An Apology to David Moyes

We all owe David Moyes an apology. And by we, I mean anyone who ever doubted his abilities as a manager or took pleasure by scoffing at his failures. I put myself in that category, not necessarily to the same degree as some others but I did publicly question whether he “found his level” at Everton after failing at United. For that I apologize and so should everyone else. Under Moyes, West Ham are revitalized, performing well and sitting comfortably in the top half of the Premier League. The project is far from completion, there is a lot of work still to be done but it’s on the right path. And Moyes should be credited for that change.

Moyes never doubted his abilities nor his “level”. He knew deep down that he was a good manager, but he fell foul to something that brings down a lot of managers – circumstance. In the eight years since leaving Everton, Moyes has been a victim of circumstance on more than a few occasions which has rapidly tarnished the reputation he built for himself first at Deepdale (Preston NE) then at Goodison Park.

Everton manager David Moyes celebrates on the touchline after Leon Osman (not pictured) scores his side’s second goal of the game

It started with a dream move to Manchester United as the chosen successor to Sir Alex Ferguson. On the surface, the move made a lot of sense. Moyes had consistently overperformed with the financially strapped Everton, relying heavily on his coaching and man management skills to get the best out of his sub-par squads as opposed to buying success through the transfer market. Moving to the more affluent Manchester United; a club that can attract the best talents in the game, should have given him the opportunity to build something special but circumstances beyond his control would prevent him from ultimately being successful.

In truth, Moyes inherited a mess from Sir Alex. It’s unlikely that the latter did that deliberately, but he certainly knew that he wasn’t handing over the club set for success. Indeed, Sir Alex had meant to retire two years previously according to several reports but was persuaded to stay on. In those two years the squad hadn’t improve significantly with only Ashley Young, Robin Van Persie and a very inexperienced David De Gea arriving but it did age badly. By the time Moyes stepped into Old Trafford, most of the key members of the first team were on the wrong side of 30. Ferdinand, Vidic, Giggs, Evra were all coming towards the end of their careers whilst Berbatov had moved on and the influential duo of Van Der Sar and Scholes retired. The squad Moyes inherited was unbalanced, over paid and tired. Efforts were made to correct this but the inefficiencies of Edward Woodward in the transfer market were plain to see as United missed out on target after target. Only Mauroune Fellaini would arrive that summer; hardly a transformational player even at his best.

Fellaini’s arrival did little to help Moyes chances of success at Old Trafford

Granted the expectation place on Moyes to live up to Ferguson played a significant role in his downfall but in truth it only added to the problems he inherited when he started. Moyes was always seen as Ferguson’s choice, not the fans first choice nor even the clubs who would have preferred a more blockbuster name. In the end, the mountain proved too steep for Moyes to conquer and he fell hard less than 10 months into his six-year deal. It’s only now with hindsight that we can look back and understand that his failure was not necessarily of his own doing. Bigger name managers like Van Gaal and Mourinho have come and gone at Old Trafford without failing to conquer the same mountain.

Burned badly by the United experience, Moyes moved to Spain to join Real Sociedad having been sold the vision of the club by president Jokin Aperribay only to find that what he was buying into was not what was expected. Circumstances and expectations of what Moyes could deliver changed rapidly during his first six months in charge. Gone was the understanding by the Scot that he would be afforded time to remould and reprogram the squad in his vision and in its place was unrealistic ambitions including challenging for honours right away. Even if Moyes was afforded more time to craft something from nothing, Aperribay’s delusions of grandeur would have crippled his chances before long. The axe fell almost a year to the day of his arrival.

Moyes revealed as the new Real Sociedad manager alongside club President Jokin Aperribay (centre)

Returning to the UK was never going to be easy especially with his spell at United still fresh in the mind and now a secondary “failure” in Spain with Sociedad. Moyes looked for a redemption project, somewhere without high expectations or a generous war chest to bankroll massive change. He needed a club that needed him and his ability to get the best out of its existing players. Sunderland appeared to be that challenge having spent the better part of the previous five seasons fighting tooth and nail to save themselves from Premier League relegation. Moyes presumably expected to have to put out a few fires at Sunderland but I don’t think he expected to walk into the entire house engulfed in flames. Anyone who watched a single episode of Netflix’s ” Sunderland Til i Die” documentary will know exactly what i mean. Two points from the first ten games told the story of a squad bereaved of confidence, lacking quality and full of overpaid disengaged footballers. With little money to overhaul the squad, Moyes struggled to turn things around and paid the price with a costly relegation, his first in management. Questions were asked over who he did bring in – namely the £20m spent on Papy Djilobodji and Didier Ndong who failed to add anything significantly to the troubled squad but it mattered little in the grander scheme of things.

Licking his wounds, Moyes moved to West Ham to help steer them away from relegation but that was not good enough for the Chuckle Brothers (David Gold and David Sullivan) who had their eyes on a more marquee manager in Manuel Pellegrini. Moyes watched in disgust as the owners ran out the clock on his 6-month deal in favour of the Chilean. It took them 19 months to realize the error of their ways and reappoint Moyes after Pellegrini burned through a small fortune only to deliver zero progress. Tails between their legs, Moyes was given an 18 month contract this time and more importantly control to put things right at the London Stadium.

West Ham are transformed under Moyes this season, currently sitting in 6th place

This season, West Ham have been transformed under Moyes propelling them into 6th place in the table (at the time of writing). The changes he has implemented are apparent. Defensively West Ham under Moyes are more compact and disciplined than before with the towering Angelo Ogbonna marshalling the backline. Clever acquisitions in the midfield, namely Sourek and Bowen offer more attacking threat at pace allowing for a better turnover of the ball whilst the more defensively minded Declan Rice prowls in front of the back four. Set pieces have been worked on extensively on the training field both defensively and offensively leading to less goals conceded and more scored at the other end. All in all West Ham are a difficult side to face which has translated into their current league position.

Moyes may have finally found his club and now has a chance to rebuild that somewhat damaged reputation. It’s been a long and treacherous road for the Scot who remained confident, at least externally, about where he belonged and what he brought to the table. The moral lesson for us all should be to not jump to quick conclusions and instead look at the bigger picture. Perhaps if we had all done that back in 2017, Moyes wouldn’t have been put through the ringer as much as he was following his United exit. Maybe indeed he would have bounced back quicker if we had supported him rather than tearing him down. That’s our mistake, our misgivings, our moment of shame. For that alone, we should collectively say “Sorry David”.

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One On One with: Simon Grayson

There are few managers in the modern who can show a resume as stellar as Simon Grayson. In the 15 years since retiring as a player, Grayson has managed seven clubs and gained promotion four times. He is a turn around specialist in that he is able to go into a club in trouble, grab it by the scruff of its neck and drag it towards promotion within a season or two. It’s remarkable to think that he has managed all this at only 50 which in management is still relatively young. As an accomplished defender who plied his trade at Blackpool, Blackburn, Aston Villa and his beloved Leeds United, it’s not hard to see where he gets his self drive and determination from.

Grayson may be humble about what he has achieved but is hopeful of one day getting a shot at managing in the Premier League, likely through gaining promotion from the Championship but something he certainly deserves. We caught up with him recently in what was a fascinating interview about his playing career, his move into management and of course what it felt like walking out that tunnel as Leeds manager. Enjoy!

Backofthenet: You came through the ranks at a Leeds United side that included the likes of Eric Cantona, Gary Speed, Gordon Strachan, David Batty and Gary McAllister. As a young player, what was the biggest thing you learned from those players that helped you as a player?

Simon Grayson: Gordon Strachan had a massive effect on me as a young pro at Leeds. His attitude to training, preparation for games and his desire to win were things I took with me into my own career. He would watch our reserve games and after he would give me praise but also some constructive criticism. His biggest advice was always to try your best, work hard every day and enjoy Football even through tough times as it’s a job so many people would love to swap places with you.

BOTN: You moved to Leicester in March 1992 and established yourself at Filbert Street winning the League Cup and player of the season in 1997. That team was managed by the legendary Martin O’Neill. What did you learn from O’Neill during your time working with him that you have now taken into your own managerial career?

SG: One of Martins’ biggest strengths was his man management skills. Yes, he understood the game tactically, but he knew how to get the best out of each individual and then put this into the team environment. Certain players would need a rollicking and others an arm round them. He created a spirit in the dressing room that we would look after each other on the pitch, work for each other and run through a brick wall for him as he had our backs as well. This is something that I definitely took into my managing career.

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Grayson at Leicester and the League Cup in 1997 (Image from Tumblr)

BOTN: Successful spells at Aston Villa and Blackburn followed before you spent nearly two seasons out on loan at Sheffield Wednesday, Stockport County, Notts County and Bradford City before finally securing a permanent move to Blackpool where you finished your playing days. That must have been a disappointing spell in your career. What positives did you draw from those loan moves? Did you consider calling it a day as you moved from club to club?

SG: At Blackburn, Graeme Souness was the manager and had his own view on players which I understood but I didn’t agree with how he treated certain players who he didn’t pick. A number of us were forced to train away from the first team. For two years I went out on loan just to play games as I didn’t want to just pick my money up for doing nothing. It was a tough time, but I never thought about packing football in as I loved football and felt I had plenty to give to someone. It certainly made me stronger as a person and made me want to enjoy my last few years as a player. After my contract expired, I went to Blackpool and played over 100 games winning the Football League Trophy with them (in 2003-20004).

BOTN: Your first managerial role was at Blackpool which came about in a fairly unusual way. You were working as the reserve boss and had an offer to move to another club as assistant manager. But when you told Blackpool owner Karl Oyster of your desire to leave, he refused as he was planning on sacking then manager Colin Hendry and appoint you instead. Did that cause any issues with Colin who up until that point had been your manager?  

SG: I don’t think Colin had any problems with me as I’d spoke to him about leaving and I certainly wasn’t doing anything without him knowing. I really didn’t have any real desire to be a manager at that point. When I was given the caretaker role, I was still unsure whether I would be comfortable doing it or be any good at it.

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From Player to Manager – Grayson began at Blackpool (Image from Tumblr)

BOTN: How challenging was it to transition from being a player to becoming the boss at the same club?

SG: The advantage of the transition I had from player to caretaker was that I had been doing the reserves and still playing so the players were comfortable with it and used to it. The hardest part was dropping close mates and releasing players in the summer. But I knew I had to be ruthless and make unpopular decisions if I was going to make it as a manager.

BOTN: You led Blackpool to the playoffs and promotion in your first full season as a manager. How did you go about taking a relegation-threatened side and turning them into promotion candidates? How influential was the decision to bring in Tony Parkes from Blackburn as your assistant in that turn around?

SG: Tony was very influential for me and probably the best decision I made. Even though I’d played a lot of games, I felt I needed someone who had some great experience as a coach/manager alongside me to guide and advise me. Together with Steve Thompson, we recruited some good players and we created a good team spirit; something I had learnt from Martin O’Neil. We worked hard in training and had a strong desire to win matches. If as a manager you can get all these things right then you have a good chance of being successful.

BOTN: You left Blackpool to become Leeds United manager in December 2008. As a fan of the club, going back to manage Leeds must have been a surreal moment for you. How did it feel leading the team out in front of those fans for the first time?

SG: Getting the opportunity to manage Leeds United was an unbelievable feeling. Even though they were in League One and Blackpool were in the Championship, I had no hesitation in going. To walk down the tunnel for my first game on Boxing Day vs. Leicester and follow in the footsteps of some of the greats of Leeds like Don Revie and Howard Wilkinson was a moment I will never forget.

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Fulfilling a dream – Grayson as Leeds United manager (Image from Tumblr)

BOTN: You must be happy to see Leeds promoted this season to the Premier League after a long absence?

SG: Yes, to see Leeds promoted this season is fantastic and along time in coming. The Club, City and supporters have been through a lot of dark times over the last 20 years but they are now back in the Premier League and hopefully they stay there for a long time.

BOTN: Leeds were promoted to the Championship in 2010 under your leadership and still have the club’s third-best points-per-match record of all-time, only behind Marcelo Bielsa and David O’Leary. What are your best memories of managing the club?

SG: I loved my time at Leeds even when things weren’t going too well. To support, play and manage the club is something I’m so proud of. Getting promoted on the last day of the season in front of 38,000 was the ultimate highlight. Seeing what it meant to the supporters when we were celebrating on the pitch after the final whistle and the manor how we won (going down to 10 men and 1 nil down to then win 2-1) was certainly a rollercoaster ride for everyone and one of relief as well. Winning at Old Trafford as a League One team in the FA Cup is certainly up there with the best moments as well.

BOTN: What about the Leeds fans?

The connection I had with the supporters is another great memory. They enjoyed how we played, the spirit we had and ultimately the pride that we showed playing for them and the club. To get so close to the play offs in our first season in the Championship was a feeling of disappointment really given we really thought we had enough quality in the squad to get the team close to going back to the Premier League

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Leeds fans celebrate being promoted to the Premier League this season (Image from LUFC)

BOTN: A month after leaving Leeds, you joined fellow Yorkshire club Huddersfield Town, and again got them promoted to the Championship. But as a manager, how much of an effect does joining a rival have on your decision over whether to take a job? 

SG: Honestly, I didn’t worry about it. I knew some people might have a problem with it but if you win matches and ultimately get the team promoted then no one should have any complaints about it.

BOTN: You took over at Preston in February 2013 with the club in real danger of being relegated from League One. But in less than three years you had transformed the club and managed to get them promoted to the Championship. Joe Garner played a key role in those squads scoring over 20 goals a season in both the 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 campaigns. How important as a manager is it to find a striker who you can rely on to get 20+ goals per season and what did you do personally with Joe to turn around his time at Preston and make him into a prolific scorer?

SG: Strikers at any level of football are so important as they win matches for you. To have someone you and his teammates can rely on to put away the chances can be the difference between being an average team and a successful one. Joe had been at a few big clubs without making it really work but he was someone who I knew would work hard for the team but also put his head and body in where it hurts to score a goal. Joe had some good teammates who could create the chances for him as well, people like (Paul) Gallagher, (Daniel) Johnson, (Callum) Robinson and others knew what kind of service Joe liked and they had the quality to do this.

Joe Garner was in lethal form for Preston NE under Grayson (Image from Tumblr)

BOTN: Given your history of turning clubs around and gaining promotion, the challenge of doing the same at Sunderland must have been appealing. But you joined at a very weird time at the club, which was all captured in the recent Netflix documentary called ‘Sunderland Till I Die’. Clearly things weren’t / aren’t right at Sunderland, but just how difficult was it to manage in those circumstances with every move you made captured on film?

SG: The documentary was already in place when I moved to Sunderland. I gave them certain rules where and when they could film but as a documentary they were always wanting more and did not want to miss out on things. I’m sure the players didn’t like the cameras there as I didn’t. I knew going to Sunderland wasn’t going to be an easy job, but I certainly backed myself to do well. It probably wasn’t until I was there a week or so that I realize how much negativity and unrest there was at the club.

BOTN: There is a lot of talk that Sunderland is a club with deep rooted problems with professionalism, and an ingrained drinking culture that a succession of managers have been unable to break. Would you agree with that assertion, and if so, given time and patience how would you go about transforming the club?

SG: As a manager you go to a club with your own ideas and beliefs which you hope you can get the players to buy into but Sunderland seemed to have problems with a group of players who didn’t want to be there or some had lost the drive and desire to turn it around. With Chris Coleman following me and not able to change the attitude and culture around proved that it wasn’t the managers fault but deeper lying problems. The only way of fixing this would be to give the manager time to change it around rather than keep blaming the manager and changing manager every time a result doesn’t go the way the fans wanted it to go. I genuinely believe I would have been successful there if I was given more time but as we know in this day and age time isn’t always something you get now.

