Thursday, 25 September 2008

The writing's on the wall. Someone in football: help Gazza NOW.

The pace of Paul Gascoigne's decline is gathering pace. He's dying live on telly, in newspapers and radio news bulletins. He's burbling to taxi drivers and threatening suicide to hotel staff. Do we need anymore evidence of his struggle with life?

That's unless someone in a position of power in football, does something to help him.

It doesn't mean packing him off to the Priory and picking up the tab. It doesn't mean having him in as a guest in your club or on your show. It means giving him a job in your football club; one that'll give him a reason to live. Something with football at its heart.

Every fan loves him, everyone remembers his exploits. The World Cup semi-final sob, the flute playing at Rangers, the burp into the waiting reporters mike, the Cup semi free-kick which buried Arsenal, the overheated, deranged challenges on Parker and Charles which led to cruciate damage, smashing up the hotel room when Hoddle told him he'd rather have Rob Lee at France 98, The Sun's Dentist Chair and the accompanying celebration at Wembley against the Scots. EVERYTHING he did was wholehearted or funny - and usually both.

That's why someone - at Newcastle, Spurs, Lazio, Rangers, Middlesbrough, Everton, Burnley ... or Wolves should give him a job.Gazza loves kids, he loves football; can't someone think laterally? his job could be Youth Team training partner, handshaker, full-time autograph signer. Something that if he's not there one day, you'd shrug and say "don't worry, he'll be back next week". It'd be about giving this troubled man the support he's literally crying for.

Football owes a debt of gratitude to Gazza. He emerged as football did - from the ashes of Bradford and the tragedies of Heysel and Hillsborough - to the glory of Italia 90 and then the formation of the Premier League.

It's no co-incidence. People and personalities like him were the catalyst as football emerged from near extinction in the 80's.

George Best died a slow and inevitable death - why does it have to happen again? Gazza, a hero to millions and one of football's biggest figures of the last two decades.

If football people really mean it when they say, "I want to give something back to the game" - they should start by lending Gazza a hand.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

The Professor IS the beating heart of Arsenal's Beautiful Game.

If proof were needed of a manager's profound influence on his players, the leak of Arsene Wenger's team meeting notes to the Daily Mail confirms the genius of a man, who's done as much for Arsenal as anyone has done for any club anywhere. Ever.

To gauge just how much The Professor's changed The Gunners, recall how rival fans taunted them with boring boring Arsenal - a chant now employed ironically by the home fans each time their team's won a game by halftime. Never has an old song been consigned more soundly to the dustbin than that!

Arsenal's Wengerness manifests itself so frequently in lengthy unbeaten runs, two-dozen passes leading to Goal Of The Season and sound thrashings meted out to lesser-prepared teams and their array of transient managers.

And it's all down to The Man.

But just how does The Professor keep such basic tenets of belief so fresh for his players when the challenge is just to keep winning?

The answer to that lies in his constant desire to keep adapting to the conundra set by differing opposition - by succeeding.

Players come and go, in the case of Hleb and Flamini, sometimes faster than he wants them to.

But Wenger's principles remain steadfast in the face of a changing football world - and the ultimate insurance policy against have-a-go billionaires who think they can buy glory.

There are many ways to skin a cat. Compare The Professor with Fergie with The Special One and you'll unearth a multitude of routes to a Winning Formula.

The greats are often mavericks with seemingly unorthodox methods. From Shankly's “If you're not sure what to do with the ball, just pop it in the net and we'll discuss your options afterwards.” to Cloughie's "When I disagree with a player, we talk about it for 20 minutes and then we decide I was right."

But there's a science and logic to Wenger, who's way of management has changed its face forever.

His principles on diet, fitness and a team ethic now in the public domain, are universal, for all time and should be adopted by any coach serious about success, now or in the future.

I really hope Arsenal win the league this season, not just to propel Wenger to the game's summit again, but also to show the wave of billionaire owners that football's dreams can still be made of Stars - not just Cash Cows.

Saturday, 20 September 2008

What is it with Tottenham Hotspur?

Even Google's robot knows it.

For all the millions lavished upon them and the grand gesture in appointing a double UEFA Cup winning coach, it seems there's one inalienable truth which applies to football as much as to wider life:

You Can't Polish A Turd.

It seems the Carling Cup victory in Juande Ramos' first months as Spurs boss now looks like a false dawn.

You see, Tottenham aren't built to win Championships, neither are they equipped to compete in the Champions League. At best, they win domestic cups - and that at a rate of one every three managerial changes.

A couple of season's back, their transfer policy was to sign Englishmen. But Jermaine Jenas' quote on his arrival at White Hart Lane gives an insight into why Spurs constantly fail to make the breakthrough.

Jenas described his relief at escaping Newcastle's goldfish bowl, but what he really meant by that was he wanted a piece of party-time London without detection.

Spurs seldom attract the professional - the person who's there to play football first. The honourable exceptions to that rule end up at Liverpool and Manchester United.

