Not quite there yet

Football breathed a huge sigh of relief last week when the Olympic Committee voted in favour of the West Ham bid to become the new tenants of the Olympic Stadium. There was widespread acceptance that the government and mad Boris will quickly sign off the documents required to make the decision official.

So, did they make the right decision? What now for Spurs? What now for Leyton Orient?

From a neutral stand point the Spurs bid was doomed to failure. Anyone not involved in football emotionally looking in could see two very clear points that gave Spurs little hope of winning the bid, namely:

1. Spurs are traditionally not from that part of London

2. The decision not to retain the track in the stadium

Although point one would entail some emotional response, generally it makes no sense to move the club from one borough to another, especially to one with which the club has shared so much animosity over the last few years. The Spurs fans outcry of rejection for the proposed move highlighted this.

The second point I think was more impactful, the Olympic Committee clearly outlined in its bid to win the Olympics that a stadium and facilities, from the Olympics will remain in place after the games on the site of the Olympics. I feel that AEG and the Spurs board grossly underestimated the issue, thinking that simply renovating a stadium in another part of London constituted an adequate substitute. Had the Olympic Committee taken the Spurs option the Olympic Games would have been dogged with accusations of broken promises and would have severely dented the reputation of the country globally as to being trustworthy and capable of fulfilling its promises.

There is no denying that Spurs would have made better tenants, the board spends money like its going out of fashion, one of the top four spenders on players consistently in the Premiership for the last ten years. They are financially sound thanks to a rich benefactor, and as such are unlikely to drop into lower league football.

West Ham on the other hand are a yo-yo club, narrowly avoiding relegation in the last few seasons and nearly going into administration thanks to some Icelandic banking issues. The issue is less can they fill the stadium as some have commented. At most home games the empty seats are in the sections of the away support, and there is a five-figure waiting list for season tickets. The real danger I feel is that the board do not manage the new venue effectively to keep the club afloat. I have some hope in that they created a fantastic business model at Birmingham, but this is a different kettle of fish and dare I say it maybe a bit more than they can handle.

So what of Leyton Orient? Barry Hearn is currently spending plenty of waking hours with his lawyers looking at how his club can leverage something from move. Clearly he feels that his club will lose local support (although Redknapp argued at a recent press conference in support of the Spurs move that most premier league clubs support come from outside any catchment area – this much is true) and this much could be true, I do feel for Orient and rightly so they should do everything they can to ensure their financial future. I do though feel that Leyton Orient could have been doing more to gather local support before now, their website looks like it has been designed by me one saturday afternoon in the pub, there are no offers or news on there of how they are interacting with the community – maybe I’m wrong but the perception doesn’t show anything to indicate that they have been actively looking for more local support, until now.

Most multi-sport venues in Europe have failed with the exception of maybe a couple in Italy, so the gauntlet is well and truly thrown at the door of messers Gold and Sullivan. Because it hasn’t succeeded on some occasions in other countries that does not in any way draw a line under it. I have been to stadia in Japan where the pitches are stored in separate buildings to the stadia kept in perfect conditions and wheeled in for the match. Hell, man landed on the moon forty years ago. It must be possible to overcome an 8 metre wide running track to make football an entertaining and atmospheric place to be – lets just hope they remember the fans as they fill their wallets.


What everyone knew all along but was afraid to ask

Quietly, in the background of many other government inquiries, the governance of the sport of Football is currently being put before a select committee of MPs. The aim? To resolve these five areas of the beautiful game

1. Should football clubs be treated any different from other commercial organisations?

2. Are the rules of governance fit for purpose?

3. Is there too much debt in British football?

4. Is the supporter trust shareholding scheme a good or bad thing?

5. Is government intervention required and in what should it take?

Now, there are some absolute no-brainers in there which the average ten-year old could give a very good insight into. Should football clubs be treated any differently? Of course not, but they are. Is there too much debt? Do bears crap in the woods. None of this is new even to the occasional football fan as well as the fanatics. What is different is that it is for the first time being debated in a government public inquiry. Will the powers that be in football take it seriously? Although the committee can only recommend rather than enforce anything, it is still a parliamentary committee and the football authorities would be somewhat naive to ignore completely anything that comes from it.

