What Next For Relegated Trio?

With the final series of matches now played, the 2019/2020 Premier League season has drawn to a close with Liverpool crowned Champions for the first time in 30 years. They beat out Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea for the trophy and join the trio in the Champions League next season whilst Leicester and Tottenham will take part in the Europa league following their respective 5th and 6th place finishes. At the other end of the table, a 1-1 draw with West Ham on the final day of the season gave Aston Villa the point they needed to secure survival but in turn it condemned Bournemouth and Watford to relegation places, joining Norwich City in the drop. In what was a gruelling season for all three clubs for a variety of reasons, we ask what is next for the relegated trio?

All three face similar challenges as they prepare for life in the Championship next season. Priority will be to manage the wage budget and adjust it for life post Premier League. Those players deemed too expensive or luxurious will need to be jettisoned whilst at the same time maintaining a strong core that will provide the stability needed to rebound. Contracts will need to be reviewed in line with this new look wage budget, assessing which players need revised terms to encourage them to stay whilst negotiating adjustments to those who are nearing the end of their careers but yet could still serve a purpose even for a single season in the Championship. Finally reviewing a transfer budget and a list of gaps to fill in order to get your new look squad ready for the trials and tribulations that a 48 game Championship season throws up. 

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The EFL Championship is not an easy division to get out of (Image from Tumblr)

Of the three that did drop, Norwich have had slightly longer to prepare given that relegation for them was confirmed back in early July following a 4-0 hammering by West Ham. In truth, Norwich have probably been mentally preparing for the drop for a few months now having spent the majority of the campaign down near the bottom. With only five wins all season and a sleuth of problems from being unable to come back from a losing position (0 points taken all season), a lack of goal scorers (26 in total in 38 games) and a suspect defence (75 goals shipped all season), its not surprising that they didn’t survive. Manager Daniel Farke’s decision to stick with the young inexperienced squad that won promotion had backfired but credit where it is due that Norwich did push hard to be an attacking team from day one. In the end though, their lack of experienced heads or players with that extra bit of quality was the difference. 

Next season Norwich will look very different as you can expect the current squad to be decimated. The positives from this current season is Norwich managed to showcase several of their talented youth products who all will now have significant sell on values. The club is bracing itself for bids for defenders Max Aarons, with Bayern and several Premier League clubs interested and Jamal Lewis who might have Leicester and Liverpool fighting over him. The talented Todd Cantwell is also likely to be in high demand with Liverpool favourites to sign him. Elsewhere Emi Buendia is expected to leave as could Ben Godfrey who has been one of the shining stars of the Norwich team in a disappointing season. 

Norwich

Norwich were the first to be relegated but through the sale of some of their top youngsters, they should be able to rebuild (Image from Tumblr)

Joining Norwich in the Championship is Watford who have had a season to forget. The headline of Watford sacks manager has sadly been used on too many occasions during this campaign with no less than three managers departing over the course of 38 games. First to go was Javi Garcia who left in September after a dreadful start to the new campaign. His replacement was the returning Quique Sanchez Flores who had himself been sacked by the owners at the end of the 2015/2016 season despite leading the Hornets to a comfortable mid table position and a FA Cup semi final. A glutton for punishment, Flores lasted only 85 days on his second stint before receiving his marching orders and was replaced by Nigel Pearson who installed the fear of death into the squad from day one. It appeared to work as Watford rallied with impressive wins over Manchester United, Wolves and Liverpool just before the COVID pandemic hit. After the restart, Watford failed to show up winning only 2 of the next seven games which lead to Pearson’s sacking with two games left. The true nature of why he left is uncertain with rumours of half time fisticuffs and handbags played down by the players and club alike. Either way, Watford lost both of their remaining games and as a result drop out of the Premier League for the first time in five years. 

The rebuild at Watford will be more severe than at Norwich simply because of the make up of the existing squad. Unbalanced, overly stacked in certain areas and under resourced in others, the Watford squad is like a hoarders house with the real question of where to start. First to go will be the high earners and there are a few. Strikers Andre Gray and captain Troy Deeney will need to go to shift their £3m+ yearly salaries from the wage bill. Similarily the club will look to cash in on Abdoulaye Doucouré and Roberto Pereyra as well as potentially letting Daryl Janmaat, Gerard Deulofeu and Danny Welbeck leave if suitors can be found. The club will look to retain some of their older professionals like Ben Foster, Craig Dawson and Craig Cathcart whilst handing Will Hughes a more pivotal figure, and potentially captain in their new look line up. There may be interest from abroad for Ismaila Sarr who had a good first season at the club but price will play a factor on whether he stays or goes.  

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Troy Deeney (left) and Andre Gray (Right) are high earners at the club and are expected to leave (Image from Tumblr)

Finally, Bournemouth’s relegation was confirmed on the final day despite an impressive win over Everton. Eddie Howe’s men had rallied in the final few weeks of the season but the damaged sustained throughout the rest of the campaign was already too severe to recover from. To be fair, Bournemouth have over achieved in recent years and it’s mainly down to Howe. But this last season was one filled with ebbs and flows with Bournemouth never really finding the rhythm that it had done in previous campaigns. Uncertainty now awaits Bournemouth who drop into the Championship for the first time in five years.

They will do it however without Eddie Howe after both parties mutually agreeing to part ways. It’s a crushing blow for Bournemouth given the significance of the role Howe played at the club, not only as its manager but as an integral component in its machine. Replacing Howe will not be an easy task but that must take priority over any player sales. Several key players will take their leave too including Nathan Ake who has agreed to join Manchester City for £40m and Ryan Fraser who is expected to join Tottenham in the next few weeks. Strikers Callum Wilson and Josh King will surely depart as well with Newcastle and Manchester United likely destinations for the duo. Regardless of the manager, the club will try to retain a core nucleus of players they believe will help them bounce back from relegation. Players like Aaron Ramsdale who has had a great season despite the final outcome. Same can be said about Harry Wilson and Jack Stacey who have both made strides in their developments this season.

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The departure of Eddie Howe from the club will be a blow to Bournemouths recovery plans (image from Tumblr)

The road back to the Premier League is a treacherous one that if you’re not prepared for can send a club spinning out of control and further down the leagues (Sunderland being a prime example). The rebuilding job at all three clubs has already begun and there will be more developments as the days and weeks roll on towards the start of the new season on September 12th. At this stage it is hard to predict if any of the three clubs will bounce straight back up especially given the competitive nature of the championship and the unpredictability that comes with playing in that league. There are no easy games and no easy teams in that division and little to no time to prepare given the late finish of the current season. Planning and strategy will be key along with the right recruitment and the right management but you also need a little bit of luck, something that all three clubs lacked this season. Hopefully thats about to change. 

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One On One with: Simon Grayson

There are few managers in the modern who can show a resume as stellar as Simon Grayson. In the 15 years since retiring as a player, Grayson has managed seven clubs and gained promotion four times. He is a turn around specialist in that he is able to go into a club in trouble, grab it by the scruff of its neck and drag it towards promotion within a season or two. It’s remarkable to think that he has managed all this at only 50 which in management is still relatively young. As an accomplished defender who plied his trade at Blackpool, Blackburn, Aston Villa and his beloved Leeds United, it’s not hard to see where he gets his self drive and determination from.

Grayson may be humble about what he has achieved but is hopeful of one day getting a shot at managing in the Premier League, likely through gaining promotion from the Championship but something he certainly deserves. We caught up with him recently in what was a fascinating interview about his playing career, his move into management and of course what it felt like walking out that tunnel as Leeds manager. Enjoy!

Backofthenet: You came through the ranks at a Leeds United side that included the likes of Eric Cantona, Gary Speed, Gordon Strachan, David Batty and Gary McAllister. As a young player, what was the biggest thing you learned from those players that helped you as a player?

Simon Grayson: Gordon Strachan had a massive effect on me as a young pro at Leeds. His attitude to training, preparation for games and his desire to win were things I took with me into my own career. He would watch our reserve games and after he would give me praise but also some constructive criticism. His biggest advice was always to try your best, work hard every day and enjoy Football even through tough times as it’s a job so many people would love to swap places with you.

BOTN: You moved to Leicester in March 1992 and established yourself at Filbert Street winning the League Cup and player of the season in 1997. That team was managed by the legendary Martin O’Neill. What did you learn from O’Neill during your time working with him that you have now taken into your own managerial career?

SG: One of Martins’ biggest strengths was his man management skills. Yes, he understood the game tactically, but he knew how to get the best out of each individual and then put this into the team environment. Certain players would need a rollicking and others an arm round them. He created a spirit in the dressing room that we would look after each other on the pitch, work for each other and run through a brick wall for him as he had our backs as well. This is something that I definitely took into my managing career.

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Grayson at Leicester and the League Cup in 1997 (Image from Tumblr)

BOTN: Successful spells at Aston Villa and Blackburn followed before you spent nearly two seasons out on loan at Sheffield Wednesday, Stockport County, Notts County and Bradford City before finally securing a permanent move to Blackpool where you finished your playing days. That must have been a disappointing spell in your career. What positives did you draw from those loan moves? Did you consider calling it a day as you moved from club to club?

SG: At Blackburn, Graeme Souness was the manager and had his own view on players which I understood but I didn’t agree with how he treated certain players who he didn’t pick. A number of us were forced to train away from the first team. For two years I went out on loan just to play games as I didn’t want to just pick my money up for doing nothing. It was a tough time, but I never thought about packing football in as I loved football and felt I had plenty to give to someone. It certainly made me stronger as a person and made me want to enjoy my last few years as a player. After my contract expired, I went to Blackpool and played over 100 games winning the Football League Trophy with them (in 2003-20004).

BOTN: Your first managerial role was at Blackpool which came about in a fairly unusual way. You were working as the reserve boss and had an offer to move to another club as assistant manager. But when you told Blackpool owner Karl Oyster of your desire to leave, he refused as he was planning on sacking then manager Colin Hendry and appoint you instead. Did that cause any issues with Colin who up until that point had been your manager?  

SG: I don’t think Colin had any problems with me as I’d spoke to him about leaving and I certainly wasn’t doing anything without him knowing. I really didn’t have any real desire to be a manager at that point. When I was given the caretaker role, I was still unsure whether I would be comfortable doing it or be any good at it.

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From Player to Manager – Grayson began at Blackpool (Image from Tumblr)

BOTN: How challenging was it to transition from being a player to becoming the boss at the same club?

SG: The advantage of the transition I had from player to caretaker was that I had been doing the reserves and still playing so the players were comfortable with it and used to it. The hardest part was dropping close mates and releasing players in the summer. But I knew I had to be ruthless and make unpopular decisions if I was going to make it as a manager.

BOTN: You led Blackpool to the playoffs and promotion in your first full season as a manager. How did you go about taking a relegation-threatened side and turning them into promotion candidates? How influential was the decision to bring in Tony Parkes from Blackburn as your assistant in that turn around?

SG: Tony was very influential for me and probably the best decision I made. Even though I’d played a lot of games, I felt I needed someone who had some great experience as a coach/manager alongside me to guide and advise me. Together with Steve Thompson, we recruited some good players and we created a good team spirit; something I had learnt from Martin O’Neil. We worked hard in training and had a strong desire to win matches. If as a manager you can get all these things right then you have a good chance of being successful.

BOTN: You left Blackpool to become Leeds United manager in December 2008. As a fan of the club, going back to manage Leeds must have been a surreal moment for you. How did it feel leading the team out in front of those fans for the first time?

SG: Getting the opportunity to manage Leeds United was an unbelievable feeling. Even though they were in League One and Blackpool were in the Championship, I had no hesitation in going. To walk down the tunnel for my first game on Boxing Day vs. Leicester and follow in the footsteps of some of the greats of Leeds like Don Revie and Howard Wilkinson was a moment I will never forget.

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Fulfilling a dream – Grayson as Leeds United manager (Image from Tumblr)

BOTN: You must be happy to see Leeds promoted this season to the Premier League after a long absence?

SG: Yes, to see Leeds promoted this season is fantastic and along time in coming. The Club, City and supporters have been through a lot of dark times over the last 20 years but they are now back in the Premier League and hopefully they stay there for a long time.

BOTN: Leeds were promoted to the Championship in 2010 under your leadership and still have the club’s third-best points-per-match record of all-time, only behind Marcelo Bielsa and David O’Leary. What are your best memories of managing the club?

SG: I loved my time at Leeds even when things weren’t going too well. To support, play and manage the club is something I’m so proud of. Getting promoted on the last day of the season in front of 38,000 was the ultimate highlight. Seeing what it meant to the supporters when we were celebrating on the pitch after the final whistle and the manor how we won (going down to 10 men and 1 nil down to then win 2-1) was certainly a rollercoaster ride for everyone and one of relief as well. Winning at Old Trafford as a League One team in the FA Cup is certainly up there with the best moments as well.

BOTN: What about the Leeds fans?

The connection I had with the supporters is another great memory. They enjoyed how we played, the spirit we had and ultimately the pride that we showed playing for them and the club. To get so close to the play offs in our first season in the Championship was a feeling of disappointment really given we really thought we had enough quality in the squad to get the team close to going back to the Premier League

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Leeds fans celebrate being promoted to the Premier League this season (Image from LUFC)

BOTN: A month after leaving Leeds, you joined fellow Yorkshire club Huddersfield Town, and again got them promoted to the Championship. But as a manager, how much of an effect does joining a rival have on your decision over whether to take a job? 

SG: Honestly, I didn’t worry about it. I knew some people might have a problem with it but if you win matches and ultimately get the team promoted then no one should have any complaints about it.

BOTN: You took over at Preston in February 2013 with the club in real danger of being relegated from League One. But in less than three years you had transformed the club and managed to get them promoted to the Championship. Joe Garner played a key role in those squads scoring over 20 goals a season in both the 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 campaigns. How important as a manager is it to find a striker who you can rely on to get 20+ goals per season and what did you do personally with Joe to turn around his time at Preston and make him into a prolific scorer?

SG: Strikers at any level of football are so important as they win matches for you. To have someone you and his teammates can rely on to put away the chances can be the difference between being an average team and a successful one. Joe had been at a few big clubs without making it really work but he was someone who I knew would work hard for the team but also put his head and body in where it hurts to score a goal. Joe had some good teammates who could create the chances for him as well, people like (Paul) Gallagher, (Daniel) Johnson, (Callum) Robinson and others knew what kind of service Joe liked and they had the quality to do this.

Joe Garner was in lethal form for Preston NE under Grayson (Image from Tumblr)

BOTN: Given your history of turning clubs around and gaining promotion, the challenge of doing the same at Sunderland must have been appealing. But you joined at a very weird time at the club, which was all captured in the recent Netflix documentary called ‘Sunderland Till I Die’. Clearly things weren’t / aren’t right at Sunderland, but just how difficult was it to manage in those circumstances with every move you made captured on film?

SG: The documentary was already in place when I moved to Sunderland. I gave them certain rules where and when they could film but as a documentary they were always wanting more and did not want to miss out on things. I’m sure the players didn’t like the cameras there as I didn’t. I knew going to Sunderland wasn’t going to be an easy job, but I certainly backed myself to do well. It probably wasn’t until I was there a week or so that I realize how much negativity and unrest there was at the club.

BOTN: There is a lot of talk that Sunderland is a club with deep rooted problems with professionalism, and an ingrained drinking culture that a succession of managers have been unable to break. Would you agree with that assertion, and if so, given time and patience how would you go about transforming the club?

SG: As a manager you go to a club with your own ideas and beliefs which you hope you can get the players to buy into but Sunderland seemed to have problems with a group of players who didn’t want to be there or some had lost the drive and desire to turn it around. With Chris Coleman following me and not able to change the attitude and culture around proved that it wasn’t the managers fault but deeper lying problems. The only way of fixing this would be to give the manager time to change it around rather than keep blaming the manager and changing manager every time a result doesn’t go the way the fans wanted it to go. I genuinely believe I would have been successful there if I was given more time but as we know in this day and age time isn’t always something you get now.

Grayson on season 2 of “Sunderland Til I Die”.

BOTN: Moving on, there is a school of thought that says the game is “better” today thanks to advances in sports science, nutrition etc. as well as better quality pitches.  Do you agree with that assertion?

SG: I think that today’s players have the best opportunities to be a success due to the things you have mentioned but I also believe that the modern day footballer also has everything done for them and therefore sometimes doesn’t take responsibility for things like players did in the past. They wait for problems to be solved by the manager rather than trying to solve them themselves. They don’t like criticism as much as past players did and anytime there is a problem, an agent seems to have to get involved.

BOTN: How do you feel you would have fared as a player today?

SG:  I think I would have been fine as I would have taken my time playing in the 90s into the modern way of preparing for games and playing.

BOTN: Over the past few years, we have seen a growing trend towards talented younger players leaving the English game such as Jadon Sancho and more recently Jude Bellingham, in favour of a move to Germany. Why do you think this is so appealing for these youngsters? Is the belief that they are leaving due to lack of playing time correct or is it more to do with the coaching they can get abroad?

SG: I think it may be a bit of both but also when one player goes and is successful then others then think more positively about going and venturing abroad. In the past, only a handful of players left to go abroad with only a few successful which in turn made others think less so of moving but now that has changed, and more may do it in the future.

