Saturday, 31 January 2009

Big Sam and Dioufy's Rovers return!

Bob Carolgees and Spit the Dog are reunited again! Sunderland striker El-Hadji Diouf has joined Blackburn resuming ties with Rovers boss Sam Allardyce, who got the best out of him during their time together at Bolton.

Diouf, 28, has completed a £2 million move in a bid to revitalise his career under Big Sam, who brought him to Bolton from Liverpool five years ago. The Senegal international has sauntered through his spell at Sunderland since his £2.6 million transfer last summer, failing even to score in 16 games for the Stadium of Light club.

Diouf will ensure that Big Sam's side has a greater edge to its play thanks to his spiky persona.

Diouf gained notoriety by spitting at opposing fans during his Liverpool days. Big Sam didn't gain notoriety for looking like Bob Carolgees. He just does!

There were only two clubs that D10UFY really could've joined given his dog-like predilictions. Rovers was one, Wolves the other. No chance of forming a partnership with Stan Collymore though. That's a different kind of dog behaviour altogether. Walkies!

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Also on Soccermongery: Jonny's latest podcast and Tony Adams is the man to send Pompey down

Thursday, 29 January 2009

United's enduring love affair with the FA Cup

In his second Soccermongery article, Joe recounts Manchester United's love affair with the Cup. I can't entirely forgive United for shunning the world's greatest cup competition in 2000 opting instead for the World Club Pot, but the FA Cup is experiencing a renaissance and United's cup bids now reflect the tournament's grandeur.
If the FA Cup is the most romantic competition in the world, then Stanley Matthews and Ian Porterfield would have been chocolates and flowers men. Both Matthews and Porterfield were the knights in shining armour and the Cup will be eternally indebted to them.
In 1953, a couple of weeks before the Coronation, a spindly-legged wing wizard called Matthews twisted the Bolton defence in knots. He swayed. shimmied, shuffled and finally bamboozled a Bolton side who seemed to have the match under their belt. Matthews was tricky, deceitful and by the time Stanley had finished with them, Bolton were glad to see the back of him. Matthews, backed by a willing nation, won the Cup for Blackpool.
Exactly 20 years later a long-haired lad named Ian Porterfield brought the old Second Division underdogs Sunderland to an ecstatic standstill when Bob Stokoe's red and white striped army lifted the Cup. From a perfect Bobby Kerr corner, the gangling Porterfield loped up from the back, trapped the ball with the skill of an acrobat on his knee, and thumped the ball ferociously past the Leeds United keeper David Harvey.
The FA Cup has never been short of defining moments: there was Ricky Villa hip swivelling past a stunned Manchester City defence, just one of Spurs' three winning goals in the 1981 Cup Final. Poor Leeds United had no answer to a Ray Crawford inspired Colchester during the early 1970s. Ronny Radford, shirt hanging out of his shorts, slid over the mud of Edgar Street to snatch an equaliser for Hereford against a well-organised Newcastle.
Allegedly the FA Cup has lost some of its popularity but you could say much the same about ten pin bowling. The Cup will never lose its essential worldwide appeal, and three years ago produced perhaps its most spellbinding Final for years. The match had so many fascinating twists and turns that Liverpool and West Ham seemed to take the game to its loftiest level.
Throughout their illustrious history, Manchester United and the FA Cup have almost been inseparable. The Cup took on a whole emotional resonance when United were beaten by Bolton in 1958. This was the year when the delectable Busby Babes were tragically taken from us on a snowy Munich airfield.
In 1963 Matt Busby stuck the proverbial two fingers up against the world when his newly re-modelled United team ran rings around Leicester City. It took another 14 years before the cheeky and extrovert Tommy Docherty convinced Lou Macari, Sammy McIlroy, Steve Coppell and Stuart Pearson could overpower an exceptionally intelligent Liverpool side with Double-winning designs.
During the 1980s Ron Atkinson's United flounced and swaggered their way to Cup Final victories against Everton and Brighton respectively. United, it seemed, had a lease and mortgage on the FA Cup. There was Ray Wilkins, a player who brought dignity and stateliness to United's midfield, Norman Whiteside, one of the youngest players to appear in a Cup Final who had the most ravenous appetite for the game.
At the beginning of the 1990s Sir Alex Ferguson added yet more ornaments to United's well decorated trophy cabinet. United finally overwhelmed a dogged and obstinate Crystal Palace side. Half way through the decade a showman and exhibitionist called Eric Cantona took on Liverpool almost single-handedly and then scored the winning goal through a forest of Liverpool legs. Chelsea were also unravelled by United with the kind of performance that bordered on the spectacular.
In their 2-1 defeat of Spurs on Sunday, United once again stepped up to the plate with a display of craft and delicacy. touch and perception. It lacked some of United's traditional silks and satins but there was an unmistakable buzz about Old Trafford that sent a shiver down the spine.
Michael Carrick. via West Ham and Spurs, is beginning to look the most controlled midfield player in the country, Paul Scholes looked like a master of his trade and Danny Welbeck, although leggy, strolls and then strokes the ball with languid arrogance. Dimitar Berbatov could yet become one of United's most prized finishers.
Then of course there is a young Portuguese winger with matinee idol looks. Cristiano Ronaldo and the FA Cup were somehow meant for each other. Ronaldo, World Footballer of the Year is now wanted by more or less every club on Planet Earth - and with every justification.
Ronaldo went through the familiar routine against a Spurs team with too much on their mind. There were the bewildering stepovers and dragbacks that are turning into his stock in trade. At one point Spurs were being pulled in two different directions. So the bricklayers and carpenters of the non League take their leave of the FA Cup. Little Kettering of the Blue Square Premier are out of the Cup and the rest of the big boys will fight it out for a day at Wembley.
But for Manchester United the love affair with the FA Cup may never fade. Their courtship with this famous Cup will remain a passionate one. For as long perhaps as time itself and football.

