Tuesday, 31 August 2010

In Praise Of 'Arry

‘Arry Redknapp deserves praise. Hold on, stay with me here. Yes the man is more dodgy than the reliant robin driven by the Trotter brothers and he has done more than his fair share to ruin clubs such as Southampton and Portsmouth (John Utaka on £80,000 per week? In more civilised countries the man who awarded him that contract would be strung up a la Mussolini) but the job that’s being doing with Tottenham at the moment deserves high praise indeed. When Redknapp took over from Juande Ramos in 2008 Spurs were rooted to the foot of the table with two points from their first eight games. Now they are in Europe and furthermore can know that they truly are one of the “Sky Four” as they suffered the famed “European Hangover” losing to Wigan after beating Young Boys.

It initially sounds ludicrous, but the depth of the Spurs squad was possibly (until Manchester City’s petro-fuelled spree this summer) the best in the country and certainly better than Liverpool’s, even with the latter’s Champions League money for most of the 00’s. Without any genuine superstars such as Drogba, Torres or Rooney, Spurs have quality cover in almost every position.

Secondly, Redknapp may have reputation as a wheeler and dealer, but at Tottenham this is undeserved. The number of players who were brought in by Jol or Ramos or through the young system is still very high. Redknapp’s ability to get the best out of players such as Assou-Ekotto, Lennon, Corluka, Gomes and particularly Gareth Bale has been impressive. Without spending much of Levy’s jealously guarded money he has still produced the effect of new signings. Bale has gone from the bogey player who, in 24 games was never on the winning side for Spurs, is now in the running for best winger in the Premiership.

Tottenham had, for a long time, been a sleeping giant in the Premiership. The other team that should have enjoyed such a status was Newcastle. Yet in 2008/9 Redknapp managed to lift Spurs from the foot of the table while Newcastle hopped on the managerial merry-go-round and were relegated. The comparison, while somewhat harsh on the Tynesiders and favourable to Redknapp demonstrates the comprehensive turn-around that the man has overseen at the club.

While ‘Arry might not be the straightest arrow in the league, he is however a damn fine manager who likes to play exciting, attacking football. At Spurs, if not elsewhere he has bought judiciously and intelligently. He has broken the impenetrable “Sky Four” lock, reinvented more than a few players, Lennon and Bale being outstanding examples of superb management and taken his side into the Champions League group stages. Although its not the easiest group to get out of, Redknapp might well fancy his side to take points of Inter at White Hart Lane. If they manage to avoid home and away defeats to Inter and beat Bremen at home they have every chance of progressing. After all they do have a genuine “faaaaaaaacking football manager” in charge.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Hughes' Fulham Show Promise

Last season Fulham were everyone’s second favourite team. Never in my life can I remember an entire nation willing on one club as England did Fulham in the Europa League final. The heart-break of losing to Atletico was felt as much by my friends and I (not one of us Fulham fans) as it was by Cottagers themselves. Message boards for every club had threads running a mile a minute updating the game. In the words of one United fan: “Agent Forlan has gone rogue! Repeat Agent Forlan has gone rogue. Take him out!”

As much as continuing the fantastic job done by Uncle Roy in terms of success I pray that Hughes maintaining the attractive football that Fulham played last season. Hughes’ Blackburn team were no mean proposition and Ewood Park was not an easy place to go and get a result under his reign however it could hardly have been said to have been the most thrilling football available. However the game against United was definitely the game of the albeit very new season and shows there is dynamism and adventure under Hughes.

The draw was on one level a very fair result and yet on another daylight robbery by United. How Chris Foy did not award a penalty for the foul on Zamora by Vidic is something only he can know, ditto how Duff’s mis-kick hitting his arm constitutes handball. After an opening first half hour where United were dominant and Scholes continued to cause journo’s to flick to the section of their thesauruses titled “Old Player Rolls Back Clock” with a phenomenal daisy-cutter. Gradually though the two men in the middle of the park started to get bypassed by the triangle of Dempsey, Etuhu and Murphy and Fulham were firmly on top as the half ended.

On the overall balance of the match, given the phases of domination by each side a draw was the right result but on the basis of the key events in the game, the stonewall penalty that was denied for Fulham, the penalty that shouldn’t have been (Nani was obviously channelling karmic forces with that one) the Cottagers were robbed of a deserved victory.

Fulham have some excellent players such as Dempsey, Murphy and Hangeland. Along with the much improved Zamora who tormented Jonny Evans they have the basis to be challenging alongside Everton and Villa. Although they are hampered by lack of squad depth and funds the first team is filled with quality top flight players and rather than falling back Hughes has the potential to push on with this club rather than take them back into the relegation mire that Hodgson rescued them from only a few seasons ago.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

The Best League In The World Restarts

Rather than the more traditional season preview of the Bundesliga, which started last night with Bayern Munich recording a stoppage time winner against Wolfsburg, I thought this would be the time to offer some praise of the Germans. Despite the fact that Bayern are the constant Ubermen of the league, the Bavarian giants having won the title 22 times and the fact that Mark van Bommel should be banned by international treaty the structure and organisation of the German league is the best in the world.

