Is Getting Back On The Managerial Merry Go Round A Good Idea?

Getting back on that Horse may not be the smart move (Iamge from Getty)Former Catania manager, Rolando Maran, would have never thought his second term as manager would have lasted as long as it did. Originally, the Italian was removed from his post in October after a poor start to the season but he was then reinstated in January. He did no better on his return with just one point in the last eight, leaving the side seven points adrift of safety. Last season, Maran guided the team to their highest finish in Serie A as they finished 8th bagging a club record 56 points in the process but after a disastrous campaign this year they now they look set for relegation and Maran once again finds himself out of a job. The question that many wonder is this: should managers ever return to their old club and why do clubs feel the need to fire managers at the wrong time?

Maran dismissed again (Image from Getty)

Maran dismissed again (Image from Getty)

There is a list of coaches who have come back to their clubs either as players or in previous management. Jose Mourinho is one who did so last summer and is in search of more success and he is not the only one whose return prompted success. In 2006, Tony Pulis returned to the Britannia to manage Stoke City. He guided the Potters to promotion and built up the clubs foundations making them a non-movable block in the Premier League. Pulis brought in home grown players such as Ryan Shawcross, John Walters and Matthew Etherington after criticism from the chairman in his first spell that he didn’t ‘exploit the foreign transfer market’. He took the team to an FA Cup final in 2011 and they even featured in Europe. But many have failed.

Mourinho has unfinished business at the Bridge  (Image from Getty)

Mourinho has unfinished business at the Bridge
(Image from Getty)

Kenny Dalglish went back to Liverpool in 2011, 26 years after he took initial charge. In his first spell he won three league titles and two FA Cups and remained in charge after the Hillsborough disaster which this past weekend has been remembered with a delayed kick off to remember the 96. On his return, ‘King Kenny’ guided the team to a League Cup triumph but he couldn’t push them into the Champions League and was remembered most for his inaugural campaign to support Luis Suarez after racially abused Manchester United defender, Patrice Evra. He may have won a trophy unlike Roy Hodgson who he replaced but he missed out on the biggest prize of all – a place in Europe. The club’s best interest would have been to stay in Europe and reap the financial benefits rather than add the ‘Mickey Mouse’ cup to the large trophy cabinet at Anfield.

Dalglish's return to Liverpool didnt quite go to plan  (Image from PA)

Dalglish’s return to Liverpool didnt quite go to plan
(Image from PA)

Another manager who failed to reignite the fire he left burning on his exit was Kevin Keegan. The Toon army were delight when King Kev returned for his second spell in charge of Newcastle in 2008 but having been out of the game for three years, Keegan wasn’t quite the manager he used to be and appeared to struggle back at the club. In his first spell, Keegan transformed Newcastle into title contenders, famously losing out in the 1996-1997 title race to Manchester United after blowing a 12 point lead in the final weeks of the season. When he returned in 2008, Newcastle had just dismissed Sam Allardyce as manager and with owner Mike Ashley needing to get the crowd back on side, Keegan was the perfect fit. However his reign ended in disaster after being unable to adjust to modern day football and eventually falling out with Ashley, leaving the club under a cloud less than a year later just as the 2009 season kicked off. Newcastle would eventually replace him with Joe Kinnear then later Alan Shearer in a campaign that would eventually end in relegation for Newcastle. Fans were left wondering if this would have happened if Keegan was still in charge and if his sacking at a strange time had any effect on the overall season.

Keegan struggled to adapt to changes in football  (Image from Getty)

Keegan struggled to adapt to changes in football
(Image from Getty)

Sacking your manager at the wrong time can spark major problems for a club but yet it still happens to regularly. At the bottom of the table, the prime aim is to stay in the top flight. Last weekend the belief had gone at Carrow Road as Chris Hughton was given the boot by Norwich after their 1-0 defeat to West Bromwich Albion. The Canaries then travelled to Craven Cottage this past weekend under their new manager Neil Adams but were beaten by Fulham 1-0, the team everybody thought were dead and buried. Now they are one of the favourites to go down with tough fixtures against teams in the top five. At this point in the season it seems odd to break up the relationship between the manager and his players for somebody new in hope that they can pull off a miracle in under two months. Neil Adams, the new boss at Norwich, is a well-known figure at the club but this must be a task too difficult to convert his ideology into the first team in just four games where they must pick up points. Another managerial sacking which can be questioned was the removal of Michael Laudrup by Swansea. Although he was achieving little in terms of league position, Laudrup still won the League Cup the previous year and the depth of his squad was being challenged by the Europa League. The Swansea board were still unimpressed and handed the job over to Gary Monk. The decision was made in February, with the Swans in the knockout stages and looking on course for safety. They are now out of Europe after losing to Napoli and are in the relegation mixer. They’ve picked up a mixed bag of results but they are straggling on 33 points and are not out of the woods. These decisions may come back to haunt Swansea and Norwich boards at the end of the season if either a relegated but that will be something they will have to live with.

Post by Richard Waterhouse

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Reading FC And The Worry Of Foreign Ownership

Zingarevich bought 51% share in Reading  (Image from Getty)Reading are right in the midst of a promotion battle after their 3-1 win away at QPR pushed them up to sixth. But behind the scenes, the club are wobbling after their owner, Anton Zingarevich, failed to finalize his full takeover of the club. The club’s chairman, Sir John Madejski, was reassured that Zingarevich would invest into the club however this hasn’t been the case. Like the money, Zingarevich has been non-existent at the Madejski Stadium since August and yesterday pulled the plug on his role at the club.

