Monday, September 30, 2013

The title race looks wide open

Fans of ManU, Chelsea and Man City are having their predictions of a three horse race proven correct yet again, the only slight issue being the three horses involved right now don't belong to them.

Funnies aside, this promises to be the most open Premiership in years with the lack of a clearly dominant team.Whilst it's unlikely that the current table will reflect the finishing positions, there has clearly been a shift in balance in the league starting with a dreadful start from the champions, United.

There was always going to be a 'blip' but it beginning to look like much more than that. Many people stated last year that it was far from a vintage Reds team despite the runaway league win and it is now looking to be a correct call.

People will point to Moyes as being the biggest factor and it is true that his tactics and outlook have appeared as if he is still at Goodison. Everton however were usually hard to beat whereas City could have run up a cricket score against United last week if they had really wanted to.

Of their core players, only Rooney and Van Persie are in their prime.Vidic, Ferdinand and Giggs are all past their best with Giggs already looking his full 40 years and entirely ineffective at the top level. Carrick and Fellaini are not hugely mobile either and with Evra also on the wane, the Reds look very susceptible against pace and movement.

This coupled with Moyes' conservative tactics and United have begun to look like a very ordinary team with only a smattering of top quality. Other players such as Nani and Young continue to flatter to deceive and are obviously inferior to the comparable players at the other top clubs.

Following on in last year's finishing order. City probably look to have the best team and the best squad in depth but they appear to be suffering from slight schizophrenia in away matches right now. Pellegrini should however steadily put things right and they will be dominant at home.

Should their CL excursions go better this season, they will have to contend with juggling European football and the league, it is not the easiest thing to master and may prove a distraction for them.

They do however have a wonderful squad with firepower to spare and should they get some momentum, then a more harmonious dressing room should see them go very close this season.

Jose Mourinho is not having things all his own way since his return with a squad big on quality and numbers but hopelessly unbalanced, lacking both holding midfielders and with a misfiring strike force.

Chelsea have endured a nightmare start to their CL campaign with a home loss to Basel. Another drop into the Europa league and the Thurs/Sun issue would be hugely disruptive again. Their form needs to pick up quickly in both competitions.

The biggest issue right now however is that the squad doesn't seem to fit with Mourinho's tactics. His most successful sides had his identity stamped all over them and this one looks far from a 'Mourinho team' right now. Many (including me) had them as favourites from the outset but they face a hard season if they wish to truly challenge for the title. Like City however, they will improve.

One must assume that Arsene Wenger is in full 'I told you so' mode right now and sitting top of the table he may have the right to do so. The fact remains however that Arsenal have not challenged for the title in an age and have done little or nothing to address the fact their squad is the most threadbare of the anticipated top six.

Mesut Ozil was a wonderful buy but possibly a player they needed the least given the urgent need in other areas. Ozil has typically struggled to finish matches for Real and with Wilshire and Walcott both horribly fragile, keeping this level of performance up for an entire season may be tough. Ramsey will not continue scoring a goal a game either.

What must however gall Gunners fans the most is the 'what if' Wenger had actually strengthened the team as required in addition to buying Ozil? With the league so open this season and new managers in place in last year's top 3, the addition of 2-3 quality players could have seen Arsenal as strong title contenders.

Top 4 finishes are all well and good but Arsenal fans are crying out for a trophy and the Premiership is the one they want.Wenger again didn't address the main squad deficiencies and may yet again be the one receiving the 'I told you so' come season end. There was and is a huge opportunity this season.

Spurs fans will be on cloud nine. Having endured the disappointment of missing out on the CL yet again last season and then the departure of Gareth Bale, an excellent start to the season and a strong squad has them all dreamy eyed.

Spurs have certainly progressed under AVB and the team appears to be gelling after their poor display against Arsenal. Against Chelsea on Saturday they were certainly more than capable of competing physically, something they have struggled with in the past.

Whilst Spurs have added numbers however and developed a great squad, their first eleven now lacks Bales' match winning quality. Whilst they have bought in numbers, possibly buying the very best rather than sheer quantity (buying Ozil instead of Eriksen and Lamela together as an entirely hypothetical example) could have seen them really challenge at the top. Defensively they appear to lack a little against the very best also.

