One On One with: Steven Caldwell

Football in its’ purest sense is about winning games and scoring goals. The need therefore for a quality striker is undeniable yet when it comes to building a team, most managers will build from the back with the belief that you keep a clean sheet and don’t concede then you stand a better chance of winning. Usually they turn to a formidable figure at centre half, one like our next interviewee, former Scotland defender Steven Caldwell. Over a 20 year playing career which saw Caldwell play for Newcastle, Birmingham, Burnley, Toronto FC and his national side, Caldwell became known as a no nonsense, reliable centre half who over the course of his career evolved into a natural leader both on and off the pitch.

image

Now retired, Caldwell is using his knowledge and experiences in the game to forge ahead in his new career as an analyst for TSN in Canada where he now resides. I caught up with him recently in Toronto to discuss his time as a player, what it was like playing for Roberto Martinez and why he is looking forward to the World Cup in 2026. Enjoy!

Check out the full interview here:

With thanks again to Steven Caldwell. Check out Steven on TSN or on Instagram and on Twitter.

Share your thoughts and follow us now on Facebook: BackOfTheNetBlog, on Twitter: @BOTN_soccer & Instagram: @backofthenet_soccer

One On One with: Mikael Forssell

In life there are times when you get a sense about someone who you talk with; a moment when you realize that their story might not be finished yet. Mikael Forssell’s career as a footballer was exceptional – his goalscoring feats for club and country remembered fondly. But now retired, Mikael is embarking on the next chapter of his story, focused solely on self development and gaining momentum towards the path well travelled into football management. It’s a path he was destined to take, one he has been learning for his entire career, and one that I am sure he will be successful in, much like he was as a player. Forssell epitomizes the next generation of football managers and coaches that are set to emerge. He is smart, well educated, passionate and level headed and sees football differently, having witnessed it firsthand progress over the past two decades or so from the old fashioned sport draped in legacy, to the evolving game embracing technology and ideas at a frightening speed. I caught up with him recently to talk about his career, both past and future.

Back of The Net: Football appears to be a key part of your family with both your father (Bengt Forssell) and older sister (Christina) joining you in representing Finland. Do you think you were always destined to play professionally?

Mikael Forssell: I think so! I fell in love with the ball at an early age and of course when you already “have that expertise” in the house it was very natural that my sport was going to be football.

BOTN: I see that you were born in Germany. Was that because your dad was playing there? When did you move back to Finland?

MF: My dad was working in Germany at the time and I was born during that time. We moved away from Germany when I was only 1 and a half to Sweden for my dad’s work and afterwards to Finland (both my parents are Finnish) when I was 4 years-old.

Image from Mikael Forssell Twitter)

BOTN: You joined HJK’s youth development team and eventually played your way into the first team, but then left on a free after only one season. What happened there?

MF: I was always interested in moving abroad at an early age. I believed at the time that I would develop better as a footballer if I joined a team in Europe. Luckily there were some chasing me at the time, and eventually I chose Chelsea. Also, maybe HJK Helsinki’s “transfer department” could have played my contract situation slightly better on their terms.

BOTN: Given how things turned out over your seven years at Chelsea with the difficulties you faced in getting a consistent run in the first team, and the numerous loan moves, do you have regrets about moving there when you did?

MF: Absolutely not! That is football! I still had amazing times and moments at Chelsea, which I’m very proud of, and also I have fond memories of people that are still working there. My dream is to go back working there one day.

No regrets for Forssell about his time at Chelsea (Image from Tumblr)

BOTN: Chelsea has a reputation for acquiring a lot of talented youngsters from across the world and farming them out to their various feeder clubs for development purposes. Last season they had an incredible 38 players out on loan. Do you agree with this approach? Do you think it’s fair on the players themselves?

MF: I think no player can argue what the situation will/could be at Chelsea when they are signing. It is an honour for a player to sign for such a big club. The fact is that that’s football business and there are only a limited number of players and teams in the top flight. Only the best will survive. Of course, in an ideal world all would get a chance, but unfortunately that is not football.

BOTN: After spells at Crystal Palace and Borussia Monchengladbach on loan, you decided to move permanently to Birmingham City following a loan period there. I believe that you turned down a move to Bayern Leverkusen to make that switch. What was it that appealed about Birmingham at that time?

MF: I was almost about to sign for Bayer Leverkusen but in the final moment Birmingham made a move for me. I had only just returned from a successful spell from the Bundesliga and thought that I needed to play a full season in the Premier League. Birmingham had a very good team that season and it was such a pleasure to play in that attacking minded team.

Arguably his most successful time at a club was  at Birmingham (Image from Tumblr)

BOTN: Birmingham proved to be one of the most successful moves of your career. Why do you think it proved so fruitful?

MF: The manager at the time, Steve Bruce, had a great atmosphere in the team and many players had played in bigger teams and were all hungry to show that they were great players that were let go. Everything fell into place that season and I formed a great partnership with Clinton Morrison, who I had played alongside at Crystal Palace earlier in my career.

BOTN: You returned to Germany with a move to Hannover which seemed to be a perfect fit for you. But it proved to be a difficult time in your career, both with injuries and lack of form, but also emotionally when the club lost its captain and goalkeeper Robert Enke, who sadly took his own life. How difficult was it for the squad in the months following Enke’s passing? Do you think enough is being done in football to support players with mental illness and depression?

MF: It’s only now that depression is being talked about. To the outside world it might look like we as footballers “have it all”. It is a fact that we are very privileged people in this world, but the fact is, depression doesn’t look at age, face, color, status…basically nothing. And even for myself, who has never suffered depression, it has been hard to understand what it is, but now after reading a lot about it and seeing it close by, it is a horrible illness. The good thing is that help is more available these days, but I still think players in some sense need courage to come out and admit it and it should not be like that.

Gone but never forgotten – Robert Enke (Image from Tumblr)

BOTN: After Germany, you returned to England to play for Leeds before heading home to HJK. Was it always the plan to return back to the club where it all started? Was it easier to go back given your status as an iconic part of the Finnish national team?

MF: I actually didn’t go to Finland to “ease off football”. I went there to prove a point that I could still score goals. I scored 14 goals that season and next season earned a move to Bochum, which was 2nd Bundesliga.

BOTN: You are the 2nd highest goal scorer of all time for Finland behind the great Jari Litmanen. What did you learn from playing alongside Litmanen? Do you think you complemented each other?

MF: He was the perfect partner in crime at his peak. He was always looking forward and seeing my runs…runs that only a few could see. He fed me balls constantly from every area of the pitch and when he eventually dropped out of the team it was harder for me to get the balls.

Now a legend in Finland (Image from Mikael Forssell’s Instagram)

BOTN: Finland has never managed to qualify for a major international tournament. Why do you think that is? Do you think the new Nations League will give Finland a better chance of qualifying?

MF: I hope the Nations League is a gateway although it is not an easy process either. I think we have lacked an identity for a couple of years now and also the quality of players is currently not strong enough. We have great players in the team but the team is not broad enough.

BOTN: Since retiring you have completed an MBA in Sports Management and are now working towards getting your UEFA A licence. I know that you have ambitions to be a manager one day. What type of manager do you think you will be?