Jude Bellingham has moved to Germany and Borussia Dortmund (Image from Tumblr)

BOTN: Before we turn to our fan questions, it’s fair to say that you’ve had a very successful career as a manager with several promotions with different clubs under your belt. That said you are often overlooked for the vacant jobs in the Premier League. Do you think that there is a bias towards appointing foreign coaches in that division? And Is the pathway to becoming a Premier League manager for English coaches therefore restricted to gaining promotion with a club from the Championship?

SG: There are many coaches including myself that believe a lot of English/British coaches are overlooked for jobs in the Premier League and that the only way you get to manage there is by taking teams up. You only have to look at people like Sean Dyche, Eddie Howe and Chris Wilder who have managed in the Premier League by getting their clubs promoted as opposed to getting approached for jobs while they were managing in the Championship or League One.

BOTN: Finally let’s move on to some fan questions. Of the players you played with or against, who do you think would be most likely to thrive today? 

SG: Most of the players I played with and against while I was at Leicester and Aston Villa in the Premier League would have all thrived today as they all had the basic ingredients the top players have now i.e. hard work , desire, resilience and ultimately quality with and without the ball.

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Grayson with former Leicester teammate and now Celtic boss, Neil Lennon (Image from Tumblr)

BOTN: Having managed clubs in the ascendancy, gaining promotion with Leeds and Huddersfield, as well as at the other end of the table, fighting in and around the foot of the table with Preston and Sunderland, do you change your approach depending on the circumstances?  And if so, what are the differences between coaching a good team to success, vs. drilling a struggling team?

SG: As a coach you have to be able to be adaptable to where a club is at when you take over or slightly change things when you move up a Division through promotion to deal with playing against bigger clubs and better players. You may also change your philosophies depending on the players you have available to you. For example, at Leeds we had a really attacking team with players like (Jermaine) Beckford, (Robert) Snodgrass, (Max) Gradel, (Luciano) Bechio and (Jonathan) Howson so our intent was to score more goals than the opposition. Where at Preston, when we got promoted to the Championship, we had to be hard to beat and play more on the counterattack.

BOTN: I read that you were in the running to be boss at Bolton. Is there any truth you were interested in that role? And if you are looking to get back into management, what kind of role would most appeal to you?

SG: I’m definitely looking to get back into managing again when the opportunity comes along whether here or abroad. At 50, with nearly 700 games and 4 promotions on my CV, I still feel I have a lot to give and I certainly have the desire to add to the games and promotions. When the day comes that I can no longer get a managers’ job then I would like to stay in the game in some capacity whether as an assistant to a younger manager/coach, or in recruitment /scouting.

BOTN: Thank you Simon and all the best for the future!

You can follow Simon on Instagram.

Interview by Rob Latham, UK correspondent for Back Of The Net. Follow him on Twitter.

Interview Contributions by Gordon Skinner.

 

 

 

A Plague Upon Your Houses – London’s Football managers living in fear

In the winter of 1665, the city of London was gripped by a major bubonic plague epidemic later called the Great Plague of London. Over the course of eighteen months, 100,000 residents (mostly poor) or 1/4 of the population of the British capital would lose their lives. The cause of the plague (bites from infected rat fleas) was almost impossible to avoid leading residents to live in fear of what tomorrow brought. They could quite simply find themselves as the Plagues latest victim.

Fast forward to modern day London and another plague is sweeping the city. This time it’s targeting football managers and they are quickly dropping like flies. In just 85 days, seven managers within the M25 corridor that loops around London have been sacked.

It started back in early September just outside of London but inside the M25 with the removal of Javi Garcia as Watford boss. Whilst fans may have been surprised by the quick dismissal of the Spaniard García just four games into the new season, the truth was that he had been in trouble for a while. Despite finishing last season in 11th place and guiding Watford to the FA Cup final, results since the turn of the year had not been up to par and the writing was already etched before Watford managed to pick up only one point in their first four games of the new campaign.

Javi Garcia failed to pick up his side after being humiliated in the FA Cup final by Man City (Image from Tumblr)

In October it was two with the dismissal of Millwall boss Neil Harris then 17 days later two became three when Wally Downes fell on his sword at AFC Wimbledon. Next was Carl Fletcher at Leyton Orient in early November making it four. Then arguably the biggest of them all with the sacking of Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino.

It was harsh on the man who guided Spurs to their first ever Champions League final last season but like Watford, results just haven’t been great. The north London club acted swiftly following a poor start to the season although like García, many believed Pochettino was in a safer position than he actually was. Indeed all the chatter about sackings in North London was focused on rivals Arsenal and their manager, Unai Emery. The three time winning Europa League manager may have only been in the Emirates hot seat for just under two years but had failed to win over the fans with his approach much to the delight of the media clutching their scythes. When Pochettino was dismissed, Emery earned a temporary reprieve as the media swung its gaze back to Spurs. However it wouldn’t be long before they got their wish with Emery sacked only ten days later.

Double Exit – Pochettino and Emery departed north London within ten days of each other (Image from Tumblr)

There was just enough time to sneak in one more sacking with the plague making a return to Watford for Javi Garcia’s replacement Quique Sanchez Flores. was sacked barely three months into his return to the club. The plague was now in full flow with seven managers losing their jobs in three months.

The question is who could be next. Fulham manager Scott Parker and Brentford boss Thomas Frank appear safe with both sides doing well in the Championship as is Gary Rowett at Millwall but the same can’t be said for Queens Park Rangers boss Mark Warburton and Charlton manager Lee Bowyer. Former Glasgow Rangers boss Warburton has only been at Loftus Road for six months but performances have been less than impressive with QPR only managing to win one of their last eight games. Over at Charlton, new owners are about to take over and could be set to make a managerial change of their own in despite just giving Bowyer a vote of confidence. Neither manager will be able to sleep soundly give their situations.

QPR boss Mark Warburton is feeling the pressure after a run of bad results (Image from Tumblr)

Back in the Premier League, Frank Lampard continues to remain untouchable from the sack with the credits he earned as a player still being cashed in. The same cannot be said however for West Ham’s Manuel Pellegrini who must be looking over his shoulder despite a recent win over Lampard’s Chelsea. The availability of David Moyes plus a willingness on the part of Rafa Benitez to return to the Premier League is heaping further pressure in the Chilean. Or perhaps the plague will return to Watford one last time before the end of the season with many wondering if new boss Nigel Pearson is the right man to guide Watford to safety. Time will tell.

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From maestro to manager – four exceptional midfielders aiming to make their mark as managers

In the wake of some troubling times at his old club and the uncertainty surrounding current coach Maurizio Sarri, Frank Lampard’s name started to be linked more often with a Chelsea return. Perceived as one of two potential candidates being evaluated by Chelsea (the other being Zinedine Zidane), it wouldn’t be surprising to see him back at the Bridge anytime soon. Which in itself is remarkable given that less than 18 months ago, Lampard was a million miles away from becoming their next boss. But an impressive start to his managerial career at Derby and the need to return to something familiar has provided food for thought within Chelsea’s hierarchy. Lampard gained most of his reputation playing for the club as a star midfielder who provided guile but also goals to boot.

Lampard scored 147 goals for Chelsea during a 13 year stay (Image from Tumblr)

Remarkably he is one of several former star midfielders who are making their transition into management with the world watching on intrigued by how they will fare on the other side of the white line. Many expected Lampard not to make the transition well and to flop at Derby but his level headed yet tactical approach appears to have rubbed off as the Rams push eagerly for one of three lucrative promotional places to the Premier League. Derby sit 7th in the Championship with another 45 points still up for grabs so anything is possible between now and the end of the season. The fans will be hoping that Chelsea don’t come calling anytime soon and that Lampard can finish what he has started by getting Derby promoted.

New Rangers boss, Steven Gerrard (Image from Tumblr)

Just under 300 miles north of Derby in Glasgow, Lampard’s central midfield partner for England is also proving that rookie managers aren’t to be afraid of. Steven Gerrard may have switched the Merseyside derby for the Old Firm one when he took over at Rangers but so far he hasn’t looked out of place. The former Liverpool legend has galvanized the former Scottish champions and has help transform them from the shambolic mess he inherited from Pedro Caixinha to potential title challengers in his first full season in the job. Gerrard, who appears destined to manage Liverpool one day, has taken management in his stride and is flourishing in the cauldron that is Scottish football. Having is former manager, Brendan Rodgers across the city at rivals Celtic will have helped not only with his transition but to give him added motivation to “get one over his former boss”. Whilst Celtic maintain a healthy lead at the top of the Scottish Premiership, Rangers are closing the gap slowly but surely. That might accelerate now that Rodgers has departed for Leicester but only time will tell.

Scholes and Brazilian legend Pele at Old Trafford (Image from Tumblr)

Whilst Oldham may not have had the recent success of Rangers or Derby, the League Two side still had its rich history to drawn on when it went looking for their latest manager. In the end they turned to another great midfielder, Paul Scholes who jumped at the chance only a few weeks ago. The former Manchester United and England star grew up supporting the Latics so starting his managerial career there was a no brainer for both parties. Regarded as one of the best midfielders of his generation, Scholes tenacity and eye for a killer pass made him one of the most respected and all rounded players of that era. Now Scholes is applying that same approach to management but success will take more time as Scholes is finding out. One win, one draw and two defeats so far will not have dampened his spirits but it will have demonstrated to him the gap in quality between what he is used to and what he has to work with. The test will be if Scholes can take what he learned during his days at Manchester United under Sir Alex Ferguson and apply it to Oldham.

Fulham handed Parker the managers job after sacking Ranieri (Image from Tumblr)

Scott Parker didn’t expect to be managing in the Premier League this season but when the axe fell on Claudio Ranieri earlier this week, it was Parker that Fulham turned to to step up into the fray. Parker has no managerial experience at this point however he has been operating as a coach for a couple of years first, at Spurs in the Under 18’s then at Fulham as a first team coach. Like Lampard, Gerrard and Scholes, Parker will lean heavily on his experiences during his playing career which spans over twenty years and 600 professional games. He takes over at Fulham with the Cottagers in a precarious position, ten points adrift of safety and staring relegation in the face. But perhaps with ten games to go, this is the best time for Parker to take control. With nothing to lose, Parker cannot fail. If he is unable to improve performances then Fulham will go down as many currently expect they will. If he manages to turn things around and can save them, then his stock as a manager will soar and will likely result in him getting the job on a longer term basis. As a player, Parker was a formidable force in the centre of the park, a no nonsense battling midfielder who lead by example often under the role of captain. He will be looking to get a reaction from his new team immediately both on and off the pitch as Fulham fight it out over their remaining ten games.

Lampard, Gerrard, Scholes and Parker (Image from Tumblr)

All four managers have something to prove. All four were exceptional central midfielders both for club and country and gained reputations to match that. As they transition into managerial roles, will they be able to transfer their natural ability on the field to their coaching off it? Time will tell.

Why relegation may be the best thing for Newcastle this season

In the 1993 classic movie “Groundhog Day”, TV weatherman Phil Connors, played by Bill Murray finds himself in an never ending loop reliving the same day over and over. Frustration sets in early on for Connors as he struggles to understand why he is stuck repeating Groundhog Day no matter what he does. Eventually though he accepts his fate and spends each day repeating his steps in order to entertain himself and hopefully win over the heart of his producer Rita Hanson, played by 90’s favourite Andie MacDowell. Whilst the plot may seem fictitious to most, for Newcastle fans it has become their reality – reliving the same season over and over. Each and every season follows the same vicious circle – at the beginning the fans are filled with hope that this will be the season when things turn around for their club, that new players will arrive to improve the squad and Newcastle will become the team that many expected them to become. But that hope soon disappears as signings fail to arrive. What follows is a painful season as the squad limps through picking up just enough points to survive. At the end the season, the cycle starts all over again condemning the Newcastle faithful to their own footballing version of Groundhog Day.

Groundhog Day for Newcastle fans? (image from Groundhog Day official poster)

It has been ten long years for those fans since Mike Ashley walked into their club and fundamentally changed the philosophy and approach of Newcastle from a footballing sleeping giant to a frugally driven business. Like Murray’s adventures in Punxsutawney, there have been more than a few false dawns along the way but all have ended the same way; in bitter disappointment. Whether it be Graham Carr’s French transfer revolution, Alan Pardew’s European adventure or most recently Rafa’s revival, the club has always fallen backwards rather than moving on to better things. Ashley decided a long time ago that Newcastle wasn’t going to be his hobby but instead another profit making machine within his business empire. Success on the field was sacrificed for larger numbers in the balance books. And it worked with Newcastle becoming the 17th most profitable club in the world bolstering Ashley’s reported £2.5b fortune along the way. Ashley has said publicly that despite his multi-billionaire status that the club must now be self sufficient having put £250m of his own money into the club over the past ten years but the math doesn’t stack up. in the time he has been in charge, Newcastle has raked in huge sums of money from gate receipts, merchandise, lucrative broadcast rights and player sales yet consistently spent little on bringing players in. This season manager Rafa Benitez has had to rely on loan signings, free transfers and self funded transfers (selling players to buy players) to bolster his already fragile squad. Added into this, he had to contend with the club trying to shortchange his existing squad in the run up to the start of the new season when they failed to agree a bonus structure forcing the players to take their own actions by refusing to comply with media requests. For the fans it’s a never ending cycle that shows no sign of resolving anytime soon.

For the love of Money – Mike Ashley (Image from Tumblr)

 

Hope however may be on the horizon in the form of Amanda Staveley. The British businesswoman with her Middle East connections launched an audacious bid to buy Newcastle late last year and for a while looked like she was going to be successful. With Ashley keen to sell, Staveley matched the asking price set by the Sports Direct boss (rumoured to be £320m) only for Ashley to up his price to £400m in what can only be described as a last ditch effort to get more money. It backfired with Staveley walking away from the negotiations, leaving Ashley holding the over priced baby. Staveley is still rumoured to be interested but won’t overpay for the club knowing that additional funds will be needed to vastly improve the first team as well as completely overhaul the youth development structure at the club which has failed to bring through anyone of note since Paul Dummett.

Could Staveley be tempted to buy Newcastle even if they are relegated? (Image from Tumblr)

So here is why relegation may be the best thing that can happen to Newcastle this season. It’s well understood that Ashley is becoming bored of Newcastle and would sell for the right price. It’s also understood that Ashley wants to avoid another relegation as the value of the club would drop significantly, likely to half of his current valuation. That would result in him having to make one of two choices – stick it out for another season and fund the squad rebuilding needed to get out of an increasingly difficult Championship or sell for less than the original £320m he had asked for. Given that he paid £135m to acquire Newcastle ten years ago and has likely taken enough cash out of the club since then to cover that plus his other investments, selling the club for £200m would still be a smart business move. Staveley would likely re-enter the picture (as could other potential buyers) given she sees the long term value in the club and has a desire to awaken the sleeping giant on numerous fronts. Relegation would result in several players leaving and perhaps the manager too if he has stuck around by that point. But they could be enticed back by new owners with a desire to invest that matches their long term vision for the club.

Newcastle fans make their feelings clear (image from Tumblr)

In “Groundhog Day”, Murray is caught in his endless time loop for an undetermined period. But according to director Harold Ramis, Connors is stuck for ten years before he finds redemption and escapes the loop. Its been ten years since Ashley took over at newcastle so perhaps this is an omen. With Staveley still keen on buying Newcastle and Ashley growing tired of a business that has giving him endless headaches despite being profitable, Newcastle’s escape may be on the cards. Relegation may be the trigger needed for Ashley to finally part with the club and end the fans own Groundhog Day.

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Jack Rodwell, The Forgotten Man

In the summer of 2012, a wry smile crept over the boyish face of Jack Rodwell. Having burst onto the scene some four years previously, the now 22-year-old was finally starting to see the fruits of his labour. Signing on the dotted line, Rodwell completed his move from boyhood club Everton to the now über wealthy Manchester City who were actively in the market snapping up the best talent England had to offer. And Rodwell was certainly one of those. Now a full international having made his England berth some ten months previous, Rodwell was widely considered one to watch; built-in the same kind of mould as Steven Gerrard with the passing range that Frank Lampard would be proud of. Even Roy Hodgson who had been appointed as the Three Lions manager a few months earlier from Rodwell signing for City was giddy with the potential that the player had. Everything it seemed was set for Rodwell to succeed both at club and international level.

Jack Rodwell made his England debut in November 2011 against Spain (Image from Tumblr)

Jack Rodwell made his England debut in November 2011 against Spain (Image from Tumblr)

Except he didn’t. His move to City fizzled rather than sparked his England prospects. A lack of playing time hindering any chances of selection, much to the frustration of Hodgson. To be fair to City, it was hard to squeeze Rodwell onto the pitch that already contained David Silva, Yaya Toure, Gareth Barry and Nigel De Jong. In the limited time Rodwell did see on the pitch he failed to impress amongst the collection of superstars. Reoccurring injuries, in particular to his hamstring led to City becoming frustrated with their prize acquisition and eventually deciding to cut their losses sanctioning the sale of Rodwell to Sunderland after only two seasons. The move to Sunderland was viewed as many as the sensible one – Rodwell would be able to play more and in doing so gain the strength needed to stop his recurring hamstring injury from returning. Back playing regularly, Rodwell could regain his England place and hopefully one day reach his childhood goal of playing at a World Cup.

