One On One with: Steven Caldwell

Football in its’ purest sense is about winning games and scoring goals. The need therefore for a quality striker is undeniable yet when it comes to building a team, most managers will build from the back with the belief that you keep a clean sheet and don’t concede then you stand a better chance of winning. Usually they turn to a formidable figure at centre half, one like our next interviewee, former Scotland defender Steven Caldwell. Over a 20 year playing career which saw Caldwell play for Newcastle, Birmingham, Burnley, Toronto FC and his national side, Caldwell became known as a no nonsense, reliable centre half who over the course of his career evolved into a natural leader both on and off the pitch.

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Now retired, Caldwell is using his knowledge and experiences in the game to forge ahead in his new career as an analyst for TSN in Canada where he now resides. I caught up with him recently in Toronto to discuss his time as a player, what it was like playing for Roberto Martinez and why he is looking forward to the World Cup in 2026. Enjoy!

Check out the full interview here:

With thanks again to Steven Caldwell. Check out Steven on TSN or on Instagram and on Twitter.

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Key Challenges Facing Ronald Koeman at Everton

Ronald Koeman’s move from Southampton to Everton may have come as a bit of a surprised given his recent comments rebutting any notions of such a switch but in fairness it makes a lot of sense. Whilst just over 238 miles separate the two clubs geographically and five positions part them in the most recent league standings, the differences between the two clubs are few and far between. Granted an argument can be structured based on history including title wins and European adventures that Everton are the bigger club, but in truth there current respective setups both on the field and off it have them on a similar path. Both clubs whether they like it or not are selling clubs, producing players that will gain first team exposure before being sold for a hefty profit in order to finance the next batch. Both have fallen on hard times over the past twenty years (Southampton more so) that has resulted in a drastic rethink of the philosophy and approach. Both have tasted some success too in the pitch with good runs leading to top six finishes that have yielded European football the following year. The only noticeable difference between the two clubs is the owners and their mindset about what to do next. At Southampton its business as normal with owner Katharina Liebherr preferring to stick with the tried and tested model of buying cheaply from abroad or promoting from the clubs stellar youth academy to bolster the squad. Reckless transfers or overpayments are definitely jot on the cards at St. Mary’s. That is in stark contrast to Everton’s new owner, Farhad Moshiri who is gearing up for a summer shopping spree that Everton fans rarely saw under the previous more frugal ownership of Bill Kenwright. Moshiri believes that progress on this seasons 11th placed finish will only be achieved by buying big and improving the squad, something that will appeal to Koeman’s hunger to grow as a manager. Ultimately Koeman wants to leave the UK for his dream job as manager of Barcelona but first he must be a success at Everton to prove his worth. So following on from Roberto Martinez what three things must the Dutchman do to improve Everton’s current predicament.

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Koeman dreams of managing Barcelona one day (Image from Tumblr)

Keep his big name players

To win football matches, you need to retain your best players. It sounds simple but is often something that most managers fail to acknowledge. Koeman’s first task will be to persuade his three best players to stay for at least one more season. The speculation surrounding the futures of John Stones, Ross Barkley and Romelu Lukaku has become deafening with the only relief from it being that the attention has momentarily switched to the Euros. But come the end of the tournament in France, discussions will be required and decisions will need to be made concerning this important trio. Koeman will be persuasive but in some cases it may be a losing battle with the player having already decided to leave. If that is the case, Koeman has experience in dealing with it at Southampton where each summer one or two of his best players would depart under their own steam for pastures new. Rebuilding is in his blood and Koeman knows how to do it well so if Stones, Barkley and/or Lukaku hand in a request to leave he will be ready. Koeman has shown already that he is a tough negotiator and better still a shrewd spotter of talent. The signing by Southampton of Dusan Tadic, a fairly unknown Serbian winger plying his trade in Holland is a great example as is Virgil Van Dijk who was brought in from Celtic. Both players became key components of Koeman’s team at St Mary’s as will any new recruit brought in to replace exiting stars at Everton.

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Discover the secret to consistency

Under Martinez, Everton struggled to find consistency. One week they would be superb picking apart their opponent with ease and passing the ball effortlessly around the pitch. The following week they couldn’t hit a barn door from five yards or find a teammate in space if their lives depended on it. Consistency is key to a strong season. Look at Leicester who shocked the world by winning this years title with two common themes running throughout – teamwork and consistancy. Koeman needs to discover the special sauce at Everton that turns possession into points on the good days and thrashes out 1-0 wins on the bad ones. If he can strike a balance between defending as a unit and then breaking forward as one too then he should be able to propel Everton further up the table towards those coveted European slots.

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Koeman found a formula that worked for Southampton but can he do the same for Everton? (Image from Tumblr)

Promote from within

Finally it’s important especially to the Everton fans to promote from within as they like to see one of their own taking in field in the dark blue jersey. Roberto Martinez did managed to do this giving starts to youth talent like Tyias Browning and the excellent Brendan Galloway but he struggled to find the right balance in the sides he put out. Koeman has shown at Southampton that he is not afraid to trust youth products, fielding Matthew Targett and James Ward Prowse on a semi regular basis but again has struggled to find a working balance between experienced pros and exciting young talent. To be fair the benchmark was set high by Koeman’s predecessor at Southampton Mauricio Pochettino who did manage to incorporate several academy prospects into his teams. With one of the best youth systems in the Premier League (alongside Southampton ironically) Koeman must look to the clubs academy for the next batch of first team regulars. Ryan Ledson is one such prospect and is expected to make the transition soon but how Koeman balances the need for blood these youngsters with the pressures of getting results is still to be seen.

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Controversy As Man City Books Final Date With Liverpool

With the shadow of Pep Guardiola hanging over him, there appears to be very little that Manuel Pellegrini can do. The Chilean manager is widely expected to be replaced by Guardiola as Manchester City boss at the end of the season but to all watching it would appear as thought Pellegrini is not planning on going down without a fight and is looking to win the four tournaments City remain in to make his point. His first chance of reaching a final came last night with the second league of the League Cup semi final against Everton. Trailing 2-1 from the first leg, City approached the game with caution knowing that Everton have the ability to hit on the break. For Roberto Martinez, it was important for his side to burst out of the blocks and take control of the game, which is exactly what they did. Everton controlled the first half, taking the game to City and eventually finding the breakthrough thanks to sensational run and shot by Ross Barkley. Fernandinho did snatch a goal back moments later but it was very much against the play with Everton more likely to press on and win the match.

Manchester City v Everton - Capital One Cup - Semi Final - Second Leg - Etihad Stadium

Ross Barkley looks to have set Everton on their way with a wonderful solo goal (Image by Martin Rickett/PA Wire)

But in the second half, it was City who was very much in control. Credit where it’s due must go to Manuel Pellegrini. The Manchester City manager made two tactical changes at half time that swung the tie back in favour of his side. One of the two changes made – to push Sterling out wide leaving Aguero up front on his own with Navas coming on for Delph widened City’s play and stretched Everton to their fullest. Eventually City’s new-found width paid off with Sterling in particular causing havoc on the left flank which lead to City taking the lead in somewhat controversial circumstances. Picking up the ball wide on the left, Sterling raced towards the byline with Stones in pursuit only to reach the ball and pull it back for the waiting Kevin De Bruyne to slam home. However replies show that the ball was over the line when Sterling cut it back so the goal should not have stood.

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De Bruyne pokes home Sterling’s cross (Image from Getty)

It mattered little as less than six minutes later, City made the result clear with their third goal. A mistake by John Stones, who strangely was playing at right back ahead of Seamus Coleman, let Sergio Aguero ghost into the box to head home a perfect cross by De Bruyne. It would be one of the Belgian’s final contributions with the midfielder brutally brought down in the closing minutes by Funes Mori and now in danger of missing the remainder of the season with suspected cruciate damage. City will be hoping to have him fit in time for the final, which will be against Liverpool after Jurgen Klopp side squeezed through on penalties against Stoke. Leading 1-0 from the first leg, Liverpool looked to keep things tight at the back but with a host of first team players out injured, the task was not an easy one against a rapidly improving Stoke. Mark Hughes side pushed Liverpool back from the start and controlled the first half well eventually taking the lead at the end of the first half thanks to a beautifully crafted team goal converted by Austrian Marko Arnautovic.