Anton Zingarevich and wife Katsia  (Image from Getty)

Anton Zingarevich and wife Katsia
(Image from Getty)

Since he took partial ownership of the club, Reading have been promoted and relegated, collecting a revenue of £90 million through mainly television rights. It seems like Reading could be on course for another promotion challenge with many pundits believing that they have hit form at the right time of the season, winning five of their last seven matches. Despite this, Zingarevich hasn’t felt as optimistic about their chances. In the summer of 2012, he claimed ‘Reading are one of the best investment opportunities in football generally.’ Since their drop back down to the Championship, the Russian owner’s belief has disintegrated and after watching their 3-3 draw with Watford on the 17th August, his interest faded.  Reading aren’t the only club to have had problems with foreign owners. Birmingham City have been involved in a long money laundering saga with their previous investor, Carson Yeung. In 2011, the Hong Kong businessman was arrested for alleged money laundering and since then, the club’s fortunes have gone downhill as they have become saddled with debt. Another foreign owner who has caused uproar is current Cardiff owner/dictator, Vincent Tan. Since he arrived at the club, he has changed the club’s crest and colours and in December last year he sacked fan’s favourite, Malky Mackay due to his side’s poor league position. This came after a Championship title and a trip to Wembley in the League Cup final against Liverpool.

Owners from Hell - Vincent Tan  (Image from PA)

Owners from Hell – Vincent Tan
(Image from PA)

More recently, Leeds United have also had difficulties co-operating with their new owner Massimo Cellino. The Italian gained control of the club on Transfer deadline day where he immediately sacked Brian McDermott causing great uproar and drama that evening. He then re-appointed him on the following Monday. It’s believed that Cellino wants to buy back Elland Road for £15.7 million but there are questions over how committed the new owner will be. In a recent interview, he suggested he may play a concert at Elland Road with Brian McDermott due to their love for the guitar. The danger with hiring foreign owners is that there carries a risk of the club going into meltdown – transforming a professional football club into a circus act. Sir John Madejski has said that he is awaiting the right buyer despite speculation that investors from the United States and Oman are very interested in buying the club. He has said:

“Football is very mercurial and very expensive and it is not for the faint hearted. It is very important we find somebody that’s earnest about owning a British football club if they’re foreign, and see the job through.”

Although he is not ruling out the possibility of agreeing a deal with another foreign owner, it seems that the Chairman is having doubts, like several other clubs are, about negotiating with investors from abroad. For now the Royals will remain under Sir John’s control.

Piece by Richard Waterhouse

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Moyes Desperate To Have The Last Laugh As United Slump Continues

Lots to think about for Moyes (Image from PA)The Theatre of Dreams has turned into the comedy club with teams lining up outside the turnstiles waiting to have their kicks and some points of the current Champions of England. Manchester United now find themselves in the middle of the league, 15 points off the top and 18 off the relegation zone after their 2-2 draw with Fulham. Although Ferguson has urged the fans to give Moyes time as the board did when he was struggling, it’s hard for the current generation of United fans to take following year after year of success. With a legacy as great as Ferguson’s, comes great pressure from the fans and the media and it seems to be overwhelming current boss, David Moyes. Significantly, the challenge the former Everton manager faces is coming directly at home where the team are failing to find a winning combination. Out of 13 games, United have lost six including a 2-1 defeat to West Bromwich Albion. On three occasions this season the Red Devils have failed to score at home, something that only happened once last year in May when the title had already been won. At the time, Old Trafford was buzzing with a real party atmosphere after the return of the Premier League crown and the celebration of Fergie’s achievements over the years. Now the party has stopped as travelling fans come over to mock what used to be a fortress.

Heading for the Exit - Vidic  (Image from Getty)

Heading for the Exit – Vidic
(Image from Getty)

The squad is beginning to deteriorate. Nemanja Vidic announced last week that he will be leaving the club in the summer to pursue a ‘new challenge’. Obviously the current situation is a stretch too far even for the Serb to battle against. Rio Ferdinand and Ryan Giggs’s contracts also run out this summer and there is still speculation over whether Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernandez will push for a move in the next transfer window. The loss of their main two centre backs will heavily effect the team and it will probably take time for Moyes to find a partnership that works. For the time being, the team should try and experiment with who they have such as Chris Smalling, Johnny Evans and Phil Jones who were initially brought in to replace the dynamic duo in the middle. Many will argue that a big name is needed at the back as it has been a while since the club has invested in a defensive rock. Players such as Dante and Mangala have been linked with moves but after this season, it’s hard to say whether these players would love a move to this part of Manchester.  Despite the loss of glamour, Juan Mata came in for a club record fee in the January window and he is still adamant that the club is considered a dream move for any player. After signing for the club, Mata said:

United is the perfect place for me and I am excited at the chance I have to be part of the next phase in the club’s history. Obviously for a player like me who is trying to score goals, assist goals and be a creative player it’s going to be amazing to play with those kinds of players. Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie, Adnan, Valencia, Chicharito, Welbeck… they are all top-level players.”

