Posts Tagged ‘England’

Goalless again, 100% for Brisbane, foolish expectations, Wayne’s world

October 21st, 2013 No comments

While it’d be melodramatic to describe Stoke City’s recent problems as a crisis, few can deny we have hit a dead-end.   A mere four goals in eight league games tells its own story.  Every aspect of our forward play needs work.  Too often we rely on crosses (which vary in quality) from which we rarely have enough players in the box to trouble opposition defences.  When Stephen Ireland squandered a glorious opportunity against West Brom, it was clear we’d draw another blank.  Another disappointing aspect of our play is how wasteful we usually are with set pieces.  Our corners are cleared with the minimum of fuss and free kicks rarely trouble the opposing keeper.  Asmir Begovic made a string of  saves to keep us level.  We should all be grateful to Begovic because our attacking play is so fruitless the moment we concede a goal it may well be game over.    Our decent start to the season has fizzled out as we slide closer to the relegation places.  Within our squad we have the ability to comfortably address the problems and get back to winning games of football. There is often talk of systems and strategy but the key to lifting the assembling clouds could be the result of something as simple as shooting practice.

Helgar Osieck’s removal from the Australia manager’s job is no shock.  Nobody denies Brazil and France are very good teams but to lose both 0-6, and look utterly helpless in doing so is indicative of deeper problems in the camp.  Osieck’s reign wasn’t a failure.  Reaching the final of the Asian Cup in 2011 was a substantial achievement.  Combine this with World Cup qualification and his tenure was far from a calamity.  Despite this, the national team had stagnated.  Too few youngsters gained experience and, as a collective, the old guard look a spent force.  Thoughts immediately turned to a successor.  There has been a clamour for an Australian manager to be appointed.  Understandably, Ange Postecoglou’s name had been mentioned. It should be borne in mind club and international management are two different kinds of jobs with different demands and expectations.  Postecoglou’s success at Brisbane Roar was borne of intense work with the players as a team and as  individuals.  At international level managers don’t get so much time to impose themselves.  In addition to the World Cup the new manager has to be aware of the Asian Cup in 2015.  As host nation, Australia will be expected to challenge for the trophy.  The days of Australia being a football backwater are long gone.  One thing is for certain….. the new Australia manager will have to be prepared for pressure.

Brisbane Roar have started the A-League season in style with a 100% record from the first two games.  Saturday night’s 4-0 thrashing of Sydney was a boost for everyone.  Without wanting to belittle a very good performance, the point has to be made, it’s difficult to ascertain Roar’s potential for the season from Saturday mainly because Sydney were so poor.  They looked utterly demoralised and from the moment Brisbane took the lead the result was never in doubt.  Frank Farina must feel bewildered by such a lethargic display from his players.  It’s a fantastic start to the season for Brisbane but bigger challenges lie ahead.

England have qualified for the 2014 World Cup.  Sensibly, Roy Hodgson has acknowledged England aren’t among the favourites to lift the trophy.  His words may be seen as negative or defeatist when it was merely a realistic appraisal of England’s possibilities.  The quarter finals are by any historical measure a good performance for England and the problem is  some  people seem unable to accept it. Our record since 1966* isn’t great. In the last 47 years we’ve reached a World Cup semi a Euro semi and several World Cup quarter finals. In the same period Holland have reached three WC finals, a World Cup semi final and won the European championship. Bulgaria have reached a World Cup  semi final. Sweden have got to a World Cup semi final and a European  semi final. Poland have reached a World Cup semi final and finished 3rd in 1974.  Soviet Union reached two European Finals. Belgium have reached a European  final and a World Cup semi final. Turkey have reached a World Cup semi final and a European semi final and, of course, Greece were European champions. They are all middle ranking European teams and their records  easily match England’s.  Looking at Europe’s elite, In 2002 and 2008 the Germans were considered to be poor yet still reached the final of the respective competitions. Similarly, Italy were unfancied in last years Euros yet reached the final.  France have twice been European champions as well as World Cup winners.  So since 66 our record, when compared to other European football nations, rarely rises above mediocre.  Despite this people got annoyed because, for example, we didn’t ‘win anything with Sven.’ It’s unlikely we’ll win a competition whoever the manager is! We’d all love to but  actually expecting England to win a tournament is wishful thinking. There’s no great tradition to justify that sort of demand. In a tournament, if we get past the group stage we’ve fulfilled expectancy. From that point we may or may not make progress but we certainly need the luck of the draw….. as soon as we face a side with genuine aspirations to win a tournament we get knocked out.  1990  was great fun but, with all respect, Belgium and Cameroon weren’t contenders to lift the trophy.  Next year we should enjoy the tournament and enjoy England’s presence… and leave silly groundless expectation s to one side.
*our record before 66 wasn’t great…Bela Horizonte anyone?