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Stoke looked the better side in the first half and took the lead through Arnautovic (pictured) – Image by Getty

Starting from the centre spot, a quick interchange of passing put Bojan clear through on the right. He beat his market Moreno before delivering a beautifully place cross for Arnautovic to power home. With the momentum now very much in their favour, Stoke pushed for a second goal to kill off the game. But the Potters found it hard to break down Liverpool’s defence with Sahko in particular in spectacular form. Despite chances for both sides, the match ended in a stalemate and would be settled by a penalty shootout. Both sides scored their first penalties before Peter Crouch missed his and Emre Can saw his effort hit the post. The remaining penalties found the back of the net before Mignolet saved Marc Muniesa’s weak penalty and Joe Allen converted his effort to send Liverpool to Wembley.

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Allen scores the winning penalty to send Liverpool to Wembley (Image from getty)

A jubilant Jurgen Klopp ran on to the pitch to congratulate his players sad Allen’s penalty flew into the back of the net. A trip to Wembley is now on the cards for Klopp only four months since taking over at Liverpool. City may be favourites based on current form however they have already lost heavily to Liverpool under Klopp this season which will give the German hope that his side have a chance come February 28th.

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Bad Week For Martinez As Stones Drama Rumbles On

Not a great week for Roberto Martinez (Image from Getty)The life of a Premier League manager is anything but an easy one, just ask Roberto Martinez. With fan protests over the running of the club, a nervous start to the new season and his star defender submitting a transfer request, the Everton manager has had better weeks. It began on Sunday with a 2-0 defeat to Manchester City thanks to two second half goals from Kolarov and Nasri. Everton had competed well throughout but had failed to repeat the previous weeks goal scoring exploits with Martinez bemoaning that the lack of luck in the six yard box had been their downfall. An bad injury to the promising Brendan Galloway added further to his frustration. On Monday, Martinez focus was to get his team back on track in preparation for the Capital One Cup second round clash with Barnsley on Wednesday but transfer rumours about the potential signing of Ukrainian Andriy Yarmolenko and Brazilian Bernard proved to be an annoying distraction.

Stones handed in a transfer request on Tuesday  (Photo by Chris Brunskill/Getty Images)

Stones handed in a transfer request on Tuesday
(Photo by Chris Brunskill/Getty Images)

The following day a bombshell was dropped on Martinez as John Stones handed in a transfer request in order to force a move to Chelsea before the window shuts. The England international has been the subject of four bids around the £30m mark by the current Premier League champions, all of which have been rejected by Everton. Martinez refused to accept Stones request and insisted that the player is not for sale but with Chelsea aggressively pursuing the player and with Stones now keen to go, its more likely that Everton are simply holding out for more cash before letting the player move. Martinez does not want to lose the centre back but will be well advised that the club’s coffers could do with bolstering and that cashing in on a player who cost only £3m back in 2013 for a fee ten times that is good business. If Stones is to go, Martinez would rather it be sooner rather than later so that he can find a replacement with the window due to shut next Tuesday. Everton have already drafted in Argentine Ramiro Funes Mori from River Plate but it will be seen whether he can cope with life in England’s top division. BBC journalist and resident South American expert Tim Vickery doesn’t rate the player and voiced his concerns on a recent BBC World Football Phone in which he hosts along with Dotun Adebayo. He believes that Mori will be a flop, lacking in the necessary skills and toughness to be a success in the fast paced Premier League. Not that Martinez cares though as he looks to strengthen his side for a life without Stones at the heart of their defence.

Tim Vickery doesn't rate Ramiro Funes Mori  (Image from AFP)

Tim Vickery doesn’t rate Ramiro Funes Mori
(Image from AFP)

Stones may have played his final game last night ironically against his former club Barnsley as Everton travelled to the Oakwell stadium for the second round of the cup. With Stones playing in the centre of defence, Everton were slow out of the blocks and were punished by the League one side who surged into a two goal lead within the first 30 minutes. Facing a humiliating cup upset, Martinez made two changes at half time bringing on Ross Barkley and Gerard Deulofeu as he adjusted the shape of his side. The switched worked with Everton pulling the game within 15 minutes of the restart level thanks to goals from Mirallas and Naismith. But Barnsley fought back once more with Daniel Crowley, on loan from Arsenal putting the Tykes back into the lead with a fine finish. They would hold the lead for 18 minutes before Lukaku snatch the equalizer to send the game into extra time. In the end Everton’s superior fitness and talent took over as the Barnsley players who had given everything started to fade. An own goal from Marc Roberts and a second from Lukaku finished the game off, handing Everton the win and passage to the next round.

With Chelsea likely to push for the transfer of Stones before the end of this week, it could have been the last time Everton fans see John Stones in the Blue shirt. Some sections of the travelling support did vent their anger towards Stones calling him a rat and telling him in not so polite terms where exactly to go. But a majority of the fans will understand the situation and whilst disappointed to see him go will be appreciative of what he has given to the club over the past two years. For Martinez, who has surely given up hope of retaining Stones, the focus now turns to Saturday’s trip to London to face Tottenham in the late kick off. Spurs are going through a patch of indifferent form at present after failing to win their first three matches of the new season so Martinez will be hoping that they can take advantage of this and walk away from White Hart Lane with all three points, ending this bad week on a positive note.

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Everton Hamstrung by Hamstring Injuries

Everton's Kevin Mirallas pulls up with a hamstring injury, a growing concern for manager Roberto Martinez (Image from Getty)It’s widely believed that the English Premiership is one of the quickest leagues in the world. The speed of the league in comparison to other European leagues like in Italy or Spain often catches new foreigner players unaware who struggle to adapt quickly. Even younger players who have spent their progressive years watching from the sidelines fail to grasp how quick the league is until they are thrust into it. Preparing squads properly for this requires a special team of individuals whose sole goal is to ensure that the players are as physically fit as possible. It has quickly becomes a major component of any team in England’s top tier with fitness and conditioning coaches working alongside sport scientist and performance specialist to construct a tailor made program for each player. They push the players to their limits in order to extract the additional 1% that could be the difference between success and failure. This however can lead to injuries and in Everton’s case one specific injury is causing manager Roberto Martinez to have many a sleepless night.

Cause for concern for Martinez (image from PA)

Cause for concern for Martinez (image from PA)

Hamstring injuries are very common with these athletes as they push their bodies to breaking point. The hamstring is not a “string” at all but a set of three muscles that run along the back of your thigh. These muscles allow your leg to bend at the knee and are extremely susceptible to strains, pulls and occasionally tears. During a hamstring strain, one or more of these muscles are over extended and if continued to do so could tear leading to a longer time on the sidelines. It can be a very painful injury for the athlete especially severe strains and tears resulting in agonizing pain which can make even walking or standing impossible.  Recovery time can span from a couple of weeks to up to four months with rest, ice, compression and elevation better known as the RICE protocol the most common treatment. Lengthy layoffs could also require extensive physiotherapy or in some cases injections to ensure that the muscle or muscles recover properly.

In the Premiership, hamstring injuries are the most common injury suffered but Everton’s frequency spells a larger problem for the club, one that Martinez is keen to address quickly. Since taking charge in the summer of 2013, Martinez has lost twenty players to hamstring injuries of various degrees. With a smaller squad that most of teams in the Premiership, injuries to key first team players leave Everton vulnerable, a problem that Martinez is keen to fix.  The latest injuries to James McCarthy, Leighton Baines and Sylvian Distin were the last straw with the club now launching an internal investigation into why this type of injury keeps happening.  Questions will be asked about the routines on the training ground and on the pitch with warm ups and warm downs a particular focus. Failure to properly stretch the muscle before prolonged exertion could lead to issues either in the short term or longer term. In addition to this over conditioning of the quadriceps (the muscles at the front of your thigh) can be problematic as the two muscles operate better when of a similar strength.

