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.

Scunthorpe-United-v-Sunderland-Checkatrade-Trophy

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.

rodwell

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.

jack-rodwell

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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Wales On The Brink As Britain Prepares To Invade The Euros

“Three more points” is the message that Wales boss Chris Coleman will be telling his team as they stand on the edge of greatness. After a hard-fought 1-0 victory over Cyrus in their seventh European Championship qualifying group match, Wales find themselves on top and within touching distance of next years tournament in France. It will be an amazing achievement for Wales who have failed to qualify for every tournament since 1958. Mathematically Coleman has it correct – three points from their last three games will be enough for Wales to reach the promise lands and rid themselves of the ghost of ’58. And with Israel up next on Sunday who they ironically beat back in ’57 to reach the 1958 World Cup, it’s surely a case of when not if for Wales. Rush, Giggs, Hughes and Saunders all tried in the past to propel Wales to a major finals without luck. But now this new generation looks set to do it and write their names into the record books.

World Cup 1958 was the last time Wales played in an international tournament (Image from Getty)

World Cup 1958 was the last time Wales played in an international tournament
(Image from Getty)

Ashley Williams, Aaron Ramsey, Joe Ledley and Hal Robson-Kanu have all played their part but Wales owe a huge debt to one man in particular who has been outstanding. With five goals and several assists so far, Real Madrid’s Gareth Bale has played an instrumental role in putting Wales in with its best chance of qualifying in nearly sixty years. It was his goal that settled the tie with Cyprus much like his strikes against Belgium, Israel and Andorra before that. Bale appears to be unstoppable when he pulls on the red shirt of his home nation. Arguably a poorer side without their talisman in their starting eleven, Bale makes Wales tick but is far from the only reason why they find themselves in this position. Coleman has done a solid job since replacing Gary Speed under tragic circumstances, bringing his side together as one whilst instilling belief that qualification can and would be achieved. Standing in their way were some formidable foes but by playing as a group and more importantly for each other, they look set to do it. Stunning yet hard-fought wins over Belgium, Israel and Cyprus has Wales on a seven game unbeaten run that looks set to continue all the way until the Euros kick off next summer in France.

Bale does it again (Image from Reuters)

Bale does it again
(Image from Reuters)

Wales will likely be joined there by England who are unbeaten in their group and are within touching distance themselves. But if current form continues and some other results fall favourably for them, Scotland and Northern Ireland could also be joining Wales and England at the Euros making it a clean sweep for the home nations. Northern Ireland lie second in their group behind Romania but ahead of Hungary going into today’s crunch clash with the Faroes Islands. Three points today are essential before Micheal O’Neill’s side can even start to think about Monday’s defining match against Hungary. By that stage, Northern Ireland could have a five point cushion between themselves and Hungary, especially if Bernd Storck’s side fails to beat leaders Romania in their match today. With Greece and Finland still to come, qualification is hardly guaranteed but like Wales, the Northern Irish players have faith that they can make it happen. Unlike Wales though, Northern Ireland don’t have a Gareth Bale-esque figure in their ranks. Instead they have a team of grafters who give their all to the cause and to date have produced some fine results against Finland, Greece, Hungary and Romania. Kyle Lafferty, the gangly former Rangers frontman has been their unlikely hero, picking up the hero status from David Healy and running with it. Five goals in six games shows he is a man in form and if his country is going to qualify, they will need Lafferty to maintain that form and fire them towards France.

The Unlikely Hero - Kyle Lafferty (Image from Getty)

The Unlikely Hero – Kyle Lafferty
(Image from Getty)

Out of all of the home nations, Scotland has the toughest challenge after being placed in a group with the current World champions Germany and heavyweights Poland. But Gordon Strachan’s side has performed brilliantly so far and kept themselves in contention going into the home straight. Currently third in the group only two points behind Germany and three behind Poland, their remaining four games will have the Tartan Army on tenterhooks. Up first is a must win game against Georgia today, played at the same time as Poland visit Germany with the result of that game arguably more important than Scotland’s. After Poland’s surprise victory at home against Germany, the group has been left wide open and is anyone’s for the taking.