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Monday, 26 January 2009

Tony Adams is the ideal candidate to manage Portsmouth's decline

From Jonny's I Told You So File! I wrote this at the end of October. I don't wish ill on Adams, but he'd be advised to pipe up a bit and focus, focus!
Tony Adams doesn't have the ability to be a Premier League manager.
On paper, he has all the credentials; a giant and courageous figure as Arsenal and England skipper, he always led from the front.
But so did Bryan Robson and he's proved a less than convincing boss.
Portsmouth, forced on to the backfoot by the lightning-quick exit of Harry Redknapp have appointed his assistant, who's only previous coaching experience lies in short-term junior roles in Holland and a spell at Wycombe Wanderers which ended in relegation. His news conference was a wishy-washy attempt at standup and demonstrates he's been caught on the hop. Adams had to take the job just as Portsmouth needed to act quickly.
"My time has come" and "Welcome to Hell, I'm coming to get you, Arsene told me". Its true, Wenger and his teenage all-stars will!
Boy, did he need Joe Jordan to keep things upright! Now Jordan's set to join Redknapp at Spurs. Bad news indeed for Adams.
Luckily, Adams has inherited a very good squad - but just how committed will they be? So many of them were tempted to unfashionable Fratton Park because Redknapp was such a credible boss and achieved so much there.
One of those must be Peter Crouch, who declared he was happy with Adams' appointment as it demonstrated continuity and he knew the man's methods and style as opposed to working for a new character.
It's just the sort of complacent attitude which can unravel a small club like Portsmouth in doublequick time. Of course some players need no motivation from their manager to play well. But most do.
By all accounts, Pompey needed the £5million compensation injection that Redknapp's departure brought. How else can we explain his cloak-and-dagger overnight beeline to Tottenham? Portsmouth obviously accepted it unconditionally.
I don't like to see Portsmouth fall over especially as they've done so well in the Premier League the last few years - but if they were in better shape, they would NOT be appointing Tony Adams.
Needs must. But Premier League standards are falling. The Credit Crunch is forcing the hand of England's second and third string Premier League clubs. Portsmouth are on their way down - and Adams is the man to manage the steady decline.

Monday, 12 January 2009

Podcast Memories: Carragher's "bottler" broadcast

Watching Liverpool's Jamie Carragher appear as a Sky Sports summariser during Manchester United's 3-nil Premier League win over Chelsea was a bit of a wind-up... so I thought I'd pick this one out of the Soccermongery onion bag - the day Carra* was wound-up himself.
And oooh, didn't he take the bait with this! Have a listen to this podcast gold. From nowhere, Carragher phoned up talkSPORT Radio to respond to presenter Adrian Durham's allegations that he was a bottler.
*for maximum listening pleasure, say Carra in a Liverpudlian accent during download. Go on, try it.... Jarreh, Jarreh (note the J as in the Spanish, Javier). No wonder Rafa enjoys speaking English. His ajj-cent is well-equipped to deal with the rigours and contours of Stanley Parj banter, no?
This was an example of pressure getting to players where reputation is questioned all the time. But ultimately, aren't football matches won on the field of play ... not in the mind?
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Saturday, 10 January 2009

Has Rafa delivered an "I Would Luv It, Luv It" moment?

