Manager Talk

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A Scapegoat is Born

Months ago, when everyone was raving about Harry Redknapp being the next England manager, I predicted that the FA would hire Roy Hodgson.  My reasoning was that the FA needs a scapegoat.

Harry Redknapp is the teflon man, no one can hate him and he never gets blamed when things go wrong.  When England go to Euro 2012 and inevitability perform poorly, no one would consider it to be Harry’s fault.  Instead they would start looking at the players, and worst of all the FA themselves!  Maybe the old guard, the likes of Gerrard, Lampard, Rooney are just not good enough anymore.   However these are the players that bring in the big attendances, big sponsors and big money for the FA.  These players also give the FA safe results; “England may not win with these players, but at lease we won’t get beaten badly”, is the mentality.

Maybe people would start to look at the FA and think “are they doing enough” to encourage and bring young talent through the football system.  Maybe people would start to think it’s time for a change right at the top levels of the FA.  But, of course, the FA could not allow this kind of thinking to occur.

Instead they have found the perfect patsy in Roy Hodgson.  He seems to have a personality that fans just love to hate, at the first sight of a poor result the fans and media will already be out for his blood.  Hodgson will continue to trot out in front of the cameras and deliver monotone speeches about how “we need to work on this and that” each week.

Eventually, after a few failed tournaments, Hodgson will quietly fall on his sword with dignity and the FA will find another puppet.

Don’t get me wrong, Hodgson is a great manager, but he is suited to lower end Premier League teams, such as Fulham or West Brom, where he can always exceed expectations and the fans will love him.  But any job where a win is expected in every match, is not the job for Roy Hodgson.

Can Roberto Di Matteo Save Chelsea Job?

The life of an interim manager in the English Premier League is a treacherous one.  For their predecessor to be fired, it shows that the team was struggling.  Proving even more challenging is to be interim manager at Chelsea.  In the past few years, both Avram Grant and Gus Hiddink were added to the club in an effort to improve the team mid season.  In both cases, the new manager brought some success to the club and re-invigorated the side.  But also in both cases, the manager was fired after the season ended.  So, what does Di Matteo have to do in order to show that he can stay in charge of one of Europe’s most proud and wealthy clubs?

First, Di Matteo will need for Chelsea to qualify for the UEFA Champions League next year.  To do that, the club will have to finish at least fourth in the Premiership table.  The team currently resides in 6th position, two points from the crucial spot.  Their recent form in the EPL has been quite inconsistent, only winning two matches of their last five.  The run in is also rather daunting with Chelsea set to face Arsenal, Liverpool, and Newcastle in their last five games.  If Di Matteo fails to lead a successful charge in the next month, he will be replaced.

A secondary goal for Di Matteo will be to win the FA Cup.  Chelsea has endured a horrendous campaign, but a trophy would make the season at least a partial success.  They had a wonderful 5-1 thrashing over Tottenham at Wembley Stadium last Sunday to progress to the final where they will face Liverpool.  Liverpool has also endured a rough year, but their Carling Cup victory shows that they can make a victorious run for a domestic trophy.  Both teams will be eager for the prize, and if Di Matteo can win it, he will display a winning characteristic that could just keep his job for next season.

Most important is the coveted Champions League trophy.  For all of Chelsea’s woes, they have progressed to the semifinals of Europe’s greatest club competition and are set to face Barcelona.  Clearly this will be the hardest task.  Even if they make the final, they will play either Bayern Munich or Real Madrid.  Owner Roman Abromovich has desperately wanted to win the Champions League, but Chelsea has yet to perform the feat.  The closest they came was in 2008, when the team lost to Manchester United in the finals during a penalty kick shootout.  John Terry had an opportunity to seal the win but his slip and consequential miss meant Chelsea was to go home empty handed.  Avram Grant had taken Chelsea further than ever before but it wasn’t enough, and he was dismissed shortly thereafter.

Ultimately, Roberto Di Matteo will need to win the Champions League in order to become the full time manager.  It is the only trophy that Chelsea has yet to win, and would prove to the owner that he is the man.  Unfortunately, I don’t believe that such a task is possible, but perhaps, given the inspired football Chelsea has played during the last few weeks in tournaments, they just might rise to the occasion and save their season.

That Time of Year Again

One can normally tell that the holiday season is upon us when the first major round of premier league manager sackings comes around; ready for new manager to come in and make some signing in the January transfer window.

Normally the sackings are fairly predictable; teams cut adrift in the relegation zone; teams appearing in the newspaper next to titles such as “Worst start to the season in 25 years”, etc..

This year, however, it seems pure madness the managers that have been shown the door.  So far both Sam Allardyce of Blackburn and Chris Hughton of Newcastle have been fired.

Let’s examine both cases; Chris Hughton took charge of a Newcastle team which had just been relegated under a string of celebrity managers and looked as though they could easily fall off the face of the planet.  Somehow Hughton managed to hang on to many key players and got them to comfortably win the Championship at the first time of asking.