Grayson on season 2 of “Sunderland Til I Die”.

BOTN: Moving on, there is a school of thought that says the game is “better” today thanks to advances in sports science, nutrition etc. as well as better quality pitches.  Do you agree with that assertion?

SG: I think that today’s players have the best opportunities to be a success due to the things you have mentioned but I also believe that the modern day footballer also has everything done for them and therefore sometimes doesn’t take responsibility for things like players did in the past. They wait for problems to be solved by the manager rather than trying to solve them themselves. They don’t like criticism as much as past players did and anytime there is a problem, an agent seems to have to get involved.

BOTN: How do you feel you would have fared as a player today?

SG:  I think I would have been fine as I would have taken my time playing in the 90s into the modern way of preparing for games and playing.

BOTN: Over the past few years, we have seen a growing trend towards talented younger players leaving the English game such as Jadon Sancho and more recently Jude Bellingham, in favour of a move to Germany. Why do you think this is so appealing for these youngsters? Is the belief that they are leaving due to lack of playing time correct or is it more to do with the coaching they can get abroad?

SG: I think it may be a bit of both but also when one player goes and is successful then others then think more positively about going and venturing abroad. In the past, only a handful of players left to go abroad with only a few successful which in turn made others think less so of moving but now that has changed, and more may do it in the future.

Jude Bellingham has moved to Germany and Borussia Dortmund (Image from Tumblr)

BOTN: Before we turn to our fan questions, it’s fair to say that you’ve had a very successful career as a manager with several promotions with different clubs under your belt. That said you are often overlooked for the vacant jobs in the Premier League. Do you think that there is a bias towards appointing foreign coaches in that division? And Is the pathway to becoming a Premier League manager for English coaches therefore restricted to gaining promotion with a club from the Championship?

SG: There are many coaches including myself that believe a lot of English/British coaches are overlooked for jobs in the Premier League and that the only way you get to manage there is by taking teams up. You only have to look at people like Sean Dyche, Eddie Howe and Chris Wilder who have managed in the Premier League by getting their clubs promoted as opposed to getting approached for jobs while they were managing in the Championship or League One.

BOTN: Finally let’s move on to some fan questions. Of the players you played with or against, who do you think would be most likely to thrive today? 

SG: Most of the players I played with and against while I was at Leicester and Aston Villa in the Premier League would have all thrived today as they all had the basic ingredients the top players have now i.e. hard work , desire, resilience and ultimately quality with and without the ball.

Lennon and Grayson

Grayson with former Leicester teammate and now Celtic boss, Neil Lennon (Image from Tumblr)

BOTN: Having managed clubs in the ascendancy, gaining promotion with Leeds and Huddersfield, as well as at the other end of the table, fighting in and around the foot of the table with Preston and Sunderland, do you change your approach depending on the circumstances?  And if so, what are the differences between coaching a good team to success, vs. drilling a struggling team?

SG: As a coach you have to be able to be adaptable to where a club is at when you take over or slightly change things when you move up a Division through promotion to deal with playing against bigger clubs and better players. You may also change your philosophies depending on the players you have available to you. For example, at Leeds we had a really attacking team with players like (Jermaine) Beckford, (Robert) Snodgrass, (Max) Gradel, (Luciano) Bechio and (Jonathan) Howson so our intent was to score more goals than the opposition. Where at Preston, when we got promoted to the Championship, we had to be hard to beat and play more on the counterattack.

BOTN: I read that you were in the running to be boss at Bolton. Is there any truth you were interested in that role? And if you are looking to get back into management, what kind of role would most appeal to you?

SG: I’m definitely looking to get back into managing again when the opportunity comes along whether here or abroad. At 50, with nearly 700 games and 4 promotions on my CV, I still feel I have a lot to give and I certainly have the desire to add to the games and promotions. When the day comes that I can no longer get a managers’ job then I would like to stay in the game in some capacity whether as an assistant to a younger manager/coach, or in recruitment /scouting.

BOTN: Thank you Simon and all the best for the future!

You can follow Simon on Instagram.

Interview by Rob Latham, UK correspondent for Back Of The Net. Follow him on Twitter.

Interview Contributions by Gordon Skinner.

 

 

 

One On One with: Kenwyne Jones

Once compared by his manager as ‘another Didier Drogba in the making’ and by former Chelsea captain John Terry as “one of the best players in the air in the Premier League”, it would be understandable if it had all gone to Kenwyne Jones’ head. But for the 6th most capped Trinidadian of all time, the compliments were just another part of the game and reassurance that he was doing his best to take his family name to greater heights. I caught up with the former Soca Warriors striker recently to find out what it was really like to play for Roy Keane, what drove him to leave Stoke, and why he holds a special place in his heart for Sheffield Wednesday.

Back Of The Net: Firstly Kenwyne, thank you for speaking with us. Not many people will have a good understanding of what growing up in Trinidad & Tobago is like and what role sport plays there. How would you describe your childhood, and what did football mean to you as a boy growing up there?

Kenwyne Jones: Growing up in Trinidad and Tobago is like any other Caribbean Island really – warm weather, beaches, sea and sand, but it is also industrious as well. As a young boy growing up, I played every sport and was quite good at all of them. When the school vacation came along, all my friends would come out to play and over the coming days and weeks we would run various competitions for bragging rights amongst our peers. Football is a sport that was a part of my family and it came naturally to me but my first love was athletics. I had a sporting family name to live up to and it was a seamless transition into professional sporting life.

BOTN: In terms of influences in your life, you have spoken in the past about your father, Pamphile, and uncle Philbert who inspired you to play football. But what influence did the likes of Dwight Yorke and Russell Latapy have on you as fellow Trinidadian’s playing in Europe? Were they a key driver behind your decision to go to Europe to find a club?

KJ: Dwight And Russell were magnificent players and did tremendously well to have the careers that they did but I wasn’t looking at them as my driving force to get into a European club. Coming up through the ranks at various youth national teams, I just wanted to push as far as I could reach, mainly to fulfil a desire I had to take my family’s name to the greatest heights I could attain.

Trinidad's 1989 winning team including Kenwyne's uncle (Image from Kenwyne's Instagram)

Trinidad’s 1989 winning Caribbean Cup team including Kenwyne’s uncle Philbert (Image from Kenwyne’s Instagram)

BOTN: After playing back home with Joe Public and W Connection, you got a move to Southampton. It was here that you were finally converted into a striker having been tested at various other positions including at wing back, as a holding midfielder, and on the wing. How pleasing was it that you finally got your chance in a central position upfront?

KJ: Well firstly I never played a game for Joe Public and spent only one season at W Connection where I played the positions mentioned but at school where our league was pretty big on the island, I played upfront and was quite successful. The other positions I played because coaches thought that I adapted well and read the game brilliantly. So the first opportunity I got at Southampton to do so, I grabbed it with both hands.

BOTN: During a loan spell at Sheffield Wednesday early on in your Southampton career you appeared to find your footing and scored seven goals in seven appearances over the course of a month. How important were those early loan spells (at Sheffield Wednesday and Stoke) in your career in terms of helping you adapt to English football?

KJ: I’m grateful for that opportunity to play for Sheffield Wednesday that early on in my career and they will always have a place in my heart, but I didn’t know that the loan period would’ve gone so well. I met a great team and a fantastic fan base that helped me to do as well as I did, and I’ll forever be grateful for that.

A young Kenwyne showcased his eye for goal early on during a loan spell at Sheffield Wednesday (Image from Kenwyne Jones media)

A young Kenwyne showcased his eye for goal early on during a loan spell at Sheffield Wednesday (Image from Kenwyne Jones media)

BOTN: The following season, you hit 16 goals and were compared by your manager George Burley as another Didier Drogba, making comparisons to your physical attributes, strength and power. When a manager comes out with a statement like that, does it give you encouragement or does it heap pressure on you to live up to that comparison?

KJ: The next season I had a lot of confidence so I always wanted to do better each time. I didn’t pay any attention to the comparison to Didier because I know that I never wanted to be him. He is a fantastic player but I always learned to never be like another man, only be myself, so whilst it can be complimentary to most, I just tried to forge my own pathway.

BOTN: Your form earned you a move to Sunderland with fellow Trinidad & Tobago striker Stern John moving the other way. Moving to your first Premier League at only 23 years old for £6 million must have been a daunting prospect. How difficult was it to settle in at the club and how did you feel working for Roy Keane?

KJ: The following season was another step in my career, I wasn’t concerned with the fee as I had no control over that. Going into the Premier league was a dream come true and I was happy to work with Roy Keane. I think we had a great working relationship and he taught me quite a few things and I’m also grateful to him for that.

Jones played under Roy Keane at Sunderland (Image from Tumblr)

Jones played under Roy Keane at Sunderland (Image from Tumblr)

BOTN: Over the next three years, you established yourself as a firm favourite at Sunderland but were constantly linked with bigger moves to the likes of Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham. How did you cope with that speculation? And what made you eventually decide to leave Sunderland for Stoke?

KJ: The speculation was good for me, it was a measuring stick of my progress. Moving to Stoke wasn’t my choice, I was pushed there by Steve Bruce (who took over from Keane at Sunderland), he pushed a lot of players out the door and I guess I wasn’t one of his players. In my last season at Sunderland I was going through a rough time at home and I wasn’t hitting magical heights but Liverpool wanted me, everything was good to go, I was settled in my mind I was going to Liverpool. Steve and I had a few words, then he shipped me to Stoke, I guess he didn’t want me to go on to do better.

BOTN: It’s probably fair to say that your time at Stoke was a mixed bag. Things started well there but a series of personal problems off the field, the arrival of Peter Crouch in the summer of 2011, and further transfer rumours made your latter years more difficult. How would you categorize your time at Stoke and was Pulis’ direct style of football problematic for you?

KJ: To be truthful I was having a good time at Stoke the first season, then my agent being greedy brought Peter to Stoke without telling me first and then I just got sidelined for a new player. It was frustrating with the manager as the team in that season was separated; a team for the league and a team for Europe. Then at the end a pretty bad incident happened without cause, my locker was broken into and a pig’s head was placed in my locker. I reacted and got fined for it, while the perpetrators got away freely. No one at the club cared how I felt, no one bothered to find out. It was all brushed aside and I was made to look like a crazy person when at no time in my career I’ve ever fallen out with a teammate at any club, but I guess that’s how it is when you’re not from that country.

Kenwyne celebrates a goal with his trademark celebration (Image from Kenwyne Jones Instagram)

Kenwyne celebrates a goal with his trademark backflip celebration (Image from Kenwyne Jones Instagram)

BOTN: That was a really unfortunate situation and no player should have to go through that. I’m sorry that it happened to you.
As a 6ft+ striker, there must be a lot of coaches who believe that the best way to play with you in the side is to go direct and long. But given your work rate and ability on the ball, playing the ball into your feet with a view to you turning to goal seems like a stronger approach. Do you agree?

KJ: I think that they saw an ability I had and decided to use it to their advantage, but I think it’s what people remember most: the ‘air balls’ – it was a storyline , so they stuck to their ways the best they knew how and didn’t change.

BOTN: Moves to Cardiff, Bournemouth and Al Jazira followed before you ended up in the MLS with Atlanta. At the time, you said that you thought you could play for another three to four years but ended up retiring a year and a half later. What brought about that decision, and now looking back was the switch to Atlanta the wrong move?

KJ: Well before I ended up at Cardiff, I was set to go to Everton and the hierarchy at Stoke didn’t want that to happen, so along with agents the plan was hatched and I ended up at Cardiff. At that point I wanted to leave Stoke after the previous situation. I felt that I was not comfortable in my work environment and that it wouldn’t be safe for anybody. I felt at that point that I had to watch over my shoulder so that I wouldn’t be a prop in another “bad joke” so I went to Cardiff and had a fantastic 2 1/2 years.

I made a decision to try something new as I was in England for 12 1/2 years at that point and I need to be in a different situation, so I went to UAE for 6 months, then onward to Atlanta. I loved the moved to Atlanta and was happy, but unfortunately, I got an injury during the season that if I need to continue to play professionally after the first year it was impossible, as I would’ve never passed a medical, so I made a decision to retire.

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Jones moved to Atlanta with hopes of prolonging his career until injury got in the way (Image from Kenwyne Jones Instagram)

BOTN: Following in your uncle’s footsteps by representing your country it must have been one of the proudest moments of your life. How did it feel when you found out that you were going to make your full national debut against Finland in 2003? Do you remember much about that game?

KJ: I didn’t know much about it really. I returned from a trial with Glasgow Rangers and came back to a situation where the senior team was on strike due to money issues and was given the opportunity to play as we were about to play Finland, so I grabbed it with both hands. I knew my family would’ve been proud at that time.

BOTN: You played at the 2001 under 17’s World Cup in Trinidad, at the 2006 World Cup in Germany and captained your country on several occasions. What is your most memorable game/moment for Trinidad & Tobago?

KJ: My most memorable moment would always be representing my family and my country at that World Cup, being able to fulfil a dream of so many, being able to go down in my country’s history and world history.

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Kenwyne played for the Soca Warriors on 91 occasions including some as captain (Image from Kenwyne Jones Instagram)

BOTN: Finally, some quick hits. Your acrobatic goal celebration was a replica of your uncle’s. It’s spectacular to watch but did it ever not come off, leaving you flat out on the grass?

KJ: I’ve never failed at my celebration and will never.

BOTN: What would you say is your best ever goal scored for club or country?

KJ: The best goal I’ve scored for a club would be my FA cup semi-final goal at Wembley (Stoke vs Bolton, 2011)

BOTN: Who is the most under rated player you played with?

KJ: The most underrated player I played with is Djamel Belmadi at Southampton.

BOTN: What does the future look like for you now that you have retired?  A move into coaching perhaps?

KJ: Now I’m enjoying retirement, but I’ll slowly move into coaching and punditry.

BOTN: Thank you Kenwyne and good luck for the future!

You can follow Kenwyne on Instagram and Twitter

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Jack Rodwell, The Forgotten Man

In the summer of 2012, a wry smile crept over the boyish face of Jack Rodwell. Having burst onto the scene some four years previously, the now 22-year-old was finally starting to see the fruits of his labour. Signing on the dotted line, Rodwell completed his move from boyhood club Everton to the now über wealthy Manchester City who were actively in the market snapping up the best talent England had to offer. And Rodwell was certainly one of those. Now a full international having made his England berth some ten months previous, Rodwell was widely considered one to watch; built-in the same kind of mould as Steven Gerrard with the passing range that Frank Lampard would be proud of. Even Roy Hodgson who had been appointed as the Three Lions manager a few months earlier from Rodwell signing for City was giddy with the potential that the player had. Everything it seemed was set for Rodwell to succeed both at club and international level.

Jack Rodwell made his England debut in November 2011 against Spain (Image from Tumblr)

Jack Rodwell made his England debut in November 2011 against Spain (Image from Tumblr)

Except he didn’t. His move to City fizzled rather than sparked his England prospects. A lack of playing time hindering any chances of selection, much to the frustration of Hodgson. To be fair to City, it was hard to squeeze Rodwell onto the pitch that already contained David Silva, Yaya Toure, Gareth Barry and Nigel De Jong. In the limited time Rodwell did see on the pitch he failed to impress amongst the collection of superstars. Reoccurring injuries, in particular to his hamstring led to City becoming frustrated with their prize acquisition and eventually deciding to cut their losses sanctioning the sale of Rodwell to Sunderland after only two seasons. The move to Sunderland was viewed as many as the sensible one – Rodwell would be able to play more and in doing so gain the strength needed to stop his recurring hamstring injury from returning. Back playing regularly, Rodwell could regain his England place and hopefully one day reach his childhood goal of playing at a World Cup.