MF: I finished my MBA in Sports Management this summer. And yes, I am working on the UEFA A license too. I believe I am good with people and want to get the best out of every player. I would be demanding but rewarding and I would play football that defends on the opposition side of the pitch and plays quickly forwards after winning the ball. A mix of Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp! I call it Ploppo! [laughs]

Meet Ploppo! Forssell is on track to complete his UEFA A licence soon (Image from Mikael Forssell’s Instagram)

BOTN: For a striker, is it more difficult to adapt to a club’s tactics and formations following a move than say a defender? I would imagine that there is more pressure on you to adapt quicker and start scoring goals than your defensive teammates?

MF: Well, I guess all have pressure but for a striker you are dependent of the passes of your teammates. If they for any reason can’t find you it will be very difficult to score so in that sense, yes there is more pressure!

BOTN: Finally, some quick hits: favourite international goal?

MF: First goal against Germany in the 2001 World Cup qualifiers where I went around Oliver Kahn and slotted it in the empty net.

BOTN: Proudest moment(s)?

MF: Being part of the Chelsea Premier League winning team in 2005 and the season in Birmingham where I netted 19 goals in the 03/04 season.

BOTN: Hardest opponent you faced?

MF: Vincent Kompany.

Thank you Mikael, and good luck with your UEFA A license!

Follow Mikael on Twitter and Instagram

Share your thoughts and follow us now on Facebook: BackOfTheNetBlog, on Twitter: @BOTN_soccer & Instagram: @backofthenet_soccer

One on One with: Liam Ridgewell

To play the role of captain, you need to have confidence, determination and a natural ability to lead.  Liam Ridgewell has all three. He may have started his career back in England with Aston Villa, Birmingham and West Brom., but it’s in Portland, USA where he now leads by example. As captain of the Portland Timbers, Ridgewell has established himself as one of the most reliable defenders in the MLS and has fast become a vital cog in Portland’s machine, leading them to the MLS Cup. We caught up with him recently to find out how things are going in the Pacific North West, and how it all began.

BackOfTheNet: Liam, thank you for sitting down with us today.

BackOfTheNet: Not many people will know that you actually started your career at West Ham in their youth academy before leaving to join Aston Villa. As a Londoner, what was the reason behind that switch?

Liam Ridgewell: At the time their youth system was flooded with a lot of talent coming through already, e.g. Rio Ferdinand, Michael Carrick, Joe Cole. So, my path to the first team would’ve been very tough and felt I needed to change as I had been there since the age of 8. Being a London boy, it was a very tough decision to leave. That’s when I went up to Aston Villa at the age of 15.

BOTN: How would you sum up your time at Aston Villa?

LR: I couldn’t have asked for much more, coming through the ranks at Aston Villa. It’s a place that is obviously very special to me, giving me the chance to fulfil my dream and I’ll always be thankful. My time spent their playing, I loved every minute of it, but by the end of it, not playing regularly as I had been under previous managers, I couldn’t sit back and watch, so felt I needed the move to keep my football career progressing. That’s when my move to Birmingham materialized.

2018-06-26_10-20-18

Liam made the break though at Villa (Image from Liam Ridgewell Instagram)

BOTN: How do you feel now when you read about the financial difficulties they are having?

LR: Tough to read about their financial difficulties, obviously the relegations have been a big hit on the club, something you never want to see, especially for a club that gave you your chance. I hope they can figure out a way to get themselves right and back in the big time where they deserve to be.

BOTN: You are one of a few players to have moved from Villa to Birmingham. Did you have any hesitation in joining them due to the rivalry?

LR: Yes, I did have hesitation due to the big rivalry and I had to think about it very strongly, more for family reasons. But in needing to carry on with my progression in my career, Steve Bruce was a tough manager to turn down, given how good of a player he was in his playing career, and to spend time with him and learn, it helped me a lot. Once I had made the decision I was fully committed and loved my time there. My decision was not based on the rivalry but based on the progression of my career and being able to play week in and week out. I feel that helped with the fans and the rivalry because I think they understood why I made the switch.

560px-Liam_Ridgewell_cropped.jpg

Ridgewell during his Birmingham days (image from Liam Ridgewell Instagram)

BOTN: You had an interesting time at Birmingham with various ups (League Cup win, being named captain) and some downs (leg break, relegation). What are your underlining memories of those years? How did you cope with the highs and lows?

LR: Some unbelievable career highs with Birmingham was none other than winning the league cup against Arsenal. It’s a memory that will always stay with me as it was such a big achievement for us as players and us as a club. Being named captain at the age of 22 was a hugely proud moment for me as I never expected it at such a young age as we had some great senior players there. Coping with the pressure of that is something that I loved and took in my stride, and that is just the type of person that I am. Being the captain of a club is a big honour and responsibility.

Relegation was the biggest low in my career as we were such a good team and building a brilliant squad. I know everybody says it, but we were too good to go down and to this day I still think what kind of team we may have been if we had stayed up and managed to keep all the boys there. Breaking my leg was very tough but sometimes that’s what football brings and you have to stay mentally strong to make sure you come back from it stronger and better.

BOTN: Portland made you an offer when you became a free agent in the summer of 2014, but I’ve read you had a couple of other options on the table. What made you move to the US?

LR: Yes, I had other options to stay in the UK but after my time at West Brom. I felt I needed a change to revive my love for the game and found it when I came to the Timbers.

2018-06-26_10-21-06

In training for Portland (Image from Liam Ridgewell Instagram )

BOTN: Are you disappointed that the MLS still has a somewhat negative, if naive, perception back home?

LR: I think a lot of people have not watched enough of the MLS to be able to give an opinion, so the more it’s televised the bigger it will become. There is definitely still a way to go for the MLS to capture some of the audience back home.

BOTN: I saw an interview you did recently where you talked about your life in Portland with the house on the lake, etc. Does Portland now feel like home, or do you still harbour desires to go back to England?

LR: Portland life is fantastic and I’ve really enjoyed living here. It’s made the move all the easier for me and my family, but I still have desires to come back home to play before I decide to hang up my boots.

BOTN: At several of the clubs you have played for, you have been named as captain. What qualities do you think you have that makes you a natural choice for leader? Do you think that a player’s position (i.e., centre half vs striker) should come into consideration when choosing a captain?

LR: No, if you have the qualities to be a captain it doesn’t matter where you play in the pitch. Personally, for me, a captain leads by example, helps people even if that person isn’t having a good game, and enjoys being the captain. And being heard 24/7 may have helped my case [laughing].

2018-06-26_10-24-02

Captain Ridgewell (Image from Liam Ridgewell Instagram)

BOTN: Is centre half your most comfortable position? We have seen you play there, but also at left back, and as a holding midfielder throughout your career.

LR: Yes, that’s where I have played most throughout my career and feel comfortable, but my time spent at left back at the back end of my time at Birmingham and at West Brom. I really did enjoy as it allowed me to be more involved in the attacking side of the game, roaming forward from left back and getting myself a goal every now and again at the back stick.

BOTN: How important is it for a player to be adaptable?

LR: Adaptability is good, but for myself I prefer to be set at one position at a club as then I know my role and can perform to my best.

BOTN: Thinking back on your entire career, what do you think is your stand out moment – being capped for England at under 21 level? Winning the league cup for Birmingham? Or the MLS Cup as captain for Portland?

LR: My most stand out moment was being capped at under 21 level and captain for my country.

