Why relegation may be the best thing for Newcastle this season

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Newcastle fans make their feelings clear (image from Tumblr)

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

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Rangers Course Correct Again With Gerrard Appointment

After yet another tempestuous campaign for Glasgow Rangers, South Africa based owner Dave King has decided to make another change in order to course correct. The dismissal of Graeme Murty as manager was to be expected given recent disappointing results including a 5-0 hammering by rivals Celtic. Murty, who was given the job until the end of the season following Pedro Caixinha’s sacking in October, knew that it was coming after doubt started to surface about his ability to manage the club long term. The need for a more experienced manager to come in and sort the club out appeared to be the most logical next step. Thats why the appointment of Steven Gerrard, the untested former Liverpool and England midfielder as the new Rangers manager raised more than a few eyebrows.

Steven Gerrard has been appointed as Rangers new manager (Image from Tumblr)

Gerrard becomes Rangers 18th manager in its history and arguably its most inexperienced yet the failures of Mark Warburton, Caixinha and to a lesser extent Murty before him, should mean that the former Liverpool midfielder will be given much more leniency. He doesn’t officially start until June 1st but the size of the challenge that lies ahead of him (and assistant Gary McAllister) will mean that Gerrard will sleep little between now and then. His lack of experience was pinpointed by the media as his potential downfall but the same can be said about the squad he is about to inherit. Few of that squad know what it’s like to win a title or in some cases even taste cup success so turning them into believers may be Gerrard’s biggest challenge. Before he can fix the squad spiritually he must remove the deadwood. And there is a lot of it. Not only does it feature poor signings from his predecessors eras including Carlos Pena, Fabio Cardozo and Eduardo Herrera but it also features a lot of players who should have moved on along time ago. Captain Lee Wallace is one such figure who splits the Ibrox faithful when it comes to his future. There are those who believe Wallace is a symbol of a fallen period, someone who when times got tough stuck it out with the club and should be held in prestige because of that. But there are others who feel that Wallace has been a passenger for several seasons now and it’s only been the clubs turmoil off the pitch that has saved him from the axe. Wallace’s card may already be marked even before Gerrard gets his say following a club dispute that neither side is willing to go into detail publicly to clarify. His departure in the summer along with his co accused teammate Kenny Miller who happens to be out of contract soon will signal the changing of the guard and hopefully wipe the slate clean for Gerrard to build upon.

Changing of the guard as Miller and Wallace prepare for departures (Image from Tumblr)

The job however is not as easy as it seems. Yes money will be made available and to date no announcement has been made on exactly how much but he will have some to strengthen. If he needs more then he will have to find buyers for those surplus to demands which will be a task in itself. Many expect Gerrard to call in favours both at his old clubs, Liverpool and LA Galaxy but also with his numerous friends and connections in the game including former managers like Rafa Benitez at Newcastle. One person he won’t be calling to get players is Brendan Rodgers who is now in charge of Rangers arch rivals Celtic. Rodgers who is looking to complete an unprecedented back to back treble has yet to reach out formally to Gerrard to offer his congratulations however has been vocal in the press about the maturity and influence Gerrard will have on the Rangers squad. That doesn’t mean he is convinced Gerrard will be a success or even be able to stimulate his side enough to effectively challenge Celtic next season but it’s a nice gesture all the same. In honesty, Rodgers is probably delighted that Rangers have hired a novice manager rather than going for a more experienced head like Neil Warnock or even Frank De Boer. It could be argued that both have a better tactical knowledge than Gerrard having managed and won several trophies in their careers.

Gerrard will face former boss Brendan Rodgers next season (Image from Tumblr)

Time will tell if his lack of managerial experience has any bearing on where the title ends up next season. Those close to Scottish football will tell Gerrard that the most important games to win will be the ones against Celtic. Historically this was purely down to pride and bragging rights for the week following the game but now in a league with teams that have struggled to take any points off of Celtic, the Old Firm derbies are where the title destination is ultimately decided. And before the Aberdeen, Hibernian and Kilmarnock fans start writing hate mail about that last line, it’s worth noting a few things. Yes those clubs have “challenged” in recent seasons but to win the league you actually have to beat Celtic regularly, not just once or twice every five years or so. The other consideration is on resources and in particular the money that can be invested into new players. Only Rangers have the finances to compete with the budget of Celtic (and even then it’s still sizeably smaller) so it’s no wonder that Rangers are time and time again viewed as the only viable challenger.

Celtic’s 5-0 demolition of Rangers in the last Old Firm was Murty’s last game in charge (Image from Tumblr)

Gerrard arrives knowing the history of Rangers and will have been informed in no uncertain terms about the importance of stopping Celtic reaching ten consecutive titles in a row. That is the holy grail and to outsiders may seem insignificant but to both sets of supporters it’s often perceived as more important than life itself. Since Rangers ran to nine in a row back in the late 90’s, Celtic fans have stewed and pined for the day when they can get revenge. It comes down to nothing but bragging rights but in a city divided into green and blue, that all that matters. It’s here that Gerrard might actually make sense as an appointment. Having grown up in a similarly passionate city divided into red and blue (Liverpool) he will understand the desire on both sides to gain the upper hand and silence the other half of the city. Passion was what fuelled Gerrard as a player and spurned him on to become the leader he was. He will need to be the embodiment of passion and find players that complement this if he is to be a success. The four year contract handed to him suggests that the board will given him time to course correct the club but if the gap between the two clubs continues to widen and Celtic close in on ten in a row, Gerrard may find himself out of a job.

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Remembering Chieck Tiote

I still remember that goal to this day.  As the minutes ticked away towards the end of a thrilling match, Newcastle were awarded an opportunistic free kick on the right hand side. Barton hovered over the ball as Coloccini, Nolan and others jostled for good positions in the Arsenal box with their markers close at hand. The free kick was unsurprisingly tame; floated in speculatively before being headed away with ease. It sat in the air for what seemed like an eternity as Chieck Tiote made moves towards its downward path. Just knock it back into the mix Chieck was what most fans were thinking but the midfielder had other plans. He connected with the ball brilliantly and before Arsenal could react, the ball flew past Szczesny and into the net. 4-4!! What a comeback. Newcastle had pulled off the comeback of all comebacks. From 4-0 down at half time to level the game in such a fashion is why many consider that match one of the best the league has seen. Tiote’s goal was magical like the player himself which makes his death so much harder to take.

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That strike by Tiote (Image from Tumblr)

Newcastle were full of characters and leaders at the time of the game with Nolan and Barton in particular big voices in that changing room. But it was Tiote who grab that match by the scruff of its neck and shook it violently into submission. His battling spirit and crunching tackles made him a firm favourite with the Newcastle faithful who will remember him for all that he contributed to the club during his seven-year stay.

