One on One with: Mark Bright

It’s hard to believe that it’s been 19 years since Sheffield Wednesday were playing in the Premier League. The Owls have spent the better part of the last two decades attempting to recapture former glories which at one point saw them as one of the most feared teams in the country. In the 1992-1993 season, Sheffield Wednesday recorded one of their best campaigns finishing 7th in the Premier league, reaching both the FA Cup and League Cup finals and the second round of the UEFA Cup. That side had some iconic figures including captain Nigel Pearson, Chris Waddle and Carlton Palmer. But spearheading their attack were the duo of David Hirst and Mark Bright who became a lethal strike partnership scoring 36 goals between them.

Bright himself hit 20 of those in all competitions which should have been enough to earn him an England call up. But in a golden era of English strikers, Bright never got the call up he deserved. Nevertheless his legacy as one of England’s best goal scorers is secure, as is the admiration of the fans who revere him even to this day.

We sat down with Mark recently on the eve of his book launch “My Story: From Foster Care to Footballer”  to talk about the highs and lows he had as a player, what it was like playing with Ian Wright and how his time spent in foster care made him the man he is today. Enjoy!

Back Of The Net: You started in non-league with Leek Town before being picked up by Port Vale. It’s a familiar path that numerous players have followed yet the value of the lower league structure is often understated. How important do you think non-league is to the success of the Football League?

Mark Bright: I still believe that players making the transition from non-league to football league will continue in the future. There are many players who drop down after being released from the football league who find their feet and bounce back. It’s also an important training ground for many young players who go on loan to gain experience from Premier League, Championship, League One and Two.

BOTN: It must have been strange going back to Port Vale after being released by them three years previously when you were only 16-year-old. Did that original rejection come into your consideration about re-signing for them or was the draw of playing in the football league too strong?

MB: I dropped down and played my way back up. I didn’t hesitate once I was asked as I still believed in myself and wanted another chance to play league football. Quite a few team mates at Leek Town said to me don’t go back, but I wanted a chance to show everyone what I could do.

Mark Bright during his early days as a Port Vale player (Image from PVFC)

Mark Bright during his early days as a Port Vale player (Image from PVFC)

BOTN: You spent three seasons at Vale Park, establishing yourself in the final season scoring 10 goals in 31 games as Port Vale struggled to stay in the then Third Division. Now 22 years old, you rejected a contract extension and as a result were sold to Leicester. With that move, did you feel that you were now fully on your way to becoming a full-time professional player? 

MB: I was full time at Port Vale. I signed a one-year deal as a part-time player, then I turned pro the next season. All I was interested in was progressing. Leicester City were in League One (now the Premier League) so it was a no brainer for me.

BOTN: How significant was that move in terms of your career?

MB: The move was a game changer for me in terms of joining a club in the top flight; having the chance to be seen on Match of The Day scoring and establishing myself as a player at the highest level.

Bright and Lineker play for Leicester against Luton Town (image from Tumblr)

Bright and Gary Lineker play for Leicester against Luton Town (image from Tumblr)

BOTN: In your first season at Leicester, you played as a backup for Gary Lineker and Alan Smith and struggled to find the net in 16 appearances. But in your second season you had more of an opportunity to shine after Lineker was sold in the summer to Everton. For a player in your position at that time, was it good to see Gary depart as it gave you more of an opportunity or were you thinking more about how the team would fare without him?

MB: I helped Gary to pack and join Everton! Of course I was sorry to see Gary depart but the manager Gordon Milne said this was the chance I’d been waiting for; he gave me my chance. We actually played Everton on the opening day of the season and we won 3-1. I scored two goals and Gary failed to score although as he reminds me, he did go on to win the Golden boot that year while I managed to only score another four goals the rest of the season!

BOTN: It was at Palace that you arguably had your most successful spell as a player, forging a great partnership with Ian Wright. Steve Coppell, the manager at the time saw something in pairing your power and pace with Wrights enthusiasm and dynamic play. Why do you think that partnership worked so well? How long did it take for you and Ian to “click”?

MB: Pace????? I’m not sure about pace. Ian was fresh from non-league so I understood where he was from my own journey. Steve said he needs your help and we worked at it with the coaches who worked hard with us. Ian Evans was the coach  who used to work on movement with us, we talked and worked it out and got better each season. They were great times as we were maturing as individuals and as a partnership. It took time but we nailed it in the end.

Bright, Steve Coppell and Ian Wright (Image from CPFC)

Bright, Steve Coppell and Ian Wright (Image from CPFC)

BOTN: In September 1992, you made the switch to Sheffield Wednesday and continued your rich vein of form, finishing as the club’s top goal scorer three seasons running. That period was when the game in England began to drastically change with the introduction of the Premier League and the riches that came with subscription TV. As a player at that time, did you understand how dramatically things were changing or was it simply business as normal?

MB: At the time I didn’t realize how much impact Sky Sports would have on the game. It was incredible, it transformed football and the way it was covered. They had wall to wall programmes on their channels including The Boot Room which was one of my favourites. I know Andy Gray and Richard Keys messed up but they were fantastic for Sky. Great coverage, great presentation. Players soon realized everyone was under scrutiny plus the money element started to filter through to the players.

BOTN: The move to Sion was clearly a surprise to you when it happened. I understand things weren’t going well at Sheffield Wednesday so when the switch to Switzerland became a realistic option, it seemed too good to turn down. The move was bittersweet in the end, and you left after failing to get paid what was owed to you. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. Do you think the situation in Sheffield clouded your judgement around that move or was there simply no way of telling what was going to happen? Would you change anything if you had the chance?

MB: I loved FC Sion. I was really disappointed when it was cut short but everything happens for a reason. I worked with some good people in Switzerland. David Pleat left me out of the team; I still thought I was good enough but he had other plans. Looking back I wouldn’t change a thing. I was having French lessons three times a week, working in beautiful conditions, I used to drive over the mountains to Milan and watch Paul Ince play for Inter;  his wife Clare used to meet and drive me there. I was experiencing a different culture, I loved it. In the end I had to go to UEFA who got some of the money I was owed from the Club.

The Owls - Bright during his time at Sheffield Wednesday (Image from Tumblr)

The Owls – Bright during his time at Sheffield Wednesday (Image from Tumblr)

BOTN: You finished your career at Charlton under Alan Curbishley, helping them to gain promotion through the playoffs. After what happened at Sion, how pleasing was it to play at a well-run club like Charlton and a manager like Curbishley? 

MB: I know it’s one of those things fans don’t take kindly to (playing for rivals) but I had to get back to the UK and Curbs was very good to me. I had two really enjoyable years there. The team was young but he needed some experience so Mark Bowen and myself joined. It was a fantastic journey for the club to get back to top flight football. Reaching the play-off final at Wembley was a match in a million, 4-4 after extra time, 7-6 to Charlton on penalties.

BOTN: Are you surprised that he hasn’t managed to get back into management after leaving West Ham in 2008?

MB: I find it incredible Curbs hasn’t worked since leaving West Ham. It’s a shame that all his knowledge is lost to the game.

Curbishley (far left) and Bright (Centre) celebrate Charlton's Division One playoff win (Image from Tumblr)

Curbishley (far left) and Bright (Centre) celebrate Charlton’s Division One playoff win (Image from Tumblr)

BOTN: Your father was from The Gambia and you were born in Stoke on Trent, England meaning that you could have played international football for both countries. Despite scoring 213 goals you were overlooked by both England managers during that time, Graham Taylor and Terry Venables. How frustrating was that? Did you consider playing for Gambia or was that not an option?

MB: No. I did trained with the Gambian national team in 1996 when I was on holiday, something my uncle arranged it for me. I did give it some thought but ultimately decided not to. I was told by Trevor Francis that he believed I would be in the England squad when it was announced after the weekend, but Gordon Watson jumped on my back after I’d scored and something popped in my knee. I had to have a small operation on it so it wasn’t meant to be. It was a golden era for strikers back then:- Lineker, Beardsley, Shearer, Wrighty, Teddy Sheringham, Andy Cole, Ferdinand, Kerry Dixon, Mark Hateley etc.

BOTN: It’s fair to say you had a tough childhood spending a majority of it in foster care whilst also enduring racism on a regular basis. In your book “My Story”, you talked openly about your life and how those experiences early on drove you to succeed. How much do you feel your childhood has defined you as a man and the way that you now live your life? Did it alter your approach to being a professional footballer?

MB: Good question. Good foster parents shaped me. My foster parent, Grandad Davies installed good values in me and my brother and taught us to respect people and money. The actor Neil Morrisey was in the same foster home as me and he believes it drove us on to be successful. I would say it played a part for sure. Desire to succeed in football has to come from within as it’s a tough industry. My Grandad worked in the coal mines in Staffordshire, he was all about hard work and it filtered through to me. I feel I was the best I could have been as a player and a person.

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My Story is out now.

BOTN: As Crystal Palace’s director of the Under 23 development squad, you must have been happy to see the progress that Aaron Wan-Bissaka made at the club before earning himself a £45 million move to Manchester United this summer. Does his development through the youth ranks at Palace and eventually into the first team vindicate the work that you and the rest of the youth development team are doing? 

MB: Aaron’s success wasn’t anything to do with me. Richard Shaw, Dave Reddington and Roy Hodgson who believed in him should take the credit for his development. He showed others below him in our academy there’s a pathway to the first team if you work hard, listen and dedicate yourself. The opportunities maybe limited so when your chance arrives, you’d better be ready.

BOTN: Finally, some fan questions. 213 goals in total over your career. Do you have a favourite one?

MB: I scored a great goal at Barnsley, a left foot 30 yard strike into the top corner, and a good one at Leicester City against Everton. I turned Kevin Ratcliffe and curled it with the outside my right foot over Neville Southall. A beauty; unfortunately there was a dispute which lead to no Match of the Day coverage so only those in the stadium remember it! I also scored a decent one for Palace when we beat Millwall 4-3 at Selhurst, again into the top corner.

BOTN: What was the best team you played in? Sheffield Wednesday 1992/1993 season?

MB: Two teams; the Palace team that finished 3rd in 1991, and the Sheffield Wednesday team of 1993. Two great teams.

Bright and Waddle celebrate after Sheffield Wednesday's FA cup semi final win (Image from Tumblr)

Bright and Waddle celebrate after Sheffield Wednesday’s FA cup semi final win (Image from Tumblr)

BOTN: Since retiring in 1999, you have run quite a few marathons for charity. Do you actually enjoy doing them or are you driven purely by a sense of wanting to help the charity?

MB: I ran them to stay fit and raise money for good causes. My best time was 4hrs 3min, to think Eliud Kipchoge could have ran two marathons in that time!

BOTN: Thank you for your time Mark and good luck with your book!

My Story: From Foster Care to Footballer by Mark Bright is published by Constable on 7 November in hardback, £20.

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A Summer of Transition Ahead For Crystal Palace

With the regular season soon drawing to a close, Crystal Palace has some decisions to make soon as 12 of their players are out of contract this summer. With the manager, Roy Hodgson and a dozen of his players running out of contract, a rebuild at Crystal Palace is on the table. And the timing may just work in their favour. With the pandemic rattling club finances all over Europe, promising players can be signed for relatively cheaper transfer fees than previously. Added into this, with players looking to secure their own futures following a difficult period, they may accept lower wages just to resign for the club.

A majority of the players approaching the end of their term at the London club will be 30 or older by the summer. Averaging at 28.2, Palace is the second oldest team in the league. Freshen up the squad should be a priority and Palace have already made some moves within the club towards that.