BOTN: Let’s talk swimwear and in particular your company Thomas Royall that you started with Sam Saunders and John Terry. How did that come about?

LR: Myself and Sam had been talking about ideas for after football to keep us busy and came up with many, but one day Sam came up with an idea, after visiting many pool parties one summer, of starting a swimwear range. I loved the idea and so we started brainstorming on looks and designs. We then brought in a team and with our head designer, Laura Moore, we haven’t looked back and formed what you now know as Thomas Royall. John became part of the Thomas Royall team after shopping for swim shorts online for his holiday and simply loving the brand and wanting to be a part of it. This year we released the new women’s and girl’s line and still have many more ideas pending for SS19.

2018-06-26_10-19-45

Business venture with Saunders (m) and Terry (r) – Thomas Royall

BOTN: Finally, some quick-fire questions: Most complete player you played with?

LR: Gareth Barry, my time spent with him at Aston Villa.

BOTN: Hidden gem in the MLS?

LR: Darlington Nagbe who plays for Atlanta now.

BOTN: What will you do after retiring?

LR: After retiring I’m looking to go into management, but obviously with Thomas Royall going from strength to strength each year, that is something we set up for life after football.

Thanks again Liam! Good luck with the rest of the season and congratulations on the arrival of your baby girl!

For great swimwear options for this summer, check out Thomas Royall 

Share your thoughts and follow us now on Facebook: BackOfTheNetBlog, on Twitter: @BOTN_soccer & Instagram: @backofthenet_soccer

Football Mourns The Passing Of Legend Dave MacKay

Football mourns the passing of Dave MacKay (Image from S&G and Barratts/Emipics Sports)Football in Britain during the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s was not for the faint hearted. Characters like Billy Bremner, Norman “Bites yer legs” Hunter and Ron “Chopper” Harris ruled the game with their harsh brand of fearful football. Talent players they were but they were also notorious for crunching tackles and dirty challenges which helped them to be successful. However one player who had tremendous success during these times was harshly portrayed as a bully simply because of a single photo. The picture of Dave MacKay grabbing Billy Bremner shirt and holding him up during a clash between MacKay’s Tottenham and Bremner’s Leeds in 1966 painted MacKay as one of these football hard men but it was far from the truth. Yes MacKay was known for his tough approach to the game but it was his self drive and strong will to be successful that made him into the player he was. Scotsman MacKay became a legend during his playing days and he will be remembered as such as people mourn his passing today after the former Tottenham, Derby, Hearts and Scotland midfielder died aged 80.

MacKay and Bremner in the now legendary photo  (Image from Mirrorpix)

MacKay and Bremner in the now legendary photo
(Image from Mirrorpix)

MacKay was always destined to be a footballer, after growing up on the back streets of Edinburgh with a football glued to his feet. There was only ever one club that MacKay wanted to join and despite the interest from others, he finally became a Hearts player in 1953 much to his delight. Little did they know that in doing so, Hearts had managed to sign someone who would redefine the way that they played. Under the management of Tommy Walker and with MacKay installed as captain, Hearts won their first of two Scottish league titles, first in 1958 and then two years later in 1960. The first triumph earned Hearts a spot in the record books after they won the league with 62 points on the board and 132 goals scored. It would be the making of MacKay who bossed the Hearts midfield with the grit and determination that he would later be known for. MacKay would only stay with Hearts for a further season, eventually leaving his boyhood club to join Tottenham in 1959 in a move that would help MacKay secure legendary status.

Dave MacKay made only 22 appearances for Scotland, mostly due to injuries  (Image source unknown)

Dave MacKay made only 22 appearances for Scotland, mostly due to injuries
(Image source unknown)

Over the next nine years, MacKay would etch himself into Spurs folklore as a fan favourite, the tough tackling Scottish midfield general who was afraid of no-one. With MacKay in place as the heartbeat of the club Spurs won the league in 1961, three FA cups in ‘61, ‘62 and ‘67 and the European Cup Winners Cup in ‘63 beating Altetico Madrid in the final, a game MacKay unfortunately missed due to injury. It was during this time that the fateful image of MacKay standing up to Bremner was taken, a picture that has haunted him ever since. Upon leaving Tottenham, MacKay linked up with Brian Clough at Derby in a move that would see the player converted from his traditional role as a central midfield general to a no nonsense sweeper using his influence and ability to read the game to turn defence into attack. It worked perfectly with Derby winning promotion back to the first division and MacKay being named the FWA footballer of the Year. Having won 22 caps for Scotland over a eight year period (mostly curtailed by injury) including an appearance at the 1958 World Cup age was now starting to catch up with the player. Now 37, MacKay decided to leave Derby for one final season at Swindon in another move that would change his career for the better.

The move would kick start MacKay’s time as a manager first at Swindon then at Nottingham Forest and eventually back at Derby following the resignation of Clough. It was at Derby that he would win his only honours as a manager, lifting the First Division title in the 1974-75 season and the FA Charity Shield in 1975. Later roles at Walsall, Doncaster and Birmingham would follow with a nine spell in Kuwait in between. His final roles back in the Middle East with Zamalek and Qatar failed to bring any further success so MacKay at aged 63 decided to call it a day. Despite limited success as a manager, MacKay’s time as a player had already cemented his place as a football legend and that legacy is being remembered today. The great George Best called him “the bravest player he had ever played against” whilst his former club Tottenham called him “one of their greatest ever players and a man who never failed to inspire those around him”. A leader, a gentleman and a legend, MacKay will be remembered not for that photo but instead for the player he was and rightly so.

If you liked this post, please repost or retweet. Share your thoughts now on Facebook: https://facebook.com/BackOfTheNetBlog  or on Twitter: https://twitter.com/BOTNBlog

Almunia Forced Into Retirement Due To Heart Condition

Manuel Almunia has been forced to retire due to a heart condition (Image from Getty)

The news that Manuel Almunia has retired from the game probably raised few eyebrows given the long successful career that he has had. At aged 37 he was in the twilight of his career and after being released by Watford at the end of last season, many assumed that his body had caught up with him and he could no longer perform at the highest level. But in fact Almunia was days away from signing a contract with Serie A side Cagliari and looking forward to the next chapter in his career. It wasn’t until Almunia finalized terms and started a routine club medical that a problem arose. The Cagliari doctors detected something wrong with Almunia’s heart and sent him for further test to confirm their worst fears. The former Arsenal keeper had been diagnosed with a heart condition known as HCM (or Apical hypertrophic cardiomyopathy) which is a disease of the heart tissue that causes it to thicken and can lead to sudden death.

Apical hypertrophic cardiomyopathy causes a thickening of the heart wall  (Image from Wikipedia)

Apical hypertrophic cardiomyopathy causes a thickening of the heart wall
(Image from Wikipedia)

It’s a shocking revelation that has rocked the player and forced him into earlier than expected retirement. However it’s a condition that cannot be treated lightly with several other players having died from this or similar heart related conditions in recent years. Most will remember the stories of Marc Vivien Foe, Antonio Puerta, Miklos Feher and Phil O’Donnell who all collapsed on the pitch and died. Bolton midfielder Fabrice Muamba would have joined this list too if it wasn’t for a quick thinking doctor in the stands who noticed the signs and ran to his aid. Muamba collapsed during the FA cup game between Bolton and Tottenham in March 2012 after suffering cardiac arrest. Luckily for the former Arsenal and Birmingham player, consultant cardiologist Dr. Andrew Deaner was at the match watching his team, Spurs when he saw Muamba slump down in the middle of the pitch. After gaining permission from the stewards, he ran onto the pitch and helped the player. Deaner’s actions on the pitch gave Muamba a chance of survival and ultimately saved his life. Today the former player is now studying to become a journalist, with thanks to Dr. Deaner.