Rodwell's career has been ravaged by injuries (Image from Tumblr)

Rodwell’s career has been ravaged by injuries (Image from Tumblr)

Except he hasn’t. For one reason or another, Rodwell’s career has flatlined. His demise is hard to understand partly because it appears to be self-inflicted. Things did start well at Sunderland with Rodwell playing a majority of games in his first few seasons but again injuries meant that he spent large chunks on the treatment table instead of the pitch. Over the first three seasons (120 weeks) at the Stadium of Light, Rodwell spent a quarter of them (30 weeks) out injured mostly with hamstring or ankle issues. It proved to be a troublesome time for the player as it was for the club who in fairness have been battling against relative chaos for the better half of a decade since Martin Ellis’ arrival and were finally relegated from the Premier League at the end of the 2016-2017 season.

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Rodwell has spent a large chunk of time on the treatment table (Image from Tumblr)

As the club dropped into the Championship, there were expectations that their higher paid players would take a pay cut but also their more senior players would stand up and be accounted for as the club looked to rebuild and bounce back up. Again when it came to Rodwell, neither happened. Rodwell’s money spinning contract remained in tact whilst the player himself completely checked out, refusing to play for the club. Efforts were made to sell him or even loan him out but none proved successful. Eventually Sunderland offered to terminate Rodwell’s contract in January but again the player refused in a move which baffled then club. He has been vocal in saying he doesn’t care about money and just wants to play except Sunderland and its fans have seen very little evidence to support this.

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Where has the passion gone? (image from Tumblr)

Instead he appears happy to sit on the bench or on the sidelines whilst his Sunderland contract ticks slowly down to its finish. Even his former boss Chris Coleman stated that he wasn’t quite sure where Rodwell was towards the end of his reign. In a way the whole situation is a shame. An inform Rodwell is a force to reckon with; skillful with both feet, an excellent engine that gets him up and down the pitch like a cheetah on steroids and a strong passing range that makes him the natural fit for a majority of teams. But many have now forgotten that as the seasons tick on. Rodwell has been replaced in their minds from being “the next big thing” to another failure story of English football. The longer he stays in the football wilderness and refuses to resolve his Sunderland situation, the harder it will be for him to make a comeback.

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During his younger years at Everton (Image from Tumblr)

So what is next for the 27-year-old? That is the great unknown. It’s clear that Rodwell isn’t in the right mind space at this time, either frustrated with what has happened to his career to date or with his time at Sunderland or simply with football itself. But his reluctance to resolve things opens up more questions about his appetite for the game and is ultimately marking him out as a bad apple to potential future suitors. It could be that he is willing to sit tight knowing that his wages are safe under his airtight contract up until 2019. They may take a hit following Sunderland’s relegation to League One; dropping from £70k to a measly £40k including loyalty bonuses but still for someone who has played a grand total of 159 minutes last season, it’s still not bad. Or perhaps he can be persuaded to come back into the fold and fight for the cause by new Sunderland boss Jack Ross. Rodwell still has time to revive his career one way or another but needs to make a decision on his future either way. Stick or twist, Rodwell needs to get back in the game or eventually he will be known mainly as footballs forgotten man.

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Why McInnes must answer Sunderlands call

Despite losing the Scottish Cup final in the dying minutes of the game, Derek McInnes had every right to crack a smile as the full-time whistle blew. Once again it has been an impressive season by Aberdeen under McInnes – finishing second behind Celtic (and more importantly ahead of Rangers in third) plus a cup final appearance highlights the superb work that has been done by McInnes and his team. It’s no wonder then that his name is top of the shortlists for several top jobs down south in England with Sunderland set to approach him in the upcoming weeks. The Black Cats are on the hunt for a new boss following the resignation of David Moyes just days after the club dropped into the championship.

Tom Rogic late goal sealed the win for Celtic (Image from Tumblr)

Tom Rogic late goal sealed the win for Celtic (Image from Tumblr)

After three years at Pittodrie, many believe now is the time for McInnes to move on and its hard to argue with. With Celtic so far out ahead in terms of squad quality and financial resources plus new competition in the form of a resurgent Rangers side under new boss Pedro Caixinha next season, Aberdeen are unlikely to better their achievements to date. Added into this, several key figures in the Aberdeen’s side including Niall McGinn and captain Ryan Jack are set to leave meaning that McInnes faces another rebuilding job yet again on under tight financial constraints. The question that McInnes is bound to be asking himself is whether he has taken Aberdeen as far as he can and whether now is the time to draw a line under it and move on.

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Key players like Niall McGinn are set to exit in the summer (Image from Tumblr)

Whilst it may seem like a no brainer to many, McInnes does have several reasons to pause for thought. He has settled well in Aberdeen with his family and appears to be enjoying life in the north-east of Scotland. With Rangers out of the picture for a majority of his tenure as Dons boss, he has had the chance to really cement his side as the second best side in the land behind Celtic. He even managed to push them close last season and at one point looked set to claim messiah status as Aberdeen headed towards an unexpected title. But sadly that charge eventually ran out of steam, Celtic regained top spot and with it snapped up the title much to McInnes frustration. Moving over the border may have its appeal to most Scottish coaches but for McInnes it’s tainted having already tried and failed down in England. A disappointing spell in charge of Bristol City was a wake up call for McInnes who had until then been full of optimism and confidence. The relegation battle and off field conflicts dented his pride. The move back to Scotland helped restore them but instilled a sense of cautiousness. Despite all this, if Sunderland do come calling it’s quite simply a job he must take.

McInnes must take on the Sunderland job if offered (Image from Tumblr)

McInnes must take on the Sunderland job if offered (Image from Tumblr)

No disrespect to Aberdeen but Sunderland are a bigger team with a lot of potential given the right appointment and change in circumstances. They may have dropped into the Championship but have all the right ingredients to bounce back, perhaps not at the first attempt but within a few seasons. The Sunderland job however will be no easy task. He will inherit a squad so in need of transformation that even David Moyes didn’t think he was up for the challenge. McInnes will have to oversee the overhaul of the existing first team squad whilst managing expectations off it with an owner so detached from football that it sometimes feels like he has forgotten that he actually owns a team. He will need to manage in a tight budget, not something he is unfamiliar with but this will be a “tight budget” based on Championship levels. No more pondering which £1,000 a week player to have in your team and which one to jettison to balance the budget.

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McInnes, along with Aberdeen Chairman Stewart Milne have managed the club under a tight budget (image from Tumblr)

But these are all challenges that McInnes is now better positioned to handle. He has grown as a manager, something his growing reputation supports. A move to Rangers looked likely before the surprise appointment of Caixinha but it could be a blessing in disguise. McInnes deserves his shot at the big time once more and a move to a club like Sunderland could be the perfect fit. Much is expected from McInnes in the future (many tip him as a future Scotland manager) but for now he must show that he is ready to step up and let his star shine on a more global scale at the Stadium of Light.

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 Three Things That Can Help Sunderland Bounce Back

Cut adrift at the bottom of the Premier League, relegation was always inevitable for Sunderland. The fans had already accepted it before kick off against Bournemouth on Saturday having watched a goal shy Middlesbrough side beat them 1-0 midweek. In the end a late goal by Bournemouth’s Josh King coupled with Hull’s draw with Southampton sealed their fate. Life in the Championship beckons for The Black Cats but it is not the end. Yes its a major setback and the loss of TV revenues is a huge hit. But Sunderland like arch rivals Newcastle who suffered relegation last year can bounce back. The Championship has become the Premier League’s graveyard and has proven difficult for teams who have failed to adapt to bounce back (Leeds, Blackburn, Queens Park Rangers etc). To avoid this happening to Sunderland , change is needed at the Stadium of Light and hopefully everyone connected to the club knows this. However sometimes knowing what to change can be the hardest part so with that here are three things we think are needed for Sunderland to return to the Premier League at the first attempt.

Trust in Moyes

Sunderland fans are divided on whether or not David Moyes should be retained as manager but for the club to have the best chance of bouncing back up, Moyes must stay. The former Everton, Manchester United and Real Sociedad boss was not been able to turn around Sunderland fortunes this season since taking over from Sam Allardyce last summer but to be fair to the Scot it has not been all his fault. The lack of interest by the clubs owner and main source of funding Ellis Short has hindered the much needed overhaul of a Sunderland squad that has been dangling preciously close to the edge for some time now. Moyes did manage to bring in 13 new players, some on permanent contracts and some on loan deals but at the same time saw 16 players leave. This amount of turn over is usual when a new manager takes charge but usually when 13 new players arrive, the squad starts to resemble the managers vision.

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Januzaj was one of several players to arrive. The Belgian signed on loan from Manchester United for the season (Image from Tumblr)

However this is not the case with Sunderland as Moyes had two frustrating windows, both battling the club for enough money to achieve his plans but also fighting against the clubs image as a regular Premier League relegation candidate. In recent weeks, Moyes frustration has shown by his public stating after several defeats that he couldn’t fault his players who gave everything. Whilst that may sound like a strange thing to say, it was Moyes way of saying that the players he has just simply aren’t good enough for this level. Moyes is not a bad manager as proven at Everton and has tasted life in the Championship before with Preston (albeit several decades ago and under different circumstances) so should be the right man to guide Sunderland back into the Premier League.  He will need to be backed though both by the fans and the board and allowed to transform the team for life in England’s second tier, much like Rafa Benitez did at Newcastle this season.

Trust in Youth

Sunderland’s drop into the Championship will likely result in a massive clear out with a majority of the more well known names like Defoe, Borini and Kirchhoff departing. There will be other forced sales like the exciting Jordan Pickford who has burst onto the scene this year in goal and has been a revelation despite difficult times at the club. His stock has risen so much that it will be impossible for Sunderland to hold onto him but the net bonus of that is that he should move for a considerable fee. Other players will be freed from their contracts or sold and spaces made available for new recruits but for Sunderland to have long term success they should turn to their youth players for new blood.

Its unlikely Sunderland will be able to hold on to Pickford when they drop into the Championship (Image from Tumblr)

Its unlikely Sunderland will be able to hold on to Pickford when they drop into the Championship (Image from Tumblr)

Like Pickford, the club has produced from its academy several new faces who could play big roles next season. Josh Robson, Michael Ledger, George Honeymoon, Lynden Gooch and Ethan Robson are all exciting home grown players that will surely have the fans on their feet on a regular basis if given the chance. The Championship is a tough league to test out new youngsters but it can also be the perfect place to do so at the same time. Building a squad that is a mix of experienced pros and youthful exuberance could be the key to success for Sunderland and its promotional push next year.

invest, Invest, Invest

A lack of consistent investment has ultimately lead to Sunderland’s current predicament. Owner Ellis Short has made no qualms about his desire to sell the club this year and appears to have lost all interest. Whilst no one has been able to match the bid price set by Short, the owner appears unwilling to add additional funds into the club at this time beyond what he deems as necessary. As an illustration of this, Sunderland’s net spend this season was only £15m (£39m spent, £24m received) which is hardly considerable considering the amounts being splashed not only by clubs in the top 6 but also clubs in and about the relegation zone (Middlesbrough – £39m, Crystal Palace – £50m, Burnley -£44m, Leicester – £26m, West Ham – £42m). With the exception of Middlesbrough who look to be accompanying Sunderland into the Championship next season, the rest have added well to their squads and have applied little pressure on the manager to balance the books.

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To be fair to Short, in the time that he has owned the club (coming on 8 years now) he has given over large amounts for transfers (£163m over last five years) but the money has not been spent wisely and as a result Sunderland have stuttered along. They have danced around relegation for the last five years only once finishing mid table – a respectable 14th in 2013-2104 but it appears lady luck has run out just as Short’s patience has run out too. A new owner needs to be found quickly and one willing to invest not only in the first team but in building a sustainable management structure as well, similar to the one found at Southampton. Only then will Sunderland be on a better footing for the years ahead.

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Newcastle United will be a major force in the Premier League next season

After a long Championship season, Newcastle were one more game away from the big time. On a tense night at St James’ Park, nerves were eased just after the hour after Preston’s Paul Gallagher handled on the line, gifting Newcastle a penalty that Matt Ritchie cooly dispatched. The party could begin, Rafael Benitez had done his job, Newcastle were back in the Premier League.

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Job Done Rafa (Image from Tumblr)

The potential of Newcastle United, may finally be realized. There is a reason a manager like Benitez, who left Real Madrid just two months earlier, took the job of resurrecting Newcastle. They are a massive club with huge prospects. With Newcastle back where they belong, they will be a major force in the Premier League next year. After the disappointment of relegation, Benitez identified Championship specialists and bought in the likes of Mohamed Diamé, Grant Hanley and Daryl Murphy to get them back up. Only run away leaders Brighton have stopped them winning the Championship.

The arrival of players like Murphy has helped Newcastle navigate the Championship with ease (Image from Tumblr)

Newcastle aren’t like any other team being promoted from the Championship, they are a club with enormous potential. When promoted in 1992, Kevin Keegan took the Toon to 3rd in the Premier League as a newly promoted side. Even Alan Pardew took Newcastle to 5th a year after they returned to the top flight. Newcastle have unbelievable resources and can easily compete in the top ten in the Premier League. Their fan base is one of the largest in the UK, with St James Park regularly getting 50,000 through the door. To gain promotion, Newcastle spent nearly £60m on new recruits. In the Premier League only the current top six sides plus Leicester City, fresh from winning the Premier League, spent more than that. Even when they were relegated, Newcastle spent over £80m. They are one of the richest sides in Europe. And it won’t be long before top players are signing for Newcastle wanting to work for a manager like Benitez.

Premier League bound Ayoze Perez (Image from Tumblr)

Premier League bound Ayoze Perez (Image from Tumblr)

After years of mismanagement, Newcastle are now on to something and the difference is Benitez; he’s one of the best managers in Europe. Benitez knows the Premier League inside out after two successful spells with Liverpool and Chelsea and now he is back in charge with one of the biggest sides in England. Newcastle United, the sleeping giant of English football, may finally be waking up.

Post by Tough Tackler – @thetoughtackler (www.toughtackler.co.uk)

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The Race for the Championship – who will win promotion?

We’re slowly moving further and further into the Championship season and we’re beginning to learn more and more about the competitive teams the league has to offer this season. As fans we’ve been graced with some fantastic performances and worried by some shaky ones. As we’re at the beginning of March now its coming to the time where speculation starts rising as to which side will gain promotion to the Premier League, and which sides will be unfortunately relegated from England’s second division. So lets take a look at which sides look most likely to join some of England’s finest teams in the Premier League.

 There have been a few teams emphasizing their wishes to reach the Premier League through their performances this season. Some have been expected, but some not so.

Newcastle United

Returning to the Premier League at the first time of asking has always been the goal for Rafael Benitez’ Newcastle side, their squad depth and persistent pestering in around the top of the table expresses that they have the capability to do so. For Newcastle the main thing to look out for is opponents in a sticky situation. Any side near the bottom of the table will simply be looking to do everything they can to keep Newcastle out, even sacrificing their own chances at goal. They may be more likely to do this based on the evidence that it works. Newcastle have notably been beaten by Blackburn at home and Nottingham Forrest also did well to frustrate Newcastle also taking a victory against them. If they can overcome their own frustrations there is no reason why St James Park can’t see Premier League football next season.

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Diame’s bizarre goal in the 2-1 win for Newcastle over title contenders Brighton put them in the driving seat (Image from Tumblr)

Brighton

It may be obvious just to state the top two clubs in the table currently are looking the most likely for promotion, but it’s also true. Chris Hughton’s side have been phenomenal this season. For the last few seasons they have been competing towards the top of the table, but always lacked that final push come April and May time. This season however they’ve been stronger than before, going on great runs they  have a really strong chance to win the Championship as things currently stand. the Seagulls have only lost 2 of their last 25 championship games. that Formidable form can’t go unnoticed and credit to Chris Hughton for getting Brighton in that position in such a tough league.

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Brighton have been in exceptional form this season under Hughton but can they continue their momentum or will they slip up? (Image from Tumblr)

Huddersfield

The somewhat unexpected high flyers this season. The determination of this side is what makes them stand out. They started the season magnificently taking a win away at title contenders Newcastle, and were top of the table for some considerable time through August and September. As the months went on Huddersfield fell a slightly of the bandwagon picking up only 4 wins out of 8 throughout October and November, still not poor form, but form which saw them slip further down the table. Since the turn of the new year however they’ve won 7 of their last 8 including a crucial victory against Play off hopefuls Reading on Tuesday night. The determination to come back  and form puts them in contention to go up via the play offs for me, but its very tough in that top 6.

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Will actor Patrick Stewart be celebrating a Huddersfield promotion to the Premier League come the end of the season? (Image from Tumblr)

Others

Reading, Leeds and Sheffield Wednesday aren’t out of it by any means either. All have been promising this season and they can’t be ruled out as they aim to upset the bigger spending clubs like Newcastle, and for the amount they’ve spent they have exceeded expectation this season. Notably Gary Monks’ appointment at Leeds was a fantastic one, and could be a crucial one come may if Leeds earn promotion back to the Premier League for the first time since 2003-04.