Hamstring injuries are common in football (Image from Wikipedia)

Hamstring injuries are common in football (Image from Wikipedia)

If the investigation reveals that the training or conditioning of the players is to blame, Martinez could make further changes to his backroom staff. Under scrutiny will be Head of Performance Richard Evans, new Head of Sports Medicine Matt Connery and the team’s fitness and conditioning coaches. Evans followed Martinez to Everton from Wigan and the two share a good relationship so he is unlikely to be shown the door.  However alterations have been made recently with fitness and conditioning specialists Steve Tashjian and Dave Billow leaving as well as Danny Donachie who resigned from his role as Head of Sport Medicine in December. The reason for their departures is unknown and it’s not clear whether its connected to this investigation. Martinez, a qualified physio in his own right, is now working closely with Connery and Evans to understand what is going on and why this particular injury keeps reoccurring at the club.

Richard Evans is working with Martinez on the investigation  (Image from EvertonFC)

Richard Evans is working with Martinez on the investigation
(Image from EvertonFC)

Everton sit mid table in 13th, slightly off the pace after a difficult start to the season. With only five wins and six draws in the first twenty matches, Everton need a resurgence in form if they are to climb the table and compete for European places much like they did last year. To do that, Everton need to have a fully fit squad with their key players playing regularly. Martinez knows that Everton will continue to be hamstrung until they resolve the conundrum of the reoccurring hamstring injuries.

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Ledson Tipped For Greater Things Following Europa Performance

Ryan Ledson is tipped as a future star for Everton and England (Image from Getty)In the end the result matter little with Everton having already secured their passage into the knockout rounds after three wins and two draws. With the pressure removed, manager Roberto Martinez decided to rest some of his first team players in preparation for Monday’s clash with Queens Park Rangers. It also gave him the opportunity to give some of the clubs most promising youngster’s valuable playing time. Into the starting lineup came right back Tyias Browning, left back Luke Garbutt and striker Conor McAleny whilst Kieran Dowell, Gethin Jones and Chris Long all made appearances from the substitutes bench. It said a lot about Martinez approach that Long at 19 years old, was the oldest squad player on the Everton bench. And it almost paid off with his young team restricting their Russian opponents Krasnodar to only a handful of chances with only one trickling through under reserve goalkeeper Joel Robles to hand them the victory. The fans however did not leave Goodison disappointed as they were shown a glimpse into the clubs future with the unveiling of the latest youngsters from their youth system production line. They all gave a good account of themselves but one other youngster in particular stood out above all of them.

Ledson commanded the Everton midfield against Krasnodar  (Image from PA)

Ledson commanded the Everton midfield against Krasnodar
(Image from PA)

Defensive midfielder Ryan Ledson is seen by the club as one of the brightest prospects to have ever emerged at the club. He took up position at the heart of the midfield alongside seasoned veteran Gareth Barry and demonstrated exactly why the club rates him so highly. Ledson controlled the game with a maturity well beyond his 17 years and looked confident on the ball throughout. His passing both short and long was exceptional with 91% of the 56 passes he made hitting their mark whilst his superb positioning at all times help Everton to retain its shape especially when under pressure from the five man Krasnodar midfield. Having been at Everton since the age of five, Ledson is very much at home at the club and is pushing hard to get into the first team as a regular squad member. Progress has been quicker than expected with Everton keen to secure the player for the long run rather than lose him to potential suitors like Manchester City and Tottenham who have been rumoured to be interested. It would appear though that Ledson has no intentions of playing for anyone else by signing his first professional contract with Everton in August. This was swiftly followed by a first team bench appearance against Southampton, and although he didn’t make it on to the pitch it was a signal of intent by Martinez that he sees Ledson very much in his plans. England are also keen to ensure that Ledson is part of their long term plans having already watched him excel at Under 17 level. Ledson played a significant role as captain as he led the England Under 17 national team to European Championship success last season. Now very much part of Gareth Southgate’s Under 21 squad, it won’t be long until he follows in Ross Barkley’s footsteps into Roy Hodgson’s full team.

Ledson signed his first pro deal in August (Image from Getty)

Ledson signed his first pro deal in August (Image from Getty)

Before that happens, Ledson knows that he must establish himself as a regular starter at Everton. His performance against Krasnodar will go a long way to helping this transition with Roberto Martinez praising the way that he played. This won’t be the last time that we see him pull the strings for Everton at the heart of their midfield.

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Eto’o Looking To Avoid Football Wilderness With One Final Payday

Samuel Eto'o is still looking for a new team (Image from PA)

After failing to spark with Chelsea and coming under attack from his own manager for being too old, it was hardly surprising that Samuel Eto’o exited Stamford Bridge in the summer. Since then a variety if clubs have chased the Cameroon striker in an attempt to sign him. A move back to Italy looked the more likely option until Ajax came calling and negotiations began around a move to Holland. However in a bizarre twist, Eto’o has turned down the chance to play for Frank De Boers team and instead is holding out for a move back to England with either Liverpool or Everton. Both Merseyside clubs have expressed interest in the past but Eto’os wage demands are proving to be a major stumbling block.

The Money Man - Samuel Eto'o  (Image from Getty)

The Money Man – Samuel Eto’o
(Image from Getty)

Now Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers has appeared to have switched his focus from Eto’o to Mario Balotelli with the fiery Italians agent arriving today for  contractual negotiations. Balotelli seems set on the move after posting on Twitter yesterday that it was his last day at Milan effectively confirming his transfer to Liverpool. All being well, the 24-year-old could be unveiled as a Liverpool player as early as Friday. The transfer is likely to split opinion amongst the Liverpool fans, some of which will be happy with signing a player of the calibre of Balotelli, a man clearly able to fill the boots of the departed Luis Suarez. The other half however will be concerned about the potential for a repeat of his off field behaviour seen during his last stay in England with Manchester City. The self-confessed bad boy had various run ins with then City boss Roberto Mancini, with the final straw coming during a training ground bust up with the manager. Balotelli was shipped out of England and back to Italy with Milan fairly quickly after that event. A return to the Premiership should give the Italian striker a chance of redemption with the leagues most improved team from last season.

Liverpool Bound? Mario Balotelli  (Image from Getty)

Liverpool Bound? Mario Balotelli
(Image from Getty)

If Balotelli’s transfer does go through then Liverpool will likely give up on any move for Eto’o leaving neighbours Everton as the only remaining club that has expressed interest. However since enquiring about Eto’os desire to move to Everton, the Toffees have completed the signing of Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku from Chelsea for a club record £28m. Manager Roberto Martinez made his move for the powerful front man after Lukaku impressed during a loan spell at Everton last season. Deemed surplus to requirements at Chelsea following the signing of Spanish striker Diego Costa, Lukaku jumped at the chance to get regular first team football so is unlikely to be happy if Everton were to bring in Eto’o. Whether Everton need  the Cameroon skipper is another valid question with a wealth of options upfront for Martinez to choose from. Besides Lukaku, Everton has Scotland international Steven Naismith, Belgian Kevin Miralles and Ivorian Arouna Koné whilst the emergence of youngster Chris Long during pre season has given the Spaniard more food for thought. Other clubs have been rumoured to be interested such as West Ham, West Brom and Sunderland but none of these could realistically afford his wage demands without fracturing their existing wage structures. Eto’o is still a fantastic striker and could offer a lot to a club but too many years living on ludicrous wages may have reduced his options somewhat. It may be that his Premiership dream is now dead and that he needs to look elsewhere to continue his career, finding a club that is willing to pay above and beyond for a 33-year-old front man with nothing to prove.

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

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

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

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

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

Liverpool lost the title to City  (Image from PA)

Liverpool lost the title to City
(Image from PA)

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

Runner up? Tony Pulis  (Image from Getty)

Runner up? Tony Pulis
(Image from Getty)

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

Sunderland safe - Gus Poyet  (Image fro Getty)

Sunderland safe – Gus Poyet
(Image fro Getty)

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

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

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

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

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Weir Steps Into The Management Fold At Sheffield United

New Job? David Weir (Image from Getty)It was only a matter of time before former Everton, Rangers and Scotland legend David Weir took his first steps into management. Having had a distinguished career that saw him play at the highest level all the way up to his 39th birthday, Weir hung up his boots only a few years ago and rejoined Everton as Reserve team coach. During that time, he impressed the clubs hierarchy with his professionalism and strict approach to coaching, so much so that following the departure of David Moyes to Manchester United; Weir was one of the front runners interviewed to replace him. That job eventually went to former Wigan boss, Roberto Martinez but made Weir ponder his future and think more about taking that step into management.