Whilst a title tilt is probably a step too far for a club that finished 5th last season (Thurs/Sun football will prove a hindrance again) CL football at the least could be a reality for them next season. The White Hart Lane faithful will however dare to dream.

Like Spurs, Liverpool appear to be heading in the right direction and have had an excellent start to the season with only a home aberration against Southampton to spoil things. Rogers' tactics and philosophy are slowly being indoctrinated into the team and Luis Suarez looks go be back with a bang.

Liverpool have genuine hope of making progress this season although the competition is fierce. Again like Spurs, Liverpool must be wondering what might have transpired had they aimed a little higher in the transfer market. It is of course difficult if you cannot offer CL football and they both probably bought as well as they could have.

Liverpool have no European distractions this season and already being out of the League Cup, they have the opportunity to keep their squad fresh and rested.

Nearly all managers rubbish the January transfer window but if United's form doesn't pick up, Chelsea's strikers don't improve and Liverpool, Spurs and Arsenal all still hold any kind of title hope come the new year, then we could see a January window like no other.

On balance, we'd still lean towards a title race between the twin blues of City and Chelsea. Arsenal will harbour true title aspirations (as may Spurs) also after their excellent start. It will almost certainly require a lower points total this season with the victor possibly losing as many as 7 or 8 games - United have already lost 3 times and City twice.

Liverpool and Spurs however can have realistic hopes of breaking down the door of the top 4, the most pertinent point being though that it is the champions who look the most vulnerable right now. There's a long way to go however - No Nonsense.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Does Test Cricket have a long term future?

First of all, I'd like to say I certainly hope so. It may also feel a little odd to consider such a debate half way through sold out back to back Ashes series but there is a far far larger problem at hand.

The vast majority of test cricket played is not the Ashes and is played out with dwindling interest across the world for many of the fixtures.

Test cricket suffers in the modern day on two levels. The first is that in this age of fast food entertainment, a sport that can take 5 days in theory to produce a result that is a draw - that the vast majority of the world cannot understand - is always going to have reduced appeal given the vast array of instant result options on the average satellite dish.

The second is that cricket suffers in an even worse way from the same problem that rugby has in that it is a vastly closed shop with few established nations. There are of course, sports such as AFL that thrive because of their uniqueness and singularity. The AFL does not purport itself as a global game however.

This is of course fine up to a point as long as the established nations maintain their standards and interest but as has been obvious with the West Indies, the access to other sports on television and the money involved has had a negative influence and has diluted interest.

Whilst I don't live in Australia and merely as a foreigners' observation, it is interesting to see a decline in cricket and union (possibly, I'm far from an expert) standards at the same time as soccer has surged in popularity within the country.

I'm an unashamed purist and even a snob when it comes to test cricket, I love it above all else and have little time for ODIs, I find them formulaic, dull, predictable and often one sided.

I do however enjoy T20 for it's unabashed fun and freshness and watch it regularly. I love both good wine and cold beer in the same way, they're completely different but hit the same spot for me.

What is clear however is that the short formats of the game are funding the long format. Whilst England and Australia can boast regular large test crowds, no other nation including India can on a regular basis say this for all opposition.

There is clearly a huge appetite for the shorter formats and it would be mad not to embrace, much of the blame must reside with the adminstrators of the test game.

Whilst we all love the Ashes and also look forward to SA and India touring I would assume, the problem is that the level of interest outside the core nations is waning and so it seems is the talent pool.

Whilst T20 has born out a variety of new shots and increased bowling variations and possibly sharpened fielding, for me the general quality of test match cricket has vastly reduced at the same time.

In the past few years alone we have lost from test cricket (in no particular order and by no means complete) Gayle, Hayden, Ponting, Langer, Martin, Hussey, Gilchrist, Lee, McGrath, Warne, Gillespie, Dravid, Tendulkar (soon to be), Sehwag, Kumble, Murali, Jayasuriya, Ambrose, Walsh, Lara, Flintoff, Kallis (soon to be), Donald, Pollock, Inzaman, Akhtar, Laxmann.

Whilst some fantastic genuine test players such as Clarke, J Anderson, Amla, G Smith, Kohli, Pietersen, Cook, Sangakkara, Morkel, Zaheer and Steyn have certainly emerged, the skill set required for test cricket looks to be on the slide.