Rodwell's career has been ravaged by injuries (Image from Tumblr)

Rodwell’s career has been ravaged by injuries (Image from Tumblr)

Except he hasn’t. For one reason or another, Rodwell’s career has flatlined. His demise is hard to understand partly because it appears to be self-inflicted. Things did start well at Sunderland with Rodwell playing a majority of games in his first few seasons but again injuries meant that he spent large chunks on the treatment table instead of the pitch. Over the first three seasons (120 weeks) at the Stadium of Light, Rodwell spent a quarter of them (30 weeks) out injured mostly with hamstring or ankle issues. It proved to be a troublesome time for the player as it was for the club who in fairness have been battling against relative chaos for the better half of a decade since Martin Ellis’ arrival and were finally relegated from the Premier League at the end of the 2016-2017 season.

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Rodwell has spent a large chunk of time on the treatment table (Image from Tumblr)

As the club dropped into the Championship, there were expectations that their higher paid players would take a pay cut but also their more senior players would stand up and be accounted for as the club looked to rebuild and bounce back up. Again when it came to Rodwell, neither happened. Rodwell’s money spinning contract remained in tact whilst the player himself completely checked out, refusing to play for the club. Efforts were made to sell him or even loan him out but none proved successful. Eventually Sunderland offered to terminate Rodwell’s contract in January but again the player refused in a move which baffled then club. He has been vocal in saying he doesn’t care about money and just wants to play except Sunderland and its fans have seen very little evidence to support this.

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Where has the passion gone? (image from Tumblr)

Instead he appears happy to sit on the bench or on the sidelines whilst his Sunderland contract ticks slowly down to its finish. Even his former boss Chris Coleman stated that he wasn’t quite sure where Rodwell was towards the end of his reign. In a way the whole situation is a shame. An inform Rodwell is a force to reckon with; skillful with both feet, an excellent engine that gets him up and down the pitch like a cheetah on steroids and a strong passing range that makes him the natural fit for a majority of teams. But many have now forgotten that as the seasons tick on. Rodwell has been replaced in their minds from being “the next big thing” to another failure story of English football. The longer he stays in the football wilderness and refuses to resolve his Sunderland situation, the harder it will be for him to make a comeback.

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During his younger years at Everton (Image from Tumblr)

So what is next for the 27-year-old? That is the great unknown. It’s clear that Rodwell isn’t in the right mind space at this time, either frustrated with what has happened to his career to date or with his time at Sunderland or simply with football itself. But his reluctance to resolve things opens up more questions about his appetite for the game and is ultimately marking him out as a bad apple to potential future suitors. It could be that he is willing to sit tight knowing that his wages are safe under his airtight contract up until 2019. They may take a hit following Sunderland’s relegation to League One; dropping from £70k to a measly £40k including loyalty bonuses but still for someone who has played a grand total of 159 minutes last season, it’s still not bad. Or perhaps he can be persuaded to come back into the fold and fight for the cause by new Sunderland boss Jack Ross. Rodwell still has time to revive his career one way or another but needs to make a decision on his future either way. Stick or twist, Rodwell needs to get back in the game or eventually he will be known mainly as footballs forgotten man.

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One on One with: Boudewijn Zenden

There are very few players that have graced the game who were as universally loved by the clubs they played for and also by the clubs they faced. Boudewijn Zenden is one such player. The former international winger’s career took him from his native Holland to Spain, England & France. At each club he played for he became a fan favourite because of his natural abilities and his commitment to the team’s success. Zenden was a fundamental component off the pitch as well. His former Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez called him “the glue that holds teams together, a fantastic professional who was always there between the players trying to keep them together”. Now in his career as a coach, Zenden is looking to transfer that same passion for the game to the next generation of stars coming through in Holland.

BackOfTheNet: Boudewijn, thank you for taking the time to answer our questions.

BOTN: Let’s start at the beginning. You signed for your hometown club, MVV Maastricht, before moving to PSV two years later. After six years in their youth team, you made your debut for the first team and over the next 4 years you became a fan favourite in Dick Advocaat’s side. How important were those formative years in your career and what influence did Advocaat and your first boss Aad de Mos have on them?

Boudewijn Zenden: Aad de Mos gave me the opportunity to start as a pro. He didn’t last long and then Advocaat took over. I had to work hard and fight to become a starter. I didn’t move to quick so I had time to become a favourite and it gave me the opportunity to work myself into the national team. I secured myself in the World Cup 1998 squad. Just before the World Cup I signed for Barca.

BOTN: As you mentioned, Barcelona came calling and you signed for them in that summer (’98). It was there that you started being deployed more as a wing back in order to accommodate you and Marc Overmars in the same team. You made your name as a winger, but having played in various positions on the left-hand side and in the middle of midfield, which one do you think is your best and most natural position?

BZ: I do believe that as I was a versatile player that I could do well in several positions. I always needed the freedom to go forward, as from a kid I loved to be involved in scoring or providing goals.

BOTN: How important is it for players to be adaptable?

BZ: If you are capable to adapt to different positions, clubs, competitions, countries you are more likely to have a good career.

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BOTN: After Spain you moved to England, first with Chelsea, but then later with Middlesbrough, Liverpool and eventually Sunderland. Several Dutch players over the years have commented on the similarities between life in Holland and England and how easy it is to adapt to the league. Did you find that it was easy, and was that why you stayed for so long? 

BZ: It is true that life in the UK and the Netherlands are similar but the league is so much different. The Premier league is physically harder. There are no easy games in the Premier League. I stayed long in the UK as I enjoyed the positiveness of the fans and the way the Premier League is handled and broadcasted. It arguably the best League in the world.

BOTN: You spent some time in the south of France with Marseille. Despite the surroundings, that move didn’t quite go to plan. What happened there?

BZ: I did enjoy my time in France. I played a big part as we finished 3rd and 2nd in the Ligue 1. Scoring against the biggest rival in Paris was a highlight. The OM fans are mad and are very tough supporters. I always enjoyed playing for them. Eventually I wished to go back to the UK as I missed the Premier League.

BOTN: Having played in the Eredivisie, La Liga, Premier League and Ligue 1, is there one of those leagues that you felt suited your style of play more than the rest?

BZ: I think I suited well in all competitions although they are different. In the Eredivisie you get a lot of time/space on the ball. La Liga is a tactical and technical high standard competition. The Premier League is a physically tough competition. In Ligue 1 I found the players physically tough but also many players played individually.

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BOTN: Your first ever goal for Holland came in the World Cup 3rd place play-off game against Croatia and it was spectacular – a dazzling run followed by a powerful swerving shot that eluded Ladic in goal. Was that your finest goal you scored in your career or do you have another favourite?

BZ: It’s true that it was a nice goal, especially because it was at a World Cup. I remember scoring a nice one for Middlesborough against Lazio. For Sunderland I scored a worldy against Tottenham, that one also comes to my mind.

BOTN: With Holland failing to qualify for the Euros and now the World Cup, many are looking towards its youth prospects for hope. Recently the Holland Under 17s side lifted the European Championship which will help. How do you view the next generation coming through? Are you excited about Holland’s future?

BZ: It’s true that at the moment the national team is not what it used to be. Not qualifying for two tournaments in a row is a big blow for Dutch football in general. There should always be hope. I guess that it’s a matter of time that the Dutch will be there again.

BOTN: Rafa Benitez gave you your first taste of life on the other side of the white chalk when he hired you as assistant manager at Chelsea. Since then you have taken a coaching role back at PSV. How important was it for you to remain in the game after you hung up your boots?

BZ: I got the opportunity to stay in the game. When you can help the new generation with your experience it’s a good feeling. But I also like working as an analyst for TV so I’m still very much involved in the game.

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BOTN: You played alongside Steven Gerrard at Liverpool who has now become the manager of Rangers in Scotland. How do you think he will get on and do you see yourself following that path eventually becoming a manager outright?

BZ: I’m sure Steven will do well at Rangers. As a manager you will learn along the way. I don’t know yet where my (managerial) path will take me.

BOTN: Finally, throughout your career you played with some fantastic players: Bergkamp, Lampard, Ronaldo at PSV, to name a few. But are there any players who you felt deserved more praise for their performances than they received? 

BZ: I think all of them deserved credits for what they did to make the game what it is today.

Thank you again Boudewijn.

 

Follow Boudewijn on Instagram: boudewijn_zenden

Also check out Bolo Zenden’s Design hotel in Maastricht : Zenden.nl. Stay and Sport in Style.

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Jordan Pickford is a great signing for Everton

In the awkward few weeks after the league season has ended and before any summer tournaments have begun, fans are left with new signings to pretend to be outraged about. There is a new unspoken rule that all players must be written off and doubted before they have even been unveiled these days.

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Pickford’s transfer fee raised some eyebrows but will it turn into a good investment by Everton in the end? (Image from Tumblr)

Next up was Everton’s new signing Jordan Pickford, signed from Sunderland for around £30m. Never mind that he is an exciting, young, English goalkeeper (and boy are they needed), many were quick to bring him down a peg or two. Whilst the fee may sound crazy, perhaps looking at the deal from Sunderland’s perspective offers some insight. The Black Cats, newly relegated, in serious debt and selling their most valuable player, were hardly going to sell cheap. From Everton’s point of view, you have to ask yourself 3 questions:

Does he improve Everton?
Yes, bloody hell yes. Everton have struggled badly in goal for years now. Maarten Stekelenburg was a terrible signing and Joel Robles, who has been at the club for 4 years, isn’t up to scratch either. Signing a new keeper and a replacement for Romelu Lukaku are the top priorities for Ronald Koeman this summer.

 

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Pickford is a solid shot stopper who will only improve over time (Image from Tumblr)

Would any of Everton’s rivals sign him?
Pickford was undoubtedly one of the breakthrough players of last year. Any team in the top six would like to have Pickford either as a starter or future No.1, so Everton are conceivably beating off some stiff competition for Pickford.

Can Everton afford it?
It’s worth remembering that Lukaku will probably leave for upwards of £70m this summer so I’d say they can easily afford to invest in other areas. Everton have already spent similar amounts of money on Morgan Schneiderlin and Yannick Bolasie in the last 12 months.

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Long England career ahead for Pickford (Image from Tumblr)

In a previous post, I talked about how important and undervalued goalkeepers are and how it’s about time teams started spending big money on their keepers. Everton have identified that problem in their team and Pickford, at 23 years of age, is a long term solution. From an England point of view, its great news too. An up an coming talent is moving to a big club to learn and improve. At Goodison, he’ll play in a strong team (Everton had the 6th best defence last year) and hopefully get good experience in the cup competitions and play European football. Try and ignore the price in today’s market, just look at the player. Pickford’s a real prospect, a great keeper and much needed at Everton. You’d love him at your club.

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

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Why McInnes must answer Sunderlands call

Despite losing the Scottish Cup final in the dying minutes of the game, Derek McInnes had every right to crack a smile as the full-time whistle blew. Once again it has been an impressive season by Aberdeen under McInnes – finishing second behind Celtic (and more importantly ahead of Rangers in third) plus a cup final appearance highlights the superb work that has been done by McInnes and his team. It’s no wonder then that his name is top of the shortlists for several top jobs down south in England with Sunderland set to approach him in the upcoming weeks. The Black Cats are on the hunt for a new boss following the resignation of David Moyes just days after the club dropped into the championship.

Tom Rogic late goal sealed the win for Celtic (Image from Tumblr)

Tom Rogic late goal sealed the win for Celtic (Image from Tumblr)

After three years at Pittodrie, many believe now is the time for McInnes to move on and its hard to argue with. With Celtic so far out ahead in terms of squad quality and financial resources plus new competition in the form of a resurgent Rangers side under new boss Pedro Caixinha next season, Aberdeen are unlikely to better their achievements to date. Added into this, several key figures in the Aberdeen’s side including Niall McGinn and captain Ryan Jack are set to leave meaning that McInnes faces another rebuilding job yet again on under tight financial constraints. The question that McInnes is bound to be asking himself is whether he has taken Aberdeen as far as he can and whether now is the time to draw a line under it and move on.

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Key players like Niall McGinn are set to exit in the summer (Image from Tumblr)

Whilst it may seem like a no brainer to many, McInnes does have several reasons to pause for thought. He has settled well in Aberdeen with his family and appears to be enjoying life in the north-east of Scotland. With Rangers out of the picture for a majority of his tenure as Dons boss, he has had the chance to really cement his side as the second best side in the land behind Celtic. He even managed to push them close last season and at one point looked set to claim messiah status as Aberdeen headed towards an unexpected title. But sadly that charge eventually ran out of steam, Celtic regained top spot and with it snapped up the title much to McInnes frustration. Moving over the border may have its appeal to most Scottish coaches but for McInnes it’s tainted having already tried and failed down in England. A disappointing spell in charge of Bristol City was a wake up call for McInnes who had until then been full of optimism and confidence. The relegation battle and off field conflicts dented his pride. The move back to Scotland helped restore them but instilled a sense of cautiousness. Despite all this, if Sunderland do come calling it’s quite simply a job he must take.

McInnes must take on the Sunderland job if offered (Image from Tumblr)

McInnes must take on the Sunderland job if offered (Image from Tumblr)

No disrespect to Aberdeen but Sunderland are a bigger team with a lot of potential given the right appointment and change in circumstances. They may have dropped into the Championship but have all the right ingredients to bounce back, perhaps not at the first attempt but within a few seasons. The Sunderland job however will be no easy task. He will inherit a squad so in need of transformation that even David Moyes didn’t think he was up for the challenge. McInnes will have to oversee the overhaul of the existing first team squad whilst managing expectations off it with an owner so detached from football that it sometimes feels like he has forgotten that he actually owns a team. He will need to manage in a tight budget, not something he is unfamiliar with but this will be a “tight budget” based on Championship levels. No more pondering which £1,000 a week player to have in your team and which one to jettison to balance the budget.

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McInnes, along with Aberdeen Chairman Stewart Milne have managed the club under a tight budget (image from Tumblr)

But these are all challenges that McInnes is now better positioned to handle. He has grown as a manager, something his growing reputation supports. A move to Rangers looked likely before the surprise appointment of Caixinha but it could be a blessing in disguise. McInnes deserves his shot at the big time once more and a move to a club like Sunderland could be the perfect fit. Much is expected from McInnes in the future (many tip him as a future Scotland manager) but for now he must show that he is ready to step up and let his star shine on a more global scale at the Stadium of Light.

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Big Sam Walks Away As Pressure Becomes Too Much To Take

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 Three Things That Can Help Sunderland Bounce Back

Cut adrift at the bottom of the Premier League, relegation was always inevitable for Sunderland. The fans had already accepted it before kick off against Bournemouth on Saturday having watched a goal shy Middlesbrough side beat them 1-0 midweek. In the end a late goal by Bournemouth’s Josh King coupled with Hull’s draw with Southampton sealed their fate. Life in the Championship beckons for The Black Cats but it is not the end. Yes its a major setback and the loss of TV revenues is a huge hit. But Sunderland like arch rivals Newcastle who suffered relegation last year can bounce back. The Championship has become the Premier League’s graveyard and has proven difficult for teams who have failed to adapt to bounce back (Leeds, Blackburn, Queens Park Rangers etc). To avoid this happening to Sunderland , change is needed at the Stadium of Light and hopefully everyone connected to the club knows this. However sometimes knowing what to change can be the hardest part so with that here are three things we think are needed for Sunderland to return to the Premier League at the first attempt.