As required, England won the final two qualifiers against Montenegro and Poland.  Both victories were put on track with goals by Wayne Rooney.  In the aftermath of qualification Rooney’s contribution has been overlooked. Some have suggested throughout his career  Rooney has failed to fulfill his potential so let’s examine the facts.  At the age of 27 Rooney has won five Premier league winners medals.  He also has a Champions League winners medal and two runners-up medals.  For England he’s scored 38 goals in 86 appearances and still has the potential to reach 100 caps and may yet  beat Bobby Charlton’s record of 49 goals.  His failure to score in the two World Cups he’s played in remains a source of frustration.  Hopefully in Brazil next year he’ll rectify that and make a lasting impression on football’s biggest show.  It’s ludicrous to suggest his career is anything but successful.

A draw, a thrashing, hosting woes, TCUP

October 18th, 2012 No comments

While the draw in Poland is far from  disastrous, England returned home with few positives. When we tried to build an attack the forwards were too static.  We struggled to keep the ball and the lack of movement led to priceless possession being given away cheaply. England need to learn to move properly and the players need to create options for each other.  In the attacking third the play was ad hoc and lacking shape.  Joe Hart’s flap led to the Polish equaliser but to blame the keeper alone is to willfully ignore a plethora of issues.  When Montenegro beat San Marino next month they will move to the top of the group.  In itself it’ll be no calamity for England but when competitive internationals resume in March there will be no more space to drop  points.  Hopefully in March Jack Wilshere will be able to unlock opposition defences.  When fully fit it’ll  certainly be time to start building the team around him.  He’s  showed that he can grow into the play makers role and develop into a top class international midfielder.  With such a dearth of English talent his skill mustn’t be wasted. For all that I still expect England to qualify for the 2014 World Cup but Spain and Brazil have nothing to fear from us.

Brisbane Roar thrashed Melbourne Victory 5-0 on Saturday.  Roar were stylish and won at a canter.  At the death Roar forward Besart Berisha hit the bar, a sixth goal would only have given the scoreline a more realistic complexion.  As impressive as Brisbane were it’s hard to reflect on the game without pointing out Victory’s hopelessness, and on Saturday Melbourne Victory were utterly, seriously, mind bogglingly hopeless.   At best they were indifferent, for large spells of the game they were truly dreadful.  Several years after his calamitous spell managing Stoke City, Chris Kamara stated that there were times after games when he’d look at his players in the dressing room knowing some of them simply hadn’t been trying.  Ange Postecoglou could be forgiven for feeling the same on Saturday.  For Ange’s own sake he must hope that was the problem, if that was an example of this team playing to full potential his task is insurmountable.

The issue of who is to host the 2020 European Championship remains a headache for UEFA.  Michel Platini’s suggestion that the tournament be played across the continent is far from final and could be refused when the member nations vote in January.  The monumental error was to expand the competition to 24 teams.  As well as diluting the quality of football on offer it makes staging the tournament much more complicated and much more expensive.  The problems finding bidders to host for the 2020 competition suggests  UEFA’s number crunchers are oblivious to the current precarious state of the global economy.

Another kerfuffle regarding a major tournament is the ongoing discussion over which season of the year the 2022 World Cup will take place in.  The debate was offered this contribution last week… “I think sometimes a change is good — it would be great to have it in the winter. Everyone will be fit, physically fit, mentally fit and I don’t see a problem with it. For the fans I think it will be great”  A ringing endorsement of a winter World Cup.  Who came out with such a passionate justification for winter?  A manager?  A player?  Neither, it was ex Dutch international Ronald De Boer…. who, believe it or not,  now works for the Qatari FA!!   Do you think he might have an agenda by any chance?

Milan manager Massimiliano Allegri’s position looks increasingly precarious.  Having only won three games all season, defeat to Inter in last weeks’ derby is hardly inspiring confidence. Last week stories circulated stating that Milan had approached Pep Guardiola to take over from Allegri.  This media speculation helps nobody.  If Milan want to remove the manager they should sack him, pay off his contract, and move on from there.  Allowing the story to be dragged through the media is undignified and disrespectful to all involved.

In football possession is 9/10 of the law.  So watching games recently it’s flabbergasting to see teams give away priceless possession by conceding so many unnecessary free kicks.  Players in their own half, and going nowhere in particular, get carelessly shoved or ankles clipped.  It’s utterly baffling that professionals can make these senseless decisions with such monotonous regularity.  The principle is TCUP…. Thinking Correctly Under Pressure.  Some players need to learn how to make the right decisions during a game.