Fabrice Muamba and the doctor who saved him, Dr Andrew Deaner  (Image from Getty)

Fabrice Muamba and the doctor who saved him, Dr Andrew Deaner
(Image from Getty)

All five did not know that they had the condition as many don’t until it’s too late. Before Muamba’s incident, heart screening was not a mandatory part of the routine medical, deemed unnecessary by some and too expensive by others but given the consequences, neither argument holds water. UEFA to date has not enforced a policy of screening, mostly deferring to the local football associations for a ruling for their leagues in an attempt to distance itself from any player deaths. Most leagues let the clubs and their doctors determine the need and given the cost of the screening for each player, smaller sides with lower net revenues are forced to perform the tests. This means that the level of screening across football varies from extensive to nonexistent, putting players at risk. The hearts of professional athletes in particular are worked extremely hard given the amount of exercise and running that they must do day in day out, which places further pressure on the organ. For this reason, most athletes like Alumina diagnosed with this condition are advised against continuing their sport and told to avoid strenuous activities to minimize the risk. It’s a bitter pill to swallow for many but most understand it is the only action they can take to save their own lives. Manuel Alumina knows he is lucky and after having a successful career is now facing up to life as an ex footballer. Whilst not being able to play the sport he loves will be tough, being healthy and spending his later years with his family and friends is more important to him than the beautiful game.

Share your thoughts below or on Facebook: www.facebook.com/BackOfTheNetBlog or Twitter: https://twitter.com/BOTNBlog. You can now follow us on Tumblr and Instagram as well!

Calls For The Rooney Rule To Be Introduced To English Football Intensify

Chris Hughton (Image from AP)With the pressure mounting on Alan Pardew at Newcastle, the clubs fans are looking towards who could potentially become their next manager. A familiar name keeps reappearing on the fan blogs that of former boss Chris Hughton with speculation about whether he could return to the club to save it from its current predicament. Hughton has established himself as one of the game’s best managers after successful spells at Newcastle, Birmingham and Norwich but finds himself now unemployed and struggling to find a job. Why such a talented manager is struggling is unknown but there is a growing concern that Hughton may be discriminated against due to the colour of his skin. On a recent Football Focus Forum segment, former players Paul Ince and Dion Dublin joined hosted Dan Walker to discuss the issues of a lack of black managers in the English game.

Paul Ince wants the Rooney rule introduced  (Image from Getty)

Paul Ince wants the Rooney rule introduced
(Image from Getty)

Ince, who has managed at Blackburn and Blackpool recently, wants to see the introduction the “Rooney Rule” which is used in the NFL. Named after Dan Rooney, the owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, the rule was established to ensure that minority coaches, especially African Americans were considered for high level coaching positions. Whilst it doesn’t mandate teams to interview a set amount of minority coaches, it actively encourages clubs to not discriminate on any level during the hiring process of its coaching staff. The rule has had a significant impact since its introduction in 2003 with the overall percentage of African American coaches jumping to 22% from 6% prior to the Rooney Rule being implemented.

Pittsburgh Steelers owner, Dan Rooney  (Image from JEFF HAYNES/AFP/Getty Images)

Pittsburgh Steelers owner, Dan Rooney
(Image from JEFF HAYNES/AFP/Getty Images)

Ince’s comments come on the back of interview with PFA chief executive Gordon Taylor who suggested that there is a hidden resistance preventing black managers from getting jobs in English football. He too is pushing for the Rooney Rule to be discussed as an option for how to tackling what he sees as a growing problem affecting the game. It’s an issue that warrants discussion based on the fact that only two managers (Keith Curle and Chris Powell) out of a possible 92 in the English leagues are of colour.  Taylor has been critical of the Chairman of the Football League, Greg Clarke saying that if he is unwilling to bring up this rule for further discussion at their next annual general meeting then the government should intervene to help instill a greater equality in football at all levels of the English game. Clarke is facing increased pressure to resign with former players like Jason Roberts and Garth Crooks calling for him to go following his failure to bring it up at the last general meeting in 2013. Tackling this issue head on rather than ‘sweeping it under the carpet” as Paul Ince calls it should ensure change is made at the highest level and in turn should give not only black candidates but other minorities a fair shot as jobs in football. Any coaching appointments, including manager positions should be done based solely on the  suitability, qualifications and experience of the candidate with no thought or consideration to race, sex, religion or disability in the decision.

Jason Roberts is backing calls for change  (Image from Getty)

Jason Roberts is backing calls for change
(Image from Getty)

Racism and prejudice based on colour has no place in the game and if this is happening as clubs decide who should be their next manager then it needs to be investigated and action taken. However proving this is the case is extremely difficult unless physical evidence is obtained with the decisions of who to be appointed usually falling to either the owner or another senior member of the clubs management team. In their search for a new manager, Fulham have taken a different approach by appointing a committee of five people, including former players Danny Murphy, Niall Quinn and Brian McBride to screen and interview all candidates before making a final recommendation to owner Shahid Khan. It’s a novel approach but one that may work as this approach should even the playing field for all the candidates and ensures that the club hires the best person for the job based on skill set and qualifications rather than the opinion of one individual. Ince, Dublin and Roberts all agree that any black coach that is applying for any position in the game must have the right qualifications and must have done the necessary coaching badges to be considered. But they argue that if they do, they should be given the same odds of getting the role as anyone else. In no way are they suggesting or demanding that more black managers be hired, but only to be given the same consideration as other candidates. The introduction of a rule similar to that of the Rooney Rule would help pave the way for a more transparent and open recruitment process, with the hope that it has the same impact as it has had in the NFL.

Share your thoughts with us now on Facebook: www.facebook.com/BackOfTheNetBlog or on Twitter: https://twitter.com/BOTNBlog

Sunderland Legend Super Kev Hangs Up His Boots

The Evergreen striker - Kevin Phillips (Image from Getty)If you ever needed a striker to rely on then Kevin Phillips was your man. Recruited by 10 clubs over a span of 23 years, achieving 5 promotions and bags of Premier League goals he was a goal machine. But now the veteran striker is packing it in. After winning the Championship with Leicester City, Phillips has opted to join the coaches on the side-line. The 40 year old will play in his 652nd game this weekend against Doncaster as he and the Foxes say farewell to the second tier of football after climbing back into the top flight after their 10 year absence. For Phillips it has all been done before. The vast of amount of his success was achieved with Sunderland where he spent 6 years and won the Golden Boot in 2000 scoring 30 goals, seven more than Alan Shearer. Quite an achievement given that he was competing against some of Europe’s greatest ever hitmen for the award – Raul, Crespo, Batistuta, Schevchenko and Kluivert.  With the Black Cats, Phillips scored 116 goals in 211 appearances and is still the last Englishman to win the top goal scorer award.

