Friday, January 18, 2013

Luis Suarez

Luis Suarez has proven to be one of the most controversial characters in recent Premiership history. He came with a reputation for poor sportsmanship and behaviour coupled with fantastic ability and so it has proven.

There is little doubt that Suarez suffers due to his reputation and there is also no question that foreign players in England are subjected to different treatment due to stereotyping and prejudiced preconceptions.

The likes of Michael Owen and David Beckham have dived just plenty during their careers yet have never been tarred with a similar brush. Gareth Bale has been going down like a sack of potatoes regularly yet is merely revered for his wonderful attacking play.

There was no clamour for the blood of Roy Carroll in the way that Suarez receives criticism when he so blatantly acted as if the ball had not crossed the line all those years ago against Spurs.

In the same way it is perfectly acceptable to cheat in British football as long as it means booting people up in the air. Players such as Roy Keane, Vinnie Jones, Dennis Wise and Graeme Souness have gone in to games with the purpose of badly hurting other players and potentially destroying the careers of their fellow professionals.

Those acts of violence are deemed acceptable - in fact revelled in by many - yet a hand ball or a dive is seen as the most heinous of crimes. So where lies the rub?

This all comes in the age of 'professionalism', win at all costs unless of course you are foreign and certainly from specific parts of the globe.

There is little doubt however that certain players do little to help themselves. Suarez's defence over the Patrice Evra incident in that it was a 'cultural issue' belied either an arrogance or an ignorance that a man in his public position should not be carrying.

The writer of this blog is an expat himself and knows that he and other expats can be as guilty as anyone for failing to integrate or in some cases even caring to do so. The difference however is that he and they are not necessarily all over the front and back pages of the newspapers nor carrying out their employment duties in front of millions.

Carlos Tevez's on field behaviour has been bad enough, but off the field his repeated motoring offences offering a complete disregard for the law - whilst offering up the language barrier as an excuse - belies an expat mentality coupled with the arrogance of a Premiership footballer that earns quarter of a million pounds a week. Both factors mean to his mind he is above the law.

Tevez has been in the UK over six years yet still cannot understand a speeding offence notice nor speak enough English to communicate in any way effectively. Brits abroad are more culpable than most for not speaking other languages but bearing in mind the need for communication on the pitch and the stratospheric wages he earns, one could reasonably expect Tevez to learn the language even if it is purely out of respect for the fans in doing his job to the best of his abilities.

Whilst this maybe sounds off topic with regard to the subject of Suarez's diving, it is this kind of behaviour that reinforces the image and stereotype of 'Johnny Foreigner' that the press so greedily latches on to.

It is no matter that John Terry can be found guilty of racism on the pitch and all manner of atrocious behaviour off it. It also does not matter that players such as Jonathan Woodgate, Lee Bowyer, Tony Adams, Joey Barton, Jermaine Pennant and Paul Gascgoine to name such a few can engage in such unsavoury off field behaviour. The reality is that the foreign player has to be doing things better than the domestic version.

Is Luis Suarez a cheat? Yes he is but no more so than Gareth Bale or Roy Carroll or Vinnie Jones. Taking the issue of racism and the horrendous way he and Liverpool handled the aftermath as a separate issue, there is no question that Luis Suarez should be treated equally with his peers over the issue of diving or any other form of on field cheating. A healthy dose of British xenophobia however seems to render that an unlikely outcome - No Nonsense.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Pep Guardiola

Throughout his career as both a highly successful player and manager, Pep Guardiola has managed to carry himself with a huge degree of dignity. His choice of Bayern Munchen as his new managerial post merely serves to reinforce that opinion.

There has probably never been a manager before with such an array of options before him previously or one who was so coveted. Regardless of that, Guardiola took the time he needed away from the game before choosing his new destination.

Whilst Germany and it's all it's teutonic precision might not look the most obvious place for a man preaching such Mediterranean footballing artistry, there is no doubt that Bayern are a classy choice for the Catalan.

Few clubs in Europe can hope to stack up to Bayern in terms of history, success and stature. Only the two Spanish giants, AC Milan and Juventus from Italy as well as ManYoo and once upon a time Liverpool and Ajax can compare. Bayern are a true giant of the game and German football it would seem is in rude health.

German football has seemingly lagged behind the 'big three' leagues of Spain, Italy and England for some time now. The reality is however with the footballing pedigree that the Germans possess - coupled with a period of definitive reorganisation after major tournaments disappointments between 1998 and 2002 - and the economic reality of the current Euro zone, it is unlikely that they will continue to lag for much longer.

Italian clubs play to often mainly empty stadiums last upgraded for Italia '90 and Spain suffers from the lopsidedness of the domination of Real and Barca. English clubs have also in the main failed to embrace the economic reality despite the enormous revenues that the Premiership brings, it may be the perfect time for Guardiola to move to the Bundesliga.