Post by BOTN Championship writer George Didcote (@GeorgeDidcote19)

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Rafa to Stay as Newcastle Rebuild For The Championship

In what is viewed as a major coup for the club, Newcastle are set to announce that Rafa Benitez will remain in charge as manager despite the clubs relegation to the Championship. The 56 year old former Liverpool, Napoli and Real Madrid boss was widely expected to activate a break clause in his contract but has decided to stay in the role after being given reassurances by Newcastle’s owner Mike Ashley that he will be given greater control over the clubs transfer policy. With money committed to spend and assurances that any other money generated from player sales will be reinvested in the squad, Rafa is happy enough to stay at St James Park. It’s a major boost for the club as they get set for their second spell in the Championship in eight years. Last time Newcastle bounced straight back up under Chris Hughton but failed to learn from their mistakes and find themselves sucked back down. Rafa will likely make wholesale changes to not only the first team squad but also to the infrastructure that supports it in an attempt to prevent a repeat in the future. One such change is the departure of chief scout Graham Carr who the club has indicated has decided to retire but many believe has taken the blame for the clubs failure to survive in the Premier League.

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From Champions League to Championship for Rafa (Image from Tumblr)

The task of rebuilding Newcastle will not be an easy one given the amount of work needed to be done. First up is establishing a squad capable of competing in a highly competitive Championship. Rafa will be hoping to hold on to the main nucleus of his squad but is aware that several key players are set to leave. French midfielder Moussa Sissoko will be the first to go with clubs across Europe keen on the player. He will be likely followed by Dutch internationals Daryl Janmaat and Georginio Wijnaldum whilst the futures of Tim Krul, Cheick Tiote and Jonjo Shelvey remain uncertain. Andros Townsend, who only arrived in January from Tottenham and impressed the fans with his effort and goals, will also depart with a move to Portugal on the cards. The drop will give Benitez the chance to remove the under performers from the club including Siem de Jong, Yoan Gouffran and Steven Taylor whose contract is set to expire ending his 13 year association with the club. Key to Benitez bounce back plans is convincing the backbone of Mbemba, Colback and Mitrovic to give him one season in the lower league something that all three are likely to do. Added to this, Benitez will look to get more out of Ayoze Perez, vurnon Anita and youngsters like Rolando Aarons as he rebuilds around them. Attracting new players will be important but Rafa could find it difficult to get the players he wants to play due to the club playing in the Championship. 

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Keeping Mitrovic is key to Newcastle gaining promotion next season (Image from tumblr)

Escaping the Championship will not be easy given the competitiveness of that league. This season Middlesborough and Burnley have already secured promotion with hull and Sheffield Wednesday fighting it out in the play off final for the third spot. But it could quite have easily been several other teams with derby, Brighton, Ipswich,  Cardiff and Brentford all in the hunt whilst Leeds, Wolves and QPR continue to improve season over season. Next season newcastle will also be joined by a resilient Norwich side and a rejuvenated Aston Villa who under new ownership will spend heavily in the summer. Whilst Benitez is set to sign a revamped three year deal, mentally he will be looking at giving this one year. If Newcastle are unable to gain promotion at the first attempt or Ashley doesn’t live up to his promises, then Benitez will be off.

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Charlton Clear For Curbishley Return?

Appointing a manager from the third tier of Belgian football was never going to be a winning strategy as Championship side Charlton are now discovering. When the unknown Karel Fraeye arrived at the Valley in late October few gave him any chance of succeeding and in the end that proved to be the correct. With little coaching experience to speak of and no knowledge of the club or indeed how football is played in England, Fraeye was a strange appointment to say the least by Roland Duchetelet. But now the Belgian owner is on the look out for yet another manager after dismissing Fraeye following two wins in fourteen matches. The 38 year old leaves Charlton second bottom of the Championship, winless in their last ten games in all competitions and with the worst goal difference in the league following a humiliating 5-0 thrashing by Huddersfield on Tuesday. First team coaches Wim de Corte and Jason Euell have taken control of first team duties until Duchetelet can find and hire the next head coach (his sixth in two years) of the bewildered club.

Karel Fraeye

Never likely to succeed – Karel Fraeye (Image from Getty)

It’s a dramatic fall from grace for a side who once were riding high in the Premier League under Alan Curbishley challenging for a European spot. For over a decade and a half, the Englishman poured his heart and sole into the club building them up from the wilderness into a reputable and formidable Premier League opponent. His sides featured the likes of Scott Parker, Richard Rufus, Matt Holland, Luke Young and Mark Kinsella to name a few but all promoted Curbishley’s intense work ethic giving their all in every match they played. That resulted in success for the club and at one stage in the 2003-2004 season looked destined to secure a Champions League spot only to falter at the end due to having a smaller squad than their rivals. Throughout the years, Curbishley is rumoured to have turned down several potential suitors including Liverpool to stay at the Valley as he believed strongly in what he was building which in turn made his departure at the end of the 2006 season all the more emotional. In his final match at the Valley after managing the club for 728 games (his last appearance was away to Man United to make it 729), Curbishley received a standing ovation from the home support that lasted over 20 minutes. he weeped openly as he headed down the tunnel and out of the club he loved.

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Former Charlton star Scott Parker (Image from AP)

His departure signalled the demise of Charlton and the chain events which have led to today. Relegation form the Premier League happened after only one season then slipped into League One two years later. They did manage to bounce back the following year under former player Chris Powell winning the division with a record 101 points tally. Things started to look up when Belgian businessman Duchatelet completed his takeover of the club in early 2014, promising to take the club back to the big time. Players were brought in from Standard Liege, another one of Duchatelet’s clubs to strengthen their cause sparking optimism from the fans. However it proved to be a false dawn with Duchatelet sacking Powell due to suggestions that Powell was unwilling to entertain the owners guidance around team selection. What followed has been troublesome time for the club with three unknown coaches hired and fired (Jose Riga, Bob Peeters and Guy Luzon) in quick succession before Fraeye was brought in. With four failed coaches, the fans have lost patience with their foreign owner and held protest in recent weeks at the Valley against how he is running their club.

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Big decision for Duchatelet who has had his fair share of managers (Image from Getty)

With the fans firmly against him and the club struggling badly, Duchatelet needs to bring in a coach who can help to bridge the divide and save his investment. Curbishley, who has been out of work for some time is the ideal appointment given his history with the club, the fans admiration of him and his ability to build sides capable of winning football matches. Curbishley spoke in the past of his interest in returning to the Valley when the club sacked Peeters so approaching him now would likely be met with positivity. Despite being firmly in the relegation zone, the game between the relegation zone and mid table is still only 12 points so its plausible that Charlton can escape the drop especially with the right appointment and a few specific signings. For the fans of the club, the hope is that Duchatelet gets the message soon and reaches out to Curbishley rather than looking for yet another untested foreign coach to fill the role. Curbishley is only a call away, however whether the owner picks up the phone is ultimately his decision.

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Bolton’s Troubles Worsen As HMRC Closes In

The clouds have been lingering over Bolton Football Club for some time now but they are getting darker by the day. The struggling Championship side’s future looks bleak after the UK Revenue and Customs agency, HMRC issued the club with a winding up petition for failure to pay their outstanding PAYE taxes of around £600,000. Despite pleading for more time to raise the money needed to pay the tax bill, the HMRC has moved ahead with the petition (a standard practice used by the agency to force payment) which will be heard  in court on January 18th. Bolton have employed insolvency practitioner Trevor Birch as an adviser to the board with the task of keeping the club trading and avoiding falling into administration. His task is not an easy one as raising the capital needed to pay off the tax bill is one thing but finding someone who can help to keep the clubs lights on long term basis at the debt ridden club (currently at £172.9m) is a whole new ball game.

Davies and Birch BPI Paul Currie

Bolton Owner Eddie Davies and Trevor Birch are working hard to save the club Image from BPI/Paul Currie)

Falling into administration would put the final nail into Bolton’s chances of remaining as a Championship club with the side automatically deducted twelve points by the Football League for doing so. Currently sitting bottom of the league with only twelve points to their name, it has been a hard start to the new season for Neil Lennon’s side. Whilst the former Celtic manager has tried in vain to insist that his players are not affected, the off field drama surrounding the club has influenced on field performances. Morale is at an all time low which wasn’t helped by the fact that the players weren’t paid in November due to the financial troubles. Planning for the future has been tough too with uncertainty over the clubs long term health. Lennon was unable to really strengthen his squad in the summer apart from a few free transfers and loan moves. With the financial situation worsening Lennon is unlikely going to add anyone to his squad in the January window and may even need to sell some of the clubs best players like Zach Clough and Max Clayton further reducing their chances of survival. The sad truth is that Lennon is paying for the mistakes made in the past by the club who lived well beyond their means paying large wages during their stay in the Premiership in the late 2000’s only to have everything crash back down to earth when they were relegated in 2012.

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Difficult times for Bolton boss Neil Lennon who may have to sell some of his best players in January to keep the club alive (Image from Getty)

There is some good news however on the horizon. The debt that Bolton current holds is in the form of loans owed to its current owner Eddie Davies. Whilst Davies who runs the club through one of his companies Burden Leisure PLC is keen to sell Bolton after a period of 12 years as owner, he has agreed to write off the loans in a bid to ease the takeover process. Its an incredible gesture by Davies who has faced some unfair criticism over the years with several people stating that the owner was taking money out of the club during his tenure. Even if that is the case, it is highly unlikely that those amounts come close to the money he has pumped into it in an attempt to keep the side competitive. Any new potential owner would be purchasing the club and all of the assets connected to it that Davies has built over the years including the magnificent Macron Stadium, training ground, youth academy and hotel. So far there has been only a few interested parties but now two former players have entered the race to save the club from going under. Former striker Dean Holdsworth’s company Sports Shield has confirmed their interest whilst another US based consortium group led by former midfielder Stelios Giannakopoulos is also in the hunt.

Dean Holdsworth

Former striker Dean Holdsworth is putting together a bid for the club (Image from AP)

As yet no formal bids or talks have occurred but with the HMRC now breathing heavily down the club’s neck and the January court date fast approaching, Birch and the Bolton board may end up having to double their efforts over the festive period in order to avoid the worst case scenario of administration becoming a reality. This process is never an easy one and whilst there is confirmed interest from two groups, it doesn’t necessarily mean that a saviour has been found as Glasgow Rangers and several other clubs have found out in recent years. If no buyer can be found and the wind up order pushes ahead, forcing the club into administration and potentially liquidation, it could spell the end of Bolton Football Club all together erasing over 141 years of history in one fell swoop. That would indeed be a dark day for English football.

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Blackburn Hoping To Benefit From Lambert’s European Adventure

Lambert hopes to bring what he has learned to Blackburn (Image from Getty)Being sacked is never easy with many  plunged into depression and unsure what to do next. But for Paul Lambert, who was sacked by Aston Villa in early February following a poor start to the season it was a different story. The former Scotland international took his sacking by the Midlands club in his stride preferring to travel abroad rather than sulk. But this wasn’t a vacation who instead Lambert has used the last nine months to visit various clubs across Europe like Borussia Dortmund, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid to learn about their methods and get some fresh ideas. Lambert’s return to Germany where he had his greatest moment as a player – lifting the Champions League with Borussia Dortmund in 1997 was the logical place to start his education. He has spent time shadowing some of the great managers of the world like Guardiola, Klopp and Benetiz watching and observing how they interacted with their players, how they setup the club and their philosophies towards the game.

During his travels. Lambert spent time shadowing Klopp at Dortmund (Image from Getty)

During his travels. Lambert spent time shadowing Klopp at Dortmund
(Image from Getty)

Now brimming with new ideas, Lambert is ready to use what he has learned in his new job as Blackburn manager. The Scot replaces Gary Bowyer at Ewood Park becoming their sixth manager in five years. Sitting 16th in the Championship, Blackburn have won only three times out of sixteen games this season, drawing eight and losing five and with a tough run of fixtures ahead, the clubs owners felt that a change needed to be made. Lambert took training for the first time yesterday as he surveyed his new team and immediately set about implementing what he had learned. The question on many people’s lips is which Paul Lambert will turn up? At Norwich, Lambert played quick passing attractive football which earned plaudits across the board. However at Villa, that passion for attacking flair was replaced with dull slow-paced football that ultimately led to Lambert’s sacking. Differences in the pressure applied by the two respective boards and the complexity of the leagues they were playing in will have had an affect. The Championship may be Lambert’s most comfortable level as a manager which does not bode well for the future if Blackburn are to gain promotion. But he has to get them there first.

Lambert feels the pain at Villa (Image from AFP)

Lambert feels the pain at Villa
(Image from AFP)

Signing new players may be a problem as Blackburn are currently banned from doing so after failing to comply with the financial fair play rules. It would also appear that the Venky’s, the clubs often absent Indian owners are hardly in a hurry to rectify the situation. They are working towards a resolution in time for the January transfer window but it may be next summer before they can have the ban lifted. That means that Lambert may have to operate with the squad he has which in Championship terms needs strengthening to give them a chance at promotion this season. One player who will be key to Lambert’s revival is fellow Scot Jordan Rhodes. The 25-year-old is a natural-born goalscorer whose record in front of goal is remarkable. For the past six campaigns for Blackburn and Huddersfield, Rhodes has scored over 20 goals a season. This year Rhodes is almost half way there already with eight goals in twelve matches.

Getting the most out of Jordan Rhodes is crucial to Lambert's success (Image from PA)

Getting the most out of Jordan Rhodes is crucial to Lambert’s success (Image from PA)

For Blackburn to be successful under Lambert, he needs to keep Rhodes scoring which may not be easy to do if Lambert switches to his favoured 4-2-3-1 formation. Rhodes has struggled in this formation in the past as the lone striker, often criticized for his lack of effort off the ball. Lambert faces a tough choice between changing the formation of his side to suit the skill set of Rhodes or working with his preferred setup and helping Rhodes to adapt to it. This is where Lambert could be at an advantage if he is able to apply what he has learned on the continent. Both Klopp and Guardiola have a preference towards similar formation setups and both have managed to coach their prized striker into producing results. If Lambert can encourage Rhodes to alter his style of play but not in such a way to affect his goalscoring exploits then he may have a shot of getting exactly what he needs to be a success at Blackburn.

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Money And Results Led to Championship Dismissals, Nothing More

For many, the hardest job you can have in football today is being a manager of a club in the English Premier League. With Brendan Rodgers, Dick Advocaat and Tim Sherwood having already being replaced with just over a quarter of the new season gone, this may actually be the case. But on the other hand, arguably the toughest league for a manager to operate in now is England’s second tier, The Championship. Whilst the media glare may not be as bright, the pressure in the Championship is just as high as in the Premier League, if not higher. In a league of 24 teams that is so evenly balanced that almost all clubs in the league have the talent to secure a promotion place, there are no such things as an easy game. With each club desperate to secure three points, every game becomes a smaller battle within a larger war. With every war there are always casualties and in this war that tends to be the managers.

Money driving decisions - Tim Sherwood's sacking made him the latest casualty (Image from Getty)

Money driving decisions – Tim Sherwood’s sacking made him the latest casualty (Image from Getty)

To date, six managerial changes have been made in the Championship as clubs jostle for positions in one of the most competitive leagues in the world. Uwe Rolser (Leeds United), Marinus Dijkhuizen (Brentford), Steve Evans (Rotherham) and Guy Luzon (Charlton) have all been let go in recent months after a string of poor results. The latest duo to join them were Huddersfield manager Chris Powell and QPR boss Chris Ramsey. The pair was dismissed yesterday after their clubs dismal starts to the new season. Powell was first to go after Huddersfield slipped to 18th in the table following their 2-2 draw against Reading on Tuesday night. Huddersfield have quickly appointed former Borussia Dortmund coach David Wagner as their new head coach, in a move that has upset Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp who was trying desperately to bring Wagner to Anfield. QPR followed suit later on the same day sacking Chris Ramsey after the London side dropped to 13th in the league. Director of Football Les Ferdinand said the move was done in the best interest of the club stating that after the club managed to hold on to key players in the summer like Charlie Austin, the mandate for success had changed and that under Ramsey so far the club was falling short. Former boss Neil Warnock has been drafted in as temporary charge until QPR can appoint their new coach.

Ferdinand informed Ramsey of QPR's decision (Image from Getty)

Ferdinand informed Ramsey of QPR’s decision
(Image from Getty)

Whilst anti racism campaigner Troy Townsend, father of Tottenham’s Andros may believe that the move to sack them was partially race related, the truth is that football is a results based business. Clubs have evolved over the years into individual businesses which focus on profits and the bottom line above all else. Its money that drives these decisions and this season more than ever before, clubs in the Championship are desperate to land one of the three promotional spots to the Premier League. The reason for this is that next season marks the start of the Premier League’s new £5.1billion TV deal with Sky and BT and each club in the league is in line for a whopping £81million windfall. For that reason alone, clubs in the Championship are more impatient than ever before and are making the managerial changes whilst they still have a mathematical chance of promotion

Troy Townsend has suggested that Ramsey and Powell's sacking was more than just results driven (Image from Getty)

Troy Townsend has suggested that Ramsey and Powell’s sacking was more than just results driven
(Image from Getty)

Ramsey and Powell were removed now to avoid their respective clubs falling further behind in the promotion chase. To claim that the decision by Huddersfield and QPR was race related in any shape or form is misleading and shows a clear misunderstanding of the modern game. Both men are excellent coaches and managers so to suggest that their dismissals was to do with the colour of their skin rather than their abilities is insulting to them both. The harsh truth is that for one reason or another there are few black managers in the game today regardless of location. In France, Antonie Kombouare of Lens is the only manager of colour in Ligue 1, whilst in Spain Nuno Espirito Santo of Valencia is La Liga’s only representative. That is one more than in Italy and Germany who have no managers of colour in the top leagues, Serie A and the Bundesliga respectively. Indeed it is hard to find many examples across Europe but the same can be said for managers of other ethnicity or gender (for example: there is only one female manager in Europe’s various league – Clermont Foot’s Corinne Diacre). Football across Europe still has its serious issues but it continues to evolve to the point that the colour, ethnicity and gender of a coach becomes less of a factor the decision to appoint them or not in a majority of case.