Golden Boy - Europe's best Striker  (Image from Getty)

Golden Boy – Europe’s best Striker
(Image from Getty)

Following this, the striker moved to St Mary’s scoring 22 goals before switching from the Seaside to the Midlands. Here, Phillips played for Aston Villa, WBA and then Birmingham City. Most of his success around Birmingham was achieved at the Hawthorns where he scored 38 goals and made a notable impact in the team’s Championship title charge in 2008. After spending as long at St Andrews as he did in West Brom, he was unable to match his scoring record after scoring 19 in 69 appearances with the Blues. He was fading out yet he wasn’t out of favour. Phillips kicked on and breathed life into clubs on the hunt for promotion. He was a dependable goal scorer and was highly regarded by the managers he went to play under.

Phillips helped the Baggies secure promotion  (Image from PA)

Phillips helped the Baggies secure promotion
(Image from PA)

In the last three years of his playing career, Phillips played under Hollaway at Blackpool before moving with him to Crystal Palace where he achieved promotion here and then next at Leicester. He scored 26 goals across those three years. His most vital goal was for Palace where he scored the penalty in the final of the Play Offs last season that sent them up. He was initially on loan at Selhurst Park but then moved there on a permanent basis before moving to the King Power Stadium in January, contributing on their journey to the top spot. On top of this, he was an England international and gained eight caps with his country but failed to score. Before moving to the North East, he played at Watford and a small side named Baldock Town who play in the Spartan South Midlands Division one.

Phillips won 8 caps for England  (Image from AFP)

Phillips won 8 caps for England
(Image from AFP)

From a Baggies perspective, ‘Super Kev’ was a breath of fresh air when coming to the club as he came in at a time when the club was struggling for goals. But he was influential with his vision and was a target man who would look to create chances. This ethos will be passed on by him as a coach in Leicester’s Premier League campaign. Confidence is what is needed to survive at the top and he’s got it in abundance.

Post by Richard Waterhouse

Share your thoughts below or on Facebook: www.facebook.com/BackOfTheNetBlog or Twitter: https://twitter.com/BOTNBlog. You can now follow us on Tumblr and Instagram as well!

Last Chance Saloon For Wenger As He Targets Cup Success

Last Chance Saloon for Wenger (Image from Getty)A wry smile crept over Arsenal Wenger’s face as he sat back and watched Wigan dispatch favourites Manchester City in the quarter finals of the FA Cup. He knew that this might be his best shot at delivering what the fans want – a first trophy in nine years. It’s hard to believe it has been so long but it has. When Arsenal last one a trophy, Manchester City were fighting for survival, not titles and Wigan had just secured their passage to the Premiership for the first time in their 73 year history. Now with only Premiership side Hull and Championships sides Sheffield United and Wigan left to compete against, this may be the best chance Arsenal have had in a very long time. City’s victors Wigan are up first in a semi final showdown that is a must win for Wenger if he is to keep his job longer than this summer.

Up Next - Wigan  (Image from Getty)

Up Next – Wigan
(Image from Getty)

Not that it’s a cut and dry as it seems. They face tough opposition in Wigan, who are looking to join a select list of clubs who have successfully defended the FA Cup. Shock winners last year, courtesy of a solo Ben Watson strike against Manchester City, Wigan have gone through a lot of changes since that fateful day in May last year. But what hasn’t changed is the belief and determination that they can win the cup again and beat anyone put in front of them on the way there. So far Wigan, now under the management of Uwe Rosler, has put MK Dons, Crystal Palace, Cardiff and City to the sword as they continue their run to Wembley.  Facing Arsenal, who have struggled lately with form, after a blistering start to the new season, will not worry Wigan as it’s the Premiership side that have it all to lose. In the past Wenger has given little care to the FA Cup, preferring to use either second string or emerging youngsters in these games. But he can ill afford to squander an opportunity to return to Wembley, especially given recent history.

Martins goal still haunts Wenger  (Image from PA)

Martins goal still haunts Wenger
(Image from PA)

Arsenal and Arsenal have been in this position before and have let a potential cup win slip through their fingers. Memories of a cup final defeat at the hands of Birmingham City still lay heavily on the minds of the Gunners faithful. That last minute drop of concentration that allowed Obefemi Martins to capitalize still must etch away at Wenger on a daily basis. Now could be his chance at redemption, but he must keep his players focused more on the job in hand than what level the opposition are playing at.  One thing that might work in Wenger’s favour is the fixture list for the two teams between now and the 12th April, when the two sides are scheduled to meet. Having been knocked out of the Champions League by Bayern Munich mid week, Arsenal face difficult games against Spurs, Chelsea, City, Everton and Swansea in the league before playing Wigan. The Championships side however have eight games to play in the league before they take on Arsenal including three must win games at the start of April which will likely stretch Rosler’s side to its fullest. Cup success for Wigan would be a bonus but gaining promotion back to the Premiership is their main goal. Sitting in 7th place, with two games in hand, Rosler’s team is pushing hard for a playoff berth. With 13 games left in the standard season including crunch games against Reading, Leicester and QPR, the clash with Arsenal may not be top of mind. But try telling that to owner Dave Whelan who still basks in the glory of last year’s cup success. Promotion back to the Premiership and lifting the FA Cup again is his dream, one that Arsene Wenger must do all he can to shatter.

Share your thoughts now on Facebook: www.facebook.com/BackOfTheNetBlog or on Twitter: https://twitter.com/BOTNBlog

Best Not To Ask About His Age

Taribo West - How old is he really? (Image from PA)Former Newcastle striker Obafemi Martins has recently signed a contract to play in the MLS with Seattle Sounders at the youthful age of only 28 years old. The Toon army, Newcastle’s faithful followers, remember the Nigerian ace fondly after his spell at the club from 2006 to 2009. When he was bought from Inter Milan, Martins was a lively 22-year-old with his whole career ahead of him but in fact he had already spent six years in professional football making close over 90 appearances. Some, like Martins himself, insist that he started young, joining Reggiana at age 16 from local club, FC Ebedei but others suspect fowl play. Now, after a 13 year career involving moves to Inter, Newcastle, Wolfsburg, Rubin Kazin, Birmingham and Levante, Martin finds himself in the MLS in the supposed prime of his career. So why does he look so old?

Martins joined Seattle this season (Image from MLS)

Martins joined Seattle this season
(Image from MLS)

The startling truth is that Martins may be older than he is letting on. The problem of  players falsifying their age in order to extend their playing careers is rife in Africa, where birth records and certificates are few and far between. Over the past 20 years there have been several cases where players have been suspected of being older than they indicated. Fellow Nigerian Nwankwo Kanu’s official age is 36 according to Wikipedia but most suspect he is really around 44, whilst former international teammate and Bolton star Jay Jay Okocha is suspected to be in his late forties, rather than the 39 that he says he is. Now the latest player to be suspected of falsification is Tarbio West, with his former club, Serbian team Partizan Belgrade claiming he was lied to them in 2002 about his age in order for them to sign him. West told the club that he was 28 but is suspected of being actually 40. Whilst this estimation may be wildly exaggerated by Partizan, the club’s medical team did conclude that examinations of West’s knees revealed that he was older than the 28 years he suggested.