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Tiote arrived in England following an impressive spell in Holland with FC Twente. A fee of £3.5million was been agreed for the player and in August 2010 he pulled on the black and white striped Newcastle jersey. By that point he was already an international player having made his debut for Ivory Coast the year previous. Tiote would play a key role for his country over the next five years as he amassed 52 caps, not an easy thing to do in a star-studded team like that. His career in the north-east of England was just as fruitful with the player a mainstay in the Newcastle side for the majority of his time there. Injury prevented more appearances for the club but it never seemed to bother Cheick who former boss Steve McLaren (who managed him at FC Twente and Newcastle) described as “always having a smile on his face”. Another former boss Alan Pardew referred to him as a giant and a dream player to have in your squad. Fitting words for a player who meant so much to the club he gave his all for.

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Tiote took pride in representing his country (Image from Tumblr)

Selling Tiote was a hard choice for Rafa Benitez but one he felt made sense both for the club and for the player. A move to China could provide the player with a consistent run out as well as a massively increased pay packet to boot. Tiote could have gone to Russia or Turkey and had his options but the money in China could set his family up for life. Family to Cheick was everything so China was simply too good to turn down. He may have only spent a short time in the Far East at his new side Beijing Enterprises but he had already won over the fans in the handful of games that he played for the club.

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Tiote made his move to China in February 2017 (Image from Tumblr)

In football there are different types of players from the adventurous wingback who loves nothing more than running down the byline or six yard box strikers to seize on scraps thrown their way. But the type I like the most are the workhorses, the grafters who battle for the ball in the middle that break up the play, turning defence into attack. Chieck Tiote was very much a work horse, a  central figure in the Newcastle side whose job was not to be fancy but instead to hassle and harass the opposition midfield. It’s a job he did brilliantly. Much like a pit bull clambering to get its jaws around a juicy bone, Tiote never gave up until he got his prize. That’s the type of player he was.

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Over a seven years period with Newcastle he would make 141 appearances for the club but only score one goal – that strike against Arsenal. Clips of that strike are now doing the rounds on Twitter and various sports websites as fans pay homage to Tiote. But look beyond that game to the other clips that show Tiote at his best – hunting down opponents, biting at their ankles continuously until eventually exhausted they release the ball. He was more than just that goal, he was a fantastic player who will be sadly missed by all those who played with him and all of those who watched him play. Tiote was 30 years old.

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Where will Newcastle finish next season?

After only one season in the Championship, Newcastle have secured passage back to the Premier League at the first attempt.  Some pundits have already stated that Newcastle doesn’t have enough quality in its squad to be competitive in the Premier League and that 5-6 new signings are needed.

This summer manager Rafa Benitez will be hoping to strengthen his squad ahead of their return. However that will of course depend on how much money the manager is given by owner Mike Ashley and who he can attract to the North East. If Rafa is able to bring in the 5-6 new faces the media is saying he needs, where will Newcastle finish next season? Top half, middle or relegation places?

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

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

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Job Done Rafa (Image from Tumblr)

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

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

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

Premier League bound Ayoze Perez (Image from Tumblr)

Premier League bound Ayoze Perez (Image from Tumblr)

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

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

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The Race for the Championship – who will win promotion?

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

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

Newcastle United

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

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

Brighton

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

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

Huddersfield

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

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

Others

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

Post by BOTN Championship writer George Didcote (@GeorgeDidcote19)

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Rafa to Stay as Newcastle Rebuild For The Championship

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

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

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

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

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

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Will Rafa Revival Save Newcastle?

It may have taken slightly longer than most fans had hoped for but eventually Newcastle got their man. Rafa Benitez arrival in the North East as the new manager of Newcastle United Football Club ends what has been a disasterous last nine months under Steve McClaren. Like falling pregnant only to give birth to a ginger baby, McClaren has been a huge disappointed to everyone involved and it’s probably for the best that his time as head coach has finally come to an end. The bumbling former England manager clearly left his tactical knowledge behind in the Derby changing room last summer but did manage to find a copy of 101 best excuses ranging from “we were unlucky” to “we didn’t get the bounce of the ball” to his personal favourite “Judge me after ten games…Actually make that twenty…did i say twenty, I meant thirty”. 28 games played, only six wins and in real threat of relegation something had to give at St James Park so McClaren makes his exit out the back door, brolly under his arm as Rafa waltzes in the front on his white steed.

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McClaren out after nine problematic months (Image from Getty)

Calling him the messiah is fairly premature as he could in theory turn out to be yet another managerial mistake with Newcastle being relegated at the end of the season. But a coup he is given the past chorus line of abject failures to have sat in the so called managers chair. McClaren, Carver, Kinnear and Shearer all spring to mind although it’s hard to slate the latter given that he is club royality thanks to his exploits on the pitch rather than on the side of it. Rafa though arrives with a formidable reputation. Afterall only six months ago he was the boss of the second biggest team in Spain, the mighty Real Madrid. Sunderland fans will be quick to point out that he was sacked from that job after only six months in charge but to be fair to the guy, most smart people in football know that he was made a scapegoat for president Florentino Perez who simply wanted to make his creepy infatuation of Zinedine Zidane public.

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So you are saying there is no chance of me returning as manager Mr Ashley? (Image from Getty)

Rafa’s reputation is that of a winner – titles with Valencia and European/World Club trophies with Liverpool, Inter and Chelsea all point to such. But Newcastle could be his biggest challenge to date. Can he become the man who finally awakes the sleeping giant of English football. Sleeping in the sense of Snow White, more out cold than merely dozing. Not since Kevin Keegan in 1995 and later under Sir Bobby in 2001 have Newcastle looked like genuine competitors in the league. Yes once under Alan Pardew as well but given that his current Crystal Palace side are now in free fall after a stellar start to his reign there it appears as though a pattern is developing, one that rises then falls spectacularly as talk of him as the next England boss feeds his ego. Benitez will know about the challenges Newcastle face having managed against them previously for Liverpool then Chelsea but can he correct this seasons mess and save them from relegation?

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Can Rafa replicate the runs of sir Bobby and King Kev? (Image from Getty)

First and foremost he needs to quickly install confidence and belief into a side so drained of it that most of the players on the pitch look like extras from the Walking Dead. Bizarrely Newcastle have a semi decent squad especially compared to the ones around them. There isn’t anyone at the club tweeting pictures of expensive cars after heavy defeats or spending their spare time researching the UK age of consent before ignoring it. Collectively they are a good group, just badly managed for some time now. Secondly he needs to sort out the defence or at least construct a formation that protects Newcastle’s below par back line. He will have to show his players that there is another formation other than 4-2-3-1 (see jab at McClaren earlier) and that teamwork not individual brilliance will get them out of this mess. Finally he needs to inspire his better players like Wijnaldum, Colback and Sissoko to make themselves more prominent in games. Wijnaldum has been good since his arrival in the summer but fans are beginning to wonder what happens when he plays in away games given his influence on the play drops dramatically. As for Sissoko, Benitez has one job – instruct him that he has nine games left to play for the club and if he gives them his all then he will get the transfer he has pined for over the past two seasons. The truth is Sissoko is a great player, arguably the clubs best but he has no desire to be in the North East anymore and perhaps should have been sold  years ago when the original interest in him peaked. Up front Benitez will look to find a way to get goals out of Mitrovic, Perez and Doumbia whilst hoping that the midfield can chip in their fair share as well. Not an easy task but necessity if they are to survive.

