Sunday 19 June 2016

Jamie Vardy & Arsenal

Jamie Vardy first came to my attention in that 5 - 3 win at the Kings Power Stadium 2 seasons ago. He bullied 'you know who' in that remarkable turn around for Nigel Pearson’s remarkable win. That victory and the relegation avoiding match winning streak of that Leicester side is worthy of anything Claudio Ranieri’s team have achieved.

I didn’t really like him as a person. He ticked a few negative boxes for me (in your face, chavvy, appears ready to start a fight) he got done for racism, excluded his parents from his life etc.

Last season, I paid no attention to him until the period leading up to him breaking Ruud Van Nistelrooy’s record against Manchester United.

The week before his team played Arsenal, when they beat Manchester City at the Etihad, I had them down as cheats and strongly believed the Premier League body & the PGMOL (referee’s body) had an agenda in ensuring the Leicester fairy tale turned into reality.

A week later at the Emirates, I was livid when Martin Atkinson gave a penalty kick award to Vardy. Not only did I conclude that Vardy was a cheat, I could bet money Mr. Atkinson was on the take.

And it happened. Leicester won the league, Vardy tried it a few more times, got away with some and it came back to bite him in the match versus West Ham. Jon Moss gave the decision that should have been rightfully given at the Emirates. 3 months later Referee Moss sent Vardy off at the King Power.

Vardy & Leicester won the league; I imagine it was well deserved. Vardy is now a full England international. He has won lots of accolade. Watch out for Jamie Vardy The Movie.

Then the news broke. Arsenal had met his release clause. It appears he was touted around and Arsenal initially declined, had a change of mind nearer the release clause expiration date and made a move.

When the news broke, it was a difficult one for me. I couldn't understand it as he didn’t fit the ‘good mummy’s boy’ profile; he wasn’t the ‘take 5 touches instead of 1’ type player; his next birthday is 30; he has had one decent season; and has thrived in a team playing in a particular type of way. I didn’t see the glove and hand fit.

I was somewhat apprehensive but not totally against the move. Quite unlike my emotions about the Luis Suarez move. I was 100% certain I didn’t want Suarez at Arsenal even at the expense of winning something. His later day relatively good boy behaviour at Barcelona suggests that maybe I and people who had the same views on that move were wrong.  Although his good behaviour  might be down to the fact that he is actually winning things at the Camp Nou.

As it became apparent that the Vardy deal was likely to happen, I was willing to forgive Jamie all his foibles & rationalise the move by focusing on the positive. His fire in the belly is good for the club; gets in the face of people (hopefully both in the dressing room and on the field of play); perhaps he can help stick 2 fingers at Piers Morgan; show some passion; hope that his ‘purple patch’ continues for one more season; destabilise Leicester etc.

As expected Leicester have fought back. They have countered the Arsenal offer, which is good for Vardy, as it appears his main aim is to secure his future. This is a commendable aim and without the Arsenal offer, he wouldn’t have received the new deal from Leicester. God how I need an Arsenal in my life. Hopefully my employer wont think its good riddance :(  

I wonder though if Leicester will be able to stem the flow of offers for others like Kante and Mahrez as bigger vultures with deeper pockets than Arsenal are out there. I can imagine PSG giving Kante the key to the vault of Bank National de Paris and asking him to ‘PRENEZ TOUT CE QUE TU VEUX’ (take everything you want). At that stage, even all of the Thai Baht in the World can’t compete with the Euros in BNP's vaults.

Also when Florentino Perez threatens to kill Ranieri’s pet cat if they don’t sell Mahrez to Real Madrid, the bosses at Leicester will have to do a deal on compassionate grounds to let him go.        

So it is looking like Vardy will stay at Leicester. Fair play to him. More money. You are already a King at the King Power. Have a wonderful Euros 2016 and try to replicate your 2015/16 form otherwise Judas’ fate on the streets of Lagos Nigeria awaits. 

Will Arsene lose sleep on Vardy curving Arsenal? I doubt. Does he lose sleep about missed transfers? I don’t think so. By bidding for Vardy, I believe the man has set the Lions after the foxes (:

I suspect the destabilisation aim has been achieved  It is open season on Leicester’s wily foxes. Their accountants must be cursing Ranieri for winning the league and not delivering the money trophy. The club has had to cough up league winning bonuses that they never expected to pay out. They had agreed 'lowish' release clauses in the belief that their players will never be in this type of demand and now they are faced with jacking up pay to unanticipated levels and offering unplanned long term contracts. Uneasy lies the head eh.     

What could the bosses at Leicester have done better? Shove contracts / or pre contracts in the face of their stars right after the league win for starters. The emotional attachment was stronger and the euphoria was higher. Its like when a woman asks a man for something just after ………….. (You know the drill). The answer is always YES. YES . YES.  (:

Personally if I was a Leicester player or Ranieri, I would have resigned after the league win. I doubt that victory will ever be topped. Win the league again? Win the Champions league? 'Havin a laff'.