West is accused of being older than he indicated when he played for Partizans (Image from Afterfoot.fr)

West is accused of being older than he indicated when he played for Partizans
(Image from Afterfoot.fr)

The changing of ages by players has been an issue that FIFA have been aware of for some time and did in fact investigate Nigeria for almost two years, eventually banning them from all competitions after finding that the birth dates of three players submitted for the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, South Korea did not match those submitted by the same players in previous tournaments. Recent measures introduced by FIFA to prevent this from happening again, including wrist scanning that through the use of magnetic resonance imaging can determine the player’s true age, have proven successful with several African teams quickly removing a majority of players from their youth squads without explanation.

Wrist Scanning is one way to determine a players true age (Image from Fotonet)

Wrist Scanning is one way to determine a players true age
(Image from Fotonet)

Regardless of their suggested ages, Nigerian players do possess the ability to prolong their careers into their later years which helps to mask their true age. Most, like Martin follow strict routines around diet and excercise in an effort to stay as fit as possible. But with many playing for over 20+ years and retiring at the normal age of 34 or 36, it’s not hard to see why many are suspected of changing their ages to continue to play. West, like Kanu, Ockocha and Martins, has had a distinguished career that has taken him to clubs in Italy, France, England, Germany and Serbia over the past 26 years before he finally retired in 2008 aged 40. We will never truly know how old he was during his career and West will never tell, claiming that he was only as old as he felt at the time. With that philosophy, West could be 26 all over again.

Like this post? Like us on Facebook now: www.facebook.com/BackOfTheNetBlog or on Twitter: https://twitter.com/BOTNBlog

Birmingham And Ecuador Mourn The Passing Of Christian Benitez

RIP Christian Benitez (Image from Getty)The sudden death of Ecuador striker Christian Benitez at age 27 has shocked the football world, with several players taking to Twitter to express their sympathies to his family. Benitez, best known for his time in England with Birmingham City where he spent a year on loan, died of heart failure last Monday, only a day after playing his first game for his new club, Al Jaish. The Qatar club is still trying to come to terms with his death, only weeks after the player joined the club in a $10million move. He only played twenty minutes for the club but didn’t complain about feeling unwell at any stage nor showed signs of fatigue. In fact, the player was thought to have been in pristine condition when he signed and passed the medical that the club gave him. Whether part of that medical included an examination of his heart has not been determined but few will blame the club for his untimely death.

Benitez during his Birmingham days  (Image from PA)

Benitez during his Birmingham days
(Image from PA)

Benetiz, or Chuco as he was better known, spent most of his career in Latin America playing for Club Deportivo El Nacional in his homeland as well as two spells in Mexico with Santos Laguna and América before moving to Qatar this July. But it will be his spell in England with Birmingham that will trigger the most memories for fans of European football. Brought in at the start of the 2009-2010 season by Alex McLeish, Benetiz realized a dream by playing in one of Europe’s top leagues after many years of rumours and speculation linking him with clubs like Villarreal and Benfica. The transfer itself was not as straightforward as the player had hoped for with both Birmingham and El Nacional debating after the fact the true value of the deal. Originally Birmingham announced that they had signed Benetiz for a then record transfer of £6 million rising to £9m depending on appearances and goals. However when the striker failed a medical due to a knee problem, the deal was frantically renegotiated to cover Birmingham from future losses. McLeish will remember all too well his time in Scotland as then manager of Motherwell when he watch Rangers splash £4 million on Chilean striker Sebastian Rozental only for the player to pick up a underlying knee injury early on and become an expensive flop for the club. So Birmingham ended up taking Benetiz on loan for a season with the option to buy him outright if he played the season without any real medical concerns.

Knee Problems - Sebastian Rozental (Image from Scottish Sun)

Knee Problems – Sebastian Rozental
(Image from Scottish Sun)

Benetiz finally made his debut for the Blues as a substitute on the opening day against Manchester United and came very close to scoring, only to be denied by a flying Ben Foster. He would have to wait for his full debut which eventually came against Hull in mid September and once again the goalkeeper, Boaz Myhill was on hand to deny the player his first goal for the club. A series of wonderful saves stopped Benetiz from potentially picking up a hat trick and the frustration from that day went with him as the striker failed to score in the next few matches. It was against Liverpool in early November that the Ecuadorian finally broke his deadlock with a fine close range header that beat Pepe Reina at his near post. He would have to wait for his next goal but it eventually came in the fourth round of the FA Cup on a cold Saturday in January against Everton. Benetiz struck early on as Birmingham beat Everton 2-1, with Scottish captain Barry Ferguson grabbing the winner with a wonderful long range strike. Birmingham went on that season to reach the sixth round before being knocked out by eventual finalists Portsmouth. Unfortunately for Benetiz, despite playing well in a majority of the games, he only managed to score two more goals before the end of the season, putting his future in doubt. Birmingham did want to take the option to buy him but after lengthy discussions broke down, the player returned to Mexico to play for Santos Laguna.

Benitez was a national favourite (Image from Getty)

Benitez was a national favourite
(Image from Getty)

In his first season back he finish top goalscorer with 16 goals, which persuaded rivals America to part with a record $10 million for his services. Over the next 79 games he would score 52 times for the club, before leaving to join Al Jaish this summer. Benetiz played over 58 times for his country and holds the distinction of being the countries third greatest goal scorer of all time. His fellow countryman, Manchester United’s Antonio Valencia lead the way last week with a loving tribute to his his former teammate on twitter:

“You will always be my brother, we are experiencing terrible pain, but we love you”

Former Birmingham teammate Craig Gardener spoke about the pleasure that it was to play with “Chuco” whilst the club itself talked about losing a great player and their plans to honour him at St. Andrew’s ahead of  the fixture against Watford. His death, at such a young age and without any warning has shocked and saddened all that knew him as a player and as a friend. His body was flown back from Doha airport to his native Ecuador last Thursday with the funeral taking place the next day with thousands lining the streets to pay their respects. May you rest in peace Chuco.

Post your tribute now to Chuco on Facebook: www.facebook.com/BackOfTheNetBlog or on Twitter: https://twitter.com/BOTNBlog

Icon Returns For Motherwell’s Champions League Push

James McFaddenWith Rangers now languishing in the lowest league in Scotland, the door has been thrown wide open for the rest of the Premier League teams to challenge Celtic for the title. The current Scottish champions are already running away with the league after opening up a sizable 18 point gap between themselves and the chasing pack. Closest to them in second place is Motherwell, who strengthened their squad yesterday with the return of the iconic James McFadden. The Scotland striker has been without a club since leaving Sunderland early last month and has signed a deal with the North Lanarkshire club until the end of this season. In a deal that never looked likely to happen, due to McFadden’s legacy wage demands, it would appear as though the player has backed down in order to secure consistent first team football. Its a win win situation for both parties as Motherwell push to cement their current position and McFadden attempts to get his career back on track.