Only the South African and England attacks right now could argue to have bowlers of any real compare to what was around a few years ago.

Far fewer batsmen appear to have the ability now also to bat through an entire day despite the attacks being as mentioned generally weaker and with pitches with often less demons than yesteryear. Most test teams appear to be heading the wrong way in both disciplines.

It is hard to imagine more and more batsmen doing what Tendulkar did in quitting limited overs cricket to prolong their test careers. The pattern will be to follow the Chris Gayle model and become a T20 gun for hire instead. There are rumours that Kevin Pietersen could do just that after this next Ashes series.

It could of course simply be part of a cycle in the sport but there does appear to be a link between the growth of the short format and the wane of test quality. The problem is we now need the short formats to subsidise the long format as mentioned.

It could also simply be that the numbers of youngsters sticking with cricket globally is falling. It is far far easier to earn a living at a plethora of other sports than reaching the pinnacle of cricket which you have to if you want to be well rewarded financially. Money talks these days as in all walks of life.

Longer term however those implications are a worry for the standard of all forms of cricket. Deficiencies in a players' game show up far more obviously in test cricket. T20 has not even been around long enough to be able to remotely compare standards.

Like it or not, much of the power in the game resides with India, they have the biggest TV numbers, the IPL and the biggest say. One does not however get the impression that the BCCI is in any way prioritising test cricket.They may ask however why they should they?

If India chooses to move its' focus further away from test cricket then the Ashes in time could be seen by the rest of the world as a quaint little custom between the two protagonists. Whilst we may say we care not, it is impossible to suggest that standards could be maintained in such a scenario.

Much of the problem with the depth in test cricket resides with the smaller test nations who have fallen away badly. Standards have dropped in New Zealand, Pakistan and Zimbabwe, the latter two as part of bigger social and political problems granted.

Bangladesh for similar reasons have simply not been able to move forwards and Sri Lanka has a huge focus on the shorter formats in which they excel. But for all the reasoning and rationale, in simple terms it remains about money and it is not cost effective for these nations for pour money that they don't have in to test cricket. There is simply not enough depth of competition in the test arena.

Test cricket could of course remain as almost a closed shop between SA, Australia, India and England where the 4 big nations simply play each other at tedium but anyone who can remember Wasim and Waqar, Ambrose, Walsh and Lara will hark for an era were there was strength in depth around the world.

I unfortunately am not really offering much in the way of an answer, merely expressing concern at the demise of my most beloved of sports. Whilst the spectre of no test cricket may seem a far off notion, one really must wonder where it will be in ten or even twenty years time.

Some sports do drop away, boxing as an example has been supplanted largely by MMA. The heavyweight championship of the world used to be almost the pinnacle of sport, now most would struggle to name another heavyweight outside of the Klitchko brothers, it can happen.

For Australia and England, there seems little to worry about right now as their grounds are regularly full but if there is little variety and quality of opposition to play against then the interest will surely dwindle also in the long term. Sports thrive on competition.

What test cricket can do is to modernise and help itself. One other Roar writer discussed the prospect of flood lit tests recently and it is a suggestion with huge merit.

The ending of the the 5th test at the Oval was a prime example of how out of step with modern times test cricket is. Everyone wanted to see the climax of a thrilling (albeit dead rubber) end to a game only to be thwarted by the umpires taking the players off. It should be added that the umpires were not at fault, it was the antiquated rules that they were obliged to follow.

In its' purest form, playing for a draw amongst bad light as the 5th day draws to a close is the essence of test cricket but the test arena needs to adapt if it is to survive.

A simple way to generate interest is for more of the sessions to be available to people when they are not at work, television audiences would benefit greatly also and that is where the gravy train mainly passes through.

Of the 15 sessions of a test match, only 6 are offered during a period that the people in that country are not at work (the weekend) unless there is a public holiday. How can that compete against finishing work and heading down to the ground or switching on the TV in the evening for the 2nd innings of an OD or an entire T20 match in this day and age?

The simple fact is that purists such as myself are crying out for the restoration of something to its' former glory that simply isn't feasible in this day and age in its' current state. ODs and T20s are subsidising the vast majority of cricket, it is not for them to take a lesser role, it is for the associations to find a way to haul test cricket back up by its' boot straps - if they of course wish to.