Stoke City Blog – Michael and I, Cannon Fodder, Skullduggery, Stability and a Superstar

September 10th, 2012 No comments

When 17 year old Michael Owen burst onto the scene in 1997 it taught me a vital lesson…. football supporters can maintain wondrous childlike fascinations other people can’t.  Despite being 28 years of age and  carrying battle hardened cynicism like a medal, I immediately idolised Owen.   He was a very special player.  Talented, fast and exciting, with an ability to create a yard of space for himself and score goals from odd angles.  Michael Owen had the lot.  I hoped for the boy wonder’s inclusion in Glenn Hoddle’s World Cup squad and my wish was granted.  In St Etienne he scored his brilliant solo goal against Argentina my prodigy, rightly, became a global superstar.  On his return to club football he scored a brilliant hat trick against Newcastle.  As the plaudits rolled in the cap size remained the same.  The archetypal mature head on young shoulders. One of my dearest wishes was for Owen to beat Bobby Charlton’s England scoring record…. for Owen to make history, and to shed one of the ghosts of 1966.  Ongoing injuries scuppered that possibility but 40 goals in 89 international appearances is an impressive record for any player.  Having spent time in the football wilderness, few could deny that Stoke City’s new acquisition is something of a risk. He’s signed a one year contract.  The pace of youth may have gone but penalty box instinct like that never leaves.  It’d be foolish to set a target so if he can just score some goals for us the risk will have paid off.  And we can return to St Etienne, albeit briefly. Good luck Michael!!

(Want to see Micheal’s first goals at the Brit? Check this out and let’s hope we see plenty more soon  – Owen at The Brit )// //

In Moldova, England produced a professional performance.  From the moment Frank Lampard’s penalty put us ahead the result wasn’t in doubt.  Nobody can claim Moldova are a major player on the world stage but in the past these games have been more difficult that they should be, so to run out 5-0 winners is satisfying.  Ukraine provide England’s next challenge and will be a much tougher proposition.  But if everyone plays with the same level of discipline and focus we have every chance of winning the game.  The national team is now operating on a much more stable footing.  It’s pleasing that Hodgson’s experience and wisdom has removed the drama and the circus that surrounds the England set up.

There is very little glory for the lesser European nations.  Did Andorra’s 0-5 thrashing by Hungary assist their footballing development in any way at all?  Has Lichtenstein’s 1-8 defeat to Bosnia helped them to acclimatise to the demands of the international game?  Of course not.  Having so many teams in who are merely cannon fodder is devaluing the qualifying process.  This could get worse too.  The foolish decision to expand the European Championship from 16 to 24 teams will result in almost half the teams in the qualifying competition will take part in the tournament.   It has to be the right time to introduce a preliminary qualifying competition.  Surely it’s time to put emphasis on quality.

The Confederation of African Football recently held their national conference in the Seychelles.  Amid allegations of corruption, Issa Hayatou has been the president of the CAF for 25 years.  Rumours had floated around the African game that 2010 World Cup CEO Danny Jordaan was preparing to stand against Hayatou.  Organising a World Cup and experience of negotiating with other federations suggests Jordaan is man worthy of African football’s top job.  However, at last weeks conference new rules were introduced preventing any challenge from Jordaan.  Those without CAF voting rights are no longer allowed to challenge for Hayatou’s job, effectively handing the president re-election unopposed.  An undemocratic act of cunning which does nothing to restore the public’s faith in the game’s administrators.

Superstar Alessandro Del  Piero has joined Sydney FC. It is undoubtedly the biggest signing in the A-League’s (admittedly short) history.   The general response is positive.  Undoubtedly it will  encourage many non football fans to attend a few games generating much needed revenue and interest.   It’s also a relief as it provides pre season in Australia with a fresh discussion point after  recent crowd violence.  So overall, it’s ‘good for the game’ in Australia.  However, it isn’t the only way to promote football.  Risking accusations of bias, I suggest that Brisbane Roar’s recent achievements eclipse anything Del Piero can contribute  to football here.  Ange Postecoglou transformed Brisbane Roar into the most formidable force in the history of Australian sport.  Playing quick crisp exciting football, Brisbane swept aside all comers with an irresistible combination of incisive passing and an ability to create chances at will. Watching these dazzling displays of kaleidoscopic movement was an absolute privilege.  It’s entirely appropriate that Roar wear orange shirts.  It’ll be exciting to see a player of Del Piero’s stature in the flesh, but it isn’t the only way forward.
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Euro 2012 – That’s the end of that then, but somehow they’ll get by without England!

June 27th, 2012 No comments

That’s the end of that then.  It wasn’t a huge shock to be eliminated by Italy.  Going out to a team of their stature is certainly no disgrace.  But few could argue that for 120 minutes we were outclassed by  a much better team.  Had we prevailed in the penalty shootout we’d have seen, to quote Bill Shankly,  “A travesty of justice”.