Whilst we have touched upon the cultural differences between Catalonia and Bavaria, one should also however note the similarities between Barcelona and Bayern, too highly successful clubs whose periods of dominant success have been built on a back bone of home produced players. Both clubs have experienced periods of dysfunction but there is long term planning at both clubs.

The likes of Manchester City and Chelsea may be gnashing their teeth this morning but the reality was that neither club was probably ever seriously in Guardiola's thoughts. The short termism at Chelsea in particular has done nothing but tarnish the club's reputation no matter the success in terms of silverware.

It is also possible that Guardiola gave much thought to the Catalan fans that he was leaving behind. Given the brash rivalry of recent years between Chelsea and Barca, how would they have felt seeing their favourite son in the Stamford Bridge dugout?

Few teams can compare with Barca and the Nou Camp but Bayern as an institution command the respect of all in football. The Barcelona fans would stop short of wanting to see Bayern winning the Champions League but they may well be adopting the red shirts as their second team - No Nonsense.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Gordon Strachan

Scotland yesterday confirmed that Gordon Strachan will be the latest manager to try and improve the seemingly hopeless fortunes of what once upon a time used to be a national team that punched well above its' weight.

Since appearing at France '98, Scotland have failed to qualify for a major tournament and haven't even come close since losing out to England in the play off for Euro 2000.

Given the paucity of options and the desire for a Scot to be in charge, Strachan would appear to be the best candidate available for the job. Strachan's managerial career has not all been plain sailing but he has had success with the likes of Southampton and many forget that he was far more successful in terms of trophies in his time at Celtic than Martin O'Neil was.

The other factor that gives comfort to his hiring is that under his stewardship, Celtic reached the last 16 of the Champions League twice which is no mean feat and suggests a manager that possesses some tactical acumen at a level outside of purely the domestic game.

Strachan however has a tough task ahead of him - although some may argue can it get much worse? - trying to coax the best out of what is at best an honest group of players. The two Fletchers, Steven and Darren as well as Steven Naismith offer some genuine quality but the reality is a squad that compromises many players from the Championship in England or in Scotland outwith the top clubs.

The game from bottom up in Scotland needs to be fixed in order for any manager to have success with the national team again. The reality is that Scotland do not produce players of the quality of leading lights such as Souness, Dalglish, Strachan himself and Hansen from yesteryear and even more recently players such as Gary McAllister, John Collins, Barry and Duncan Ferguson or even a young Scott Brown.

Given that depressing picture, there would appear little that Strachan can do as the reality is that there will now always be one and more than likely two teams in any group that are far superior to Scotland with the prospects for tough third and four tier teams to play again with the real prospect of Scotland's coefficient falling even further. Unless something is changed drastically, the reality is that Scotland may never again qualify for a major tournament - just ask the Welsh how long ago 1958 was.

The other issue for Strachan will be his relationship with the press. Whilst Levein was ill equipped and too inexperienced - the best of a bad bunch maybe - to manage at international level, a part of his downfall was his spiky interaction with the media.

Whilst at Celtic, Strachan morphed from a wise cracking interviewee into a malicious, bullying and aggressive presence at press conferences and post match interviews. Patience with him wore thin and over time it appeared to have an effect on his relationship with the Celtic fans who admittedly had never fully accepted him from the start on the basis that he simply wasn't Martin O'Neill.

No one can blame Strachan for wanting nor accepting the job. Playing or managing one's country is after all a great honour, and Scotland should also be delighted on their part with the appointment as other than playing to the patriotism of a National there is little else to appeal in the job.

Whether Strachan however can be a success is highly debatable given paucity of tools at his disposal and his predilection to falling out with the media. This blog wishes him well but the reality is that there will be no quick fix for the Scottish national team nor for its' wider game as a whole - No Nonsense.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Premiership Mid Term Report Card

We're more than half way through the Premiership season so let's take a look a how the runners and riders are performing so far.

ManYoo - A+
It's a quite staggering performance so far from the red half of Manchester. A squad that - upfront aside - has been universally panned for being too old and having no midfield has swept all before them. A huge points total beckons if they can keep up the pace.

Van Persie was seen as far too expensive given his age and contract situation (the latter is irrelevant to the value of a player we would add) but if he wins the league for them almost single handedly then he will be worth every penny. Ferguson however remains the supreme difference and the master of the Premiership.

ManCity - B
City - as are any club that has spent heavily - are much maligned with media coverage to rival that of Syria. The fact remains however that they have lost only twice all season and are the only club with a realistic chance of catching ManYoo.

There are clearly factions and problems within the squad and the loss of Yaya Toure in particular to the African Nations Cup will be a big loss. In the short to medium term however they are here to stay.