Europe's only female manager Corinne Diacre (Image from Getty)

Europe’s only female manager Corinne Diacre
(Image from Getty)

What is a problem is that money is taking over to the point that young managers and coaches are no longer able to get their shot. In the past, clubs have been able to gamble on an untested coach, giving them a season and see what they can do. But now with money heading up all decision-making at the clubs, they can ill afford to take a risk leaving several coaches and potential managers disappointed. It has become such a problem that managers in England’s lower leagues now have little to no chance of becoming a Premier League manager unless they can gain promotion to the league with their existing teams. In the past, Sunderland and Aston Villa would have looked at the lower leagues for a talented manager to come in but instead have appointed a tried and tested Premier league manager (Sam Alladyce) and a foreign import who has had success in another top league (Remi Garde). The top managers in the Championship and League One were overlooked completely despite potentially being a better long-term fit. This is unlikely to change any time soon as money continues to tighten its grip on the beautiful game.

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Leeds Woes Continue With Yet Another Managerial Change

The drama at Leeds never seems to end after yet another turbulent week for the Elland Road club. It started on Monday when manager Uwe Rosler was sacked following a poor start to the new season. The likeable German only arrived at the club in May following the dismissal of previous boss Neil Redfearn but in the end was only given twelve games to show progress. Leeds 2-1 defeat to Brighton on Saturday which saw them slip down to 18th in the English Championship proved to be the final straw for owner Massimo Cellino who has a growing reputation for wielding the axe quickly and swiftly. It’s the sixth time that he has done so since taking over in early 2014. The colourful yet controversial Italian has dismissed Brian McDermott, Dave Hockaday, Neil Redfearn (twice), Darko Milanic and now Rosler in his search for the perfect manager that can lead Leeds back to the Premiership. Less than a day after Rosler left, Steve Evans was appointed by Cellino who himself hit the headlines again after being banned by the Football League for the second time in under a year.

Sacked - Uwe Rosler (Image from Getty)

Sacked – Uwe Rosler (Image from Getty)

Cellino’s reign at Leeds has been nothing short of disastrous with Leeds failing to make any progress towards stability. The nature of Cellino’s takeover is still under question, whilst his murky past which led him to fail the Football Leagues proper ownership test remains a principal concern. Added into this the nature in which Cellino has conducted himself at Leeds, often speaking badly about the club’s manager, sacking key members of the playing and backroom staff without the managers knowledge and appointing individuals to the club without clarification of role or responsibilities has left the fans dazed and confused. Cellino’s current ban should restrict him from damaging the club further yet the Italian’s tenticles are so entrenched in the club, including appointing his children as directors on the board that decoupling may be trickier than first feared.

Controversial owner Cellino has been banned yet again  (Image from Getty)

Controversial owner Cellino has been banned yet again
(Image from Getty)

To be fair to Cellino, Leeds problems started well before his arrival and their implosion began during Peter Risdale’s period as owner. Risdale, like many owners had dreams of conquering Europe and for a time it looked like that might be possible for Leeds. Under manager David O’Leary, Leeds became a challenger for European honours making it to the semi finals of the Champions League in the 2000-2001 season. That team, which included Rio Ferdinand, Jonathan Woodgate, Alan Smith, Robbie Keane and Harry Kewell would eventually be beaten by Valencia over two legs and that defeat would signal the beginning of the end. To reach that semi final, Risdale had done the unthinkable by taking out huge loans to chase the ultimate dream. When that dream collapsed, so did Leeds who quickly had to dismantle their star-studded team in order to pay  off the debt. As the stars exited, Leeds on field performances began to suffer and eventually they fell into the deepest of slides, one which they still haven’t quite recovered from.

Leeds star studded 2001 team  (Image from Getty)

Leeds star studded 2001 team
(Image from Getty)

From a nostalgic prospective, seeing Leeds in this situation is heartbreaking to most English fans (except perhaps those on the red side of Manchester). Leeds United’s rich history in the English game sets them apart from others as one of the iconic teams of the British game. The belief that the club can recover and return to the Premiership is still there but the harsh reality is that organizationally Leeds are miles away from being ready. There are some glimmering lights however most notably the emergence of several promising players from the club’s youth system. Once a constant source of quality graduates, the Leeds Academy had appeared to have dried up in recent years but the promotion of Sam Byram, Lewis Cook and Alex Mowatt are the first real signs of recovery. Unfortunately for Evans, Leeds will remain as a selling club for the foreseeable future due to the nature of the current game. Holding on to these players will be difficult especially if they continue to impress. If they are to leave for substantial fees the club must redirect the monies raised back into the first team and youth development as that will be the bloodstream of the club going forward. Staying in the Championship is the goal for this season with the hope that stability can be restored in the long-term to the club. Once restored, Leeds can start to plan for the future with some positivity and aim to make it back to the Premiership where they rightly or wrongly believe they belong.

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The Strange Case Of Charlie Austin

Why has no one bought Charlie Austin? (Image from Getty)With a shortage of quality English centre forwards, the ongoing saga concerning the future of Charlie Austin is baffling. The Queens Park Rangers striker was widely expected to leave the club this summer following their relegation to the Championship but two weeks before the window closes, Austin remains in London. He has been repeatedly linked with several Premiership clubs such as Newcastle, West Ham, Leicester and Spurs but to date no club has match the clubs valuation of the player, reported to be £15million. The fee itself is not ridiculous given the recent transfers of Raheem Sterling for £45million to Manchester City and Christian Benteke for £32million to Liverpool. Austin out scored both of these players last year and that was playing in one of the poorest teams in the league. With several clubs including the four mentioned above in need of a centre forward in the Alan Shearer mould, why they have not taken the option of signing Austin has pundits and journalists alike scratching their heads.

Austin is in the same mould as Alan Shearer (Image from PA)

Austin is in the same mould as Alan Shearer
(Image from PA)

Various potential reasons have been touted from wage demands, injuries and assurances over how often he will play but none have really been verified. With Austin starting and scoring in QPR’s first couple of games of the new season it looks like he is in great shape and hardly struggling from the injuries that many clubs are rumoured to be concerned about. In fact just looking at the players absences for injuries last season confirms this with Austin starting 35 out of 38 games last season for QPR, missing only ten days last season due to an ankle knock and a further nine days due to suspension.The on going speculation about his future appears to have not fazed the player who continues to work hard in training despite some negative remarks about him in the press. Given that he is one of QPR’s most sellable assets, Austin has conducted himself well since the club was relegated. Unlike most pre madonna strikers, the Hungerford born frontman has not thrown his toys out of the pram and insisted that the club sell him, instead got his head down and worked hard in pre season on his fitness letting the speculation around his future roll on in the background. But eventually Austin had to break his silence and after months of injury rumours including what he described as an outrageous slur made by West Ham Chairman David Sullivan, Austin fought back. In a prepared statement, Austin hit back at Sullivan and his remarks during a fan podcast where he said that Austin was too great a risk due to a knee problem, stating that this was highly inaccurate, misleading and an uniformed innuendo. He added that the so-called injuries he was carrying were not accurate in the slightest and that he was in fact in great shape.

Austin has hit back at West Ham owner David Sullivan for his remarks (Image from Getty)

Austin has hit back at West Ham owner David Sullivan for his remarks
(Image from Getty)

Anyone who has watched him play in QPR’s first two games of the season would struggle to argue with this statement. He has started much as he left off last year, doing what he does best – scoring goals. His strike rate of 18 goals in 35 games last season put him fourth in the top goal scorers chart behind Man City’s Sergio Aguero, Tottenham’s Harry Kane and Chelsea’s Diego Costa and brought his career tally to 110 goals in 183 games since joining Swindon form non league Poole Town in 2009. This in itself is remarkable if you think about the service that the other three received from the players around them compared to the scraps that Austin was living off. There was no David Silva, Christian Eriksson or Eden Hazard in the QPR team last year that could create space and a chance for Austin to score. Instead the 6ft 2in powerhouse used all of his skills to create and score his own chances. Austin is a formidable opponent and a defenders worst nightmare – an old fashion striker who not only is able to hold off the biggest of defenders but has the ability to turn them and finish with power and accuracy. Given his size, he is also unsurprisingly good in the air but with enough vision  and composure to bring the ball down and coolly slot it away if necessary. Many consider Austin to be a shoo in for a future role as England number nine with the 26-year-old gaining his first call up last year but failing to make it on from the bench. Regardless of his next move, Hodgson would be foolish to ignore Austin as he builds a squad for next years European Championships.

For now, Austin waits for the right club to come along and pay the fee that QPR are holding out for. Given his obvious talent and finishing ability, its hard to believe that he will remain a QPR player after the window. As we said before, half the teams in the Premiership could do with a player like Austin leading their line, especially given his recent track record in front of goal. Austin himself who is ever the professional will focus on QPR’s promotional challenge and will be looking to continue his good form, proving once again to the doubters that he is a player who they should be buying.

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Rangers Settles With McCoist As Club Continues Rebuild

 It was only a matter of time before the new Rangers board reached a settlement with former manager and club legend Ally MCoist. Since being placed on gardening leave under the old administration, McCoist has twiddled his thumbs waiting patiently for Dave King to swoop into power. Now fully in charge after what felt like a centuries wait, King and his new look board have set about cleaning up the mess created by years of mismanagement and under hand dealings. Out went the evil henchmen who seemed more intent on lining their pockets than helping this Scottish football institution. In came trustworthy names in business but more importantly genuine fans of the club who shared Kings long term vision. The South African based businessman has returned the club to the fans after three miserable years much to their delight. Progress albeit slow is being made as Rangers returns to normality. King was keen to work out a settlement with McCosit who in his eyes had done so much for the club under extremely difficult circumstances. The pair who have been friends for some time now met on several occasions but without the secured cash flow and with still a lot of uncertainty into how badly cooked the Rangers books were, a agreement couldn’t be reached. But now King and the rest of the board have agreed on a payment for McCoist that will draw yet another line under an outstanding legacy issue.

Since sweeping into power, King has spent alot of time fixing the problems left by the old regime (image from Getty)

On the park, things couldn’t be rosier with new boss Mark Warburton and his assistant Davie Weir engineering the perfect start to the new campaign. Eight games played and eight wins with a total of 35 goals scored and 6 conceded. The side that struggled last year first under McCoist, then McDowell and finally McCall has found new life under Englishman Warburton. The squad has been radically reconstructed with many of the faces of the failed promotion campaign leaving. Out went McCulluch, Boyd, Foster, Smith, Moshni and Black as well as fringe players Faure, Simonsen, Daly and Hutton leaving a skeleton bare squad for Warburton to inherit. With limited funds, Warburton and Weir embarked on a persuasive tour of the UK, pinpointing and convincing select players that their futures lay in Scotland with Rangers. Many bought into their vision and signed on including Martyn Waghorn, James Tavenier, Andy Halliday, John Thompson, James Holt, Wes Foderingham and Rob Kiernan. Warburton has also used his contacts in England to secure some young talent on loan with Dominic Ball and Nathan Oduwa arriving from Tottenham whilst Gedion Zelalem arrived from Arsenal. They have been joined in the squad by several youth players such as Tom Walsh, Ryan Hardie and Craig Halkett as Warburton builds his squad for not just this season but beyond. But he hasn’t done it alone and on several occasions has used Weirs reputation in the game to get the players he needed. Leaning on a previous mentor relationship, David Weir played an instrumental role in convincing former Hearts captain Danny Wilson to return to the club where he made his breakthrough. Having help Hearts lift the Championship title last season, it was widely expected that Wilson would be playing for a Scottish Premier League side this year with Rangers arch rivals Celtic favourites to land his signature. A host of English Championship clubs also had shown an interest however when Weir approached Wilson about a return to Ibrox there was only ever going to be one winner. It was alongside Weir at the heart of the Rangers defence that Wilson made his debut for the light blues over seven years ago. Since then Wilson has gained a lot of experience playing in the English leagues and back home in Scotland which he now hopes to bring to Rangers title push. He has forged a strong central defensive partnership with Kiernan this season with Tavenier and captain Lee Wallace at full back positions which has seen Rangers only concede three times in their opening five league fixtures. The full backs have been impressive so far demonstrating their talents at both ends of the field. With pace to burn and a knack of finding the back of the net, Wallace and Tavenier are one of several success stories at the early part of this season. But in truth the whole team appears to be firing on all cylinders, even veterans like Dean Shiels and Kenny Miller who have found renewed energy under Warburton. 19 goals in their first five league matches demonstrates the gap in class  developing between Rangers and the chasing pack.

Wilson’s return was orchastrated by Weir (Image from Getty)

So far the Chamionship looks like a breeze for the Englishman as Rangers stretch their lead at the top of the table. But there will be no resting on his laurels for the former City trader who is not unfamiliar to some hard work. First in and last out is his motto as he strives for perfection at Rangers. Bringing Rangers legend David Weir with him as his assistant has certainly helped the transition from English Championship to Scottish Championship. Weir’s knowledge and love for the club have been key in Warburton understanding the significance of his role and what it truly means to the fans who have been hungry for success for too long. His relationship with King is strong with the pair working hard to identify and secure the talent needed to not only win the Championship this year but challenge Celtic for the Premier League title next year. King has already pledged to do whatever it takes to get the squad ready for next season with potentially another five new faces arriving before that assault happens. It’s a relationship that McCoist had yearned for but never got. Whether it would have made a difference will never be known. Off the pitch, King is working hard to untangle the ball of elastic bands created by the previous regimes including a lengthy and obstructive partnership with Mike Ashley and his Sports Direct franchise. King is receiving help away from the club as the authorities look to press charges against those responsible for the clubs demise. Former owners Craig Whyte and Charles Green have already been arrested and face charges of conspiracy and involvement in serious organised crime. David Whitehouse, from administrators Duff and Phelps, faces the same charges whilst Green is also accused of fraud. Fans of the club heckled Whyte and Green as they left court last week and will be hoping that the pair are found guilty and jailed. That would signal a significant step forward for the Glasgow based club who is desperate to return to its former glories.
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Is Howe Gambling Bournemouths Future With Mings Outlay?

Is Howe risking a lot by spending so much on Mings? (Image from Dan Rowley)

Eddie Howe doesn’t get flustered easily. The Bournemouth manager is spending this summer preparing for his side’s maiden campaign in the English Premiership next season. In a fairy-tale story, Bournemouth has risen from narrowly avoiding relegation from the football league to Premiership newcomers in less than seven years. Despite this meteoric rise, it hasn’t stopped the pundits already condemning Bournemouth to relegation from England’s top league before kicking a single ball.  Howe doesn’t mind as being the underdog suits his team well. He knows how to cope with the pressure applied by the British media and this forthcoming season will be no different.

Bournemouth were promoted as Championship winners  (Image from Getty)

Bournemouth were promoted as Championship winners
(Image from Getty)

But the young English coach has never managed in the Premiership and will perhaps be unaware of the pressure that he is about to be put under. It’s a huge leap in class between the Championship and the Premiership for the players but the same can be said for the media attention especially around the decisions that each manager makes. Every defeat, every tactical switch and every press conference will be scrutinized. But more so than that, the players that Howe signs will be scrutinized the most. Before last Friday, Bournemouth had added four new faces to its squad – goalkeepers Artur Boruc and Adam Federici, striker Joshua King and winger Christian Atsu. But it’s the signing of his fifth player that has many talking. The arrival of 22 year old Tyrone Mings from Ipswich is an impressive capture. The left back is one of the hottest prospects in English football having impressed last season as Ipswich just missed the promotion via the play offs. He has been the subject of various transfer approaches over the past year from several Premiership clubs including Crystal Palace but chose to stay in the Championship to help the Tractor boy’s cause. But now he has been persuaded to join Howe at Bournemouth and will be a Premiership player next season.

The arrival of Tyrone Mings is seen as a coup for Bournemouth but at what price?  (Image from Getty)

The arrival of Tyrone Mings is seen as a coup for Bournemouth but at what price?
(Image from Getty)

Despite being a promising player, the value of the transfer rumoured to be around £8m is being commented on as too much by the media and fans alike. A record transfer fee for Bournemouth but one that Howe sees as a strategic and long term investment in the club. He has faith in the player becoming a success and potentially moving on to a bigger club for a considerably higher transfer fee. But his justification appears to be falling on deaf ears with several questioning the logic of spending such a large chunk of Bournemouth’s transfer budget on one player and more than that a left back. Looking at the mistakes of the past, most sides that have won promotion then been relegated again after one season all have something in common – the failure to score goals in the Premiership. Investing £8m in a striker would potentially have made more sense as goals win matches. But for Howe perhaps the best form of attack is from defense and conceding the least goals. It’s a fair argument considering that if the league table last year was based on goals conceded, Burnley would still be in the Premiership next season having conceded only 53 goals. But their downfall as with fellow relegated sides QPR and Hull was the lack of goals at the other end.