Pleasingly, there isn’t as much filth and fury with this exit.  Great things weren’t expected from England in this campaign.  If anything we have actually exceeded expectations.  Winning the group in relative comfort was actually as impressive as it was surprising.  What wasn’t at all surprising is that as soon as faced a team with genuine aspirations to lift the trophy we were eliminated.  We were stretched  all over the pitch by Italy.  We clearly lacked  flexibility in the squad to make differences to our system.  This is where Roy Hodgson shouldn’t be heavily criticised.  The nature of English football doesn’t make for international success.  No manager can change an entire football culture in six weeks. That is the key issue. 

Made in Stoke – on – Trent by

Spain have proven that a football culture can evolve.  The obsession with aggression has to develop into a more technical thoughtful game.   If England are to develop into a side capable of challenging the worlds best physical clashes and gritted teeth won’t be the primary requirement.

The problem is that we hype up the Premier League, import foreigners to make it  tactically astute and more technical  than the qualities we breed, sell it to almost 200 countries because of it’s physical conflict and fast pace  . . .  and delude ourselves that this makes the world tremble.  As we were delighted  to avoid Spain in the quarter final,  Italy were just as relieved to facing England not France.  Until the English game is prepared to implement the required changes, invest the time and finance to install them effectively we’ll continue to just lumber through tournaments hoping to somehow get lucky.

On the positive side England in  this tournament did keep the defensive discipline under pressure, apart from a quarter of an hour against Sweden of course.  When Hodgson was appointed we knew much of his style was about shape. There were signs that some of the work has paid off.  If attention to detail can be combined with fresh talent it will be a stepping stone to the required metamorphosis. 

While emerging talent is scarce we have to make the most of what we have.  With that in mind, as soon as Jack Wilshere is fully fit and available the England team must be built around him.  Wilshere is an exciting young talent and could lead an era of transformation.

The rest of the tournament will somehow limp on without England!  While Italy dominated against England, Germany will present a different challenge completely.  A well drilled defence combined with a pacy attack will put Italy on the backfoot.  If the game goes all the way German penalties will also be superior to the English variety.

Spain could make history by being the first European team to win three major international tournaments in a row.  It’d be a remarkable achievement… not least because as recently as 2006 they were universally regarded as the team that never fulfills potential.  In the semi final they face Portugal and Cristiano Ronaldo. 

Hopefully it’ll be a more even contest than France’s meek attempt to challenge the holders.  Even allowing for Spanish brilliance the tepid French effort was a poor show.  The fascination will be to see how Spain handle being under sustained pressure.  Vincente del Bosque has acknowledged his squad is tired.  If fatigue could be exploited Spain could lose one of their titles.










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A different kind of England, same old administrators

June 21st, 2012 No comments

England have reached the quarter finals of the 2012 European Championship.  Surprisingly, it was achieved by winning the group. Seven points from nine is a very healthy return.

The prospect of Wayne Rooney’s return from suspension dominated the build up to the Ukraine game. Before the match Roy Hodgson had to consider all options.  Would it be wise to break up the forward line that beat Sweden?  In his autobiography Gary Neville states clearly that insisting on accommodating big names has been a fault of England managers.  Aragones’ omission of Raul was the pivotal point which  led to Spain’s recent trophy haul.  And, of course, in 1966, Alf Ramsey chose to continue with Geoff Hurst leaving a fully fit Jimmy Greaves on the sidelines.  Few would suggest Hurst was actually a better player than Greaves, but for the good of the team, the manager made a bold decision… which proved priceless.  In picking Rooney to start Hodgson must have been aware of these factors.  When it was Rooney who missed the best chance of a tight edgy first half Roy could have been forgiven for feeling let down by his big name striker.  Quite simply, he should have scored.  Thankfully he redeemed himself by being on hand to score the winner shortly after half time. Although, it’s fair to say he couldn’t miss from there!  Not a memorable goal but the fact is that when England clinched top spot in the group we beat Ukraine 1-0 and Wayne Rooney scored the winner.  And Roy’s decision was justified.

England play Italy next.   If we were to progress to the semi final it would be regarded as something of a suprise by planet football.  The point has to be made however that we have already achieved more than many expected in this tournament.

Our progress has underpinned by preparation and application. Unlike in other tournaments this England squad seems to be focused on the job in hand.  It’s pleasing that Hodgson’s experience and wisdom has removed the circus that surrounds the England set up.  Another aspect is that the build up to the tournament was low key.  No overblown statements or bombastic posturing…  from fans press or players.  This time we are aware of our failings and have finally scaled down expectations accordingly.