Spurs - A
'arry's pet media would have had you believe that Spurs were mad to dispense with his services. Then bringing the failure that was AVB in to replace him and to top it all Luca Modric was sold, disaster beckoned. Much to the newspapers' chagrin, AVB has bought wisely and has Spurs playing some fantastic - and winning - football.

Spurs merely walked through an open door into fourth place last year after the implosion of Chelsea. Beating Arsenal to the Champions League spot this time around would be a far bigger achievement.

Chelsea - D
On the face of it, a D for a team that would be in third place if they win their game in hand seems harsh. But the reality of the dysfunction at the club renders Chelsea ill placed to win anything in the short to medium term.

Given that Benitez had no information about the Demba Ba transfer, one must ponder who is making the decision on not giving Frank Lampard a one year contract extension when his influence on both games and the club itself is still there for all to see. The new faces have generally fared well but they will lag Manchester whilst short termism remains the norm.

Everton - A
Fantastic season again for the Toffees. Moyes has built a top quality first eleven with the resources at his disposal. Given Everton's latest set of financials, they will be unable to strengthen the squad to push for the top four and keeping Baines and Fellaini during the January window will be a priority.

Arsenal - F
Sixth place and eighteen points (a game in hand we hear you cry) is not good enough for Arsenal nor its' fans. Wenger has been wheeling out the same delusional arguments for years now and whilst Arsenal will never be relegated, it is starting to remind people of the last years of Brian Clough - minus the drinking and the charisma.

West Brom - A
Brilliant first half of the season for Steve Clarke and the Baggies. Clarke has eschewed 'No2 syndrome' in taking the Baggies comfortably in to the top half of the table with seemingly only two more wins required to ensure total safety for another season.

Liverpool - C
Hard to mark the Reds this season. Liverpool in eighth place looks like abject failure to most people but people must remember it is over TWENTY years since they tasted success in the league and their decline has accelerated since Istanbul. Their squad with one or two exceptions is abject and the rebuilding process will be long and arduous.

This blog has a sneaky feeling that Brendan Rodgers is the right man but it will take several seasons. The reality is that with the current financial power of Manchester and Chelsea, Liverpool have no realistic chance of winning the Premiership unless something else changes.

Swansea - B+
Another solid season for the men from Wales. The departure of Brendan Rodgers and Joe Allen to Liverpool was meant to herald the inevitable second season decline. Michael Laudrup has however kept the ship steady and the capture of Michu has proven to be inspired.

Stoke - B
It is a measure of how far Stoke have come that mid table obscurity seems somehow to be disappointing. Whilst there remains a strong suspicion that the club has indeed 'peaked' they will certainly be in the Premiership for at least one more season.

West Ham - B-
Hammers fans will feel disappointed of late but their fine early season form has given them a sense of security and Allardyce doesn't normally fail at this level in terms of avoiding relegation. A couple of January additions should see them finish comfortably mid table.

Norwich - B
Despite a recent run of defeats, the Canaries' Carrow Road form has seen them stay comfortably - so far - out of the relegation zone. They will definitely need to pick up more points however at home if they are to avoid looking over their shoulders as Spring approaches.

Fulham - C+
Fulham are a little in danger of becoming a bit of a 'nothing club'. They're incredibly inoffensive and that isn't necessarily a good thing. They should however be too good to go down.

Sunderland - D
One of the first serious periods of questioning over the managerial career of Martin O'Neill. He remains (outwardly at least) supremely confident and with their ability to score goals and quality of squad they again should be too good to go down.

Newcastle - D
Standing still after last year's over achievements has proven a huge mistake. With the departure of Demba Ba, January reinforcements are badly required to make sure the error doesn't become a catastrophic one. The squad is threadbare and injuries have cost them dear.

Aston Villa - C-
Villa again suffer from 'big club syndrome' when the reality is their squad is poor in quality and not old enough on average to get into most nightclubs. Paul Lambert has taken on a huge job and he will need time to turn things around. Avoiding relegation this season will be paramount to those plans.

Southampton - C
Back to back promotions have effectively meant the Saints being promoted out of their depth and how it shows. They have however done themselves no favours by playing so openly and some hard truths need to be realised if they are to survive.

Wigan - D
There is only so long that everyone can keep talking about what a great manager Roberto Martinez is. Sure the squad is tiny but they have proven in the later months of the past seasons that they have the ability. Why does he continually have to take them into the bottom three before they start to show it?

Reading - F
Reading lack quality and any kind of managerial nous. They look entirely doomed.

The situation at Loftus Road is bizarre to say the least and set up perfectly for Redknapp who has inherited a squad easily good enough for mid table. Should they be relegated however Mark Hughes will be to blame. Something appears rotten at the core of the club with planning so shambolic it resembles Chelsea.