Arsenal might be in London too, but no-one can accuse Arsene Wenger of scoffing from Swinging London's chocolate box; and his players are made of the same fabric. I mean, can you conjure up an image of Pascal Cygan stumbling out of Tramp arm-in-arm with a WAG? He saved all his best stumblings for gametime.

Tottenham, and for that matter Manchester City and Newcastle attract a certain kind of Charlie that Arsenal and indeed clubs like Everton and Aston Villa don't.

However much you lavish on some clubs, they always seem to fail. There seems to be a default position of relative success and failure at which teams find their level, whatever resource is thrown at them.

When predicting future success, the strongest marker lies in pointing to a glorious past. If a club's done it before, there's every chance they'll do it again.

For all of Liverpool's struggles in reclaiming the title during the imperious reign of Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United, the Reds have still won the FA Cup and League Cups (more than once) and BOTH European trophies. They're a winning machine even if a triumvirate of big guns perenially stall their Premier League dream.

I mentioned Aston Villa and Everton. Football League Originals both of them and a quiet dignity which means they stay out of the headlines and more than occasionally go on and achieve "unexpectedly".

For all of Newcastle's noise and north-easternness? nothing.

The Shearers, the Keegans and the Sir Bobbys, all orbiting stars of the St James' solar system, but their twinkle is always eclipsed by the bad moon risings of the Bartons, Bellamys and Dyers.

Manchester City's new owners be warned - your trillions are at risk so enjoy the buffet in hospitality while you're there!

And that's Tottenham's lot too, unless they can ignite a winning catalyst. A good coach will eventually craft a good team.

Spurs need only look a couple of miles down the road to see how Arsenal have built a dynasty in a decade: a commitment to their manager, superb transfer dealings and a stunning new stadium which'll keep the Gunners at football's top table long-after Wenger's moved on.

However low on confidence Spurs might be playing, their board must stick with Ramos, a man who took a provincial Spanish club to a summit of the European game.

And while they're doing that, why don't they ask him what else the board at Sevilla were doing while he brought home the jamon?

Thursday, 11 September 2008

Fabio sticks to his guns in the Croatian cauldron (including Theo Walcott audio)

"You're a man, my son!" - Fabio Capello kept his head while all around him were losing theirs. (Rudyard Kipling makes exceedingly good quotes). We were aided when Croatia lost their heads after Robert Kovac's aerial assault on Joe Cole.

But the team followed Capello's orders, showed great discipline - and our key players demonstrated in spades, what we know each of them for.

Lampard - skill, poise and the trigger at set-pieces. Unlucky with his disallowed goal. Rooney - full of running, clever passing in the final third of the pitch, non-stop harrying and chasing. Walcott - pace, quick feet and self-assurance. (Post-match audio interview).
Now the Premier League, with its pockets of self-interest will be forced to sit up. After a rousing 4-1 win to kickstart his England tenure, the Italian's demands will be harder to repel. The Big Clubs need a winning England side to keep the domestic game bubbling. It's time they got on board and supported Capello fully.
And under this coach, the players the Premier League donates to the England cause will return to their clubs the better for it.

Monday, 8 September 2008

Join up to the Soccermongery mailing list for your chance to win 2 tickets for an England game at Wembley in 2009

That's right. Your name will go in a draw for the prize. To qualify you must subscribe (and stay subscribed until the draw's made, which will be on May 31st 2009). The game will be one of the full England internationals in the remaining period of 2009. The winner will be notified by email and announced on-site in early June.

Good luck!

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Sunday, 7 September 2008

The Capello Project is d-o-o-o-med if Premier League bosses don't respect him.

Low confidence, a lack of attacking adventure and only two-goals scored against low calibre Andorra - but it's hardly surprising Fabio Capello's England is misfiring.
He has little support from inside the English game. "We're All Doomed" if we're not in this together.
Capello's agitated by a perceived lack of respect from fellow managers in the Premier League. He was disappointed by Harry Redknapp's comments about England's performance in the friendly against the Czechs. After all, when Fabio watched Portsmouth, Fabio didn't pass comment on the way Pompey played up. Fabio kept it professional.
Capello's antennae are well-tuned. His intuition about a lack of respect is right. How are we going to forage through Europe without co-operation from the Home Front?
But unwelcome comments about his team from fellow managers are just the tip of the iceberg.
Premier League bosses think nothing of withholding their players citing spurious fitness concerns. "England needs that player?"... Tough!
Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez saw this international window as the ideal chance to put Steven Gerrard under the surgeon's knife. The operation though necessary, didn't need doing now; better Gerrard misses a couple of games for England than for Liverpool, eh Rafa?