Burnley were relegated after failing to score enough goals  (Image from PA)

Burnley were relegated after failing to score enough goals
(Image from PA)

Spending £8m on an English defender for a club like Manchester City or Chelsea is seen as an investment but for clubs like Bournemouth who have considerably smaller war chests, it can be perceived as a risky move. Mings is a talented player who will be a stand out for Bournemouth this season but will his signing be the reason for their demise? There is still several weeks left in the pre-season for Howe to make further signings and he may still decide to spend big on a ten to twenty goal a season striker but that will depend on how much money owner Maxim Demin wishes to give him. Howe is one of the finest managers in the game today but at 37 years young, he is still learning. Hopefully this signing will not be a defining lesson for the up and coming English coach.

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Leeds Fans Hoping For Summer Of Stability After Season Of Turmoil

A tough season for Leeds fans (Image from Getty)Life as a Leeds United fan is never easy. This season more than any has tested their loyalty to breaking point with several off field dramas blighting what looked to be a promising season. Pre season optimism fuelled by an exciting batch of new young players coming through led many fans to wonder if this would be the season that Leeds finally pushes for promotion. That enthusiasm however lasted only a few weeks after controversial owner Massimo Celino appointed the inexperienced Dave Hockaday in mid June to lead the team into the new campaign. The fans were naturally disappointed by the move as they believed it was a step back for the club and a ploy by Celino to save money (Hockaday was reportedly paid only 1/8th of what his predecessor Brian McDermott was on). Hockaday’s only previous managerial job was at Forest Green Rovers in the Conference League but was sacked by Rovers in October 2013 after a run of poor results. Hardly the pedigree manager that the Leeds fans were hoping for. Despite this, the fans backed the team and after an impressive series of wins in friendly games, the optimism returned to Elland Road once more, with many wondering whether they were wrong about their new boss.

The Inexperienced Hockaday with owner Celino  (Image from Leeds United)

The Inexperienced Hockaday with owner Celino
(Image from Leeds United)

After narrowly avoiding relegation the year before, Leeds needed to start the season well if they were to finish in the top six but within the first eight minutes of their opening game of the season against Millwall, it was clear that Hockaday hadn’t gotten the memo. Leeds lost that match as well as two of the next three matches leaving the club dangling near the bottom of the table. Despite a resurgence which saw Leeds beat Bolton, Bournemouth and Huddersfield, Hockaday was eventually sacked and replaced by the Strum Graz manager Darko Milanic. The former Slovenia defender’s appointment meant that he became the first non British or Irish manager in Leeds history. Just over a month later he picked up another first by becoming the first sacked foreign manager in Leeds history after failing to win any of his six games in charge. Celino reacted to the fans backlash of yet another failed manager by promoting from within bumping Academy boss Neil Redfearn to the hot seat. His appointment, along with a change in formation to a 4-2-3-1 approach revitalized Leeds season which by that point was in free fall. Granted it did take a few months for his new look side to embraced the formational adjustment but when it finally clicked against Bournemouth in late January, Leeds were flying. In the period between his appointment in November and the Bournemouth match on the 20th January, Leeds picked up only 10 points from 12 games with a win rate of 16%. Over the next twelve games, Leeds racked up an impressive 25 points with a win rate of 66%. Finally the Leeds fans had something to smile about as their team climbed to mid table safety.

But then things began to unravel. Redfearn’s assistant Steve Thompson was shockingly suspended by the club by Sporting Director Nicola Salerno due to an internal matter. No reason was given for the suspension and worst of all Redfearn had not been advised about the suspension prior to it happening. Redfearn, who specifically targeted Thompson for the assistant role when he took over as manager was furious and complained to the board stating he felt undermined and would have to consider his role at the club. Without Thompson to assist him, Leeds suffered a drop in form losing five of their remaining eight games of the season and picking up only a single win along the way. Leeds playoff chances were dead and along with it the confidence of the fans in the current regime. The return of Celino after a four month hiatus due to a suspension by the Football League for tax evasion in his native Italy, has hardly given them a renewed energy with many hoping that someone else will come in and buy the club. The situation is so dire that even rumours that Hollywood actor Russell Crowe could purchase the club were welcomed warmly by the Leeds faithful. Anyone is better than Celino at least in the eyes of the Leeds fans.

Self proclaimed Leeds fan Russell Crowe was rumoured to be considering buying the club  (Image from Reuters)

Self proclaimed Leeds fan Russell Crowe was rumoured to be considering buying the club
(Image from Reuters)

Once a dominant force of English football, Leeds recent demise due to poor management and unnecessary off field drama is a sad reflection on the game today. The club has so much to offer a potential purchaser – a long colourful history, an established and loyal fan base and an impressive stadium (albeit in need of some upgrading). The squad isn’t bad either – with a good mix of home grown players like Sam Bryam, Lewis Cook and Alex Mowatt and experienced Championship players like Billy Sharp and Luke Murphy. Added into this an accomplished manager in Neil Redfearn who understands the club and its rich history, Leeds are a good purchase for any wannabe investor. Leeds fans will be hoping that this summer brings stability back to their club in one way or another and finally they can start to dream once more about a return to life in the Premiership where they belong.

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QPR Plan For Future As Relegation Is Confirmed

Back to the drawing board for QPR (Image from Getty)A passionate and dedicated performance is hardly what you would have expected from the Premierships bottom club Burnley but that’s exactly what they gave on Saturday against Hull. Despite knowing that the chances of them staying in the division were slim to none (they needed to win all three of their remaining games and have other results go their way), the Burnley players marched onto the field with their heads held high and duly walked away with a well deserved three points thanks to Danny Ings 11th goal of the season.  It’s been a season of justs for Burnley – just unable to hold on for that draw against Crystal Palace in mid January, just unable to find the net against Leicester a few weeks ago etc. One thing they haven’t lacked is effort, competing for every ball from the first minute to the last, giving 100% to every match. Relegation back to the Championship is a harsh punishment for Sean Dyche’s men who have won over a lot of the skeptics with their brave approach this season. The same however cannot be said for Queens Park Rangers who too have been relegated after a miserable season. Sunday’s 6-0 mauling at the hands of Manchester City sealed their fate but in truth QPR were relegated before a ball was even kicked.

As the two sides lined up in the tunnel ahead of kick off, few gave QPR a chance at getting all three points. But if the side came out and gave a spirited performance, a point may be possible which would have gone a long way to appeasing their fans. Unfortunately the body language of the QPR players was all too evident. Defeat and relegation were to them inevitable so why try? Not exactly the response you want from your players going into a crunch match.  Within four minutes, Sergio Aguero had fired City into a 1-0 lead. Already the heads had dropped; a drubbing was on the way. When Kolarov stepped up to hit a 32nd minute free kick, QPR were in disarray.  Robert Green tried his hardest to organize a wall but no one appeared to know who was meant to be in the wall or where they were supposed to stand. The work that was surely done on the training pitch had been forgotten in yet another example of how badly organized QPR are. The blame however should not lie at the feet of manager Chris Ramsey, instead it should rest solely at the feet of his players – unable to follow simple marching orders or fall into some resemblance of structure.  Woeful defending let Aguero race through and add a third just after the break but by then the QPR players were already contemplating next season.  No doubt some were planning their moves away from the club but they failed to understand that any potential clubs would be watching how they performed in this game. The lack of desire and effort by the QPR players would hardly compel clubs to reach for their cheque books.

Kolarov curls one over a badly organized QPR wall  (Image from Getty

Kolarov curls one over a badly organized QPR wall
(Image from Getty

QPR’s owner Tony Fernandes needs to drastically overhaul his team starting by appointing a full time manager. Chris Ramsey has done a good job in what can only be described as horrific circumstances – a misshaped squad, lacking in self belief and conviction, all picking up astronomical wages that demand better performances and more effort. Handing him the reins full time and giving him the ability to rebuild the team in his vision may result in a rebound for QPR.  But in truth they shouldn’t be in this position to start with. QPR should not have gone back down given their financial resources and squad but unfortunately they failed to learn from their past mistakes. The signings brought in to the club were mostly aging pros, enticed by those high wages but all have failed to add any class to an already starved team. Captain Joey Barton talked openly after the game as he does about one of two bad eggs in the squad that were upsetting the balance of the team as a whole. Although he fell short of naming them, the fact that these bad eggs were allowed to cause problems highlights further issues at the club. In the past, QPR has been found guilty of throwing money at a problem but never really fixing it. Booting out these bad eggs mid season could have been all it took to save QPR from relegation but instead the club decided against doing that.

Will Chris Ramsey be in charge next year?  (Image from PA)

Will Chris Ramsey be in charge next year?
(Image from PA)

This summer will give them that opportunity with the entire squad needing a desperate revamp. The club has 9 players out of contract including Barton, Richard Dunne, Rio Ferdinand and Bobby Zamora all of which will be assessed carefully by Director of Football Les Ferdinand and the manager (whoever that should be) with a view to handing only a few of them a new deal. The four loan players at the club (Isla, Vargas, Zarate and Kranjcar) will all return to their clubs whilst key assets like Charlie Austin, Matt Phillips and Steven Caulker will all be sold. The remaining squad will see their wages sliced by at least half as the club looks to trim the fat that is strangling the club. QPR will look dramatically different next season as they prepare to mount a challenge for one of the promotion places.  There are worse ideas than turning to the clubs youth players for new additions to the squad, adopting the Southampton approach that has benefited them so well over the past five years. Whatever QPR are to do, the most important thing that they need is a plan – they need to sit down, learn from their mistakes and built a robust plan not for the next season but for the next five to ten seasons. Sticking to that plan however may be their biggest challenge.

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Howe Out To Prove Doubters Wrong Once More With Cherries On The Brink Of Promotion

Manager of the Decade - Eddie Howe (Image from Getty)In February 2013, the BBC compiled a list of all the managers within the various English Divisions and ranked them according to performance. The study took into consideration a variety of factors including the number of points returned per game from each full time manager that season. Unsurprisingly Sir Alex Ferguson was top of the list due to his high flying Manchester United team. But the name in second place surprised many. Bournemouth’s Eddie Howe, at 35 years old was one of the countries youngest managers but had found success in management fairly easy to come by. A gifted player whose career was cruelly cut short at the age of 29 due to a knee injury, Howe’s passion for the game drove him into coaching and eventually management only two years later with the club where he had spent most of his playing days – Bournemouth. In doing so he became the youngest boss in the Football League but his appointment was met with skepticism with few believing that he had what it takes to be successful. Howe however had no doubts in his ability and set out to show his doubters how wrong they could be. Now having steered his beloved club from the brink of administration in the Football League Two to the promise lands of the Premiership, his doubters are scoffing humble pie and proclaiming Howe as a legend.

Howe’s success is unbelievable given the condition the club was in when he was appointed manager. Players of the fictitious manager simulation game Football Manager would struggle to match his success without deploying the save and reload approach when games and results haven’t gone their way. But Howe had no such quick fix approach and instead had to grind out victories in the early days of his tenure to ensure football league survival. The story could have been so different if club legend Steve Fletcher hadn’t scored his winning goal ten minutes from the end in the vital clash with fellow strugglers Grimsby in the second last match of the 2008-2009 season. That goal completed Bournemouth’s dramatic turnaround under Howe who managed to overhaul a 17 point deficit to keep them in the Football League. The momentum from that run continued into the next season with Bournemouth earning promotion to the Football League One against the odds despite having a squad of only 19 players all year.  By now Howe was on the radar of several clubs who acknowledged his talents for working under extreme conditions and still getting results. He would stay as boss of the Cherries until January 2011 at which time he was eventually tempted to jump ship and try his hand at the then Championship club Burnley. Despite posting good results during his time in charge, Howe never felt at home at the Lancashire club so he decided to quit and return to Bournemouth in October 2012 citing “personal reasons”. The move would be viewed as a failure by some in the media; that Howe couldn’t hack it in the Championship and perhaps his abilities as a manager were limited to the lower leagues. But Howe quickly set out in proving them wrong once again by steering Bournemouth into the Championship that very same year. Bournemouth seemed at ease in the Championship finishing 10th in their first season, only six points off of the play off places so when they exploded out of the blocks this year many wondered whether a fairytale was in the works.

Bournemouth’s promotion to the Premiership is all but secured with only one game remaining and a goal difference of 19 between the Cherries and Middlesbourgh in third. Only a total collapse against Charlton on the final day and an emphatic win by Aitor Karanka’s team against Brighton would see Bournemouth slip to third and Middlesbourgh automatically promoted. Howe is not likely to let that happen and will look to put the cherry on top of the cake with a win in their final game.  A favourite for Championship Manager of the Year this season, Howe has already picked up the title of Football Manager of the Decade for his stunning performances as boss of Bournemouth over the past seven years. Howe’s reputation is soaring with Gary Lineker proclaiming on Twitter that Howe could be England’s Special one, a reference derived from Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho who is the original self proclaimed Special one.  Based on Howe’s managerial career so far, it’s hard to argue with Lineker. The similarities between Howe and Mourinho are startling. Both started in management at a young age and found success with their home town clubs. Like Mourinho, Howe optimizes a new type of manager who has shed off the old school approach of coaching and has embraced the philosophy of player development and the use of modern technologies to give his team the edge in games. Like other modern day coaches such as Pep Guardiola, Luis Enrique and to a lesser extent Brendan Rodgers, Howe is a meticulous planner who analyzes every aspect of the game from training ground routines and practices to formation strategies and player development. Howe has studied the game with a deeper level of awareness than most managers do and has reaped the benefits. Next season he will lead his team out for its debut game in the Premiership but already the doubters are surfacing once again by suggesting that Bournemouth will go straight back down. Howe, like always is out to prove them wrong.

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FA Cup Heartbreak For Gerrard As Villa Seal Final Appearance

Heartbreak for Gerrard (Image from Getty)It was meant to be the fairytale send off for Steven Gerrard but Tim Sherwood had other ideas. Yesterday’s dramatic FA Cup semi final between Liverpool and Aston Villa saw Sherwood’s side upset the apple cart and book their place at Wembley. For Gerrard, who is set to leave Liverpool at the end of the season it was heartbreaking. One last chance at silverware with his beloved Liverpool cruelly snatched away. Goals from Christian Benteke and Fabien Delph were enough to cancel out Phillippe Coutinho’s early strike and send Villa to their first FA final since 2000. Liverpool did have a Mario Balotelli goal wrongly ruled offside in the 88th minute but to be fair to Villa the result was what their performance deserved. Credit must be given to Tim Sherwood who has transformed this Aston Villa side since replacing Paul Lambert as manager only 11 games ago. His first game as manager was the nail biting 2-1 last 16 victory over Leicester in the FA Cup. Although not officially in charge for the game, Sherwood did give a rousing half time talk to the team with the game evenly balanced at 0-0. His words spurred them on to victory as they did again against West Brom in the quarters so yesterdays win seemed only fitting for the effort he has applied so far.

The defeat has heaped further pressure on Sherwood’s opposite number for the day, Brendan Rodgers who must be anxiously looking over his shoulder for the galloping Jurgen Klopp riding in to rescue the club. Rodgers had high hopes for this campaign after a close conclusion to last season which saw them finish second behind eventual winners Manchester City. But it has all gone terribly wrong for the Northern Irishman who has failed miserably in his attempts to replace Luis Suarez. Never an easy task, Rodgers fumbled in the transfer market like a kid in a candy store unsure what to spend his vast wealth on. A range of players arrived like Rickie Lambert, Lazar Markovic, Mario Balotelli and Adam Lallana but all have struggled to fit into Rodgers apparent system. To be fair, it is hard to adjust when the system used keeps changing, a notion that has perplexed the usually reliable Gerrard all season. Deployed as a Regista (a deep lying playmaker who sits just in front of the back four), Gerrard’s inability to remain in a withdrawn position and not venture forward was ultimately his downfall. Rodgers adapted the system to push Gerrard further forward but in doing so disrupted various other players including the highly effective Raheem Sterling who was operating in the hole behind the central striker. Gerrard’s form dipped, unsure of the role he was meant to play and was subsequently benched by Rodgers in a move that only frustrated the former England midfielder more. Their relationship has deteriorated over the past few months despite the pair denying the rumours. Gerrard it seems will leave the club under a cloud with five meaningless games left in the regular season with only Champions League qualification to play for. As for Rodgers, who became the first Liverpool manager since Phil Taylor (1956 to 1959) to go three seasons without lifting any silverware, he must wait to see how Chairman Tom Werner reacts to yet another disappointing Liverpool campaign, with Klopp waiting patiently in the wings.

Villa meanwhile go on to Wembley to face current holders Arsenal, who are looking to replicate their 2001 and 2002 successes by winning back to back FA cups. Arsene Wenger’s side progressed to the final thanks in part to a horrific error by Reading goalkeeper Adam Federici who fumbled a weak effort by Alexis Sanchez in extra time, only to see it squirm into the net. The Australian stopper who had played well up until that point was inconsolable at the end of the match with teammates and Reading staff quick to offer him support. It was a painful blow to manager Steve Clarke who watched his Championship side push Arsenal all the way into extra time. Struggling in the league, Reading have relied heavily on Federici to perform miracles and in several cases keep them in games. Without him in goal, Reading would be staring down the barrel of relegation. Instead seven points clear of the bottom three with four games left, Reading should survive hence why they could comfortably focus on Saturday’s FA Cup semi final. They gave it their all but in a cruel twist of fate, it was all snatched away from them. No one can really know how that feels except for perhaps one man – Steven Gerrard who is going through the same pain today after realizing that his Wembley dream fairytale was now officially over.

