Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Ghana late show caps carnival friendly

England 1 Ghana 1: Jonny Gould reports from Wembley.

Isn't it great to see a Wembley friendly played with vigour, commitment and passion for a change? With the amount of players from the Premier League on both sides, I suppose we shouldn't have expected anything less.

The sheer size and carnival of Ghana's support ensured it was never going to be just a kickabout. The match sold out a fortnight ago and the visiting contingent were given a bigger share of the stadium.
Asamoah Gyan's deserved late strike

Despite being a second string, Fabio's alternatives played like they believed they could make the starting XI. The England boss had earlier released Chelsea's trio of Terry, Lampard and Cole along with Rooney and Dawson.

But Aston Villa pair Stewart Downing and Ashley Young looked lively and Andy Carroll, back after injury led an adventurous 4-3-3 formation.

And though Carroll's left-foot strike at the end of the first-half looked set to give England victory, not even the most ardent home fan would begrudge Ghana's equaliser struck by Asamoah Gyan.

So what can Capello have learned from a friendly without the backbone of his senior players? Well, no one seemed overawed - and the only way to deepen a squad is through match experience.

Jack Wilshere gives us a glimpse of the next generation, Leighton Baines is a lively back-up for Ashley Cole and Andy Carroll gives us tactical options upfront, so different as he is from Wayne Rooney.

But it was more of an exhibition than a proper game; at times our defending, ball control and understanding were suspect. We're quite some way from winning a tournament.

But as a big England fan, I'd love to be proved wrong.

Monday, 28 March 2011

The skipper circus goes on!

Barry is a yawn, so is the saga over the captaincy
After the farcical second coronation of John Terry as England captain, we're now presented with the seventh recipient of the Fabio Capello armband - the utterly uninspirational, Gareth Barry.

The rotund elder statesman will lead out a team expected to show eight changes from the Euro 2012 qualifier in Wales, for the Wembley friendly with Ghana.

The Manchester City millionaire has the most caps of the player's left, ergo he's the skipper despite not being considered good enough for the eighteen-man squad for Cardiff just two days before.

All this announced amid the organised media glare of an England news conference as Fabio admitted he hadn't yet had that private discussion with Rio Ferdinand as to why he wasn't going to lead the team out for Ghana.

He won't need to now. The message has reached Alderley Edge loud and clear!

The hullabaloo over who's England skipper is unnecessary theatre and a total distraction from the real affairs of the team. It also makes Fabio look like a dithering lame duck, just lucky to be presiding over a bunch of meaningless friendlies and a schedule of complete mismatches to qualify for Euro 2012.

Still, it's reported that 20,000 fans at Wembley will be from Ghana, so at least there'll be carnival and colour brought to a game which Gareth Barry's leadership rather confirms as stale.

But perhaps the booing won't just be consigned to our eleven players. To add insult to lethargy, the FA have invited Sepp Blatter as their special guest, just months after he snubbed England's bid to host the World Cup.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Terry rewarded for treachery and disloyalty

Capello: pointless England manager
So John Terry's in from the cold and being made England skipper again. The zeitgeist proclaims he's been punished enough for sleeping with a teammate's ex and Fabio Capello, who once proclaimed Terry would never be his captain again - has performed a volte face.

All this because snubbed Terry had to stand and watch as the Captain's Armband was tossed between a clutch of other senior players during the 2-1 win in Denmark. Boo-hoo Terry, boo-hoo.

Now we have an unnecessary media cufuffle ahead of a key Euro 2012 game with Wales when the team was progressing well on the field.
John Terry: a total and utter guttersnipe
I suppose once it was decided that he would continue to figure in Capello's England set-up at all, you could hardly have him moping around like a disaffected Muttley. Terry's (bad) influence is too big for that. Lest we forget the treachery of the half-baked mutiny he tried to pull before the World Cup win over Slovenia, it seems his perceived on-field performance counts for more.

But if he was eventually going to return to the captaincy, why did Capello make such a song and dance about sacking him in the first place?
Capello's sponsorship credentials
The Captain's Armband is a bit of theatre anyway. The coronation of an alpha male among the pack, it's hardly key to the team's mechanic. It's taken on disproportionate importance for England since David Beckham became 'it', then talked and talked and talked about it in news conferences throughout his tenure.

It's an unnecessary distraction to England's preparations and Terry's the beneficiary of a weak England boss, who should've gone with him after the debacle in the summer.

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Monday, 14 March 2011

More games, more goals

Recent competitiveness in the Premier League has been a breath of fresh air - and the main reason is belief.

