Tuesday, June 14, 2011

McLeish and Fabregas set for acrimonious moves?

Moving across any city from one fierce rival to another is always a perilous task and for Alex McLeish the one across Birmingham will undoubtedly prove so if he does indeed move. It will undoubtedly enrage of both sets of fans. Whilst it possibly does not compare in the eyes of the world to Luis Figo moving to Real, Sol Campbell to Arsenal or Maurice Johnston to Rangers so many years ago, to the residents of Birmingham it is as every bit as heinous.

McLeish has had an interesting managerial career and one that is hard to judge. His initial spells at Motherwell and Hibernian were reasonably successful although no trees were pulled up. At Rangers he possibly unfairly gained a tag for being lucky with Celtic's final day final five minute implosion to hand the league title to Rangers being a prime example. He went toe to toe with Martin O'Neil and came out remarkably well in terms of trophies won yet O'Neil is remembered with reverence at Parkhead whereas McLeish is little considered now at Ibrox despite the former having considerably more funds.

In charge of Scotland, McLeish performed admirably with the tools available coaxing the best out of players such as James McFadden, again however there was a suspicion that he had merely carried on the the work and the momentum which had been provided by Walter Smith when the two effectively swapped positions courtesy of Paul Le Guen. Scotland ultimately failed in their goal of qualification for a major tournament.

Having been poached by Birmingham - which speaks volumes of the standing of International football nowadays - McLeish promptly had them relegated before winning promotion back at the first attempt. On their Premiership return they finished a highly creditable ninth before this season's Carling Cup triumph and then relegation back to the Championship. For McLeish it seems that every plus has a minus.

For the Villa fans it is highly unpalatable, indeed he is popular with them only for having relegated their city rivals twice. His brand of football is hard working and honest (much as he was as a player) but it is hardly good to watch. Even at Rangers where he held a huge quality advantage over the vast majority of the league there was little expansive football.

Whilst winning the Carling Cup was no doubt a great day for Birmingham, Premiership survival was the absolute minimum and should have been comfortably attainable given the lack of quality at the bottom. Their capitulation in the league after the cup final was woeful and in many ways as poor as West Ham's. This blog would love to be able to pin the triumvirate of Gold, Sullivan and Brady as having a hand in both and will aim to do so.

There is little doubt that Carson Yeung knows as much about running a Premiership club as the Venkys owners whos latest debacle over Phil Jones' contract shows just how unqualified they are. McLeish would have undoubtedly been fired at the end of the season had Birmingham had the money to do so, the 5M mooted compensation clearly being a sticking point for a club with the finances of relegation to contend with.

Randy Lerner likewise seems to be a man drowning in the deep end. He seemingly listened in to the internet forums when cooling his interest in the otherwise highly qualified Steve McLaren yet these same forums are on fire with anger at the prospect of McLeish becoming manager with thousands of raging Villains signing up for an anti McLeish facebook page.

Should McLeish indeed be installed as the manager at Villa Park he will be dealing with almost certainly the loss of Ashley Young and possibly Stewart Downing as well as inheriting a squad that is not up to the job. He will be required to produce a good start to soothe the restless natives, it could be a very rocky road to survive until Christmas.

Cesc Fabregas - The Price is Right?

Twelve months on and in the same way that Real Madrid came calling a second time for Cristiano Ronaldo, Barcelona are slowly cranking up the pressure on Arsenal to part with their captain and best player.

Wenger has often been boxed into a corner with regard to selling his best players to clubs with more financial muscle. Nicolas Anelka, Petit and Overmars, Vieira, Henry and even Ashley Cole were sold despite Wenger's protestations otherwise, what he has always managed to do however is extract the maximum value for each transfer and with the exception of Ashley Cole, the players have by and large failed to repeat the success or performances that they enjoyed at Arsenal.

Fabregas enjoys wonderful Carling Opta stats but it was clear last season that we were watching a disillusioned player who at 24 years old is unlikely to improve. That being the case and with the current length of his contract he is probably at the maximum of his transfer value.