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez has launched an astonishing attack on Sir Alex Ferguson, by claiming he's above punishment from the game's governing bodies. The Spaniard says Ferguson is the only manager who is not be reprimanded for outspoken attacks on referees and officials

"We had a Respect campaign meeting and I said forget it, because Mr Ferguson is killing the referees," said Benitez.
He was responding to Ferguson's midweek comment that nerves might ruin Liverpool's title bid, before issuing his tirade against the United boss. Fergie's reply was issued after his team's crushing victory over Chelsea the following Sunday. Some would say Fergie's team did all the talking - but he still branded Rafa angry and distressed.
Rafa's extraordinary outburst came after a journalist asked him for his response to Fergie's suggesting that Premier League leaders Liverpool might get nervous in the run-in.
"I was surprised by what has been said, but maybe they (Manchester United) are nervous because we are at the top of the table," added Benitez.
The Spaniard then pulled out a sheet of paper and read out a list of accusations about Fergie's conduct regarding referees, the FA's Respect campaign and fixture lists. "I want to talk about facts," said Benitez. "I want to be clear, I do not want to play mind games too early, although they seem to want to start.
"During the Respect campaign - and this is a fact - Mr Ferguson was charged by the FA for improper conduct after comments made about Martin Atkinson and Keith Hackett.
"He was not punished. He is the only manager in the league that cannot be punished for these things.
"How can you talk about the Respect campaign and yet criticise the referee every single week?
"We know what happens every time we go to Old Trafford and the United staff. They are always going man-to-man with the referees, especially at half-time when they walk close to the referees and they are talking and talking.
"All managers need to know is that only Mr Ferguson can talk about the fixtures, can talk about referees - and nothing happens.
"We need to know that I am talking about facts, not my impression. There are things that everyone can see every single week.
"To complain and to always have an advantage is not fair."
Benitez also heavily criticised Ferguson's complaints over supposed favouritism over fixtures. "Two years ago we had a lot of early kick-offs away on Saturdays when United were playing on Sundays. And we didn't say anything," said the Reds boss.
"Now he is complaining about everything, that everybody is against United. But the second half of the season will see them playing at home against all the teams at the top of the table, it is a fantastic advantage.
"If he wants to talk about fixtures, and have a level playing field, there are two options if we don't want more problems with fixtures.
"One is the same as in Spain, the draw for the first part of the league is known, everyone knows which weekend. In the second half everyone plays the opposite, so you all know.
"Or there is another option. That Mr Ferguson organises the fixtures in his office and sends it to us and everyone will know and cannot complain. That is simple."
It's crafty and timely from Rafa, coming as it does before United's six-pointer at home to Chelsea. It was calculated and pre-meditated as opposed to Super Kev's spectacular loss of cool in 1996.
But whatever happens between these two - and whatever charges are brought (or not) against Rafa, this title race will be won on the field of play. Fergie might be allowed a little chuckle to himself about this.
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Friday, 9 January 2009

Beckham: rumours of a move to Milan are about more than England

This comes from Jonny's I Told You So file! I wrote this on the 17th October 2008, and hinted that Becks' move to Europe was about an escape route from MLS, not keeping fit during the America's off-season, as was reported at the time. This is my piece (unedited) from October:
The growing battle for David Beckham's signature in the January transfer window has more at stake than just the England midfielder's fitness.

Becks needs a return to Europe to compete for his England place. The tabloids ask "how can he truly remain competitive and matchfit playing in LA?" Milan remain in the boxseat to capture him on a three-month loan deal.