Trust in Moyes

Sunderland fans are divided on whether or not David Moyes should be retained as manager but for the club to have the best chance of bouncing back up, Moyes must stay. The former Everton, Manchester United and Real Sociedad boss was not been able to turn around Sunderland fortunes this season since taking over from Sam Allardyce last summer but to be fair to the Scot it has not been all his fault. The lack of interest by the clubs owner and main source of funding Ellis Short has hindered the much needed overhaul of a Sunderland squad that has been dangling preciously close to the edge for some time now. Moyes did manage to bring in 13 new players, some on permanent contracts and some on loan deals but at the same time saw 16 players leave. This amount of turn over is usual when a new manager takes charge but usually when 13 new players arrive, the squad starts to resemble the managers vision.

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Januzaj was one of several players to arrive. The Belgian signed on loan from Manchester United for the season (Image from Tumblr)

However this is not the case with Sunderland as Moyes had two frustrating windows, both battling the club for enough money to achieve his plans but also fighting against the clubs image as a regular Premier League relegation candidate. In recent weeks, Moyes frustration has shown by his public stating after several defeats that he couldn’t fault his players who gave everything. Whilst that may sound like a strange thing to say, it was Moyes way of saying that the players he has just simply aren’t good enough for this level. Moyes is not a bad manager as proven at Everton and has tasted life in the Championship before with Preston (albeit several decades ago and under different circumstances) so should be the right man to guide Sunderland back into the Premier League.  He will need to be backed though both by the fans and the board and allowed to transform the team for life in England’s second tier, much like Rafa Benitez did at Newcastle this season.

Trust in Youth

Sunderland’s drop into the Championship will likely result in a massive clear out with a majority of the more well known names like Defoe, Borini and Kirchhoff departing. There will be other forced sales like the exciting Jordan Pickford who has burst onto the scene this year in goal and has been a revelation despite difficult times at the club. His stock has risen so much that it will be impossible for Sunderland to hold onto him but the net bonus of that is that he should move for a considerable fee. Other players will be freed from their contracts or sold and spaces made available for new recruits but for Sunderland to have long term success they should turn to their youth players for new blood.

Its unlikely Sunderland will be able to hold on to Pickford when they drop into the Championship (Image from Tumblr)

Its unlikely Sunderland will be able to hold on to Pickford when they drop into the Championship (Image from Tumblr)

Like Pickford, the club has produced from its academy several new faces who could play big roles next season. Josh Robson, Michael Ledger, George Honeymoon, Lynden Gooch and Ethan Robson are all exciting home grown players that will surely have the fans on their feet on a regular basis if given the chance. The Championship is a tough league to test out new youngsters but it can also be the perfect place to do so at the same time. Building a squad that is a mix of experienced pros and youthful exuberance could be the key to success for Sunderland and its promotional push next year.

invest, Invest, Invest

A lack of consistent investment has ultimately lead to Sunderland’s current predicament. Owner Ellis Short has made no qualms about his desire to sell the club this year and appears to have lost all interest. Whilst no one has been able to match the bid price set by Short, the owner appears unwilling to add additional funds into the club at this time beyond what he deems as necessary. As an illustration of this, Sunderland’s net spend this season was only £15m (£39m spent, £24m received) which is hardly considerable considering the amounts being splashed not only by clubs in the top 6 but also clubs in and about the relegation zone (Middlesbrough – £39m, Crystal Palace – £50m, Burnley -£44m, Leicester – £26m, West Ham – £42m). With the exception of Middlesbrough who look to be accompanying Sunderland into the Championship next season, the rest have added well to their squads and have applied little pressure on the manager to balance the books.

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To be fair to Short, in the time that he has owned the club (coming on 8 years now) he has given over large amounts for transfers (£163m over last five years) but the money has not been spent wisely and as a result Sunderland have stuttered along. They have danced around relegation for the last five years only once finishing mid table – a respectable 14th in 2013-2104 but it appears lady luck has run out just as Short’s patience has run out too. A new owner needs to be found quickly and one willing to invest not only in the first team but in building a sustainable management structure as well, similar to the one found at Southampton. Only then will Sunderland be on a better footing for the years ahead.

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The Dangers Of Social Media In The Hands Of Footballers

Things appear to be going from bad to worse for Aston Villa and to be fair their vice captain Jolean Lescott is hardly helping matters. The former England centre half has caught the attention of the media in the last few weeks with some off field tweeting that has done little to help the cause. It first began shortly after Villa’s humiliating hammering by Liverpool where they were truly outclassed  and embarrassed as Klopp’s side ran in 6-0 winners. Less than two hours after the final whistle, Lescott posted a picture to his Twitter account of a silver Mercedes-AMG S 63 Coupe which retails for over £125,000. That post was rightly met with a cascade of abuse hurled at the player over his lack of care for the situation his club is currently in. Lescott however protested his innocents saying that the tweet was made in accident whilst driving with his phone in his pocket. Quite how the phone managed to unlock, open twitter, select the photo and then post is unknown. But if Lescott says that is what happened then it must have.

2015-mercedes-benz-s63-amg-02

The silver Mercedes-AMG S 63 Coupe that Lescott posted by accident (Image from Mercedes)

Then things went from bad to worse for Lescott when he reacted badly to some online abuse by angrily inviting a supporter down to Villa’s Bodymoor Heath training ground to show how he could do better – “PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE come down and try. FACT YOU WONT.” That prompted former Aston Villa striker Stan Collymore to reach out to the player who reacted again angrily by calling Collymore a “div and a complete tool” and that he shouldn’t get involved as its not as if he hasn’t made any mistakes. The pressure of Villa’s peril is clearly getting to the 33 year old but his over reliance of social media is hardly helping. It does raise the question over whether players should use social media like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. Whilst viewed as a positive way for players to bridge the gap between them and the fans, it does have its downfalls including opening the player up for abused and online trolling. Added into this, it requires the player to act in an appropriate manner and not abuse their position. The trial of former Sunderland winger Adam Johnson is currently underway and is a stark reminder for all players about their social and moral responsibilities. Johnson was arrested on the suspicion of having sexual activity with a 15 year old girl who he met on Snapchat. Johnson is accused of grooming the besotted fan who idolized him and eventually engaging with her in a sexual act.

Adam-Johnson-and-girl-friend-Stacey-Flounders-leave-Peterlee-Magistrates-Court

Adam Johnson arrives for court as he faces several charges relating to his communications with a 15 year old fan on Snapchat (Image from Getty)

For Lescott and others in his position, the choice is easy – post responsible and ignore the comments made or simply give up social media all together. Many players have decided to turn away from communication platforms like Twitter like former Newcastle  goalkeeper Steve Harper who walked away from his account after suffering abuse following his decision to join arch rivals Sunderland. At the time, Harper justified his decision by stating that at 40 years old with his career close to finishing his options were limited following his departure from Hull so when the chance came of a contract at a club near where his family lived, he had to take it. Like anyone in his situation, Harper needed a job even if it was at his old club’s bitter rivals. In recent months, the clubs have started to up their games too in order to protect their players with several now offering to either fully manage or filter their stars twitter accounts. This is meant to prevent players like Lescott from posting things that could upset fans or attractive negative comments. Whatever the solution, it is ultimately up to the players to embrace and understand the good and the bad that can come from using social media. Something that Lescott needs to learn and quickly.

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Premier League Relegation Battle Prediction

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

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

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

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

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

2D89B6C100000578-3278185-image-a-152_1445188064052

Wijnaldum fired Newcastle to safety (Image from Getty)

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

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

neil

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

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

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

williams-hits-out-at-suarez-Image

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

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

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

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Remembering Marton Fulop

The life of a goalkeeper is never easy. Whilst their career span between the sticks is often much longer than their outfield counterparts, the very nature of the position in which there can only be one in any game often makes this position more competitive than others. More often than not, good goalkeepers find themselves spent much of their playing careers on the bench waiting for an injury, suspension or drop in form to hand them an opportunity. That is why many goalkeepers tend to have low appearance totals despite playing for 20 plus years. Take Steve Harper for instance. At the end of last season, Harper was released by Hull City at the age of 40. His career spanned over 22 years and included stays at Bradford, Hartlepool, Huddersfield, Brighton, Gateshead and his home town club Newcastle where it all started. But despite this colourful career, Harper made on 238 appearances in total for all of his clubs with 158 of them being for Newcastle over a ten-year spell. The reason was that harper was second string to Pavel Srnicek, Shaka Hislop and then the great Shay Given during those years limiting playing time. Like Harper, Marton Fulop was seen at many of his clubs as a second string amassing 213 appearances in his 12 year career. Despite this, Fulop was one of the most highly regarded goalkeepers to have graced the Premier League which makes his death this week due to cancer that much harder to swallow.

Fulop played for a varied of clubs during his career (Image from Paul Cousans....ZENPIX LTD)

Fulop played for a varied of clubs during his career (Image from Paul Cousans….ZENPIX LTD)

Fulop was born in the Hungarian capital city of Budapest and from an early age always wanted to play football. At 18 his career began when he signed for local club MTK Budapest. Although things didn’t work out at the club, two loan spells at BKV Elore SC and BFC Siofok in Hungary’s lower leagues proved to be decisive as he was spotted by a Tottenham scout and subsequently invited for a trial. The 6ft 6in stopper impressed and joined the club in the summer of 2004 as backup for England international Paul Robinson and Czech star Radek Cerny. That year he was loaned to Chesterfield where he made 7 appearances before being recalled due to a long-term injury to Robinson. The following season he moved to Coventry on loan where he became their number one making 31 appearances. That led to a loan move be to Sunderland in December 2006 that was eventually made permanent. Under Roy Keane, Fulop established himself as a Premier League number one, playing in most of Sunderland’s games at the back-end of the 2006-2007 season.

Fulop won over the Sunderland faithful with some stunning displays (Image from PA)

Fulop won over the Sunderland faithful with some stunning displays
(Image from PA)

However in the summer of 2007, Keane paid Hearts £9 million for Scotland stopper Craig Gordon which meant that Fulop would be relegated back to support goalkeeper. He decided to move instead to Leicester  in the championship, making 24 appearances from August to December including some memorable ones in the league and Cups establishing his reputation as one of the safest pairs of hands in the English leagues. His form prompt Sunderland to recall him, only to not use him at all in a move that frustrated Fulop. Subsequent loan moves to Stoke and Manchester City proved unfruitful before Ipswich stepped in to sign him in 2010 and rescue his career. At the Tractor Boys once more under Roy Keane, Fulop was again in great form playing a majority of the games that year before West Brom signed him in 2011 on a free transfer. Again it proved to be the wrong move for Fulop who left the club the following summer to join Greek side Asterias Tripoli on a two-year deal. His time in Greece however was cut short when a malignant tumour was found on his arm. He took a break from the game to undergo surgery and recover but unfortunately never made it back to the game he loved.

Reunion with Keane - this time at Ipswich (Image from Getty)

Reunion with Keane – this time at Ipswich
(Image from Getty)

Over his career, Fulop played with his heart on his sleeve, his passion for the game evident to see. He made 25 proud appearances for his country, 11 of which at Under 21 level and 24 for the full national team. His death at 32 is a tragedy. As a goalkeeper he should have been in his prime fighting for a first team spot rather than fighting for his life. But his career was cruelly halted by a disease that claims the lives of far too many across the world each year. Fulop will be remembered fondly by the clubs he played for and the fans he entertained throughout his career.

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For The Love Of Money?

Ghana captain Asamoah Gyan (Image from AFP)It is every players right to decide their own career path including where they want to ply their trade and for which club. Much like any job, money plays a significant role in these decisions with each player looking to maximize their own value as much as possible during their careers. In a sport where injuries could end your time in football at any point, every move counts so you can hardly blame a player for travelling down the golden path instead of choosing a job that pays significantly less. But when your career starts to looks like you are a constant fixture on that path, then questions are raised about your ambitions in the game and your desire to make money rather than a name for yourself.

Is it all about the money for Gyan? (Image from Sydney Mahlangu/Backpagepix)

Is it all about the money for Gyan?
(Image from Sydney Mahlangu/Backpagepix)

Asamoah Gyan is a fantastic striker, who has redefined the word prolific over the course of his career. He has become a cult hero in his native Ghana, leading his national teams records for most caps and goal scored and since 2013 has been their captain too. Everything that Gyan does in his life is followed closely by his millions of fans back home and around the world. They are undoubtedly loyal to the 29-year-old striker but now his latest move has sparked fierce debate in Ghana with many now questioning his motives and his ambitions. Last month, Gyan agreed to a lucrative move to China with Shanghai SPG securing his signature. The move concludes Gyan’s four year stay in the United Arab Emirates and ends his rumoured £6m per season deal. But the player will not be out-of-pocket as his new employers have agreed to pay him more than the £163,000-a-week he earned at Al Ain, making him one of the highest paid players in the world. His decision to move to China rather than to a club in Europe looks to be solely based on the money or so it is being perceived in his homeland. Whilst the Chinese league is up and coming it still nowhere near as competitive as its European counterparts and is using the appeal of extremely lucrative contracts to entice stars to join.

Gyan flies in to China ahead of his move (Image from Getty)

Gyan flies in to China ahead of his move
(Image from Getty)

In the past, they have only managed to snare mid level players or those close to retirement but a new approach and improvement in the league quality has led to bigger names joining. Gyan is certainly one of those as is Brazilian internationalists Robinho and Paulinho, Senegalese striker Demba Ba and Icelandic front man Eidur Gudjohnsen. But many in Ghana believe that Gyan is too good for the Chinese Super league and that as the captain of their country, he should have moved not for the money but instead for the prestige and challenge of playing against better players week in week out in one of the world’s top leagues. Their argument is also compounded by what they see as a necessity for Gyan to be a strong role model to the younger players who they worry will look at the money rather than the game as they embark on their careers.

Robinho has agreed a move to China (Image from REUTERS/Mariana Bazo)

Robinho has agreed a move to China
(Image from REUTERS/Mariana Bazo)

Whether they have a point is up for debate but its unlikely that Gyan will care enough to backtrack on his move. It is highly likely that Gyan will indeed prove to be too good for the Chinese league as he did in the UAE firing 113 goals in 104 matches for Al Ain. But at 29 years old does he really have to prove anything? He has already shown that he can play in Europe after spending nine years of his career doing so with spells in Italy with Udinese and Modena, France with Rennes and an ill-fated stay in England with Sunderland. The only black mark on his career is that last one, where after a stunning debut season for the Black Cats, Gyan left under somewhat of a cloud after falling out with the management team and board who refused to give him a pay increase after one season of his four year contract.

Gyan spent one season in the Premiership (Image from PA)

Gyan spent one season in the Premiership
(Image from PA)

To be fair to Gyan, the then Sunderland boss Steve Bruce did not blame the player instead calling out his advisors as the trouble makers referring to them as parasites. Al Ain’s approach was to offer Gyan a route out of England with a too good to refuse deal. Many saw it as a temporary move until Gyan could regain his sense but the player stayed for a further three years. It would appear now that Gyan was comfortable playing in a league way below his ability, compensated by a luxury lifestyle and riches beyond his wildest dreams. Moving to China only emphasises this comfort but at what cost? Gyan’s reputation as one of the world’s top strikers is slowly slipping into obscurity each season he spends outside of the world’s top leagues. Whether he cares though, is a different story.

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Leicester Top And Arsenal Struggle As Premiership Starts With A Bang

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Difference Between Winning And Losing

Danny Rose seals the points for Spurs (Image from Paul Gilham/Getty)Hull City slide towards Championship football next season took a significant step on Saturday with yet another defeat. Goals from Nacer Chadli and Danny Rose handed Tottenham all three points, condemning Hull to its 19th loss of the campaign and leaving them in 18th place. Despite creating a similar amount of chances as their opponent, the lack of cutting edge upfront was ultimately Hull’s downfall. It has been the story of their season with several pundits pointing to their inefficiencies in front of goal as the key reason for their perilous position. A glance at Hull’s top marksmen paints an awful picture – Croat Nikica Jelavic’s return of only eight goals this season is enough to have him lead the way with fellow striker Dame N’Doye in second place on five goals. Hull’s lack of goals certainly indicates a problem but is it really the reason why they find themselves in the relegation places with one game left?