Poland's win over Germany has left the group wide open (Image from Bongarts/Getty)

Poland’s win over Germany has left the group wide open
(Image from Bongarts/Getty)

Strachan knows that to stay in contention he needs to win today and then prepare his side for two crunch home fixtures against the group leaders. He will look towards the more experienced members of his team – Darren Fletcher, Scott Brown and Shaun Maloney to provide the motivation to the rest of the squad as they remind the others of the anguish they went through after several failed qualifying campaigns. Not that the Scotland squad needs to be motivated though, having lost only one of their last six qualifying games. There is a real belief in the group that if they play together they can get the results they need to reach France. Two wins from their last four games might not be enough but three wins especially one over Germany or Poland could be. It would be an amazing achievement for Strachan’s men to reach Euro 2016 and join the other home nations in doing so.

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Spanish lifeline Offers Moyes Redemption Opportunity

Spain bound? David Moyes (Image from Getty)Real Sociedad could be set to offer David Moyes a route back into football management after they sacked their coach Jagoba Arrasate at the weekend. Moyes, who has been out of work since his sacking by Manchester United in May has had several job offers over the past few months but none have appealed to the Scotsman. But a move to Spain with Sociedad could prove to be compelling enough for Moyes to end his forced sabbatical. With a young, talented yet raw squad Sociedad are a perfect fit for Moyes who will be able to craft them into a tough to beat side much like he did at Everton and Preston.

Upfront Mexican Carlos Vela leads the line  (Image from Getty)

Upfront Mexican Carlos Vela leads the line
(Image from Getty)

Moyes would be following in the footsteps of Horace “Harry” Lowe, John Toshack and Chris Coleman who both had spells in charge at the Anoeta Stadium. The Spanish clubs love affair with British coaches began back in the 1930’s when Lowe was appointed. The former Tottenham and Fulham centre half managed the club for five years before leaving to manage RCD Espanyol for a further campaign. It was 50 years later that John Toshack arrived for his first of three stints in charge. In total the former Wales boss held the top job at Real Sociedad for nine years and during that time led to their first Copa del Rey success in 75 years. After the club sacked Miguel Angel Lotina in June 2007, they turned once again to Toshack who rejected their advances but did recommend that they take a look at another British coach, fellow Welshman Chris Coleman. Having been sacked months earlier by Fulham, Coleman jumped at the chance to manage the then Segunda Division side and duly signed a contract with them on July 1st 2007. Coleman’s spell in charge, much to contrary belief was successful in Spain and his departure was only the result of the club electing a new president who wanted to return the club to its Spanish roots. Now managerless once again, Real Sociedad are eying up a return to the UK for their fourth British manager with Moyes identified as the man to take the club to the next level.

Toshack spent nine years at Sociedad over three spells  (Image from Getty)

Toshack spent nine years at Sociedad over three spells
(Image from Getty)

Despite struggling in La Liga this season, Sociedad have all the ingredients necessary to be successful. With an exciting mix of youthful exuberance and established seasoned professionals, Moyes would inherit a squad that requires little tinkering in terms of personnel but in desperate need of tactical guidance.  Funds will be available during January to strengthen the squad but the need for new faces is not so apparent when you look at their squad. In defence, Real Sociedad has one of Spain’s hottest prospects in Inigo Martinez. The 23 year old centre half has been on the cusps of greatness for a while now with a move to Barcelona on the cards before Gerardo Martino was dismissed. Now a full Spanish international, Martinez is one of many hot young prospects at the club. Midfielders Ruben Pardo and Pablo Hervias have impressed so far in what has been a difficult campaign whilst up front Iker Hernandez, who hasn’t played so far this season is itching to show exactly what he can do. Helping these youngsters mature into better players would be a key part of Moyes role but he would be supported well by defenders Carols Martinez and Dani Estrada and influential captain Xabi Preto. At 31, Preto is the heart and soul of the club having been at Sociedad for his entire career and is the perfect player to help Moyes craft the side if he gets the job. Upfront, Sociedad have the fire power to get them back up the league with former Arsenal striker Carlos Vela leading the line alongside Icelandic sensation Alfreo Finnbogason or Spaniard Imanol Agirretxe.

Inigo Martinez is one of Spain's best prospects  (Image from AFP)

Inigo Martinez is one of Spain’s best prospects
(Image from AFP)

Unlike the pressure he faced at United, there are little expectations on how Sociedad will perform this season. Currently sitting in 19th in La Liga, it looks like a grim challenge however the season is still fairly fresh and the gap between the bottom three and mid table remains realistic at only 6 points. That is not to say that the club has no ambitions and rightly believes that a Europa League place is well within their grasps. With a new manager installed and a new direction to their play, Real Sociedad will be expected to climb up the table and back to a more realistic place among Spain’s top clubs. The offer has yet to be made to Moyes but for the Scot, it could be the perfect position for him to ease back in to the game.