Cesc is a Catalan and has made his desire to return home clear. Regardless of his contractual obligation to Arsenal (his performances for them over the years have paid off the moral obligation) there seems little point in keeping a player whos mind is elsewhere. Arsenal also are in dire need of reinforcements throughout their team and Barcelona have several squad players such as Bojan Krkic, Maxwell or even Mascherano or Ibrahimovic who would do much to enhance Arsenal's squad and quell the pain of losing their talisman. No club wants to sell their best player but sometimes it can be done in a way that can actually benefit the club in the long term - No Nonsense.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Managerial and Transfer Merry-go-rounds Commence

The majority of Premiership footballers are only just working on their sunburn and it is only a few days since the last round of Euro Qualifiers brought the curtain down on the European season but Premiership clubs are not hanging around.

Fulham, fresh from the walking out of the principled man that is Mark Hughes have acted swiftly by appointing the highly likeable Martin Jol. Jol has a decent CV having done a reasonable job at Spurs and a fairly competent one at Ajax with a truncated spell at Hamburg in between.

Whist there's a suspicion that he may be lacking at the very highest level, he should be a good appointment for the Cottagers with his ability to coax good performances out of average players and his policy of looking to youth. Should he do well, clubs from the higher echelons will probably be reluctant to poach him for at least a couple of seasons meaning Fulham can hope for a modicum of stability in the short to medium term.

Aston Villa and Randy Lerner seem in a confused state. Mark Hughes' behaviour in quitting Fulham seems to have put Werner off and the seemingly decent option of Steve McLaren has been gazumped by Lerner taking note of the negative sentiment on the fans' forum.

The appointment of McLaren probably would incite little other than apathy amongst any group of fans but the imagery associated with his failed England reign should not detract from the fact that he is a sound manager and an excellent coach. Likewise Graham Taylor was an awful England manager but a fine club coach. Lerner needs to do just that and be less reactionary, the phrase 'silent majority' is one he should consider coming to terms with. Their options otherwise look limited.

Chelsea and Abramovich seem to have their hearts set on Guus Hiddink and it appears only a matter of time before a compensation package is agreed with the Turkish FA. What is less clear however is how keen Hiddink - and more importantly his wife - is on a return to day to day coaching. A compromise deal such as twelve months in a tracksuit with a move upstairs pending whilst a younger coach can be groomed may be the answer. That being the case another candidate will have to be identified with no guarantees as to how well he will work with the regimented Dutchman, long term stability at the Bridge still looks to be no nearer.

On the playing front, ManYoo and Liverpool have raced in to splash the cash on vastly unproven British talent. Phil Jones has moved to Old Trafford for 17M with Jordan Henderson joining Liverpool for 20M. It seems that the lessons of the financial difficulties faced by English clubs as result of overpaying for players has not been learned. Rich (or otherwise) International owners nowadays however may well indemnify clubs from such trouble nowadays but one must assume both these teams are still at the mercy of the International debt market.

For Liverpool in particular who so badly need to rebuild and make up ground it is a huge gamble on the future rather than the now. They have now spent a combined 55M on Carroll and Henderson. Whilst it is admirable that they have such faith in young domestic talent, one must wonder whether a combination of Dalglish being out of touch with the International transfer market and Comoli who is simply not a football man has led them to this juncture. Liverpool badly need to get back to the Champions League and that 55M could have been spent in a variety of different manners, it remains to be seen if this was the correct one.

For ManYoo, a phase of rebuilding is also required and it is clear that Ferguson now sees Smalling and Jones as his future centre back pairing with Jonny Evans being deemed not good enough. This coupled with the presumably imminent capture of Ashley Young and the signing of David De Gea and the squad already looks to have a much fresher feel to it. They will remain the team to beat next season.

The talk at Stamford Bridge is typical of this time of year, Neymar, Modric and Alexis Sanchez would all be wonderful additions to what has become a very pedestrian team. Modric would be an obvious success but it remains to be seen whether Spurs would entertain selling him. Neymar and Sanchez are more risky but would inject much needed pace and vibrancy into what has become a very one dimensional team as well as hopefully igniting Fernando Torres. Chelsea must however be careful not to again become unduly overloaded with purely foreign players as both themselves before and Arsenal have shown this does not work. Long term replacements in the dressing room for Lampard, Cole and Terry must be identified with the irony being the likes of Phil Jones would have possibly provided that solution. Chelsea must also find a way to integrate the promising Daniel Sturridge into the first team.