Lord Triesman was on the stand on the opening day and delivered a quite damning verdict on the state of football in the UK. Starting with an attack on FIFA, that regarding the failed World Cup bid:

“started on what turns out to be a completely false prospectus”

going on to say:

“When we set off on the bid there was a huge amount of encouragement from Fifa.

“(That was) because we could do it, create tremendous returns, organise events of those kind and handle security.

“Had they said at the time that the aim was to break into new territories, then I would have advised the FA board not to start in the first place.”

Then he moves onto the Premier League, where I am sure most seasoned football fans know there is a disconnect between the FA and them:

“It [the Premier League] is the ultimate authority in English football,”

“The decisions that really decide what is going to go on in English football are taken by the Premier League,”

“The control of the huge resources flows largely through them. It naturally enjoys a great deal of authority. But I have always thought that football is one sport.

“The interests have got to reach from Old Trafford right through to football played by kids organised in parks. You can’t have just one interest dominating it.

“They once described their relationship with us, the FA, to me as being in competition and their brand needed to dominate and that I think is how I see it.

“If you accept it, you live with a very, very weak Football Association that doesn’t really comply with FIFA’s regulations.”

Certainly, there are real concerns that the Premier League controls football more-so than the FA and that our games national association really has very little say in the governance of it. So would this lead to a black mark against point five above? This is where I get somewhat more concerned, government intervention in the running of football is expressly forbidden within FIFA rules, if the government is given a compelling case to intervene, would they? If they did would FIFA (based on previous rulings) then ban all British clubs from European competition? A scary thought for some of the Premier Leagues top clubs for sure, but if the Premier League has its way it will never get to that point, would it?


Is Bent worth it?

Headline of the day, for a change, focusing on another team in claret and blue in the guise of Aston Villa who have snapped up Darren Bent for a ‘bargain’ price of £18m rising to £24m based on performances.

Goalscorers are in modern football almost worth their weight in gold, rare as they are to find, a player who can convert more than 15 chances per season will prove invaluable to mid table teams and essential to most top teams. Aston Villa this season have been found wanting in this area and now find themselves in the bottom three.

Martin O’Neill left Villa days before the start of the season due to a falling out with Randy Lerner on the issue of a transfer budget. Now, whether that was because of poor previous signings its unclear but ultimately the money was there but Mr Lerner felt O’Neill couldn’t spend it well, on the other hand he has complete confidence in Houllier.

So, the question is, is Bent worth it?

His goal record speaks for itself, only Drogba and Rooney outscoring him last season and whilst their form has dipped this season Bent has continued to score freely for Sunderland. Aston Villa have wide players who I am sure can put a decent delivery into the box for Bent and he should flourish.

It is interesting, from my perception, that Bent does have a tendancy to go missing against the big teams, scoring most of his goals against the weaker sides. Only the 95th minute goal against Arsenal one of any merit this season. Additionally, despite the great aggregate scoring record he has over the years, only twice has he scored more than 15 goals in one season in the top division. I imagine there are more than a few eyebrows raised at that statistic, moreso than his goalscoring record I mentioned earlier I suspect.

Which is why I think Bent, despite his great record, simply isn’t worth the money in comparison to other more ‘complete’ players. He will get you goals against the mediocre sides and occasionally against the big sides but if Villa want to be top six again they need to be beating better teams and need a striker good enough to beat his marker. It’s a signing that should be enough to keep them up, but I don’t think will take them to the next level – something I am sure Harry Redknapp saw that in Bent as well.


The foolishness of Fabregas

Ipswich one, Arsenal nil. Anyone watching the game would argue that struggling Ipswich were well worth their win yet here we have the normally grounded Fabregas commenting, quite personally, on Ipswich and English based football and its ability to play the beautiful game.