It's just that his loan switch will be about more than a new lease of Life with the Lions.
It's also about Major League Soccer's fight for survival and its future in a competitive market through an economic downturn.
While Becks rises like a Phoenix from the ashes, Major League Soccer is foundering. It's losing its vision.
Having managed Beckham's LA Galaxy, Ruud Gullit's comments about MLS crystallise the reasons why the former England skipper needs to come home.
Gullit, who lasted nine months in LA suggested there's a conspiracy among other American sports to keep soccer down, and that no amount of David Beckhams can turn it into a major sport in the U.S.
"I think they are afraid of football because it is so popular everywhere around the world," Gullit told Reuters. "I think they will just control it so it doesn't become more popular than their American sports."
Gullit said that as a result, Beckham is fighting an uphill battle to sell soccer to U.S. fans.
"So it is very hard for him," Gullit said. "They will never allow that, and in some ways I can understand it as well.
"I have my doubts if they really want to make it popular. Some sports have already had a bit of a dive, so they don't want American football to become less popular, or basketball or baseball."
The truth is Beckham thought the door was closed on big time football long before it was. Losing his place in Capello's Real Madrid team co-incided with McClaren's insistence that he wasn't part of England's plans.
We all know what happened next: a recalled Becks-inspired Real won the Primera Liga and McClaren fell to the overwhelming clamour to bring Becks back. The fly in the ointment was he'd already signed for Hollywood.
Beckham is one of the fittest players of the modern era. The end of his career is not in sight, and his value to any team is obvious; he's good support for a creative partner in midfield and he remains the setpiece meister!
You could see why Manchester City were the early favourites. Abu Dhabi Babby wants to mark his arrival with a big New Year Splurge, and he's one of only a few people who could afford Beckham's wages.
But as Thierry Henry articulated in his time at Arsenal, a modern team wins titles with the strength of its subs bench.
Could there be a better sub to lift the crowd and trigger an equaliser from a set-piece?
So no surprise that big name suitors like Milan are chasing his signature (or with Beckham, his autograph).
Will one of the big boys back home tempt him home?
With Beckham, impossible is nothing.

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

EXCLUSIVE: Cock-up Charlton's Curbishley replacement was under their noses!

The day Alan Curbishley bowed out of Charlton Athletic after fifteen years, was the day the club went into a downward spiral in which they're still spinning out of control. But it could've been so very different.

There's been a succession of awful managerial appointments at The Valley and next season, there's the real prospect of another relegation - to the third tier of English football.

But the answer to their future was literally right under the Charlton board's noses!

I can exclusively reveal I sat next to Roy Hodgson in the Director's Box at The Valley, that very day.

Two-and-a-half-years later, as Charlton stare up at the rest, four-points adrift at the foot of the Championship, letting Curbs slip out "the front door" was a cock-up enough - but watching Hodgson take his chance with Fulham so comprehensively, makes Charlton's mistake dimensional!

Their visionless board didn't know what they had - how far they'd come - and what to do next. 

Hodgson was the perfect replacement for Curbishley.

Curbs, together with Steve Gritt entered the stage as something of a comedy duo. They were the first joint managers in the English game. He and Gritt had zero experience in management. The club had no money and, worse, no ground.

Slowly, painfully, they put a side together and the first signs that something was stirring came at Ewood Park in February 1994, when Jack Walker's millionaire Blackburn, who won the Premiership the following year, were beaten by the penniless Addicks.

Curbishley, on his own after Gritt was sacked in 1995, then dragged Charlton away from all the dreary years of post-War mediocrity.

I'd been telling anyone who'd listen that to kick-on from years of patient, excellent progress, Charlton needed to appoint a manager for the bigger stage. Hodgson, a Londoner, with his Inter and Swiss credentials would've been perfect. He was clearly looking for a Premier League job in London. He got one.
The progress of Fulham couldn't be in more stark contrast to Charlton. 

The board, without a clue what should follow Curbs were keen on a man with no Premier League experience. Billy Davies was a strange Plan A to pursue - but when he wouldn't come to The Valley, Plan B (for Backfoot) was Iain Dowie, acrimoniously hired from relegated rivals Crystal Palace. When that didn't work out, Plan C (for well, make your own jokes here) was Les Reed. 


Charlton's board are so clueless, they must be going through the phone book looking for coaches now: Pardew? Parkinson? it's Pearce next!
They had it all in 2006: an excellent manager: okay, as a team they'd gone back a little over eighteen months, but only from higher to lower mid-table. The stadium was playing to full houses and had been developed very nicely over the years. They were ferrying fans in for a fiver from further afield, fuelling a fanbase.

And it's no exaggeration to describe their part of London as the country's region of opportunity. The City and The Olympics on their doorstep. So much opportunity! Where do you start?

With Spurs struggling at the time, they had a genuine chance to grow the club in the south-east and Kent, behind Chelsea and Arsenal as the region's third biggest club.