New Batch arriving - Mata  (Image from Getty)

New Batch arriving – Mata
(Image from Getty)

 The league table may indicate that the team is struggling but Sunday’s performance signalled otherwise after they dominated the game but had the three points nicked in the final minute. Still Moyes believes that the team were at fault for not taking earlier chances despite an encouraging display. Moyes told Sky Sports: “You can have as much possession as you like. We should have scored more. You’ve got to try to keep making it work. The players tried that and eventually the goals did come. Even when it was 2-1 and they put up five minutes of added time, Fulham never came up the pitch, they left us with the ball, so it was nearly a case of just playing out time, but we gave away a diabolical second goal. The players are hurting, I can see every day they are hurting because the results aren’t going the way they want. But we have a good team and there will be very few teams desperate to play us, that’s for sure.”

Bent's equalizer has heaped more pressure on United  (Image from AFP)

Bent’s equalizer has heaped more pressure on United
(Image from AFP)

 Manchester United now have a very important game against Arsenal on Wednesday which they need to win to keep up any hope of a Champions League place or even a Europa League spot. The Gunners on the other hand will want to bounce back after their 5-1 trouncing away at Anfield on Saturday which left them one point off the top. It really is make or break time for Moyes.

Blog by Richard Waterhouse

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Does Big Sam Have Big Problems?

Big Trouble for Big Sam (Image from Getty)The axe was coming down but it looks like Sam Allardyce edged away from it on the weekend after his side’s 2-0 away win against fellow strugglers Cardiff. West Ham are now sitting in 17th, just leaning over the drop zone thanks to goal difference. According to Match of the Day viewer’s poll, the Hammers will survive and avoid relegation but the team has many problems to face and won’t take be able to sit on their laurels on this one.

West Ham celebrate the win over Cardiff  (Image from Telegraph.co.uk)

West Ham celebrate the win over Cardiff
(Image from Telegraph.co.uk)

What has been one of the root causes for the East London’s side poor performances has been their defence. Going into this match, the team conceded 11 goals in just two games in the process of being knocked out of both English cup competitions (the return leg of the League cup is still to come but facing a 6-0 deficit and a rampant Man City, there is surely little hope of progression). Granted one of these was against high scoring Manchester City but the other was more concerning. A 5-0 thrashing at the hands of Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup set alarm bells ringing. The Championship side carved open the West Ham defence and could have scored more if it weren’t for some poor finishing. Although they don’t have the worst goal difference in the league (that honour lies with Cardiff), Allardyce has struggled to find a winning consistent formula with his backline. Winston Reid and James Collins are both out injured for the side and James Tomkins was also out for a long period before returning on the weekend, then subsequently was sent off and will now miss the next match. To add more misery for Allardyce, Guy Demel was stretchered off with concussion and although he has been released from hospital, it hasn’t been confirmed whether he will play the next match. Roger Johnson has been recruited in from Wolves as reinforcement and there is speculation that the club are chasing Joleon Lescott but the manager is thin on options and needs to beef up the back.

Roger Johnson has arrived to shore up the defence  (Image from Getty)

Roger Johnson has arrived to shore up the defence
(Image from Getty)

The situation is no better at the other end of the field. The team has struggled for goals without the aerial influence of Andy Carroll. With midfielders Joe Cole and Ravel Morrison leading the goal scoring charts for the Hammers with three goals each, Sam will know that he needs to find a new source of goals up front. Carlton Cole and Modibo Maiga have featured this season but have both struggled for form and goals. The return of Carroll on Saturday was a welcomed sight but questions are being asked whether the club should be resting all their hopes on a player who has yet to show the same form he demonstrated at Newcastle. The side has been reportedly linked to the Ivory Coast striker Lacina Traore who is another aerial player. Traore has just signed for Monaco from Anzhi Makhachkala but is available for loan for the rest of the season as manager Claudio Ranieri looks to give him game time. Whilst an interesting option, his style of play is similar to that of Carroll so has many wondering if he is the right option. Surely the side would have more variance if they went for a player with more ground based traits such as Nikica Jelavic and Shane Long who are both looking for moves.

Man Mountain - is Lacina Traore the solution to Sam's striking problems?  (Image from PA)

Man Mountain – is Lacina Traore the solution to Sam’s striking problems?
(Image from PA)

The win on the weekend was a great boost for the side but the pressure will soon be back on their man in charge. The side have got very tricky fixtures coming up including Newcastle, Manchester City, Chelsea and Swansea. Big Sam was fortunate to avoid the chop this weekend by inspiring his team to a victory over fellow strugglers Cardiff and has been given the dreaded vote of confidence but if West Ham continues to slide, how long will owners Gold and Sullivan wait before wielding the axe? Bookmakers already believe Big Sam has run out of time with few taking bets on how much longer he will last. With two defeats in his next two games and candidates waiting in the wings, we wouldn’t be surprised if West Ham conclude this transfer window with a new manager at the helm.

PostShare your thoughts now on Facebook: www.facebook.com/BackOfTheNetBlog or on Twitter: https://twitter.com/BOTNBlog by Richard Waterhouse

Opinion From The Stands – Who’s In Line For The Baggies Hotseat Next?