Rory Delap's long throw. No one can stop it!
While money still talks and Manchester City's elevation to the big-time shows it, clubs with less resource go into 90 minutes against bigger opposition with larger stature; both mentally and physically.

Birmingham's Carling Cup victory over Arsenal and Bolton and Stoke's FA Cup semi-final berths show more than ever that graft and experience can undo clever gameplans and squad depth. I thought Koscielny and Szczesny's mistake gifting Martins his Wembley winner was made of Blues second half pressure.

Fergie's "Men Win Matches" approach is even more applicable in 2011. Tactics and beautiful play just don't count as much as they did three seasons ago. Arsenal are the main fall guys of this. Yes, they're in the title race but they'll have to play with more force and individual leadership if they're to topple United to vindicate Arsene Wenger's ideals.

And more goals are being scored because manager's are more open to winning matches than sitting on leads. There are definitely less clean sheets around. Isn't it Bloomfield Road where every match has resulted in at least one goal for both teams?
Martins winner was a deserved one
Money is still the decisive factor and the longer the Champions League pays such huge bounty (together with being top of the Premier League of course), the cartel will be tough to break. It's where the cream of star players want to play. But the clutch of Europa League wannabe clubs believe the gates aren't shut to them. 

And with UEFA Financial Fair Play coming into force in two years, expect an even bigger impact on competition in the coming seasons.

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Saturday, 5 March 2011

Football needs to punish its miscreant stars

Graham Norton gets to grips
The BBC's Graham Norton Show isn't normally the platform to gauge public opinion on football, but the instant reaction of his studio audience should send alarm bells ringing at the Premier League.

Norton's routine covered Ashley Cole, who took an air rifle into training at Cobham which he not only used, but actually shot someone with. Norton's fans booed Cole on two separate occasions, taking the entertainer by surprise.
Ashley Cole's story in The Super Soaraway
Obviously with a big midweek game against Manchester United just days away, Chelsea took no action. But neither did the Premier League or the FA. A case of the Three Monkeys if you ask me.

United also faced no censure as Wayne Rooney crunched Wigan's James McCarthy with his elbow.

Sir Alex Ferguson conceded Rooney had been "a lucky boy" not to be sent off, but the only swift reaction we got from football's authorities was the England striker was to face no punishment.

See no evil, Hear no evil, Speak no evil

Football claims to be a cradle of English culture and values. The FA have run campaigns with titles such as Respect and Get Into Football. But its ideals will soon be regarded as hollow if it doesn't take even the smallest stands against its biggest miscreant stars.

Sponsorship and TV revenue keeps rolling in - but investment from corporations isn't just reliant on ratings. They're also badging a product and if it's perceived to have diminishing morals, then football will lose its financial value.

Sky took a stand against sexism with the resignation of Richard Keys and the sacking of Andy Gray. That sets the tone for a repositioned morality and style to football from here on in.

Rooney: The 4th Monkey

Football, TV and sponsors need each other in equal proportion. It appears in these days of ecomonic austerity, there isn't one stakeholder which is any more powerful than another.

The FA would have been surprised by the public's positive reaction had they had the guts to punish Cole and Rooney. Graham Norton would bear witness to that.

It's nearly twenty years since the formation of the Premier League. It's never been more successful, but it's probably never been more complacent either.

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Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Brian McDermott: then and now

Brian McDermott, though just an Arsenal fringe player pricked my Aston Villa supporting bubble twice during our glory years of the early eighties.
Now: Brian McDermott on the Royals touchline
He scored one of the Gunners goals on the final day of the 1980/81 to inflict defeat on us at Highbury. Luckily, it wasn't enough to stop Villa becoming champions that day.

He was also on the scoresheet as the Gunners ended an eleven-month unbeaten run at Villa Park. Tony Woodcock struck the other FIVE as dumbstruck European Champions Villa were smashed 6-2. It was the beginning of our end as a major force.

Then: as an Arsenal starlet
But maybe McDermott's greatest moment in football is reserved for steering Reading to a shock 1-nil win at Everton to reach the last eight of the FA Cup. Remember it was Everton who did for the cup holders, Chelsea in the previous round.

And Reading face Aston Villa in the next round. Let's hope he doesn't make a habit of slaying us again.

But he don't 'alf look different today! Presented to the media after beating the Toffees was a bald man with glasses; not the silky-skilled, mop-haired youngster of old. Two pictures for your Soccermongery delectation. The Then and Now of Maccy D!

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