In the event that lightning was mindful of striking twice, please place a decent size bet on Leicester, they are 33 to 1 to win the EPL & 50 to 1 for a UCL win. That means they are more likely to win the next EPL or UCL than they were to win the EPL last season. Dive in fellas.

So wither Arsenal?  I’m 100% certain talks are on for the next one. Mr. Wenger is not having a party in France. Even if we don’t sign another striker, who says Olivier Giroud can not have his Vardy moment in 2016/17. Arsenal players should pretend he his Vardy and punt the ball forward to him in double quick time. Watch Olivier win us the League.  Na na na na *music*

Sunday 12 June 2016


I love football. I enjoy playing, watching & reading about football.  I have recently added a love of writing about football to the list of things I enjoy. Of all these, I probably enjoy watching live football more. Watching over the ‘telly’ can be deceptive, you can’t see all the off - the - ball movements, you can’t share in the atmosphere and the unique camaraderie of fans.

Reading about football or listening to knowledgeable people talk about football is also a delight. Often these are people who have had some long standing and constructive involvement in the game. They offer uncommon insight, some nuances, some unspoken tricks of the trade that sometimes broaden the understanding of those of us who are observers.

My favourite section of newspapers has always been the sports pages and I have had a love for newspapers from a very young age. Reading match reports from renowned writers was a joy. Their writing took you right into the stadium. You could visualise what they were writing. 

But the world has changed a bit. News is instant, as the Internet has helped the speed at which it is transmitted. Another good or maybe bad thing is that everybody has an opinion and they want you to hear that opinion. Some are subtle about it but others are quite narcissistic about their opinions and will insist on shoving it down your throat even if you are suffering from Dysphagia.

Because of the immediacy of news and what appears the short attention span of news consumers nowadays, many media houses have gone to what appears to be extremes in capturing the attention of their audience. This has unfortunately seeped into football punditry.

As I said before, football pundits generally offer an insight; they might perhaps explain why certain moves are made on the pitch, why certain substitutions are made, the state of mind of players, that elusive thing that produces winners etc.

All of that appears to have disappeared and is more about opinions. Things they potentially know nothing about. Things to make them sound knowledgeable and get people 'yakking' away on social media platforms.  A few examples will potentially suffice:

Rio Ferdinand
“Wales players are more than happy to play with each other”
“Chris Coleman should tell Wales not to concede”

Lee Dixon
“England were perfect last night” (against Russia at Euros 2016)
“England shouldn’t have gone for 2 nil against Russia” (same game)

Michael Owen
“In a final, you either pick up the trophy or you don’t”
“Teams that play 2 up front and 5 in the middle do tend to ply 3 at the back”
“If Man City don’t score, they hardly ever win”

Samuel Kuffour
Just put his name in a search engine on Twitter. Remember not to choke or get upset 

It’s amazing. These guys are paid for these insightful comments. People actually sit on their backsides and consider these ‘pundits’ knowledgeable. I get it. They are richer than me. They have had very successful football careers, some playing at the highest level. 

They are celebrities. Very popular. If I saw one of them on the street, I will probably want to take a picture. But are these quotes of any use to me as a fan eager to learn from these guys experiences?   Do these quotes add anything to my knowledge of football? NO IT DOESN’T.

I therefore struggle to see what value some of these ex footballers add as pundits. If their addition is simply for box office reasons i.e. attract the dumb celebrity obsessed punters. Fine. Let us know.

However the media networks owe those of us searching for deeper understanding our own program. If it means waking up at silly o’clock to listen to knowledgeable & sensible talk about football, so be it. It is a sacrifice I am willing to make. But spare us these drones with nothing comprehensive to say.

The fact that a player had a distinguished football career at the very top does not miraculously turn him into a knowledgeable person. He doesn’t all of a sudden know all aspect of football. Rio was a defender, so was Lee Dixon. Owen was an attacker, fantastic players all of them. But they were told at every point in their career what to do. None of them has ever taken a day’s coaching session in competitive football.

Why should we trust anything they then say about a manager’s tactics, about setting out teams, about managerial philosophies, about transfer policies, about football pricing. Does anybody think that Sir Alex consulted Rio Ferdinand when he was planning to purchase Cristiano Ronaldo or the Da Silva Twins?

If the media networks are going to continue with the same format of analysing football games, I will recommend that they seriously consider adding a manager to their panel of pundits. I get that the managers will be loath to criticise a fellow manager but he will definitely offer more & probably better insight into games. If they are able to attract successful manager perhaps as successful as some of the players gracing the pundit chair now, even better.  We will have more confidence in their assertions. Slaven Bilic is getting rave reviews on the BBC Euros coverage at this rime and i think its the way to go. 

To the pundits on TV, please help us. Step up. Perhaps like Gary Neville and Alan Shearer, you might want to take up management. I can assure you, if the experience of Gary & Alan are anything to go by, your managerial experience is likely to be short and sharp. You might then come out of the experience, hopefully not too scarred like Gary but sufficiently well rounded in your knowledge of football for the advantage of those of us lapping up your every word.