Nikica Jelavic is Hull's top goal scorer with eight goals  (Image from Getty)

Nikica Jelavic is Hull’s top goal scorer with eight goals
(Image from Getty)

With an average goal per game ratio of 0.89, Hull are one of the lowest scoring teams in the league but they are far from the worst. Unsurprisingly already relegated Burnley have the worst record of all (0.73 goals per game) but so do Aston Villa in 15th place (0.84 per game) and Sunderland in 16th place (0.83 per game). Despite a poor goal to game ratio, Aston Villa have secured their place in the Premiership mostly thanks to some impressive performances of late under new manager Tim Sherwood. Sunderland however aren’t quite out of the woods but only need a single point from their remaining two games to stay up. With away games against Arsenal and Chelsea left, it may not be that simply and could hand Hull the opportunity to escape. Newcastle could also be drawn into the mix after suffering another loss at the weekend, this time at bottom club QPR. Strangely Newcastle and QPR both have much better goals to game ratios than Hull (1.03 and 1.11 respectively) largely in thanks to their respective front men, Papiss Cisse and Charlie Austin but both clubs have had defensive frailties which have cost them dearly.

Hull's goal per game ratio against Newcastle and Sunderland  (Image from BBC)

Hull’s goal per game ratio against Newcastle and Sunderland
(Image from BBC)

Newcastle and QPR have the two worst defenses in the Premiership conceding 63 and 68 goals so far. Hull however have only let in 51 goals, a much better record than both (the 8th worst in the league) and even a better record than 6th placed Tottenham who have conceded two more goals this season than Hull. So with a better defense than six other sides in the league why are Hull in danger of the drop? For answers we need to look at their results. From the 19 defeats that Hull has suffered this season, they have lost seven of them by only 1-0 and ten in total by just a single goal. Added into this out of the ten draws that Hull have recorded, Hull took the lead in six of them before conceding the equalizer late on in the game. Their inability to both hold the lead and build upon it has really been their undoing this season.

Hull have the 8th worst defense in the league  (Image from Soccerway)

Hull have the 8th worst defense in the league
(Image from Soccerway)

It’s somewhat ironic that Steve Bruce has to face the club where he made his name as a player – Manchester United in the final game of the season, knowing anything but a win will condemn Hull to relegation. United under Van Gaal have had a difficult season but have achieved their objective of a top four finish. With little to play for in the final match, United’s Dutch coach may decide to field some of his fringe or youth players with a view to seeing what they can do. This could be the luck that Bruce needs. All he needs is one goal from his misfiring strikers. However taking the lead is one thing, defending it is another. It may be this that ultimately condemns Hull to the drop.

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Defoe Enters Record Books For Goal Scoring Exploits

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

Arsenal

Aston Villa (1:50 into video)

Burnley

Chelsea

Crystal Palace

Everton (5th goal of compilation)

Hull

Leicester City (7th goal of compliation)

Liverpool

Manchester City

Manchester United (6th goal of compilation)

Newcastle United

QPR (0.30 into compilation)

Southampton (1.55 into compilation)

Stoke City

Defoe scores against Stoke  (Video not available)

Defoe scores against Stoke
(Video not available)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunderland

Defoe scores against Sunderland  (Video not available)

Defoe scores against Sunderland
(Video not available)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Swansea City

Tottenham

Defoe scores against Spurs  (Video not available)

Defoe scores against Spurs
(Video not available)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

West Brom (4th goal in compilation)

West Ham

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To Sack Or Not To Sack, That Is The Question

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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QPR Looking For Road For Recovery As Redknapp Checks Out

Redknapp resigned (Image from PA)The surprise resignation of Harry Redknapp from QPR has been met with the usual slice of skepticism from the British media who struggle to believe his reasoning. On the morning after the January transfer window closed, with QPR failing to add further bodies to their squad, the belief was that Redknapp had quit in frustration and was simply softening the blow with a cover story about an urgent knee replacement. However those close to the 67 year old have added credibility to the explanation, citing several incidents where Redknapp has looked frail and struggled to walk. The former Tottenham and West Ham boss has been putting off surgery on both knees for a few years now but now the pain and discomfort has become so severe that he cannot ignore it anymore. His resignation, albeit at the worst possible time for the club, was a long time coming with Redknapp now set for surgery and a long recovery time. Despite his disappointment at quitting QPR, Redknapp has insisted that he is not done with management and will be back once he is fully recovered.

Harry has been struggling with Knee issues for some time now  (Image from Getty)

Harry has been struggling with knee issues for some time now
(Image from Getty)

Redknapp’s resignation was hardly the news that owner Tony Fernandes wanted. The Air Asia boss, who has been dealing with the aftermath of the tragic crash of Air Asia flight QZ8501 in the Java Sea in December, received a call mid morning yesterday informing him of Redknapp’s decision. Fernandes has acted quickly by handing the reins temporarily to Les Ferdinand, Chris Ramsey and Kevin Bond as the hunt for a new manager starts. He has also announced a restructuring at the club which sees Ferdinand, a former QPR player who returned to the club as Head of Football Operations, promoted to Director of Football. The former Tottenham, Newcastle and England striker will look after all aspects of football at the club and will play a significant part in the hiring of a replacement for Redknapp. That news bodes well for Tim Sherwood who worked with Ferdinand during Sherwood’s spell as Tottenham boss. Having impressed many during his brief spell in charge at White Hart Lane, Sherwood is available and is keen to get back in the driving seat. His energy and fresh ideas could be exactly what QPR needs and have since made contact with him about the possibility of taking over.

Tim Sherwood is the early favourite for the job  (Image from Getty)

Tim Sherwood is the early favourite for the job
(Image from Getty)

Whilst Sherwood remains the bookies favourite, there are other potential options including Derby’s Steve McLaren and Real Madrid assistant manager Paul Clement but neither are likely to give up their current jobs for a relegation dogfight. McLaren has been strongly linked with Newcastle who after Alan Pardew departed for Crystal Palace are too looking for a new manager. Unlike QPR they have decided to wait until the summer to appoint a new boss with John Carver acting as temporary manager until then. Glenn Hoddle’s name was also mentioned as an option given that he was already part of the QPR backroom team but he has effectively ruled himself out by quitting the club late yesterday. His departure, along with Joe Jordan was unexpected but given his close relationship with Redknapp and the likelihood that a new manager would want his own men, it’s hardly surprising.

Hoddle and Jordan have now left QPR  (Image from AFP)

Hoddle and Jordan have now left QPR
(Image from AFP)

Regardless who takes over at Loftus Road, they will have a job on their hands. With a mish mash underperforming squad, QPR have slipped into 19th in the league only two points above Leicester who prop up the table. They have the worst defensive record in the league having conceded 42 times in 23 matches and have only managed to win five games in that same timeframe.  Those wins came against sides in and around them – Leicester, Aston Villa, Burnley, Sunderland and West Brom which will give them hope of a turn around. However all of their wins and indeed the four draws too have come at home so it’s their away form that is in desperate need of a quick fix. Away from Loftus Road, QPR have leaked 27 goals and have scored only six times making them one of the worst teams on the road in the league. Up next is Southampton on Saturday at home followed by winnable matches against Sunderland and Hull on the road. Fernandes will be hoping to have his need manager in place before the Sunderland match so is facing a race against time to chose and hire them.  Whilst the story looks bleak at present, all is not lost with the gap between the bottom three and mid table only 11 points.  A draw against Southampton and two wins against Sunderland and Hull could have QPR back on the mend and flying up the table once more. For Redknapp, his journey will be the same – two knee replacements in the next few weeks followed by bed rest over several weeks could change his season too and have him back in management before too long.

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Defoe Calls Time On Love/Hate Relationship With Toronto

Defoe has joined Sunderland from Toronto (Image from Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports)In truth it was a love affair of convenience rather than choice that brought Jermain Defoe to Toronto FC. Desperate to remove himself from the White Hart Lane bench in order to increase his England World Cup chances, Defoe would have settled for anywhere as long as he could play regularly. Unfortunately for him, that only option was a move to Canada and the vastly improving MLS as a designated player. TFC pulled out all the stops to persuade Defoe to quit London for Toronto offering him a package that was too good to refuse, wining and dining his mother all across the city and even having Toronto born rapper Drake call the player in an effort to swing favour. But did he really want to leave London for the icy winters in Toronto? Honestly no but he had little choice.

Mummy's boy - Defoe's return to England is likely to have been forced by his mother  (Image from Getty)

Mummy’s boy – Defoe’s return to England is likely to have been forced by his mother
(Image from Getty)

Defoe may have said the right things at the press conference but beneath that fake smile lay the dark truth – he was using Toronto to get to Brazil. He or his advisers had convinced him that playing and scoring regularly for Toronto would give him the edge over other rivals for a spot in the final 23 man squad. With Rooney guaranteed, Defoe was aiming for one of the other three places but did he really stand a chance? Given that his competition was the trio of Lambert, Welbeck and Sturridge, Defoe must have realized that even a move to Barcelona couldn’t have helped his chances. Given that Rickie Lambert, the then Southampton striker who at 31 was scoring for fun on more than a regular basis and offered a more physical presence than Defoe. Or Danny Welbeck, a standout player in a very average performing Manchester United team under David Moyes, who won favour with England boss Roy Hodgson thanks in part to a series of stellar performances during qualifying. Or perhaps it was Daniel Sturridge who he thought he could displace despite the Liverpool striker being in the best form of his life and seen as England’s best striker. Of course Defoe was a shoe in for a place, why wouldn’t he considering that his ego had already told himself that he had one foot on the plane. In the end Hodgson rightly or wrongly didn’t select Defoe for the World Cup thus ending the dream and with it Toronto’s chances of holding onto their big name signing.

Never in doubt - Only injury could have stopped Lambert from taking his place in the England World Cup squad  (Image from Getty)

Never in doubt – Only injury could have stopped Lambert from taking his place in the England World Cup squad
(Image from Getty)

So on the coldest day in Toronto so far this year (-33 with the wind chill), Defoe finally bided adieu to his home for less than a year and headed back to London to sign for… well no-one. Instead he is heading north to Sunderland, a place not known for its warmth either. A swap deal plus cash move that sees US striker Jozy Altidore head to Canada has been agreed and Defoe has gotten his wish, to return to the Premiership and of course to his beloved mother. Defoe will retain the astronomical wages that he was given in Canada at Sunderland, along with his belief that a return to the national team is a possibility. Toronto on the other hand will pick up the pieces of Defoe’s failed move and focus on replacing him, either with Altidore on his own (if the MLS agrees to it of course) leading the line or as part of a new front duo alongside rumoured target Italy and Juventus striker Sebastian Giovinco.

US striker Jozy Atlidore is Toronto bound, if the MLS approves  (Image from Mike Russell | mikerussellfoto.com)

US striker Jozy Atlidore is Toronto bound, if the MLS approves
(Image from Mike Russell | mikerussellfoto.com)

The heavily advertised “Bloody Big Deal” has spectacularly ended with a whimper with few fans disappointed to see Defoe go. Whilst he may have performed well during his 19 games for the club, the player’s attitude and apparent need of an escape route as soon as possible quickly turned the home crowd against him. Even the two men responsible for engineering the move – Tim Bezbatchencko and Tim Leiweke could not hide their distaste for the man towards the end. Whether this was an eye opening experience for the pair is unknown but surely they must have predicted this when they signed Defoe in the first place? Hardly filled with options, Defoe could either languish on the bench at Spurs or give this MLS malarkey a go in the hopes that he became a superstar once more like Henry or Keane had. Unfortunately for Defoe both of those players, who he called out as reasons for his optimism for the league, were superstars when they arrived; not because of it.

Defoe’s return to the Premiership will be viewed by many as a career salvaging move, with the striker still highly regarded by many in England. His spell in North America will be viewed in the future as successful given his goals to game ratio however the underlining truth is that it wasn’t. From the day Defoe arrived in Toronto, he was engineering his escape. That escape has been found and for the MLS its good riddance. Toronto may suffer in the short term from his departure but longer term will become a stronger team. Defoe on the other hand could have made yet another terrible mistake by joining relegation threatened Sunderland. He must believe that he can score the goals to rescue them and keep them in the Premiership, but if he can’t then once again he will be looking towards the exit door.

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What Next For Rangers As McCoist Resigns

More turmoil at Ibrox (Image from Wikipedia)The resignation of Rangers manager Ally McCoist has been formally acknowledged by the club on the stock exchange leading fans and shareholders to wonder what next for the troubled boss. McCoist letter of resignation was in direct response to the dismissal of key long standing non playing personnel at the club despite reassurances weeks earlier that this would not happen. It was the straw that broke the camels back for the manager who has steered the club through some of its darkest hours including administration and relegation to Scotland’s lowest professional footballing tier.

What next for McCoist?  (Image from Getty)

What next for McCoist?
(Image from Getty)

His formal notice is 12 months in length leaving the club and its owners with a difficult decision to make – pay off McCoist now or let him run out his contract. Normally the obvious resolution would be to cut ties and end the association quickly so that both parties could move on but for cash strapped Rangers paying off McCoist may not be possible. With a severance payment due of around £400,000 it will ultimately come down to chairman Sandy Easdale and Newcastle owner Mike Ashley, who now controls 9% of the club to put up the cash to pay off McCoist. The board is set to meet with McCoist tomorrow to discuss next steps with the likely outcome that the manager will be allowed to leave sooner rather than later in order to protect the clubs chances of getting back into the Premiership.  In recent weeks in the lead up to him handing in his notice, several members of the board have been vocally opposed to McCoist remaining in charge. Results on the pitch have not been good enough considering the talent at the manager’s disposal and the club is at risk of going backwards once more. A change now may stop this rot and hand Rangers back the emphasis needed to get them back on track and challenging for promotion once more.

Decision maker Mike Ashley  (Image from Getty)

Decision maker Mike Ashley
(Image from Getty)

Once McCoist has formally left, the task of hiring a new manager will be undertaken. The good news for Rangers fans is that the early front runners being considered for the job are all former Rangers players. Stuart McCall played for the club during its most successful era, quickly becoming a fan favourite at the heart of the midfield. The tough tackling no nonsense McCall would be seen as an ideal replacement given how he performed in the manager’s role at Motherwell in recent years.  With limited funds and resources, McCall turned Motherwell into title contenders and the hope would be that under similar circumstances he could do the same at Rangers.

McCall could replace McCoist in the Rangers hotseat  (Image from Rob Casey Photography)

McCall could replace McCoist in the Rangers hotseat
(Image from Rob Casey Photography)

Terry Butcher was also part of that team as part of a defensive rearguard alongside Richard Gough. During his time with the club, Butcher gave no less than 100% in every appearance he made earning himself a slot in the clubs illustrious history. As a manager, Englishman Butcher has chalked up over 24 years of experience at clubs across the UK including stints at Inverness, Hibernian and Motherwell in Scotland as well as spells in England with Sunderland, Brentford and Coventry. He also had short stays with Sydney FC in Australia and as assistant manager for Scotland under the ill fated George Burley reign.

Butcher is a front runner for the job  (Image from Getty)

Butcher is a front runner for the job
(Image from Getty)

Whilst his stay at Ibrox was limited to only 13 games over seven years at the very beginning of his playing career , Billy Davies still holds a special place in his heart for Rangers. The former Motherwell, Derby and Nottingham Forest boss has thrown his hat into the ring and has been spotted at Ibrox recently watching some games. All three candidates present different managerial styles but all have at least one thing in common – a shared passion for the club.