The main factor that makes the Bundesliga the best in the world is the genuine chance of silverware for the majority of top flight clubs in any given season. For example, in the last three seasons Wolfsburg finished 5th, 1st and 8th since 2007, Hertha Berlin 10th, 4th and 18th or Borussia Dortmund 13th, 6th and 5th. These huge swings in the fortunes of various clubs show that there is real entertainment value in the league and that for German sides next year could really be their year. Since 2001 five clubs have won the title. That is a level of variation unfound in any other major league in Europe. In Spain the Real-Barcelona duopoly is more established than ever after being briefly interrupted by Valencia under Benitez and the biggest “shock” in the last five years that the Premiership has provided is Spurs taking Liverpool’s Champions League spot. The fact that petro-club Man City are spending money like its going out of fashion to compete with United and Chelsea is not “surprising” and it should be even less necessary.

Conversely, more fans are flocking to watch football in Germany each year where, by an unbelievable coincidence tickets are cheaper than England and you can smoke, drink beer and stand on the terraces. Coming into the 2010/11 season Schalke 04, Wolfsburg, Bayer Leverkusen, Werder Bremen and Hamburg all have realistic hopes of mounting a creditable title challenge to perennial favourites Bayern.

Moreover these sides are all doing this without the debt of small African nations burdening them down. The giant financial game of Chicken that is being played by the other big clubs in Europe, each praying that another club busts first is not affecting the German league. Indeed Bayern have the healthiest bank balance in the world as well as being domestically successful and reaching the Champions League final last season. I realise that since the inception of Sky the concept of not gambling the future of a club in order to compete with the big boys is virtually heresy, the concept that it should be unnecessary even more so, but yet with logical efficiency, the Germans seem to be managing it.

Albeit the Bundesliga may not have the stars that La Liga does but as football fans we need to decide what we want to see. For myself, the prospect of genuine competition trumps seeing the same two or three clubs tie up all the trophies season after season. There are flaws with the German league but it is indisputably the purists league.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Negative Tactics Do Not Bode Well For Mancini

The criticism of Mancini following the goalless draw at Spurs is entirely justified. While it has been argued that he played for a draw and was therefore rewarded the larger picture does not bode well for Manchester City over the rest of the season.

To start with the midfield triumvirate frankly lacked guile. Only Yaya Toure was likely to get forward enough to be the extra man and this meant that Tevez had to either drop far too deep to receive the ball and involve himself in the play or face isolation. Mancini can be forgiven for not immediately integrating all the £100m worth of summer signings into one seamless unit with the other players, but nonetheless his tactics seem baffling. Despite a superb pass completion rate by the central midfielders (179 completed passes out of 188 attempted) they failed to protect the backline, particularly in the first half when Spurs were totally dominant. So if the three holding players were not able to a) push up and help the forwards or b) prevent Spurs controlling large sections of the game and creating some fantastic chances, why exactly did Mancini persist throughout the game with all three?

Furthermore the wide players, Silva and Wright-Phillips were ineffective and peripheral, further contributing to the isolation of Tevez. Admittedly this was to do with the fact that, without midfield or much fullback support they often found themselves 3 against 8 when they had the ball but Silva looked adrift on his introduction to the pace of the Premiership and Wright-Phillips is just not good enough for a side aiming to finish in the Champions League places. Adam Johnson looks like a genuine talent and should have started. Two-footed and more capable of real inspiration than Wright-Phillips, this could be a real breakthrough season for Johnson if played enough. Secondly dropping and indeed selling Bellamy seems to be a big mistake. The manager has experienced difficulties with the fiery Welshman but most seem to be of his own making rather than Bellamy being a negative influence on the team. His combative spirit and sheer pace combined with Johnson’s trickery would have asked more serious questions of the Spurs backline.

This is not an attack on the new arrivals themselves. Kolarov looked a smart bit of business until forced off through injury at half-time, Silva unquestionably has the talent to make it in this league and Yaya Toure’s credentials are unquestionable as he was so integral to the Barcelona treble-winning side. With the arrival of Balotelli still to come City have stunning squad depth for the coming season. Given a month or two to gel as a side they should still come good.

The weakness of Manchester City is the man on the bench. Mancini got his tactics wrong against Spurs and was only saved from defeat by a brilliant performance from Hart. The questions will persist over whether the Italian is good enough to unite this squad into a top four side. Going away and playing three holding players is not good enough to begin with. To pursue this, even when it isn’t working is poor management. The Spurs game may well be a one off, but conversely it could be a sign of a long, tactically negative season from City.