Why are England traditionally dogged with such ridiculous levels of expectation?  There is absolutely nothing to justify the notion that England are a superpower.   Our record since 1966 isn’t great. In the last 46 years we have reached a World Cup semi a Euro semi and several World Cup quarter finals. In the same period Holland have reached three World Cup Finals   semi and won the European Championship. Bulgaria got to a WC semi. Sweden have got to a WC semi and a Euro semi. Poland reached a WC semi and finished 3rd in 1974. Belgium have reached a Euro final and a WC semi. Turkey have reached a WC semi and a Euro semi and, of course, Greece were European champions.  That’s only the middle ranking European sides.

Since 1966* our record, when compared to other European football nations, gives new meaning to the word average. Yet English people get annoyed because, for example, ‘We’ll never ‘win anything with Capello.’ Or, ‘We’ll never win anything with Sven’.  Its unlikely we’ll win a competition whoever the manager is. We’d all love to but to actually expect England to win a tournament is based on wishful thinking. There is  no great tradition to justify a demand like that.  We should keep our hopes in perspective.   When we are knocked out of this tournament will we see the same filth and fury that often accompanies an England exit?   I’m certainly not saying we shouldn’t try to win tournaments.  But I am saying we should keep our hopes in perspective.   Personally, I always look at getting through the group then take it from there. Usually as soon as we face a side with genuine aspirations to win the tournament we get knocked out.  1990  was great fun but, with all respect, Belgium and Cameroon weren’t contenders to lift the trophy.   *Our record before 66 wasn’t great either…Bela Horizonte anyone?

On the subject of  genuine football superpowers I  believe Germany will lift the trophy.  To now they been the best team in the competition.  While every team in a tournament like this will cause problems they will know it could have been a harder quarter final than Greece.   Sixteen years without a trophy will be hurting.  For a nation of their football stature it’s too long.   It’s worth pointing out that in these sixteen years they have reached a World cup final and a European Championship final.

Nicklas Bendtner has been banned for one match and fined 100,000 Euros for showing the sponsored waistband of his underpants. Bendtner did indeed break rules but the real story is that UEFA have made it abundantly clear by this that they regard upsetting sponsors as a bigger evil than the racism which is endemic in some nations.  The Croatian FA has been fined a lesser amount for their fans racist chanting at a Euro 2012 match.   UEFA and FIFA have both been in a strong position to take decisive action on racism for years yet they continue to shy away.   Hopefully the ruling bodies  will be spare us  any glib fatuous statements about global harmony.


England Euro 2012 Update – Assertive changes lead to recovery

June 17th, 2012 No comments

Litany of errors though it undoubtedly was, beating Sweden is a huge step towards the quarter finals.  It was a  strange match in which neither team actually played with cohesion or incisive power.  The second half must have been a thriller for neutrals.  Infuriating for England and Sweden fans but thrilling for neutrals!

Roy Hodgson acknowledged before the game that England needed a more attacking set up against the Swedes.  It wasn’t a major shock to see Andy Carroll start the game.  The inclusion of Carroll was due to Sweden’s inability  to defend against crosses.  This observation  proved to be  unfathomably wise when Carroll’s brilliant glancing header put us ahead.  It also silenced the doubters who have felt aggrieved by the exclusion of Peter Crouch.  The only problem with Carroll’s involvement is that it is too tempting to hit long balls to him… long balls that too often get comfortably dealt with by the opposition.  The start of the second half was calamitous for England.  For fifteen minutes we were completely overwhelmed and our players looked woefully out of their depth.  It’s difficult to give Sweden too much credit for finding their way into the game as it was almost entirely due to England’s careless avoidable errors.  The equaliser came from a free kick given because Carroll inexplicably lunged and gave a free kick away.  Defending at the free kick itself  was slapdash and clumsy.  The kick itself was poor and his straight into the wall.  The ball was hit back into the dangerzone and,  for no apparent reason, Glen Johnson didn’t push out and we were exposed.  A few minutes later we feared the worst when Milner foolishly lunged at Olsson.  Fears were justified when Mellberg gratefully headed home a free header.  From being in control of the game we’d become a shambles.

It’s to Hodgson’s credit that he had the nous to change things immediately. Theo Walcott’s introduction immediately changed things.  Fortuitous though his equaliser was it boosted his confidence immeasurably.  It was Walcott’s burst of pace and skill that led to Welbeck’s wonderfully improvised winner.  Some of the criticism Theo has received in recent years has been over the top to say the least. Making the difference in such a big game may be a pivotal point in him starting to fulfill his considerable potential.  It was disappointing to look around the internet and see suggestions that Welbeck’s goal was a fluke.  If a Spaniard or Brazilian had done that we’d look on with admiration and envy. An England player does it and we try to pick fault. Give credit where it’s due. Well done Danny Welbeck!!  Our players made it hard for themselves but we won the because we were incisive in the attacking third and the substitutions  were good decisions.  Positive changes from Roy Hodgson were decisive.  Wayne Rooney will finally make an appearance in the Ukraine game.  It presents the manager with the problem of who will be replaced.  It’ll be a tough decision but that’s his job.