Billy Davies is keen on the role  (Image from PA)

Billy Davies is keen on the role
(Image from PA)

Whoever lands the role will not be in for an easy ride. Turmoil off the pitch continues with power squabbles now on a daily basis and with the SFA launching yet another investigation into its ownership. On the pitch, the players lack belief that promotion is possible. The squad is more than capable of doing so but until they regain it, they will likely continue to languish in the Championship.

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High Flying Southampton Singing To Koeman’s Song Now

Now in Control - Ronald Koeman (Image from AFP)Having sold half their squad and lost their manager during the summer, few expected Southampton to do much this season. But after eight matches under new head coach Ronald Koeman, Southampton are sitting pretty in third spot in the Premiership with 16 points to their name. It’s a testament to the work done by the former Dutch international who joined the club in June following the departure of Mauricio Pochettino to Tottenham. Having lost a wealth of stars including Luke Shaw, Adam Lallana, Rickie Lambert and Dejan Lovren to name a few, Koeman has managed to successfully pick up the remaining pieces and rebuild a squad capable of challenging in one of Europe’s toughest leagues. The stunning 8-0 thrashing of Sunderland demonstrated how far Koeman’s new look side have come in such a short space in time. Out played and out classed, Sunderland looked shell shocked by how effective Southampton were at going forward and how proficient they were at the back. At times, Southampton looked to have had an extra man or two on the field, gently stroking the ball around the pitch with the ease and precision expected of a championship winning side. Sunderland were poor but few will argue that even a well organized side would have struggled to contain Southampton in the form they are in.

All Smiles - Southampton fans cheer as their side destroys Sunderland 8-0  (Image from AFP)

All Smiles – Southampton fans cheer as their side destroys Sunderland 8-0
(Image from AFP)

It’s a remarkable turnaround in fortunes given the amount of inward and outward traffic through the doors at St Mary’s this summer. Koeman’s job from day one was to make a decision about his new squad and its want away stars like Lallana and Lovren. He had two options – fight tooth and nail to get them to stay or let them leave and rebuild. He took the latter option knowing that an unhappy player would be harder to work with and could upset the balance of his team. So in the first two weeks of Koeman’s rein he witnessed £90million worth of talent depart and the breakup of Pochettini’s well crafted squad. The fans were outraged, angry with the board and Koeman for letting their stars leave. But unbeknownst to them, Koeman had a plan and knew how he wanted to spend the war chest of fund snow at his disposal. In came Serbian winger Dusan Tadic and Italian striker Graziano Pelle to add pace and precision finishing to his new look side. Ryan Bertand was signed on a season loan long from Chelsea as a direct replacement for Luke Shaw whilst accomplished Belgian defender Toby Alderwiereld arrived from Atletico Madrid to shore up the back line. He also quickly replaced Artur Boric in goal with Celtic’s Frazer Forster as he saw Boric as a problematic figure who he could ill afford to rely on. Finally Romanian defender Florin Gardos, Irish striker Shane Long and Senegalese winger Sadio Mane were signed to strengthen the squad in general and provide much needed options to Koeman. In all Koeman’s spent just over £60million leaving Southampton with a healthy profit and further funds to be spent in the January transfer window if needed.

Pelle and Tadic have been in superb form since arriving  (Image from Getty)

Pelle and Tadic have been in superb form since arriving
(Image from Getty)

All of Koeman’s signings (with the exception of a loan move for Saphir Taider which ended abruptly after only three weeks) has worked out perfectly, with the squad gelling together in record time. Pelle has settled well and has already hit six goals so far including a brace against Sunderland whilst Tadic has quickly become one of the best wingers in the league, leading the way in assists alongside Chelsea’s Cesc Fabregas. Koeman has worked hard to integrate his new players into the squad but has also spent time assuring the players that remained from last season that he has a vision for the club and what role they play in that.  He convinced Morgan Schneiderlin and Jay Rodriguez to stay for one more season whilst encouraging youngsters like Nathaniel Clyne, Victor Wanyama and James Ward Prowse to stamp their authority on the squad and earn their place in the team. Added into this influential players like Steven Davis, Jose Fonte and Jack Cork have been encouraged to lead the way with their performances, something that the trio has done so with a renewed sense of conviction and vigour.

Imposing Figure - Southampton goalkeeper Frazer Forster   (Image from Getty)

Imposing Figure – Southampton goalkeeper Frazer Forster
(Image from Getty)

Koeman’s has his team buzzing and for that has been rewarded with wins. In total 5 wins from his first 8 league matches including impressive victories over West Ham, Newcastle and Sunderland. Koeman bagged the manager of the month reward for September alongside his striker Pelle who picked up the best player award. It was the first real recognition of Koeman success since joining and will likely not be the last as long as his side continues to perform as they have been. It seems like a long time ago that the Southampton fans were worried for the clubs future following the departure of its top stars and manager. But now Koeman has them singing again this time to his tune, one which he hopes they will be singing all the way to the end of the Premiership season next May.

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BOTN Transfer Window Premiership Special – Predicting Who’s In And Who’s Out

 Transfer Window (Image from SkySports)

Ah the transfer window is upon us again. It’s an anxious filled day for fans who dream about celebrating new signings but dread the departure of their star players. The rumour mill kicks in weeks before causing those anxiety levels to rise and rise only eventually relieved as the window slams shut tonight. For the clubs in the Premiership, it’s their last chance until January to balance their squads before the first half of this gruelling season really begins. So which player should each team sign and what player should they let go? BOTN has pulled together each teams must buy and sell list before the summer window shuts.

Arsenal

Buy – Much talk is around a striker but really they need to invest in a centre back. Weak due to the departure of Thomas Vermaelen, investing in cover in case of injury makes sense. Borussia Dortmund’s Greek centre-back Sokratis Papastathopoulos would be ideal.

Sell – Santi Cazorla. The Spaniard appears to be surplus due to this summer’s arrivals so a move for significant cash back to Spain may look appealing to Wenger.

Aston Villa

Buy – Fabian Delph’s England call up hints at his promise however to maintain his development, he needs a strong partner in central midfield. Manchester United’s Tom Cleverley is the likely choice.

Sell – Despite starting the first couple of games, Alan Hutton should be shown the door at Villa. Unable to find the confidence and form he had at Rangers, Hutton has spent too long wasting his career and needs a move to maintain his position as Scotland’s right back of choice.

Hutton needs to leave to protect Scotland position  (Image from Getty)

Hutton needs to leave to protect Scotland position
(Image from Getty)

Burnley

Buy – Burnley showed against Manchester United how organised they can be at the back however they lack a creative player in the midfield going forward. Derby’s Will Hughes may be an ideal signing if Burnley are willing to splash the cash.

Sell – None. With a wafer thin squad as it is, Sean Dyche can ill afford to let anyone lease at this time. Holding on to his players will be the number one goal for the Burnley manager as the window prepares to close.

Chelsea

Buy – After letting Fernando Torres leave for Milan, Chelsea are a little short up front despite the addition of Loic Remy yesterday. Anothee striker is needed to partner Diego Costa, Didier Drogba or Remy. Roma’s Mattia Destro is a good option however the Italian side may be reluctant to let him go.

Sell – Once fought over by Manchester United and Chelsea, John Obi Mikel needs to leave the Bridge to continue his career. He has fallen down the pecking order and needs first team football to maintain his development. Even a loan move would make sense at this stage.

Chelsea are keen on Roma's Mattia Destro  (Image from AFP)

Chelsea are keen on Roma’s Mattia Destro
(Image from AFP)

Crystal Palace

Buy – Neil Warnock has had little time to adapt the squad since taking over. His squad needs improvements but funds are restricted so loan moves may be the only thing possible. Norwich City defender Sebastien Bassong could add strength to the defence and forge a useful partnership with Hangeland.

Sell – James Puncheon must have groaned when Neil Warnock was appointed after his much publicized spat with the new manager on Twitter earlier this year. Accusing Warnock of being corrupt, it’s unlikely that the player will remain in the team much longer. Everyone will understand if he was to leave.

Everton

Buy – Roberto Martinez is building an impressive young squad but still lacks the quality in depth to challenge for major honours. Building for the future appears to be Martinez’s mantra so a move for Watford’s young England goalkeeper Jonathan Bond could be wise. He would act as a deputy to Howard and learn from the American over the next few seasons before eventually taking over.

Sell – With Samuel Eto’o and Lukaku arriving plus the emergence of Chris Long, it may be time for Martinez to end his Wigan experiment and let Arouna Koné leave. The Ivorian appears surplus to requirements now and a move may be best for all involved.

Heading for the exit? - Aroune Koné  (Image from Getty)

Heading for the exit? – Aroune Koné
(Image from Getty)

Hull

Buy – Now out of Europe, Steve Bruce’s side can now focus on domestic duties. With the departure of Shane Long, it’s hard to see where goals will come from so making Blackburn’s Jordan Rhodes their main target made sense. Rovers are reluctant to let their star player leave but Hull should go all out to get the Scotland frontman.

Sell – Not needing to sell in this window, Bruce should look at loan moves for some of his younger players to give them much needed experience. Strikers Matt Fletcher and Calum Jahraldo Martin should be top of the list.

Leicester City

Buy – To survive in the Premiership, you need to score goals and lots of them. Nigel Pearson has a lot of options upfront but few seem capable of breaking into double figures. A move for Ipswich striker David McGoldrick is on the cards but given his lack of experience at this level it still might not be enough.

Sell – With eight strikers in the first team squad, it may be that one or two depart either on permanent or loan moves. New Zealander Chris Woods and youngster Tom Hooper lead the way.

Ipswich striker David McGoldrick could be Premiership bound  (Image from Getty)

Ipswich striker David McGoldrick could be Premiership bound
(Image from Getty)

Liverpool

Buy – The most active team in the transfer market so far, there is little needed for Brendan Rodgers team to be complete. Competition for Mignolet in goal is the only real area with Brad Jones unable to challenge. A move for Victor Valdes, currently without a club could be interesting and make Liverpool into contenders again.

Sell – At 33 years old, Kolo Toure must start to think about his last few years as a professional and getting first team action rather than his paycheck. Unlikely to feature much this season given the volume of new recruits in the Liverpool defence, Toure should be eying the exit door with enthusiasm rather than dread.

Manchester City

Buy – With a strong squad already, there is no reason for further spending from City. Further new faces will only cause more hassle to Manuel Pellegrini’s team selections. Buying young English players for the future may help but learning from past mistakes, this might not turn out to be the right thing to do. If they do, Brighton’s Jake Forster Caskey could be the perfect long term replacement for James Milner.

Sell – Micah Richards needs to leave for his prospective rather than City’s. Now 3rd in the right back pecking order, his career is in freefall so he needs to pull the cord on his time at the Etihad and save his long term future.

Milner replacement  - Jake Forster Caskey  (Image from PA)

Milner replacement – Jake Forster Caskey
(Image from PA)

Manchester United

Buy – For a club who have strengthen in attacking areas well, there inability to spot a massive hole at centre back is startling. They are missing Ferdinand and Vidic badly and need a similar type of player to replace them. Either a permanent move for Spurs Jan Vertonghen or a loan move for Chelsea Kurt Zouma would fix the problem.

Sell – It’s easier to say who they shouldn’t sell but out of the list they should Anderson is top of the list. The Brazilian has barely shown any of the promise he displayed early on in his career and should be sold or released as soon as possible.

Newcastle

Buy – Tim Krul is Newcastle’s last defence and on his day there is no better. However when he picks up an injury, back-ups Rob Elliot and Jan Alwick look less than impressive. A loan move for Stoke’s Jack Butland could provide excellent coverage for Krul.

Sell – Ben Arfas fall from grace has been spectacular to say the least. Once the first name on the team sheet, he is now training with the youth team after coming back from the summer break overweight and a move away from the club looks certain. A loan move to Birmingham is a possibility but it’s unlikely that the player will be willing to make the drop down to that level.

Overweight and Out - Ben Arfa  (Image from AFP)

Overweight and Out – Ben Arfa
(Image from AFP)

Queens Park Rangers

Buy – Harry has not really splashed the cash to date but his team still needs to improve. With Julio Cesar leaving for Portugal and Robert Greens’ form sketchy at best, a new goalkeeper may be on the cards for Harry. A move for Brad Friedel may not materialise but he could provide the safe hands needed for QPR to survive.

Sell – Abel Taarabt seemed destined to join AC Milan following a loan move last season but the arrival of Fernando Torres has scuppered that option. As far as talent goes, Taarabt has it in abundance but what he lacks is the desire to stay in London with QPR. Another loan move may be the only option but a permanent one would be better.

Southampton

Buy – It’s been a summer of departures at Southampton with key assets heading for pastures new. With a war chest that many managers would be pleased with, Ronald Koeman has money to spend but unfortunately time is running out. Many are calling for a new striker but in Graziano Pelle they have a front man capable of filling Rickie Lamberts boots. It’s at centre back where a replacement is needed with no one to date being brought in to plug the gap left by Dejan Lovren. Celtic’s Virgil van Dijk or Atletico Madrid’s Toby Alderweireld could be that player

Sell – If Southampton can hold on to Jay Rodriguez until January then all the better but it looks as though the England front man wants to leave. Cashing in now may make sense, especially if Spurs are still in the hunt for a new striker.

Wanted man - Atletico Madrid’s Toby Alderweireld  (Image from PA)

Wanted man – Atletico Madrid’s Toby Alderweireld
(Image from PA)

Stoke

Buy – Hughes is transforming Stoke with some impressive signings but lacks creative options in midfield. Despite insisting that no more players will arrive, if the right opportunity presents itself Hughes could act. A loan move for Newcastle’s Hatem Ben Arfa may add the spark that Stoke need.

Sell – American Geoff Cameron was one of the stand outs of last season but has slipped down the ranks since then. A switch to the MLS may offer the US international an escape route.

Sunderland

Buy – Gus Poyet has worked wonders since arriving at Sunderland boss and continues to reshape his squad. His focus at present is on his defense and how to add to it, with a loan move for Madrid’s Toby Alderweireld on the cards. At present former Manchester United players Wes Brown and John O’Shea have been starring at centre back but a move for the Belgian could result in one of them moving to the troublesome right back slot.

Sell – Whilst short upfront, few fans would object to Danny Graham being sold. The former Swansea striker has not exactly been on fire since arriving and looks less and less like a goal threat as the seasons go on. A move to the championship may help Graham find his level.

Miss hit - Danny Graham  (Image from Getty)

Miss hit – Danny Graham
(Image from Getty)

Swansea

Buy – Gary Monk’s side have strengthened well upfront but need to add quality to their midfield to supply their new front line. Montpellier’s Benjamin Stambouli is the favourite to arrive if Spurs don’t steal him first.

Sell – After spending last season on loan at Birmingham, Kyle Bartley is back at Swansea but looks further away from first team action than ever before. Time for the former Arsenal youth player to move down to the Championship with Birmingham could be his best bet.

Tottenham

Buy – A striker would be helpful for Spurs and the addition of Danny Welbeck would fit perfectly. The United striker has found playing time limited under Van Gaal so far so an exit may be the best course of action for both.

Sell – Despite many touting Lewis Holtby as the next to leave, he really should stay as he can add a lot to the team. One player who should exit is Kyle Naughton who has disappointed during his time at Spurs. He looks nervous going forward and terrified at the back. Time to move on Kyle.

Time to go Kyle  (Image from AFP)

Time to go Kyle
(Image from AFP)

West Bromwich Albion

Buy – Whether Alan Irvine actually knows what he needs to buy is a fair question given some of the strange arrivals to the club this summer. Irvine has also suggested his transfer business is finished but one look at his squad suggests otherwise. The Scot may head home in search for a creative frontman and his first choice is likely to be Celtic’s Kris Commons. Unwanted in Glasgow, the Scotland international would welcome a move to the Premiership.