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World Cup Hangover Hands Hope To Europe’s Smaller Nations

Three games played and maximum points obtained for Northern Ireland and Iceland has placed them in a good position in their quest to end their respective hiatuses from international competitions. Having never qualified for the European Championships and possessing only limited exposure at World Cups (Northern Ireland have qualified three times – 1958, 1982 and 1986 whilst Iceland have never made it) both nations are desperate to qualify for France 2016. The startling improvements in both sides over recent years have given hope to their legions of fans who are praying that this is the time that they will make it. Having suffered heartbreak during the last World Cup qualifying campaign by narrowly missing out thanks to a playoff defeat by Croatia, Iceland have once again stepped up and are showcasing  the talents of what many are describing as a new golden generation. Convincing wins over Turkey and Latvia were swiftly followed by a shock 2-0 win over Holland on Monday past that has left Lars Lagerbeck’s side top of Group A, level on points with the Czech Republic. To suggest Holland were off the pace would be accurate with their World Cup heroic’s still heavy on their legs but credit must be given to Iceland who battled hard and created several good chances throughout the game and deserved the points. Whilst Holland licks their wounds under new coach Guus Hiddink, Iceland can prepare for their next game against the Czech’s safe in the knowledge that significant progress has been made in their bid to qualify for France.

Iceland continue to show improvements with a well fought 2-0 win over Holland (Image from Getty)

Iceland continue to show improvements with a well fought 2-0 win over Holland
(Image from Getty)

In Group F, Northern Ireland gave their chances a dramatic boost with three stunning wins over the Faroe Islands, Hungary and Greece putting them top of the pile. Norwich striker Kyle Lafferty has been in exceptional form scoring in all three games but it’s at the back that Northern Ireland have looked so impressive. Roy Carroll has rolled back the years with a series of fine performances in goal whilst Aaron Hughes and Gareth McAuley have marshaled the defense against some top opposition. In the last game against Greece in particular, the Northern Irish backline stifled attack after attack by the Greeks who like Holland have failed to spark under a new manager, Claudio Ranieri. The group is far from over for Northern Ireland with a long way still to go including tough matches against Finland, Romania and Greece to come but manager Michael O’Neill will take much optimism from the performances of his team in their opening few games which has left his side with a strong chance of qualification.

Lafferty sinks Greece (Image from Getty)

Lafferty sinks Greece
(Image from Getty)

The World Cup hangover appears to have affected several of Europe’s top nations including its current world champions. Having gone all the way in Brazil, Germany looked odds on favourites to top their group and progress to the European Championships in France for a shot at winning an historic double. But it would appear that the hangover from the party following their World Cup win has not yet subsided after three below par performances. One win, a draw and a shock defeat to Poland has Joachim Low’s team lying in third place in the group on four points with it all to do. After the retirement of the influential defensive pair of Philip Lahm and Per Mertesacker, Germany have looked less than convincing at the back. Manager Joachim Low has drafted in several potential solutions but none look as convincing as the exiting duo. Germany’s problems are not just limited to the back either with issues upfront as well. With Miroslav Klose finally calling time on his international career and an injury to Chelsea’s Andreas Schurrle, the World champions have struggled to convert the simplest of chances in their last three games. In total Germany created 35 chances in their opening group games against Scotland, Poland and Republic of Ireland converting only three of them. Borussia Monchengladbach striker Max Kruse has been identified as the successor to Klose’s crown but has yet to replicate his goal scoring club form on the international stage.

Kruse has yet to replicate his club form for Germany (Image from PA)

Kruse has yet to replicate his club form for Germany
(Image from PA)

Scotland’s chances of reaching their first international tournament in over 16 years stayed on track with a well fought 2-2 draw with Poland. After losing to Germany in game one and then beating Georgia at Ibrox on Saturday by a single goal, Gordon Strachan’s team travelled to Warsaw to face a buoyant Poland, who had surprised many with their 2-0 win over Germany. The game was ninety minutes full of end to end action with neither team willing to walk away with nothing. In the end a draw was a fair result and leaves both teams in contention for qualification. Next up for Strachan and Scotland is a home match against Martin O’Neill’s Republic of Ireland with both managers knowing that only three points will do in what is becoming an increasingly open group. Having held Germany to a 1-1 draw in their last match (thanks to a 94th minute equalizer by John O’Shea), the Republic travel to Glasgow next month with seven points from a possible nine. After collecting maximum points against Georgia and Gibraltar in the first two matches, the hard fought point against an arguably tougher foe in Germany will give the Republic of Ireland belief that they can beat Scotland in their own back yard. With all time leading goal scorer Robbie Keane back firing at all cylinders, the Scots will need to be cautious next month if they are to gain any points.

