Home > An Englishman In Australia > Making the difference, surly egos, and a big Sunday with beautiful football

Making the difference, surly egos, and a big Sunday with beautiful football

As with most runs of poor results at a football club, Stoke City’s current situation isn’t anything that a win or two wouldn’t put right.  But there are times when you look at our form and wonder where a win could possibly come from.  We aren’t quite at crisis point yet, but if this continues we soon will be.  Despite a bright start at West Ham on Saturday, we conceded a goal as soft an any you are likely to see, then fell apart immediately.   Confidence visibly drained from our players, one moment we were carrying the game forward the next we were merely fulfilling a fixture and waiting for the final whistle…. and when you give up that early in a game that’s a lot of time to play out.      Any lingering hopes we had of salvaging something from the game departed a few minutes later when we politely allowed them to double their lead.  In the second half we were a bit more positive, looked a bit more willing and tried to drag ourselves back into the match but we all knew it was a hopeless task.  Because of a slightly brighter second half some of us might feel slightly aggrieved, but we got what we deserved from the game.  As a result we slide ever closer to the relegation zone, seemingly bereft of any variation to our  moribund play.  Since January we have de-generated from a pragmatic team to an out and out long ball side and modern defences  deal with that threat with the minimum of fuss.  The positive qualities of recent years have faded away, the spirit and drive which underpinned our rise have fizzled out to leave us  exposed.

Our seasons ambitions from now are straight forward.  From whispers of Europe in the build up to Christmas, at the start of March it’s actually about scraping the points together to assure safety.  In the close season we have the chance to draw breath and regroup but major surgery is required.  Amongst other things, the entire philosophy of the team has to change. By this time next year we need to have different styles of players at the club. This can be partly achieved by offloading some of the squad who are clearly not going to play a role in the first team, many of which are merely clogging up the wage bill.  We must start to build a  balanced squad, too many of our players are the same.  Of course you do need grafters and grinders and tactical discipline, but without an element of craft and technical skill those positive qualities prove fruitless.  Any team needs balance.  On Sunday there was a  perfect example of how crucial it is to have  variation in a team ……Liverpool v Man Utd, Liverpool on top but Man Utd were holding firm. They were unlocked by some brilliant skill by Suarez. A quality player ‘making the difference’.  Defenders hate nothing more that players running straight at them…especially in the box. We drastically lack that difference  making factor.  Acquiring that vital factor can be achieved, but ruthlessness is required… and getting the right balance could prove an expensive exercise.   But first things first, we need to ensure safety. 

Fortune favours the brave.  The Juventus v Milan game was 0-0 at half time.  Realising that, despite their illustrious heritage, Juventus simply aren’t very good,  Allegri withdrew Kevin-Prince Boateng and threw on Robinho to really go for it and get the points.  The change worked.  Gattuso’s winning goal was a scuffed shot the keeper should have saved but when alls said and done, Milan won an away game and edged three points closer to their 18th Scudetto.   The game could have fizzled out into a 0-0 draw but some ambitious alterations have put Milan in a very strong position.  They are the kind of victories that titles are built on.  One point becomes three, and it must be a big psychological advantage to know that Inter’s second half obliteration  of Genoa meant no dent was made in their lead in Serie A.  Fortune favours the brave.

Louis van Gaal will be leaving Bayern Munich at the end of the season.  He’s a notoriously difficult man to get on with, I can’t help wondering if the powers that be have just taken this slump as an opportunity  to oust him.  Bayern chairman Karl Heinz Rummenigge isn’t known for peace and love either, the meetings must have been a fest of surly egos!  As it stands Bayern have a great chance of reaching the European Cup quarter final, would they feel foolish lifting the trophy after squeezing the gaffer out?   Where will Van Gaal turn up next season?  

I watched The Damned United again.  A splendid film.  It encapsulates the earthy unglamorous working mans club essence of 1970’s football clubs perfectly.  Like many dramatisations, if you remember that it’s not the entire absolute truth a pleasant time is had.  I was however struck by the dragging out of the tiresome cliche at the end that ‘Brian Clough is the best manager England never had’.  That gets stated almost as fact yet nobody can know for sure whether  he’d have been successful or not.  My own view is that he wouldn’t have proved any more or less successful than Ron Greenwood who was appointed instead.  It also stands out that while Bobby Robson became a national treasure, the man who actually did it… Sir Alf Ramsey, is so often overlooked.  We know that he was the manager on July 30th 1966 but he is rarely discussed with affection.  It’s a sad fact that the most successful England manager there’s ever been (ever will be?) seems to be way down the order when the England team is discussed.  The notion of the best manager England never had gets more attention than the best manager England ever had… and Alf’s achievements deserves better than that. 

Sunday will be a big one.  A big day with two big games.   In the afternoon at 4pm it’s the A-League Grand Final between Brisbane Roar and Central Coast. It’s LIVE on SKY in the UK KO at 6am!!  If Brisbane play anything like they have done this season it’ll be well worth getting out of bed for.  37,000 tickets had been sold by Monday lunchtime.  It will be good to get the whole city turn orange for a week.  It’s pleasing to see that football is making headlines here for a change, and if any team is worthy of headlines it’s the current Brisbane team.  Finishing the job on Sunday will lead to long loud celebrations.  Come on Brisbane!!

Then at midnight on Sunday, the post match celebrations (optimistic eh?) will be brought to a halt as there’s our FA Cup quarter final against West Ham to agonise over.  Reflecting on recent form it’s hard to really imagine Stoke being able to win this game.  But we can cling to the adage that the form book goes out of the window for cup games (football cliche 781) and remember that surely  we have to play well again at some point!  It’s feasible that victory in the FA cup will actually  lead to an upturn of form in the league.   Winning is just a great habit to have and there is a lot at stake.  Last year  at this stage we knew that we had little chance of knocking Chelsea out but this is one entirely feasible.   We might not get this chance for another 39 years.  COME ON STOKE!!

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