Caretaker Downing has done no wrong (Image from Getty)We can’t complain. Over the past five years, we have had some great managers and the club has stabilized itself as one of the season regulars in the Premier League. The Baggies have been sitting in the top flight since 2010 but there are sudden fears of us becoming a ‘yo-yo team’ again with the team sitting in the relegation mix without a manager and any attacking influence. Who’s next to sit in the hot seat at the Hawthorns, we will have to wait and see but here are the likely candidates:

Thomas Schaaf:

Schaaf is the current favourite to be appointed as the club went into the final stage of discussions and it has been quoted by certain news outlets such as ESPN that he is the name that will be announced before this weekend’s game against Southampton. Schaaf is the German manager who led Werder Bremen for 14 years after playing for the club for 17 seasons. He has a great record in the Bundesliga having won the title in 2004 and finishing as runners up in 2006 and 2008. But after the team performing recorded their lowest finish under Schaaf last year (finishing in 14th place), he was dismissed from the job in May. Schaaf recorded a win percentage of 47.75% and during his time at Bremen he took the team to the Europa league final in 2009 and won the DFB Pokal (German FA Cup) twice.

Would one club man Schaaf suffer? (Image from Getty)

Would one club man Schaaf suffer? (Image from Getty)

He undoubtedly has an impressive record and you would say he fits the bill for the job but I see plenty of flaws with this candidate. Having spent his entire life in Germany with Werder, how Schaaf would adapt to life in a different country is still to be seen.  There would be an initial language barrier between him and the players which would be especially difficult with no player in the squad coming from Germany. The club wants to keep the same backroom staff but it has been reported that Schaaf wants to bring two of his coaches with him. Adapt to his style of coaching that Schaaf has developed for the German league is likely to cause problems for the players and with only six months left in the season, it may be not enough time to keep the club in the top flight. Long term he could be a great appointment but I don’t feel the club should take such a gamble at this point in the season.  Maybe keeping faith in Downing for the remainder of the season with Schaaf joining in the summer may be a better approach.

Quique Flores:

We’ve never had a Spanish manager. In fact the only foreign manager the club has had was Argentine Osvaldo (Ossie) Ardiles in 1992, who subsequently lasted only a year. Quique Flores is a currently managing in the United Arab Emirates but has hinted that a move to the Premiership would be of interest. Like Schaaf, he has had no experience in England but has enjoyed much success abroad. He guided Valencia to 3rd place in La Liga in 2006 whilst getting them to the quarter finals of the Champions League. He did eventually win some silverware when he guided Atletico Madrid to the Europa League and UEFA Super Cup success in 2010. Now entering his 13th year as a manager, he is vastly experienced  having taken charge of several other sides including the Real Madrid youth team, Getafe, Benfica as well as two teams from the UAE. He too has a very comprehensive win percentage but the same issue has to be raised whether he can keep the side in the division?

Spanaird Quique Flores is a possibility  (Image from PA)

Spanaird Quique Flores is a possibility
(Image from PA)

Flores has spent the last two seasons in a league which is dominated by money and is far less competitive than the Premiership. With no guaranteed budget in the January window to play with, Flores could struggle to make an impact on the team before the end of the season. In addition, I couldn’t see Flores failing to adapt to the pace of the EPL since it’s such a contrast to the slower pace of La Liga where he has spent much of his time. Just look at Juande Ramos, who made the switch from Sevilla to Tottenham in 2007 and failed to adapt to the pace of the British game. For me, the next manager has to be British and has to have had experience here in England.

Malky Mackay

Arguably, Mackay is the favourite amongst the fans along with Stuart Pearce just behind. The Scottish boss was pushed out of Cardiff by dictating owner Vincent Tan and is currently available on the managerial merry go round. He had a remarkable record with the Welsh side and he led the team to glories galore. The Blue birds achieved promotion in 2013 finishing as the Champions of the second division and the previous year he guided the club to the League cup final where they lost to Liverpool and the play off semi-finals where they were edged by West Ham. Mackay has had a significantly shorter managerial career compared to other two candidates mentioned before but he has experience in England, which is vital.

Malky up next?  (Image from PA)

Malky up next?
(Image from PA)

He had an unsteady time at Watford but he clicked at Cardiff and was really unfortunate to get fired just over three weeks ago. Having been out of the game only a short period of time, it may be the ideal time to bring him in but there are some concerns over whether he needs the break from management at this moment in time to get over what happened to him at Cardiff.

Stuart Pearce

Stuart Pearce is another commendable candidate. He’s been out of management for just over a year since leaving the England Under 21’s but he has the fierce personality to lead the side in a bottom of the table scrap. He has worked at different levels in the national team but also at Manchester City for over two years which gives him a good footing in terms of management. West Brom would be the ideal club for Psycho and I think with his vast national team experience he could put together a squad of young exciting home grown players instead of resorting to looking abroad for quick foreign solutions. There is plenty of experience in the team already so Pearce or Mackay given some investment in January and using the likes of Gera, Mulumbu and Brunt could drag the team away from the drop.

Pyscho is looking to get back into management  (Image from PA)

Pyscho is looking to get back into management
(Image from PA)

Personally, Malky is the choice for me but I wouldn’t discount Keith Downing from the frame either as he has done a great job as caretaker manager. He is unbeaten in the league and achieved his first win against Newcastle. The defeat in the FA Cup could be a blessing in disguise and this will allow the next manager to use the whole squad in the league to hopefully find a team that can get on a run of form.

By West Brom Fan, Richard Waterhouse (@richwaterhouse7 )

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Vitesse – A New Force in Dutch Football?

Vitesse, champions 2013-2014? (Image from PA)Vitesse have never been one of the super powers in Dutch football but they are a real threat for the title this year despite losing their two prolific strikers in the summer. Based in Arnhem, in the centre of the Netherlands, Vitesse are team that have traditionally been satisfied with challenging for one of the Europa League places but over the past two years the yellow and black stripes have upped the ante and are now fighting for their first title. Last year the side finished fourth, their highest ever finish, thanks to the work of Wilfred Bony and Marco van Ginkel who now play in the Premier League, with Swansea and Chelsea respectively. After their departures many thought that they would be unable to battle at the top but they currently sit two points ahead of favourites Ajax after 14 games.