I used a comparison to boxing earlier. When the heavyweight division fell away, everyone said it didn't matter, the middleweight division was strong and there were great welter and lightweights. Now, once Mayweather and Pacquiao have retired, there doesn't really look anything left to the wider world audience whatsoever.

Using that analogy, should the 'first class' form of cricket fall by the wayside entirely then the prospects for the shorter game may well find themselves next, it could be a freight train that proves very hard to stop.

Possibly it is a poor comparison and analogy but the competition between sports these days for viewers' attention has never been fiercer and it is not going to get any less so.

It is probably a little premature to suggest 'armageddon' for the test arena but the cricket boards and most pertinently the most powerful ones need to act soon for the good of the long format, that is of course if they do indeed still care....... No Nonsense

Monday, September 16, 2013

Much work ahead for Mourinho.

Whilst the loss at Everton was far from a disaster as Chelsea didn't play particularly badly - they were just extremely profligate in front of goal - Mourinho's comments after the game sought to put some perspective on the expectation surrounding the club. This is not yet a team in his image.

There is much about this Chelsea squad to admire given the size and depth and the more youthful appearance that it now has. It is however at odds with Mourinho's style to a large degree.

Whilst at Chelsea the first time, Mourinho played a 4-3-3 compromising of a solid midfield 3 of the likes of Makelele, Lampard and Ballack, speedy wingers and a powerful centre forward.

In Madrid where he had far more attacking expectations, Mourinho's tactics morphed more in to a 4-2-3-1 given that he had too exceptional deep lying midfielders in Khedira and Xavi Alonso which afforded the likes of Ronaldo and Ozil the freedom they craved. He could also play Pepe in a destructive deep lying midfield role.

Mourinho has adopted a similar style at Chelsea but the problem is he does not really possess the players required in the deeper roles. Mikel is lacking at the very top and whilst an ageing Lampard and the tireless Ramires are both excellent players, neither is a natural holding player and their talents are stifled in such a system. Both are far more suited to playing in a 4-3-3.

To switch to a 4-3-3 however would be to give less credence to Chelsea's obvious strength of the '3' in the 4-2-3-1. Of the players that operate in those positions, only Oscar could reasonably be expected to play in a deeper role given his largely unnoticed tackling and tracking back.

Leaving the likes of Hazard and Mata purely on the wing again seems a waste, the interchanging in the current system suits them wonderfully. He also has to find game time for Schurrle, De Bruyne and Willian.

Time and time again in his previous Chelsea guise, Mourinho waxed lyrical of the benefits of having an extra man in midfield, namely Claude Makelele. To facilitate that you need to play 4-3-3.

The 4-2-3-1 feels in a way like a compromise that Mourinho has made to satisfy the attacking cravings of his paymasters at Madrid and Chelsea. Neither also are necessarily teams where he had complete charge of the transfer policy. Adding Schurrle, De Bruyne and Willian this Summer gives him little option in terms of the system he can employ.

Given this array of attacking options, Mourinho will be forced to be bold but he clearly needs to marry this to the pragmatism he always feels is required and which has made his teams so successful.

Whilst Madrid performed on the whole very well under him, it never really appeared as if it was his team in the same way it did at Chelsea first time around or at Internazionale where his identity, tactics and character were stamped all over the park.

If Mourinho is to repeat his previous glories at Chelsea and turn them into Champions League contenders again then the balance of the squad needs to be addressed and Abramovich must indulge some of Mourinho's caution to proceedings.

It may well be that it is next season before we see a Chelsea team truly again in Mourinho's image, if indeed that is what the owner is prepared to sanction - No Nonsense.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Premiership Predictions

The transfer window is now closed so we can finally assess the runners and riders properly in projected finishing order. The placings will obviously prove to be ultimately incorrect in many instances and many people will disagree - often wildy - with some of the opinions.

The middle of the table in particular is incredibly difficult to differentiate as the squads are often of very comparable quality. Injuries, management and even just a good start could make performances fluctuate hugely. Regardless we have attempted to make a decent fist of it.

