Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Can Spurs really challenge City and United for the title?

Tottenham Hotspur brushed aside Norwich City last night to go seven points behind the two Manchester clubs with a game in hand.

Are Spurs a real threat for the Premier League title?

After losing their first two games (to United and City) they have only lost once since - to Stoke City - and they were desperately unlucky to lose that one. So it's been 12 wins in 15 games since those two opening defeats.

Spurs have been knocked out of the Europa Cup while both City and United have fallen into it since being knocked out of the Champions League. That could be a blessing for Spurs, but there is no question of United or City treating it as anything like a priority.

In the League Cup Manchester City play Liverpool in the two-legged semi-final. United and Spurs have already been knocked out.

In the FA Cup one of Manchester United or Manchester City will definitely get knocked out and one will definitely progress - as they are drawn against each other. Tottenham have the 'luxury' of a home draw against League Two Cheltenham Town, so they should progress.

It boils down to Manchester City having a lot of games; United with the League and FA Cup (at least as far as beating City is concerned) as priorities, and Tottenham with the League and the FA Cup as far as it takes them.

Tottenham undoubtedly have a multi-talented midfield, with Scott Parker, Luka Modric, Rafael Van der Vaart, being supported superbly by Gareth Bale on one side and Aaron Lennon on the other. The defence looks fairly strong and is backed by 40+ Brad Friedel showing no signs of a dip in form.

Maybe it is only up front where Spurs lack the fire-power to match the best. They average 2 goals a game; United average 2.61 and City average 2.94.

But with City possibly distracted by other tournaments, it may depend on United and Tottenham's progress in the FA Cup as to which will challenge City the most.

I don't think Tottenham are quite ready yet, but they're close.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Rodgers should stop moaning and get on with it

I see Swansea City manager Brendan Rodgers is moaning about the Premier League schedule over the festive period. They play - as do all the Premier League clubs - four games in 12 days or so.

I find this all this rather incomprehensible. No club in England or Scotland has played fewer games than Swansea City have so far this season - 17. In contrast, Fulham have played 31, including their assault on the Europa League, but I haven't heard Martin Jol complaining. (If he has, he might have some justification.)

Swansea City got themselves dumped out of the League Cup at the first attempt - beaten 3-1 at Shrewsbury Town - and one wonders what effort they'll make to get past Barnsley in the FA Cup third round in January.

I'm sure the Swansea City board will welcome the games over the festive period as they are always well attended and bring in commensurate revenue

Swansea City could end up playing a mere 40 games in the whole season. One wonders what the objective is: to play football or not to play football?

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Fulham undone by last-gasp header

Fulham were undone by a sucker punch last night as they were knocked out of the Europa League by an injury-time header by Odense BK of Denmark.

Fulham were seemignly curising into the last 32 at half-time with a 2-0 lead, and needed to win to remain above Wisla Karkow in the group. But two second-half goals put paid to Fulham's Europa League ambitions. So ends a 14-game run in the competition which started way back on 30 June - nearly six months ago!

Despite a 3-1 defeat in Turkey, Stoke City qualified for the knock-out stages last night, but they could be the only British team to make it through the Europa League groups.

All of Celtic, Tottenham Hotspur and Birmingham City are starting this evening's round of matches in third place and all look unlikely to qualify.

But will they be sad or happy?

Celtic will be left to push for the SPL title. Tottenham will be left to push for (ahem) a European place, although they will hope to qualify for the Champions League; and Birmingham will be left to catch up their league games and settle down to plotting a way out of the Championship.

It makes you wonder why they bother to qualify in the first place.

Manchester City and Manchester United, take note.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Manchester has the Europa League to look forward to

I'm sure a few weeks ago, Manchester was preparing to laugh at London as, at various times both Arsenal and Chelsea appeared unlikely to progress out of the Champions League groups.

Well, the luagh was transferred to London last night as both Manchester clubs failed to progress, while both Chelsea and Arsenal had already won their groups the previous evening.

Oh, woe is Manchester!

City's damage had alrady been done in previous matches - not only losing to both Napoli and Bayern Munich away, but also only drawing with Napoli at home.

United had faltered in earlier matches two - having beaten only Otelul Galati in this group - but even so, a draw in Basel last night would have seen them through. They lost 2-1. The loss of so many strikers to injury is taking its toll, even on a squad as big as Manchester United's.

So, they're both left to concentrate on domestic competition - oh, and the Europa Leagu, of course.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Grassroots Football the Debate Goes On

I have made this post on behalf of a contributor who wished to remain anonymous.

I listened with interest this morning to the Radio 5 Live debate regarding Grass Roots football. As usual a large proportion of the callers cited the example (or lack of it) given by professional players each week on Match of the Day etc. They are of course an easy target and a point Trevor Brooking, once great player and an ideal role model, defended to the point of saying to one caller that he was wrong that the top level has to be sorted before the Grass Roots. Trevor’s view is that the club level, coaches and parents, the Grass Roots has to take the lead.

