islands, Once upon a time top English teams were littered with Scottish, Welsh and Irish players, nowadays they are found at the bottom edge of the Premier League and in the Championship which is no shame as they are good leagues, not quite the same as when Dalglish, Souness, Strachan, McAllister even Charlie Nicholas graced the best teams in the league, right now in the teams that finished in the Champions League places you can find, Darren Fletcher, Ryan Giggs, Jonny Evans, Darron Gibson, Gareth Bale and Robbie Keane who of course graced us with his presence in the SPL for half of this season, so out of the top 4 teams, only two of them had players from the other home nations and Ireland, and the list isn’t very long, what has gone wrong with British football.

The complaints also start “It’s those foreigners coming here for big money ruining our game…” Now there is part of this that’s true, the amount of foreigners that have come in has increased year after year and this has taken places away from British players, I have no problem with players the likes of Didier Drogba, Cesc Fabergas, Cristiano Ronaldo and the like, these players are at the top of their game and enhance the league in so many ways, the same as Brian Laudrup and Henrik Larsson did for the Scottish League, however I have a problem with teams bringing in mediocre European or South American players and they sit on the bench get a few minutes here or there and earn good money for the minutes they get, there are a few reasons why this happens.

# 1.Foreign players cost less.

 Look at West Ham this January brought in Benny McCarthy, Mido and Ilan all signed up to score goals.

Benny McCarthy – 5 games – 0 goals

Mido – 9 games – 0 goals

Ilan – 11 games – 4 goals

So 25 games between the 3 and only 4 goals scored, and luckily for West Ham they stayed up, Mido was on loan, Ilan was on a free, and McCarthy cost around £2.25 million, so they got 3 players for just over £2m and they got them 4 goals, around £500,000 not actually that bad a business deal without taking wages into account.

# 2. British Players cost too much

Steven Fletcher – 8 goals in 35 games for Burnley, personally think he had a great season, really stepped up from his days at Hibs and performed at a great level, but he only got 8 goals, and he has just moved to Wolves for £7 million, that’s a lot of money for someone had has a worse goals per game record than Ilan.

Ched Evans – 4 goals in 33 games for Sheffield United, there was great promise for this guy when he was at Manchester City, The Blades paid 3 million pound for Ched a big sum for an unproven player and not exactly the return you would hope.

What I’m trying to prove here is that even though everyone wants teams to play more English/British players it’s not always easy or cost effective, it’s easier to sign a foreigner pay less upfront and get a decent return, why shell out more money for a similar return just to help out the game.

It reminds me of the transfer of Roberto Rios from Real Betis to Athletic Bilbao, Rios was a decent defender but not brilliant, a few teams had shown an interest and were quoted about £4million, then Athletic Bilbao came in for Rios, Rios born in Bilbao interested the Bilbao side with their Basque only policy, Betis uses this to their advantage and charged Bilbao £9 million, a big jump from £4mil, however Betis took advantage of knowing Bilbao had a weakness with their policy.

I can see the same thing happening in England with this new 25 man squad quota with 8 home-grown players, either teams will buy foreign but earlier like Fabergas and bring them through, or the big clubs will get taken to the cleaners and charged extra for any English players they show an interest in, because the smaller teams know they need to buy English, It’s a vicious circle, and I’m not sure how you break it.

Poor Coaching

I think what the Premier League are trying to do with this rule is encourage teams to bring through their own players, develop them and therefore not need to buy expensive foreigners unless of course they are at the top of their game. All in all this is a good idea, however there needs to be a lot of changes to the way British football is run before we will see any effects, there have been many stats thrown about with the number of UEFA trained coaches in this country compared to the other top nations, it’s a disgrace that there are not more properly trained coaches, there is a great chapter in the book “The Italian Job” by Gabriel Marcotti and Gianluca Vialli about the famous Italian training centre, the name escapes me just now, but all coaches are made to go their for a 2 year course to learn the intricacies of the game and make sure they are fully prepared for life as a football manager, there needs to be something put in place like that in this country, don’t just give people like Gareth Southgate a job because he was a player, he should have been made to go away learn his trade and build his way up, and now he’s a pundit for ITV, not a successful career in management.