Thank You.

Sunday 5 June 2016


When Roman Abramovich put Jose Mourinho out of his misery at Chelsea last season. I was glad we had collectively heard the last of him. I could swear the whole world heaved a sigh of relief.

I could bet my last dollar that, he was toast and would never get another job with a top club again. I was very wrong. I did not factor in the deep routed desire of his mentor, Louis Van Gaal to do anything for a desperate protégé.

LvG knew that the only way for Jose to get the job was for him to flunk out of the top 4 and play badly and he duly delivered both and hence forced Ed Woodward’s hand in appointing Jose Mourinho as the new manager of Manchester United.

Jokes aside. The return of Jose is massive, it sets the scene for a combustible 2016 / 17 season in the Premier League. Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp, Antonio Conte, Arsene Wenger. 2 top managers will be crying into their coffee at the end of the season for missing out on a top 4 place.

It is also massive for Man United as lack of top 4 qualification will mean a 2nd successive year outside of the UCL except if they do one better than Liverpool and win the Europa. It has significant implications for their Adidas kit deal and will mean a 4th year without their league trophy birthright.

United have been somewhat forced down this route because (AT THIS VERY MOMENT) winning is all that matters now. Forget style, forget youth development, forget the Man U way, it is now all about winning. I feel Moyes & LvG have sort of demystified Man U to the extent that most teams go to Old Trafford without any fear and until they start to beat and steam roller opponents again, the fear factor won’t return.

As part of my research for this article, I have re - read the Man U official announcement of Mourinho’s appointment. You can find the statement here  . It is noteworthy in that announcement that nowhere is style of play, youth development or the Manchester United way referenced. It is all about winning. You might wish to contrast that with the announcement of Carlo Ancelloti at Bayern Munich here and the very comprehensive statement made by Chelsea on the appointment of Conte here

Just before the appointment of Mourinho at United especially with the highlighting of Jose’s fault lines (not developing youth and attacking style of play), news articles started to surface about how Jose’s Chelsea squad Mark 1 was the youngest side to win the Premier League and how his Real Madrid title winning squad scored the highest number of goals ever in one season. 

Of course, it will not be the first attempt by anybody to rewrite history. However I am unsure how his youngest side to win the league compares with bringing youth through / developing youth. The gold standard for the latter as far as I am aware is the Manchester United Class of 1992.  David Beckham joined United at 14, same age as Ryan Giggs. Paul Scholes started training with United  at the same age. Gary Neville appears to have joined at age 16 after finishing school while his brother Phil joined in 1990. Nicky Butt the 6th iconic member of that group also joined at the age of 16.

All six were products of the United academy. Name me one player that was the product of any academy that Mourinho coached in his post Porto years. Just ONE. It is easy to have bought and assemble Petr Cech at age 22, Carvalho at 26, Joe Cole at 23, Duff at 25, Arjen Robben at 20, Huth at 20 and claim you won the league with the youngest set of players. None of whom originated from the Chelsea academy. With the youth set up at Chelsea, you will imagine that ONE youthful talent would have been developed from Chelsea in Jose’ two terms. You will imagine wrong. 

The story is similar at Inter Milan and at Real Madrid. Manchester United fans who expect Jose to help develop young talent will be disappointed. Sorry. Expect Rashford to be chastised soon for not tracking the runs of the opponent’s strikers and wingers and kiss good buy to any talent from your academy breaking into the first team.

Now to that fabled 'Real Madrid under Jose played attacking football' and scored a record 121 goals. Just for context, Barcelona scored 7 goals less. Real Madrid’s 121 goals under Jose included results such as 5 nil against Espanyol, 7 – 1  against Osasuna home and 5 away, 6 against Real Valladolid , another 5 against Sociedad and 6 each versus Zaragoza & Sevilla. Some terribly competitive league which should be used as a standard for attacking proficiency.

Why does  Jose bristle when his style of play is referred to as boring? Why is he regarded as the ‘park the bus’’ master?  In his last title winning squad with Chelsea, he scored 10 fewer goals than Manchester City , 15 fewer than Arsenal in his first Premier League win and same number of goals as Manchester United in his 2nd title win. So don’t let anybody rewrite history about Jose’s team’s ability to attack. Jose is about tight defences and nicking one to win.

Will his appointment at Old Trafford work out. Nobody knows. Not even Ed Woodward and Jose himself. What Mr. Woodward has done is to play the percentages. Jose’s track record is such that he has won the league everywhere he has managed except at Benfica & Uniao de Leiria.

Will it happen again though? I am willing to put money that it won’t. The Premier League genie is out of the bag in my opinion. There are now 12 also ran teams in the Premier League who are plotting to do a Leicester. Winning games by turning up is passe, brow beaten opponents based on reputation is gone. C'EST FINI. 

I only hope the referees and the Premier League play a straight bat.