John O'Shea scores a last minute equalizer against Germany (Image from BPI/Kieran McManus)

John O’Shea scores a last minute equalizer against Germany
(Image from BPI/Kieran McManus)

Wales too are playing a cautious game after an impressive start to their qualifying campaign. Wins over Andorra and Cyprus plus a 0-0 draw with Bosnia has put Wales top of the group but with a series of difficult matches ahead against Belgium and Israel, Wales are taking nothing for granted. Led by the talents of Real Madrid’s Gareth Bale and Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsey, this youthful looking Welsh side hold strong belief that they can reach France 2016 and end the welsh fans misery. Having only ever reached one World Cup (1958) and one European Championship (1976), the welsh fans have been starved of competitive international tournaments for too long and are now looking towards manager Chris Coleman and his new batch of players to correct this problem. Hope is high in the welsh valleys but like the Republic of Ireland, Iceland, Northern Ireland and Scotland there is still a long way to go.

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Harry Wilson Joins Welsh Ranks, But For The Right Reasons?


Harry Wilson may not be a household name as yet, but he is already an international footballer after making his debut for Wales on Tuesday night. The 16 year old Liverpool midfielder came on as a substitute against Belgium as despite having not made a first team appearance for his club. He becomes the youngest ever player to represent Wales, beating previous record holder and welsh legend Gareth Bale by 108 days. Born in Wales to Welsh parents, playing for his country of birth looked like the only option but an English grandfather meant that he could have crossed the border to play for the three lions. Wales boss Chris Coleman, well aware of the English connection and amidst rumours of interest decided to call up Wilson to his full squad now, rather than risk losing him.

Coleman secures Wilson before England did  (Image from AFP)

Coleman secures Wilson before England did
(Image from AFP)

Wilson joins a long list of young talented players who have been handed full international honours by Wales in attempt to secure their long term commitment to the country. Learning from past mistakes when they nurtured talent through the junior ranks to under 21 level only for the player to then switch allegiance to neighboring England.  The problem lies deep within FIFA guidelines that only recognize that full international competitive caps as international status. Once capped, players cannot represent any other nation unless under extreme circumstances such as separation of state (similar to Yugoslavia in 1992 which is now broken into seven new countries. Capping Wilson now in a world cup qualifying game, even at 16 years old, was smart on Coleman’s part as it secures him to Wales’s cause.

Wilson makes his debut against Belgium  (Image from PA)

Wilson makes his debut against Belgium
(Image from PA)

However is it really fair to do so? Wilson is still very young and with options in front of him around who he represents, does Wales somewhat selfish move act to manipulate his desire to play at the highest level of football? After all what 16 year old would pass up the chance to play international football? Granted the call up is an invitation that can be refused (Manchester United whizz kid Adnan Januzaj recently turned down an approach by Belgium last month as he is yet to decide who he wants to play for) but can someone of Wilsons age really be asked to choose then? Wales is by no means alone in their approach with other smaller nations following suit. Wales’s group e rivals have all been guilty in the past of looking and capping young promising players in order to deepen their selection pools and will continue to do so until the guidelines are adjusted by FIFA. It might not be ethically fair right now but it’s the system the game operates under so Wales and other nations for that matter are within their rights to play within these rules.  But a few people are uneasy at this approach including Welsh striker Craig Bellamy who is unsure if capping early makes sense especially if it’s only to secure loyalty.

Peter Edwards celebrates his win thanks to his grandson's cap  (Image from PA)

Peter Edwards celebrates his win thanks to his grandson’s cap
(Image from PA)

One person not arguing about Wilsons cap is his welsh grandfather who is due for a huge payout of £125,000 from bookmaker Ladbrokes after placing a £50 bet when Harry was only 18 months old, that his grandson would be capped by Wales. His grandfather Peter Edwards, 62, was quoted odds of 2,500/1 when he placed the bet with the bookmaker in Wrexham. Surely he has to split those winnings with Wales’s manager Chris Coleman, who handed the player his debut? As for the player, Wilson spoke on twitter of his delight at making his debut and for the support he received. The player has a bright future ahead both domestically with Liverpool and now with Wales but he needs to not let the cap go to his head and focus on becoming a Liverpool first team regular. For the time being, Wilson will now go off and celebrate becoming Wales’s youngest full internationalist likely with his grandfather who will be working out how to spend the winnings his grandson just earned him.