1st, Chelsea
Mourinho is back and Chelsea fans expect the Blue Machine to tick back in to gear. It is not quite the well oiled engine it was first time around however with issues in the striking position and in holding midfield.

The opposition however this time around is also not quite what it was and Mourinho should be just enough to tip the balance.

Chelsea had the same amount of points against the top half last season as ManU but 14 fewer against the bottom half. We can expect that ratio to swing.

2nd, Man City
City have jettisoned 3 hugely disruptive influences in Tevez, Balotelli and Mancini. Pellegrini appears to be exerting calm and their squad looks the most balanced and complete in the league with 4 quality new arrivals in the Summer.

Home form should be dominant so how City shape up away from home will dictate the strength of their title challenge, Cardiff did not auger well but it is early days and Pellegrini looks the part.

City are also going to have to come to terms with challenging on two fronts and the CL may prove a distraction if they can go further this time.

3rd, ManU
Many are predicting 'armageddon' for the Reds but we think that Moyes will steady the ship and they have a wealth of experience with big players with a winning mentality. The squad is inferior to the 2 teams above we have mentioned however and Ferguson is a huge loss.

Whoever took over from Ferguson was going to suffer a blip but we still think the Reds have enough big game players to see themselves through the season before the further rebuilding to come. The bookies are still tipping them firmly to finish in the top 3 and we think they are right.

Moyes' tactics will come under scrutiny away from home so it will be essential that the Reds maintain their imperious form at Old Trafford.

4th, Arsenal
It feels a little counter-intuitive but Arsenal simply keep qualifying for the Champions League. We feel there's nothing this time around to suggest it will be any different for reasons that will be explained with reference to the other teams.

Ozil is a fantastic player but not the top quality striker, holding midfielder and centre half that they needed to challenge for higher up. Their squad looks thin but they can still put out a very good first eleven.

Flamini was not the most spectacular of signings but he may be an adequate minder for Jack Wilshire if he can keep himself fit. They will be too good for most teams.

5th, Liverpool
Brendan Rodgers we feel is taking Liverpool in the right direction and is slowly but surely exerting his style and influence on the team and their play.

Luis Suarez will return and will want to be on top of his game with a South American world cup to follow. They already look a far better unit already than last season.

The team looks to have goals in it with Sturridge also in good early season form and with reinforcements at the back, they look a good unit. Keeping Steven Gerrard fit for the season will be important but we think they will continue to improve.

6th, Spurs
This one will be contentious we know. Spurs have added several good players to their squad. Soldado, Paulinho (we expect) and Lamela look top quality. However whilst Spurs have improved the depth of their squad dramatically, they have lost the player that could have been the difference in the big games, Bale.

The loss of Bale we feel means that even with a bulging squad, the best first eleven they can put out may not be stronger necessarily than last season so that glass ceiling above them may still remain.

They will however improve as the squad gels and many will feel that they are top 4 material, we remain to be convinced however.
7th, Swansea
After the supposed top 6, things get far more tricky as many of the teams are much of a muchness.
Michael Laudrup remains and so does Michu. They have also added a couple of good players in Bony and Shelvey who ensure Swansea will be competitive as well as pretty.

Good home form will be a must but unless there is another Cup final hangover we think they should maintain their form better this year and surprise many people.

8th, West Ham
Allardyce remains as canny a mid table manager as there is and everyone knows that West Ham will be tough to beat. The Hammers finished 10th last season with their form patchy at times. Downing is no Bale but he is a quality player at this level and will also add experience.

They have kept Carroll but he will need to stay fit if West Ham are to achieve such a finish, he will want to impress in a World Cup year for sure. Allardyce is slowly building a solid squad and we tip them to finish well this season.

9th, Everton
For the record, we don't rate Martinez here. Everyone continually talked of his wonders at Wigan whilst failing to address why their form in the first half of the season was so turgid.

Fellaini has gone and has not been replaced adequately and we would have actually marked them for a lower finishing place had it not been for the three players that arrived, Barry, McCarthy and Lukaku.

McCarthy looks expensive and seems to be the time honoured mistake that managers making returning to their older and smaller clubs. The other two however will add greatly to Everton's cause. Players such as Jagielka and Mirrallas are quality and Baines remains also.

There is not a huge amount of quality around them and if we are proven wrong about Martinez then they may finish higher.