Crystal Palace face a summer of change with a majority of its first team out of contract

Academy talents Jesurun Rak-Sakyi and David Omilabu have signed their first professional contracts with Palace recently after Fionn Mooney, Jadan Raymond and Tayo Adaramola did the same. Promoting from within with be welcome news for the Palace fans. Signing up Rak-Sakyi, who was included on the bench for the visit to Stamford Bridge on 20th April, was seen as a positive move after reports of the attacking midfielder coming under radar of clubs in England and Germany. The reality of promoting a bunch of promising scholars into the first team is that it would still take some time for them to integrate and reach the appropriate level so strengthening in the short term from other areas remains a priority.

Targeting up and coming British players like Eberechi Eze and a loan deals with an option to buy, similar to what they did this season with Phillip Mateta are the kind of moves Palace would want to replicate going in the transfer window. However before they can do this, Palace must address its salary problem with the high earners currently not proving their earnings on the pitch. Renegotiating their contracts or moving them on all together could help to balance the books and make the rebuild an easier job.

Take for example Mamadou Sakho, one of the highest earners at the club, who has hardly featured this year because of injuries. It won’t be a bad decision to let him go considering his age and injury history. Similarly Christian Benteke who is on £120,000 per week is an interesting one as he is one of the players who’s contract expires in the summer. The club appeared happy for him to leave in January and indeed held talks with other clubs to sell him but he insisted on staying. Now in better form and scoring once more, talks have progressed between the player and club around a new contract. The two however are separated by quite a bit in terms of what Benteke should be paid with Palace hoping the Belgian striker will stay but on much lesser terms. The potential to turn Mateta’s loan into a permanent signing also brings complications to Benteke’s future at Palace. It may be best for Palace to let the 30 year old striker depart in the long run.

High earners Sahko and Benteke could be allowed to leave to release some wages for future signings

Palace also have an option to permanently sign Michy Batshuayi from Chelsea at the end of May. He has not managed to make any serious impact this season, registering 2 goals and 1 assist in 17 appearances but offers another option if Benteke is to leave. Wages however could be a deciding factor as he is also one of the highest paid players in the club currently on £90,000 a week. Unless he is willing to accept less, it’s more likely that he will probably be returned to his parent club when his loan finishes. .

At the right back position, Nathaniel Clyne, Joel Ward and Martin Kelly are out of contract this summer. With promising youngster Nathan Ferguson returning from injury next season, two of the seniors should be let go in the coming months. Ward has made more starts this season and is on less than half the wages of Clyne which makes the argument for Ward to be selected. However despite earning £80,000 per week, 30 years Clyne who is a year younger than Ward he played well when he’s not been injured and is arguably the better player of the two. Like Benteke, former England player Clyne would likely have to accept reduce wages to stay on. Kelly will definitely be released having failed to make a single appearance this season.

On the other side of the defence, Patrick Van Aanholt has been competing for his spot with the impressive Tyrick Mitchell. The left back still has bits to offer and could be offered an extension but regardless of Patrick’s contract situation, Mitchell is more than ready to make the left back position his own after impressing several times this season. Having spent three seasons at Palace already, Dutch full back Van Aanholt may decide it’s time to move on and has garnered interest from Galatasaray over a free transfer.

Veteran centre backs, Scott Dann and Gary Cahill are running out of time too. With the aim of reducing average age, both of them could be let go. However, Cahill has shown he can still put in impressive shifts and with the possibility of young defenders coming in, his experience and leadership qualities could be useful. There are reports of Palace looking to swoop 19 years old centre back Radu Dragusin on a free transfer after the Romanian has been frozen out of Juventus first team.

Should Palace retain veteran defenders Scott Dann and Gary Cahill? That is one of many questions that the club has to answer this summer

After signing Jack Butland last summer and extending Vicente Guaita’s contract, Palace are likely to let go of reserve keepers, Wayne Hennessey and Stephen Henderson and look to sign a young 3rd choice keeper or promote from its u23 team with Rohan Luthra, Jacob Russell and Oliver Webber all keen to make the step up.

In midfield, James Mcarthy has only 12 appearances this season and is down the pecking behind Riedewald and  Milivojević so it would be surprising if he is given an extension. Andros Townsend has seen less game time this season because of emergence of Eze and the winger told Talksport how his contract situation has affected his performances and Palace are likely to wait till the end of the season before handling contract situations. The club may look to retain his services as he has the ability to change games on his own when in form. James McArthur is likely to be given a new deal having performed consistently for Palace since his arrival in 2014. Jeffrey Schlupp will also be handed new terms in the coming weeks.

Crystal Palace are in a zero-debt position and have managed their finances pretty well in the pandemic. They are plotting a £50 million spending spree in the summer and will try to make the most of that by adding some free transfers and loan deals in the mix. Player markets across Europe are vulnerable, especially Ligue 1 who possess good talent but the French clubs are in a desperate position to raise money and could be preyed on for economical signings.

Whilst the rebuild on the pitch would probably be centred around Zaha, Eze, Riedewald and Mitchell and will start soon, the decision over who is in the dugout come the start of the season is the priority. With Roy Hodgson most likely to end his term, Palace have been linked with Eddie Howe and Patrick Viera for the management role. Both men bring different skillsets and experience to the role but are also in high demand meaning that Palace will have to move quickly to get their man. Regardless of who they hire, the new manager will likely want to bring in new players to suit their style of play hence the urgency to appoint them first. It’s likely to be a summer of transition for Crystal Palace both on and off the pitch. With several moving parts including expiring contracts, heavy expected transfer activity and a change in management, it’s a lot for Palace to manage but if done well, they could use this transition to build something exciting for the future.

Post by Achyut Dixit, Contributor to BOTN. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

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One On One with: Mikael Forssell

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

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

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

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

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

Image from Mikael Forssell Twitter)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BOTN: Proudest moment(s)?

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

BOTN: Hardest opponent you faced?

MF: Vincent Kompany.

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

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Big Sam Walks Away As Pressure Becomes Too Much To Take

There is little doubt about the passion Sam Allardyce has for football, you can see it in his eyes. But in the last few weeks and months of the regular season, those eyes started to glaze over. The pressure of life as a football manager appears to have taken its toll on the former Bolton, Newcastle, Sunderland and England boss who sensationally quit as Crystal Palace boss just three days after the season concluded. With many believing that his resignation was done in order to set up a return to Sunderland, Allardyce has gone on record to state that is not the case and instead looks more likely to retire than manage again. In a carefully worded statement, Allardyce said that he has no desire to manage another club and that instead he wanted to live life more – travel, spend time with his grandchildren etc away from the pressures of being a 24/7 club manager.

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The pressure of management in England appears to have taken its toll on Allardyce (Image from Tumblr)

It’s been less than five months since “Big Sam” stepped back into the limelight at Crystal Palace very much seeking redemption. His sin was to undermine his position as England manager by being caught in a newspaper sting operation where he gladly advised how to circumnavigate FA third-party ownership rules for a small fee. That misdemeanor cost him his dream job after only 67 days and one game in charge. Sam had been a fool and paid for it. With the Premier League season underway and Allardyce somewhat of a pariah in English football, a return to club management looked  impossible. That was until then Palace boss Alan Pardew oversaw a slide in form for the London club and paid the penalty. Out he went and Allardyce was parachuted in to save the day.

Sam's spell as England boss ended badly following a newspaper sting (Image from Tumblr)

Sam’s spell as England boss ended badly following a newspaper sting (Image from Tumblr)

It’s a job he has built a reputation on – saving clubs from the drop and once again he delivered. When he arrived at Selhurst park in December, Palace were languishing in 17th place having picked up only four points in their previous ten games. Within days Allardyce had identified three key areas to work on – strengthen the central defence and left back areas, find a replacement for Mile Jedinak who was foolishly sold to Aston Villa five months earlier and reinvigorate striker Christian Benteke who looked starved of service and confidence. To counter the first two issues he added Mamadou Sahko and Patrick Van Aanolt to the defence and brought in Serbian stopper Luka Milivojevic from Olympiacos to protect the back line. The highly versatile Jeffrey Schlupp was added too to give Allardyce options. Benteke however was a different beast and required more time. The Belgian had been on the score sheet eight times already that season but was missing more chances than he was taking. Benteke felt the pressure placed on him under Pardew to be the sole provider of goals so never considered passing or setting up a teammate over shooting. That changed under Allardyce and whilst Benteke’s overall return of goals didn’t dramatically increase (scored 7 in the league under Allardyce), the team scored more with Benteke acting more as a hold up man for his teammates.

Palace celebrate survival for one more year (Image from Tumblr)

Palace celebrate survival for one more year (Image from Tumblr)

All of this work paid off as Palace secured 8 wins in their remaining 21 fixtures and ensured survival with a 14th place league finish. At his press conference following defeat by Manchester United on the last day, Allardyce spoke about needing to sit down with owner Steve Parish to discuss how to grow the team and who to sign with a dig at previous signings being the wrong ones. That meeting happened on Tuesday with Sam deciding to walk rather than fight on. Something may have happened at that meeting or in the run up to it that changed Sam’s mind but whatever it was it wasn’t an easy decision for Allardyce to make. Whilst his reputation has been restored, perhaps the impact of what happened to him during his ill-fated stint as England boss has tainted his love affair with the game? Saving Palace should have been the catalyst for Big Sam but instead it was the final straw. Life in the pressure cooker that is football management has finally taken its toll on one of England’s biggest characters.

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Premier League Relegation Battle Prediction

With Aston villa almost certainly down with only a miracle turn in form able to save them now, the question turns to what other two teams will join them in the Championship next season. Five teams are caught in the fight – Sunderland, Newcastle, Norwich, Swansea and Bournemouth with West Brom, Crystal Palace and Chelsea likely to have done enough so far to be safe. Whilst it is difficult to predict exactly what will happen given the volatile nature of this season so far, we decided to take a look at the remaining eleven fixtures that these five sides face and predict the results they will obtain. Totaling up the points gives us their final league position and reveals what the table will look like come May 15th. So with that here is what we are forecasting will happen.

Sunderland ( Currently 19th) – 12 points (Relegated 18th on GD)

Its not been an easy season for Sunderland who finally succumbed to years of mismanagement and strange board room decisions. Big Sam it turns out has been the right appointment but arrived too late to save Sunderland from the drop this time. Added into this their over dependency of striker Jermain Defoe for goals ultimately cost them dearly. A bad knock in the draw with Newcastle ruled him out of several weeks and dented their chances too severely to survive.  Wins over West Brom, Norwich and Watford plus key draws against Crystal Palace, Everton and Newcastle were not enough to save Sunderland from the drop. In the end it came down to goal difference with Swansea staying up.

1738277-36763766-2560-1440Newcastle (Currently 18th) – 12 points (Finishes 16th)

The league’s highest spenders were hardly impressive this season under Steve McLaren. Despite spending a small fortune on a variety of players, primarily in the form of attackers, Newcastle failed to spark and click. There were some glimmers of hope throughout the campaign thanks to some stellar performances but ultimately a lack of goals led to Newcastle being caught in this battle to avoid the drop. Like Sunderland, grabbing goals was always an issue but found new signing Georginio Wijnaldum is sparkling form especially in the remaining twelve games. Valuable wins over Bournemouth, Norwich and Villa plus points against Sunderland, Crystal Palace and Tottenham who had nothing to play for on the last day were enough to keep Steve McLaren’s side in the Premier League. It wasn’t good enough to keep McLaren in a job who was sacked shortly after the season finished

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Wijnaldum fired Newcastle to safety (Image from Getty)

Norwich (Currently 17th) – 9 points (Relegated 19th)

The writing was on the cards early on for Norwich as they struggled to find form throughout a topsy turvy season. With the second worst run in of the bottom five (excluding the already condemned Villa), Norwich only managed wins over Crystal Palace and Watford plus draws against West Brom, Everton and an out of sorts Manchester United were not enough to stop the drop. Alex Neill received plaudits for his approach, often going for it late on in games as his side searched for an equalizer but his efforts were in vain. A lack of a constant scorer upfront and a leaky defence, weakened by an injury to Russel Martin was ultimately their downfall.