Having got back into the Premier League he was given very limited resources, but still made some great transfers like Ben Arfa on loan, who looks a fantastic player but was unfortunately injured early in the season, and Tiote who is one of the best defensive midfielders I’ve seen in a while.

For any newly promoted club the main objective of the first season is to stay away from relegation.  Hughton had the team sitting mid-table and looking no where near relegation candidates…

Newcastle owner Mike Ashley is either hell bent on destroying the club or has some unbelievably unrealistic expectations…does he honestly think his newly promoted team should be challenging the top 4 with almost no new investment?

In the case of Sam Allardyce we all know the kind of football he plays, it’s not pretty, involves a lot of long balls and players “putting themselves about”.  And no one would be surprised if some new big spenders came in to buy the club and wanted to watch a bit of flashy one-touch passing instead.

However it seems the new Blackburn owners have absolutely no clue.  They have touted their transfer budget this year of a whooping 5 million pounds…about enough to buy a bag of Carlos Tevez’ toenail clippings.  Basically they will buy a few very average players and then expect these players to magically play top-4 quality football?

They need to get real.  Big Sam is the best man there is at taking a bottom half of the table club, and getting them to finish mid-table or above.  Which is exactly the situation at Blackburn.  The fact that the new owners have been talking about finishing in the top 5 shows really how naive they are, and the club could well suffer for this.

Wolves Under the Magnifying Glass

McCarthy team selectionMany people and clubs involved in the Premier League are up to arms about Wolverhampton Wanderers team selection when they faced Manchester United at old trafford last night.

The Wolves team that Mick McCarthy sent out to play against the champions was largely second choice players; in contrast to United’s team sheet which was almost all regular first team players.

Predictably Manchester won the game easily and went joint top of the league leaving many other clubs with a bitter taste; seeing points gifted to their competitors.

Personally I can not see what all the fuss is about.  McCarthy made a pretty understandable decision.  He has two games in one week, one against United in which they would be very unlikely to get any points no matter which team they put out, and another match against Burnley.  So he has rested his key players to increases his chances in an already winnable match against Burnley.

This seems to make sense from Wolves point of view, and it just seems so crazy that the Premier League would try to force managers to make strategic decision not based on how it will affect their own team, but how it could affect position battles between other teams in the league…

I do feel for the fans who had traveled to see essentially a reserves team line up, but any true fan it going to want to see their team avoid relegation gather than be “entertained” for the one game they’ve traveled to.

Ferguson’s chance to slay Rafa

Liverpool Manchester United Ferguson BenitezOver the years Alex Ferguson and Rafa Benitez have had some epic battles both off and on the pitch.  Sometimes Rafa has won, sometimes Ferguson, but always Ferguson has come away having the last laugh at the of the season.

This weekend could be the biggest match of them all;  a gleaming chance for Ferguson to deliver the final death blow, possibly sealing Benitez’ Premier League demise.

Liverpool are coming off the back of 4 consecutive losses, the worst run in 20 years.  This season they have truly become a 2 man team, with Gerrard and Torres just having to do way too much.  The knives are out for Rafa in the boardroom and now even the terraces are calling for blood.
At the moment top half of the table is looking a good result for Liverpool, let alone top four.

On the other hand Manchester United are top of the table already, despite often starting the season slowly.  They have take the loss of Ronaldo in their stride and kept winning.  Also having a 100% record in the Champions League, opposed to Liverpool’s 1 win and 2 losses.

Surely if Manchester United go to Anfield and not only deal Liverpool their 5th straight loss, but also give them a right spanking, which they could well do;  it might see Rafa being shown the exit.

More Drama at Anfield

Rafa Benitez blamed for FailureThis week the Liverpool co-owner George Gillett has come out and put all the blame for Liverpool’s poor start to the season on Rafa Benitez.  Saying that Liverpool have spent more money than their competitors but due to bad management by Benitez are failing to challenge for trophies.

Rafa has, more professionally, declined to comment on the situation; but is clearly not happy with the way Gillett has public criticized the Spaniard.

It seems like every season since Hicks and Gillett took over the club there has been bickering between the manager and the owners.

I’m not a big fan of Rafa, he has spent poorly on the wrong players, sold the wrong players, his player rotation policy is often at fault, and his tactics are sometimes overly negative.  However I have to side with him on this topic; the owners have no business publicly airing their dirty laundry.  If they have a problem with Rafa they should call a meet with Rafa, not call a press conference.

It’s clear that the owners have no loyalty to Liverpool FC and are only looking out for their own interests.  They are still looking to sell the club and are trying to make it seem to potentially buyers that the club is in good shape; they are just not winning because of the bad manager.