Up and Coming - McFadden during his first spell at Motherwell (Image from STV)

Up and Coming – McFadden during his first spell at Motherwell
(Image from STV)

At only 29 years old, McFadden shouldn’t be back at his first club, but instead terrorising defenders in the English premiership or a league of similar stature, as he did during the early part of his twenties. Unfortunately, like Scottish compatriot Craig Gordon, this talented player’s career has been ruined by long term injuries that has limited his playing time. Without regular on field exposure, clubs have had little faith that McFadden is still the player he was and has resulted in him being released by Birmingham, then Everton and most recently Sunderland. Its a vicious cycle that many a professional has had to face and is hard to correct without the player demonstrating that he is beyond the injury problems that have hindered him. Some take to more innovative methods to prove they are worth a contract. Owen Hargreaves, a free agent after leaving Manchester United in the summer of 2011,  posted YouTube videos in a bid to convince potential suitors of his fitness, which was enough to convince Manchester City to sign the player on a short term deal. McFadden’s move to Motherwell shows a sign of faith from the club that McFadden’s injury worries are behind him.

Hargreaves took to YouTube to show his Fitness (Image from Youtube)

Hargreaves took to YouTube to show his Fitness
(Image from Youtube)

McFadden will be hoping that his injury troubles are behind him as well, as he looks to kick-start his career again. Once the first name on the Scotland team sheet and seen as a legend in the dark blue by the fans, McFadden will be hoping he can regain the form he once had and force his way into new boss Gordon Strachan’s long term plans. The new Scotland boss would love to have the old McFadden back to his best and will be monitoring the players progress at Motherwell with interest as he looks to potentially call up the player who last starred for his country in February 2012. Criticised by former boss Craig Levein in that game for his poor attitude and performance, McFadden will want to wipe the slate clean and show the Scottish faithful that he can still be a match winner for them as he had done in the past. But first he needs to play regularly for Motherwell and put in the type of displays that the club grew to expect during his first stint at the club.

McFadden scores a wonder goal against France (Image from PA)

McFadden scores a wonder goal against France
(Image from PA)

It was in the summer of 2000 that a young 17 year old James McFadden burst onto the Scottish football season, in stunning fashion. Not since Davie Cooper had the Motherwell fans been so excited by a player in the claret jersey. The combination of high octane pace, close control and undeniable brashness made McFadden an instant favourite with the home support. Within a season, McFadden was picking up the countries Young Player of the Year award and gaining a reputation as the most exciting prospect to come out of Scotland in a decade. Before long, McFadden was moving to England’s top flight with a move to Everton, where he stayed for five years, making himself into a useful component in manager David Moyes plans. A £5 million move to Birmingham followed but unfortunately for McFadden, it was at St Andrews that the problems with his right knee started. His troublesome right knee has dogged the player ever since and failed moves to Everton and Sunderland, have eventually led the player back home to Scotland.

McFadden's time at Birmingham was blighted with injury (Image from Action)

McFadden’s time at Birmingham was blighted with injury
(Image from Action)

Motherwell don’t necessarily need McFadden but the player will be welcomed into the squad regardless. Manager Stuart McCall has built an impressive team on an extremely tight budget but still lacks that x factor needed to win the title. Motherwell sit in second place on merit and whilst they have scored regularly in games, their over reliance on striker Michael Higdon has not gone unnoticed. His 17 goals this year have secured more points for the club than any other player, with only three others in the squad scoring more than one goal all season. McFadden in his first spell with the club averaged a goal every second game so McCall will be hoping that he can pick up where he left off and help push Motherwell closer to that lucrative second place finish and a shot at the Champions league. If McFadden regains his form and fitness, it is unlikely that Motherwell will be able to hold on to him beyond the summer as the player still has a good four to five years left to play. It’s a big if at this stage as McFadden hasn’t played competitively for some time now and will need to step up if he is get back to his best. McFadden knows his career is not over yet and now is his chance to get it back on track and once again become a player who sends fear down the spine of opposition defenders the world over.

Like this post? Like us on Facebook now:  www.facebook.com/BackOfTheNetBlog or on Twitter: https://twitter.com/BOTNBlog

Forest Appoint Big Eck Amidst Fan Protest

Forest appoint McLeish (Image from nottinghamforest.co.uk)The sacking of Sean O’Driscoll and appoint of Alex McLeish as the new Nottingham Forest boss will surely go down in history as one of the countries quickest. Within two hours of leading Forest to a 4-2 win over Leeds United and lying in 8th place in the Championship, a point off the play off places, O’Driscoll found himself looking for another job. The club’s Kuwait owners quickly hired former Rangers, Scotland, Birmingham and Aston Villa boss Alex McLeish as their new manager stating ” it was always their ambition to appoint an ambitious manager with Premier League experience”. Harsh for O’Driscoll to accept as he has done no wrong since been chosen by the same owners less than 5 months previously as the man to take them into England’s top division. The former Republic of Ireland midfielder took to twitter to express his disappointment , simply saying “gutted, that ruins a decent day”.

Gone - Former boss O'Driscoll(Image from Jemma Cox)

Gone – Former boss O’Driscoll
(Image from Jemma Cox)

McLeish to his credit has the experience the Kuwaiti owners crave and his demonstrated in the past his ability to manage at the highest level but he is hardly the man the Forest faithful would have chosen if they were to get rid of O’Driscoll. Since Forest dropped out of the Premiership in 1999 they have struggled in the lower divisions, lacking the passion and drive that once surrounded the club and led them to two European Cups under club legend Brian Clough. But O’Driscoll had come in and managed to restore pride to the club and instill an attractive style of play that got the home fans buzzing once more. Belief at The City Ground was high ahead of the start of this season and performances to date have been good enough to put them on a path towards at least a play off spot. The sacking disappointed the Forest fans who believed strongly that O’Driscoll had put the club on the right path. The objections around McLeish are not around the man himself, more his history and approach as a manager. Forest fans are worried, rightly or wrongly, that McLeish lacks the appetite to continue to play the attacking style that O’Driscoll introduced, and is more likely to stick with his own trusted formations, whether they work or not.

Billy Sharp scores against Leeds(Image from Football365.com)

Billy Sharp scores against Leeds
(Image from Football365.com)

McLeish has developed over the years a strange reputation for inflexibility. The belief is that McLeish lacks imagination when it comes to tactics and prefers not to tinker with it during the course of a game, even if his team falls behind. Critics point towards two examples – his time in charge or Scotland and in his last job as Aston Villa boss where the same tactics were used time and time again but the results never materialised. However closer examination points more towards the personnel on hand in both occasions and their inability to play in a multitude of positions or formations that meant that McLeish had little flexibility to adjust the system. More so, McLeish’s time in charge of Scotland was deemed by many as somewhat succesful, narrowly missing out on taking Scotland to Euro 2008, recording a host of victories including an inspired victory over France in Paris. At the time, France were a formidable force in the world game so McLeish adapted the formation of his team to go more defensive and hit them on the break which proved to be the correct decision after James McFadden’s 40 yard strike won the game for the Scots.

McFadden scores against France(Image from Daily Mail.co.uk)

McFadden scores against France
(Image from Daily Mail.co.uk)

His time at Villa was less than fantastic and he holds the embarrassing record of being statistically the worst Aston Villa manager of all time but again closer inspection tells a different story. In his first and only season, McLeish inherited a squad that had just lost two of its best players – Ashley Young and Stewart Downing to Manchester United and Liverpool respectively. Power striker John Carew and shot stopper Brad Friedel also departed leaving McLeish with a job to replace them. Shay Given was brought in to replace Friedel and the dynamic Charles N’Zogbia bought to take over from Downing. But Young was never properly replaced as the money never materialised for a further signature so Villa lacked his flexibility going into the start of the season. Added into this losing star midfielder and captain Stiliyan Petrov early on in the season, after he was diagnosed with acute leukemia, didn’t help the cause. McLeish tried to put round pegs in square holes all season but the teams lack of goals ultimately led to their poor season. They finished the season in 16th place with only 38 points, narrowly avoiding relegation which to most looks like a terrible season. To be fair, McLeish didn’t win enough games (7 out of 38) but he only lost 14 games in total all season too. The killer for Villa was the 17 draws throughout the year, including 7 no score results. If Villa had managed to retained Young’s services, who hit nine goals and fourteen assists the previous season, the story of Villa’s season could have been so very different.