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Norwich boss Alex Neil received praise for his approach but it wasn’t enough in the end (image from PA)

Swansea (Currently 16th) – 8 points (Finish 17th)

Swansea’s run in was the worst possible and it showed with The Swans picking up only eight points from a remaining thirty six. Wins over fellow strugglers Norwich and Aston Villa plus draws against Bournemouth and West Ham meant that form wise Swansea would have been relegated. But with a tight defence led by the outstanding Ashley Williams, Swansea conceded less  goals than Sunderland ultimately saving them on goal difference and condemning Sam Allardyce team to relegation. Williams would play his last game for the club against Manchester City before departing before joining Everton in the summer as a replacement for John Stones.

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Thanks to Williams at the heart of their defence, Swansea stayed up (Image from getty)

Bournemouth ( Currently 15th) – 10 points (Finish 15th)

After spending well in the January window, Bournemouth survived the drop thanks in part to the goals from new signing Benik Afobe. The former Arsenal and Wolves striker scored five times in the remaining twelve fixtures including important strikes in the wins over Watford, Aston Villa and Everton. Eddie Howe’s side picked up additional points at home to West Brom and Swansea as Bournemouth secured a comfortable 16th place finish. Howe was linked with the opening at Newcastle along with several other openings before signing a new contract keeping him at the club for next season.

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Newcastle Fans Ready To Tap Out As Torture Becomes Unbearable

Steve McClaren Arms Folded 2015

Torture – to inflict severe pain on someone as a punishment. Its hard to imagine exactly what the Newcastle fans did to deserve the torture and torment they are suffering through at the moment at the hands of their team. Saturday’s embarrassing 5-1 hammering by Crystal Palace was Newcastle’s eighth defeat of the season and leaves them slumped in the relegation zone five points above an equally poor Aston Villa. Sadly its an all too familiar story for the Toon Army who have endured through almost a seasons worth of games with only a handful of wins to show for it. Since the start of January, Newcastle have won only five of their 33 matches in the Premier League, narrowly avoiding relegation at the end of last season thanks to a last gasp win over a West Ham side who were already on the proverbial beach. Now a quarter of the way into the new season, Newcastle are back in the doldrums once more with many fans wondering when this torturous spell will end.

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The Newcastle fans have had enough of this torture they are enduring (Image from Getty)

At the epicenter of this latest calamity is former England boss Steve McLaren. Brought in during the summer, McLaren proclaimed that he would turn Newcastle around and help them to a top eight finish. But fourteen games in to the new campaign, Newcastle look anything but that and once again find themselves fighting for their lives.  Along with Bournemouth, Newcastle have conceded the most goals in the league so far (30) and are the fourth lowest scoring team with only 14 goals (six of which came against Norwich). Both problems stem from last season and have never properly been addressed despite owner Mike Ashley finally parting with nearly £50 million in the summer on new players. Whilst three big money signings arrived to add some depth to the squad, the underling lack of quality throughout the rest of the squad has meant that their contribution has been restricted to fleeting moments. The scoreline against Palace tells one story but the nature in which Newcastle collapsed after taking a surprise lead after ten minutes tells another. Newcastle’s players have no confidence to hold a lead and more importantly no plan on the field to follow. Its down to McLaren to instill these but he has failed on both accounts leading to yet another disastrous start to a campaign.

Crystal Palace v Newcastle United - Premier League

Newcastle looked like a team without a plan against Palace (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

Why McLaren got the job in the first place needs to be questioned. His record as a manager is mixed with successful spells at Middlesborugh and FC Twente blighted by dismal spells in charge of Wolsfburg, Nottingham Forest and England. Many agree that McLaren is an excellent coach who is solid on the training ground but as a manager he struggles especially with the day to day stuff including managing the players and motivating them to perform. This issue was raised by several former players and pundits as early as last season when it became apparent that Ashley was keen on hiring McLaren. However the Newcastle owner chose to ignore them all and persued the then Derby County boss attempting to hire him on two seperate occassions at the tail end of last season as Newcastle went into frefall under John Carver. McLaren’s rejections due to an unwillingness to take over a club deep in a relegation battle should have rung alarm bells then as it suggests that McLaren doesn’t have the stomach for the fight. Ashley finally landed McLaren in the summer after he was sacked by Derby following their end of season collapse which saw them throw away a promotion challenging position by winning two of their last 13 games.

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Decision time for Mike Ashley (Image from Getty)

There are early signs that McLaren has lost the dressing room and that he is scrambling to put a positive spin on things in order to keep the dogs at bay. On the training field, McLaren has reprimanded several key members of the first team for lack of effort which is hardly the way to motivate the team to turn things around. Rumours that Fabricio Coloccini could be stripped of the captaincy due to bad form have not exactly helped matters. Added into this, McLaren’s use of the media to spin a story has backfired. It takes a lot to make the bizarre ramblings of John Carver from last season now seem acceptable. But McLaren has managed it on several occassions with his latest declaration that Newcastle showed signs of improvement and effort in the opening ten minutes of the game against Palace the pièce de résistance. It may be that McLaren needs to go espcially given that the club can ill afford to be relegated this season given the huge cash reward on the horizon courteousy of the new billion dollar TV deal which kicks in next season. If Ashley is to pull the trigger, he will need to do so sooner rather than later given the rapidly approaching January transfer window. The immediate availability of David Moyes and Brendan Rodgers  may be a catalyst whilst the interest of Ajax boss Frank De Boer in the job must not go unnoticed. Whatever he is to do, he needs to do it now. With Liverpool, Tottenham and Everton to come before the end of this calendar year, Newcastle could slip further into the abyss if he doesn’t act now. For the Newacstle fans, the torture is becoming unbearable and with little signs of hope on the horizon, it may be that they start to give in leading to a total collapse of Newcastle Football Club.

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Leicester Top And Arsenal Struggle As Premiership Starts With A Bang

leicester go top after 4-2 win (Image from PA)Leicester City fans will be waking up this morning in a dreamland with their side top of the Premiership season after an emphatic opening day win over Sunderland.  It may be only be a week one but the Foxes will care not especially given that many suspect that they will struggle this season under new boss Claudio Ranieri. Even the Italian himself was pessimistic about Leicester’s chances heading into the game lowering the level of expectations of the fans and preparing them for a hard slog. But on Saturday the Tinkerman got it right with and found his new team 3-0 up within the first 25 minutes of the game, eventually going on to win the game 4-2 in the end. Sunderland to be fair were never at the races and looked like they were still on vacation which will be a worry for returning boss Dick Advocaat. They did look brighter in the second half, winning it by 2-1 but by then the game was already lost. Its going to be a long season for the Black Cats.

Difficult season ahead for Ranieri and Advocaat  (Image from PA)

Difficult season ahead for Ranieri and Advocaat
(Image from PA)

Up the road in Newcastle, the Toon Army were in a boisterous mood filled with optimism about the season ahead with a new manager and more importantly some new players after owner Mike Ashley found his wallet down the back of the sofa. Two of the new signings, Chancel Mbemba and Georgina Wijnaldum started whilst the third, striker Aleksandar Mitrovic settled for a spot on the bench. Despite being out jumped for Graziano Pelle’s opening headed goal, Mbemba looked solid at centre back alongside Coloccini which will please the Geordie faithful who still have Mike Williamson nightmares every time they close their eyes. Mitrovic looked lively coming in off the bench, even if his first act was to get booked with a fairly rash over committed challenge. But it was the performance of Wijnaldum in particular that will give Newcastle the most hope. His spirited non stop running, strong reading of the game and eye for goal where demonstrated in the 48th minute when he ran 60 yards to get on the end of a perfectly held up cross from Gabriel Obertan to give Newcastle a 2-1 lead. Southampton may have pegged them back in the end to draw the match 2-2 but the Newcastle fans saw enough to walk away from St James Park with that sense of optimism still in the vicinity.

Wijnaldum rises to meet Obertan's cross to head Newcastle into the lead  (Image from Getty)

Wijnaldum rises to meet Obertan’s cross to head Newcastle into the lead
(Image from Getty)

That result wasnt the only 2-2 draw of the weekend with two other matches ending by the same scoreline. Champions Chelsea made a stuttering start to the new campaign with a laboured 2-2 draw with Swansea who had new boy Andre Ayew on the score sheet within 29 minutes. Jose Mourinho’s side looked tired as they tried to hold on to a 2-1 lead going into the second half but their task was made harder when goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois saw red for bringing down Gomis as the Swansea front man ran clear. The French striker converted the subsequent penalty and the two sides shared the points. It was a similar story at Goodison as Everton left it late to equalize against new boys Watford. Quique Sanchez Flores’s side looked the fresher going into the match and soon took the lead through new signing Miguel Layun. They held that lead until the 76th minute before Ross Barkley rifled Everton back into the game with a long distance stunner. But seven minutes later Watford regained the lead through Odion Ighalo and looked set for three points until substitute Arouna Kone drilled a low shot past Gomes to tie the game.

Barkley scores a screamer to pull Everton level  (Image from AFP)

Barkley scores a screamer to pull Everton level
(Image from AFP)

Elsewhere there were three narrow 1-0 victories with wins for Man Utd, Aston Villa and Liverpool who all showed glimmers of what is to come. Liverpool needed a late wonder goal from Coutinho to grab all three points whilst United relied on an own goal by Kyle Walker to snatch their points. Bournemouth put up a valid show against Villa with some crisp passing movements but couldn’t find the cutting edge in the final third. In the end a powerful header from Villa striker Rudy Gestede settled the tie. Fellow newcomers Norwich found it more difficult on their return to the Premiership falling to a 3-1 defeat to a new look Crystal Palace with Zaha, Delaney and Cabaye notching for the Eagles. Nathan Redmond did rely for Norwich but Alex Neil has a lot of work to do if this showing was anything to go by. Finally many people’s tip for title challengers Arsenal came unstuck against Slaven Bilic’s West Ham side with the Hammers running out as 2-0 victors in the end. Bilic, who handed 16-year-old Reece Oxford a starting berth in front of the back four, had a dream start as the new West Ham boss with his side going in at half time 1-0 up thanks to a powerful header by Cheikhou Kouyate.

16 year old Reece Oxford won the man of the match award fro his performance against Arsenal  (Image from Getty)

16 year old Reece Oxford won the man of the match award fro his performance against Arsenal
(Image from Getty)

New Arsenal stopper Peter Cech will be blamed for his misjudged attempt to clear but in truth its his defence who should have taken care of Payet’s free kick. Arsenal pressed for an equalizer but couldn’t find it due to poor finishing highlighting their desperate need for a world-class striker, preferably like Karim Benzema. With Arsenal throwing more people forward, space opened up which West Ham took advantage of in the 57th minute with striker Mauro Zarate drilling a shot into the bottom corner from 20 yards. On this performance West Ham look like they are set for a good season under Bilic who took a brave move in fielding rookie Oxford in such an important game. But his gamble paid off with the youngster grabbing the man of the match award after a sterling performance that saw him complete 95% of all his passes, higher than the likes of Aaron Ramsey, Mexut Ozil and Mark Noble. Oxford has a bright future ahead of him especially if given the playing time he needs under Bilic.

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Cabaye To Sign For Crystal Palace in Major Coup For Club

On Route to Palace - Yohan Cabaye (Image from AFP)Five years after looking dead and buried following the club slipping into administration for the second time in their history, Crystal Palace have completed an amazing turn around and are now looking to established themselves as a Premiership mainstay. Under the management of Alan Pardew who returned to the club in January after four mixed years at Newcastle, Palace have been revitalized playing some of the most exciting attacking football in the Premiership in the second half of last season. Pardew has managed to arrange his team to be both functional and fluent with an eclectic mix of reliable no-nonsense players like Scott Dann and Mile Jedinak acting as the relief mechanism for more gifted yet unpredictable talents like Wilfried Zaha and the impressive Yannick Bolasie.  Under his guidance, Palace secured ten wins from eighteen games finishing in tenth overall in the league. It was clear from the outset that Palace would want to build upon this success by acquiring some additional players over the summer but no-one expected their first signing to be that of French star Yohan Cabaye.