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Scotland Boss Ponders How To Stop Bale Ahead Of Wales Clash

Much to Ponder - Strachan (Image from Getty)Later this afternoon, Gordon Strachan will embark on the next phase of his managerial career as he leads out Scotland for his first competitive match in charge against Wales. Strachan faces an uphill struggle as he tries desperately to revitalise Scotland’s world cup qualifying chances which so far have flatlined with no wins in the first four matches. The diminutive Scot was brought in to replace Craig Levein who did very little to improve his own managerial reputation during his time as the top man but fortunately for Strachan has set the bar so low that a single win in qualifying will look better on paper than Levein’s efforts. But getting that elusive win in the forthcoming double-header will not be easy as Scotland have to travel to Serbia next Tuesday after entertaining Wales at Hampden today. When the draw was made for the groups, Wales appeared to be the easiest team but few had remembered about Wales secret weapon – Gareth Bale.

Mission Impossible - How to stop Bale (mage from PA)

Mission Impossible – How to stop Bale
(mage from PA)

The Welsh winger is having the best season of his career. His performances have been so dazzling, that most would put him in 3rd spot, behind Messi and Ronaldo, as the best player in the world at the moment. He is impossible to contain, moving from one flank to the other after been given more freedom by his respective managers at Tottenham and Wales, and with electric pace and the ability to finish with both feet and his head, Bale is on fire. Going into todays game, Strachan will know that to beat Wales, he will need to come up with an effective plan to stop Bale. Easier said than done and only Strachan really knows how he is planning to do it but he certainly has a few options that he can use.

Scotland prepare midweek for today's game (Image from Guardian.co.uk)

Scotland prepare midweek for today’s game
(Image from Guardian.co.uk)

For one he can man mark Bale. By putting a player tight onto the winger and having him follow him wherever he goes, it should restrict the time he has to control, turn and size up the space.  This can be highly effective with the right player chosen to perform the duty. If Strachan and Scotland go down this route, he will effectively sacrifice a player to contain another. That player will have no position other than the one Bale occupies at that time and his job will be simple – to follow Bale and stick as close as humanely possible. Scotland have used this tactic before with either Scott Brown or Gary Caldwell acting as the marker but with Brown out and Caldwell likely to start at centre half, it may fall to the likes of Steven Whitaker to do this role. The only issue with this tactic is Bale’s awareness and pace. He has become accustom to having someone man mark him this season and is aware that very few people possess the pace that he does so Scotland will need to be careful that he doesn’t spin his mark and start running as no one in the team will be able to keep up with him.

Spain's Alonso man marked by a croatian defender (Image from Getty)

Spain’s Alonso man marked by a croatian defender
(Image from Getty)

Another possible option open to Strachan is the double team. Less tight marking but instead when Bale gets on the ball, he instantly has two markers tracking is every move, working together to deposes him. On the right flank Alan Hutton and Steven Whitaker again could be asked to do this (Hutton has already proved he can as he marked Cristiano Ronaldo out of the game when Mallorca met Real earlier this month), but as Bales often floats between the wings, Scotland will need to be careful that Bale doesn’t pull two players out of position leaving a gap for others to exploit. Generally with extremely skillful players or ones with pace, the double team is highly effective and is the most likely option that Strachan will adopt but he will have to decide who those two players are depending on where on the pitch Bale is at that time.

Ronaldo is double teamed against Inter (Image from PA)

Ronaldo is double teamed against Inter
(Image from PA)

The third solution harks back to a by gone age when footballers were real men and literally kicked lumps out of each other. Stories about former Scotland defender Billy Bremner are legendary but one story stands the testament of time and is still used as a tactic today by several teams. Bremner’s approach, when faced with a powerful or creative striker (or in this case Bale) he would simply make them aware of his presence within the first few minutes of the game by either dragging his studs down the back of the strikers leg or by stamping on his heel. The philosophy was simple – either it injures the player enough that he has to be substituted and the problem disappears or that he is rattled and mental scarred for the rest of the game, worrying that every time he gets the ball, he will get the same treatment from Bremner as he got in the first few minutes. Highly effective yet highly risky as one bad challenge early on may result in an injury but could also result in a dismissal for the defender which is something Strachan will definitely not want – facing up to Bale and Co with just ten men.