To progress to the quarter final we need a draw against Ukraine in the final group game.  It may seem to be a simple task but like everything with England, don’t expect it to be straight forward.  That may seem excessively gloomy but there is a precedent to reflect on.  It’s fair to say that should we reach the knockout stage the powerhouse nations have little to fear from us.  It should be noted however that England have already had a better tournament than many dared to wish for.



Euro 2012, Discipline Lessons and Farewell Arry, Farewell Orange?

June 14th, 2012 No comments

England played with refreshing discipline against France.  Our players kept focus and came away with a  deserved point.  It was particularly pleasing to see the midfielders protect the defence properly.  Steve Gerrard didn’t stray forward and Terry and Lescott were solid.  If we continue to defend with such composure the kerfuffle over Rio Ferdinand’s absence will soon be forgotten.  Our forward play caused France problems, but we lacked that extra bit of craft and confidence on the ball to sustain pressure.  When Rooney returns against Ukraine he will provide our attacking play a much needed extra dimension.  It is worth noting however that despite France dominating possession, it was England who created the clearest chance of the game.

While lacking the style and panache of the 98 and 2000 sides, France have improved greatly since 2010’s catastrophic World Cup campaign. On Monday we got a draw against Europe’s in form team.  When he was appointed we knew that Roy Hodgson would put emphasis on shape.  It’s pleasing to see positive results.

When the draw was made back in December it was surprising that much of the media seemed to regard England’s qualification for the quarter finals of Euro 2012 as a formality.  Every side you face in a tournament will cause you problems.  When England beat Sweden in a friendly in November it was the first time we had defeated them since 1968.  If anyone becomes complacent and believes a corner has been turned, bear in mind that England have never beaten Sweden in a competitive match.  Ukraine are the final opponents and facing the hosts always provides an extra challenge.  We have made an encouraging start to the campaign but the notion that England will easily reach the quarter final is naive.  Long way to go.

Elsewhere in the tournament the Dutch appear to be on their way home.  For all their skill and style they have failed to defend properly.  Germany‘s two goals were brilliantly created and taken but their opponents helped them along.  For his first goal Gomez found acres of space between the two German central defenders. Schweinsteiger’s ball was incisive  but why were Holland so generous? They still have a chance of reaching the quarter finals but need to defend as a unit.  The rumours of player unrest in the camp hardly inspires confidence.

‘Arry has left Spurs.  Who could have predicted that at Christmas?   Fabio Capello’s departure co-incided with Redknapp being found not guilty of tax evasion  and it seemed his stars were aligned to light the path to manage England.   Unfortunately for Arry the speculation about managing England led to a serious dip in Spurs form.   He was sacked over a contract dispute.  Despite what he said it’s hard to believe Champions league qualification wouldn’t have helped his cause.    Will he manage in the Premier League again?   He may fancy a lucrative contract overseas.

EURO 2012 32 hours and 10 minutes to go – Expectation, Selection and Racism

June 7th, 2012 No comments

Have England ever entered a tournament with expectations so low?  It’s hard to find anyone prepared to confidently predict progress to the quarter final.  With England fans now having such a cautious view we can hope it alleviates some of the overwhelming pressure that stifles the England team.

In the midst of the Rio Ferdinand & John Terry controversy, the issue of how to cope without Wayne Rooney for two games has been all but forgotten.  Hodgson could have created more options for himself by copying Marcello Lippi.  The notion of Italy’s habitual caution is genuine and legendary.  It’s proved fatal on several occasions. But Lippi, wily old warhorse that he is, contradicted this regular policy of football suicide by taking six forwards to Germany in 2006. SIX. and more to the point, in the semi against Germany used five of them. That Italy side was there to attack. And it proved fruitful. Like Enzo Bearzot 24 years before, breaking the fear led them to victory. There was a lesson for Roy to take on board in all that. Instead of filling the squad out with holding midfielders take an extra attacker. Take 5 forwards. You can’t have too many attacking options.  It would have addressed the issue of Rooney’s absence with positive sympathy.