Weir played for Rangers until he was 39  (Image from Getty)

Weir played for Rangers until he was 39
(Image from Getty)

When the vacancy at Sheffield United became an distinct possibility, Weir  knew that this may be his first opportunity to take the hot seat. The League One club has been in a slide for the past decade and see Weir as the man to turn things around. The Blades had been without a manager for eight weeks after sacking Danny Wilson who failed to get the club out of the division and have interviewed several candidates such as Stuart McCall, Gareth Southgate and Karl Robinson, but the trio all turned down the job. Weir by no regards was the last chance saloon for the club with other potential candidates mentioned, but they decided that they didn’t need to continue their search and instead gave Weir the nod by handed him a three year deal.

Weir learned from the best in Smith  (Image from AFP)

Weir learned from the best in Smith
(Image from AFP)

His appointment won’t come as a surprise to many who have tipped Weir as a future manager for some time now. Having learned from two of the best managers in the game; Walter Smith and David Moyes, Weir has soaked up their knowledge like a sponge. The 43 year old former captain possesses a deep knowledge of the game from tactics to player motivation tools to fitness and nutrition, which helped him to prolong his career at Rangers. Sheffield United will be hoping he can use all of his acquired skills to turn around the troubled club, kick them into shape and send them on a path towards promotion back to the Championship.

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Barkley To Shine, But For United Not Everton As Moyes Lines Up Bid

On The Move? Ross Barkley (Image from Everton fc)As David Moyes takes up the hot seat at Manchester United in the summer, he will survey the land and see what Sir Alex has left him. At first glance, everything appears to be in order with a championship winning team constructed and a healthy war chest of funds available for strengthening.  However on closer inspection of Moyes new squad, a glaring gap emerges, one that needs to be plugged quickly before the season starts. The normally solid position of central midfield, filled through the years with the likes of Brian McClair, Roy Keane and Paul Ince now lies empty following the retirement of Paul Scholes and the continuing sickness of Scotland captain Darren Fletcher. Besides Michael Carrick, who has not had the best career at the club himself, united lack a central midfield player who can create opportunities, switching defence into attack. Brazilian Anderson is too inconsistent for a regular start, young Nick Powell too raw and Ryan Giggs whilst a master on the wing in his day, lacks the stamina to play 40 plus games a season anymore. Moyes knows he needs to bring someone in and will likely turn to his old club, but not for Marouane Fellaini but young Ross Barkley instead.

Moyes and Barkley May Reunited at United  (Image from PA)

Moyes and Barkley May Reunited at United
(Image from PA)

Barkley is a product of the Everton youth system and despite having only played 13 times for the club, has impressed Moyes enough that he is ready to make an offer. The 19 year old central midfielder who can also play in a more attacking role is seen by many as a future full international prospect, having already represented England at under-16, under-17, under-19 and under-21 level. With the vision and passing abilities of Paul Scholes and the tenuous no nonsense approach of Roy Keane, Barkley is the ideal fit for Moyes new look United team. With Carrick operating in a more defensive midfield capacity, Barkley will provide the threat going forward that United have sometimes lacked this season.  If Barkley is able to establish himself, it may be easier for him to squeeze himself into Roy Hodgson’s thinking ahead of next years World Cup. Pairing Barkley with Wwilshire in the centre of England’s midfield is a likely future option, but if everything aligns quicker than expected then the two could take the field together as England kick off their campaign in Brazil.

Barkley to Play alongside Wilshire in new look midfield?  (Image from Getty)

Barkley to Play alongside Wilshire in new look midfield?
(Image from Getty)

Barkley spent much of last season out on loan to Championship sides Leeds United and Sheffield Wednesday but returned to Everton with a few months remaining and showcased enough potential that Moyes granted him a starting place against Arsenal and Tottenham. Under contract until 2016, Moyes will have to pay a large fee to get Barkley to join his United revolution but it’s more likely that Everton will allow the youngster to leave the club than some of its already established stars like Fellaini or Baines. However new manager Roberto Martinez, who is due to be unveiled as Moyes replacement following Everton agreeing a fee with Wigan, may want to hold onto this future prospect. It will be up to Barkley himself to decide whether to stay at Goodison or follow former teammate Jack Rodwell out of the exit door to Manchester.

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Mark Hughes Appointed At Stoke Despite Fan Protests

Mark Hughes appointed new Stoke boss (Image from Martin Rickett/PA Wire)Ever since Tony Pulis was sacked as manager of Stoke, speculation has mounted over who would take over the reins of the club. Various names were mentioned from Roberto Martinez to Gus Poyet to Roberto Di Matteo, all of which would have been welcomed gladly by the fans at the Britannica. But it’s the appointment of former Blackburn, Manchester City, Fulham and QPR boss Mark Hughes that has caused a much public uproar with the fans, one that is not likely to die down anytime soon.

Pulis was sacked after 8 years in charge  (Image from Michael Regan/Getty Images)

Pulis was sacked after 8 years in charge
(Image from Michael Regan/Getty Images)

Hughes joins the club on a three year contract only six months after being sacked at QPR for failing in his mission to steer them towards a mid table finish. He was heavily critized by the press for his multitude of signings, lack of tactical direction and ultimately poor results on the pitch. With a win rate of only 20% during his time at QPR (eight wins in 34 games), Hughes will struggle to argue that his time at Loftus Road was successful but will be out to prove at Stoke that he is not as bad a manager as many expect he is.

Hughes may have a job on his hands to do so. Apart from his time at Blackburn and a few months at Fulham, his club management career has been anything but spectacular.  After some success at Blackburn, he moved to Manchester City and took on the challenge of revolutionizing the club using the millions given to him from the clubs new Saudi billionaire owners. Expensive signings like Roque Santa Cruz, Robinho, Jo and Kolo Toure turned into expensive flops as Hughes repeatedly paid over the odds for players. With investment of that nature came expected success and after Hughes failed to deliver, he was dismissed from the project.

Flop Jo proved that not all Brazilians are talented  (Image from Getty)

Flop Jo proved that not all Brazilians are talented
(Image from Getty)

Fulham offered him a route back into the game and he repaid them with an eighth place finish. Surprisingly he left in the summer without real explanation but rumours persist that he was not going to receive the financial backing he wanted for the next season. Unfortunately for Hughes, over spending appears to be his biggest problem, constantly spending the entire budget at the clubs disposal to bring in a variety of new faces. Last summer, Hughes brought in 12 players to QPR, all on large wages and without little thought to how they would gel together or how long it would take. They failed to do so quickly enough and by the time Hughes was sacked, the damage was already too serve for recovery to be possible for Harry Redknapp. Hughes will be given money to spend at Stoke but Chairman Peter Coates will prefer that he develops and uses the clubs youth system as a new production line for players as the club takes on a new direction to secure itself for the future.

Hughes used the Stoke announcement of his appointment as a platform to try and set the record straight.  He talked candidly about his time at QPR and the negative press he received following his dismissal:

I have listened to what people have said about my managerial ability and I can assure you I will use that as a motivation. If I am honest, we all tried to run there before we could walk. That was the mistake that we made. I made mistakes I will learn from. ‘I’m absolutely delighted to get the opportunity (at Stoke). I’m really grateful.

All smiles as Coates gets his man  (Image from PA)

All smiles as Coates gets his man
(Image from PA)

Ultimately it was owner Peter Coates that made the decision to go for Hughes, admitting that whilst there were other candidates, Hughes was the one he wanted and the only one interviewed for the job:

“We had other interest, but we’ve only interviewed Mark. We focused on him, he was our choice. We went for it and it’s happened. The way we’ve looked at his time at QPR, they had new ownership. All the managers they had are exceptionally fine – Neil Warnock, Mark, Harry Redknapp – pretty solid, very good managers, but all found it difficult. In Mark’s first year at QPR, he came in and saved them from the relegation. That’s how we’ve seen his time there. We want, like everyone, to get better and move forward and we think Mark is the right person to do that.”

