Saturday, 24 December 2011

Only a fool would see Man City walking away with this title...


A decent stadium. A cool, calm, composed manager. A mind-boggling array of talent.

All qualities of title winning teams, and in Manchester City, a great contender for the 2011/12 crown. However, while they are still newbies in this race lasting until May, there are a couple of old guns waiting in the wings, ready to pounce, on any mistake or slip from the boys in blue.

With City beating their neighbours 6-1 on their own patch. Football fans all over the land flocked to betting shops and hastily threw their notes on them winning the title. They may well be sweating on their slips come May time when they host Warnocks Queens Park Rangers side, who may well be playing for something themselves, along with Uniteds opponents Sunderland.

Saying this, I do think Manchester City are the team to beat this year. What interests me, is what happens when they do get beaten, as sometime this season, they are almost certain to get one of those accumulator-breaking results, a frustrating 0-0 draw, or a last minute loss thanks to the backside of an opposition striker.

They were beaten by Chelsea recently in the league, but calling that a bad result, just shows the ridiculous collection of players City have, and also how wayward we are from reality after a few cheques have been signed.

Manchester United have it etched into their minds to stay in touch now, and just wait patiently behind them, waiting for this result to come. Should it come, the million pound question is, how would City respond to it?

It is easy to say the likes of Kompany, both Toures, could step up and rally the troops, but until it happens, nobody knows. With United just 2 points behind, all they have to do is sit, wait, and snatch the opportunity if it comes. What is for sure, is that unlike City, in Ryan Giggs, United have that old head that has been there, done that, got the t-shirt, more than once in fact. For me, I just dont see anyone on that pitch that could steady that ship after a couple of bad results on the pitch in the league. Maybe I am wrong. We will have to see..

Im sure people will be scorning at me for dismissing this title as a 2 horse race after 17 games. However, with Spurs being the closest team to them, I really dont think they have the squad or the know-how to survive a title race into the closing weeks of the season, they will simply just drop off with 5 or 6 games to go, if not before.

With Chelsea, you have a fabulous win at home to Man City, followed up by a draw against lowly Wigan. In Villas-Boas they have a cracking manager, and a great squad, but this year, without a record breaking run in the league, I cannot see them sitting at the same feasting table as those in Manchester come May.

Arsenal and Liverpool. With their very contrasting bank accounts over the summer, both teams are barely separable this season so far, although arguably Liverpool have come alot further after last seasons debacle under Wobbling Woy Hodgson. Even so, personally I expected them to be bigger contenders than they have been so far, and as for Arsenal fans, expectation is just as fantasy as Narnia and Santa Claus.

So for me, it is a straight shoot-out between Mancini and Ferguson. I fully expect both sides to run away from the pack, and leave a very interesting 4-way shootout for 3rd. Mancini said last week that they need 90 points for the title. I have a funny feeling it may be more than that.

What is for sure, is that everyone with half a footballing head will be tuned in for the derby on the 28th April. 36th game of the season, and it could well seal it. We're all suckers for suspense, lets just hope we get a bit more.



Merry Christmas to all. Be sure to follow and share with your friends!


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Wednesday, 23 November 2011

The English League Cup. Not particularly English.


Written by Brad Smith

Like it or not, the English League Cup, or Carling Cup as it is now known, is not considered a major trophy by some managers, with Arsene Wenger relaying to the press last year that, "winning it would not end his trophy drought". Although Alex Ferguson said it was a trophy "worth winning". So is a game of rock, paper, scissors, Sir Alex.

Also, if you look at statistics from the Premier League last season, you will find less than 35% of the players who were used were English. Which isn't a lot. Fair enough, the FA did try and introduce a rule, that in each clubs 25 man squad, they must name 8 "home grown" players. Though that rule had so many leaks and transparency, if you had been to London and could spell tea, you were almost there.

I like the idea, and I think it could work, but not in this present way. You have a lot of the lower Premier League teams having a higher percentage of at least British players, but as you go up the league, with the exception of Tottenham, and possibly Liverpool, there are less and less.

If you take these two problems, the ageing and overlooked Carling Cup, and the lack of English/British players, and I think the FA have a great opportunity. The Carling Cup, Worthington Cup, FlyBe Bet365 CompareTheMarket Cup, whatever name brings in the most money, the original name is often overlooked. The English League Cup.

Why not use this competition the one to blood the youngsters and the British into and improve the English game? With the current squad for the cup at 18, 7 substitutes, if you introduced a rule where say 10, or 12 of the 18 players had to be British or Irish. Is sounds like a large amount, but this isn't the Premier League, and considering most of the top clubs are turning their noses up at the cup anyway, I think this could seriously work, and would be some sort of reward for the teams with the best English/British players.

There is one more problem with this however, as what constitutes a British player now? Personally, I would suggest that instead of changing country like their underwear between age groups, say at the age of 18, players should have to declare which country they want to represent, as I believe we would find alot more players wanting to play for the country they are best socially connected too, and feel more towards, than the one they have more chance of representing.