While lacking the diversity of a World Cup, one great thing about the European Championship is the sheer quality on offer.  There are few dud teams in the Euros and many have genuine aspirations to win the trophy.  Enjoy this tournament because in 2016 that will change.  The decision to expand the finals competition to 24 teams will dilute the quality.   Did they do it because the cash cow that is England didn’t reach the 2008 finals?  I’m guessing it’d be a significant factor. There doesn’t seem to be any other reason.  UEFA forget that England didn’t qualify because we simply weren’t good enough. Europe has 52 nations and almost half of them will be in the tournament.  Financial gain may be assured but stripping the prestige away could prove to be self defeating.  There are already problems finding bidders to host for the 2020 competition.  UEFA’s number crunchers are clearly oblivious to the current precarious state of the global economy.

The issue of racism has dominated the build up. Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s families have decided  not to travel  over fears for their safety.  Mario Balotelli has stated that if he is the subject of racial abuse he’ll walk off the pitch.  Michel Platini has stated that any player walking off the pitch will receive a yellow card, adding that only referees have the authority to halt a match.  He did emphasise that if  referees choose to delay a match for this reason, UEFA would support them.  How can the black players trust the relevant bodies to protect them when for so long they proved themselves to be inept?  Both UEFA and FIFA have paid vacuous lip service to the subject for years.  During the bidding process for the 2018 World Cup, delegates were even instructed not to take racism into account when voting.  The result being that Russia will host.  Russia where racism in football crowds is sickeningly prominent.  If a player does have the courage to walk off the pitch the ruling bodies will have to face up their own responsibility in failing to adequately address the issue for so many years.

stoketshirts co uk england and stoke city for Euro 2012

Deflated, me and Ken, a good luck and a thank you

May 10th, 2012 No comments

In many respects, the 2011/12 season has been a decent one for Stoke City.  It started as early as July when we faced Hadjuk Split in the Europa league.  Over two legs we deservedly knocked out a side with a healthy European pedigree.  Drawn in a tough group we made it through in relative comfort.  There was no disgrace in going out to a side of Valencia’s undoubted class.  In the FA cup we reached the quarter final again.  For the first time in our long history we have reached the last eight three times in a row.  Most importantly of all we were never in serious danger of relegation.  For much of the campaign we’ve looked more likely to snatch an unlikely European  spot than to go down.  So overall another steady season.  With those factors in mind the question has to be asked, why do so many of us feel so deflated?  It isn’t because of our style of play.  Neither is it because we have started to expect too much.  The primary factor is a matter of chilling simplicity… our performances are too boring.  Erring on the side of caution isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but to do so at the expense of almost everything else becomes tiresome.  Our attacking play constantly lacks fluidity and we’ve rarely played well for an entire 90 minutes.  Any team with a competent defence can handle our forward play.  A series of balls hit long, usually to Peter Crouch, who may or may not flick a header onto a teammate.  The teammate in question is double marked and stifled.  Our midfield rarely pushes forward quickly enough to effectively support the attack so within seconds the ball comes straight back at us and we are under pressure again.  We aren’t creative enough we aren’t positive enough.  We’ll always be eternally grateful to Tony Pulis for taking us to the Premier League and keeping us here.  In 2012/13 can we have a Stoke City with a precise cohesive attacking plan that approaching games with a fresh philosophy please?  This road has become dark.  A brighter route is required.

Kenny Dalglish is the greatest footballer I’ve ever seen in the flesh.  For that matter There haven’t been that many better players on TV.  He carried greatness on into management, continuing Liverpool’s dominance by building a side capable of playing enthralling winning football.  While he was their manager, if I attended to a match at Anfield I’d try to get a ticket near to the dug out.  For most of of the game I’d be awestruck watching Dalglish watching the game and barking instructions.  In addition to his football prowess, the way in which he led his club through the traumatic aftermath of the Hillsborough disaster saw him grow in stature as a man.  For all that, even I, as a Dalglish propagandist, have to say that  his mismanagement of the Suarez/racism affair  was so far wide of the mark he embarrassed himself. Seemingly oblivious to the scale of the issue at stake Dalglish looked isolated and  desperate.  The Suarez affair has cast a filthy shadow over Liverpool’s season.  A series of self inflicted wounds that grew deeper with each botched public statement.  It’s understandable that a manager needs to stand by his players but Dalglish’ blunt refusal to accept his players wrongdoings left him looking out of touch with modern football and the modern world.  Even after Suarez returned to action following the eight game ban the manager dug himself deeper into the hole by claiming he shouldn’t have been suspended.   This misplaced loyalty has left a huge stain on the perception of Liverpool Football Club.  In the last twelve months Dalglish has started to undo his own legend.

If the successful candidate had to be English, Roy Hodgson’s appointment as England manager is the correct decision, albeit a surprising one.  Harry Redknapp was the overwhelming favourite.  On SKY’s Sunday Supplement show someone even referred to “When Harry takes  over ” while Capello was in office!  The point has to be made that Harry hardly helped his own career possibilities when he stood in court announced to the world that he’s  thick.