Mitrovic

Rafa needs to get Newcastle firing again and scoring goals if they are to stay up (Image from pa)

There is just one real measurement of success needed to gauge how the Spaniard gets on. Surviving relegation is the only thing that matters. If he can do that, he can reshape the squad all he likes in the summer (within limitations of course as this is Newcastle after all) and plan for a better campaign next year. Failure however will likely trigger a release in his contract and send Newcastle into a downward spiral of depression and anti anxiety medicines as they face up to life once again in the Championship. Expect McClaren to resurface at that point and try to convince the media that it wasn’t his fault. Owner Mike Ashley will likely retort by trying to win over the fans with another promise of silverware before hiring his next manager from the pages of his 1992 Panini Premier League sticker book (the return of Mike Walker to management perhaps?). The biggest concern should be that relegation this season doesn’t necessarily mean a return the following year. The Championship has moved on since Newcastle were last there with any of the 24 teams capable of gaining promotion in any given season. Ok maybe not Charlton or Bolton but still you get the point. Without Benitez and with Ashley selling the clubs best players like one of his dodgy Sports Direct Velcro lined track suits, Newcastle could spend several years in the lower league wilderness. The only plus side perhaps is that Aston Villa will be there to keep them company season after season. Relegation would be disastrous for Newcastle right now which is why Rafa needs to get it right. He doesn’t have to be the messiah as long as he isn’t just another naughty boy.

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Six Degrees of Managerial Separation

Disappointment for Ancelotti after he is sacked by Real (Image from Darren Walsh/Chelsea FC via Getty Images)After two years in charge of one of the biggest clubs in the world, Carlo Ancelotti has been sacked by Real Madrid. Despite winning the clubs 10th European title last season, Ancelotti has failed to deliver La Liga on two occasions, something that Real president Florentino Perez has deemed as unacceptable.  During a press conference on Monday, Perez announced Ancelotti’s departure with immediate effect stating that they need a manager who can take them to the next level. That man looks likely to be Rafa Benitez with the former Liverpool and Valencia manager due to leave Napoli after Sunday’s final Serie A game against Lazio. Benitez has an established pedigree in La Liga having won it twice during his spell as Valencia boss and has shown that he can win trophies regardless of what team he manages. The appointment will not be universally welcomed with several players and fan groups disappointed with Ancelotti’s sacking.  They see the removal of Ancelotti as a mistake as the Italian still had a lot to offer to the club.  Real’s loss could however be Derby gain as they hunt for their new manager. However the East Midlands club is not interested in Ancelotti, but instead his faithful assistant at Real Madrid, Paul Clement.

Wanted man - Paul Clement  (Image from Getty)

Wanted man – Paul Clement
(Image from Getty)

Clement is not a name that was widely known three years ago when he was hired by Ancelotti to be part of his backroom staff at Paris Saint Germain. Having worked with the Englishman at Chelsea, the Italian has forged a strong bond with Clement and has entrusted him with key roles at both PSG and Real Madrid which has helped pull Clement into the media spotlight. The Derby job is available after the Rams fired Steve McLaren as their manager after a dismal end to the season. It looked a certainty that Derby would gain promotion back to the Premiership after a seven year absence with the club sitting top of the Championship at the end of February. However in the last 13 games of the season, Derby only won twice sliding down the table and out of the promotion places. Many believed that McLaren head had been turned by persistent rumours about interest from Newcastle for his services. McLarens failure to come out publically when the rumours first started and commit himself to Derby long term has ultimately led to his downfall.  McLaren was sacked by the Derby board after the final game of the season, yet another defeat this time to Reading.

What next for McLaren after he leaves Derby?  (Image from Getty)

What next for McLaren after he leaves Derby?
(Image from Getty)

After McLaren rejected Mike Ashley’s SOS call last month when Newcastle were in real danger of relegation, the owner has now decided to look elsewhere leaving McLaren in managerial limbo.  It will be a bitter blow for McLaren who saw his stock on the rise again after difficult spells at Wolfsburg and Nottingham Forest. Newcastle has been linked with several managers and head coaches over the past six months since Alan Pardew left for Crystal Palace. With the bumbling John Carver due to leave the club, Newcastle are exploring their options with Ajax’s Frank De Boer, Lyon’s Remi Garde and Lekhwiya’s Michael Laudrup as the front runners. However the availability of Roberto Di Matteo, who quit Schalke today will throw a spanner in the works for Newcastle’s hiring committee with the Italian’s reputation and past success in the Premiership perhaps making him a safer option.

Di Matteo lead Chelsea to Champions League success  (Image from AFP)

Di Matteo lead Chelsea to Champions League success
(Image from AFP)

Di Matteo’s seven and a half month spell in Germany did not quite go as planned. Picking up where Jens Keller left off, Di Matteo inherited one of the Bundesliga’s brightest squads with the talented young trio of Julian Draxler, Max Meyer and Leon Goretzka leading the way. Despite a promising start which saw Schalke climb up the table into third, results have not gone Di Matteo’s way in recent weeks with the club sliding back down the table and away from the Champions League places. This summer was meant to be a transitional period for the club with Di Matteo looking to strengthen his side with several new faces. However a disagreement over the forward vision of the club between Di Matteo and the clubs sporting director, Horst Heldt has led to the former Chelsea and West Brom boss handing in his resignation. The relationship between the two has not been great over his time at Schalke with rumours persisting that Di Matteo was never the first choice. He is said to have landed the Schalke job back in October 2014 after the club had an approach for the out of work Thomas Tuchel turned down by the 41 year old. Tuchel, who left Mainz in April 2014 decided against joining Schalke at that stage in the season, instead deciding to hold out until the new season to see what other options presented themselves. That approach has worked wonderfully for Tuchel as he has now been appointed as Jürgen Klopp’s successor at Borussia Dortmund.

The super suave Klopp is eyeing his next move  (Image from PA)

The super suave Klopp is eyeing his next move
(Image from PA)

Liverpool has not had the best of seasons, failing to emulate the success they found last year when they finished second in the Premiership. Manager Brendan Rodgers has faced a lot of criticism in recent months with several pundits claiming that Liverpool have gone backwards this season with Rodgers being one of the key reasons. The club’s owner, Fenway Sports Group have to dated backed their under fire boss but with several high profile managers available this summer, Rodgers position is anything but safe. Top of that list is the charismatic Klopp who is available after a seven year spell in charge of Dortmund. One of the most highly rated coaches in the game today; Klopp is in high demand but will be looking for a club that can offer him regular champion’s league football. Despite finishing 6th this season, Liverpool has the squad and the potential to offer this to him unlike other English sides like Newcastle, West Ham or Brentford with the latter already  making an audacious approach to land the German. Brentford, who sacked their manager Mark Warbutton despite finishing in the Championship playoff spots, made the approach early last week only to be turned down. The ambitious club has not been deterred and news that another top coach has been released from his contract was greeted with enthusiasm by The Bees.  Whether or not Ancelotti will trade the Bernabeau for Griffin Park is yet to be seen.