A typical Bremner challenge (Image from Weallloveleeds.co.uk)

A typical Bremner challenge
(Image from Weallloveleeds.co.uk)

Regardless of what Strachan chooses to do or what tactic he employs, stopping Bale from playing will be a key objective if his side are to get the three points. His problem may not actually be a problem as Bale struggles to shake off an ankle knock he sustained at the weekend for Tottenham. But Wales coach Chris Coleman cannot afford to play the game without Bale, having already lost Joe Allen and David Vaughan to injury. The Welsh medical staff have been resting Bale from training sessions in an effort to have him ready for today’s game but he may not be 100% which will come as good news to Strachan. The Scotland boss will be planning for their trip to Serbia as well and analyzing the risks that they present but for today only,the focus is on Bale and Wales and those valuable three points.

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Turner Wins No Prizes in National Stance

Cardiff defender Ben Turner has reportedly turned down an unofficial approach by Wales boss Chris Coleman to play for the Welsh national team, because quite simply he is not Welsh. The Birmingham born Englishman is qualified to play for Wales under the controversial Grandparent rule which allows any player, who has a grandparent of a different nationality, a chance to play for that country as well. Turner’s grandmother is from Wales which allows the player to choose between her country of birth and his own, England. Having represented England at Under 19 level and having not been capped yet at full level, Turner could have easily switched under FIFA rules. But the 24-year-old decided not to, as he felt it would be wrong:

“It would be like I was pretending to be a Welshman when I’m not. I’m English and that’s how it is. It was very flattering to be asked and I know Chris Coleman well from when we
were both at Coventry so i did consider it, It went through my head that ‘who am I to turn down playing for Wales? But I’m not doing it because of that, I’m doing it for my own reasons which are the right reasons.

Turner knows his chances of gaining a full cap for England are slim and Wales could be the only way to play international football but he is realistic to the end:

“I probably won’t have the chance to play for England but, in my head, that’s not the point. Would a Welsh guy asked to play for England, would he do that? There are lads who grow up dreaming about playing for Wales because they are Welsh and are born in Wales. Who would i be if i denied them the chance?”

Turner stance on this is rare as more footballer’s switch alliance from one country to another, just so that they can experience international football. FIFA have blurred the rules so much that there are now various ways to gain recognition for nationality than ever before. Birth place, birth parents or maternal grandparents nationality, even time spent in one specific country can allow a player to change to a new country. Brazilian born footballers Fábio César Montezine and Marcone Amaral Costa now play for Qatar having qualified after living in the country for 2 years. France won the 1996 World Cup thanks in part to the trio of Zinedine Zidane, Patrick Vieira and Marcel Desailly despite the fact than none of them were born in France – Zidane (Algeria), Vieira (Senegal), Desailly (Ghana). Current Italian striker Giuseppe Rossi was born in the United States of America but chose to represent Italy due to his Italian father.

The home nations are guilty of this as well with several players representing the country without being born there. Tony Dorigo (Australia), Owen Hargreaves (Canada), John Barnes (Jamacia), Rob Jones (Wales) were all born in other countries but went on to play for England. Scotland, due to a smaller population and therefore pool of players to choose from have also used the rules to their advantage. Matt Elliott, Steven Fletcher, Dominic Matteo and Andy Goram are all english born but have played for the Scottish National team as have Swedish born Richard Gough and Malaysian born Shaun Maloney.  These are just a few examples but the number is increasing as the pressure for success at international level grows.

So is this a bad thing? Well yes it is. There are three main problems attached with this relaxed regulation. Firstly it holds the ability to damage the long-term success of international football by creating dream teams of foreign players. Look at Germany as a good example. In the last European Championships, the Germany team fielded was built three Polish born players – Piotr Trochowski, Lukas Podolski, Miroslav Klose who have pledged their alliance to Germany. If they had played for the birth country, then perhaps Poland’s tournament may have finished differently. Secondly, younger talent will suffer as they compete not only with the talented other youngsters in the own country but also with foreign talent too. Finally it could affect national pride as the players have no real connection to the country apart from a grandparent or a short spell living there. The fans are passionate about their country and want the players selected to be as passionate as they are, singing the national anthem and giving everything they have for the country and cause.

FIFA have opened themselves up for a long-term headache which they will need to address sooner rather than later. It may result in them reverting back to the place of birth rule as the only factor considered for national recognition but country managers, FA’s and fans will argue that this will damage their teams. It may come down to the players to decide and if they act as Turner has done, then International football as we know it now may change for the better.