10th, Aston Villa
Top half looks a big call given their relegation travails last season but they will be far stronger for it. They have also kept their prize asset Benteke and that means goals.

Villa have added a couple of summer signings to their young and bright squad and we predict better times for the Villians this season under the quietly impressive Paul Lambert.

11th, Fulham
Fulham will entertain and score goals this season, that is almost for certain given they have added Bent and Taarabat to a side already boasting Berbatov and Ruiz.

Scott Parker will add bite and know how in midfield and whilst they are certainly going to lose a few games, they will also win their fare share. The Cottagers may even finish higher if the front players really click.

12th, Stoke City
Mark Hughes is tough to like sometimes and QPR left his reputation in tatters. A slightly more humble Hughes may do well at Stoke and indeed, his problems seem to appear when he has a large transfer budget to spend as in at City and QPR and handling those players that come along as a result.

He will have no such issues at Stoke with a team much reflecting the locale of the city. If Hughes can mould Stoke in his own image - much as he did at Blackburn - then their usual home form can ensure a comfortable mid table finish.

13th, Southampton
There was much gnashing of teeth when Nigel Adkins was fired last season but the reality is that Mauricio Pochettino has done a good job since his arrival and he was not the one to blame.

The Saints have invested heavily in the summer but we remain to be convinced about the quality of Wanyama. Osvaldo is not the most mobile so possibly not the foil that Ricky Lambert required, he definitely has quality however when he's in the mood.

Like Fulham, if all their players click they may well finish higher but a comfortable season away from the relegation places is probably a good result for them.

14th, West Bromwich
The Baggies enjoyed a fabulous 8th place finish last season but it is hard to see them repeating their heroics this time around. Lukaku's goals have departed unfortunately but Sessegnong, Scott Sinclair and Anichebe all promise attacking intent.

Their squad remains small and they will need luck with injuries again. Steve Clarke remains a good and solid manager and we expect them to finish in the lower end of mid table.

15th, Newcastle Utd
The Geordies remain the biggest soap opera in town - which is saying something - with a disastrous summer thanks in no short measure to the bizarre appointment of Joe Kinnear as director of football.

Pardew will have to reintegrate Johan Cabaye as quickly as possible as he offers quality in midfield. Newcastle's squad is threadbare and they will need Loic Remy to stay fit. They flirted with relegation briefly last season but should be too good to go down.

16th, Norwich City
Chris Hughton has attempted to add goals to the team in the shape of Hooper and and Van Wolfswinkel. Norwich however retain a soft centre.

Home form will be important for the Canaries if they are not to get sucked into the relegation battle. It is time for Chris Hughton to show whether he too is capable of stepping up another level. Should stay up.

17th, Cardiff City
One of the three promoted teams usually does ok and we are picking Cardiff to be the one. Cardiff have invested relatively heavily during the summer and in Malky Mackay they have yet another bright young Glaswegian manager poised to take the next step.

Cardiff have started brightly with a famous victory against Man City but it is their form against the teams around them that will decide whether they can stay up. They should have enough.

18th, Sunderland
Di Canio was a fabulous player but appears not quite such as a person. As with so many top class players with the highest of standards he struggles to relate to players who cannot perform to the level he did ala Souness and Roy Keane. Glenn Hoddle was another example but his tactical acumen papered over many of those cracks.

Di Canio has brought in far too many players with no Premiership experience and jettisoned some strong characters. He quickly needs to realise that players at this level do not respond to be slapped around the head and grabbed by the neck every time he substitutes them, nor being criticised so often and so publicly.

Sunderland's only hope may be an awful start and his early firing, he is the favourite with the bookies after all. It could however all click and Sunderland will win the league, there is little but extremities with the volatile Roman.

19th, Hull City
Few managers are as overrated in England as Steve Bruce who simply fawns to more celebrated managers whilst keeping a look out for his next pay day.

Huddlestone and Livermore will add some much needed know how but it looks to be a long season for a team that probably were lucky to be promoted.

20th, Crystal Palace
Ian Holloway's last day super market trolley dash appears to have caused huge discombobulation amongst the incumbent Palace players.