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Rafa Benitez In At Real As Carlo Exits?

Real Bound? - Rafa Benitez (Image from PA)After finishing the season without a trophy, it appears as though Carlo Ancelotti’s time as Real Madrid boss is about to end. Rumours are circulating that the Bernabeau is about to welcome a new manager with Napoli boss Rafa Benitez being lined up to replace the Italian. Ancelotti will lead his side out for their last game of the season against Getafe but it will almost certainly be his final game in charge. Real’s board is fuming that Ancelotti has failed to build upon their record breaking 10th Champions League title last year and are getting ready to make the change. Several reports indicate that discussions with Benitez representatives are in the latter stages despite only 7% of Real fans polled actually wanting the former Valencia, Liverpool and Chelsea boss as their next manager. Ancelotti, who is being linked with moves to Manchester City or a mouth watering return to AC Milan, has failed to win the La Liga title in the two years that he has been in charge which has been deemed unacceptable by the extremely demanding Madrid board.

Ancelotti lifts the Champions League title for Real Madrid  (Image from Getty)

Ancelotti lifts the Champions League title for Real Madrid
(Image from Getty)

Benitez contract with Napoli is due to expire at the end of the season with the Spaniard unwilling to sign a new deal. He has been linked to the West Ham job in recent months but has fallen short of stating his interest in the role, instead preferring to defer his answer to the end of the season in an attempt to keep his options open. That patience looks like it has paid off with Madrid now in the hot seat to land him. Benitez would arrive with a winning pedigree having won something at every club he has managed since taking over at Extremadura in July 1997, the highlight of which would probably be lifting the Champions League title with Liverpool in Istanbul in 2005. That final more than any defined Benetiz as one of the best managers in the game after inspiring his side to come back from 3-0 down at half time to win on penalties in an epic final ironically against Carlo Ancelotti’s AC Milan. However it’s his success in Spain during his time as Valencia manager that attracts the Real board more than anything else. Having won the La Liga title twice during his three years in charge of Los Murcielagos, the Real board is convinced that he can deliver the much desired league title back to Real Madrid for the first time in four years. With a talented squad at his disposal and a healthy budget to bring new faces in, the challenge for Benitez will simply be to make sure that Real are competitive against Barcelona and Atletico next season and ultimately deliver the title back to Real.

Benitez could be joined at Real by Manchester United stopper David De Gea with the Spanish international reportedly keen to move back to Spain for personal reasons. De Gea will not feature in United’s game this weekend against Hull after sustaining a hamstring injury in the 1-1 draw with Arsenal and will be replaced by Victor Valdes. There has been speculation that De Gea may leave at the end of the season for a while now but the biggest indication came in the game against Arsenal. As he trudged off the pitch, De Gea lifted his left hand and waved to the fans as if to say thank you one last time. After the match, Manchester United manager Louis Van Gaal dodged a question asked by the BBC about whether De Gea would be leaving by saying that it would be up to De Gea whether he is to stay or not. He also indicated that the club is making plans for life without the Spaniard by telling the reporter that they have identified other options for the goalkeeper position.  Any potential move to Madrid will be subject to the two clubs agreeing a fee or constructing a deal that suits both parties.

De Gea waves to the United fans after picking up an injury against Arsenal  (Image from Getty)

De Gea waves to the United fans after picking up an injury against Arsenal
(Image from Getty)

Real Madrid have been quick to squash rumours of a potential swap deal involving Gareth Bale, insisting that the Welsh winger will be staying and is a key component of their long term plans. Bale has had a torrid second season in Spain with the Real Madrid fans and the press often singling him out for criticism when the team under performs. The world’s most expensive footballer has not reacted well to the abuse and is rumoured to be considering his options, which has alerted a host of English clubs including Manchester City, Chelsea and Manchester United. Benitez however will be keen to hold on to the player at all costs especially if he is to introduce his favoured 4-2-3-1 formation to Real next season.

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Can Benetiz Inspire Napoli To Serie A Glory?

Golden Era - Maradona (Image from Footballitalia)It’s been a long time since Napoli was classified as Serie A title contenders. Not since Maradona pulled on the light blue jersey has the Napoli faithful believed it has a shot at glory. But now, under the guidance of Spanish coach Rafa Benetiz, Napoli is starting to look like a genuine threat to Juventus crown. A mile away from the financial troubled club of the late nineties, Napoli now have significant muscle behind them and are making a strong play for the title this season with some bold moves in the transfer market.

Benetiz wants to bring success back to Napoli  (Image from ROBERTO SALOMONE/AFP/Getty Images)

Benetiz wants to bring success back to Napoli
(Image from ROBERTO SALOMONE/AFP/Getty Images)

After arriving from Chelsea during the summer, Benetiz wasted little time strengthening the existing squad he had with several key arrivals joining the club. One of his first moves was to secure Spanish goalkeeper Pepe Reina on loan from Liverpool as replacement for the departing Morgan De Sanctis. The two worked closely during Benetiz’s time in charge at Anfield and the move made a lot of sense to both parties, with Napoli short of options between the sticks and Reina now backup at Liverpool to new signing Simon Mignolet. To support Reina, Benetiz also drafted in accomplished centre half Raul Albiol from Real Madrid to tighten a somewhat suspect defense. Albiol is one of three players to arrive at Napoli during the summer with winger Jose Maria Callejon and Argentine striker Gonzalo Higuain also making the move. Higuain was seen as something of a coup for the club, who fought of Premiership interest from Arsenal and Chelsea to sign the powerful striker. At a cost of £32.5million, the 25 year old is not a cheap buy but with cash in the bank from the sale of Edinson Cavani to PSG for just under £57million, Higuain could prove to be one of the buys of the season. Having hit four goals in his first six appearances for the club, the fans now have a new hero that they can shout about from the terraces.

Higuian and Reina will play crucial roles if Napoli are to be Italian champions  (Image from AP)

Higuian and Reina will play crucial roles if Napoli are to be Italian champions
(Image from AP)

With the new pieces added to his puzzle, Benetiz now has a squad that look like title challengers on paper but whether they can pull together a run to the title has yet to be seen. The atmosphere around the ground is extremely positive with reports from the training ground suggesting that the new players have gelled into the squad quickly and with little disruption. On the pitch, results in the league have been impressive with well fought victories over AC Milan, Bologna and Chievo catapulting Napoli into third place in the league, just a few points behind earlier leaders Roma and Inter. A fine performance in the Champions league against Borussia Dortmund has also put them in the driver’s seat in their group however some tough matches lie ahead with trips to Arsenal and Marseille still to come. The focus however will be on league success after coming so close last year. Owner Aurelio De Laurentiis wants nothing more than to secure the Serie A title and get back a return for his investment.