Stoke fans protest Hughes appointment  (Image from Getty)

Stoke fans protest Hughes appointment
(Image from Getty)

Coates may be happy with the appointment but the fans are anything but. Football phone in shows have been flooded with calls from angry Stoke fans over the past few days as the news filtered out that Hughes was going to be appointed. One fan even took to the streets, creating a Hughes Out sign attached to his truck, in protest of the choice of new manager.  Supporters club chairman Shaw commented that Hughes wouldn’t have been the fans first choice due to his poor track record but as always the fans will back the club and hope that Hughes can prove them wrong. With everything to lose and his reputation on the line, let’s hope that Hughes has learned from his past mistakes, stays clear of radical squad overhauls and gets Stoke and his career back on track.

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Martinez Out Grows Wigan, Clearing Path to Everton

Roberto Martinez resigns from Wigan (Image from Reuters)It shouldn’t come as a surprise to most Wigan fans who heard the fateful news that their illustrious leader for the past four years and the man who guided them to their first ever trophy, has decided to resign. Roberto Martinez has simply out grown Wigan and after shunning several approaches from larger clubs over the past few years, he has decided that enough is enough and it’s time to move on. He handed his notice in yesterday to a dejected Dave Whelan, who must have suspected this was coming. Wigan have fought hard to remain in the Premiership since their promotion from the Championship in 2005 but their luck ran out this year when relegation survival proved to be one step too far.

Martinez to take over from Moyes at Everton  (Image from Getty)

Martinez to take over from Moyes at Everton
(Image from Getty)

Martinez had been at the helm for four years, and has produced his own form of major to stave off the drop but a successful run in the FA Cup this season, which saw them upset the apple cart with a 1-0 victory over Manchester City in the final, has ultimately led to their downfall. Dropped points against West Ham, Swansea and Aston Villa in the last few games will be touted as the reason why they have been condemned to the Championship next season, but the truth is that they have not been the resilient force all season that they have been in past seasons. Ivory Coast striker Arouna Kone has been a revelation and another great signing by Martinez by chipping in 11 goals this year but it was Wigan’s leaky defence and lack of goals from midfield that have led to their demise.

Arouna Kone has scored the goals but the midfield has been guilt of not helping  (Image from CP)

Arouna Kone has scored the goals but the midfield has been guilt of not helping
(Image from CP)

Martinez has done what he can to keep them in the league but now is the time for him to move on. His performance as manager over the past years and in particular this season with that impressive against the odds cup run, have helped to build his stock in the league. Wigan has held on to their manager for too long, managing to keep him focused enough to ignore the advances of other clubs, most notably Liverpool and Aston Villa last season. But now the open vacancy at Everton appears to be too strong a pull for the Spaniard and he has decided to part ways with Whelan and Wigan to make sure that move goes through. Whelan is somewhat annoyed at this due to the fact that Wigan could have pocketed up to $2million from Everton for Martinez, but he will understand why his faithful manager has done what he has.  Whelan will push Kenwright for the payment regardless but the odds are stacked firmly in Everton’s favour, especially given Martinez resignation.

Whelan and Martinez celebrate the FA Cup win  (Image from Getty)

Whelan and Martinez celebrate the FA Cup win
(Image from Getty)

A move to Everton makes a lot of sense for Martinez as he joins a club with a much stronger squad but also a family club, where the players and owners are aligned towards the same goal. The lack of funds for new signings will not concern him as he is used to operating under a tight budget and the draw of regular European football will also have been a key factor. Departing Everton boss David Moyes has built a strong foundation for Martinez to inherit and it will make the transition easier. Added into that, in Bill Kenwright he has a chairman who is as compassionate, understanding and willing as his previous boss, Dave Whelan was. It’s a perfect match and a challenge that will excite Martinez much more than the standoff relationships he would have encountered at Liverpool and Aston Villa. For Whelan, the search for a replacement is on, as is preparation for life in the Championship. It will be a summer of upheaval at the DW stadium, with several keys players leaving and others arriving in preparing for both domestic and European football campaigns next year. But before all that can start, Whelan needs to plug the hole that Martinez has left. As the only manager to ever lift a cup trophy as Wigan boss, they may be too big a pair of boots to fill.

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The Tale of The Two Roberto’s – But What Now?

The Two Roberto's (Image from EPLTALK)It was the tale of the two Roberto’s at Saturday’s FA Cup final at Wembley and the tale of two seasons. Wigan’s triumph, thanks to a goal in the dying minutes of the game, highlighted small things about both sides but more importantly about their managers than either would care to admit. Martinez looked like a man possessed on Saturday, pushing his players along with each kick of the ball whilst his opposite number sat pensively on the bench next to Brian Kidd. Mancini showed little emotion over the ninety minutes except to jump up and march to his technical box to scream commands at his players. Martinez on the other hand spent the majority of the match camped out in his technical area willing his players on like a dotting dad on the side of his kids match. In the end a solitary goal from comeback star Ben Watson, returning to the team as a substitute after a horror leg break in November, which settled the game.

Mancini more passionate about pastilles than players  (Image from The Sun)

Mancini more passionate about pastilles than players
(Image from The Sun)

It was the perfect ending to a horrid season for Manchester City’s Roberto Mancini, who less than a year ago was basking in Premiership glory after pulling of a last minute miracle himself to snatch the title. Now after a second place finish, a losers medal in the FA Cup final and two unceremonious exits from the League Cup and Champions League, Mancini’s time looks set to be up. Rumours that an agreement has been struck to bring in Malaga’s Manuel Pellegrini as Mancini’s replacement surfaced before Saturday’s match much to the dismay of the Italian coach. It will surely have impacted his effectiveness to immobilize his team for those ninety minutes on the Wembley pitch and the performance during the game of City’s multimillion squad backs that notion. But the truth is that Mancini’s head has been on the block, ready for execution for some time now after failure to qualify from their winnable Champions league group left City’s owners red faced with embarrassment. The summary of City’s campaign is disappointment, with a squad capable of so much more but with a coach lacking in tactical imagination and motivational skills. Mancini’s tactical mistakes in Europe against Ajax and his lack of motivational powers needed to rally his City team leading 1-0 at White Hart Lane in a crucial game, have ultimately been his undoing. Mancini will exit not through the front door as a winner but quickly through the back under a cover of darkness.

On the way - Pellegrini (Image from Getty)

On the way – Pellegrini (Image from Getty)

For Roberto Martinez, it’s onwards and upwards. Wigan owner Dave Whelan is convinced he can keep Martinez from leaving for a bigger club like Everton but with Wigan likely to drop down into the Championship, a European adventure might not be enough of a pull to keep Martinez at the DW stadium. It’s still mathematically possible for Wigan to avoid the drop but they need two victories in their final two games plus some other results to go their way for that to happen. Martinez has managed to engineer their survival four times so far but this season may be too much for the talented Spaniard. His reputation is growing with other clubs in England and his homeland now paying close attention. After masterminding the cup win on Saturday it will be almost impossible for Whelan to keep his manager much longer. Martinez too, however faithful to Wigan must be yearning for a new challenge, one that doesn’t always end up as a relegation dog fight. A move to Everton to replace the Manchester United bound David Moyes would interest him, especially after failing to get the Liverpool job less than ten months ago but it may not be his call. Everton chairman Bill Kenwright is rumoured to favour trying another scot in the form of Malky MacKay so that door may be shut for Martinez before he has had a chance to stick is head through it. Spain looks like a more likely option but with only the Malaga job coming up, he may have to start the season at Wigan, even if that means in the Championship.

What next for Martinez?  (Image from Getty)

What next for Martinez?
(Image from Getty)

It will be an interesting summer for the two Roberto’s, with neither quite sure what will happen in the future. Returns to their respective homelands looks like a potential route but to do so there has to be an opportunity. Mancini knows he doesn’t have the same grace period as Martinez to decide, with his fate likely to be decided before the end of the season by the City owners. Martinez on the other hand has a job, and if Whelan had his way, it would be for life. But Martinez needs to move on, try something new before he does long term damage to his growing reputation. If he fails to move and Wigan slip down into the Championship with no guarantee of a quick return, the FA Cup accomplishment he worked so hard to achieve will slowly fade into a distant memory. The phone will stop ringing, the media will stop talking and suddenly Martinez will be looking at jobs at Millwall, Middlesbourgh or Leeds as his next big move (no offense to them). Not quite what he imagined when he lifted the cup so high on Saturday at Wembley.