For all Rafa’s failings the failings of the owners are 10 folder.  They said they were going to build a new stadium when they came in…where has that gone?  They said they’ve given Rafa more money to spend than other clubs, but where is all that “money”?  This summer they sold Alonso, Arbaloa for £35m and bought Aquilani and Johnson for £37.5m (plus some other smaller ins and outs).  So that’s a £2.5m transfer budget…?  That doesn’t exactly seem like Rafa has been given a lot of cash to work with.

The fact is Gillett and Hicks have come in and borrowed way too much against the club and for a while now have been trying to sneak out the back door.  Like rats from a sinking ship they are trying to distance themselves from the lack of achievements at Liverpool.

Robinho Injury a Blessing in Disguise?

I am back from Singapore after having a great time watching the Grand Prix, well done Lewis Hamilton who ran away with it in the end.  I have to recommend Singapore to any travelers out there as it is a fantastic city, great people and excellent food.

Robinho injuried for 3 more weeksAnyways time to get back to football!

Manchester City have revealed their £32.5million striker, Robinho, is expected to take another 3 weeks to recover from injury.

At first this seems to be very bad news, but this might not necessarily be the case.  Robinho was not playing exceptionally well prior to the injury, and Manchester City have been done very well without him.

When he does come back from injury Mark Huge will undoubtedly feel the pressure to get him back into the team.  This would likely result in Bellamy or Tevez having to ride the bench; although they have both been playing very well and would definitely be disgruntled by such a move .

Huge may have dodge a team selection bullet for now, but at some point he is going to have to start making difficult decisions as to which big ego he is most willing to rub the wrong way.

Wenger’s Fourth Official Farce

Arsene Wenger Old Trafford sent offIt was a great match between Manchester United and Arsenal yesterday, in which Arsenal took a first half lead, but United came back in the second half with a penalty and an own goal to nick the result.

There were a couple of incidences which bothered me.  Firstly where on earth did the referee find 5 minutes of added on time at the end of the match from?  Surely such a long amount of added on time should be reserved for a serious injury, severe time wasting or some kind of players bust up.  There were almost no stoppages in the game last night, I think the officials need to be held accountable for time added on.  They can’t just base the the time on how heated the game is, or how much chance one team has of coming back.

This brings me to the second point; in the final seconds of the 5th minute of time added on Van Persie scored a would be equalizer only to have it chalked off because Gallas had been offside when he nodded the ball down.

Meanwhile Wenger was celebrating the goal on the sidelines only to realize it wasn’t going to count, he then took his frustrations out on a water bottle, kicking it down the sidelines.  This is when 5 minutes of absolute foolishness began.  Keeping in mind that time was already up and the match was one kick of the ball away from the final whistle, the 4th official decided to call the referee over and report the Wenger water bottle kicking.  They then discussed the situation for a while and decided to send Wenger to the stands, where the Arsenal boss had to walk into a sea of Old Trafford faithful all booing, jeering and making certain gestures.

As if this walk of shame was not enough, the officials then decided he was not far enough back from the pitch and would need to come back down and instead leave the field completely.  As a United fan I just about fell off the couch laughing, but I can imagine there are quite a few irate Gunners fans out there, seeing their manager treated in such a manner.

Wenger had not even got off the field before the final whistle came.  The officials should be thoroughly ashamed of the way the game end, and the way they handled Wenger’s understandable water bottle incident.

Moyes still the boss?

David Moyes 6-1 ArsenalIt was just last week that David Moyes was saying “Well he knows who makes the decisions at Everton – it’s me, not like other clubs.” in regards to the much hyped transfer saga of Joleon Lescott to Manchester City.

It will be interesting to see if Moyes is so keen to tout himself as the only decision maker at Everton after the shocking 6-1 opening day home defeat to Arsenal.

I can’t remember the last time Everton got thrashed like this at home, but Moyes obviously needs to rethink the team direction this season, because they played very poorly.   Against an Arsenal team which is supposedly weakened from the last season, but they were looking anything but weak last night.

Many people, such as myself, had written off Arsene Wenger’s title chances  this season, but after this display he has definitely got everyone’s attention.

I give him 3 months; Ancelotti

carlo ancelotti sacked soonHe could make me eat my words, but from what I’ve seen so far I don’t expect Carlo Ancelotti to make it as Chelsea boss all way to the end the season.

His midfield diamond does not look suited to Chelsea at all, and you’d think he would have realized this from the Community Shield match against Manchester United, and would have adjusted this tactic to suit the team.

In both matches they have played so far, against United and Hull City they have looked very narrow, and especially against Hull looked lacking in the width needed to break teams down.

You may think I’m crazy seeing as Chelsea have won 2 games out of 2; a perfect 100% record for the new manager.  But Chelsea have the players and mentality to get results no matter what the tactics, and this is what they have done so far.  But this will not work week in week out, and nor will Roman Abramovich accept it week in week out.

The problem with some of the managers that Chelsea have signed is they are  “big name” managers, who all come with their specific way of doing things, and everyone has to follow that way.  Instead of tayloring their tactics to suit the players.