 

“I don’t know if it is long ball or a rugby kick but it worked for them

In England a lot of teams create chances like that and it works.

We just have to put the ball on the floor and try to play football.”

Now, the first two comments sound something like a poor, non factual based rant. Every time Arsenal lose there seems to be some comment about the opposition not playing the game right, being over physical or this reference to long ball. This is unfair and quite frankly disrespectful of any opposition that beats Arsenal on the field of play, as if it is inconceivable that any team could out pass them and that they must have kicked the Arsenal players off the pitch to win.

The third comment is more to the point. That it was Arsenals fault they lost. They didn’t play the game in the way they have chosen to play it and Ipswich on the night were tactically on top.

Generally if football is played in its purist form similar to the manner that Arsenal do, then the team with most possession will have more opportunity to create chances, more chances means more goals which statistically gives you a better chance to win. A superior team that fails to do this against a team which by its own admission is not good enough to play the pure game and instead plays it somewhat differently but within the rules of the sport, has every bloody right to play it that way and win a game.

Lets not forget, this is the same club which in the 90’s quite happily employed the long ball and physical form of football with the likes of Alan Smith and Niall Quinn up front proving prolific. Even under Wenger’s successful reign as manager players such as Vieria and Petit quite happily took the physical approach to the opposition on a weekly basis.

The only people to blame are the eleven on the pitch who lost because on the night they simply didn’t perform, not the fault of the opposition or any form of football that they choose to play. Despite maturity beyond his years, I think Cesc still has a lot to learn in the English game.


Ballon d’Oh

On Monday night Lionel Messi stepped up, with some look of shock, to take the award for effectively Europes best player in the guise of the Ballon d’Or. The other two candidates in the running were Xavi Hernandez and Andreas Iniesta, both vying to become the first Spanish-born winners of the trophy, well for many a year.

I am in no doubt that Messi is a truly outstanding talent, one of the worlds best, but is still that, ‘one’ of the worlds best. Many are arguing deep into Monday night that Iniesta with his goal scoring performances for both Barcelona and world champions Spain should have won it, there are also the purists who believe the sublime talents of Xavi should have won. What seemed consistent that based on the previous 12 months both those players should have beaten Messi to the award.

So what happened?

There will always be a clamour for players from successful teams to win the award, hence the Spanish and Barcelona connections running through the final three candidates. In addition the voting is somewhat bizarre for this award in that it is a combination of team captains, team coaches and journalists. The inclusion of journalists in the vote will somewhat bias the results, and I suspect is what happened here.

I am sure most coaches and players were fearing the unstoppable form of Iniesta and Xavi in the last year more so than Messi’s weaving runs which seemed to dwindle somewhat compared to his own world-class standards. The journalists though have a much different view, they like the ‘darling’ of football, the dream player, the one that every once in a while can do something amazing that they can then hack on about. For a manager that is something you respect but do not fear, what you do fear is the frighteningly consistent opposition player who plays superb week in week out.

The vote itself wasn’t a landslide, Messi 22% Iniesta 17% Xavi 16%. You couldn’t win a general election with those scores.

Coming back to an initial observation I made about players that are very visible (in cup finals, winning championships) being more prevalent in these types of awards, I am utterly stunned that Wesley Sneijder was not in the last three. A league winner, national cup winner, european cup winner and World Cup finalist whose all round game is simply world-class was ignored. I feel there was a little bit of the dreamy Barcelona/Spain voting going on amongst some of the coaches and captains too and that is a shame for one of the top three players in Europe.


Managers, Managers, Media

Its January, a time when usually its players contracts are usually the subject of speculation but more increasingly its become the unofficial transfer window for the managers also. Club owners who are displeased with their managers performance over the last few months are becoming more and more prone to switching them now and hoping that the incoming guy will transform their very average squad into world beaters.

I read a couple of headlines in the free paper this morning, firstly about Ian Holloway and secondly about Avram Grant. In the first instance Holloway has been criticized for playing a weakened team in the FA Cup losing to Southampton. How dare he not focus on the Cup. Secondly I read that Grant has been criticized for claiming to be focusing on the cup rather than contemplating issues in the league.