Wilfred Bony left Vitesse in the summer for Swansea  (Image from Getty)

Wilfred Bony left Vitesse in the summer for Swansea
(Image from Getty)

The side has won eight of their fourteen matches, with goals not being a problem (they sit fourth in overall goals) and last weekend recorded a comprehensive 3-0 victory away at the Go Ahead Eagles. They have lost just two of their last eight matches and their run into Christmas looks relatively comfortable if you consider PSV Eindhoven’s current form in the mix of that. The club is a feeder team for Chelsea and has worked closely together over the past two seasons. The deal was initiated by Vitesse chairman, Merab Jordania, and Blues owner, Roman Abramovich, who are close friends and have forged a strong link between the two teams that is benefiting Vitesse greatly. In the summer, Chelsea agreed to loan a host of youngsters to Vitesse with Gael Kakuta, Christian Atsu, Sam Hutchinson, Patrick van Aanholt, Cristián Cuevas and Lucas Piazon all making the move across to Holland. With the exception of Cuevas and Hutchinson, they have all been influential for the team with the Brazilian Piazon in particular, commanding a starting place in the centre of midfield, scoring seven goals in his last twelve appearances.

Chelsea loan star Patrick van Aanholt  (Image from Getty)

Chelsea loan star Patrick van Aanholt
(Image from Getty)

 When he arrived at Chelsea he was touted as the next Kaka and many fans were excited by this prospect but unfortunately he didn’t get the game time that he wanted. Moving across Europe, Piazon has been able to put his mark on the Eredivisie, working at the heart of Vitesse’s attacking engine. Having spent the tail end of last season on loan to Malaga in La Liga, Vitesse recognized his potential and head coach Peter Bosz was a key driver in securing the talented Brazilian on a season long loan. His brace in last Sunday’s 3-0 win over Go Ahead Eagles was his third of what is turning out to be a successful season for the player. Playing alongside Piazon is Ecuadorian winger Alex Renato Ibarra who is another young player who has stepped up his game this season with the Gelredome outfit. The 22 year old winger signed from Ecuador side CD El Nacional in the summer of 2011 and played a major part in the clubs success last season, making him a key fixture in Peter Bosz’s side. Keeping tight to the by-line, the South American has the ability to whip in a curved ball from the wing and create opportunities. Vitesse have scored 33% of all their goals in the last 15 minutes of the game which is testament to players like Piazon and Ibarra who run constantly until the final whistle has blown. There is a genuine belief in the team, driven by Bosz and enforced by captain Guram Kashia that Vitesse can go above and beyond expectations this season and shock Dutch football. 

Revelation - Lucas Piazon  (Image from PA)

Revelation – Lucas Piazon
(Image from PA)

Although the side had a premature exit from this year’s Europa League, the domestic season is going well and after beating Ajax at the start of the month, courteously of a 90th minute goal from substitute Valeri Qazaishvili,  Vitesse have little to fear.  The face competition for Dick Advocaat’s AZ Alkmaar, who were the league’s early leaders and aren’t far off top spot. However AZ are well engaged in their European campaign with qualification from their Europa League group almost secured, they find themselves battling on several fronts. Similarly fellow challengers Ajax have secured European football beyond Christmas after their crucial win over Barcelona which kept their dreams of making it to the knockout stages of the Champions league alive. A winner takes all match between Ajax and Milan next month will determine who continues in the Champions League and who drops into the Europa league knockout rounds.  With Vitesse no longer competing in Europe, could they take advantage, defy the odds and become Eredivisie champions for the first time in their history?

Written by Richard Waterhouse

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England Hold Their Breath As The World Cup Draw Nears

Getting ready for the draw (Image from FIFA)With the World Cup draw happening tomorrow, nerves in the England camp are at an all time high.  England’s fate will be decided at 5pm (GMT) in Bahia, Brazil so in advance BOTN explores what could be England’s worst group.  Using the existing pools (England are in pot 4) and based on the various rules and regulations attached to the draw itself, here is the “Group of Death” for England. It features Spain from Pot 1, Chile from Pot 2 and Mexico form Pot 3 with England filling the final place from Pot 4.

Current World Cup holders, Spain  (Image from Getty)

Current World Cup holders, Spain
(Image from Getty)

The current World and European champions are amongst those in pot one that could pose a real threat to England’s chances. In fact all eight teams, with the possible exception of Switzerland will be a serious threat to England’s qualification hopes. Spain have talent in abundance and are incredibly hard to break down due to their intense passing game. Xavi and Iniesta are likely to dominate the play with Fabergas and Mata as support options. At the back, they have a solid backline with centre back pairing Barcelona’s Gerard Pique and Real Madrid’s Sergio Ramos causing problems for opposition strikers, roaming just in front of Casillas, Reina or Valdes in goal. Upfront Spain’s rich talent pool continues with the likes of Fernando Torres, David Villa, Fernando Llorente and  Roberto Soldado to name a few offering options. Adding to this mix is newly converted Atletico Madrid striker Diego Costa who has been in blistering form so far this season. The Brazilian born striker, who recently pledged his allegiance to Spain instead of his homeland, has forged a successful partnership with David Villa for Atletico. This surely gives Spanish head coach Vicente del Bosque food for thought on whether he should unleash the pair for Spain during next summer’s tournament.