Napoli celebrate win over Dortmund  (Image from Getty)

Napoli celebrate win over Dortmund
(Image from Getty)

Questions will be asked if the squad has enough depth to contend on multiple fronts both domestically and in Europe. Wednesday’s draw against bottom placed Sassuolo is a game that Napoli should be winning comfortably if they are to challenge for honours but highlights a problem in mindset. With the exception of AC Milan and Borussia Dortmund, Benetiz’s side has yet to be tested, that was until Wednesday. Going into the match, Napoli underestimated their opponents, who after gaining promotion for the first time in their history last year, sat pointless at the bottom of the league. Despite taking a fifteen minute lead, Napoli appeared to take their foot of the gas and paid the penalty as they allowed Simone Zaza to nip in and score an equalizer. Most teams in this position would step it up but Napoli looked as though their minds were elsewhere, presumably confident that they would find another goal. Against a resilient Sassoulo defence who needed to get their first point of the campaign, it never came and Napoli dropped two valuable points, much to the frustration of Benetiz. With the toughest month of the campaign to come at the end of March/ beginning of April when the face Juventus, Parma, Lazio , Udinese and Inter in a row, securing points against lower teams early on in the campaign could be the difference between winning the title and missing out. Benetiz is a winner, having guided an underdog Liverpool side to the Champions League and a disheartened Chelsea to the Europa League, but can he work his miracles again and help Napoli back to title winning ways.

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Fourth Official Farce Cost Dortmund Vital Points Against Napoli

Klopp argues with the fourth Official, ending in a red card for the coach (Image from AP)Last year’s Champions League runners up can be forgiven for wanting to kick off this year’s campaign with a win. After losing the 2013 trophy narrowly to arch rivals Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund traveled to Italy to face Napoli in their first group F match.  Dortmund, under the careful management of Jürgen Klopp have been in impressive form in the Bundesliga so far, winning all of their first four matches. Placed in a tough Champions’ League group with Marseille, Arsenal and Napoli, Klopp knew that three points against the Azzurri would lay the foundations for the path back to the final and potential redemption. As always his preparation was meticulous and with almost a full squad to choose from, Klopp was confident that all the bases had been covered to provide his team with the best chance of securing three points. But one decisive factor stood between his team and the win and it was one he couldn’t have factored in – the fourth official, Venâncio Manuel Raposo Batista Tomé.

Subotic tries desperately to re-enter the play  (Image from Getty)

Subotic tries desperately to re-enter the play
(Image from Getty)

It was early in the first half with the score at 0-0 when a clash of heads between Dortmund centre half Neven Subotic and Napoli striker Gonzalo Higuaín left Subotic with a gash to his left eye. Instructed by the referee to leave the field to receive treatment, Subotic duly obliged. The Dortmund medical team stitched him up and applied tape to stop the bleeding before trying to send the player back on. That is when Tome intervened. Rather than letting the player re-enter the match during a break in the play, the Portuguese official held on to Subotic as he looked for the referee to wave him on. With Napoli on the attack and a hole in the centre of defence where Subotic should have been, Dortmund were frantically trying to get the player back on. He was eventually waved on and proceeded to run at full speed towards the box and get back into position as Napoli left back Camilo Zúñiga picked up the ball on the left flank just outside the box. Zunga then delivered an in swinging cross towards the penalty spot to the waiting Higuaín, who hit a firm header past Roman Weidenfeller to put Napoli a goal ahead. This incensed the normally calm Jürgen Klopp as it was Subotic that was meant to be marking Huguain in the box. Out of position and on the back foot after running from the side lines, Subotic could not get enough spring in his jump to head the cross clear and prevent Napoli from scoring.

Dismissed - Klopp sent to the stands (Image from Getty)

Dismissed – Klopp sent to the stands (Image from Getty)

Klopp, frustrated at the role played by Tome in the delaying of Subotic’s re-entry decided to take out his anger on the fourth official, earning him a red card in the process. Things went from bad to worse as goalkeeper Roman Weidenfeller inexplicably handled outside the box to earn himself a red card just before half time. With Mats Hummel already having left the field moments earlier due to injury, Dortmund’s defence lay in tatters. Despite regrouping at half time, Dortmund were unable to get back into the match with Lorenzo Insigne eventually finishing them off with a spectacular free kick with twenty minutes to go.  Dortmund did pull one back through a wicked deflection from Zunga in the last few minutes but Napoli held on for a valuable three points.

Goalscorers Insigne and Higuain celebrate Napoli's second goal  (Image from AFP)

Goalscorers Insigne and Higuain celebrate Napoli’s second goal
(Image from AFP)

To say Dortmund’s downfall was caused purely by the fourth official would be wrong as credit needs to be given to a resilient and exciting Napoli side, marshalled by former Liverpool and Chelsea manager Rafa Benetiz. Since the Spaniard took over in the summer, he has built an impressive team with the arrival of Pepe Reina in goal, Raul Albidol at centre half and striker Gonzalo Higuaín adding weight to an already strong team spine. But Tome’s decision to prevent Subotic from returning to the field at that moment may have been a deciding factor in the end result. With Subotic on the field to clear the ball, Klopp still in the dugout and Weidenfeller less incentivized to come for every ball, Dortmund may have been more of a challenge for Napoli. Klopp will now serve a touch ban, due to be handed down by UEFA shortly which will rule him out of a forthcoming Champions League match. Klopp should be back well before November and will be looking towards the return match in Germany with Napoli as his chance to carry out his revenge. From Klopp’s sake and Dortmund’s, they will be secretly hoping that Tome is not on hand that night officiating the match.

To see Gonzalo Higuaín’s goal, click here:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KpRMnPCGKKo

To see Lorenzo Insigne’s free kick, click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DY-qaDKORLw

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Who Should Replace Sir Alex at United? Eddie Howe Of Course!

It’s the day that Manchester United fans fear the most, when their beloved manager Sir Alex Ferguson finally decides to call time and retire. Rumours persist on how much long Ferguson will last in charge with speculation mounting that his retirement could come sooner than expected. Ultimately it will be Ferguson who decides when he is to leave and will likely have a hand in choosing his replacement. Jose Mourinho tops the list of preferred candidates to take over but was joined yesterday by David Moyes whose stock at Everton continues to rise season after season. But based on a recent study, Ferguson may be heading south rather than north to find his suitable replacement and could turn to Bournemouth’s Eddie Howe as the best man to handle the job. But why Howe?