Pardew has been instrumental in turning Palace around  (Image from PA)

Pardew has been instrumental in turning Palace around
(Image from PA)

The former Newcastle midfielder has become disillusioned at Paris Saint Germain after failing to secure a permanent spot in the first team and has been on the look out for a new club for a few months now. Speculation linked Cabaye with a move to Italy or Spain or even a return to England with Manchester United or Arsenal. But now it looks likely that Cabaye will be heading to London and surprisingly to the south of the city after PSG accepted a £10million bid from Crystal Palace. The move would see Cabaye linking up with his old boss Pardew who managed him during his time in the North East with Newcastle. The two have a strong bond and its believed that working with Pardew again was a decisive factor in  Cabaye’s return to the Premiership instead of other options. The player has travelled to the English capital city to undergo a medical ahead of agreeing personal terms with Palace confident that there will be no late hiccups. If he does sign, it will be seen as a major coup by Palace despite them smashing their previous transfer record paid for a player (£7million for James McArthur last year).

Cabaye and Pardew during the pair's time at Newcastle  (Image from Getty)

Cabaye and Pardew during the pair’s time at Newcastle
(Image from Getty)

The signing of Cabaye indicates the faith that the Palace board has in Pardew and what he is hoping to achieve as he strives to take the club to the next level. At 29, Cabaye is entering the latter part of his career but is still very much a world-class player. He has been an ever-present member of the French national team since his debut in 2010 and played a key role for them at both Euro 2012 and at last summer World Cup in Brazil. With superb vision, strong ball control and proven technical ability, Cabaye is the model central midfielder and should fit neatly into Palace’s setup with ease. After making his name with Lille over a seven-year period, he was rewarded with a move to Newcastle who snapped him up for just over £4million. Over the next three seasons, Cabaye would build his legacy entrenching himself in the clubs history as a fan favourite. His exploits for the Geordies elevated his global reputation and found him linked constantly with big money moves away from the club to one Europe’s elite clubs. Newcastle did reject several advances from the likes of Arsenal, Juventus and Barcelona as they desperately tried to cling on to their star player. But when über rich PSG approached them offering in excess of £19 million, owner Mike Ashley decided to cash in on Cabaye in a move that Newcastle would regret in the months that followed.

Cabaye’s failure to establish himself in Paris at the French champions is less a reflection on his own abilities and more an indication of how strong PSG’s midfield is at present with the likes of Javier Pastore, Lucas Moura, Blaise Matuidi, Marco Verratti and Thiago Motta all battling for two central midfield spots. A move to Palace will see Cabaye once again as one of the first names on the team sheet with Pardew likely to rebuild his side around the Frenchman. His signing could be the catalyst Palace needs to kick on with other top players across Europe likely to take note of Cabaye’s decision to join a club few would have previously considered. What is most surprising about this transfer is the relatively low fee paid for a player of Cabaye’s quality especially against the backdrop of a potential £50 million outlay Manchester City are willing to pay for Raheem Sterling  or the £27 million rumoured move of Morgan Schneiderlin to Manchester United. Both clubs need a strong central midfielder of the same ilk of Cabaye so their failure to submit a rival bid may be a defining moment in their summers. Even Cabaye’s former club Newcastle who are in desperate need of an overhaul failed to make a move in time for Cabaye despite rumoured interest from both sides to make it happen.  Like City and United, Newcastle could live to regret that decision once more when Palace face them in late November with Cabaye deep at the heart of their team.

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All To Play For As Premiership Enters The Home Stretch

Vardy's strike handed Leicester a much needed 3 points (Image from Getty)Not since the shock 5-3 victory over Manchester United back in September has Jamie Vardy had such an impact. The Leicester City winger, who bagged a goal on that day in a pulsating game, had been notoriously quiet since then but popped up on Saturday against West Brom to remind everyone how good he can be. Picking up the ball at the half way line Vardy surged forward with the ball apparently stuck to his foot. Going past two players and into the box, the Leicester fans rose to their feet as Vardy unleashed his shot past Myhill in the West Brom goal. The importance of Vardy’s last minute strike is as yet unknown but it did hand his team the crucial three points it needed in their fight against relegation. Rooted to the bottom of the league, Leicester looked dead and buried going into the match but after a gritty performance and thanks to Vardy’s last minute heroics, Leicester’s survival push could be on. Now only three points behind safety with a game in hand, Leicester’s run in is favourable with winnable matches against Burnley, Sunderland and QPR but they will need players like Vardy to perform in every match if they are to avoid the drop.

The gap at the bottom is tight with only 10 points separating 7 places.  Any three of West Brom, Aston Villa, Sunderland, Hull, QPR, Burnley and Leicester could go down with even 13th place Newcastle still not mathematically safe. Defeats for Burnley, QPR, Hull and Sunderland this weekend have added to the tension with only Aston Villa managing to pick up points away to Spurs. Dick Advocaat’s Sunderland revival looked to be on after impressive derbies win over Newcastle last weekend, with Jermain Defoe adding the gloss on that occasion. But his new side was firmly brought back to down to earth with a bump by a rampant Crystal Palace side who continue to improve under Alan Pardew. A hat trick by Yannick Bolasie and a header by Glenn Murray sealed a 4-1 win and put pressure on Dutch coach Advocaat. With one of the worst run in of all the teams involved in the relegation dog fight, it doesn’t look good for Sunderland. They face Stoke next week before games against Southampton, Everton, Leicester, Arsenal and Chelsea in a series of must win fixtures.

At the other end of the table, Chelsea showed why they are likely to end this season as champions. A nerve jangling performance against QPR was not quite what Jose Mourinho had in mind so the relief on his face was hard to ignore when Cesc Fabregas popped up to score the winner. The Spanish midfielder, sporting a face mask to cover the broken nose he suffered last week in a clash with Charlie Adam, broke QPR hearts with a 88th minute shot that squirmed under Rob Green. Chelsea are now 7 points clear with seven games left, one more than the chasing pack. Arsenal continued their pursuit of their London rivals with a 1-0 win over Burnley thanks to an early strike by Welsh midfielder Aaron Ramsey. Manchester United also kept up their chase with a convincing 4-2 demolition of neighbours Manchester City, a result which heaps more pressure on manager Manuel Pellegrini. The Chilean has been under fire after City crashed out of the Champions League and lost valuable ground in the race for the Premiership title. He will more than likely be asked to leave his position with the only question being when as some speculate that he may not get to finish the campaign as manager.

City will be desperate to hold on to 4th place to secure Champions League football once again but the face stiff competition from this year’s surprise outfit Southampton, Liverpool and Tottenham. Ronald Koeman’s Southampton were suspected to struggle this year after selling off half their squad by some clever signings and the addition of new energy into St Mary’s has seen Southampton defy their critics and mount a serious push for Europe. They continued their push with a 2-0 win over struggling Hull and will be bolstered by the news that 6th place Tottenham lost to Aston Villa. However Liverpool could leapfrog them tonight if they beat John Carver’s inept Newcastle side.

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Defoe Enters Record Books For Goal Scoring Exploits

Goals Galore For Defoe (Image from Getty)Love him or loathe him, Jermain Defoe is a goalscorer. The former Tottenham, West Ham and Toronto striker scored his second goal for new club Sunderland at the weekend, and in doing so earned himself a place in the record books. Defoe’s strike against Swansea means that the England striker becomes the first player ever to score against ever team in the current Premiership. In total he has scored 137 goals in England’s top division since making his debut for West Ham back in 1999. So in honour of the player here are a collection of those goals by team for you to enjoy!

Arsenal

Aston Villa (1:50 into video)

Burnley

Chelsea

Crystal Palace

Everton (5th goal of compilation)

Hull

Leicester City (7th goal of compliation)

Liverpool

Manchester City

Manchester United (6th goal of compilation)

Newcastle United

QPR (0.30 into compilation)

Southampton (1.55 into compilation)

Stoke City

Defoe scores against Stoke  (Video not available)

Defoe scores against Stoke
(Video not available)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunderland

Defoe scores against Sunderland  (Video not available)

Defoe scores against Sunderland
(Video not available)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Swansea City

Tottenham

Defoe scores against Spurs  (Video not available)

Defoe scores against Spurs
(Video not available)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

West Brom (4th goal in compilation)

West Ham

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To Sack Or Not To Sack, That Is The Question

Will he be sacked again? Nigel Pearson (Image from Getty)Leicester’s race for Premiership survival took an unusual twist over the weekend when manager Nigel Pearson was reportedly sacked only for the club to backtrack and insist he was still in charge, at least for now. Pearson who has managed the Foxes for 3 and a half years now and guided them back into the Premiership after a 10 year absence appeared to be a dead man walking after his side slumped to yet another defeat at the weekend against Crystal Palace. The loss, Leicester’s 15th of the campaign, leaves them bottom of the league with only 14 games left. To make matters worse for Pearson, he was caught up in a pitch side tussle with Palace midfielder James McArthur who he appeared to choke after the player accidentally slid into him. Both Pearson and McArthur insisting that it was nothing but jovial banter (which the pictures seem to suggest also) but that has not stopped the British press from blowing it out of proportion.  Even Palace boss Alan Pardew, who himself was involved in a pitch side incident last year when he head butted Hulls David Meyler, laughed off the incident.

Pearson appeared to choke McArthur after the pair clashed during Leicester's 1-0 defeat to Crystal Palace  (Image from Getty)

Pearson appeared to choke McArthur after the pair clashed during Leicester’s 1-0 defeat to Crystal Palace
(Image from Getty)

Regardless of the intention, the backlash on Pearson has been swift with many calling for his head. So when the news broke that the club had sacked him, the dots were connected fairly swiftly that his pitch side brawl was the last straw and Pearson was dismissed. Shortly after the story broke, various media outlets were reporting on potential replacements such as Bolton manager Neil Lennon, a former Leicester player himself and Brentford boss Mark Warburton. But before any bets could be placed, the club did a dramatic turnaround insisting that they had not sacked Pearson, that the media reports were wrong and that he remained in charge. Pearson will now be in the dugout for Tuesday’s away clash with Arsenal but few believe that he will last much longer.

Fan Favourite - Neil Lennon could take over  (Image from Ian Hodgson)

Fan Favourite – Neil Lennon could take over
(Image from Ian Hodgson)

Leicester have been poor this season despite some inspired performances against the likes of Manchester United and Tottenham. Their stunning 5-3 win over Louis Van Gaal’s men back in August should have set them on their way but instead proved to be an early climax on what they could realistically achieve. Eleven defeats and two draws from the next 13 games saw the Foxes slide further down the table and into the relegation zone where they have stayed ever since. Like many of the sides around them, Leicester’s away form has been dismal with only two wins (against fellow strugglers Hull and Stoke) worth writing home about. With the third worst defensive record in the league, survival in the Premiership looks unlikely unless they can shore things up. However there are bigger problems up front where Leicester has the second worst strike rate with 21 goals, 9 more than Aston Villa. To solve this problem, Pearson spent big in the transfer window recruiting Croatian hit man Andrej Kramaric from HNK Rijeka. The 23 year old comes with a big reputation after breaking numerous goal scoring records in Croatia including hitting an amazing 450 goals for Dinamo Zagreb’s youth team before making the step up. Leicester fought off an aggressive challenge from Chelsea for his signature with the hopes that Kramaric could be the answer to their prayers. He has yet to score in three appearances but given his previous exploits it won’t be long before he does.