Diego Costa and David Villa  (Image from AFP Getty Images)

Diego Costa and David Villa
(Image from AFP Getty Images)

Chile tested England in their last trip to Wembley just under a month ago as Alexis Sanchez backed up his talking off the pitch with a sublime performance. The Barcelona striker made a sly remark about England’s pathway system for future footballers stating how it was too easy for youngsters to join academies and automatically play for a club in the future. In Chile the academy system is nowhere near as advanced as it is in England but appears to be producing the goods. At Wembley they convincingly beat England 2-0, throwing Roy Hodgson’s plans into disarray. Although England chose to field an altered side for the match allowing them to test some new faces, it was a huge win for the South American’s who have shown with the emergence of star players like Sanchez, Arturo Vidal, Felipe Gutiérrez and Gary Medal that they are a future force in world football.  Pot 3 may be considered to be the weakest pot but within them lies the stinging tail of Mexico who could relinquish all hope for England. With a squad made up of established stars and Olympic winning youthful exuberance, Mexico are considered to be one of the tournaments dark horses. Despite taking a rocky path in qualifying, Mexico’s strength is their desire to succeed which makes them a dangerous opponent.  Upfront, Mexico can call upon Manchester United’s  Javier Hernandez, Valencia’s Giovani Dos Santos or Santos Laguna’s Oribe Peralta to score the goals needed to progress.  In midfield, head coach Miguel Herrera mixes experience in the form of Andres Guardado (who is one game off his century for his country) with up and coming stars like Porto’s Héctor Herrera with some success. He could also spring a few surprises with his final squad selection if Erick Torres or Marco Fabian make the cut. Both players are good examples of the rich talent that Mexico is producing and that England needs to be aware of if they draw them in the World Cup.  

Chile ran out victors the last time they faced England  (Image from PA)

Chile ran out victors the last time they faced England
(Image from PA)

In the World Cup, there is no such thing as an easy team as England have found out in the past. There are various other teams who pose a threat to England’s chances of progression, most noticeably host’s Brazil, a Messi inspired Argentina and arch rivals, Germany. But some of the dark horses could also cause problems such as the Ivory Coast or Ecuador. Ivory Coast has plenty of talent including Manchester City’s Yaya Toure, former Chelsea striker Didier Drogba, Roma’s Gervinho and CSKA Moscow’s Seydou Doumbia. They will be no pushovers, nor will Ecuador who are an improving side and will be a lot tougher than the last time England played them in 2006. Antonio Valencia and Vitesse’s Renato Ibarra are two talented wingers with lots of pace to burn plus with Felipe Caicedo up front, Ecuador could be a real threat. The country is still hurting from the death of legend Christian Benetiz so will be approaching the World Cup with a desire to do well for his memory. The USA are also amongst the group of teams who could be a potential danger as England found out in 2010 in South Africa. Coach Jürgen Klinsmann has spent the past few years experimenting with different players but now has established a nucleus of talent like Clint Dempsey, Jermaine Jones and Michael Bradley that he is building his team around. Added into this the emergence of Brek Shea, Terrance Boyd and Sunderland’s Jozy Altidore, Klinsmann has a strong group that is ready and prepared for the World Cup next year.

Hodgson will be hoping that he is still smiling after the draw  (Image from Getty)

Hodgson will be hoping that he is still smiling after the draw
(Image from Getty)

Hodgson and England will be hoping to avoid such a nightmare by drawing a generous group such as Switzerland, Algeria and Iran. Based on previous draws, England has had luck on their side but can it hold for Brazil? Interestingly one team in pot 4 will be moved into pot 2 just before the draw starts. This is to allow for 4 groups of eight and a somewhat easier drawing process. That said, it is still quite confusing as FIFA will not allow a group to have more than two European teams in it so adjustments will need to be made, ruling out the three European teams in Pot 1 being pulled.  If England were chosen for Pot 2, it could play in their favour or perhaps not. Either way, Hodgson is unlikely to get any sleep tonight as he worries about who his team will face next summer.

Blog by Richard Waterhouse

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Hodgson Struggles to Find The Right Starting Eleven

Much to Ponder - Hodgson (Image from Getty)On Tuesday past England had the chance to put some conviction behind their World Cup challenge with a friendly against Germany but the team failed to deliver. The side were beaten by a thirty ninth minute header from Per Mertesacker after some terrible defending from two corners. 2014 is fast approaching and it doesn’t look like Hodgson knows his strongest side. Each campaign it is relatively clear which eleven players will feature throughout the tournament but at the moment it is far from it. Hodgson took charge of the national side in May 2012 and the team put up a brave display at the European Championships; making it to the quarter finals before losing on penalties to Italy. The World Cup qualifiers have been… satisfactory. Yes the record shows that the team went unbeaten in the group but were they really up against any tough opponents? Considering England scored thirteen past San Marino yet Ukraine scored nineteen and didn’t make the World Cup says something about the team’s conviction. These past two friendlies which England have lost have proven to be wake up calls for Roy and the squad.

