Posts Tagged ‘Hodgson’

A bold effort, toothless administrators, flourishing down under, culture change required

October 23rd, 2012 No comments

A definitive moment of Saturdays match at Old Trafford came moments before half time. Having fell behind moments before, Stoke played a ball into the Man Utd area.  The ball dropped slightly behind Walters who couldn’t manoeuvre the right angle or body shape to get a shot in.  This was indicative of the difference in quality between the two teams.  If a similar ball fell to a Man Utd forward they would be perfectly comfortable controlling the ball and creating an opening.  Not that the home teams technical ability had overwhelmed us.  On the contrary, we had taken the game to Man Utd and even had the audacity to take the lead!  We continued to attack and opened them up when Crouch’s neat footwork created an opening for Jon Walters who forced a save from  De Gea.  That scare seemed to stir Man Utd into action and they effortlessly stepped up a gear to assert control of the game.  They equalised when Robin Van Persie floated over a brilliant cross from the left, Wayne Rooney nipped in between our two centre halves to nod home a leveller.  From that stage it was crucial not to be overran and it’s to the credit of our players that we tried to attack and take the pressure off.  When Van Persie put us behind on the stroke of half time it was a sickener.  Old Trafford isn’t a happy hunting ground for Stoke, simply reaching half time on level terms would be worthy of celebration!!  When Welbeck put us 1-3 down immediately after the interval it felt the next 44 and a half minutes could be very long indeed.  For a while we were under serious pressure.  We were fortunate not to go further behind but managed to stabilise.  Michael Kightly’s tenacious run led to us actually getting a goal back and at 2-3 down we dared to dream.  We soon  woke up though when Rooney scored his third of the game.  Had we stayed at 2-3 we may have been able to set up a grandstand finish but we were left with too much to do.  Four goals conceded, all from crosses…. Tony Pulis will know what needs work this week.  There are several positives to take from the game too.  It was great to take the lead, brief though it was, and a refreshing change to try and impose ourselves on the game.  The biggest positive from the game is that it’s over and we know we don’t have to go there again this season.  Next week we play Sunderland and we’ll all look forward to a game we have a decent chance of winning.  We’ve played the top teams and only lost twice.  Very commendable, but now we need some points.

Much of the British media has focused on Rio Ferdinand’s decision not to wear a T Shirt bearing the slogan of Kick It Out… the anti racism campaign.  Ferdinand may feel disillusioned with aspects of the campaign but taking aim at Kick It Out is a misplaced gesture.  The administrative bodies of the game have failed to address the issue properly.  It has taken a whole year for the John Terry / Anton Ferdinand altercation to reach a conclusion.  A year including a bizarre court case, an England manager’s resignation and thousands of column inches.  Had the FA taken swift decisive action the message would have been sent out to all those involved in the game that racism won’t be tolerated, as it is the sheer length of the saga suggests they fail to fully recognise the problem.  FIFA aren’t  really prepared to assert their authority on this subject.  During the bidding process for the 2018 World Cup, delegates were even instructed not to take racism into account when voting.  last week in Serbia England under 21s Danny Rose was racially abused throughout the game yet FIFA’s response has been conspicuous by it’s absence.  UEFA seem much more concerned with pacifying sponsors than dealing with issues of racism.  Displaying the emblem of a sponsor’s competitor results in quick action involving hefty financial penalties, in comparison, perpetrators of bigotry remain unscathed.  Despite what Alex Ferguson implied after Saturday’s game the issue is much more bigger than his own embarrassment.  Ferdinand made his point, a point he’s fully entitled to make.  For all that, in the future pressure needs to be applied to the ruling bodies of the game.  Despite their vacuous lip service there is little action taken to adequately confront the matter.

The A-League currently flourishing.  The pivot for the fresh wave of interest is undoubtedly the arrival of marquee signings Alessandro Del Piero and Emile Heskey.  While the current boom could be seen as superficial it does justify the huge expense on acquiring the signatures of big drawcard players.  Football here still needs publicity to encourage the Australian public to actively support the game.  While the marquee players wouldn’t be the right action for every club it’s pleasing to see our game receiving increased TV coverage crowds and media attention.  Even the UK news has noticed!

The fallout from England’s draw in Warsaw continues to resonate. Qualification for Brazil won’t be as straight forward as we’d hoped.   We clearly lacked tactical flexibility in the squad to alter the system effectively.  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 five months. That is the primary issue. 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.   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.   Simply blaming the manager for a disappointing result is a quick fix for the short sighted

The subject of Pep Guardiola’s next job remains a topic of speculation. Last week Milan made it clear they would be interested in his services and until he’s appointed somewhere Roberto Di Matteo can be excused for feeling nervous.  Guardiola’s ex Brescia team mate Luca Toni has revealed his old friend has asked him about life at Bayern Munich, adding that Pep would be ideal for the job.  With Jupp Heynckes reportedly set to retire from Bayern at the end of the season this, may just be the most feasible possibility.  One thing is for sure though, until he takes his next role the speculation surrounding his next appointment won’t be fading away.