A few years ago I looked into doing a UEFA badge as a means of maybe getting a job a some level of football club, the price I found was £2000 compared the level 2 Basketball Coaches licesne I am soon to go for which costs £160 and will give me the ability to coach any Basketball team in Europe, just a little bit of a difference, so I don’t blame people for not jumping onto these course, so what are the other countries doing right that people are jumping on them, it’s not like the credit crunch only effected the United Kingdom, something is wrong somewhere.

When I was a kid playing football, training consisted of running, conditioning work more running and maybe at the end if you were good you got to play with the ball, I was picked at a Centre Half because I was fat, surely putting me against usually the best and fastest players upfront is not a good idea, I was actually better on the right as I had a decent right foot, once came on as a sub, set up two goals, next game I was back in the centre of defence.

The one thing I was told when playing at centre half was “if the ball comes to you, just hit it as hard as you can up the field!” what a genius my manager was.

Of course that was over 10 years ago and I really hope the standard and method of coaching has improved, from what I hear from Kids, Dads and some research etc for all the good coahces there are out there that are trying to play the game the right way, there are still a large majority that play the old fashioned way, pump the ball forward and chase after it

Basketball Priciples

Now I’m 28 so it’s been a while since my football days, however I have the honour right now of learning to be a Basketball Coach for Leeds Carnegie, been going for a year now, and It’s such a different mindset, we pride ourselves on player development, not on the results we get, we had an Boys U13, U14 and U15’s team and a U14 girls team, and out of the 4 teams we probably lost more games than we won, however we had 25 players go on to play for Yorkshire, which is a vindication of how we go about setting up our teams, they may not be the best teams but as individuals they are fundamentally sound and when they grow up to be 18/19 or older and hopefully go on to bigger and better things, they will be able to learn all the team principles they needs because they will have the fundamentals locked down.

From what I can see this is not what is taught in football, players will skill and individual talent are known as “greedy” “selfish” players and they need to be more team oriented, and the skill and expression is drilled out of them from the ages of 12/13 onwards then when they get to a higher level they all play the same way have the same British mentality, and yeah they might go on to be good footballers, however we will never see a player of the likes of Iniesta/Messi come through that system.

I am not saying the Basketball system is perfect as lots of teams don’t have the same principles that we do at Leeds, and most have a very “British” mentality, small players are bad, big and strong players are could, and they very quickly type cast players before they even develop, looking at the Dutch performance last night in the World Cup final looking at Van Bronckhorst got me thinking of his adaptability, started off if I’m right at Feyenoord and could play Right-Midfield, moved to Rangers, played more centrally, then onto Arsenal, became more of a fullback, then last night he started the World Cup Final at Left Back as the captain of his country, how many British players could have adapted like that, I like to think it’s the Dutch mentality of “Total Football” and interchanging positions that gave him the ability to adapt and continue his career, it seems players like James Milner that can play more than one position baffle the football hierarchy the ability to perform and multiple positions seems to hinder his chances at playing, a ridiculous notion a very British notion.

Size isn’t everything

While looking at the England Basketball website a few months ago I saw an advertisement for players interested in playing for England, the advert said something like, “If you are over 6’ 4’’ and would like to try out for the English team please register your interest here” Now I find that all wrong, you can have all the height in the world but no matter how tall you are, if you’ve not got it, you’ve not got it, what about the 6 foot 2 kid sat at home that reads that, wants to have a try, but because of his height no one will even look at him, what an awful thing to do, yes height is important, it is not the be all and end all, we have a kid who is 5 foot 8 and can touch the rim, and we have a 6 foot 3 kid that can reach the same height, the smaller kid is much the better basketball player and I have high hopes for him, he will need to grow though, however at 14 he’s got plenty of time.

We have got very lucky in the past 2 weeks a kid who is 15 his started coming to our team, he played in Sheffield last year, and stands at a huge 6 feet 8 inches tall, a coaches dream, has some knee problems but he can play, now the problem is at Sheffield he’s only been taught how to be a big man, moves under basket etc, Yes he is the biggest players in our team, however he won’t always be, at 18 he could be playing with two 7 foot giants and no longer able to play the big man, he’ll need to show what else he has, that’s why we teach all the kids the fundamentals of every position, we have a kid called Roshan, he’s that small when he wears the shorts it looks like he’s wearing trousers, however if you give him the ball under the basket he has the moves to outwit the biggest of defenders, now if this kid stretches to near 7 foot, he has the skill set to play any position he wants.