Arsenal have yet to show their hand but the arrival of a third rate Polish goalkeeper from an Austrian second division team must only be a matter of time - No Nonsense.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Aston Villa Job - A Hospital Pass

With the pushing of Gerrard Houllier out the door on medical grounds, a new broom is required at Villa Park for what must be one of the least inspiring positions in the Premiership.

Since winning the old European Cup - a truly fantastic achievement it must be said - Villa have continued to underwhelm with the only the odd glimmer of hope during the periods of Graham Taylor, David Platt and Tony Daley and the early days of John Gregory. Martin O'Neil was supposedly their own much cliched Messiah but even he could not muster a finish above sixth place and one must wonder what any manager taking the job can hope to achieve despite their tradition, excellent stadium and both loyal and large fan base.

The top six places next season would look fairly clear cut with the twin clubs from Manchester, both of North Londons' finest and both Liverpool and Chelsea. Despite much wailing and gnashing of teeth from those from the second city, ninth place was achieved in the Premiership by Villa this season. Assuming this blogs' prediction on the top six is correct, that means that any prospective candidate can only hope to achieve an improvement of two places before hitting their glass ceiling.

Randy Lerner is by all accounts a decent Chairman, he is also no fool and he knows that even an investment of 50-100 million would do little to guarantee a top four finish. That being the case then why even bother trying? Steady Champions League revenues have meant that it is essentially a closed shop save for the odd slip up from Liverpool and now the entry of Manchester City with their oil rich benefactors.

Mark Hughes is touted as a preferred candidate and a good one he would be. One would wonder however why Hughes would risk his reputation further after his misguided acceptance of the City job. With Fulham decent results are seen as a positive and an enhancement to his credentials, he also has the Europa League to look forward to and the hope of one of the big guns swooping should he do well. At Villa he can realistically achieve little that they have not done in the past few seasons and the truth is he can only either maintain the status quo or disappoint, it is a highly unattractive job.

For Allardyce at West Ham, the only way is up, Hodgson took on a relegation threatened West Brom and saved them whilst Dalglish replaced him at Anfield and took on a fallen and wounded club that he can resurrect. The Chelsea job will presumably come with a hefty cheque book and for whomever is fool hardy enough to take over from Ferguson, well it is still ManYoo after all. For anyone taking over at Villa Park however one would surely have to ask 'why?' No Nonsense.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Next Manchester United Manager

You heard it here first, it will be Paul Scholes.

It may sound a little strange at first that a person that has shirked the limelight so obviously throughout his entire career would want the most high profile job in English football and that ManYoo would contemplate hiring a manager with zero managerial experience but there are several reasons to contemplate such an outcome.

On his retirement from the game yesterday after 676 games appearances Scholes has been immediately moved into the coaching staff. His 19 years in the game have all come under the tutelage of Ferguson with a smattering of influence from various England managers.

There are very few managers who would not feel overly intimidated by stepping into Ferguson's shoes. The one obvious exception being Jose Mourinho who has very publicly thrown his hat in the ring, it is however unclear whether his level of abrasion (admittedly similar to Ferguson) and style of play are entirely what ManYoo would want. He is also a short term hired gun and if anyone will value continuity then it is the Old Trafford hierarchy.

The irony in the matter comes from Pep Guardiola who provides the strongest argument for selecting Scholes whilst possibly providing the biggest competition for the job. Guardiola has proved that a player, born and bred by a club and with no managerial experience can blossom from the very start due to his understanding of the club at every level. Scholes would provide that very same thing at ManYoo. Guardiola however could be the perfect option for the job given the success of his Barcelona team, their irresistible football and his stated desire to leave the vipers nest that is dealing with the boardroom and club presidents in Catalonia. Guardiola would not have to undergo the same personal pressure at Old Trafford as he would simply not feel it so keenly regardless that the expectations are the same, his personal attachment to Old Trafford would be much less than it is at Camp Nou.

Should Ferguson step down in a couple of years as he surely must then Scholes would have had over twenty years learning from his mentor and would enjoy the luxury of not suffering any remote comparisons to the Scot as would befall any hand picked current manager.

It may well superficially be a far fetched theory and much would depend on Scholes wanting to step out into what would be a goldfish bowl for him but this blog will be having a nifty on it at the bookies - No Nonsense.