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Newcastle Slump Continues As Relegation Fears Increase

Worrying times for Pardew (Image from Getty)Newcastle’s abysmal display against Liverpool only strengthens the feeling that the North East club are in more danger than Alan Pardew cares to admit. Sitting five points above the relegation zone with three games left, many people would assume that Newcastle are safe but if their current form continues and the masters of the great escape, Wigan can conjure up yet another miracle, Newcastle could be joining QPR and Reading in the Championship next season. It would be a dramatic turn of events for Pardew who was voted Manager of the Year last season following his team’s impressive fifth placed finish. Now only Roberto Martinez and his team stand between Newcastle and an unwanted reunion with England’s second tier.

Can Martinez engineer another great escape for Wigan?  (Image from Getty)

Can Martinez engineer another great escape for Wigan?
(Image from Getty)

Aston Villa’s stunning 6-1 win over fellow strugglers Sunderland has breathed fresh life into their faulting campaign, moving them above Newcastle in the table and rubbing salt into their wounds. Newcastle’s performance at home to Liverpool was described as spiritless and embarrassing by former striker Alan Shearer on MOTD and the worst he has seen. Some may point out that Shearer has seen a lot worse performances than Saturday’s affair, most notably during his fateful spell as Toon boss which ironically ended up in relegation. But the former England front man does have a point in that several players have been posted missing, not just in the last game but on several other occasions this season. Players who should be stepping up to field the responsibilities of pulling the team forward have been found wanting instead. Experienced starters like Steven Taylor and Jonas Gutiérrez have not had the greatest campaigns whilst striker Shola Ameobi inclusion in the squad is questionable having only scored one goal in twenty two domestic games.

Which way to the goal? One in 22 for Ameobi domestically is not a good return  (Image from Reuters)

Which way to the goal? One in 22 for Ameobi domestically is not a good return
(Image from Reuters)

Others like Rob Elliot, Mike Williamson, James Perch, Dan Gosling and Vurnon Anita appear to be not up to grade and highlight the inefficiencies that exist in this skeleton bare squad. Yes the first eleven have quality in abundance, right through the spine of team from Krul to Coloccini to Cabaye to Cisse with wonderful support roles performed by Santon, Tiote and Ben Arfa but beyond that Newcastle are a Championship side. Harsh criticism perhaps but true as an extended European run has shown. The statistics don’t lie. 4 wins from 13 games played after a European game, including seven defeats. 13 goals scored and 19 conceded. Key points drop against fellow strugglers like Wigan, Sunderland and Aston Villa have left Newcastle dangling precariously above the drop zone. Newcastle should be able to play two games on the bounce like many Premiership clubs but it would appear that after a short trip to the continent, jetlag got the better of them.

Newcastle played 13 games in Europe this season including Anzhi (Image from Getty)

Newcastle played 13 games in Europe this season including Anzhi (Image from Getty)

The honest truth is that Newcastle doesn’t have the squad to cope with a multiple tournament attack, especially when injuries to key players hit. Any team losing the likes of Krul, Cabaye and Ben Arfa for large chunks of a campaign would suffer but without adequate cover, Newcastle has really suffered. Reinforcements did arrive in January in the form of Debuchy, Sissoko and Gouffran which helped but by then the damage had been done. Added into this selling your inform striker to Chelsea and having your goal scoring machine from last season misfire (3 goals in the first half of the season, 5 so far in the second half for Cisse) has made life difficult for Alan Pardew. Then there are the youngsters that Pardew has been highly critical of for not being able to step up when needed but chances have been few and far between which is a requirement to making the grade. The truth is that probably Pardew doesn’t believe they, or the likes of Curtis Good, Roman Amalfitano and Haris Vuckic are worth a shot, even if they do. Pardew needs points and performances to keep his job and risking it is just not worth it.

Now half a strike force - Cisse all alone up front following Ba sale  (Image from Telegraph.co.uk)

Now half a strike force – Cisse all alone up front following Ba sale
(Image from Telegraph.co.uk)

But there is hope in the form of a fresh start and a new season. Newcastle can regroup in the summer, reevaluate and strengthen by sending scout extraordinaire Graham Carr out to see what other gems he can uncover. With no European football next year, Pardew needs to build a squad capable of playing for domestic honours only so will need to buy sensibly as well as clear out those who are not up to the grade. Before he can start this process, Pardew needs to secure Premiership football for the club for next year. To get there all they have to do is pick up enough points in the last three games to stave off relegation and condemn someone else to that fate. With games against QPR, West Ham and Arsenal to come, on paper it looks possible but having only won once away from home all season and two of the three games away from St James, Pardew may need a miracle. If they fail then Pardew might be wishing he hadn’t signed that eight year contract as he faces up to life as a Championship manager once again.

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Cardiff Reach The Promise Land But Can They Stay There?

After a 51 year wait, Cardiff City have finally reached the promise lands of England’s top division, the Premiership. The Championship title is yet to be secured but Cardiff care little as they have managed to seize one of the two automatic promotion places with three games to spare. Manager Malky McKay has masterminded what many others failed to do and built a side capable of competing and more importantly winning in the Championship. Cardiff have flirted with promotion for the past ten years so to finally achieve it will come as a welcomed change to the faithful Bluebird fans.  Their quest next season will be to stay in the Premiership and replicate the success of fellow Welsh side Swansea who capped a good year for Welsh sport with their League Cup final victory. But that’s not as easy as it seems.

Going in the right direction - Cardiff win promotion  (Image from BBC)

Going in the right direction – Cardiff win promotion
(Image from BBC)

History does not bode well for Cardiff next year as they embark on their debut campaign in the world’s most watched league. Promotion success has frequently been followed by relegation despair the season after as clubs fail to cope with the differences between the leagues. Since its inception in 1992-1993 season, the Premiership has welcomed 59 promoted teams (only two were promoted in the 1994 season due to restructuring of leagues) with 25 teams going straight back down the following year (that number will grow by 1 if Reading are indeed confirmed as relegated this year). In addition, of those that managed to avoid the drop in their first year, seven were relegated in their second year back (again that number will increase by 1 if QPR are relegated this season). So what lessons can Cardiff take from past failures and indeed successes to stay in the Premiership long term?

Master and Chief - Malky MacKay  (Image from Huw Evans Images)

Master and Chief – Malky MacKay
(Image from Huw Evans Images)

Lesson 1 – Buy only what you need to survive. Clubs have shown that you don’t have to replace your entire squad when you come up, only strengthen areas you deem as to be not up to par. After all you wouldn’t have claimed promotion if your players weren’t good enough. The misconception is that the gap between the Premierships top teams and the Championships top teams is too wide which is somewhat true, however the majority of the teams in the bottom half of the Premiership are likely to be on similar groundings, with most having come up only a few years previously. The age old adverb ” if it’s not broke, don’t fix it” rings true in this case. Look at Sunderland in 2006 who signed 14 players or Derby County in 2007 who signed a total of 19 players over the season during two transfer windows. Both ended the season bottom of the league after the squad failed to gel quick enough to compete. After spending the first four months trying to get to know each other, the team then found themselves being replaced by new arrivals in January and facing an already uphill climb to escape relegation. Buying to solve problem areas is a better solution as nine times out of ten; it helps the team avoid relegation. Well that is unless you are Norwich City in the 2004 season, who bought wisely with the likes of Thomas Helveg, Dean Ashton and David Bentley arriving but were unable to prevent their team escape the trapdoor.

Danish International Thomas Helveg was unable to keep Norwich in the Premiership in 2004  (Image from NorwichFC.com)

Danish International Thomas Helveg was unable to keep Norwich in the Premiership in 2004
(Image from NorwichFC.com)

Lesson 2 – Forward planning. Most clubs don’t look at the fixture list as an opportunity but the smart managers like Wigan’s Roberto Martinez and former Swans boss, Brendan Rodgers do. They studied the list like it was a manual to the Premiership, trying to work out where they could likely get the points needed to hit the magical, yet mythical 42 point mark. Facing Manchester City away from home at the start of the new season is not likely to be one of these places but tackling Norwich (sorry Norwich fans) at home in the middle of December may well be. Planning can give you an idea of what number you are likely to finish on and how close you potentially could be to the bottom three. It also acts as motivation when your team picks up a surprising win away from home against an Arsenal or Chelsea in September. The unexpected result making life a little easier and giving your team that safety barrier, just in case you lose one of your so called guaranteed three pointers.