Last season could have been different with Young(Photo by Phil Cole/Getty Images)

Last season could have been different with Young
(Photo by Phil Cole/Getty Images)

McLeish has been out of the game since his sacking in the summer but is now back, refreshed and raring to go. He will be aware of the backlash to his appointment and the fans concerns about his style of play but this will not worry Mcleish. A philosopher of the “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach, the Forest fans may not have to worry too much about their new coach. He is likely to stick with the existing tactics that O’Driscoll implemented making changes only on the training ground and in the playing staff where  McLeish has the most experience. After steering Birmingham to a succesful promotion in 2008-2009, he will be looking to replicate that success with Nottingham Forest. If he can, then I’m sure the Forest fans will forget all about their concerns of the man better known to most as Big ‘Eck.

Zimbabwe Mourns The Death Of A Legend and Prays For Another.

Adam Ndlovu RIPThe death of former international striker Adam Ndlovu at the weekend has rocked Zimbabwean football to its core. Driving back from watching a local game with his younger brother Peter, best known  for his time in England with Coventry, Adam was killed with a female passenger when their car struck a tree following a tire blow out. Adam, who played alongside his brother in the national team and scored 34 goals during that time, was killed instantly whilst his brother was left in a critical condition with multiple injuries including a broken leg, head injuries, internal bleeding and broken ribs. The former international striker who still holds the records for the most caps and goals collected by a  Zimbabwe player, he is loved in his homeland as much as he is loved across the midlands of England where he made his name. During a 13 year spell in England, Ndlovu played for a variety of clubs including Sheffield United, Huddersfield and Birmingham but it was his time at Coventry, the club that brought him to the uk, that Ndlovu is most fondly remembered for.

Coventry legend Peter Ndlovu

Coventry legend Peter Ndlovu

Signed by Terry Butcher under the recommendation of former Blues boss John Sillett, Ndlovu became a fans favourite early on in his time with his dazzling runs, trickery and explosive finishing. Scoring on his debut against a strong Arsenal side helped but it was his goal against local rivals Aston Villa that remains in the memory for those that were lucky to witnessed it. Known to the fans better as Nuddy, Ndlovu starred during a relatively exciting times for Coventry fans, playing alongside the likes of Mickey Quinn, Roy Wegerle, Darren Huckerby, Noel Whelan and Dion Dublin. Despite this, Coventry and Ndlovu suffered a rollercoaster time during his six-year spell at the club, playing under 4 different managers and coming to relegation on more than one occasion. But this wouldn’t deter Ndlovu, even when offered a £4 million escape route by Arsenal at the end of the 1994 season, Ndlovu was committed to the club and was going nowhere.

Ndlovu as a Blades player

Ndlovu as a Blades player

Ndlovu would eventually leave Coventry to join Trevor Francis’s Birmingham but rumours surrounding his departure suggested it was not Peter’s decision. Considered a success during his time at St Andrews, Ndlovu only spent 4 years at the club (with one on loan to Huddersfield) before moving again to Sheffield United in 2001. Moved from a central striker to right midfield, there were concerns by many that Ndlovu’s goals would dry up but their fears were unfounded as Peter went on to score 25 times in 135 appearances, helping Sheffield United reach two semi finals in three years. As his career wound down, thoughts turned towards returning to Africa and making the move into coaching. He would get his wish, firstly joining South African based team, Mamelodi Sundowns for a further 4 years, prolonging his playing career. It would be during this time that he played his final game for Zimbabwe, alongside his brothers Adam and Madinda as he had done many times before.

The Ndlovu brothers - Madinda, Adam and Peter

The Ndlovu brothers – Madinda, Adam and Peter

Like Adam, who moved into coaching after his retirement, Peter’s love for the game never faltered. He was honoured to play alongside his brothers in any capacity, whether it be in a friendly kick around or in the Zimbabwe national shirt. The two players had become legends in their country, going down in history as part of Zimbabwe’s Dream Team. Sunday’s tragedy has affected the whole country, with Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai expressing what the country is feeling in a series of tweets yesterday:

“I am deeply saddened at the passing  on of  soccer legend, Adam Ndlovu, who was taken away from us in the  horror crash that  left his young brother, Peter, in hospital. I wish Peter a speedy recovery. Adam and  Peter were part of our national football Dream Team in the  1990s and have  continued to impart their skills to other young  Zimbabwean footballers. They  have made a significant contribution to  culture in Zimbabwe. My prayers are with the Ndlovu  family, the  football fraternity and the nation at this sad loss. On  behalf of my Office,  my family and on my own behalf, I join with so many others who knew Adam, in offering our deepest sympathy on his passing.”

Arsenal win yet another title – Arsenal Ladies that is.

As Arsene Wenger, Arsenal’s long serving coach searches for his first trophy since 2005, his counterpart at Arsenal Ladies, Laura Harvey is searching for more room to put all of their trophies. After winning their 11th Premier League title in 12 years, they can now focus on the next two crucial games – Barcelona in the Champions League and then the Continental Cup final against league runners-up, Birmingham. Regardless of the results in those two matches, Arsenal Ladies  go down as one of the most successful women’s teams of all time with a trophy roll call that Arsene Wenger or Sir Alex Ferguson would be proud of:

  • Women’s Super League (2 times)
  • Women’s Premier League (12)
  • FA Women’s Cup (11)
  • Women’s Premier League Cup (10)
  • WSL Continental Cup (1)
  • UEFA Women’s Cup (1)

With striking options such as England’s Rachel Yankey and Kelly Smith competing with Scotland’s Julie Fleeting (who boast a total of 351 International caps between them) and a depth of talent behind them (Kim Little, Katie Chapman and Alex Scott to name a few) it’s no wonder that this team has dominated the domestic hours in the past 12 years. Some may argue that when the Women’s Premier League National Division kicked off in the summer of 1991, the quality of competition and players was not up to par so the Gunners earlier successes must be taken with a pinch of salt. That said, as the division  improved over the years and become an ever increasingly competitive competition, drawing crowds on a more regular basis, Arsenal Ladies have improved with it. Now part of the WSL (Women’s Super League), England’s new top division for women’s football , they have continued this success winning  back to back titles in both seasons since its founding in 2011.

With the second title secured even before a ball was kicked in their match against Doncaster, the focus now turns to Barcelona in the Champions League. It’s a trophy Arsenal are desperate to win (they did win the Women’s Cup in 2007 against Umea IK of Sweden, before it was rebranded the Champions League) but face a difficult route to the final which will be held on home turf in England at Fulham’s ground, Craven Cottage in May 2013. Having won the first leg 3-0, they go into tomorrow’s game with optimism and the hope that this could finally be the year when they are crowned not only Champions of England but of Europe as well.