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Premiership Clubs Agree To Share The Wealth

Sharing the wealth of the Premiership (Image from Getty)Call it generosity, call it guilt but the decision by the current twenty Premiership clubs to hand over at least£1billion of their new £5billion TV deal to the lower leagues sides and grassroots needs to be commended. In a meeting yesterday, the clubs decided unanimously to hand back £50million each in an unprecedented move. That money will now be given to five worthy areas in the lower regions of English football – grassroots facilities, participation, fan engagement and match day experience, solidarity with lower leagues and supporting disadvantaged groups. Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore has called the decision “the right thing to do” and added that it would be tough to find another sport that is as committed to this level of sharing. He fell short of breaking down how much each area would get in terms of redistribution as the agreement is dependent on the outcome of a regulatory challenge from Ofcom into how the league sells its TV rights and further additional potential income generated from lucrative international TV right sales.

Richard Scudamore revealed the intent to share £1billion  with the lower leagues yesterday  (Photo by Tom Shaw/Getty Images)

Richard Scudamore revealed the intent to share £1billion with the lower leagues yesterday
(Photo by Tom Shaw/Getty Images)

The divide between the top tier in England and the other leagues has been growing year over year since the launch if the Premiership in 1992. Clubs in the Premiership have profited considerably from increased interest and subsequent lofty TV deals whilst sides in the lower divisions struggle to survive. Sky and BT agreed this year to a three year, £5.136billion deal that will start in 2016 but as the Premiership continues to grow its global brand this cost could rise to as much as £8billion when they come to renegotiate for the rights to continue in 2019. By stark contrast the TV deal struck between Sky and the Football League, which runs the three divisions under the Premiership – Championship, League One and League Two is also a three year deal but for a much smaller sum – £264million.  Interest in the Championship both domestically and internationally is growing as the league attempts to become more attractive to investors by making itself more competitive but reaching the same levels of TV revenues that the Premiership is getting now is still very much a pipe dream.

Whilst the move has been welcomed by many of the fans groups associated to the lower league clubs including the Football Supporters Federation, there are some who believe that the amount is still not enough and that the Premiership should be sharing more of its wealth.  But the move is a step in the right direction for many who see the investment as a way to protect the future of football in England going forward. In an additional move, the twenty Premiership clubs have also agreed to pay all full time staff at their own clubs at least the living wage. The current living wage is set at £9.15 an hour in London and £7.85 an hour in the rest of the UK. This should help to appease several fan groups who have been protesting for fairer conditions for their workers associated to the Premiership clubs. The fans are also calling for a reduction of match day tickets with the average cost now sitting at £56, a dramatic rise from the average cost of £19 when the league kicked off in 1992 which has meant that the common working fan struggles to afford to attend games on a regular basis. In previous years families used to take their kids to games but with the cost of a match day experience for a family of four reaching the £300 mark (after tickets, transport, food etc), it proves too difficult for families who are struggling to make ends meet. That decision lies with the clubs themselves who may be less likely to lower prices given this new deal with the lower leagues.

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Bournemouth’s Hollywood Finish Edges Closer

Bournemouth are flying high in the Championship (Image from Getty)

It’s a story straight out of Hollywood but one very much with its roots firmly set in the south of England. A phoenix from the flames story about a club teetering on the brink of collapse and narrowly avoided relegation from the Football League eight years ago to now only a few points away from promotion to the country’s top league. However this isn’t just a Hollywood dream but in fact a reality. This is the story of Bournemouth FC and their remarkable turnaround. Having spent most of their 116 year history plying their trade in the lower leagues of English football, few would have believed that Bournemouth would be now so close to the Premiership. But after five strong seasons which has seen Bournemouth climb league after league, they now sit top of the Championship on 73 points and are looking to end their long stay in the lower leagues and finally compete with the best teams in England.

Final step? The Championship table as of Monday 23rd March 2015  (Image from BBC)

Final step? The Championship table as of Monday 23rd March 2015
(Image from BBC)

The credit for this must go largely to their manager, Eddie Howe. The dynamic young boss has been in charge at Dean Court for nearly six years albeit with a short stint as Burnley boss in-between. When originally appointed Howe was the youngest manager in the football league at aged 31 and many doubted that he would be successful given the various challenges he faced – taking over at the club at arguably its lowest point, second bottom of League Two and facing relegation after the club was hit with a 17 point deficit at the start of the season for entering into administration. Despite this, Howe inspired Bournemouth to safety finishing 21st on 46 points above Grimsby and the relegated duo of Chester City and Luton Town. With 19 games left in the season when he took the reins, Howe rallied his Bournemouth team to 11 wins and two draws that gave them the points they needed to secured their position in League Two. The next season he would go one better as Bournemouth finished 2nd in the league, gaining promotion back to League One. He left half way through the next season to join Burnley but returned to finish what he started less than a year after leaving. It took two attempts but eventually promotion to the Championship was achieved. Now sitting top of the Championship with seven games left to play, Howe could complete an incredible hat trick that sees Bournemouth promoted once again, this time to the Premiership.

Miracle worker - Eddie Howe  (Image from Getty)

Miracle worker – Eddie Howe
(Image from Getty)

Saturday’s emphatic 3-0 victory over promotion rivals Middlesbourgh was a huge psychological boost to Howe and his team who firmly believe that their destiny is now in their own hands.  Four wins should be enough to secure a playoff berth but Howe will not settle for this, preferring to hold on to top spot and automatic promotion.  Having built a team on a limited budget, selling key players in order to reinvest in the wider squad, Howe’s man management of Bournemouth has been simply remarkable.  He has made clever signings over his time as manager bringing in Dan Gosling (a free from Newcastle), Matt Ritchie (signed from Swindon), Artur Boric (on loan from Southampton) and this season Callum Wilson (signed from Coventry). Alongside veteran strikers Yann Kermorgant and Brett Pittman, the 23 year old Wilson has been a revelation since arriving, scoring 16 vital goals as Bournemouth climbed the table.  Solid at the back (the 2nd best defence in the league) and scoring for fun at the other end (82 goals so far and counting) it’s hard to see Bournemouth slipping up at this late stage.

That said Howe acknowledges that this season has been tough and that they will need to battle to the end to ensure that they are rewarded for their efforts. The memories of a torrid February still linger in Howe’s mind (Bournemouth failed to win a single game that month losing twice and drawing three times) so he will not allow a repeat of this. There is no such thing as an easy game in the Championship and Bournemouth will know that they will have to give their all to ensure promotion. Up first is Ipswich away after the international break this weekend. April could be a defining moment for Bournemouth and for Howe as they look to end their Hollywood story with a happy ending.

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Club Profiles – Nottingham Forest

Nottingham Forest Club Profile (Image from Getty)One of the most successful clubs in English football history having won back to back European Cups during the dizzy heydays of the Brian Clough reign, Nottingham Forest are desperately looking to rekindle those years under new boss Dougie Freedman. The Scot, who replaced club legend Stuart Pearce in February after a disastrous return to the City Ground for the former England Under 21’s manager have now put together an impressive run that has them leaping up the table towards the promotion places. After a sixteen year absence, we ask do Nottingham Forest have what it takes this year to make that final step back into the Premiership? In our new series of club profiles, we break down the Forest into its elements and make suggestions about what is needed for them to make that step and start back on that path towards glory.

Club Details

Founded: 1865

Ground: City Ground, Nottingham, England

Capacity: 30,576

Owners: The Al Hasawi Family

Manager: Dougie Freedman

Club Honours

European Cup Winners (2) – 1979, 1980

European Super Cup (1) – 1979

English Champions (1) – 1978

English FA Cup Winners (2) – 1898, 1959

English League Cup Winners (4)- 1978, 1979, 1989, 1990

English FA Charity Shield (1) – 1978

Current League

2014-15 Current Standing: The Championship, 9th (as of 9th March 2015)

2013-14 Final Standing: The Championship, 11th

2012-13 Final Standing: The Championship, 8th

2011-12 Final Standing: The Championship, 19th

2010-11 Final Standing: The Championship, 6th

Typical Starting Eleven

Normal Starting Formation: 4-1-4-1

No Position Player Name Age Value (GBP)
1 GK Karl Darlow 24 2.64m
13 LB Danny Fox 28 1.76m
6 LCB Kelvin Wilson 29 2.42m
16 RCB Jamaal Lascelles 21 2.64m
2 RB Eric Lichaj 26 1.32m
4 DCM Michael Mancienne (C) 27 1.32m
18 LW Michail Antonio 24 2.20m
38 LCM Ben Osborn 20 0.66m
10 RCM Henri Lansbury 24 1.76m
27 RW Chris Burke 31 1.23m
9 CF Britt Assombalonga 22 5.28m

Star Player

Jamaal Lascelles

He may not be the most expensive player bought by Forest (Assombalonga for GDP5m) or the highest profile player (Lansbury – at Arsenal from the age of 8, Wenger commented that he “will be a big player” and capped by England at U16/U17/U19/U21 levels) or most creative (Antonio has scored 11 goals and has 11 assists this season), but Jamaal Lascelles is definitely a star. A product of the Forest youth system, Lascelles is a strong, commanding centre back that is quick and comfortable on the ball. In August 2014, Newcastle United bought him from Forest, and then loaned him back for the season. He has represented England at U18/U19/U20 levels and is now featuring for the U21 team.

Emerging talent Jamaal Lacsalles should feature more before he moves back to Newcastle  (Image from emipics)

Emerging talent Jamaal Lacsalles should feature more before he moves back to Newcastle
(Image from emipics)

Star Player History

Senior Career

Season Team Mins/Game Apps Starts Yel Red Gls
2011/12 Nottingham Forest 90 1 1
2011/12 Stevenage (loan) 72 9 7 2 1
2012/13 Nottingham Forest 5 2 0
2013/14 Nottingham Forest 88 29 29 8 2
2014/15 Newcastle United 0 0 0
2014/15 Nottingham Forest (loan) 66 20 1 4 1

International

Active Years Team Mins/Game Apps Starts Yel Red Gls
2011 England U18 46 1 1
2011/12 England U19 54 8 3
2013 England U20 90 2 2
2014- England U21 90 1 1

Team Strengths

  1. Forest have 2 very experienced and strong fullbacks in Danny Fox and Eric Lichaj. This season Forest have had their best win percentage when both players are in the starting eleven. Fox is a Scottish international who has also played for Celtic, Burnley and Southampton. Lichaj is an American international signed from Aston Villa.
  2. Scoring goals has not been a problem for Forest this season and they rank 5th highest in the league. Its also good to note that both the midfield have more than contributed their fair share of goals with Antonio and Lansbury the 2nd and 3rd top goal scorers respectively for the club this season.
  3. Overall the squad is good mix of experience and youth, and there is a great balance to the positions available, which means they can easily and quickly switch formations without having to overhaul the starting eleven.

Team Weaknesses

  1. Kelvin Wilson (central defender) has the worst percentage of losses to games played.
  2. The 4-1-4-1 formation is heavy on defense but the team is 9th worst in the league for goals against.

Improvement Suggestions

  1. Formation

Historically the formation most used by Championship teams in 4-4-2 (this is especially true for the teams promoted over the last 5 years).

However, with Forest’s squad I would make a slight change to their 4-1-4-1 and make it a 4-2-3-1 with a flat back 4 and the 2 central midfielders split as 1 deep lying player and the other a box-to-box player. The 3 attacking midfielders would have a central playmaker and the 2 wide men as inside forwards (keeping the opposing full backs from moving forward).

Another advantage of this formation is that it can morph into multiple other formations quickly and without a change in players:

  1. 4-1-2-2-1 V – drop the deep lying midfielder between the defence and midfield, with the attacking central midfielder dropping back in the central line. Allows the forward and wide men to stay high and pick up cleared balls and counter attack.
  2. 4-4-1-1 – Drop the wide men back to provide deeper support and form 2 banks of 4 to break down any opposing attacks.

Switching to a 4-4-1-1 formation may solve Forest's problems  (Image from FA)

Switching to a 4-4-1-1 formation may solve Forest’s problems
(Image from FA)

  1. Starting Eleven

To accommodate this formation then a few personnel would need to change.

  1. Kelvin Wilson would drop to the bench and Michal Mancienne moved into central defence. Michael is an experienced defender who came through the Chelsea youth ranks.
  2. Bring Gary Gardner off the bench and into the deep lying central midfield role. Gary is on loan from Aston Villa but has the highest win percentage to games played in the whole squad.
  3. Britt Assombalonga is out for the season and so should be replaced by the long serving Dexter Blackstock, with Matty Fryatt on the bench as backup forward. Both players have great scoring and assists records but Blackstock edges it for both percentage of games won and percentage of games lost (in fact Forest lose less whenever Blackstock is in the starting eleven).
  4. Recall Djamel Abdoun from loan. He has one of the lowest loss percentages per games played in the squad and would be great cover for the inside forwards (potentially replacing Chris Burke as Abdoun better suited for the inside forward role).

Proposed New Starting Eleven

Starting Formation: 4-2-3-1

No Position Player Name Age Value (GBP)
1 GK Karl Darlow 24 2.64m
13 LB Danny Fox 28 1.76m
4 LCB Michael Mancienne (C) 27 1.32m
16 RCB Jamaal Lascelles 21 2.64m
2 RB Eric Lichaj 26 1.32m
22 DLM Gary Gardner 22 0.88m
38 B2BM Ben Osborn 20 0.66m
18 LIF Michail Antonio 24 2.20m
10 ACM Henri Lansbury 24 1.76m
27 RIF Chris Burke 31 1.23m
23 CF Dexter Blackstock 28 0.88m

Post by Kenny C, BOTN writer based in Asia

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Lambert Out As Villa Slide Closer To Relegation

Lambert Out As Villa Look To Rescue Their Season (Image from getty)After months of protests, Aston Villa fans finally got their wish yesterday with the sacking of manager Paul Lambert. The Scot, who has managed Villa since 2012 leaves the club languishing in the relegation zone of the English Premiership with only 13 games left. It has been torrid season for Villa despite a positive start which saw them pick up ten points from a possible twelve in their opening four games. Why the wheels so spectacularly fell off so early on in the season is hard to say but the stats for their season so far hardly make for pleasant readings for the Villa faithful. 5 wins, 7 draws and 13 defeats highlight some of the problems but the most obvious one is the lack of goals scored. In 25 games, Aston Villa has only scored 12 times. That’s eight goals shy of Derby’s 2007-2008 record season low total of 20. Based on their current goal scoring form, Villa are on track to take that unwanted record away from Derby and finish on 18 goals. More importantly, failure to improve on their ability to hit the back of the net will result in relegation and an end to Villa’s Premiership legacy.

So what has gone so wrong? Many will blame the early influence of Roy Keane who spent the first half of the season as Lambert’s assistant manager. His explosive temperament eventually led to a breakdown in the dressing room and his subsequent departure at the end of November but by then the damage had been done. Although Villa did rally in the two games following Keane’s exit, it wasn’t long before they returned to losing ways.  Injuries to key players like Christian Benteke have not helped Lambert in his quest to turn around the clubs fortunes. The Belgian has spent most of the season on the treatment table and has only recently returned although his goals have not. This has been the fundamental problem for Villa and something that Lambert is guilty in failing to properly address.

Benteke's injury problems have not helped the cause  (Image from AFP)

Benteke’s injury problems have not helped the cause
(Image from AFP)

Goals win games and Villa’s return of 12 so far is abysmal. Whilst the focus of much of the criticism has been placed on the shot shy strikers who have only contributed eight goals in total, the real issue is the lack of goals from midfield with only Joe Cole registering a single goal this season. It says a lot when the defence has scored more goals than your midfield all season. In truth, Villa’s midfield has simply not been in the position to score goals due to Lamberts keen use of a narrowing 4-3-3 formation. Against sides that traditionally play through the wings, Villa have failed to match them in the centre of the park which has on more than a few occasions led to defeats. Added into this Lamberts decisions around squad management have been called into question after some very strange moves. In the transfer market, Lambert had money to spend despite Lerner’s ambitions to sell the club. At total of six players (four midfielders and two defenders) arrived at the club for just over £10million but strangely he allowed two strikers (Darren Bent and Nickolas Helenuis) to leave on loan deals. Given that Villa’s goal issue existed last season, it would appear to be a very unusual decision not to strengthen that department. Lambert’s issues with Bent are well documented with the forward spending much of this season and last on the Villa fringes. Helenius, a £1.2m signing last summer from Danish side Aalborg arrived with a pedigree for scoring goals but has been quickly shipped back out on loan for this season.  Whether either could have fixed Villa’s goal scoring problem is unknown but Lambert’s reluctance to give either a shot at it could have ultimately led to his downfall.

