Stoke City’s long-awaited evolution is underway. At West Ham we played with style and panache, emerging worthy winners. The most telling difference was simply going all out to win an away game. Steve Nzonzi carrying the ball forward and initiating play combined with overlapping full backs gave is a platform to dictate the play and apply pressure to our lacklustre opponents. Jermaine Pennant’s impressive winner was just reward for an impressive showing from The Potters. However we still have a long way to go and we have a precedent to limit our expectation. At the end of the 1996/97 season Lou Macari left Stoke. Despite his popularity it did seem he’d reached the end of the road with us. During a poor run of form near the end of the season Macari repeated with monotonous regularity his belief Stoke had to play 100 mph football to be effective. Many of us felt he recited his mantra to hide a lack of ideas. In October of the 1997/98 campaign we won 1-0 at Maine Road to move up to a handily placed 6th in the table. Macari’s replacement Chic Bates had adopted a softer approach and we played with more craft. The wheels fell off soon after however. We quickly became a shambles and were deservedly relegated. Mark Hughes has made an impressive start to his Stoke City career. We must however keep expectations in check. Hopefully the coming years will be as enjoyable as the first three games have been.
England women’s football coach Hope Powell was sacked. Powell had been in the job for fifteen years and oversaw a complete overhaul of the women’s game in England. As a result women’s football has a much higher profile. That experience shouldn’t be wasted. When the FA didn’t renew Bobby Robson’s contract in 1990 it wasn’t just his managerial services that were lost. It meant eight years of experience were also dismissed and the new manager had to start from scratch and grow into the role. The same mistake shouldn’t be repeated. Powell has an understanding of what is required and her experience and familiarity with the various challenges involved could prove useful to her successor and the FA as a whole. To repeat the mistake of 1990 would be foolish, she could still be a useful asset to football.
In World Cup qualifying England showed discipline to play out a 0-0 draw away to Ukraine. The game itself was hardly a classic but the visitors earned a priceless point and took a significant step to Brazil. While England’s focus was a positive from the game the ongoing deficiencies continue to blight the team. In particular, the inability to keep possession is a glaring fault which never gets addressed. This ongoing flaw is why we should be spared any bombastic posturing from anyone attached to the Three Lions next year. Of course, there are still people who inexplicably expect England to challenge for trophies.
One of the main talking points emerging in recent weeks is the increasingly fragile Joe Hart. His errors are too common and it’s surely only a lack of competition ensuring his place in the England team. His error in the recent friendly against Scotland was indefensible and with some crucial qualifiers imminent it’s a legitimate point of concern. For many years David James was a frustrating figure. James could make saves no other keeper could. He had a valuable combination of sharp reflexes and rare agility, yet he never had the nuts and bolts of the job right. Too often positioning was flawed and crosses were flapped at… these flaws overshadowing his many positive qualities. Hart is only 26, if he is prepared to apply himself and strive to improve he can avoid being the next David James.
In a friendly match Melbourne Heart’s new signing Orlando Engelaar broke his right leg. He’ll now miss a significant part of the forthcoming A-League season. Injuries are a horrible part of the game for any player. Hopefully he can make a full recovery and make a contribution to the season.
If anyone was in denial over the scale of Australia’s task to prepare for next year’s World Cup, their 0-6 defeat to Brazil will have been a rude awakening. There are some crumbs of comfort though. The point has to be made Brazil are one of the favourites to lift the trophy next year, it’s not as if Australia were expected to win the match, and, of course, it was only a friendly! There is also a friendly against France in October in which Osieck can start to work on the defensive flaws and, more importantly, how to help his players to keep and use the ball more. Australia’s outlook and expectations will be largely determined by who they face in the group stage. 2014 will be Australia’s third consecutive World Cup and after drawing Brazil and Germany in 2006 and 2010 respectively, Aussies can be forgiven if they hope for a kinder draw in December.
The Serie A season is underway. After two consecutive titles Juventus began the campaign with an ominous statement of intent as they hammered Lazio 4-0 in the Italian Supercup. The acquisition of Carlos Tevez suggests it wouldn’t be a major shock if they added a third consecutive Scudetto to their trophy cabinet. The match also highlighted some of Serie A’s ongoing troubles as racial abuse was heard from the stands. The issue of bigotry combined with run down stadiums hooliganism and the lingering issue of match fixing have resulted in Serie A losing much of its stature in recent years. Juventus manager Antonio Conte has stated it could be years before an italian club wins the Champions league again. There is light at the end of the tunnel. Some of the clubs signed some big name players in the close season but all the owners fans coaches and managers involved will be hoping Antonio Conte’s words don’t prove to be prophetic.