Using the fixture list to build a forward strategy is the best approach (Image from EPL)

Using the fixture list to build a forward strategy is the best approach (Image from EPL)

Lesson 3 – Score more than you concede. It may sound like common sense but many teams fail to understand that it doesn’t matter if you concede three goals in a game as long as you have scored four. A healthy points tally always outweighs a healthy goal difference so promoted teams need to make sure that they have goal scorers in their team. Notice we said scorers plural as often its left to one man (e.g. Kenny Miller in Derby’s disastrous 2007 campaign) to hit all the goals. If he struggles, you lose. Derby found out the hard way as Miller chipped in only four goals all season and his teammates added another 18 for a total of only 22 goals. After only one win all season they were relegated with one of the lowest point’s totals (and one of the highest goals conceded totals) in Premiership history.

All by myself - Lone Derby striker Kenny Miller  (Image from Getty)

All by myself – Lone Derby striker Kenny Miller
(Image from Getty)

Lesson 4 – Build a back bone. Every successful team in history has been built on a solid backbone – solid goalkeeper, tough centre half, creative or strong midfielder and deadly striker. If you have these four and they work together, the other players seem to matter less. Not that they don’t contribute but the backbone appears to dictate what the result of the game is likely to be, with the rest of the team feeding off of them. QPR have found it tough this year without a solid backbone. Yes they had Julio Cesar and Ryan Nelsen but without a Joey Barton or an inform Abel Taarabt playing, they lacked the structure for their strikers to feed from. Similarly, like in most operations, substituting key vertebrae like Ryan Nelsen for Christopher Samba midway through the season was always going to be troublesome, despite how good Samba is. Harry Redknapp’s team has never recovered and looks destined for life in the Championship next year because of it.

Losing Nelsen changed the QPR backbone (Image from Getty)

Losing Nelsen changed the QPR backbone (Image from Getty)

Cardiff’s manager Malky McKay will be aware of the trials and tribulations of life in the Premiership having played (and being relegated) with Watford in 2006. He is a smart manager so will plan accordingly and will already know the areas in which he wants to strengthen. With owner Vincent Tan suggesting a sum in the region of $25 million being made available to MacKay next year, he has the funds to do so. In Marshall, Turner, Cowie and Bellamy, he has a strong backline, but experience may be the only thing he needs to bring in with few in his squad having played in England’s top league. It will be a test for his squad on how they cope under extreme pressure next year but this is after all what they have been waiting for (and their fans) for almost 51 years. If they can heed the lessons of teams gone by then there is a good chance that Cardiff will follow Swansea’s lead by cementing their place in the world’s most watched league.

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Laudrup’s Stock Rises As Rodgers Stock Plummets

Worrying times for Rodgers (Image from The Sun)It seemed like the dream move for Brendan Rodgers. He had taken Swansea as far as they could go, sitting in England’s top division, fairly secure in their place within the league. Rodgers had worked hard on building a squad capable of getting and staying there but now was the time to move on. Move to a club capable of winning silverware, capable of challenging in the league for honours, capable of playing in Europe. The Liverpool job was perfect, a bigger club than Swansea, with more pedigree and ready to compete. But now nine months in to the role, Liverpool have only one chance of winning any silverware this season and it would take a miracle for it to occur.

Liverpool crash out of Europe to Zenit (Image from AFP)

Liverpool crash out of Europe to Zenit
(Image from AFP)

Sitting 8th in the Premiership, the only competition that they are still competing in after being knocked out of the rest, they lie a massive 29 points behind leaders Manchester United with only 11 games left to play. His best hope is for the team to finish strongly and grab a champions league or Europa League spot to guarantee European football next year. If they can do this, they may just encounter Swansea along the way who secured their place in Europe next season with a stunning 5-0 League Cup final win over Bradford, their first trophy in their 101 year history. Sunday’s game must have been difficult to watch for Rodgers, who firmly believed that Swansea had peaked when he left the job. But current coach Michael Laudrup saw something else, he saw potential for growth and exploited it. Granted Swansea have ridden their luck a little in the competitions but they deserved the win after a fantastic run that saw them dispatch Chelsea, Middlesbrough and Rodger’s Liverpool along the way.

Swansea players celebrate the League Cup win (Image from Getty)

Swansea players celebrate the League Cup win
(Image from Getty)

Laudrup has bought well, preferring to spend on players he knew well from his days in Spain – Michu, Hernandez, de Guzman who all fit well with the system Swansea play.  Michu has been a revelation for the Swans since his arrival and has inspired the League Cup run, scoring three goals in six games, including a strike in Sunday’s cup final. At £2 million, he is the bargain of the season and makes Liverpool’s £10.5 million signing of Fabio Borini look like an expensive mistake. But this is a club that shelled out £35 million for Andy Carroll, only to throw him on the scrap heap just over a year later. Rodgers has had considerably more to spend this year than Laudrup but the Dane is the one that looks like he has delivered. Rodgers will insist its a building process at Liverpool but the pressure will be on him now to secure a european slot by the end of the season, or he may be looking for a job come the summer. With Swansea only a point behind them, it adds another dimension to the challenge Rodgers faces. If Swansea are to overhaul Liverpool and finish above them in the league, it will only add further misery to Rodgers year which started with so much promise.

Growing reputation - Michael Laudrup (Image from REUTERS/Nigel Roddis)

Growing reputation – Michael Laudrup
(Image from REUTERS/Nigel Roddis)

Liverpool’s board have been quiet on their manager and have not come out with the public vote of confidence. Owner John Henry holds his cards close to his chest at all times but has not been discreet about the fact that Rodgers was not his first choice. Wigan’s Roberto Martinez topped that list and was spotted in deep conversations with Henry just a few weeks before Rodgers was appointed. The talks were public and although Martinez could not agree  a deal (rumoured to have been offered but rejected for personal reasons by Martinez), its understood that the Wigan boss is still looking for his next job and a step up in that. If Rodgers ends the season unsuccessfully outside of the European places, it could be a swift change in the summer to axe him and bring in Martinez, this time on a contract that works.

Missed Out -Roberto Martinez (Image from Action Images / Paul Currie)

Missed Out -Roberto Martinez
(Image from Action Images / Paul Currie)

But there is maybe another option in the form of Rodgers replacement at Swansea, Michael Laudrup. As his reputation grows in England as a coach, he too could become a potential candidate for the job. Leading an unfancied Swansea side to cup glory will not have gone unrecognised by the bigger clubs in the league, including Liverpool. Laudrup has the international pedigree as a player to attract the bigger names to Liverpool than Rodgers has been unable to convince to come. He is also likely to be handed a larger pot of money to play with than he has at Swansea so his eye for a bargain could provide Liverpool with a whole batch of new players for £30+ million, rather than the three that Rodgers managed to get in for the same amount. Laudrup would appease the fans as well who are starting to grow tired of Rodgers and his excuses. Rodgers has 11 games left to secure his job but he will be well aware that his old club Swansea and Laudrup are very much on their trail, gunning for Liverpool and the coach.

Make Or Break For Clubs During January Transfer Window.

Transfer Window now open (Image from DailyMail.co.uk)The fans love it. The media loves it even more. So why does the January transfer window scare so many clubs including its managers and chairman? Well quite simply, the next 32 days can make or break your season.  Less than 7 days into the window, the early signs are indicating that it will be a busy one, with several clubs already dipping into the market to strengthen their squads. History has taught us that the January transfer window, whilst generally not as busy as in the summer, can be more important to the success or failure of a club. In the summer, players have time to bed in to life in the Premiership and with their new team, managers can play around with formations and players. But come January, the gloves are off. There is no grace period, each signing needs to make an impact immediately or risk being labelled a poor capture. Managers are frantically watching at the over priced market, looking for ways to save their season. So what clubs need to act during this window and who should they chase?