Randy Lerner is keen to sell the club but not for cheap  (Image from Getty)

Randy Lerner is keen to sell the club but not for cheap
(Image from Getty)

Villa need to find a new manager and quickly if they are to avoid relegation. The breakdown in talks between Tim Sherwood and QPR could present an opportunity for Aston Villa with the former Tottenham boss keen to get back into management. Hiring a manager who is currently unattached is the most likely option given that owner Randy Lerner is proactively trying not to spend any more money that he needs to as he looks to sell the club. However a small investment now in the proper manager could save the club from relegation and with it keep the valuation of the club at a level that Lerner is happy with. Newcastle owner Mike Ashley found out the hard way when his side was relegated in 2008. Keen to sell, his then Championship side was valued considerably lower to potential suitors than Ashley would have liked. He held on to the club after several failed bids were submitted and has taken them back into the Premiership and back to a valuation more in line with his thinking. Villa’s American owner Randy Lerner does not want to stay much longer at the club and will realize that his chances of a sale are much stronger if the club he has is a Premiership one. He will need to think carefully about who replaces Lambert as the wrong choice could be disastrous for one of England most famous clubs.

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Further Changes At The Valley As Peeters Walks

Peeters has been sacked after a poor run (Image from Getty)Twenty years ago, Alan Curbishley walked through the doors at Charlton FC as manager, heralding a new dawn and an end to a period that the club spent in the wilderness. During his spell in charge, Charlton reached the dizzy heights of the Premiership and before long became an established mid table side highlighted in an astonishing 2003-2004 season that saw them finish in 7th. But when Curbishley departed for West Ham in May 2006 so too did Charlton’s confidence and before long relegation back to the Championship was confirmed. Many a manager has tried to bring the confidence back but to no avail with the club slipping further away from the Premiership season after season. In total Charlton has had 8 managers since 2006 but none could match what Curbishley had achieved.  Now Charlton are on the hunt again for a manager after the sacking of Bob Peeters. The Dutchman arrived in the summer with high hopes and after a strong start to the season, many Addicks fans began to believe again. However a recent bad run which saw Charlton fail to win in nine matches dropped them down to 14th in the Championship forcing the board to relieve Peeters of his position. Saturday’s 1-0 defeat to Brighton was the final straw for owner Roland Duchatelet whose English adventure is turning in to a nightmare.

Roland Duchatelet has big plans for Charlton  (Image from Getty)

Roland Duchatelet has big plans for Charlton
(Image from Getty)

The arrival of the Belgian billionaire businessman should have been the turning point in the clubs fortunes. As owner of Belgian side Standard Liege, he came with an established business pedigree and a dream of building a footballing dynasty. After purchasing clubs in the lower leagues of Germany, Spain and Hungary, Duchatelet set his sights on Charlton and in January 2014 acquired 100% of the shares from previous owner Richard Murray. His vision for Charlton is to act as part of a group of clubs that shares players and promote the development of youth. Rather than paying astronomical fees for player transfers, Duchatelet would prefer to loan Charlton players from Liege in the hopes that it not only helps with the clubs chances of progression but it also helps with the loan players progression too. It’s an interesting model that is been explored by various wealthy owners like Sheikh Mansour’s Abu Dhabi United Group who has bought Manchester City, New York City FC,  Melbourne City and Yokahama F Marinos or Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim who owns a collection of Mexican sides and Spanish side Real Oviedo with a view to operating similar models. FIFA has yet to approve or reject such a plan but with the regularity of this increasing and the potential implications of UEFA’s financial fair play rules, they may be forced to act sooner rather than later.

Standard Liege is one of several clubs owned  (Image from Getty)

Standard Liege is one of several clubs owned
(Image from Getty)

For his plan to be successful, Duchatelet brought in his own team which included sacking the highly respected manager at the time, Charlton legend Chris Powell. Never an easy decision but for Powell the writing was on the wall when star players Yann Kermorgant and Dale Stephens were sold out from under him. Forced to adapt to the new playing squad at his disposal, which included several new faces from Liege, Powell hung on for a few more weeks before eventually being sacked in favour of former Standard Liege manager and long time friend of Duchatelet, Jose Riga. The Belgian would arrive with a reputation but would only last a few months, bizarrely leaving in the summer of 2014 for a much shorter spell in charge of Blackpool. His replacement was Peeters, another associate of Duchatelet who had fully bought in to the guiding principles enforced by the owner and embraced the squad at his disposal.  However it proved to be too hard a challenge for Peeters who will now likely be replaced by yet favourite of Duchatelets, Israeli Guy Luzon. Luzon left Standard Liege in October after 18 months in charge after supporters rioted and demanded he was sacked following the club’s poor start to the season. Before his spell in Belgium, he spent three years as Israel Under-21 boss and he has also managed a number of clubs in Israel. If appointed, he will have one familiar face in his squad after the arrival at Charlton of Scottish striker Tony Watt who transferred from Liege just a few short weeks ago.

Gomez is the latest youngster to emerge from the clubs youth team  (Image from Emipics)

Gomez is the latest youngster to emerge from the clubs youth team
(Image from Emipics)

Charlton’s current squad is a mixed bag of experienced professionals like former Reading star Andre Bikey and US defender Oguchi Onyewu playing alongside emerging youngsters like Karlan Ahearne-Grant and Joe Gomez. Gomez in particular is an exciting prospect for the club. Despite his age – he is only 17, the England Under 19 star has forced his way into the starting lineup either at right back or in his preferred centre back position. Luzon will be mandated to develop players like Gomez for potential sale further down the road. As a selling club, Charlton have history of allowing their assets to leave when a more than reasonable price has been offered. Players like Scott Parker, Rob Lee and Darren Bent were all sold to larger clubs for healthy fees during peak spells for the club. Gomez and Ahearne-Grant will be no different but it will be interesting to see how long Charlton can hold on to them and what they can achieve in that time. Promotion back to the Premiership is the ultimate goal but before that they need to find consistency both on the field and in the dugout, something that has sadly been lacking at the club for some time now.

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Aberdeen Mount Serious Challenge To Celtic’s Title Aspirations

Aberdeen look for further silverware after winning the League Cup last year (Image from Getty)It’s hard to believe that it has been thirty years since Aberdeen last won Scotland’s biggest honour, the Premier League title. Led by Sir Alex Ferguson, Aberdeen were the dominant force domestically and a formidable opponent in Europe as well winning three leagues titles, the European Cup Winners Cup and Super Cup in a glory filled six year spell. Since then, Aberdeen have struggled to compete against the financial clout of the Old firm, Glasgow giants Rangers and Celtic who between them have won every title since ’85. But now Aberdeen may have their best chance in over three decades in arguably much more favourable circumstances. With Rangers, Hearts and Hibs all playing in the Championship (Scotland’s second tier) following relegation, and Celtic struggling to find consistent form, the door is open to Aberdeen once more to make a serious title challenge.

Can the current Aberdeen team replicate the success of Fergie's side?  (Image from Getty)

Can the current Aberdeen team replicate the success of Fergie’s side?
(Image from Getty)

To win titles, you need to be scoring goals and Aberdeen certainly are. Their strike duo of Adam Rooney and David Goodwillie has 19 goals between them so far and don’t exactly look in the mood to stop. Rooney in particular is replicating the type of form more associated with his namesake Wayne, and has the swagger to match. Signed on a free after being released by Oldham, Rooney has been a revelation this year as Aberdeen mounts a serious title challenge. The 26 year old previously spent a successful period playing for Inverness and it was this that alerted Aberdeen to his potential. His strike partner Scotland internationalist David Goodwillie is also performing well as he rescues his career after a torrid spell at Blackburn and a long drawn out court case connected with the alleged sexual assault of a woman during his Dundee United days. Their goals have helped Aberdeen to seven wins in a row, with their last defeat coming in early November at the hands of rivals Celtic. Manger Derek McInnes has done a remarkable job in building a team able to compete given the limited resources that he has had to work with. Smart deals like those struck with Barry Robson, Niall McGinn, Willio Flood and Goodwillie have added much needed experience to a fairly young squad. Indeed the introduction of younger players like Jeffrey Monakana, Cameron Smith and Craig Murray has added an extra zip to Aberdeen’s game that has been missing in previous seasons. The youngsters, either brought in through the clubs youth team or as inexpensive transfers from lower league clubs, showcase McInnes ability to garnish fresh talent and craft them into established regular starters even at such a young age.

To pip Celtic to the title would be extra special for manager Derek McInnes after spending some of his playing career on the blue side of Glasgow at Rangers. But that is neither here nor there as McInnes attempts to keep his team on grounded and focused on the task in hand. One point ahead in the league, Aberdeen knows that they can ill afford any slip ups if they are to finally lay the ghost of ’85 to bed. Celtic do have one game in hand to claw it back and regain top spot so it could come down to the wire as the season enters its second half. Next month’s clash between the two could go a long way in deciding who wins the title. Celtic are strong favourites given the resources at their disposal and the ability to strengthen further during the transfer window. However its Aberdeen’s team spirit that could be the deciding factor in the battle for this seasons Premiership title.

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A Changing Of The Guard In Scottish Football?

Between them, Rangers and Celtic have won every title  since 1986 (Image from Getty)There was a time in Scottish football where two Glasgow teams dominated the country’s top league. The Old Firm, better known as Rangers and Celtic have for the last 30 years had a stranglehold on the title, with one of the two winning every championship since 1986. The last team outside of the Old Firm to win the title was Aberdeen who managed to do so thanks in part to the managerial skills of one Alex Ferguson.  When Fergie left the Granite City in 1986 for Manchester United, Rangers and Celtic took back control and have since conquered Scottish football. However after Rangers found themselves spectacularly relegated to the country’s lowest league follow administration proceedings in 2011, it has been left to Celtic to maintain control of the league and continue the Old Firms dominance. Under previous coach Neil Lennon, Celtic blitzed the league with ease but since his departure in the summer and the subsequent hiring of the fairly unknown Ronny Deila, Celtic have stuttered and now find themselves sitting 6th in the league and in trouble of losing their grip on the league.

Aberdeen were the last team outside the Old Firm to win the title  (Image from STV)

Aberdeen were the last team outside the Old Firm to win the title
(Image from STV)

Saturday’s 1-0 loss to Hamilton was Celtic’ second defeat of the season but now means that Celtic have dropped ten points in their first eight games. Hardly a reason to panic since Celtic still have a game in hand but it may be an early indicator of a longer term problem. Last season Celtic romped to the title with a massive 25 point gap between themselves and Aberdeen in second place. On route to the title, Celtic lost only one game and drew four meaning that they dropped a total of eleven points all season, one more than they have dropped this season so far.  Granted they lost some key figures during the summer but they should have enough in their squad to cope with this. Added into that, the Premiership was seen as a weaker league this year after the relegation of Edinburgh duo Hearts and Hibernian to the Championship. Understandably the media is focusing on the differences between Lennon and Delia, blaming the new coaches’ inexperience for the clubs poor results to date. But in fact what we may be witnessing is something more – a changing of the guard and a chance for someone else to claim the title. Celtic are no longer feared in the league with others like Dundee United, Aberdeen, Inverness and Hamilton smelling blood in the water.  Celtic remains strong but are vulnerable now and without Rangers in the league, the title could slip from their grasp.

Hamilton's Ali Crawford scores against Celtic to hand his team the three points  (Image from PA)

Hamilton’s Ali Crawford scores against Celtic to hand his team the three points
(Image from PA)

The cavalry in the form of a revitalized Rangers was expected to arrive back in the Premiership next season after rising back up the leagues to the Championship but things in Scotland’s second tier are not going as smoothly as expected. Ally McCoist’s men have been anything but convincing this season and find themselves second in the league behind Hearts who have raced into a six point lead. Four wins out of four at the start of the season appeared to mask smaller problems that exist within the first team at Ibrox but the problems have since grow so it’s hardly surprising to see McCoist’s side starting to struggle. The lack of goals from returning strike duo Kris Boyd and Kenny Miller has been underplayed with others like Nicky Clark and David Templeton picking up the slack. Added into this defensive frailties both in goal and at centre back have caused more headaches for the now bewildered Rangers boss.  McCoist himself is coming under fire from the fans for the first time in his reign, with many believing that the coach has overstretched himself and doubt his decision making abilities. McCoist’s failures to address goalkeeping issues in the summer have hurt him badly this season and he is paying for it now. Current number one Cammy Bell has never really impressed the Rangers fans, whilst his deputy Steve Simonsen looks well past his best. Hope was lifted in July with the arrival of Craig Gordon on trial with many seeing him as the long term answer but McCoist’s failure to secure the free agent on a contract due to unknown reasons has come back to haunt him. Since leaving Rangers, Gordon has since joined arch rivals Celtic and become a revelation for them, demonstrating the form he showed in the past that persuaded Sunderland to spend £9 million on him.

Steve Simonsen has struggled this season  (Image from AFP)

Steve Simonsen has struggled this season
(Image from AFP)

With Bell now out injured, Simonsen has been drafted in and has struggled to show why McCoist decided to retain him for this season.  With off field troubles continuing to spiral out of control and on field performances stuttering to a stop, it may be a while before Rangers can climb that final rung of the ladder back up to the Premiership. By then however the Old Firm’s dominance may be well and truly over with a new king sitting on the throne. Only Celtic can stop that from happening this season but if they continue to play like they did against Hamilton, it may be a long and hard season for Deila and his team.

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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.

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Cardiff Look To Scotland For New Boss After Solskjaers Departure

Gone Baby Gone - Solskjaer departs Cardiff (Image from AFP)

After a disappointing start to the new season, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s time as Cardiff boss has come to an end. The baby faced Norwegian manager has vacated his position only eight months after taking the reins of the Welsh club, leaving Cardiff lingering in 17th place in the Championship with only eight points from their first seven games. It’s uncertain where Solskjaer will end up next but his reputation remains intact despite being viewed as having failed at Cardiff. It was always going to be a difficult job for the fairly inexperienced coach, who had only previously managed the Manchester United Reserve team and Molde in his homeland before taking over from Malky MacKay in January. Unnecessary off field drama was complemented by poor performances on the field which led to Cardiff’s eventual relegation from the Premiership. Despite relegation, Solskjaer would remain in charge under the blessing of owner Vincent Tan and would lead the revamping of the first team squad with a view to bouncing straight back up the following season.

Dalman (right) sat dowmn with Solskjaer in London after Tuesdays defeat to end the Norwegians time in charge  (Image from Huw Evans Photos )

Dalman (right) sat down with Solskjaer in London after Tuesdays defeat to end the Norwegians time in charge
(Image from Huw Evans Photos )

Cardiff did strengthen well in the summer managing to convince accomplished Gabon defender Bruno Ecuele Manga to join the club from French club Lorient as well as persuading Scottish goalkeeper David Marshall to stay despite interest from several Premiership sides. These two moves as well as the return of Danny Gabbidon were done to shore up what was a leaky defence and for a while it looked to be working but despite playing better at the back, Cardiff’s biggest problem remained up front. Solskjaer talked passionately in the past about how goals win games but with only Kenwyne Jones converting on a semi regular basis with four goals in seven and with his other five strikers only contributing a further one goal between them, his real problem was scoring enough goals to win matches. A 1-0 defeat to Wolves in late August was followed by a nervous 1-1 draw with Fulham as the wheels began to fall off. But it was the nature of the defeat to Norwich last weekend that signaled the beginning of the end for Solskjaer. Leading by 2-0 at half time, Cardiff only needed to hold on for 45 minutes to earn their first three points since mid August but instead Solskjaer watched in horror as his team folded and let in four goals in a baffling 33 minute period in the second half. Three days later, Cardiff faced Middlesbrough and fell behind after only two minutes. As his side struggled to find a way back and with the minutes ticking away, Solskjaer could tell that his time in Wales was up.

Kenwyne Jones has been Cradiff's only goal threat this season  (Image from PA)

Kenwyne Jones has been Cradiff’s only goal threat this season
(Image from PA)

With only a 30% win rate during his time at the club and with Cardiff slipping further down the Championship table, it was evitable that Solskjaers time would come to an end sooner rather than later. The defeat to Middlesbrough was his 30 game in charge of Cardiff and ultimately his last with the conclusion of a meeting with Chairman Mehmet Dalman the following day being that the two should part ways. The announcement followed the next day, on the same day that fellow strugglers Fulham also called time on their manager, Felix Magath’s rein. The hunt is now on at both clubs to appoint successors who can turn around their clubs current state of affairs and point them in the right direction towards promotion back to the Premiership.

Former Celtic teammates Hartley and Lennon both in the running for the Cardiff job  (Image from Getty)

Former Celtic teammates Hartley and Lennon both in the running for the Cardiff job
(Image from Getty)

Current favourites for the Cardiff role are former Celtic manager Neil Lennon and current Dundee boss Paul Hartley however other candidates like ex Blackburn and Turkey star Tugay and MK Don boss Karl Robinson have expressed an interest in the role as well. Cardiff legend Craig Bellamy and former Crystal Palace boss Tony Pulis have both distanced themselves from the job with the latter favouring a move to the newly opened manager’s slot at Fulham instead of joining Cardiff. Hartley appears to be the front runner, although Dundee appear unwilling to part with their accomplished coach who since joining in January has managed to guide them back into the Scottish Premiership at the first time of asking. Neil Lennon remains the best choice for Cardiff with the former Leicester City player still looking for his next opportunity after sensationally quitting Scottish champions Celtic in the summer. Lennon would bring with him a fiery reputation that is potentially what is needed at Cardiff where the players are concerned, less so though with controversial owner Vincent Tan. Both passionate and opinionated, the two could clash which will be a concern to chairman Dalman as he considers who should fill Solsjkaers’ boots. Dalman knows he faces an uphill struggle to replace Solskjaer as many will be put off by the antics of Vincent Tan. However for Cardiff’s sake a new manager needs to be found quickly if they are to turn around their season and climb back up the table.

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