At New Year, Charlton are hurtling towards the third tier; Hodgson's Fulham who negotiated a miracle escape from relegation last season, are in the Premier League's top-half.

"Most managers leave by the back door, I'm getting clapped out of the front door which is how I would have wanted to go", a moved Curbishley croaked at the time. Players from both sides formed a guard of honour as the stadium rose as one in appreciation. They didn't know it at the time, but the poor fans were saying goodbye to the Big Time.

Charlton's board can't apologise enough to the supporters for how badly they've mismanaged the Addicks ever since. They've run their Premier League club more like a Provincial Golf Club. Now they're handicapped, four-under-par the field. They're going to miss the cut.

This looks like damage which could take a decade or more to rectify.

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Also on Soccermongery: January Transfer Window Comment and Podcast Laugh: Jose Mourinho sings the Blues

Monday, 5 January 2009

Big 4 massive debt will produce change we can believe in!

Most of the Premier League's twenty clubs are up for sale - URGENTLY! Keith Harris, who's sold five top-flight clubs in his time admits to having two hopes of selling Everton:

No Hope and Bob Hope.

Toffees chairman Bill Kenwright instructed Harris of merchant bank, Seymour Pierce, to find new investors after admitting the club couldn't keep borrowing. They've yet to finance the new stadium at Kirkby.

Harris explained it's not a rich city and Everton's cause isn't helped by sharing it with Liverpool either. Which brought him onto Liverpool and the subject of this piece: Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United really do play in the red!
Harris is concerned that the Reds' huge £350million debt with two stricken banks Wachovia and RBS, are due for repayment in a few days. They've an option to renew for another six months - but time is running short for Liverpool owners Messrs. Hicks and Gillett, to transfer the debt from done-for banks to other super-rich individuals.
Manchester United are £two-thirds of a billion in debt, following the Glazer takeover although United is probably the most multi-layered football business in the world, so it should be okay. They've just got to keep winning!
Chelsea's debt is owed to Roman Abramovich and is interest-free, so they're either here to stay or will fall like a house of cards.
So as the swirling winds of economic turmoil threaten to blow the tops off football's leading houses, it's time for a lofty prediction!
Football's great believers and idealogues will start winning trophies at the expense of debt-laden monsters.
Who couldn't have been immensely impressed by Wenger's kids in the League Cup this season? And by the time they're 21-year-old first-teamers, Liverpool's debt will have been re-structured and some of their best players may have been sold off.
Arsenal with "only" £260million of debt, and that to pay for the Emirates (at 5% per annum) are well-poised to dominate - if they can keep patient with Wenger's average team right now.
That's "good debt" compared with the other big three. It's secured against the world's bigget matchday revenues, increased sponsorship opportunities and secondary rights sales. Looking good, Arsenal.
I take them to win the title either next season or definitely the year after. And once they do, they can dominate for a while.
Aston Villa can take advantage too. The very best chairman - supportive, committed, low-profile. A manager who's been there and done it, as both a player and a boss. Huge supporter-base. Non-controversial. Aston Villa have also done it before!
As football evolves from a debt-led orgy of win today to a more egalitarian lesser-leveraged future, football's great planners and dreamweavers will win the day.
We may never return to a period of such austerity that allowed Nottingham Forest to jump from 3rd in Division 2 to Champions of Europe in two years, but one thing is for sure, football men with football ideas will have more chance of producing winning teams without always being trumped by Big Spending Giants.

In the spirit of Brian Clough, the sport may be about to become much more competitive. As football fans, can we raise a glass to that? Yes We Can!

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Sunday, 4 January 2009

FA Cup Village Football - and pictorial proof that I Love The FA Cup!

The magic of the FA Cup as seen from the News Of The World's backpage. I'd like to have been at this cuptie!
Arsenal played from left-to-right, Barnsley from right-to-left and Chelsea, coached by Ray Wilkins, played sideways.
The replay kicks off when the DJ upsets Steven Gerrard.
It's live and exclusive only on ITV, Setanta, Chelsea TV, Arsenal TV and the BBC. Village football rules apply. Chopper Harris and John Fashanu are vying for recalls.
Actually, arranging the scores like this is a canny way of burying bad news if you're Mark Hughes. He could tell Abu Dhabi Babby that Manchester City drew nil-nil at Stoke instead!
By the way, I love the FA Cup. Here's proof (it's me kissing it!)
Also on Soccermongery: January Transfer Window Comment and Podcast Laugh: Jose Mourinho sings the Blues