Whether Pearson is around to see those goals is a different question. Little has changed in the Leicester approach in recent months with the system and style now becoming somewhat stagnant. After Arsenal on Tuesday, Leicester faces Aston Villa in the FA Cup before travelling to Goodison Park to face the underperforming Everton side. March and April will be the make or break months for Leicester in their quest for Premiership survival, with key ties against Burnley, Sunderland, QPR and Hull all on the agenda. If Pearson is to be sacked, Leicester will need to act quickly to replace him with someone who can inspire the team and kick start them back into action. That person clearly isn’t Pearson who looks dazed and confused by the whole situation. Hard not to be given the drama that surrounded Sunday and the calamitous handling of his sacking turned reappointment. Next time however there will be no drama, just a swift and brutal end to Pearson stay at the King Power Stadium.

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Does A Dull Window Indicate A Tightening Of The Purse Strings For Premiership Clubs?

Tightening of purse strings due to financial fair play? (Image from Getty)Maybe it was the bitterly cold weather hitting the UK or just a lack of interest, but this January’s transfer window was as dull as dishwater. Yes it heralded the arrival, after much speculation of Juan Cuadrado to Chelsea and the return of Wilfried Zaha to Crystal Palace on a permanent basis but in truth little else happened.  Whilst previous windows have seen more money spent in a month than a Russian Oligarch on a shopping trip, this January’s activity barely made it over the £100million mark. The Premier League clubs spent only £124million this past month, less than Manchester United spent alone during the summer window. Perhaps its an early indication that clubs are now taking the financial fair play rules seriously by restricting their spending to avoid fines and bans.  The windows biggest spenders were Chelsea with the arrival of Cuadrado for £27million however now always cognizance of the financial fair play rules, the Blues balanced his arrival by selling of Andre Schurrle to Wolfsburg for £22million and Ryan Bertrand to Southampton for £10million, netting Chelsea a little profit. Also out the door was Mohamed Salah who joined Fiorentina on loan with a view to making it permanent in the summer whilst Mark Schwarzer finally ended his stay by joining Leceister along with Stoke defender Robert Huth on loan.

Biggest signing of the windwo - Juan Cuadrado joins Chelsea  (Image from Getty)

Biggest signing of the windwo – Juan Cuadrado joins Chelsea
(Image from Getty)

Up in Manchester, Manchester City’s only piece of business was the purchase of Swansea’s power hitter striker Wilfried Bony in a move done in early January before the start of the African Cup of Nations. Out went forgotten man Scott Sinclair to Aston Villa and clumsy centre half Matija Nastasic to Schalke. Across the city, Manchester United were expected to have a busy time but instead appeared to be having a clearance sale with several fringe players departing.  Brazilian Anderson finally ended his stay at Old Trafford by agreeing a switch back to his homeland whilst former Scotland captain Darren Fletcher joined West Brom on a free. Other exits included Michael Keane to Burnley, Wilfried Zaha to Crystal Palace and youngster Marnick Vermijl to Sheffield Wednesday. Off the players who did arrive, Victor Valdes was the stand out until the shock announcement that United had signed a defender. No not Mats Hummel as many hoped but instead 21 year old Andy Kellett on loan from Bolton. Unknown is hardly the word to describe a player who has only played 51 minutes of professional football for Bolton to date. Very strange indeed.

Andy who? - Kellet joins United  (Image from PA)

Andy who? – Kellet joins United
(Image from PA)

Elsewhere Southampton had a productive window converting Bertrand’s loan deal into a permanent one, whilst Filip Djuricic arrived on loan. Dutch midfielder Tonny Vihenna was also expected to arrive but as the window closed, his paperwork had yet to be filed. Back in London, Crystal Palace Alan Pardew was demonstrating how much he liked having control over a clubs transfer purse strings once more buy signing several players. Along with Zaha, Jordan Mutch arrived from QPR as did Pape Souare, Shola Ameobi, Yaya Sanogo and Lee Chung-yong giving Place strength in depth as they face a fight for survival in the last half of the season.  Fellow strugglers Sunderland added Jermain Defoe from Toronto in an attempt to find the back of the net on a more consistant basis and stave off relegation whilst Arsenal manage to strengthen its side too with the signing of Gabriel Paulista from Villarreal but no other new faces arrived.

Mutch has left QPR for Palace  (Image from Getty)

Mutch has left QPR for Palace
(Image from Getty)

Of the remaining clubs, few other signings of note were made. Burnley look dead and buried after a poor window whilst Newcastle failed to add anyone, but strangely let accomplished left back Davide Santon leave for Inter on loan whilst five youngsters joined Glasgow Rangers as Ashley made his priorities clear. It was a glum month on Merseyside too as both Everton and Liverpool failed to add to their squads. Only Aaron Lennon arrived, albeit on loan to add some much needed pace and width to Roberto Martinez side. Brendan Rodgers on the other hand spent way too much time wondering what to do with the ineffective duo of Balotelli and Lambert but in the end did nothing with the pair staying at Liverpool. Another team who has struggled upfront recently are Hull who added Senegal international forward Dame N’Doye from Lokomotiv Moscow for an undisclosed fee. Whether he can halt the rot is too early to tell. Spurs biggest transfer news was the release of long serving left back Benoit Assou-Ekotto from his contract summing up how poor their window was.  It did look like Emmanuel Adebayor would leave as well to QPR with Harry Redknapp keen to land the player he once coached. However that move fell through late last night in what turned out to be one of Redknapp’s last involvements at the club after he sensationally quit this morning.

Harry quit QPR this morning citing a knee issue  (Image from Getty)

Harry quit QPR this morning citing a knee issue
(Image from Getty)

The lack of spending in this window could simply be because the teams in the Premiership believe that they have the players they need already in place. However with several squads looking weak in certain areas, its strange that very little activity happened. The financial fair play rules have many spooked with few willing to risk having UEFA come down on them for overspending. Football is becoming more of a business than ever before, with every penny being watched and scrutinized. The days of spending frivolously are over, well at least for most clubs who are more conscious of balancing the books than ever before.

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Tabloid Sensationalism Hinders Palace Manager Search

image The names listed as potential replacements for Neil Warnock in the Crystal Palace hotseat went from the sublime to the ridiculous yesterday as the tabloids desperately grapple for readership by dismissing the truth in favour of sensationalism. Neil Warnocks sacking after only four months in charge is surprisingly the Premierships first managerial change of this year and whilst not unexpected, his role looked more secure than others like Sean Dyche at Burnley or Alan Irvine at West Bromwich Albion. Even good old Harry Redknapp must have been concerned when he was summoned to Malaysia just before Christmas for a face to face with QPR owner Tony Fernandes. But in the end it was Steve Parish who was first to swing the axe after Palace edged closer towards relegation. A change needed to be made by Parish, even Warnock would admit that but who would take on such a challenge? The last time Palace found themselves in such a pickle they turned to Tony Pulis who quickly gave the team the self belief it needed and eventually rescued them from despair. He even managed to destroy Liverpool’s hopes of its first Premiership title but that is another story. Pulis would stay beyond the summer months before spectacularly leaving just before the new season under a cloud of mystery, eventually replaced by the happy go lucky Warnock. Now the search is on once again and for a tabloid industry that has been starved of managerial drama so far this season, it was the exact catalyst it need to unleashed a beast so hideous that its beyond belief. Speculation has begun with some quite remarkable stabs in the dark being made by some papers to sell extra copies.

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Former boss Pulis is an option being mentioned, a name linked to almost every opening in football as if he had now inherited the role of the messiah but a return to Palace and in particular Parish is very unlikely. In the eyes of the tabloids, Newcastle manager Alan Pardew is a shoe in for the job given that he once played for the club. Granted it would seem to an outsider to be a silly move by Pardew to leave a club who could with a bit of luck be challenging for a European spot for a relegation dog fight but the tabloids are convinced its in the works. Their proof came when John Carver, Pardews assistant manager at Newcastle spoke to the media after their 3-2 win over Everton instead of Pardew himself. That was all the evidence that they needed to show that Pardew was packing his bags and about to make a sensational return to Selhurst. They even threw in a quote from the man himself who said that he would love to manage there one day. Of course given the recent departure of Warnock this quote looks to be further proof except for the fact that it was said by Pardew several years ago after he left West Ham and was looking for a job. On the same note if the Barnet (another club Pardew played for) job was up for grabs he would have probably said the same thing. Whilst he may be the dream choice for many a tabloid journalist, Palace parting with £6million to break his contract is likely to be a deterrent to this becoming a reality. Pardew will manage Palace in the future im sure but it will likely happen after he has been sacked by Newcastle and is once again proclaiming his affection for all his former clubs.

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Not likely- Pardew tipped to take over (Image from Getty)

Another strange name on the tabloid list is Hull manager Steve Bruce. Having already been in the Selhurst Park hotseat before quitting for Birmingham of all places, something that still irks a section of the home support, why Bruce would return is unknown. Yes things in recent weeks have not been going quite to plan at Hull but the club is in a somewhat stronger position that Palace given the investments made over the summer. In fact Hull have suprised many by their squad transformation. Its only a matter of time before they strat to click and play better football. So why would Bruce leave now? Unfinished business at Selhurts? Not really. The third name touted is Victor Pereira, the former FC Porto manager who seems keen to move to the Premiership sooner rather than later. But with no pedigree in the UK nor a grasp of the speed of the game especially in the Premiership, his appointment would be risky. That is if he was ever interested or could tell a jounalist where exactly Crystal Palace was in the UK anyway. Palace would be better to look elsewhere than this speculative trio.

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Will Steve Bruce make an unexpected return? (Image from Getty)

Old boys Tony Popovic or Dougie Freeman would be easier appointments than the three listed above. Or perhaps the tried and tested Chris Hughton or Steve Clarke could come in to save Palace. But none of these names sell papers or create sensational headlines. Palace fate lies in the hands of one man only, owner Steve Parish who will make the final decision on who replaces Warnock. Lets just hope he doesn’t read the tabloids.

Pardew – Should He Stay Or Should He Go Now?

This close to the exit - Alan Pardew (Image from Getty)

Trailing 2-0 to Hull with 20 minutes remaining, Pardew motioned to the bench for Papiss Cisse to warm up. After a quick warm up, Cisse was thrown into the game with the hopes that he could contribute something. What he did was turn the game on its head by scoring twice to earn Newcastle a point in what looked to be a foregone conclusion. An inspired substitution is what some media outlets called it but in reality it was the last throw of the dice for Pardew. Results on the pitch have been far from impressive this season and another defeat would have surely meant that the manager would be clearing his desk come Monday morning. The newspapers had been taunting him in the run up to the game with his opposite number, Steve Bruce ironically picked as favourite to replace him. Pardew knew he couldn’t lose so instead threw an unfit striker into a game against his medical team’s advisement. The gamble paid off and Pardew was granted a stay of execution but was it the right decision by owner Mike Ashley or should he have shown Pardew the door anyway?

Papiss Cisse levels for Newcastle against Hull  (Image from Getty)

Papiss Cisse levels for Newcastle against Hull
(Image from Getty)

If it were up to the fans, it would have been the latter. Newcastle have been less than remarkable this season and sit bottom of the Premiership after five games. Defeats to Southampton and Manchester City along with draws at Aston Villa, Crystal Palace and now Hull hardly spell success for Pardew and his team. Injuries to key players like David Santon and new signing Siem De Jong have hindered Pardew’s team selections but with the squad he has, the team really should have picked up more points than they have done so far. The fans demonstrated their frustration with the manager in front of a watching Mike Ashley holding Pardew Out signs at the Hull game but the owner seemed hardly fazed by the proceedings instead sitting emotionless in the stands. Pardew responded defensively suggesting the fans have created a mass hysteria in a move that is hardly going to win over the home support.