We’ve been told for years that we have to get things right at the bottom with the youngest of players, but as with all arguments there are two sides. My own view, without sitting on the fence, is that both are right. But, as important as it is to get it right when players are young, it is ludicrous to think that you can try to attempt to educate young boys and girls about respect and to play the game in the correct manner and spirit if the same isn’t done in the professional game at the same time. So, Trevor and 5 Live callers you’re both wrong ... and right!

For example, it is interesting that a young player sanctioned for violence on the pitch, i.e. punching an opponent in a youth game is likely to be banned for months at a time, perhaps longer (quite rightly), but the same offence in the Premier League can only carry a maximum three-game ban – crazy! Or that a young player swearing at a referee will be sent off and banned for a long period of time, but a professional player is unlikely to even be booked. Double standards that, I’m afraid, “the professional game” simply ignore and which, even more simply, just isn’t good enough.

The other usual argument that arises in these debates is comparing football with rugby and people generally put this down to a “class thing”: football is a working-class game etc, etc – rubbish! It’s about education and being set the right example. I feel insulted that as a middle-class person of means I can be ostracised from being able to enjoy playing or watching football because I have been deemed to have taken the game away from the masses. In the same manner I am sure the vast majority of decent working-class people feel insulted about being derided as unable to be respectful towards referees and are the parents who watch their child’s match shouting abuse and swearing, etc. This isn’t about class – it’s about society and basic manners.

Both ends of the spectrum have to be tackled and better examples set. This includes the PFA who continually defend players from the sometimes indefensible. Players not being allowed to be fined more than two weeks wages, or insisting some players are given another chance after they’ve punched someone on the pitch or in a nightclub for the umpteenth time and already had three or four previous chances.

The Football Association, County Associations and local Leagues have a long way to go too. Small sided football on smaller pitches is a fantastic idea and the new plans for 5v5 and 9v9 should be implemented straight away. However, County Associations and Leagues don’t promote this themselves.

Last season my under-11 side, playing 11-a-side football for the first season, played a cup semi-final on a neutral ground organised by the League on a full size pitch measuring 110m x 85m with full size goals. This is nearly the maximum allowable size for a football pitch – what a stupid thing to do, and subsequently an appalling game of un-enjoyable football was the result. At my own club we’re lucky to have a youth size pitch of 80m x 45m with youth size goals and yet the League itself insisted on organising matches on pitches that are inappropriate; it’s farcical and shouldn’t be allowed. It’s even more ludicrous when you consider both teams were happy to play the game on our club’s pitch but the League would not allow it!

It’s also interesting to note that now in our second season of 11-a-side football my young team has only played on a youth sized pitch with youth sized goals, that we are fortunate to have, away from home twice.  

The plan for the development of smaller sided teams playing on smaller pitches is great but the FA is going to have to support clubs and councils financially to provide the equipment. A set of 9v9 size goalposts cost approximately £400 a pair and even more for those with wheels that can be easily moved when not in use. Multiply that across hundreds of local leagues and thousands of teams because not all clubs will have the money available and in the current financial climate I suspect local councils will be prioritising their funds elsewhere.

The Respect campaign and Charter Standard Programme also need work. The Charter Standard programme is very good but essentially you get this status by filling out forms. The local FA then monitor that you have the right number of qualified coaches and proper documentation about codes of conduct etc, but they don’t look at the actual behaviour of the clubs, players, coaches and parents.

We play against a Charter Standard Club that frankly shouldn’t be allowed on a football pitch. Players as young as 10 are abusive to referees and the parents are truly unbelievable. I’m no shrinking violet when it comes to swearing but I never do it at football. I’ve even seen a parent from this club walk onto the pitch and confront a 15-year-old referee whilst an under-11 game was in progress and the teams coach was egging him on and hurling four letter abuse at our parents and coach who were trying to calm the situation!  Yet this club proudly boasts its Charter Standard status on their website.

I’ve heard, albeit anecdotally, that these incidents aren’t isolated for this club but other clubs who have complained officially to the League in the past have see nothing happen and now consider that there is no point in bothering to say anything because the League and local FA simply haven’t done anything. Why isn’t the behaviour of a clubs, players, officials and parents the key monitor for continuing to be called a Charter Standard Club?

It’s a damning indictment of the game as a whole such that I felt I had to write this article anonymously because of the concern I have that my own team and club will be vilified by the local FA and the local League by saying things about their organisation and the lack of action taken against clubs whose behaviour and Charter Standard status goes unpunished, even though I haven’t mentioned any by name. I’m sure this view is shared across the country.

All in all the FA have some great ideas for the development of the game at Grass Roots level but both ends of the spectrum have to be tackled at the same time, and professional players, coaches, managers, administrators, pundits, commentators, administrators and the PFA have to recognise that something has to change at their level as well and not continue to use the excuse that they are “professional” and exempt because of it.

Succinctly, a dive to get a penalty is cheating. It’s not “professional” nor is it “being clever”; both quotes are an ex-player-turned-pundit’s worst statements, but they are heard most weekends on Match of the Day when analysing a match and the eradication of that type of attitude alone would mark a major step forward for the game we love, all the way down to the Grass Roots.

Anon: Football fan, and youth coach.