Next United Boss? Eddie Howe (Image from BBC)

Next United Boss? Eddie Howe (Image from BBC)

The answer lies in a recently constructed study by the BBC. They have complied a list of all the managers within the English divisions and have ranked them according to performance to find out who is the best manager. The study analysed the number of points returned per game from each full-time managerial spell since the start of this season. Unsurprisingly Sir Alex Ferguson topped the list but more interestingly was who finished below him, with only one other current Premiership manager finishing in the top ten. In second place was Bournemouth’s Eddie Howe, who has struck gold since leaving Burnley to return to Bournemouth as manager. He has propelled his team up the table into fourth place and is aggressively chasing down the League One leaders. Howe, one of only a handful of managers who feature more than once on the list (Howe is 88th as well based on his time at Burnley), is joined at the top by Cardiff’s Malky Mackay in 3rd and Barnsley’s David Flitcroft in 5th with Manchester City boss Roberto Mancini sitting between them in 4th.

Climbing with Cardiff = Malky MacKay (Image from Goal.com)

Climbing with Cardiff = Malky MacKay
(Image from Goal.com)

Below the top five, there are some surprise inclusions including sacked duo Roberto Di Matteo (8th place with Chelsea) and Steve Kean (7th place with Blackburn) raising the question of whether they should have been dismissed in the first place. Blackburn fans, whilst not quite settle on a new manager after an unsuccessful time with Henning Berg and only a handful of games under new boss Michael Appleton, will say categorically that it was the right move to sack Kean. But Chelsea fans may sing a different tune with Di Matteo’s replacement Rafa Benetiz struggling down in the 22nd spot in this survey. Benetiz has so far failed to win over the home support like Di Matteo did but that could all change if he wins a trophy too. Similarly Michael Laudrup, who finds himself in 60th place below former Swans boss Brendan Rodgers, struggled at the start to win over the home crowd but with the League Cup a realistic possibility, the opinion in Swansea may be changing for the better where Laudrup is concerned.

Wrong to dismiss Steve Kean? Blackburn fans say no, stats say yes (Image from PA)

Wrong to dismiss Steve Kean? Blackburn fans say no, stats say yes
(Image from PA)

Propping up the table in 122 place is former Barnet manager Mark Robson who left the club in December after a rocky 5 months in charge. Robson had been managing Barnet from the start of the season until October when the arrival of former Dutch midfielder Edgar Davids lead to his position changing to co manager. The duo never really clicked and eventually Robson left the club in December of that year citing a lack of clarification regarding coaching responsibilities. Robson can feel hard done but the statistics don’t lie with the survey showing a Robson only led Barnet picking up only 3 points in eleven games before Davids arrival. Robson and Davids feature collectively further up the table in 48th place as results did improve, whilst Davids finds himself in 75th place on his own. Also at the bottom is former QPR boss Mark Hughes with a terrible four points in twelve matches. Hughes eventually lost his job to Harry Redknapp (92nd) who hasn’t managed to improve the team as much as he had hoped.

Mark Robson's card was marked when Edgar arrived (Image from Getty

Mark Robson’s card was marked when Edgar arrived
(Image from Getty

Whether you believe that Graham Alexander is a better manager than Sam Allardyce or that Gus Poyet has more going for him as a head coach than Alan Pardew, the survey is certain to be the cause of many a heated debate round the water cooler this week coming. With several months still to play and numerous hiring and firings sill to come, this table is likely to change dramatically over that time. There is no news as yet from the BBC to say whether this survey will be updated at the end of the season or indeed at what frequency going forward if at all, but one thing is for sure, it makes interesting reading.

To see the full list click here:http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/football/21372441

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Hazard vs. The Ballboy – Who really was to blame?

Eden Hazard (Image from AFP)Wednesday nights game between Swansea and Chelsea should be remembered for the right reasons instead of a moment of madness for Eden Hazard. But instead of the press focusing on a fantastic achievement for the Welsh side, in reaching their first ever cup final in 100 years by beating the favourites for the trophy over two legs, they are more concerned about the tussle between Belgium ace Hazard and a Swansea ball boy called Charlie Morgan. The tussle, which resulted in Hazard apparently kicking Charlie in the ribs as he lay on the floor and then sent off, has reached fever pitch with many coming out and damning Hazard for what they say is a moment of madness. Even his own manager, the much-loved Rafa Benetiz admitted after the game his star player was wrong to react the way that he did and deserved his dismissal. But others have added their voice saying the footage doesn’t make the ball boy look totally blameless in this incident and perhaps even guilty himself of antagonizing the Chelsea midfielder. So who is really to blame?

Hazard and Morgan clash (Image from the sun.co.uk)

Hazard and Morgan clash (Image from the sun.co.uk)

Hazard

In the modern game, professional footballers are seen as role models, someone to aspire to be a and Hazard is a good example of this. Coming from a strong footballing family, with his dad a former player and his brother also currently playing, Hazard took a tough decision as a 16-year-old to turn down some of Europe’s biggest clubs in favour of a move to French side Lille. His reasoning was simple – he wanted to develop as a footballer first, in a system that would nurture his talent and allow him to grow over time, and not be forced to be accountable immediately as many of Europe’s elite demand. He also wanted to remain fairly close to home in Belgium so a move to northern France made sense for a variety of reasons. But Hazard worked hard to improve and prove to his new club that he was worthy of first team football which he managed to do so, becoming one of the most exciting prospects ever to come out of Belgian football. With his progress complete and with Hazard now established in the first teams of both Lille and Belgium, he finally moved to the big leagues joining Chelsea this summer for £32 million.

Hazard started out at Lille (Image from AP)

Hazard started out at Lille
(Image from AP)

As a model professional who wants to win every game, Wednesday nights incident is surprising to say the least as that is not the type of player that Hazard is. However even the players we suspect to be saints can turn out to be sinners and Hazard has no defense in this case as everything was captured on film. With less than ten minutes left in a tense second leg with Chelsea needing two goals to take the match to extra time, frustration and anger looks to have gotten the best of Hazard. A the ball went out of play, Hazard raced over to try and retrieve the ball to get the game restarted as quickly as possible. As he did so, he collided with the ball boy sending him to the ground and on top of the ball. delaying the play further. Hazard then attempted to retrieve the ball, now stuck under Morgan by first trying to grab it with his hands then using his foot. It was his latter action that earned him a dismissal as he appeared to aim a kick at the midriff of the ball boy sending him rolling away in agony. What Hazard was trying to do was toe poke the ball out from under Morgan, making his follow through look even worse, and leaving the referee, Chris Foy no alternative but to show him a straight red card.

The Ball boy

Ball boys are employed by football clubs to do one thing – return the ball to the pitch/players when it goes out of play. Whether it be a shot gone wide or a clearance into the crowd, the ball boy is tasked to get the ball back as quickly as possible to maintain the natural flow of the game. Most ball boys are fans of the club they represent and therefore feel connected to the team and the events on the pitch. For 17-year-old Charlie Morgan, the ball boy at the centre of this incident,  his connection with Swansea goes deeper than just the ordinary fan, with his dad sitting on the board of directors at the club. His actions on that night will surely disappoint his father however as he watched his son deliberately delay the restart of the game by appearing to shield the ball from Hazard as he lay on the ground. Granted Hazard should not have used his feet to try to retrieve the ball but at the same time, Morgan’s reaction was over dramatic and too severe to be genuine. Why a 17-year-old is acting as a ball boy in the first place is a good question to be asked, especially as most ball boys are between the ages of 8 and 14 but his father’s position at the club may be the answer to this. Morgan junior should be disappointed at his performance on Wednesday, after his five minutes of fame die down but perhaps Swansea should be looking at whether its best not to let him act as a ball boy again for the club.