Sell – He may not want to lose him but Craig Dawson is attracting interest from clubs and if a decent offer is made, he may be sacrificed in order to help balance the books.

West Ham

Buy – Allardyce has had an active window so far but seems keen to continue. A defender is what is needed and a move for Manchester City’s Micah Richards would appeal to both parties. Richards’s flexibility makes him the ideal player for West Ham and could solve their defensive frailties.

Sell – Winston Reid has been the one player in West Ham’s defence that has impressed week in, week out. This has alert a variety of clubs who are looking at the player with interest. Arsenal has made inquiries in the past and could move for the versatile player with Allardyce unable to resist if the bid is high enough.

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Wickham Should Ignore England Hype And Focus On Survival

Wickham for England? Not yet (Image from PA)The recent praise handed down to Sunderland’s Connor Wickham for his goal scoring exploits are justified but his manager’s call for him to be included as part of the England squad for the World Cup is somewhat ironic. Wickham has been in fine form last month since his return from a loan move at Leeds and has helped spearhead Sunderland’s survival hopes with five goals in three games. England manager Roy Hodgson has been impressed by the young striker and even attended Saturdays’ stunning 1-0 victory over Manchester United but Wickham would be foolish to think that he needs to look out his passport. It’s still unsure who Hodgson will turn to in the striker options to fill the last remaining spot, with Rooney, Welbeck and Sturridge almost certain to be three of the four going to Brazil. But it would be a shocking twist if that man was Wickham despite his recent good form.

Decision time for Hodgson  (Image from Getty)

Decision time for Hodgson
(Image from Getty)

His inclusion, based on only the last month would destroy the credibility of Hodgson who needs a good showing at the World Cup. Taking a player who has only showing limited glimpses this season of his potential would be a major slap in the face to the likes of Southampton’s Rickie Lambert and Toronto’s Jermaine Defoe, both of which have had successful seasons. Lambert, who hit the winner against Swansea at the weekend to take his tally to 12, knows that this is his only chance of ever playing at a World Cup and has done enough to justify his inclusion. As an old fashion England number nine who is strong on the ground and powerful in the air, he offers something different to Rooney, Sturridge and Welbeck. His hopes looked dashed by the form of teammate Jay Rodriguez by an unfortunate cruciate ligament injury has ruled him out of contention and placed Lambert back in the frame. But Hodgson may turn to Jermaine Defoe as the former Spurs striker is a proven goal scorer for England and has experience at the highest level so taking him to Brazil would be less of a risk. His move to Toronto, whilst making him a regular starter, may deter the England boss who looks at the MLS as a much weaker league. West Ham’s Andy Carroll should have also been in the running but a troublesome season, riddled with injury and poor form means that he will likely miss out, despite being an opposing figure in and around the penalty box. All three men would be disappointed not to go but would likely be enraged if Wickham was given the nod over one of them. Hodgson could take five strikers but that would mean sacrificing either a midfielder or a defender, neither of which appeals to him.

Rickie Lambert has fired Southampton to an 8th place finish  (Image from Getty)

Rickie Lambert has fired Southampton to an 8th place finish
(Image from Getty)

Most of the calls for Wickham to be included are coming from his manager at Sunderland Gus Poyet but the calls may not be as genuine as intended. Poyet is doing what any manager would do by boosting the confidence of his now prolific young striker. He knows by feeding his ego, Wickham will push on into Sunderland’s last two games with a renewed confidence in the hopes of having him score the goals needed to secure Premiership survival. If Wickham can impress in the last two matches against West Bromwich Albion and Swansea, he could go a long way in cementing his first team place at Sunderland for next year’s campaign. Three points against West Brom should all but seal the fate of Norwich who currently lie in 18th place and ensure Sunderland will be playing the England’s top league next season. That incentive alone should be enough for Wickham without the added false hope of getting into Hodgsons team for Brazil. There is still time for the England Under 21 striker to go to a World Cup but Brazil 2014 shouldn’t be it. But first Wickham needs to develop as a Premiership striker and show that like Daniel Sturridge and Rickie Lambert he too can command a first team place and score into double figures for his club. After a season of disappointment for Sunderland, the focus will turn towards the future, which Wickham could play a major starring role in, as long as he doesn’t start to believe the hype.

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Sunderland Legend Super Kev Hangs Up His Boots

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

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

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

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

Phillips helped the Baggies secure promotion  (Image from PA)

Phillips helped the Baggies secure promotion
(Image from PA)

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

Phillips won 8 caps for England  (Image from AFP)

Phillips won 8 caps for England
(Image from AFP)

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

Post by Richard Waterhouse

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Someone Ask For A Miracle?

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

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

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

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

Same Again please  (Image from AFP)

Same Again please
(Image from AFP)

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

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

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

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

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A Transfer Window Tale

Twas the night before New Years, when all through the house

Not a footballer was stirring, not even James Ward Prowse.

With the window approaching, managers planning with care

Poor performing footballers everywhere, beware.

Moyes and Fellaini reunited  (Image from Getty)

For transfers are coming, each one thick and fast,

Each day speculation about moves, just like the past.

Players hearts will be broken as they are shown the door,

For clubs add players each year more and more.

January Transfer Window (Image from SkySports)

The players were restless, down to each one,

But none more so that one poor performing Ashley Young.

Moyes in his wisdom, ready to give United a shake,

In last ditch effort to grab each point he can take

What next for Ashley Young? (Image from PA)

United need to strengthen, upfront and midfield,

With targets galore, which ones can be sealed?

Poor summer transfers have cost Moyes dearly,

His saving grace is the window is more than once yearly.

Sections of the United fans are not happy with Moyes (Image from Getty)

Over at Spurs, Villas Boas is no longer,

Two bad defeats by clubs who were much stronger.

City hit six whilst Liverpool scored five,

To be honest, Tottenham were lucky to get out alive.

Villas Boas sacked (Image from Getty)

With Levy in charge, a new manager has come,

A Revival of Spurs will please only some

Tim Sherwood arrived to make his return,

His teachings will be quick and his lessons stern

New Boss - Tim Sherwood (Image from Getty)

“Now Soldado! Now Erikson! Now Lamela and Defoe!

On Dawson! On Lloris! On Lennon and Sandro!

To the top of the League!, make it quick and make it snappy,

And I will walk away end of season a very happy chappy.

Lamela failing to settle  (Image from PA)

But Sherwood will forget about the challenge of City,

Who top the goals scored league and are sitting pretty.

But goals don’t equal points for Pellegrini’s hot shots,

Finishing in second will count for little or not.

Norwich hit for seven by City  (Image from Getty)

Pellegrini is smart and is on the right path,

Even though he does struggle with the simplest of math.

Champions League Glory is all that he can see,

Beating Barca to get there, ha! as easy as can be.

Pass masters - Barcelona

Down at Sunderland, Poyet is starting to worry,

Bottom of the table, his team’s in a hurry.

To recapture some form, get out of this jam,

Catch up to Palace or at least poor Fulham.

Poyet eyes Sunderland salvation  (Image from Getty)

Neighbours Newcastle continue to rise,

Pardew is buzzing, eying the prize.

Playing with style, they are a team to fear,

That is until the return of one nasty Kinnear.

Return of Kinnear (Image from PA)

January will be nervous if he gets his way,

Forcing Pardew to wonder whether to stay.

Star players will be sold like Tim Krul and Cabaye,

With no one arriving, the Geordies will cry.

Worrying times for Pardew (Image from Getty)

Former boss Big Sam will be hoping to change,

The fortunes of West Ham, which have been somewhat strange.

With Carroll always injured, his team have lacked goals,

Defeats have stacked up; on morale it’s taken its toll.

Big Sam (Image from AFP)

But eyeing a bargain in the January window,

Rumours suggest a move for Moussa Sow.

Money will be key, to however he can harvest,

Or maybe he will just have to get more from Matt Jarvis.

Matt Jarvis (Image from PA)

January will be busy as clubs make their move,

Securing new players as their fans approve.

As the window approaches, clubs will take flight,

“Happy shopping to all, and to all a good fight!”.

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O’Neill Takes Calculated Risk Adding Keane To The Ticket

O'Neill/Keane ticket - a winner? (Image from Getty)In a move set to reinvigorate Irish passions, the announcement of the dream management duo of Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane yesterday is exactly what the country needs. Since the removal of Giovanni Trapattoni as manager last month after failing to steer Ireland to World Cup 2014, rumours around the appointment of O’Neill as the preferred candidate have been growing gradually day over day. It comes as no surprise that the former Leicester, Celtic, Aston Villa and Sunderland manager has been handed the role but the addition of Roy Keane to the ticket at the last minute was a curve ball that few could have expected. Keane, who has been out of management since leaving Ipswich in January 2011, joins as assistant manager and has expressed his enthusiasm for the role and how he is looking forward to working alongside O’Neill. The duo’s first test will be against Latvia in a friendly match in just over 9 days’ time. Expect fireworks.

Giovanni Trapattoni was dismissed after failing to qualify  (Image from David Maher / SPORTSFILE)

Giovanni Trapattoni was dismissed after failing to qualify
(Image from David Maher / SPORTSFILE)

O’Neill’s managerial record speaks for itself and he is one of the smartest coaches in the game, bringing both experience and knowledge to the job. But whether he can control the temperamental Keane, not known for his composure or biting his tongue will be interesting to watch. The pair has only worked together before as TV pundits, often sharing the microphone on ITV sport and have the same ideology that stems from their time working at Nottingham Forest under Brian Clough.  Clough’s influence on the pair is clear to see but that’s where the similarity ends. Whilst Keane speaks his mind and is not afraid of the repercussions, often playing the hard man with ease, O’Neill prefers to be more reserved, softly spoken yet forceful with his views. The theory behind combining these two footballing greats is to get the best out of a talented Irish side with a sort of good cop, bad cop routine. In fact, it was O’Neill’s idea to approach Keane about the role in the first place, much to the reluctance of the Irish FA. Having dealt with Keane related issues in the past, the FA were hoping to avoid any similar types of problems in the future so adding Keane to the package to secure O’Neill was not exactly what they had planned. But without Keane, there would be no O’Neill so the FA agreed.

Which Keane will show up?  (Image from Getty)

Which Keane will show up?
(Image from Getty)

O’Neill is taking a risk in bringing Keane into the fold, one that can go either way. Keane’s arrival to the setup could help to reignite the passion in the players that started to dwindle towards the end of Trapattoni’s reign.  Winning only 4 out of 10 games in the World Cup qualifying group C was not good enough and resulted in Ireland finishing in fourth place behind Austria. Keane was not impressed by Ireland’s defeat at home against Austria as a TV pundit so now having the chance to work with the players to ensure it doesn’t happen again will make him more determined than ever. It will be up to O’Neill to manage that approach as Keane has a reputation for heavily criticising players performances and effort levels, something that the professionals of today take offence to. Keane’s mantra is that you play hard to win, and the effort you apply should be the same as he applied as a player, which has the tendency to create problems between him and the players under his control. If Keane does disrupt the dressing room, there may be little that O’Neill can do to rescue the situation and could result in him losing his job, especially if results on the pitch go south as well. Time will tell how the new look Irish management team perform together and more importantly which Roy Keane will show up to the party.

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Owen’s Defence Of Ashley Sparks Anger From Newcastle Fans

will welcome Owen's defence - Mike Ashley (Image from PA)It was yet another bizarre weekend for Newcastle which this time didn’t involve Joe Kinnear. Owner Mike Ashley is not exactly loved at St James, with many fans feeling that he is not putting the clubs best interests at heart with his unwillingness to sign new players and the strange decisions he is making from appointing Kinnear, rebranding the stadium or signing away the shirt sponsorship rights to pay loan firm Wonga. Fans group Time 4 Change held the demonstration before the club’s 2-2 draw with Liverpool last week and further protests took place yesterday at the Tyne Wear derby. But this past week, former Newcastle striker Michael Own has jumped to his defence claiming the owner is doing a good job, despite difficult circumstances.

Owen's comments won't have helped him in Newcastle (Image from Getty)

Owen’s comments won’t have helped him in Newcastle (Image from Getty)

The former Liverpool, Real Madrid and England striker, who spent four injury ravaged years at St James before leaving on a free to join Manchester United, was quoted as saying that Ashley has done well at the club, more than he is receiving credit for. Owen continued by saying that Newcastle fans have less than realistic expectations for what their club should be achieving. His comments will not have endeared him to the Geordie faithful, who already have a poor opinion of the player following his time at the club. Owen failed to perform at Newcastle, hindered by poor form and lengthy layoffs, all whilst being paid a considerable wage by the club. Whilst not Owen’s fault, he did little to give back to the club that had supported him, eventually leaving on a free to United as Newcastle were relegated to the Championship. The comments come on the back of a painful 2-1 defeat to arch rivals Sunderland at the weekend. Newcastle performed well against their neighbours but there lack of quality throughout the squad in particular the substitutes was apparent. The introduction of brothers Shola and Sammy Ameobi as well as misfiring Papiss Cisse in the second half did little to enforce Newcastle’s authority on the game allowing Sunderland to come back into the match before Borini’s 25 yard screamer won the game for Gus Poyet’s men.

Borini's strike sinks Newcastle  (Image from Getty)

Borini’s strike sinks Newcastle
(Image from Getty)

Newcastle squad problems were apparent as the team lined up. Defensive injuries ruled out captain Fabricio Coloccini and Steven Taylor whilst Mapou Yanga Mbiwa was serving a suspension following his dismissal at Liverpool. That meant that young Paul Dummett, last week’s star player, partnered Mike Williamson at centre back. But it wasn’t going to be an easy day for the 19 year old left back, who found it tough going against the powerful Sunderland strike pairing of Steven Fletcher and Jozy Altidore. It’s an ongoing problem at Newcastle, with a squad that is too slight to cope with the physicality of the Premiership. Players like Sammy Ameobi, Pappa Cisse, Gabriel Obertan and Dummett are good examples of technical players who struggle when faced with a one on one battle for the ball. Cisse in particular is failing to cope in his second full season at the club. Having exploded onto the scene in January 2012 after his move for Frieburg (Cisse hit 13 goals in 14 games), defenders now appear to have figured out how to stop him and the player is now in a barren spell that has seen him fail to score in the league since March. The arrival of Loic Remy from QPR on loan, has added more weight and strength to the Newcastle front line but one player cannot change a clubs fortunes on his own. Newcastle needs to invest in strong physical players, like Chieck Tiote, if they are to seriously challenge for honours.

Misfiring - Cisse  (Image from Getty)

Misfiring – Cisse
(Image from Getty)

The criticism for lack of transfer activity has lain mostly at the feet of bumbling director of football Joe Kinnear but without funds to acquire players, his job becomes obsolete. Ashley has supported the club financially in the past but his apparent reluctance this summer to spend says a lot about his long term plans. No longer comfortable bankrolling Newcastle, the sports direct owner appeared to be edging towards recouping some of the funds he has given to the club. Making them self sufficient and spending only what they raise from ticket, merchandise and player sales will allow any profits to be split between the club and owner. The move has enraged fans, who want to see their club continue to grow and eventually challenge for trophies. Honours that Owen believes Newcastle fans should expect to the club to be challenging for. Whilst he may have a point about Ashley, in terms of being given more credit for the things he has done (stability with Pardew, improved scouting network, strong base line of players), Owen is off base with his believes that Newcastle shouldn’t be challenging for trophies. If Swansea and Wigan taught us anything last year is that the cup competitions in England are anyone’s game, if you believe you can win it. Whilst the Premiership may be a distant dream, Newcastle are still in the FA Cup and League Cup so have a chance at silverware like everyone else.