You look at players like Carlo Cudicini, and Mikel Arteta, that because of their national teams overflowing with stars, they are talked about to represent England. But, call me old-fashioned, call me what ever you want, although these are top class players, I wouldn't want them pulling on an England shirt just as much as I don't fancy bleating out the German national anthem.

Of course, this is only my view of attempting to spice up the League Cup, and improving the English game, and in no way would this prevent us exiting major competitions early, on penalties at the hands of a rival country. I do have an idea for this though, introducing the penalty shootout to the national curriculum aged 7, heavily supervised by German teachers, until they are the age where they can decide their own career, whether that be a penalty taker for England, or a goalkeeper for England.

Then we would moan we had too much choice.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Pulling the plug on the Lower Leagues.




The Premier League. The Promised Land. Whatever you want to call it, it is the pinnacle of English Football, where every club strives to be, playing the best, beating the best.

However, over the last few years, the divide between the top tier and the lower leagues has been rapidly increasing, from the owners, to the stadiums and academies of our beloved teams.

Recently, the EPPP (Elite Player Performance Plan) was voted for by 46 of the Football League clubs, which many people believe is due to the fact that had the new plan not been voted for, then the Premier League would've withdrawn the current funding for youth development, £5m per year, that is currently in place.

So, what is this new plan, and what does it mean for lower league clubs?

Well, taking Milton Keynes Dons as an example, they recently recieved a £1.5m transfer fee from Chelsea for a 14 year old. Under the new rules, clubs will be paid a certain amount depending on how long they were under the clubs development for, between £3k and £40k per year, between the ages 9-16.

In short, it means that many top level clubs, awash with cash, could pay less than £100,000 per player to these clubs, a small percentage of what they would currently have to agree with the clubs for each player.

The main problem I have with this, is although the youth academies in place will be graded, and the better ones will be given more attention and coaching, it glosses over the lower league clubs, and seems to just be solely for the purpose of finding future England stars.

If clubs can get 10 players for the price of 1, I fear we will see more clubs taking low gambles of many more players, meaning there simply isnt enough room for them in these top teams to progress, leaving many hopeful youngsters tossed on the scrapheap, before they have been given a proper chance to shine.

I believe this new plan will put an end to the story, and the dreams of myself, and many others as youngsters. The one where as a 10 year old kid starting in his local academy, gets his debut for his boyhood club at 16, before being signed by a big club, captaining them to Champions League glory at 28, only to go back and play out his career at his local club, and end there as a hero.

Or maybe i'm just too much of a traditionalist. Make your own judgement.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Abolishing relegation.... One step too far?

Most people think that football has already changed for the worse. Some people think that its irrevesible. But the latest news is that some foreign owners want to abolish relegation.

I had to read it twice to believe it. First was the famous 39th game, where teams jet off midweek to some super country like America, and play a game against each other infront of an audience of random football fans, for no other reason than an extra 0 on the bank account.

The people in charge of the clubs are not real fans, and they don't have the faintest clue about football. Thats when it became a business. Would you employ someone to take over a biscuit company because they once ate a hobnob? Or someone else because they was passionate about the company, and wanted to carry on what had been left behind.

10 of the 20 clubs in the Premier League are owned by foreigners. Not that I have anything against foreign people with a lot of money, but they are ruining the game, and threatening to bury the coffin they have already nailed a few hundred gold plated nails into.

For a motion to be passed, there needs to be 14 of the 20 owners of clubs defending it. As a football fan, you have to ask, who would vote for that? Then you think back, and realise these are businessmen. Scraping relegation. A terrible idea to the football fan, but to the owners, guarenteed money, and a threat taken away from them.

£80m is the reported figure for promoted clubs. The euphoria, the passion, of that playoff final. That last day of the Premier League, scrapping away for a point to stay up. That famous phrase, its not the winning, its the taking part that counts. Pass a couple more motions, and there won't be a competition to win.

So, what else would this legislation mean for clubs? Of course the Man Citys and the Chelseas shouldn't worry. But say a team like Blackburn, whose foreign owners may well vote for the system, then end up relegated on the crucial d-day when it takes place. A team that won the Premier League in its early days, now having zero chance of winning it again? On top of the owners voting for it to happen.

To say that the idea defies logic and is stupid would be an understatement. In the same week, we have had Liverpool's owners suggest that the top teams deserve more TV rights than the bottom bunch, trying to make that ladder to the top even harder to climb.

Falling attendances, increased wages, players rebelling against managers. Fans are already desperately unattached from their clubs, now you've got people trying to distance clubs from leagues.

Give it 20 years and we'll all be paying £3000 to see Manchester United in their yearly football encounter against Manchester City in the 300,000 Google Stadium in London.

Football's fine though, isn't it guys?

Thursday, 6 October 2011

England in 2012. Can they go the extra mile?

Short Answer? Probably not.

Will it be our best team for a while? Definately.

So, why can't they win Euro 2012 you ask? Two reasons. Spain and Germany. Both have accomplished teams, and in Spain, the current world beaters. Beating a team that realistically were a League below them in class, and who are probably still a class above the current England team.