Ball Boy Charlie Morgan rolls in agony (Image for Telegraph.co.uk)

Ball Boy Charlie Morgan rolls in agony
(Image for Telegraph.co.uk)

After the game, twitter exploded with comments from players and fans, all keen to share their views. Most backed up Hazard’s dismissal as it followed the rules of the game but some, whilst agreeing with the decision, also backed up Hazard and criticized Morgan for his behaviour. Both Phil Neville and Rio Ferdinand agreed that it should be a red card, tweeting “You can’t kick the ball boy that’s not right” and “I’m not the authorities but in my eyes it’s a red” respectively. However former England striker Michael Owen saw the incident different tweeting ” Both the kid and Hazard were in the wrong. Not having Hazard tried to hurt him though. He just tried to toe poke it out of his grip.”. Joey Baron also took to twitter to express his anger but surprisingly supported Hazard’s actions tweeting” Hazard’s only crime is he hasn’t kicked him hard enough”. Swansea manager Michael Laudrup commented after the game in the post match interview saying that he believed that Hazard should not have done what he did, but as a former player he understands that the pressure of the match could have led to Hazard reacting as he did but he is likely to regret his actions when he looks back on the day.

Oh Joey! Another classic tweet from Joey(Tweet from Joey Barton)

Oh Joey! Another classic tweet from Joey
(Tweet from Joey Barton)

Hazard will likely face up to a three match suspension and potentially further disciplinary action by his club but the police will not be pressing formal charges after Morgan and his father refused to take the incident further. Both the player and Morgan met up after the match and apologized, both realizing that they made a mistake. It was an unsavoury incident to end a thrilling match in which Swansea made history by reaching the cup final but unfortunately it will go down in the record books for all the wrong reasons after the Hazard/Morgan clash.

To see the incident, click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TT5ogjqgghI

The Race For Wembley Starts Now

Champions League TrophyWhen the European Cup changed over to The Champions League in 1992, it  was initially a straight knockout competition open only to the champion club of each. But since then, the tournament has evolved and is now Europe’s premiere club event with 76 teams contesting initially at the start for 32 places within the group stages. The teams are made up of champions of the individual countries across Europe and in some select larger leagues like England, Italy and Spain, the teams finishing in 2nd, 3rd and 4th. The tournament, which runs from July to May, with the group stages usually beginning in September, has become a huge money earner for UEFA as brands and TV stations fight for exclusive branding and broadcast rights. This new-found cash has allowed UEFA to increase the prize money to €10,500,000 for the winner and smaller amounts to the rest of the 31 teams who manage to reach the group stages. By doing this, UEFA has made the tournament a must for some clubs as they view the potential cash injection as a way to grow their club and further their dominance of their respective domestic leagues.

Who will follow in Chelsea's footsteps this year?

Who will follow in Chelsea’s footsteps this year?

In the past 20 years, there have been hundreds of memorable moments and games including Manchester United’s last-minute win against Bayern Munich in 1999, when the Reds scored twice in injury time to snatch the title away from the already celebrating germans. Or the Liverpool turn around of 2005 when trailing 3-0 to AC Milan at half time, manager Rafa Benetiz managed to rally his troops for the second half, and then watched as Liverpool, led by captain Stevie Gerrard fought back to 3-3 and then eventually won the game on a penalty shoot out. Or the fairytale story of Ajax in 1995 who won the tournament with home-grown talent and a team whose average age was only 23, proving once again that Alan Hansen’s famous quote of ” You can’t win anything with kids” is wildly off the mark. We could continue to talk about other amazing moments like Zidane’s volley in the 2002 final, Porto’s surprise win in 2004 under the guidance of then coach Jose Mourinho or the Lionel Messi show when he put 5 goals past Bayer Leverkusen in 2011 but we could go on forever.

Zidane's  volley from the edge of the area against Bayer Leverkusen

Zidane’s volley from the edge of the area against Bayer Leverkusen

This year’s draw for the last 16 has highlighted how exciting the tournament can be with some mouth-watering games. There is a return to Old Trafford for Cristiano Ronaldo as Real Madrid visit Manchester United, 3 times winners AC Milan entertain a fragile Barcelona side who will be hoping that manager Titi Vilanova has returned by the time the first leg rolls around in February. Scottish champions Celtic entertain Antonio Conte’s Juventus, praying for a repeat of the 2001 home leg game between the two clubs which ended in a thrilling 4-3 victory for Celtic. And Arsene Wenger will be secretly hoping he is still in a job come February so that he can lead his Arsenal team out against german runners-up Bayern Munich.

Celtic players celebrate scoring in the 4-3 win over Juventus

Celtic players celebrate scoring in the 4-3 win over Juventus

Added in to this Galatasaray v FC Schalke, Shakhtar Donetsk v Borussia Dortmund, Valencia v Paris St Germain and FC Porto v Malaga, it all adds up to a fascinating last 16 of the tournament. At this stage it is hard to predict who will triumph at Wembley Stadium next May. Early favourites are the two Spanish giants – Barcelona and Real Madrid but if history is anything to go by, this tournament is impossible to call.

To watch some great Champions League Group Stage moments from this year, click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lb88HF67PgE

To watch some great Champions League goals, click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UdCmGfL4aZc

Quite A Month! Time for a catch up

Theo tries to grow a 'tacheAs we say good-bye to November and enter into the final month of 2012, we have a chance to reflect on everything that has happened last month. November saw footballers across the globe grow moustaches as part of Movember – a charity that raises awareness through the month of November by asking men to grow moustaches for mens charities. Theo Walcott grew one or at least attempted to much to the amusement of his teammates. Also amusing teammates this month was Joey Barton with his suspect french accent during a press conference. It has to be seen to be believed and reminded us of the infamous Steve McLaren interview he did on joining FC Twente the first time around.

One person not laughing this month is Roberto Di Matteo, would was brutally sacked by Chelsea and replaced by Rafa Benitez to the joy of the Chelsea fans. It wasn’t the strangest appointment of November though. That honour went to FC Baku who appointed 21-year-old Vugar Guloglan oglu Huseynzade because of a successful managerial career in a football management game! He’s hoping to guide the club into the Europa League in 2 years, that’s if it still exists, following Platini’s recent announcement.

Oh dear Joey...

Oh dear Joey…

Players across the world made the headlines this month too – Ayanda Patosi, Lucas Perez Martinez and one Zlatan Ibrahimovic all scored spectacular goals that have to be seen again, David Beckham announced his intention to leave the MLS, just as it announced the return of the NY Cosmos. One russian goalkeeper, Vyacheslav Malafeev was using his head by announcing his international retirement for family reason’s whilst another, Serhiy Pohorilyi was losing his head and getting sent off in the process.