It is questionable how much quality Holloway has genuinely added and despite his attempt to become more serious, it is debatable whether he is truly a capable manager at this level or merely a figure of mirth.

Palace are possibly not a shoe in for rock bottom but staying up should be beyond them for sure.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Gareth Bale

It's not every day that the transfer record is broken so it's worth a little time to reflect on Real Madrid's latest piece of shopping.

We'll start by pushing the moral issue aside of a country with unemployment in the under 25s over 50pct seeing the team which is the very embodiment of the Madrid establishment spending 100M Euros on one player. What we want to know is in footballing (and commercial) terms, is he worth it?

The answer is that Madrid clearly think so and so therefore he is, the market is after all the market.  The question is also clouded slightly by the relative marketability of the player and Real obviously think Bale is very marketable indeed.

Asking the question about Bale's worth in pure footballing terms and there would seem little question that Real have overpaid and done so possibly dramatically.

If you pushed age to one side for a moment and considered who are the best players currently on the planet, I would list the following ahead of him in terms of ability and influence on matches, Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets and Gianlugi Buffon.

At least of comparable ability I would place Frank Ribery, Mesut Ozil, Luis Suarez, Radaman Falcao, Xavi Hernandez, Sergio Aguero, Thiago Silva, Arjen Robben, Philip Lahm, Robin Van Persie and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

The list above is incomplete and will no doubt provide much argument but it is merely aiming to illustrate a point. Of those players, only Lionel Messi would be transferred for more money than Bale has just gone for. None of the others would get even close apart from possibly Ronaldo although his age now counts against him.

Admittedly attacking players go for a premium but is Bale really worth more than double that of Mesut Ozil? He is for me is one of the best 'No10s' in the world and has proven himself already for Real and at the World Cup for Germany and is the same age. It strikes me that his sudden availability caught a LOT of managers off guard.

The other issue for Bale is that British players generally don't travel well. Real is one of the harshest of environments and whilst one must admire his ambition to prove himself at the very top of the game, he faces a very hard task to live up to his billing, especially given he will be asking Ronaldo to share that top billing with him.

Players always state that they have no control over the fee and that it does not matter to them but that is codswallop, the fee ALWAYS matters. It can either destroy a player as we've seen with the likes of Fernando Torres or it can embolden a player like it did with Ronaldo but be sure, they are always aware of it.

No less than Zinedine Zidane arrived in Madrid with a world record transfer fee hung around his neck and badly suffered for several months. Zidane of course finally settled and became a Madrid great but there is no one who can convince me right now that Bale will ever be in the same class as Zidane.

For 100M Euros you should be expecting the absolute finished article and Bale is not yet that. Although he looks far stronger physically now he has a shaky injury record, it is a big gamble for Madrid.

Merchandising will play a big part in Madrid's thinking also. They clearly feel from the way they have introduced him that he is far more marketable than Ozil (unless you suffer from a peculiar owl fetish) and that they can recoup a large amount of the deal commercially. Beckham after all famously paid his own way within a couple of seasons.

This may all sound unduly negative about Bale's prospects on the pitch at Real and it is very easy to snipe before seeing how he actually performs. Bale seems a decent enough down to earth bloke and no one other than maybe a few grouchy Spurs fans and the Nou Camp faithful will wish to see him fall flat.

Madrid however is THE footballing goldfish bowl and with language problems to conquer, a young family and that transfer fee, it is going to be a tough settling process. A hat trick in his first match might settle all that but we somehow think that Cristiano Ronaldo might have something to say about that - No Nonsense.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Moyes must be bolder

Be clear, no one is suggesting for a moment that Moyes is not the right man for the job. He was and is a fine choice. It was also never going to be straightforward filling the biggest shoes in English football.

There are also mitigating factors regarding Moyes' first season in the job. Whilst ManU had just won the Premiership at a canter indicating a vintage side, the reality of that team bears a much closer look.

Ferdinand and Vidic are past their best with Jones and Smalling still as yet unproven replacements. Scholes is gone, Giggs turns 40 this year, Van Persie is the wrong side of 30 and Wayne Rooney is sulking, not all in the Reds' garden is rosy.

Moyes however is being paid handsomely to solve all these problems and he surely will. Ferguson was the master of morphing one great team in to another whilst staying at the very top of the table. Whilst Moyes will be given time and he cannot be judged properly until it is 'his team' in a couple of years time, there are things that Moyes must change now, starting with himself.