Hodgson has tested a variety of players for England  (Image from Getty)

Hodgson has tested a variety of players for England
(Image from Getty)

The problems start from the back. In goal England have a keeper who looks defeated in confidence. He hasn’t played for his club for three weeks and despite making a quality save in the first half, he had little to do in the second and so this proved nothing. He may have conceded the least amount of goals last season but Hart doesn’t have a secure place in this starting eleven. Joe is the best man for the role but if Hodgson still feels unsure about his ego then the experiments will continue into spring which will not fill anyone with much confidence. At left back England have talent in abundance and the right back position has some fulfilling candidates also but is Phil Jagielka and Gary Cahill the strongest central pairing? Many pundits have commented on the potential of Phil Jones and Chris Smalling as a duo but if this is the case why isn’t Moyes or Hodgson testing this? Smalling looked weak compared to Mertesacker and Jones doesn’t seem to have a set position at the minute, being constantly moved around.  Hodgson commented that he couldn’t fault the effort, the work rate and desire but is that really enough?

Hart is struggling for form but will make the squad  (Image from PA)

Hart is struggling for form but will make the squad
(Image from PA)

The only two midfielders who showed this was Andros Townsend and Steven Gerrard. Townsend was the single player who took on the Germans with no fear as he ran through them creating opportunities and having the best chance; hitting the post just after the hour mark. Gerrard swept the ball around the midfield well but wasn’t helped by a lack of movement by the two strikers in the first half. Although Tom Cleverly made some good passes in the opening forty five, he failed to keep tight to Reus and there was little ‘desire’ in his tackling. Jack Wilshire is likely to be the starter for next year’s World Cup but the team may have trouble on the left. Adam Lallana did little wrong but failed to penetrate the defence as well as his fellow winger did. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain had a great Euro 2012 campaign but his lack of game time could affect his chances whilst Adam Johnson’s performances for Sunderland have been mixed. Hodgson could possibly test out Leighton Baines on that flank after his strong showing against Poland and Montenegro. He provided a beautiful cross for Rooney’s goal against Poland and that is something England need on one of the wings.

Adam Lallana in contention for a place  (Image from PA)

Adam Lallana in contention for a place
(Image from PA)

Wayne Rooney is a certainty upfront but it’s unclear whether Daniel Sturridge is his perfect partner. He has a brilliant relationship with Luis Suarez at Liverpool and during the qualifiers the pair did their jobs but Sturridge looked far from clinical in front of Germany’s debutant goalkeeper, Roman Weidenfeller. Andy Carroll also had a good European Championships and offers something that Sturridge doesn’t as he is a real threat in the air but his ongoing injuries make him a concerning choice. Of course he is lacking the game time at West Ham but at least we’ve seen more of him that Jermaine Defoe who has insisted he wants to stay at Spurs through January despite lack of playing time himself. Danny Welbeck is likely to make the squad but will he be a starter is a question no-one but Hodgson can answer. Other contenders like Rickie Lambert and Jay Rodriguez haven’t fully been tested so unless there are any standout performances in the next six months then Hodgson might settle on the current pairing. It’s not an awful team by any means. However, with the draw for the World Cup groups getting announced two weeks on Friday and with England in Pot D, it is unlikely England will be strong favourites for their group let alone the competition. Hodgson has to have an eleven sorted before the game against Denmark in March otherwise the England fans can’t be hopeful for any resurgent performance from the three lions in Brazil next summer.

 Post by Richard Waterhouse

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Moscow Punished But Will This Help Prevent Racism In The Future?

Racism still is an issue in the game (Image from stock)It was announced on Wednesday that CSKA Moscow will be sanctioned for last week’s controversial racist chanting towards Manchester City players during their Champions league clash. Their punishment… the closure of one of their stands but will this really stop abuse being cried out from the terraces?  In last week’s fixture which finished with a 2-1 win for City, Yaya Toure addressed the issue to the referee during the game yet no action was carried out by the official. Toure remained on the field for the remainder of the game but continued to talk about this issue after the game. During an interview, he commented:

“It was unbelievable and very, very sad on my part. As an African player it’s always sad to hear something like that. For me, as captain, I was wearing an armband which said ‘no to racism’ and I was totally disappointed by the fans”

Yaya Touré reacts to racist chants from the Moscow fans  (Image from Getty)

Yaya Touré reacts to racist chants from the Moscow fans
(Image from Getty)

He suggested after the game that either several stands or the stadium should be closed for a couple of games. In the end, UEFA agreed with this and under its regulations have gone ahead and decided to close one stand (section D) of the Arena Khimki for CSKA Moscow’s next home game in the Champions League which will be against Bayern Munich. If a second offence is committed in Moscow then this will lead to the closure of the stadium along with a fine of 50,000 Euros. Still, are these strong enough punishments to ‘kick out’ racism? Already this year there have been many examples of clubs breaching the expected standards:

  • ·         Dinamo Zagreb vs. FC Sheriff (30th July) – Forced to play a game behind closed doors due to claims of racist behaviour.
  • ·         Legia Warsaw vs. Steaua Bucharest (21st and 28th August) – Warsaw were fined £128,500 for racist chanting during both legs of this game and they were then forced to play two games behind closed doors.

There been three other cases of racist behaviour from the Europa League which begs the question: are the sport’s governing bodies, FIFA and UEFA being strict enough? Arguably in order to prevent this issue from reoccurring, the punishment should be made more fierce and dangerous for clubs to breach. Perhaps clubs could face lengthier periods of closures, removal of points or even expulsion from the competition. Although these precautions sound harsh, it’s a threatening consequence that would surely lead to the removal of racism from the game or at least the European cup competitions. This year there has been countless stories from around the world in regard to racism disrupting matches.