Serhiy Pohorilyi connects with a Rocky like punch

Serhiy Pohorilyi connects with a Rocky like punch

All these stories made the blog this month and many more so check them all out!

Here is a choice few:

Wonder Strike puts Houston In The Driving Seat – https://backofthenetblog.wordpress.com/2012/11/06/wonder-strike-puts-houston-in-the-driving-seat/

Spanish Fire Sale Puts Clubs Across The Globe On Alert – https://backofthenetblog.wordpress.com/2012/11/07/spanish-fire-sale-puts-clubs-across-the-globe-on-alert/

International Footballer Puts Family First – https://backofthenetblog.wordpress.com/2012/11/08/international-footballer-puts-family-first/

Now That’s How You Volley!! Spaniard Lucas Shows Us How It’s Done – https://backofthenetblog.wordpress.com/2012/11/09/now-thats-how-you-volley-spaniard-lucas-shows-us-how-its-done/

Africa’s Latest Talent Impresses In Belgium –https://backofthenetblog.wordpress.com/2012/11/13/africas-latest-talent-impresses-in-belgium/

Ibrahimovic Wonder Strike Nothing New For Superstar – https://backofthenetblog.wordpress.com/2012/11/16/ibrahimovic-wonder-strike-nothing-new-for-superstar/

Baby faced Assassin Now All Grown Up And Killing The Competition – https://backofthenetblog.wordpress.com/2012/11/17/babyfaced-assassin-now-all-grown-up-and-killing-the-competition/

The New Generation of Mexican’s Taking Over The World – https://backofthenetblog.wordpress.com/2012/11/21/the-new-generation-of-mexicans-taking-over-the-world/

Tactical Change Sweeping Across Europe – https://backofthenetblog.wordpress.com/2012/11/26/tactical-change-sweeping-across-europe/

End Of An Era For Dutch Master – https://backofthenetblog.wordpress.com/2012/11/28/end-of-an-era-for-dutch-master/

Internationalist Struggles To Catch A Break – https://backofthenetblog.wordpress.com/2012/11/29/internationalist-struggles-to-catch-a-break/

Pointless Friendly Hides Other Problems For SFA – https://backofthenetblog.wordpress.com/2012/11/15/pointless-friendly-hides-other-problems-for-sfa/

Enjoy!

Di Matteo’s Sacking Unjustified But Along Time In The Making

You have to feel sorry for Roberto Di Matteo. The Chelsea manager was sacked yesterday by owner Roman Abramovich, who cited the failure to progress in Europe and recent poor performances as the reason. Whilst performances in this year’s Champions League have not been great for Chelsea and qualification for the next round increasingly difficult, the team itself is still firing on all cylinders. Sitting 3rd in the league, 4 points behind leaders Manchester City and still in all domestic cup competitions, its hard to work out exactly what Abramovich was unhappy about. That is until you delve into the past 12 months since Villas Boas was sacked and replaced by Di Matteo as interim coach. The Italian was clearly never the front-runner for the job long-term but his success in turning around the team and eventually delivering the one prize Abramovich wanted the most – the Champions League, made it hard for the Russian to give it to anyone else. Added into this, Chelsea’s first and some say only choice for new manager, Pep Guardiola’s  reluctance to take on the job, so soon after leaving Barcelona due to burn out, took the choice out of the owners hands. Abramovich tried hard to convince him but finally conceded that Guardiola needed 6 months of rest before he would feel ready to get back into management. Left with little option and growing appreciation from the fans and players towards Di Matteo, the billionaire handed Di Matteo the job.

However from day one, Di Matteo’s card was marked. It was Abramovich who carried out the summer transfers, spending heavily on talented youngsters like Eden Hazard, Oscar, Cesar Azpilicueta and Victor Moses, with Di Matteo sitting in the wings. It was Abramovich who publicly flaunted his love of Guardiola and his desire to appoint him as head coach only weeks after Di Matteo had bagged the Champions League trophy. And most importantly it was Abramovich that spent the $50 million to bring Fernando Torres to Stamford Bridge, only to watch his prize asset fail from grace spectacularly. The latter was not something Di Matteo could have prevented but this season, he had the chance to revitalize the Spaniard and make him the focal point of his attack, especially with the departure of Didier Drogba to China. But the Italian coach struggled to motivate Torres, who again has looked lackluster on the pitch this season, resulting in Tuesday nights humiliating relegation to the bench. Despite not having any other striking options available to Di Matteo to face Juventus, his decision to bench Torres may have been the final nail in his coffin as an enraged Abramovich watched on.

Torres looks frustrated on the Chelsea bench against Juventus

The timing of Di Matteo’s dismissal may be the only thing that surprises many. Granted Champions league progression is dependant on the final game and results going for them, but it’s still a possibility. With the league only 12 games in, Chelsea have been impressive scoring on average 2 goals a game, and having only lost two games so far – against Manchester United last month and at the weekend to an improving West Brom. They are in the quarter finals of the League Cup with a winnable tie against Leeds United, having already knocked out Manchester United and Wolves along the way. And with the FA Cup still in its early rounds, a domestic treble is still a realistic objective for the club. For Di Matteo to be sacked before the likes of Southampton’s Nigel Atkins (2 wins out of 12 games this season), Reading’s Brian McDermott (1 win in 11 games) and QPR’s Mark Hughes (0 wins in 12 games) is unbelievable. That is until the news surfaced that AC Milan was keen to hire Guardiola as their new manager. The Spaniard responded positively for the first time in 6 months, setting of alarm bells at the Chelsea headquarters and in particular to Abramovich. Not wanting to lose his prize, the Russian moved swiftly, clearing the space for Guardiola to take over, either immediately or in the summer. It would appear that he is likely to start in the summer as yesterday Chelsea announced that it had hired Rafa Benitez as manager until the end of the season. Discussions between Chelsea and Guardiola’s people continue with no news as yet.

One out – two in? Guardiola favourite with Benetiz waiting in the wings

For Di Matteo, the news is harsh but was expected. The timing is not great for him as he looked to be settling into the role and was undoubtedly planning for transfers in the January window but the coach will now likely spend that as a spectator. The only good thing to come from this whole experience, putting aside the exceptionally large payout he will receive from Chelsea as part of his dismissal, is that his reputation in the world of football has been enhanced. After less than fruitful managerial spells at Milton Keynes Dons and West Brom, the success he has had at Chelsea with increase his stock across the globe and he can be assured that it won’t be long before he findshimself in another high-profile role. For Chelsea, the hunt is on for manager no. 10 in the Abramovich era (Benetiz is the 9th), with Guardiola firm favourite to get the nod. But if the Russian billionaire is unable to persuade him to take the role, Abramovich may be left without a manager and with egg on his face.