It is of course natural for human beings to seek familiarity and Moyes is clearly no different having transported his Everton backroom team and the returning Philip Neville to Old Trafford. He now appears to be looking to raid Goodison for players also.

This however can be an issue where managers are taking a big step up as Moyes is doing. The danger being that you slowly turn the bigger club into the smaller one that you came from. There have been several instances where managers have erred in this respect.

Both Roy Hodgson and Brendan Rogers at Liverpool immediately returned to their former charges, Fulham and Swansea for players. Hodgson signed Paul Konchesky to almost disbelief from the Liverpool faithful and the fact that he was jettisoned down to the Championship after Woy departed says it all.

Rogers spent an awful lot of money, 15M on Joe Allen and he has so far flopped badly. Playing for Liverpool is not the same as playing for Swansea it would appear.

Sir Alex of course did the same thing when he went to Old Trafford returning to Aberdeen to sign Gordon Strachan and Jim Leighton, the latter of which was an unmitigated disaster which effectively wrecked Leighton's career at the highest level. Ferguson was not however expected to win the league in his first season in charge.

ManU looked painfully short in midfield again yesterday and given that the prospect of Fabregas seems to have been a fanciful one, Moyes is turning his attention to Marouane Fellaini.

Fellaini we would suggest would be a great addition for ManU and it is not to say that you cannot go back to a club for a player and be successful. The problem is the mindset of the manager who needs to look forwards instead of backwards. Martinez duly is happily going to replace Fellaini with James McCarthy from Wigan as he attempts to mould Everton into Wigan, and so it goes on.

Regardless of the final day transfer action, Davie Moyes' current mentality has been betrayed by his tactics and approach in the two big games he has played so far against Chelsea and Liverpool where ManU have drawn 2 blanks.

Whilst people are clearly lining up to criticise, it does appear as if Moyes is still setting up an Everton team to play these matches with tactics and expectations to match.

Mourinho would have been delighted to take a point so early at Old Trafford. He has little to prove to anyone after all whereas Moyes has it all to do. For Brendan Rogers yesterday, beating ManU was a huge shot in the arm as he attempts to take Liverpool back to the Champions League.

Moyes has taken 1 point from 6 in these 2 matches but it is more the manner of his approach that is the concern. ManU were possibly the better team against Chelsea but it was a fairly toothless performance.

Against Liverpool, Moyes is telling everyone that United played well but he is fooling no one. This is a Liverpool team still short of genuine top class quality in many areas yet they matched and surpassed ManU. Yes they were missing Rooney but Liverpool were without Suarez who is probably far more influential relatively for Liverpool.

Whilst Moyes' team selection was fairly non controversial, his tactics against Liverpool seemed fairly pedestrian. Playing Giggs on the right - he could of course be a scholar of the Mourinho born tactic of playing wingers who cut inside on to their preferred foot - after 23 years of his playing on the left and occasionally through the middle did also seem slightly odd.

Saying how pleased you are about the performance when you have just lost to your biggest rivals is dangerous also as Roy Hodgson found out at Liverpool. Ferguson and Mourinho can get away with that kind of tactic but not many others can. The expectations of the fans is far far higher.

Moyes quickly needs to find his own identity and self confidence in his tactics for the big matches with the Champions League also looming. All the big managers have their own approach in this regard.

Ferguson had the occasional moment of self doubt tinkering with his tactics but generally in the big games he was bold and attacked. United are full of attack minded players and playing any other way would appear folly.

Guardiola is another who never waivered, playing only one way, coveting the ball and playing his own brand of possession based football. the famous tikki-takka.

Mourinho generally counter attacks in the big games which is often misconstrued as being negative. Mourinho is far smarter than that, he simply gives his offensive players - usually quick wingers - the platform to break quickly. That is very different from playing negatively.

Roberto Mancini fell foul of this in Europe where he encouraged a City team with players such as Aguero, Toure, Da Silva and Tevez to play containing football, it simply did not work.

Moyes needs to quickly realise that managing ManU in the big games is very different from managing Everton, the expectations are far greater, a point is no longer enough - No Nonsense.