Pardew out banners displayed at recent matches by the fans  (Image from AFP)

Pardew out banners displayed at recent matches by the fans
(Image from AFP)

Never a popular replacement for the departing Chris Hughton, Pardew had to work hard to change public opinion and it appeared as though he had turned the corner in the 2011/2012 season when he guided Newcastle to a fifth place finish and picked up the LMA Manager of the Year award. But the following season was less convincing with a run in Europe combined with a lack of depth in the squad highlighting Newcastle’s limitations who eventually finished their league campaign that season in 16th place. Pardew blasted everyone but himself in an attempt to deflect the attention away from his own failings. Too focused on potential Europa League success, Pardew let the league campaign suffer by playing his best team abroad and a weakened side in the Premiership. Newcastle slipped quickly down the table with an exhausted squad unable to cope with the dual demands. Realistically the only thing that stopped Newcastle from being relegated that season was time itself, as if they had played another four games, the drop would have been likely. He survived and managed the team through yet another season but results and off field antics only created a further divide between the clubs fans and the manager. The turning point for Pardew appears to have been the head butt on David Meyler and his subsequent ban thereafter. It was seen as the final straw by the fans that up until then had tolerated the manager and the clubs rollercoaster campaigns.

Moment of madness by Pardew on Meyler  (Image from Paul McFegan/Sportsphoto)

Moment of madness by Pardew on Meyler
(Image from Paul McFegan/Sportsphoto)

Pardew has six years left on his bumper contract a fact well known to owner Mike Ashley. Originally given to create continuity at Newcastle similar to what Manchester United had under Sir Alex Ferguson or Arsenal have under Arsene Wenger, it could be a hindrance in Ashley’s attempts to change things at the top. Sacking him now would ensure a bumper pay out for the former Southampton and West Ham boss, something that may not be keen to do but if Newcastle’s poor form continues, it may be a lesser of two evils given the amount of money Ashley could lose if the club is relegated for the second time in his tenure. Tonight’s result against Crystal Palace in the cup may not be the decisive factor but instead the next run of games could help Ashley make his mind up. Winning the next three games against Stoke, Swansea and Leicester could propel Newcastle back up the table and protect Pardew’s long term future at the club. Unlike previous seasons, he has the resources needed to turn things around but must firstly look to heal the wound he has created between himself and the fans and get them back on side if he is to succeed. Excuses only buy time; they don’t buy results which is exactly what Newcastle need and fast.

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Moody And Mackay Careers In Football in Doubt After Text Scandal

Schoolboy antics - Moody and Mackay (Image from EMPICS)

The ongoing soap opera that is Crystal Palace Football Club this season took yet another unusual twist yesterday with the clubs Sporting Director Ian Moody forced to resign after revelations about inappropriate communications he made during his time at Cardiff. It’s alleged that Moody sent several hundred text messages and emails to then manager Malky Mackay of a racist, sexist and homophobic nature. In documents submitted to Football Association by Cardiff City Football Club in conjunction with London law firm Mishcon De Reya, Moody is seen to make racial comments about a potential new player from South Korea, sexist remarks about a female agent and anti-semitic jibes about a Jewish agent. In some of the cases Mackay retorted with similar types of comments although the volume compared to Moody’s was considerably lower.

Ian Moody has resigned from his job at Palace  (Image from Getty)

Ian Moody has resigned from his job at Palace
(Image from Getty)

A few of the comments and texts have been published in the UK press and emphasize the seriousness of the situation. Moody sent the following texts and emails to a variety of people connected to Cardiff City Football Club including the manager at the time MacKay and others outside of the club.

‘Fkn chinkys. Fk it. There’s enough dogs in Cardiff for us all to go around.’

  • Text sent to Mackay about the arrival of South Korean international Kim Bo-Kyung

‘Go on, fat Phil. Nothing like a Jew that sees money slipping through his fingers’

  • Text sent to football agent Phil Smith

‘He’s a snake, a gay snake. Not to be trusted’

  • On a official of another club

‘Not many white faces amongst that lot but worth considering.’

  • To Mackay about a list of potential signings

‘I hope she’s looking after your needs. I bet you’d love a bounce on her falsies.’

  • To a player connected to female agent Carly Barnes

Agent Carly Barnes found herself the subject of one of Moody's texts  (Image from Twitter)

Agent Carly Barnes found herself the subject of one of Moody’s texts
(Image from Twitter)

Mackay has since apologized for his part in the text exchange but his reputation lies in tatters with few likely to hire him in any capacity anytime soon. He has tried to play down the exchanges between himself and Moody as friendly text banter but the contents of the texts uncovered by investigators were serious enough for Crystal Palace to perform a dramatic u turn in hiring the Scot as their next manager. Their search goes on as the club tries to distance itself from Moody and Mackay as quickly as possible. Whilst banter happens between friends, not only in football but in life in general, there is a difference between harmless banter and inappropriate behaviour. Racial, homophobic and sexist slurs towards others regardless of the profession is unacceptable in the workplace and whilst some will argue that others in the game are guilty of the same, it is Moody and Mackay that must face up to the media scrutiny as the true nature of their exchanges has been revealed.

What next for Mackay?  (Image from AFP/Getty)

What next for Mackay?
(Image from AFP/Getty)

Yesterday the League Managers Association (LMA) surprisingly backed MacKay and reinforced his story of friendly banter, much to the annoyance of leading figures of the anti discrimination body Kick It Out and for the campaign Show Racism the Red Card. Former Reading striker Jason Roberts called the statement from the LMA “ill advised” and was shocked by their wording whilst another former player Leroy Rosenior felt disillusioned by the statement saying that in defending Mackay, the LMA is insulting its other members like Rosenior himself. Both former players have been strong advocates for change, often speaking up against injustices in the game when players, managers and owners overstep the mark. This morning, the LMA retracted its support and apologized for its comments but by then the damage had been done with Roberts among many calling for LMA chief Richard Bevan to resign. Racism, sexism and homophobia still plague the modern game and whilst steps forward have been taken, there are elements of old school mentality living within its walls. Removing this element from English football entirely will take commitment from organization like the FA and the LMA with a zero tolerance for issues such as this, but to date this has not been seen from either party. As for MacKay, a return to football management is unlikely at least in the short term whist his counterpart Ian Moody’s career in football is most likely over for good.

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Pulis Leaves Palace As Parish Pulls On The Purse Strings

The Departed - Tony Pulis (Image from Getty)

Tony Pulis resignation from Crystal Palace a day before the new season comes as a shock but in truth it has been simmering, ready to boil over for months now. The former Stoke boss was brought in last season to save Palace from near certain relegation after a disastrous start under Ian Holloway. Infighting between the players, shot shy strikers and a leaky defence lacking in confidence awaited Pulis when he took charge in November 2013. He swiftly transformed the team into a solid unit that over the remaining 28 game racking up 35 points that in the end proved good enough to secure Premiership football this season.

Under Pulis, Palace bounced back with stellar perfromances against the likes of Liverpool, pegging them back from 3-0 down to draw 3-3  (Image from Getty)

Under Pulis, Palace bounced back with stellar performances against the likes of Liverpool, pegging them back from 3-0 down to draw 3-3
(Image from Getty)

Pulis leaves the club after a disagreement with owner Steve Parish over Palace’s summer transfer policies and who ultimately had the last say. After identifying a list of players he felt the club needed to progress, Pulis stepped back to let Parish and Ian Moody, the clubs Sporting Director take over negotiations. However as the summer rolled on, Pulis became more and more frustrated at the lack of activity and in particular seeing the targets he had chosen slip through the clubs fingers. After being beating by Harry Redknapp to the signing of Cardiff’s Steven Caulker, he confronted Moody and Parish to ask what was going on. Sources close to the club suggest that Pulis wanted full control of the summer arrivals; something that Parish felt was in the clubs best interest to stay within his control. Parish, a 25% owner of Palace along with three other investors has grand long term plans for the south London club and would prefer a more cautious approach to developing the squad. His fear was that releasing this control to the manager, not just Pulis but any manager would see the club repeat mistakes from past administrations when Palace spent heavily on players, only to find it in vein at the end of the season. Pulis however knew the club could only really focus on long term when their short term future was secured. That meant building a team that could compete, not just this season but in future seasons much like he had done at Stoke.

Ian Moody and Steve Parish have controlled the transfers at Palace this summer  (Image from EMPICS Sports)

Ian Moody and Steve Parish have controlled the transfers at Palace this summer
(Image from EMPICS Sports)

In the end the only arrivals at the club have been squad players like Frazier Campbell from Cardiff and Martin Kelly. Pulis did convince Fulham’s Brede Hangeland to cross London to join Palace but that was on a free transfer after the player was released following Fulham’s relegation. To date, Palace have only spent £2.4million this summer on new players and have missed out on most of the names included on Pulis’ list including Caulker, Swansea’s Michu and Gylfi Sigurdsson. In a league that has seen every club strengthen this summer, Palace look weaker than before and a potential candidate for the drop. Malky Mackay has been installed as the favourite to take over and having been out of football since being dismissed by the Welsh club last season, will be happy to take the job regardless of who finalizes the transfers. However the Scotsman should take a moment to reflect on the difficulties he encountered at Cardiff working for troublesome owner Vincent Tan and the potential for a repeat performance under Parish. But the appeal of working with Ian Moody again may swing it for Mackay. The pair forged a strong working relationship and friendship at Cardiff before Tan dismissed Moody for what he saw was wasting the clubs money on exuberant transfers. Moody’s approach at Palace has been a more cautious one, leaning more towards the owner and his long term vision than this needs of the manager in order to secure his long term future at the club.

Hangeland is one of only a few signings for Palace this summer  (Image from Getty)

Hangeland is one of only a few signings for Palace this summer
(Image from Getty)

For Pulis, retirement from the game is unlikely and it won’t be long before we see his trademark training top and cap combo on the sidelines again. Pulis knows firsthand how to turn an unfancied team destined to fall into a regular fixture in the league having proven it at Stoke and then at Palace. If Premiership newcomers Burnley or Leicester fail to ignite in the first few months of the new season, they may turn to Pulis to provide the spark needed for them to secure their place in the league for next season.

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Rodgers Grabs LMA’s Top Award But Did He Deserve It?

The Winner - Brendan Rodgers (Image from PA)Gaining recognition for the work that you have done is important in any job but none more so than in football management. For every managers getting acknowledgement for a job well done can sometimes be more rewarding than any salary increase or bonus given to them by their clubs. One of the biggest honours handed to managers in England is the League Managers Association (LMA) Manager of the Year award. The significance of the award is in how it’s voted for – by all LMA members which includes every manager from the top four professional leagues in English football. Since its formation in 1994, some of the world’s best managers have won the award including Sir Alex Ferguson, Arsene Wenger, Roy Hodgson and even Joe Kinnear!

He really did, i can't lie - Prize winner Kinnear  (Image from PA)

He really did, i can’t lie – Prize winner Kinnear
(Image from PA)

This years’ recipient was Brendan Rodgers, who has transformed Liverpool into title contenders once more. The Anfield club had a nail biting finish to this Premiership season but ended up falling at the last hurdle and being pipped to the title by Manchester City. There is no doubt that Rodgers has worked miracles with Liverpool this year, who appear to be more competitive than ever. But finishing the season empty handed suggests that it hasn’t necessarily been a successful campaign for the club. So should Rodgers be the recipient of such an award or should someone else have walked away with the prize?