Putting aside the issue that the headline about Grant was completely out of context, really the hypocrisy in the press just seems to increase year by year, even in the “copy and paste” reporting of the free papers. No wonder owners are stressing at this time of year when the media are taking press releases and manipulating them to look at sensationalist as possible.

So, inevitably we come on to Hodgson. Overall the position of Liverpool in the league is poor by their standards, although you could argue it has been coming and any new manager coming in days before the start of the season with no funds to buy cannot be expected to turn out a top 4 club. Liverpool have been a fading force, coinciding with Gerrard’s lessening impact on the game (although not on Carricks shins) and Torres’s injury problems. Benetiz was fortunate to have his key players firing on all cylinders for most of his tenure but it was his failure to build around those players over many seasons that inevitably led to Hodgsons on the field problems. It was Benitez’s legacy, or lack of it, that is causing the problems we see now at Liverpool. They need more than just four months to turn the club around, more like four years.

Alex Ferguson’s first three seasons in charge of Man Utd resulted in finishes in the league of 11th, 3rd and 11th once again, would the current Liverpool board have stood for that?


Beckham, well deserved

…on David Beckham and his award for lifetime achievement.

It was 1998 against Argentina that so much was at stake, the nation wanted to win that game more than anything. The bars and pubs were full to the rim, Owen scored that wonder goal and Campbell had a perfectly good goal disallowed, what a game. But the result, or the game meant nothing as a sweeping tide of pure hatred swept the country, Beckham was utterly vilified by fans, the press and anyone who had anything to say on the matter.

I still remember to this day effigies of him being strung up from pub signs in east London. What was amazing looking back was how he never in any way reacted to any of the hatred, criticism and general nastiness that was directed to him. He never ducked an interview, never shirked a challenge in a game under huge fan pressure and hell didn’t even launch himself kung fu style into the crowd. In effect it was this maturity and honesty that we saw in his acceptance of the lifetime award.

How we just didn’t know what this kid from Leytonstone, David Robert Joseph Beckham, would bring to the national game over the subsequent decade. In particular one attribute that is sadly lacking right now, passion to play for his country.

Beckham has a quite amazing ability to cross a football, without needing to beat his fullback quite often took a brilliant first touch to set the ball then hitting it with tremendous curl in behind defences. It is though his goals which I always remember and here are my top three for your viewing pleasure:

Goal THREE vs Wimbledon 1996 – Just breaking into the side, it takes a player with incredible confidence to take on a shot like this when you have so much class around you also wanting the ball.

Goal TWO vs Argentina 2002 – ONLY a penalty. Not about the quality but about the mental toughness, the willingness to put yourself in that situation under massive pressure and of course the celebration something similar to Stuart Pearce’s celebrations after he converted his penalty vs Spain and exocised his particular demons. This is what it means to play and succeed with England.

Goal ONE vs Greece 2001 – The journey from hated figure to footballing god complete in the blink of an eye in this qualifier. It’s one of those times where you will always remember where you were. I was in a small bar in Kenya surrounded by England supporting Kenyans and a bunch of rather aggressive Scots who were enjoying Englands apparent demise. England won the freekick with seconds to go at 2-1 down and had to score. It was way out, 30 yards or so but it didn’t matter we just knew, just knew it would go in. Even the Scots piped down their abuse for a minute to watch. It was a quite brilliant freekick, fizzing over the wall and swerving hugely as it thumped the back of the net as the keeper stood rooted to the ground and could only watch.

The resulting celebration said it all for me, what England SHOULD be about, how the passion should fire through your veins, how you should want to beat the opposition using your last ounce of strength until you are about to drop. And when you do, you celebrate it like its your last day on earth.

Thank you David Beckham OBE, the country hated you once, but you never hated them for it. I only wish some of that would rub off on those players who find current England games an “inconvenience”.


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