When comparing the 3 teams, I like to use the jigsaw puzzle concept. England, have been putting the puzzle together for years, but, by the time they've found the pieces they are looking for, the dog has chewed a couple off the corner, and so on, in one big annoying circle, where the puzzle, will probably never actually ever be completed.

So they should take Mr.Germany's view on things, and do what they did in 2010. Scrap the old puzzle, and bring in a completely new one. Box and all. That worked. They picked through the gaps in Englands "puzzled" defence, before destroying the helpless Argies, who luckily for most of us, won't be playing in Euro 2012, most probably due to the fact that Carlos Tevez won't want to drive the team coach. Ok, I lied, they're not European.

That brings us onto Spain. The world-beaters. El Championes. The dogs bollocks. Few would bet against them retaining their World Cup, let alone this smaller competition. Their puzzle was completed in style. They sorted out all the side bits and corners first, grouped all their puzzle bits, and sat there looking smug whilst gluing each tiny bit into a nice golden frame, even when some crazy Dutch geezers were kicking them in the face near the end.

So, back to England....

In Joe Hart, we have the making of a settled England No.1 since the Victorian times, and in Terry and Cole, have bags full of experience, on the pitch, and off it. Gary Cahill, despite being at the under-performing Bolton, would be my choice of CB to partner Terry, leaving Johnson and probably Smalling to scrap over the RB spot like a pair of rabid dogs.

Wingers. Where do we start here? Not long ago we were pinning our hopes on Shaun Wright-Phillips, and a schoolkid from Arsenal who looked like he had won a competition to be in the squad.

Now, it seems some special breeding program was developed, and we have Ashley Young, Stuart Downing, Adam Johnson, James Milner, and Theo Walcott fighting for the jerseys, with a few very competent back-ups.

The centre of midfield is what worrys me. It seems Parker and Barry will be ones to battle it out come next year. Don't get me wrong, I think they are both great players, but at 30 years of age each, I think the likes of Xavi/Iniesta, Muller/Kroos and others will be way too much, and where Englands opponents will look to exploit.

Strikers. The goal scorers. The only question is, who will play alongside Wayne Rooney? Andy Carroll, who the Guardian printed "shows shades of Alan Shearer" after a defeat of the world-beaters Plymouth Argyle. Darren Bent? Who has scored goals wherever he has gone, and doesn't even drink alcohol, which will at least increase the blood levels in the teams alcohol system by a smidge.

However, it could easily be one of the new boys. Agbonlahor? Welbeck? Or even Peter Crouch after a revitalised season at the Premier Leagues top rugby team Stoke City.

What ever happens, I do believe under Fabio Capello, we have the ability to beat the Netherlands, the Portugals, but without a significant improvement as a team as well as individuals, I forsee a semi final heartache against either of the two teams mentioned.

But then again, who would bet against a heartbreaking 7-6 penalty defeat at the hands of some Eastern European minnows in the quarter finals?

That is exactly why we all love football.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Manchester United are trying to prove you can't buy the title...... But what can these billionaires buy??


Manchester United.

You either support them, or you hate them. But is all that about to change?

Now we have the unlimited money pots of Chelsea and Manchester City clawing away at the feet of United, are people slowly beginning to change their views on them?

After United had picked up 8 titles in just 12 years, along to London popped a certain Russian man, with a cheeky smile, a promise, and a lot, nearing infinite money. That promise was to bring that coveted silver trophy back to London, with the help of Jose Mourinho, and an open cheque book.

Fast forward to August 2011. Chelsea won consecutive Premier Leagues, before surrendering it back to Manchester United for 4 of the next 4 seasons. The other two of the so-called Top 4 are having more troubles than Steve McLaren and Steve Kean combined.

But of course now we have a new player, Manchester City. A couple of exquisite signings, a flamboyant Italian in charge, and a fancy celebration stolen from a trip to Eastern Europe. They have the makings of a title charge this season, in what most people believe will be a 3 way battle for the league.

All the while, United have been there plugging away, with their modest bank account, a commited set of players, and Wrigleys No.1 fan at the helm.

Few would put their house on which team will lift the trophy in May, but will people be sticking their nose up if United come out top again?

Of course all teams will have their problems this season, already we've had United's £20m De Gea throw a couple of Robert Greens, Chelsea's £50m "striker" hitting more spectators than goals, and City's £45m Argentinian throw a few toys out the pram wanting to leave, before apparently refusing to fulfill his duties as a footballer.

So.. For £115m, we can get a goalkeeper, and two strikers that can't or won't do their job. Proving you can have all the money in the world, but its not going to guarentee you win anything.

My personal view is that Mr. Fernando will have a much better season, and start to repay that huge transfer fee, whilst Mr.De Gea will have an average season, whilst dropping a few clangers, and that Mr.Tevez will eventually leave the country, and his team painfully short of expensive strikers.

The Man United haters may have a chuckle if their neighbours or London rivals pip them at the post, but I certainly wouldn't bet against the United fans having the last laugh.