Liverpool lost the title to City  (Image from PA)

Liverpool lost the title to City
(Image from PA)

Arguably Tony Pulis had more of an impact this season on his team than Rodgers did on Liverpool. Remember that when Pulis took charge of Crystal Palace in November of last year, they were rooted to the bottom of the league with only four points to their name from the first 11 games. Many had already condemned Palace to relegation before Pulis arrived so it appeared that he had been brought in as part of a damage limitation exercise. But under Pulis, Palace gradually started to improve and more importantly pick up points which eventually lead to Palace climbing out of the relegation zone and to an impressive 11th place finish with 45 points to their name. Pulis did receive the award for Barclays Premier League Manager of the Year but was overlooked in favour of Rodgers for the LMA award. Another potential candidate was Steve Bruce who has guided his unfancied Hull side to a 16th place finish and a FA cup final appearance against Arsenal. Hull would undoubtedly finished further up the league if it weren’t for a series of bad injuries and suspensions that crippled their campaign in the winter months but despite this, Hull under Bruce have proved that they have the mentality and the commitment needed to remain in the Premiership for a while to come.

Runner up? Tony Pulis  (Image from Getty)

Runner up? Tony Pulis
(Image from Getty)

Like Hull and Palace, Sunderland have proven that they are no pushovers with Gus Poyet at the helm who has turned around the club after a disastrous spell under former boss Paolo Di Canio. The Uruguayan coach arrived at the Stadium of Light in October and immediately set about changing the negative culture that had evolved under Di Canio. His leadership and strong work ethic started to show immediately and before long Sunderland were picking up much needed points against some impressive competition. Wins over Chelsea, Manchester United, Southampton and Newcastle ensured that Sunderland would finish in 14th place, having been an almost permanent fixture in the bottom three for the first half of the season. A League Cup final appearance against Manchester City capped a fine transformational season for the club under Poyet and made him a candidate for Manager of the Year.

Sunderland safe - Gus Poyet  (Image fro Getty)

Sunderland safe – Gus Poyet
(Image fro Getty)

Many would have expected Manuel Pellegrini to pick up the award after he guided his Manchester City team to a famous double (the Premiership title and the League Cup trophy) in his first season in charge. But the Chilean coach was overlooked for both awards which will confuse many. What he needed to do to win is uncertain, but it’s likely the jealousy towards the wealth that City has will have played a key factor in the decision against him. There are other managers who deserve credit for the work they performed this season including Southampton’s Mauricio Pochettino who has build a squad full of youthful exuberance and raw talent into the example model for all English clubs or Roberto Martinez who nurtured the likes of Seamus Coleman and Ross Barkley at Everton before turning them into two of the stand out players of the year. And what about Alan Pardew, who despite having several problems including a lengthy ban for headbutting, still managed to make Newcastle into the highest climbing team year over year (16th to 10th).Traditionally the managers in the lower divisions have been ignored during the choosing of the LMA award winner but there were a few candidates this season who could have easily walked away with it. What about Leicester’s Nigel Pearson, who steered his team to the top of the Championship and promotion back to the Premiership, finishing with an impressive 102 points? Or Kenny Jackett who did the same thing in League One with Wolves scoring 89 goals along the way. And spare a thought for Russ Wilcox who after only taking on the challenge midway through the season helped Scunthorpe United to promotion by breaking the record for the most games unbeaten in the football league (28 games).

Premiership manager in waiting - Nigel Pearson (Image from AFP)

Premiership manager in waiting – Nigel Pearson (Image from AFP)

All of these managers deserve praise as do several others but it is Rodgers who walked away with the top award. Rightly or wrongly the Liverpool manager’s name will be on the award and in the history books for this season. The challenge next year is to do one better – win the award by winning the league. Rodgers, like Liverpool will be up for that challenge.

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Sunderland Legend Super Kev Hangs Up His Boots

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

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

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

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

Phillips helped the Baggies secure promotion  (Image from PA)

Phillips helped the Baggies secure promotion
(Image from PA)

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

Phillips won 8 caps for England  (Image from AFP)

Phillips won 8 caps for England
(Image from AFP)

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

Post by Richard Waterhouse

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Someone Ask For A Miracle?

Miracles do happen (Image from GETTY)Miracles are few and far between but it appears as though everyone in football is desperate to get one. From Cardiff’s Ole Gunnar Solsjkaer to Dortmund Jurgen Klopp to Sunderland’s Gus Poyet, they have all been hoping and praying for some divine intervention in the form of a much needed miracle. This season has already seen a few dispensed with Crystal Palace receiving the biggest one in the form of Tony Pulis, who has turned around the club and has them climbing further and further away from relegation zone each passing week. Palace were supposedly dead and buried when Pulis took over in November, rooted to the bottom of the Premiership with only two wins to their name. But with some luck and hard graft, Pulis pulled Palace up by the neck and has won 9 out of 21 matches in charge helping them to 14th place in the league, showing that miracles do happen.

Palace have turned around their season thanks to Pulis  (Image from PA)

Palace have turned around their season thanks to Pulis
(Image from PA)

Meanwhile in Germany, Jürgen Klopp’s Borussia Dortmund needs more than a miracle tonight if they are to proceed to the next round of the Champions League. 3-0 down from the first leg against a rampant Real Madrid, Klopp knows his only hope of progressing is to turn to Bayern Munich bound striker Robert Lewandowski to produce another miracle of his own, similar to the one he performed last year at this time when he notched all four goals ironically against Real Madrid in the Champions League semi final game. Only a repeat of that and a clean sheet will help Klopp and Dortmund out of their current predicament. Klopp is in good spirits but realistic at the same time. Miracles never happen when you talk about them beforehand said Klopp in regards to a question from reporters yesterday about Dortmund’s chances. Regardless he will be hoping that after the game, he can speak about witnessing one more.

Same Again please  (Image from AFP)

Same Again please
(Image from AFP)

Back in England in the battle to beat the drop, Premiership duo Sunderland and Cardiff know that whilst it’s still mathematically possible to survive, the challenge will be one of their toughest yet. Both managers have spoken recently about needing a miracle to prevent relegation from happening but with three teams going down, neither is likely to have their prayers answered. After Monday night’s 5-1 defeat to Tottenham, Sunderland need all the help they can get as they sit bottom of the Premiership. Manager Gus Poyet spoke about how his team lacks the quality during periods of the game to finish off chances that could make the difference but insisted there was no place to hide and that Sunderland needs to step up. When quizzed about what his team needs in the last seven games, given that they are 7 points adrift, Poyet politely said “a miracle”. Honesty from a coach who has restored some pride back into Sunderland after its disastrous start to the season under Paolo Di Canio.

Calling for a Miracle - Gus Poyet  (Image from Getty)

Calling for a Miracle – Gus Poyet
(Image from Getty)

Fellow strugglers Cardiff also need a miracle to survive with head coach Ole Gunnar Solsjkaer admitting that his team lacked self belief against Crystal Palace on Saturday. The Eagles ran out 3-0 winners, meaning Cardiff have only won 3 times in the last 15 matches. With 5 games left, Solskjaer remains upbeat but the odds are stacked firmly against his team especially given that they have tough games against Newcastle, Stoke and Chelsea still to come. It has been a tough season for Cardiff with managerial changes, on and off field drama as well as some agonizing last minute defeats but survival is still realistic, if they can win their remaining games and other results go their way. For Sunderland and Cardiff, the news that Chris Hughton has been sacked at 17th place Norwich and replaced until the end of the season by an untried manager will come as welcomed news. Poyet or Solskjaer will not like to see their fellow manager lose his job but if it gives both clubs the glimmer of hope that they could survive at the expense of Norwich, they will take it. After all miracles come in all shapes and forms.

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Last Chance Saloon For Wenger As He Targets Cup Success

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

Up Next - Wigan  (Image from Getty)

Up Next – Wigan
(Image from Getty)

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

Martins goal still haunts Wenger  (Image from PA)

Martins goal still haunts Wenger
(Image from PA)

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

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Newcastle Must Grapple Control Away From Ashley In Order To Grow

Time to get out - Ashley is bored of Newcaastle (Image from PA)Whilst speculation around WWE owner Vince McMahon’s interest in buying Newcastle may have been a tall story, there were elements that may in fact be true. Reports surfacing last weekend suggested that the Wrestling magnate was eying up the opportunity to purchase the controlling stake in Newcastle from current owner Mike Ashley. Whilst the story carries about as much weight as the paper it was written on, the truth behind the lies is that Ashley is looking to sell Newcastle and has been for some considerable amount of time. Having never gained the Geordie faithful’s love and support; Ashley has grown tired of his toy and is looking to move on once he can find someone to reimburse his investment.  Various potential suitors have come and gone but none have match Ashley’s expected price of £267 million. This would cover his initial investment of £134m and the further investment in the form of interest free loans to the sum of £150m. Only someone with considerable wealth, like billionaire Vince McMahon, would have the deep pockets to pay the initial asking price and then another $50-100million in needed player and infrastructure costs. Players in particular is something that manager Alan Pardew and the fans would love to see materialize given the recent history.

WWE's Vince McMahon is rumoured to be interested  (Image from Getty)

WWE’s Vince McMahon is rumoured to be interested
(Image from Getty)

Newcastle fans have been dismayed by the lack of transfer activity over the past two windows with players being sold but only loan signings arriving. Added into this, they have had to endure a calamitous last eight months listening to Joe Kinnear drone on about how connected he was and how he would bring the world’s best players to Newcastle. Neither was true and Kinnear departed on Feb 1st apparently with his tail between his legs. But in fact, given Ashley’s desire to sell, the truth may simply be that Kinnear did what he was told to do – nothing. Why would someone desperate to ditch the business he owns invest heavily in new employees? Yes he reached into his pocket in January last year to bring in six new players including Mathieu Debuchy, Yoan Gouffran and Moussa Sissoko but he needed to in order to halt the slide towards another relegation. At the heart of this was money, and the realization that if Newcastle were to fall back into the Championship once again, the value of the club and the potential to find a buyer would dramatically diminish. A Newcastle side in the Premiership after all is a far more appealing prospect and gives Ashley a better chance of making his targeted sell price.

Out of his Depth or following orders - Kinnear  (Image from PA)

Out of his Depth or following orders – Kinnear
(Image from PA)

As this January’s transfer window opened, Newcastle were sitting comfortably in mid table after a strong start to the season which saw them lose only six games. Ashley knew that he did not need to spend any money to keep them in the league as the team was stronger than the likes of Fulham, Crystal Palace and Hull so the drop was unlikely. Pardew cried out for support but Ashley was nowhere to be found, instead leaving Kinnear to be the face of Newcastle’s apparent transfer negotiations.  Weeks went by and no one arrived but interest in star player Yohan Cabaye intensified. Newcastle eventually buckled and sold their principle asset for around £23million but Ashley had no intention of re investing this cash, instead lining his pockets with it. Newcastle has since been on a slump, hurting badly in shape due to the departure of their talisman. Successive defeats to Sunderland, Chelsea and Tottenham have highlighted the need for reinvestment but Newcastle fans would be wise not to hold their breaths waiting for this to happen.

Cabaye exited for PSG in January  (Image from Getty)

Cabaye exited for PSG in January
(Image from Getty)

Ashley is in a selling mode, with his only focus being offloading the club he has become bored of. Appointing a Director of Football to replace Kinnear or even sacking Pardew is not on his priorities as it just adds more work where none is needed.  Ashley will want to secure a buyer before the summer as spending on new players to keep the investment value high enough to justify his asking price will be needed. For bewildered Newcastle fans, finding a new owner must also be their main focus, someone who wants to be at the club and sink their money into taking Newcastle to the next stage. Finding that person will not be easy but if it ends up being someone like Vince McMahon then they may just have to grapple with that as anything is better than what they have right now.

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Holloway Or Bust As Palace Continues To Slide

TOn borrowed time - Holloway (Image from Getty)he current Premiership table does not make for interesting reading to Ian Holloway. His Crystal Palace side sits firmly in the bottom three after a series of poor performances and results.  Holloway knows that in this business points are all that counts so will be aware that he is on borrowed time having only delivered three points out of a possible 24 so far. The media vultures are circling, waiting patiently for news to break of his dismissal and unless things improve, they may be feasting on his carcass sooner rather than later.