Roy Hodgson has experience of taking teams to tournaments who are technically inferior.  Anything England achieve in Polkraine, will be almost entirely based on a rigid formation.  We can’t outplay them BUT we can outnumber them. Squeezing the opposition in the middle of the pitch, narrowing angles, stifling opposition creativity.  Hodgson is known to spend much of his time on the training pitch working on shape.  His players have to constantly repeat drills to ensure everyone is fully aware of what’s expected both as individuals and for the team collective. There will be little scope to make a tactical blunder. Good luck Roy.

After leading Brisbane Roar to two A-League championships in two full seasons, manager Ange Postecoglou has left to join Melbourne Victory.  In the early seasons of the A-League I used to dream of 50,000 packed into Suncorp Stadium to watch a grand final.  Ange fulfilled this dream twice.  Postecoglou transformed Brisbane Roar into the most formidable force in the history of Australian sport.  Playing quick crisp total football Brisbane swept aside all comers with an irresistible combination of incisive passing and an ability to create chances at will. Watching these dazzling displays of kaleidoscopic movement was an absolute privelige.  It’s appropriate that Roar wear orange shirts!  Thank you Ange.  You were magnificent.

A pleasant surprise, England’s challenge, Jose’s silence, RIP Socrates

December 8th, 2011 No comments

Our victory at Goodison Park was as rugged as it was unexpected.  Everton were optimistic having  found form by winning two in a row.  Stoke were coming off the back of the Europa league tie against Dynamo Kyiv.  Although the previous weeks win  had lifted some of the gloom, we were also aware that Blackburn had been so poor it was hard to assess if the corner had been well and truly turned. 

Taking an early lead we expected to be under intense pressure for the remainder of the game.  While Everton dominated possession we handled their threat in relative comfort.  Shawcross and Huth were colossal in central defence…. our finest defenders  back to their unflappable best!  The midfield also stayed on task which proved an impenetrable barrier.

The biggest factor in this victory is that we defended collectively.  Recently we had situations where there were plenty of Stoke players behind the ball but without anyone actually defending.  At Everton everyone applied themselves with admirable discipline.  This led to a priceless clean sheet.  There is still much to improve in our team.  We are still seemingly unable to retain possession in the attacking third and our forward play is generally ad hoc and lacking precision.  However, if we can keep the resilience we’ve re-discovered, there is a huge foundation to work from. 

It’s surprising that much of the media seems to regard England’s qualification for the quarter finals of Euro 2012 as a formality.  Every side you face in a tournament will cause you problems.  The opening game against a resurgent France will shape the group.  While lacking the style and panache of the 98 and 2000 sides, France have improved greatly since last years catastrophic World Cup campaign.  By June they could be dark horses to win the competition.  When England beat Sweden in a friendly last month it was the first time they had defeated them since 1968.  If anyone becomes complacent and believes a corner has been turned, bear in mind that England have never beaten Sweden in a competitive match.  Ukraine are the final opponents and facing the hosts always provides an extra challenge.  The notion that England will easily reach the quarter final is naive.   Will the media again be  generating ludicrous levels of expectation?

While Ireland’s task is difficult it isn’t insurmountable.  They have the advantage of knowing a holding game will be essential against Spain and Italy.  Their defensive record suggests they have the focus and discipline to do so successfully.  If they can beat Croatia in their first game they will still be in contention by the time they reach the third against Italy.  Of course they go into the group as underdogs but Ireland could surprise a few people in June.

This weekend sees Real Madrid face Barcelona at the Bernebeu.  At the moment this is the biggest club game in world football.  The whole notion that political issues should be kept separate from sport is hopeless idealism.  Barcelona’s feeling that their team represents an entire people adds a dimension to the intensity of this fixture.  The ongoing dominance of the big two has undoubtedly stifled the appeal of the Spanish league, but for all that, when they meet there is always potential for a footballing classic.  Heading into the game Real Madrid are three points clear at the top of the table.  So far in the build up Jose Mournho has been reserved and avoided controversy which isn’t a good sign for Barcelona.  He usually seems to stir trouble when he’s under pressure. 

On Sunday the magnificent Brazilian Socrates passed away.  Socrates was an amazing footballer.  Despite being 6ft 4 his graceful elegance was the hallmark of this distinctive enigmatic man .  However a match was poised he always had space and time on the ball to dictate the play.  He is best known for being the captain of Brazil’s marvellous 1982 side… considered by many to be the best team ever not to win the trophy.  Being the days before wall to wall TV the World Cup was the first time we’d seen many of the players on show and Socrates and his friends captivated the world.   He was a qualified doctor and deeply involved in politics, often with a quirky perspective on life and sometimes controversial opinions.   RIP Socrates.