Newcastle

With the Ba saga finally concluded, Newcastle can focus on getting back on track in the league. Moving Papa Cisse into main central striker role once again from his wide right position, should lead to more goals but its the lack of depth across the squad that has been Newcastle’s undoing this year so far. With the loss of key players like Cabaye, Ben Arfa and Steven Taylor, their replacements have been unconvincing, lacking both in the talent and experience needed to play competitive Premiership football. Alan Pardew appears to be still nursing the hangover from celebrating his new eight year contract that keeps him at the club until 2020, but now faces the real possibility of relegation as Newcastle slip further down the league. With only three clean sheets this campaign and having won 2 of their last 11 games in all competitions, strengthening across all areas is a necessity for survival. French right back Mathieu Debuchy has arrived to help the defence but another one or two are needed. West Ham’s James Tomkins and Southampton’s Luke Shaw could offer options at the back and fit with Pardew’s mandate of investing in young talented players. On a similar note, midfielders Ross Barkley from Everton and Southampton’s Adam Lallana or James Ward Prowse could bolster a weak midfield. Upfront, the Ameobi brothers provide cover but lack goals so Loic Remy of Marseille or Genk’s Jelle Vossen would make strong partners for Cisse.

Newcastle Target? James Ward Prowse (Image from Football365.com)

Newcastle Target? James Ward Prowse (Image from Football365.com)

QPR

Harry Redknapp has a job on his hands. His toughest challenge yet sees him inherit a good squad that lacks in confidence and results. He needs to hold on to Ryan Nelson, subject to a coaching offer by his former club, DC United or if he lets him go sign a replacement quickly like Michael Dawson from Spurs. But midfield is the area Harry needs to work on the most. QPR haven’t looked the same since Mark Hughes broke up the trio of Barton, Derry and Taarbat and results have gone against them ever since. Barton, now on loan with Marseille and partner Shaun Derry weren’t the silkest of players, but as two tough tackling, no-nonsense central midfielders, they broke up opposition teams attacks like a hot knife through butter. Without the duo, teams pass their way through the QPR team until they get to a weak back four and eventually punish the team. An enforcer like France’s Yann M’Vila would be an ideal fit if they can secure him, but a player of his calibre should be pulling on a shirt from one of England’s top four, not its relegation favourite. Harry also needs to find a player in the style of Scott Parker or  former Newcastle captian Rob Lee who can not only protect the back four but drive the ball up field and create openings. They are few and far between and come at a price so Harry may struggle to get a player of this nature. A loan deal for Yossi Benayoun may be ideal as QPR look for inspiration. Whilst not defensive, Yossi can create from very little and would add a new dimension to the team.

Good Signing: Yossi Benayoun (Image from Soccertransfers.net)

Good Signing: Yossi Benayoun
(Image from Soccertransfers.net)

Southampton

To be fair to Nigel Adkins, Southampton haven’t played that poorly this season but still find themselves in  a relegation dog fight. Sitting in 17th place, above Wigan on goal difference only, Adkins needs to strengthen to survive. Based on form and looking at attacking statistics, Southampton have played well and would be sitting comfortably in mid table but in reality, having drawn six games and lost ten (five of which were by only one goal), they find themselves in a mess. Adkins biggest problem is his defense and in particular his first choice goalkeeper. During the first half of the campaign, the Southampton boss used three different goalkeepers – Kelvin Davis, Artur Boruc and youngster Paulo Gazzaniga with little success. None of the three have stepped up to make the slot their own and all are  guilt of making mistakes. Granted Gazzaniga, at 21 years old is still learning so can not be too harshly criticized, but both Davis and Boruc a have had long careers so should  not be making the schoolboy type mistakes that they have been guilty of. It appears as though Adkins has no choice but to buy another safe pair of hands and stop the rot. Former England and Blackburn goalkeeper Paul Robinson would fit the bill, or Birmingham’s Jack Butland, who is attracting a lot of interest due to his recent form.. If money is tight, then a 6 month loan deal for QPR’s Rob Green or the free signing of Scotland stopper Crag Gordon may also be options available.

Opion: Paul Robinson (Image from EPLTALK.COM)

Opion: Paul Robinson (Image from EPLTALK.COM)

Liverpool

Liverpool need a striker and it’s not Daniel Sturridge. The recently £12 million acquisition from Chelsea is not the answer to Brendan Rodgers problems, even if the Northern Irishman thinks he is. Despite scoring on his debut in the cup against Mansfield, the England striker has never been an out-and-out goalscorer. With 40 career goals from 140 appearances, the pacey forward has never really demonstrated his ability to be a 15-20 goals a season striker. His best ever tally was 12 goals in all competitions for Chelsea last season but that was from 44 appearances so 1 in 4 on average. With 17 games left in the domestic season, and based on the same goal scoring ratio that would mean Strurridge would chip in an extra 4 goals between now and the end of the season. That’s £3 million a goal, which to Liverpool fans may be a difficult pill to swallow. Strurridge is a useful player, a squad player, but he is not the next Fernando Torres. For that Liverpool will need to look elsewhere. The likes of Charlie Austen of Burnley, Nicolas Helenius of AaB and Loic Remy of Marseille may be a better option for Rodgers to look at. With Liverpool almost coming out publicly and admitting they got the last transfer window wrong and were left short of numbers up front, Rodgers won’t make that mistake again. Well hopefully not for his sake.

Not the answer: Daniel Sturridge (Image from Dailymail.co.uk)

Not the answer: Daniel Sturridge
(Image from Dailymail.co.uk)

Swansea

The Welsh side have yet again performed above expectations but not unexpectedly. The foundations laid down by Roberto Martinez, followed by Rodgers and current boss Michael Laudrup have led to stable base to build upon and success on the pitch. Laurdrup, who faced criticism when he took over the post in the summer, has won over the players and the fans with his strong work ethics and approachable manner. Added into this, his ability to locate and purchase a bargain such as Michu has helped to bolster the teams chances of survival. Sitting 9th in the league with 29 points to their name so far, it would appear as though Swansea are safe. But as history shows, the magic mark for survival in the Premiership is around 42 points which leaves them needing 13 points from their last 17 games. To give them a chance of getting the points needed, they need to retain the services of their influential spanish midfielder, Michu. A sensation since arriving in the summer, he has helped lift Swansea to the position they are in with some incredible performances and 13 goals along the way. His form has started to attract interest both domestically and back home in Spain, with several clubs rumoured to be willing to pay over the odds to sign him during this window. Laudrup could cash in on his £2 million signing and likely make considerably more. But he also knows that it could cost his team dearly as they push to secure Premiership football for yet another year.

Swansea must hold onto Michu (Image from The Sun.co.uk)

Swansea must hold onto Michu
(Image from The Sun.co.uk)

Manchester City

The defending champions find themselves trailing in the race for the title, some 7 points behind local rivals, United. It’s not been a smooth first half to the campaign with Mancini’s men being knocked out of Europe at the Champions League group stages by three teams they should have been winning if not competing against. Added into this, the constant drama surrounding Mario Balotelli has led to more than one sleepless night for Mancini. The latest event, a training group bust up with the manager himself, will surely signal the end for the talented yet troublesome Italian striker. Mancini has tried to father him over the past few years but has not managed to curb Balotelli’s enthusiasm for destructiveness. With suitors watching with interest, Mancini must sell him now to give his team the relief it needs for a final push towards retaining the title. With the money he gets from selling Balotelli, Mancini can pursue another striker who will add goals rather than headaches to the mix. Falcao is on every clubs radar so may be too difficult to secure in this window without a fight so it may be worth Mancini switching his attention to Russia and the problems that Hulk is having in settling there. A powerful striker, with goals galore across his career, he may give City the edge against United in the race for the trophy.

City Option? Hulk (Image from Wikipedia.org)

City Option? Hulk (Image from Wikipedia.org)

With 24 days left in the transfer window, there is still plenty of time for clubs to make the necessary changes to their squads before attacking the second half of the campaign. At the end of the season, we will be able to look back and see who has bought wisely, who made rash purchases and who failed to make the grade which ultimately lead to their club being relegated. Come May three teams will face this fate, but for the managers involved in that struggle at the moment, and the ones balanced just above them, now is the time to act to save your clubs season.