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How Much Do You Want The Job Gus? Oh That Much

Mine, all mine - Poyet eyes Sunderland job (Image from Getty)Have you ever wanted a job so bad that you would literally do anything to get it? It might not be your dream job but it’s likely better than the one you are in so going above and beyond so doesn’t seem unreasonable.  Take for instance publicly stating your interest even before the hiring committee has announced if they are interested in you? What about calling them to say you are the right person, the one they are looking for so no need to continue looking? What about calling other candidates to make sure they aren’t that interested in the role? Too far? Well not for Gus Poyet it would seem.

Short on Candidates - Ellis surveys managerial landscape  (Image from PA)

Short on Candidates – Ellis surveys managerial landscape
(Image from PA)

The former Brighton boss has his heart set on replacing Paolo Di Canio at Sunderland and nothing it seems is too far for Poyet in his quest. But calling up former Chelsea teammate Roberto Di Matteo, who has been touted as a likely candidate, to see if he would be going for the role or not, smells a little like desperation to us. After all it’s Sunderland (no offence to Sunderland fans); it’s hardly Manchester United, Arsenal or Chelsea. Yes it’s a Premiership club but a troubled one at that. Five managers in five years under the guidance of an American owner who lacks direction and knowledge of the game doesn’t make for the best work environment for a new manager.

Roberto - You're not interested right? (Image from Getty)

Roberto – You’re not interested right?
(Image from Getty)

Poyet’s resume as a manager is still a work in progress but early signs during his spell as Brighton boss suggest he has potential to be a superb manager, but then again so did Di Canio at Swindon.  We all know how that one worked out. Poyet’s departure from Brighton still goes down as one of the most cringe worthy dismissals of all time and has left a black mark on the Brighton franchise. Poyet was going through a somewhat troubling time at Brighton, was relieved of his duties live on air whilst presenting from the BBC. Being told by Mark Chapman via a press release from your club has to be one of the worst ways to find out that your employers no longer require your services. It’s understandable why Poyet is so keen to get back into management, in order to repair his reputation but his public displays of affection for Sunderland really aren’t helping his image.

Paolo Di Can't  - Mistake fro Sunderland  (Image from AP)

Paolo Di Can’t – Mistake fro Sunderland
(Image from AP)

Poyet is in the running for the Sunderland job, despite his overly keen approach but faces competition from Steve McLaren, Tony Pullis and Roberto Di Matteo (even if he has said he’s not interested, an attractive package could tempt him back into management). But for Poyet, he may want to dial back his enthusiasm for the job, just in case he misses out. Like dating, no-one likes the smell of desperation, he needs to treat Sunderland mean and keep them keen. Or something like that.

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Sunderland Remove Di Canio After Bizarre Confrontation

Di Canio celebrates last seasons victory over Newcastle (Image from PA)Time finally ran out on Paolo Di Canio’s spell as Sunderland manager yesterday as the controversial Italian was sacked under the strangest of conditions. After a disastrous start to the new season, Di Canio put himself in the firing line by confronting the travelling Sunderland fans following their 3-0 defeat to West Bromwich Albion. The Italian, who had been heckled throughout the match by the Black Cats faithful, approached the travelling support at the end of the game. Standing on the edge of the eighteen yard line, far enough away to avoid the more confrontational sections of the fans,  Di Canio proceeded to gesture to the fans as if to say “Calm down, it’s my fault but keep your chins up”.  In a move meant to heal the growing rift between the fans and the manager, Di Canio’s actions infuriated the away crowd and it appears owner Ellis Short, who hauled the Italian before the board shortly after the match to tell him of his fate.

Di Canio talks to the crowd after the West Brom defeat  (Image from PA)

Di Canio talks to the crowd after the West Brom defeat
(Image from PA)

Realistically it was only a matter of time before Di Canio was relieved of his duties following a somewhat stormy summer. Having heavily criticized a majority of his team at the end of last season much to their dismay, Di Canio and the club’s director of football Roberto De Fanti and chief scout Valentino Angeloni spent the summer overhauling the first team, signing an amazing fourteen new players whilst letting thirteen players (including one of last year’s stand out’s Stephane Sessegnon) depart. This was never going to be a good move regardless of the quality of players that he brought in. It takes time for players to gel; get used to their new surroundings and in many cases a new language. Of the fourteen Di Canio purchased, only four players spoke English fluently and a further two had enough to get by.  Pre season was somewhat shambolic with rumours from inside the camp that Di Canio had lost the dressing room due to his aggressive tone and critical opinions of certain players.

Sessegnon sale baffled many (Image from Getty)

Sessegnon sale baffled many (Image from Getty)

Results on the pitch this season have backed up that claim as the Sunderland team looked lost at sea during most of their first five games. Employing a central midfielder at right back, whilst one of the team’s better defenders sat on the bench didn’t sit well with some sections of the Sunderland fans as they faced up to Fulham on day one. Jack Colback did try his hardest but was caught out of position several times and ran ragged by experienced winger Damien Duff. In the next match, Colback was converted to left back where he has stayed for the last four games of Di Canio’s rein but has never looked completely comfortable. Similarly the deployment of Adam Johnson, a left winger on the right against West Brom, presumably to cut inside looked flawed especially against former teammate Scott Sinclair who knows about Johnson’s capabilities and moves. Surely putting the pacey winger up against the rather slow Billy Jones on his natural left side would have been more beneficial to Sunderland? But Di Canio’s decisions have never been quite understood as the manager tinkered with his team on a too frequent basis. With only a single point from the first five games and matches against Liverpool, Manchester United and Newcastle up next, Sunderland had to act now to save their season.

Duff outpaces Colback  (Image from Getty)

Duff outpaces Colback
(Image from Getty)

Speculation is already mounting around who will replace Di Canio with three names – Gus Poyet, Roberto Di Matteo and Neil Lennon – already been installed as front runners. Short will likely take his time on the appointment after been criticized by sections of the Sunderland fans for rushing in the hiring of Di Canio. Whilst no clear long term strategy appears to existing at Sunderland, Short will be keen to find someone who can unite the club with its bewildered fans once more. The appointment of Di Canio was a massive gamble, given the Italians controversial man management style so Short will be cautious in his approach with what will be his fifth managerial appointment during his time in charge.  There is still enough time and points left in the season for someone to turn Sunderland’s fortunes around and reach the relative comfort of mid table, which given last season’s brush with relegation, would be much welcomed by the Sunderland faithful.

Calming influence - Di Matteo  (Image from AFP)

Calming influence – Di Matteo
(Image from AFP)

The future for Di Canio however looks less rosy and it’s unlikely that we will see him return to management in England anytime soon, at least not in the Premiership. Di Canio was his own worst enemy, with a prehistoric managerial style that is more fitting the 1980’s than modern football. Di Canio is by no means a bad manager (results during his spell as Swindon boss have shown this) but he will need to soften his approach, especially with the pampered footballers of today who have more power and influence than ever before, if he is to get back into the game. It’s more likely that Di Canio will return to Italy to reflect on his troublesome spell in England’s top division. He will take stock, look at what went wrong (at least in his eyes) and make a return to football in some capacity in the near future.

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A Change of Attitude For Cisse, Could result In A Change Of Scenery Too.

Cisse joins FC Kuban (Image from PA)Pop quiz – which club does french striker Djibril Cisse play for? Well at the time of writing this blog, Cisse had just joined Russian side FC Kuban Krasnodar on a free transfer having negotiated the mutual termination of his QPR contract. The move is Cisse’s tenth of his career and his seventh country to date. So why for a player of his qualities has he moved around so much? The answer may come from a single reply given by outspoken Montpellier chairman, Louis Nicollin who at one stage was keen to sign Cisse for his club. After deciding against the move, Nicollin spoke to reporters who questioned why he had decided at the last minute not to finalize the transfer of Cisse. His reply was simple in that he did not want to sign a guy who plays DJ’s in bars. Cisse did retort on Twitter implying that he felt sorry for Montpellier fans who wouldn’t get to see him as they had an a$$hole for a chairman.

Cisse's spell at Liverpool was ruined by injuries  (Image from Reuters)

Cisse’s spell at Liverpool was ruined by injuries
(Image from Reuters)

The truth appears to be that whilst Cisse is an outstanding player, his eccentric nature and ability to attract attention may be ruining his career. After making his break at Auxerre, scoring 70 goals in 124 appearances over six years, Cisse made the transition over to England with a lucrative move to Liverpool in a deal worth over £14 million. It was here under the then Liverpool manager and fellow Frenchman Gérard Houllier that Cisse would intend on really showcasing to the world what a talent he was. He settled quickly in the area, purchased a house in the village of Frodsham, Cheshire, (and in doing became Lord of the Manor of Frodsham) but more importantly met his future wife, Jude Littler who he married shortly after arriving. The now married man was focused and determined and in the first 19 games of his Liverpool career, he began to highlight the promise and ability that Houiller had long admired from afar. But in a match against Blackburn, disaster struck after a clumsy challenge by Jay McEveley resulted in Cisse breaking his leg. Initially ruled out for nine months, a determined Cisse bounced back quicker than expected and made a return to the first team just in time to be part of Rafa Benetiz’s Champions League winning team in Istanbul in 2005.

Gerard Houllier was a big fan of Cisse  (Image from Getty)

Gerard Houllier was a big fan of Cisse
(Image from Getty)

In the summer of 2006, Benetiz announced that Cisse was allowed to leave and speculation linked him with a move to Marseille. Speculation turned into reality as the two clubs agreed a deal, on the eve of France’s final world cup warm up match with Chile but the transfer officially wouldn’t go through until the following summer after Cisse broke his leg again in the Chile match. The move would set in motion a chain of events that would see Cisse move seven times over the next six years, firstly to Sunderland (on loan), then to Panathinaikos in Greece, Lazio in Italy, QPR in England, Al-Gharafa in Qatar (on loan) and now FC Kuban in Russia, signing a one year deal with a option for a second all being well.

Cisse has played for France41 times, scoring 9 times  (Image from Getty)

Cisse has played for France41 times, scoring 9 times
(Image from Getty)

But for a talent like Cisse, who is a proven goal scorer with every club he has been at, the question remains around why this once hot commodity has not lost his appeal? Given Nicollin’s remarks, which are in line with Cisse’s other passion for Djing; we start to wonder if it is indeed Cisse’s overall attitude that is the reason. He has talent in abundance that is for sure, but if he is a clubs worst nightmare as a player, the goals to game ratio starts to lose a bit of its shine. His last boss in England, QPR’s Harry Redknapp is no sucker for over bearing egotistical players so would be unlikely to stand by and watch Cisse cause problems. In a time when QPR desperately needed goals to survive, Redknapp decided to ship Cisse off to Qatar for the remainder of the season, giving us the clearest indication of Cisse’s nature and Redknapps low tolerance for it. If it is indeed the way that Cisse carries himself or his actions away from the pitch that is putting potential suitors off, then it is up to the player himself to realize this and change. The world deserves to see Cisse play on the biggest stages that football can provide but it’s unlikely to happen unless Cisse changes his ways.

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April Round up – Goals, Gaffs and Guardiola

A Newcastle fan punches a horse (Image from Getty)May is the one of the most exciting months in domestic football. As the season draws to close, fans are poised on the edge of their seats waiting to see if their team is successful in winning the league, avoiding the drop or lifting the cup. For the first time since their famous win in 1997, Borussia Dortmund are looking forward to the Champions League final at Wembley on the 25th May, where they will face either Barcelona or fierce rivals Bayern Munich. The odds are firmly stacked against the Spanish side who trail 4-0 from the first leg but miracles do happen. Back in the Premiership, the fight for the title is over with Manchester United beating Manchester City to the post and picking up their 20th title, an english record. All eyes are now focused on the bottom of the table to see who will join QPR and Reading in the Championship next year. Newcastle, Wigan, Aston Villa and Sunderland are in a vicious dog fight with all four clubs desperate to avoid the drop.

On the Move - Mario Gotze  (Image from Reuters)

Champions League Final bound – Mario Gotze
(Image from Reuters)

Last month we took at look at two of those teams – Sunderland and Newcastle, focusing on two key stories, Sunderland’s appointment of controversal manager Paolo Di Canio and Newcastle’s recent slump which has left them dangling in the bottom half of the table. Di Canio got off to a flyer with unexpected wins against Everton and Newcastle before being cruelly brought back to earth with a bump by a rampant Aston Villa. Newcastle, who lost the Tyne Wear derby 3-0 have had a bad month, both on the pitch and off it. On the pitch, they crashed out of a winnable Europa League after defeat against Benfica then saw their domestic form slump as well picking up only 5 points out of a possible 15 during April. Off the pitch, the Tyne Wear derby was marred by the return of the english hooligan with Newcastle fans rioting after the match and one fan even punching a police horse. They were not alone in a month to forget for English football followers as fans of Millwall, Stoke, Bradford and Portsmouth all contributed to tarnishing the beautiful game’s reputation.

New Sunderland Boss Di Canio  (Image from Getty)

New Sunderland Boss Di Canio
(Image from Getty)

Also leading the charge in setting a bad example was Liverpool’s Luis Suarez who was banned for 10 games following an incident against Chelsea where he appeared to bite the arm of Branislav Ivanovic. The striker was slammed by his manager and the club for his actions before dramatically performing a U-turn and defending his actions, insisting it wasn’t worth a ten match ban. Very strange indeed. It could have been a lot worse for Liverpool, just look at AEK Athens who are now having to fight for survival without influential young midfielder Giorgos Katidis, now serving a ban for performing a nazi salute as a celebration. The incident which happened in March has not help AEK’s plight as they desperately tried to avoid the drop. However Sunday’s defeat in the final game, and a three-point deduction handed down for fan violence has resulted in AEK being relegated and dropping out of the Greek Super League for the first time in their history.

Suarez sinks his teeth in  (Image from SkySports)

Suarez sinks his teeth in
(Image from SkySports)

As AEK dismiss their manager following relegation, other teams across Europe are gearing up to follow suit. In a piece we called the six degrees of managerial separation, we predicted a chain of events that would start with Real Madrid and exiting manager Jose Mourinho and end back at Real with their new potential coach. See if you agree with us on our predictions. One manager who has already been confirmed is Bayern Munich’s new head coach, Pep Guardiola who has already started his revolution by signing Borussia Dortmund winger Mario Gotze. The player arrives for a record german transfer fee and kicks off what is sure to be a transformational time for the Bavarian club. Another club preparing for a transformational season is Cardiff City who led by Scot Malky Mackay celebrated last month with promotion to the Premiership. Cardiff will want to avoid the same fate as many promoted teams who find the move to difficult and end up back in the Championship after only a year. We looked at what Cardiff need to do to avoid the drop in their first season in England’s top division.

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

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

Also making the news last month was the never aging story of Nigerian footballer Taribo West, who Serbian officials are now pursuing over allegations that he lied about his age to gain a contract with Partizan Belgrade. It would appear that he is not the only player to have done this with other players from the same region reported to have done this. Two players who don’t need to do this just yet are Esbjerg’s Youssef Toutouh and Utrecht’s Mike van der Hoorn who made the news in April but for different reasons. Toutouh took the plaudits in April with a stunning effort against high-flying Randers whilst Van Der Hoorn felt the heat due to a clumsy error in Utrechts 6-0 defeat at the hands of AZ Alkmaar. Both players have exciting careers ahead of them so we are sure this won’t be the last time we hear from them. Also featured a crazy Bulgarian coach ripping up a referees cards, a goal from a goalkeeper, Bebeto’s resignation from the CBF and a look at Hamburg’s tactical woes in what proved to be a busy month. May is likely to throw up more interesting stories so please keep checking the blog and enjoy!

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