Both FIFA and UEFA have rolled out anti racism campaigns with little success  (Image from FIFA)

Both FIFA and UEFA have rolled out anti racism campaigns with little success
(Image from FIFA)

 

In January this year, Milan’s Kevin Prince Boateng walked off the pitch during a friendly with Italian fourth division side Pro Patria after suffering from racial taunts and monkey noises from the crowd. In this case, the referee responded by instructed all players to follow suit. In October 2012, racism took the spotlight again during an international under 21’s game between Serbia and England. Danny Rose and several other Black English players were racially abused by Serbian fans. UEFA did take action by banning four Serbian players and two of their coaches for two years. The country was also hit with a £65,000 fine and was ordered to play their next competitive Under-21 match behind closed doors. The penalty sparked furious reactions from the English FA who called the lack of punishment as deplorable and appealed the decision.

Danny Rose was subjected to racism taunts against Serbia  (Image from PA)

Danny Rose was subjected to racism taunts against Serbia
(Image from PA)

By intensifying the punishment, both clubs and countries will be forced to look into their fans behaviour and carry out intensive checks. Clubs may look into increasing the amount of security they have present at games or even removing certain fans from the ground indefinitely.  These ideas have been touched on before but whether or not clubs are prepared to execute such drastic measures is yet to be seen. Nevertheless, would losing a certain group of supporters be such a loss in revenue for the sake of the long term future of the game. Surely not.

Post by Richard Waterhouse

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Will The Champions League Trophy Be Returning To England?

Can anyone for England emulate Chelsea's 2011 success? (Image from PA)All the English sides have made it through to the knock out stages of the Champions League after two previous seasons of fallouts. The question many are now asking is could England have its fourth winner of the new era this season? Collectively, Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City have only lost five times in the Champions League where as last year there were nine defeats with City and Chelsea crashing out. It is redemption time for Manchester City who have finally made it to the last 16 for the first time under their wealthy owners.

Will an English side be lifting this come May?  (Image from UEFA)

Will an English side be lifting this come May?
(Image from UEFA)

City were drawn with a relatively easily group with the exception being current holders, Bayern Munich. They secured their place into the next round after the fourth game and were close to topping the group in the final game at the Allianz Stadium against the Germans but it seems math was never Pellegrini’s strong suit.

 “It was important to be first in the group but not the most important – it was difficult to score two goals.” – Manuel Pellegrini

The Chilean said this after his side’s 3-2 win where if the game had finished 4-2, City would have gone through as the group winners. Nevertheless, the Blues have been clinical disposing of the other opponents in their group and all of their strikers have looked hot on the European stage. Finishing second in the group will be a hindrance but if they are to win the tournament they will have to play the big sides at some point anyway.

We need how many goals to win the group? Two right?  (Image from Getty)

We need how many goals to win the group? Two right?
(Image from Getty)

Arsenal meanwhile were given a deathly group including Napoli, Borussia Dortmund and Marseille. After their home defeat on the opening day in the Premiership, everybody thought they would be wiped out immediately. But the Gunners bounced back in the league and have been one of the most effective sides in Europe as well, benefitting from having arguably the strongest midfield in the group. Despite the lost to Napoli in the final game and Dortmund’s last minute goal in France against Marseille sent them through as group winners, Wenger will be pleased by his team’s performances. They recorded a brilliant away wins against Dortmund and Marseille whilst doing enough at home against Napoli and Marseille to progress.  Jack Wilshire and Aaron Ramsey have shone during the group stages and if the Londoners continue to march on through the tournament, they could raise some eyebrows amongst the top clubs in Europe.

Arsenal have been impressive this season  (Image from Getty)

Arsenal have been impressive this season
(Image from Getty)

It’s been a rough transition for David Moyes into the hot seat at Old Trafford but he has secured the Red Devils a spot into the next round. He certainly deserves some credit here. The ex-Everton manager watched his team top the group on Tuesday after they won 1-0 at home to Shaktar Donetsk thanks to a goal from Phil Jones. Like many years, United were handed a fairly comfortable group with Bayern Leverkusen and Real Sociedad being the other two opponents and they went unbeaten in their six games winning four of them to give them a total of 14 points. This will hand them a favourable draw but many would argue without Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie being available for each game, the side won’t have the strength to get much further than the quarter finals.

Phiil Jones strike against Shakhtar Donetsk was enough to help United qualify  (Image from Getty)

Phiil Jones strike against Shakhtar Donetsk was enough to help United qualify
(Image from Getty)

For Chelsea fans it was a bumpy road to the knock out stages despite the fact they topped the group. The Blues experienced defeats to Basel (twice) during their campaign and have looked far from their best. Despite the abundance of quality they have in their squad, the team are leaking goals all over the place as no one is taking command at the back. Their backline is filled with high profile names like Terry, Cole and Luiz, but for some reason the team are failing to keep clean sheets. Out of all competitions they have only managed to keep ten clean sheets out of a possible 24 matches, conceding 20 goals during the same time. The once solid Chelsea defence is starting to show its age.  This is quite concerningfor Chelsea fans but Mourinho’s men are far from disarray. Just remember how shaky things looked in 2011 during the AVB to Di Matteo transition. The quality is there so if Mourinho can plug the hole at the back and get his front line scoring again, Chelsea could go far this year as they look to add to their 2011 Champions League title.

Blog By Richard Waterhouse

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