Fulham came from behind to beat Palace on Monday  (Image from AFP)

Fulham came from behind to beat Palace on Monday
(Image from AFP)

Following Mondays 4-1 defeat to Fulham, Holloway felt the heat from chairman Steve Parish as the two met for an hour to debrief what had happened. Parish and Holloway meet regularly but this meeting more than any signifies that Holloway’s position is under immediate review in advance of some potential changes. Palace, who were one of three teams promoted last season from the Championship, have the odds stack firmly against their survival as history favours an immediate return from where the trio came. November will be a significant month for Palace with winnable ties against Hull, West Brom and Norwich to come; Holloway will know that he needs to stop the rot before the rot stops him. How long before Parish is forced to pull the rip cord on Holloways reign and parachute in a new boss in an attempt to change the team’s fortunes, is unknown. With Palace making their worst start to a top flight season since 1980 and with the ground fast approaching, it may be sooner than Holloway hopes.

Crystal Palace's cheerleaders, The Crystals have had little to cheer for this season (Image from Getty)

Crystal Palace’s cheerleaders, The Crystals have had little to cheer for this season (Image from Getty)

If Parish does exercise his right to ring in the changes, it may be to little effect as bitter truth is that the current Palace squad is not strong enough to survive. The squad lacks depth in quality, despite Holloway and Parish having an active summer by bringing in 17 new players. With that volume of new faces entering the squad, they need time to gel and get to know each other, something that Palace don’t have the luxury of.  Questions will be asked of the types of players brought into the club, in particular the acquisitions of strike trio –  Marouane Chamakh (Arsenal), Cameron Jerome (Stoke) and Jimmy Kebe (Reading), who have all failed to fire in the Premiership before. The need for new forward options was heightened with the departure of star player Wilfred Zaha and the loss of top goal scorer Glenn Murray to long term injury, but the replacements don’t exactly match up. So far the trio has scored only one goal between them (Chamakh vs. Stoke) with record signing Dwight Gayle now being looked upon as Palace’s goal threat. In truth Palace this season have been misfiring across the board, having only scored 6 goals so far (third worst in the league behind Stoke and Sunderland) and have shipped 17 (second worst behind Sunderland). The problems are mounting up for Holloway to solve – goalkeeper Julian Speroni looks dazed and confused at this level, his back four lacks a true leader with Mariappa and Delaney often caught out of position, and upfront his strikers lack the confidence and conviction in their abilities to score. The only bright spark so far has been the form of midfield duo, captain Mile Jedinak and young Spanish star Jose Campana who have impressed with their vision and all around play. But the duo look outnumbered on the pitch and are often forced back into defence to cover for the out of position centre back pairing. Holloway is guilty of tinkering too much with his side, unable to stick to a solid formation for more than two games in a row which is causing further chaos in the ranks.

Hit and Miss - Marouane Chamakh  (Image from Jonathan Rogers CPFC)

Hit and Miss – Marouane Chamakh
(Image from Jonathan Rogers CPFC)

The only thing that is going for Holloway is that he knows this squad well; after all it’s the squad he built. And he still has the faith of the players that believe that he can help turn things around. Having only arrived in November 2013, replacing Dougie Freeman who left for Bolton, Holloway had an immediate effect, steering the club up the table and into the playoff places. They dispatched Brighton then Watford to secure a return to England’s top division and won Holloway much deserved praise from various circles for the way he had pulled the squad together and inspired them to victory. But last season’s glory looks like a long way away as Palace try to step up their game in England’s top division. Holloway knows he must get his team to raise their game across all areas of the pitch if they are to survive. He is a long way off the needed 40 points for survival and 30 games left in the season, Palace need to start winning soon to be in with a chance, with or without Holloway at the helm.

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Football Manager Game Inspires Transfers?

Football Manager 2013 - Inspiring Premiership Managers? (Image from FM2013) When fantasy becomes reality in football, it’s generally a one off and something that people recognize is being as such. But for any Championship Manager fan, fantasy is in fact becoming reality with the latest transfer moves within the Premiership. With Tottenham completing the signing of Danish midfielder Christian Eriksen and Argentine Erik Lamela, Crystal Palace capture of Jose Campana, Swansea signing Jordi Amat and the arrival at Liverpool of French defender Mamadou Sakho from Paris St Germain, fans are starting to see the influence that the game is having on the beautiful game. All five players are stand outs in the game and some are now wondering if there is in fact a link between current transfers and the world’s most popular fantasy management game.

Stars like Kurt Zouma have been on Premiership "radars" for months now, despite being a stand out in the game  (Image from FM2013)

Stars like Kurt Zouma have been on Premiership “radars” for months now, despite being a stand out in the game
(Image from FM2013)

The truth is that link between Football Manager and real life is hard to quantify. Managers insist that it is down to improved scouting networks and the availability of data from sources like Prozone and OPTA that helps them to identify good prospects. But for a computer game to be so right about the players targeted and signed this summer, especially in the Premiership is uncanny. Some will argue that the players signed were well known and have impressed over the past few seasons enough to be considered for signature. Lamela, Eriksen and Sahko are all fairly well known but Jose Campana, Jordi Amat and Nicklas Helenius have hardly been at the forefront of European football over the past few season. Indeed Campana only started a handful of games last year for Sevilla and a few for Spain’s under 21 side but surely not enough to gauge the player’s ability and promise? Helenius’s goal scoring exploits for Aalborg caught this blogs attention early on in the season but did he catch Villa’s scouts as well or perhaps Lambert has been spending his spare time engaging in a computerized format of club management.

Palace snapped up Campana despite minimal scouting  (Image from Getty)

Palace snapped up Campana despite minimal scouting
(Image from Getty)

Maybe it’s just me, thinking about this as a long term fan and player of the game, but it’s too much of a coincidence. In the past managers have spoken about using the game and its data to check out and review players adding to the argument. Giovanni Trapattoni once said in an interview that he had used the game for research purposes during his time as manager of Fiorentina whilst Ole Gunnar Solskjaer admitted to using Football manager to develop his understanding of the tactics he uses at Molde so surely other managers have done the same? Or are we honestly to believe that it’s just good scouting that have led to some of the best unknown talents across Europe being snapped up this summer. With the latest version of the game due for launch in December, players won’t have to wait long to see if any hidden gems in the game are unearthed by the established premiership scouting methods or by any other means not revealed.

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What a Month! What a Year!

The Ndlovu brothers - Adam, Madinda and PeterWell it’s officially 2013 so Happy New Year everyone! Hope you had an enjoyable, if somewhat over indulging festive period. It was quite the end to the year so as tradition, we look back on some of the stories we covered on the blog last month. Crowd troubles featured heavily as problems in Turkey and Russia both affected games. Remarkably in the latter, condoms were used to smuggle firecrackers into the stadium with one being thrown onto the pitch and blinding the goalkeeper. FIFA must surely act before more of these types of incidents occur. In other new, Football mourned the death of Adam Ndlovu who was tragically killed in a car accident this month. But it wasn’t all doom and gloom in December as we looked at the players, old and new making the news that month. There were features on up and coming stars like Will Hughes, Hachim Mastour and Zymer Bytyqi as well as a look at former star Ronaldo and his battle against the bulge.

Will Hughes

Managers featured too, with the returns of Antonio Conte and Harry Redknapp marked out for special note and a sideways glance at Arsene Wenger as he contemplates his Arsenal future. Barcelona’s Tito Vilanova was in the news again as he unfortunately had to step down from his role temporarily in order to continue his battle against cancer. The Barca faithful will be praying for Tito’s speedy return in the early part of this year. Global football politics and issues were talked about in pieces around Gibraltar‘s inclusion finally into UEFA competitions as well as inventor Tim Jahnigen’s remarkable story of how he created an indestructible ball to help kids in poverty across the globe continue to play the beautiful game.

Home made football's are normal across poorer countries

Home made football’s are normal across poorer countries

January brings a lot of excitement with it as well with the opening of the transfer window. The key questions of who will Liverpool sign as their new number 9 and the tale of two south american strikers, Hulk and Falcao were answered in last months posts. January also sees the naming of this years Ballon d’Or winners with Alex Morgan looking favourite to steal the crown. It’s also the start of the second half of the season for clubs across the globe with Belgian team SV Zulte-Waregem hoping to continue their form from the first half of the season up until the end of the league campaign. Newcastle on the other hand will be looking to forget the first half of the season and are hoping they can strengthen accordingly so they can avoid yet another relegation battle. Palace fans are hoping they have more than just their cheerleaders to cheer about in the second half of the campaign as well.

US star Alex Morgan

2013 is going to be a great year, with lots of exciting stories coming out of the world of football and we will be there to cover them all (well most of them). You can now follow us as well now in the Back Of The Net Blog on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/#!/BackOfTheNetBlog) so please like it now! Additionally if there are stories you would like us to cover and haven’t yet, please let us know using the comments field and we will try to tackle them over the course of the year. With that, enjoy 2013, enjoy the football and enjoy the blog!

Palace Finally Have Something To Cheer About

US CheerleadersWhen soccer first landed on US shores, it wasn’t deemed exciting enough to watch so plans were put in place to add glitz and glamour to it. In the present day, the MLS has introduced a variety of additions in and around the game to keep the watching public entertained. One such addition is drawn from a variety of US sports including Basketball and American football – Cheerleaders.

Cheerleading has been around since the 1870’s, firstly as all male cheerleading teams then later introducing women into the fold which has gradually become the norm. From middle school to high school to college and professional troupes, cheerleading has grown into a national past time in the US and its now spreading its wings further with several countries embracing the sport. For the British football fans, cheerleaders at games was a foreign concept for a long time, with pies and bovril the only half time entertainment as such. That was until some clubs decided to lead the way and introduce cheerleaders into their pre game and half time show.

Blackburn Rovers Andrew gain alot of negative media attention

Blackburn Rovers Andrew gain alot of negative media attention

Blackburn Rovers was surprisingly one of the first teams to introduce cheerleaders into is pre game and half time entertainment shows but other clubs like Fulham, Sheffield Wednesday and West Ham have followed suit. Whilst they have all attracted some media attention, notably Blackburn in 2007 due to their inclusion of the UK’s first male cheerleader called Andrew and West Ham for their fairly raunchy performances, none have captured the media’s attention as much as Crystal Palace’s team, known simply as The Crystals.

Crystal Palace's cheerleaders, The Crystals

Crystal Palace’s cheerleaders, The Crystals

Whilst they have received a lot of negative remarks from their own fans recently who blame them for the teams poor form instead of the players themselves, what The Crystals have done is help to build the clubs brand across the globe with their clever marketing efforts. The Crystals have taken to social media and released a series of song cover versions that have gathered millions of views on YouTube alone. Their cover of the Carly Rae Jepson song “Call me, Maybe” has been viewed nearly 2 million times, their latest cover of Psy’s “Gangnam Style” is at 1.2million and growing daily and the girls have just released their christmas version of Mariah Carey’s ” All I want for Christmas is you” which looks like it will follow the same path as the previous releases.

Gangnam Style - The Crystals

Gangnam Style – The Crystals

Regardless of how you view this, be it a promotion gimic or a tasteless distraction in the beautiful game, The Crystals and the other cheerleading troupes continue to perform in front of crowds in all types of weather, regardless of how the team is performing. Most troupes are made up of genuine fans of the clubs who are passionate about what they do and receive no form of compensation for doing it. The question of if it adds anything to the fans enjoyment of the game is still unresolved but for most, particularly Palace fans, it’s a welcome distraction for the poor performances they are having to watch on the pitch.

To watch the Crystals version of Call me Maybe, click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l6N2vwe9Swk

To watch the Crystals version of Gangnam, click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TK6sKMU985g

To watch the Crystals version of All I want, click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZfWDSh1kKAA