Gerrard's drive in midfield is sorely missed and England's best starting line-up is compromised by outside forces.
Capello's been highly-visible stadium-hopping to assess the form of his prospective squad, but he's not across another major issue; a meaningful dialogue with managers about the players he needs.
Sven recognised this and often resorted to the press to air his grievances with managers by using the backpages to put them under pressure.
He was a canny operator was Sven. Fergie and Co were often forced onto the backfoot when it came to making players available for England. Remember how Sven scooped an injured Rooney off to the 2006 World Cup against Fergie's wishes?
Capello has a more rigid mindset than Sven and frankly, he doesn't seem to have the Premier League with him so far.
There are FIFA rules about making players available for international duty, but there's no help more locally from the FA to steer Premier League managers to play ball on a more informal basis.
Until Capello grapples with his peers and starts winning these mini-battles with the clubs, Capello's England Project looks compromised - and ultimately doomed.

Friday, 5 September 2008

Sorry Geordies: Keegan's exit is a positive for Newcastle United!

I know this is unpalatable to Toon fans but Kevin Keegan is a proven loser and totally ill-equipped to lead a Premier League team in the 21st century. Newcastle, you're best off without him. The next thing for the Toon to pray for is a Manchester City-style change of ownership and rid themselves of Oyk Ashley too.

It's time for Newcastle United to extricate itself from the past. The last time Kevin Keegan led Newcastle to (near) glory in the 90's, he was merely pitted against Arsenal's Bruce Rioch, Liverpool's Roy Evans and Chelsea's Ruud Gullit.

Who beat Keegan to the title? the ultimate football winner, Alex Ferguson. Aside from the total one-off that is The Govanor, the game's moved on.

Now Arsenal are led by Arsene Wenger, at Liverpool it's Rafa Benitez, Chelsea have a World Cup winner in the shape of Big Phil and it's still SIR Alex Ferguson of United. Then there's Martin O'Neill at Villa and Tottenham's Juande Ramos. Keegan can't hold a candle to any of them.
"We cannot possibly understand the fabled north-east football mentality", we're told as outsiders.
It's that mentality which propels Kevin Keegan to its summit as some sort of messiah. A romantic figure, a Pied Piper leading Newcastle to Wembley wins and open-top bus celebrations around Sid James' Park.
WAKE UP!! If Newcastle played Blyth Spartans, Hartlepool(s) and Darlington every week, the north-east mentality would be all that was required. But Newcastle doesn't operate in isolation.
In fact, the fabled north-east mentality comes off the rails every time its pitted against the north-west mentality; clubs from there win big pots every year - and have done so for 50 years.
Keegan was never the man to lead Newcastle out of the mire. Even with a supportive Geordie board rather than Ashley, he'd have found a way to quit.
Not that Ashley's any better. He's even worse to be honest; he has a track record of division and riding roughshod over anyone in his way.
Newcastle need a strong man the fans recognise and who they'd get behind - BUT someone without the baggage of a triumphant return. Someone to wipe the slate clean, to look to the future not the past. To really be in charge without board or middle-management interference.
Jose Mourinho, Martin O'Neill and Fabio Capello fit the bill. They're not available and would never be under the current circumstances. Who'd work for Ashley? The severance clause would be the most important part of the contract!
Keegan's Long Walkout of Fiefdom is hardly going to encourage a top coach to replace him. It might even leave Dennis Wise in the boxseat for the hotseat.
Still, as indigestible as that might be to every Toon fan, at least it would simplify the lousiest management structure in the Premier League.
And until they sort that out, there's no future for Newcastle United at all.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

It's Official. Football IS recession proof!

And there we were worrying that our gleaming English game would be affected by the worldwide economic downturn. That sooner or later, job losses would lead to less Sky subscriptions, empty seats and eleven Englishmen at Everton!

But Manchester City’s lightning quick purchase by Abu Dhabi Babby shows there's still a billionaire somewhere ready to buy the Premier League dream. Just who and where he comes from has shifted from west to east quicker than you can send tanks through a neighbouring state.

World capital is suddenly in the hands of the oil rich, the cash rich and the sovereign wealth fund – and they all want a piece of our game too!

This season we might see embarrassingly half-empty stadia for supposedly big games, but when you’re Barry Bigshot after instant status and a lot of fun, there’s seemingly nowhere better to splurge your cash than at ... Manchester City(!)

Spiralling wages and transfer fees will continue. Sadly the difference between fan and player will also become bigger.

Football’s economy bears no relation to the UK's because it's almost entirely without regulation. This is what happens when you truly expose yourself to Globalization. The Fit and Proper Person’s Rule is about the only regulation there is, and that’s about as sharp as pensioners teeth.

(By the way, I like it like this).

My main concern is that the Megamoney will make the mistake of believing the fans will be less and less important because they'll be contributing a smaller share of the overall financial pie.

But without the fan, there's no passion. Ultimately the billionaire's buying into them. Beware new investors; without the supporters your investment will shrivel.

And now, as with all finance-based editorial, here's a warning from our Compliance Officer: "Your investment in Manchester City could go down as well as further down."