Now lets relate this back to football, look at the World Champions, Xavi, Iniesta, Pedro, Navas not the biggest players in the World, and I can guarantee if they had been British not a chance in hell they would have been allowed to play in the centre of midfield, they would have been classed as wingers, too small for midfield too small to be a striker, and they’re skill and artistry would have been lost to the game, and what a travesty that would have been, the same has happened with Joe Cole, great on the ball, lovely passer, where do England play him, Left midfield, personally I’d give him a role similar to Pedro for Spain let him come inside create things and you’d get the best of him, don’t confide him to the wings, the same principles apply to Cristiano Ronaldo an out and out winger, I remember when he scored a header at Euro 2004 the shock in the commentators voice, a winger won a header, surely not, overlooking the fact he’s 6 foot 1 and good in the air, the mindset of he’s a winger what’s he doing heading the ball.

Bright Future?

Lots of things have to change in this country, the coaching, the academies, the influx of foreign players, however before all that changes the one thing we need to change is the backward thinking that does and always will exist in this country, if nations like Uruguay and Slovenia both with tiny populations can achieve success on the greatest football stage, there is absolutely no reason that with the right structure England, Scotland even Wales and the Irish teams can’t achieve similar results.

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Neil Lennon – My thoughts

June 9, 2010 in Scotland

Finally after a long wait Neil Lennon was confirmed as Celtic’s new manager this morning at a Live Press Conference, there was no confirmation about his assistants the thoughts are that  ex-Celt Alan Thompson and ex-Leicester City teammate Gerry Parker, Johan Mjallby will be his assistants.

It had been the worst kept secret in football, weeks of stories linking Celtic to player targets with no one in charge just solidified to me the fact that Lennon would be Celtic’s number 1 for the upcoming season, the question now is, Is he the right man for the job? I don’t know to be honest. When Mowbray was picked I was happy, a Celtic man, plays good football and West Brom were a good team to watch, all things Celtic fans want from the team, and we all know how well he performed at Parkhead.

Tony just wasn’t the right man, tactically not confident, any press conference I watched or listened to he failed to inspire or give you confidence in what he was going to do, I’m sure the board had doubts too when January came around, however they backed him and let him rip apart the squad and bring in 13 new players, nothing wrong with making moves, in my opinion letting 2 experience centre backs go and bring in 2 young players is a very bad move, I like the look of Josh Thompson and Thomas Rogne, would they have not learned a lot more playing with Caldwell and McManus each day and not being thrust into an Old Firm derby.

Tony was then booted out after the disgraceful defeat to St-Mirren, not the result itself because the Buddies played us off the park, it’s the performance of the players and the choice made by Mowbray that sealed his fate, and he had to go.

Lennon had 8 games and 1 cup game to prove his ability and qualities and potential to become Celtic’s new manager, I think I watched 5 of the last 9 games under his leadership, the impression I got was the first thing the team wanted to do is win, forget the fancy football, get a clean sheet and score a goal, and although this is not the football Celtic fans want to see, it’s winning football and that should be good enough.

I missed the Cup game against Ross County as I was working, I listened to it on the radio and it sounded terrible from a Celtic view point, Ross County seemed to play fantastic though and I think it was more a factor of a poor performance and a great performance rather than just Celtic being awful, and it was good to see Lennon as annoyed as the fans by the player performances.

Lennon was never my first choice as manager, just don’t feel he has the experience to be the man in the hot seat, but now that he is in charge I am going to get behind him, there is no point being against him, if the board have picked him, we as a club and as fans need to give him 100%.

I have been quite excited by the players linked to the club, Liam Lawrence, Sol Campbell, Joe Ledley and a fit Jimmy Bullard would be exciting players to watch, I feel we really need to strengthen upfront but hoping that Morten Rasmussen gets his chance as he has always looked good when on the pitch.

Now Celtic’s summer can really begin with Lennon in place, it seems he has lots of targets in mind, and I hope the board back him and let Neil build his team; surely it has to be a better season than last, surely?????

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