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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SCFC F5 Refresh – Revitalised Potters. Boss in the trough, strong management required

September 4th, 2012 No comments

From the moment new signing Charlie Adam was introduced in Saturday’s game against Wigan, Stoke played with increased  creative energy.  We carried the game to the opposition and  showed much more fluidity.  Even at this early stage we could all see that Charlie can provide that craft and guile we’ve been looking for.  Combine that with his natural tendency to be industrious and cover ground, we may have finally found the missing link in our evolution.  It could prove to be a masterstroke from Tony Pulis.

The first half was tale of two penalties, both correctly awarded.  Having got to half time on level terms it was infuriating to again fall behind early in the second half to such a sloppy goal.  Our defence got dragged all over the park.  It was a decent finish by Di  Santo but from our perspective it was catastrophic that he managed to get such an opportunity.  For a side like Stoke, known for defensive organisation, it was an awful way to fall behind.  To our players credit they drove forward in search of the equaliser.  The deserved leveller eventually arrived in the 76th minute through Peter Crouch.  It was pleasing for Crouch to get on the score sheet as so far this season he’s rarely had a sniff of goal.  However, Saturday proved that with service he’s still a huge asset and our most likely scorer.  The remainder of the game saw us pressing for the winner.  We’d have snatched the victory but for Ali Al Habsi’s remarkable reflex save from Charlie Adam’s free kick.  All in all a draw was a fair result.  Most pleasing is that in Charlie Adam we finally have a playmaker.   A refreshing performance from The Potters.


Cristiano Ronaldo scored twice for Real Madrid but celebrated neither goal.  After the game he told the press “It could be because I am a bit sad. That is the only reason. When I don’t celebrate goals, I am not happy.”  Predictably,  his words sparked a barrage of intrigue.  Is he trying to manipulate a transfer?  Unless he’s prepared to take a pay cut there may only be two clubs in the world who could afford him.  If Paris Saint Germain aren’t prepared to splash out he could be moving back to Manchester… and he wouldn’t be wearing red this time!

Bizarrely, head of UEFA Michel Platini has welcomed the influx of QSI (Qatar Sports Investments)  money to PSG.  This is in contradiction to the financial fair play rules he’s instigating.  Platini and Qatar seem to have a thing for each other.  Platini also voted for Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup.  Platini and Qatar could be seen as a love wholesome and pure… until you remind yourself that Laurent Platini, son of Michel, is QSI’s legal advisor.  Platine was a truly great player but once he became a powerbroker he dipped his head in the trough…. just like the rest of them.

Newcastle manager Alan Pardew has received a two match touchline ban for pushing assistant referee Paul Kirkup.  Two matches is remarkably lenient.  Since the incident Pardew has been humble and apologetic but manhandling officials should be treated with utmost seriousness.  Referees should unite and take action about this episode.

Attention now turns to the forthcoming World Cup qualifying matches.  England’s preparation has been disrupted by injuries to Wayne Rooney and Andy Carroll.  Roy Hodgson took the odd step of choosing not to replace Carroll in the squad.  Rooney’s absence could be a blessing in disguise.  Statistics show that England are more likely to win without Rooney in the team.  Since illuminating the  the 2004 European Championship, Rooney has played in three tournaments and made little impression.  While few would doubt he is the outstanding English player of his generation, at international level he can’t be trusted to deliver. One factor is everything England do goes through him, which seems to inhibit his colleagues.  There is a precedent we can reflect on.  In one of his early press conferences as Spain manager Luis Aragones was forcefully questioned about the omission of Raul.  Aragones reached breaking point and asked the gathered media how many tournaments Raul has played in and how many of them had Spain won?  When the answer was that with Raul Spain had won nothing Aragones turned the questions back on his inquisitors by demanding to know why they insist on Raul.  That was one of the pivotal points that turned Spain into football’s dominant power. If the games against Moldova and Ukraine go well, and Rooney is fully fit for the qualifiers in October, Roy Hodgson would be wise to copy Aragones’ strategy.  It’d be a huge decision but management involves making those decisions.  Reputations alone shouldn’t make an automatic starter.

Fabio Capello‘s Russia start their campaign with a match against Northern Ireland.  Capello sat down with Andrei Arshavin recently to tell him he would be continuing as captain.  When the squad was announced Arshavin hadn’t been selected.  Following the ongoing traumas in his previous job it does raise the question…. what is it with Capello and captaincy?


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.

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.