Thursday, April 24, 2014

Moyes debacle is the end product of a far wider United story.

Whilst professional football has always been at the least a costly hobby for the wealthy and a vehicle to get rich quick for many, it is really since the Sky era was ushered in that the unquenchable thirst for riches was truly unleashed.

Now what does all of that have to do with poor Davie Moyes you may ask? Because it is Manchester United's finances that have brought the club to where it is currently. It is a story that has played out over more than a decade but crystalised only in this season horribilus.

It is also worth noting that whilst Ferguson's legacy on the pitch for United is without parallel, his legacy off it is far from bullet proof.

After the Monopolies and Mergers committee had blocked Sky's takeover at the turn of the century, the majority owners at United were the Irish duo of JP McManus and John Magnier.

Ferguson entered into a private dispute with Magnier over the ownership of the racehorse Rock of Gibraltar. This in turn led to a bitter boardroom battle with the other members seeking a party to buy out the duo who now intended to have Ferguson removed.

This of course led to the introduction of the Glazers and the leveraged buyout that followed and the large debt that the club accordingly assumed - so unpalatable to a huge number of United fans.

When the Glazers took control of the club, United were in rude health. They had a young Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo, Rio Ferdinand in his pomp and a still highly capable core group of Scholes, Keane, Neville and Giggs.

The Glazers also had an ally in a manager who had been more than tacit in ushering them in. It would seem unlikely the banks would have offered up the money had Ferguson not guaranteed his continued role and it also suited him hugely to have Magnier and McManus gone.

Now it clearly hasn't all been bad at United since the Glazers arrived with multiple Premiership titles and another Champions League trophy on the shelf.

During this period however, United have been a team in a slow but steady decline. Around the turn of the century, United's squad was truly fearsome and they routinely added players of the calibre of Jaap Stam, Van Nistelrooy, Juan Sebastien Veron (yes he flunked), Rio Ferdinand and the teenage prodigies of Rooney and Ronaldo.

They scoured Europe for the best players and paid huge fees to secure them. Few could compete.

There have been countless articles on the cost of financing United's debt since the Glazers took over by people far more qualified and informed than myself.

What is without question is that the structure of the Glazer's ownership has cost United an inordinate amount of money which could otherwise have been spent on players. The evaporation of the 80M for Ronaldo being a prime example.

In very basic terms, since the Glazers came in, there have been few players added to the squad who have been better than the ones they have replaced.

Since the beginning of their stewardship, United have lost Ronaldo (as mentioned above), Van Nistelrooy, Gary Neville and Roy Keane. Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs were both encouraged to play on into their dotage as there was simply not a better alternative.

Ferdinand and Vidic are set to leave now (they have both been in decline for some time already also) and the replacements again are not of their standard in their pomp.

Whilst David De Gea is steadily proving himself a worthy successor to Van Der Sar, few current players stand up to the burgeoning list of retirees and players moved on.

United are by various reports, one of the top three richest clubs in the world in terms of revenue and possibly the largest by valuation so what is the reason for the transfer policy that has brought us here?

Ferguson has constantly stated his support for the Glazers and that if he has asked for money, he has received it. One must come to the conclusion then that Ferguson's judgement has been poor for some time in the transfer market.

Or, the other explanation is that it has been a marriage of convenience where the club has patched its' team up for as long as it could keep winning given Ferguson's truly exceptional management skills.

In return for his coaxing the very best out of a declining squad, he was left with complete autonomy and could name his own retirment date and successor.

Of course it is true that Ferguson won the league last season with a team that has only since lost an already ineffective Paul Scholes and had since added Fellaini, Mata and Januzaj.

Ferguson's purchase of Van Persie for 24M looks more and more a short term selfish measure simply to ensure he went out on a high with little interest in what happened next.

Last season it would seem was a slightly bizarre one with Arsenal, City (in particular) and Chelsea all waiving United through to win the title without the remotest challenge.

Van Persie had an incredible first six months and it was a team highly capable of knowing how much to do to win. Had it been the Premiership of this season however it seems unlikely they would have won anything. Still they did and should be congratulated for doing so.

There were a huge amount of column inches written about how it was was one of the poorest United teams in many a year. Ferguson's assertion in his farewell speech that he was leaving the squad in the strongest of positions sounded laughable.

Everyone could see the cracks that were now becoming gaping holes.

Moyes' appointment outwardly seemed a sound enough one. United needed to rebuild to some degree and were looking for continuity whilst they did so. Here was another tough no nonsense Glaswegian who would be in it for the long run.

It made sense for the Glazers and Ferguson too. At Everton, Moyes had done a good job working on a budget and for the Glazers this was important.

United is not run like Real Madrid where everything is pumped back into the team smashing transfer records season after season, United is run nowadays for the share price, financial prudence is required.

For Ferguson too, whilst I'm sure he honestly believed Moyes to be a good candidate, he also offered up a solution that would probably not best his achievements in the short term.

That possibly sounds a bit egotistical even for Ferguson but one shouldn't underestimate how important that legacy is to a man such as he who has held dominion over all those around him for so long unchallenged.

Jose Mourinho was available and coveted the job. Mourinho however usually wants a sizeable transfer budget and is prone to winning trophies and lots of them which possibly suited neither the Glazers on the first part and Ferguson on the second.

Whilst the outward similarities between Moyes and Ferguson are obvious, the character differences appear to be marked.

Whilst at Aberdeen, Ferguson took the fight directly to the West of Scotland, roughing up Rangers and Celtic and in the process rocking the very establishment and winning trophies by the dozen.

Moyes at Everton simply couldn't cope with the teams that were above him.

Comparisons between the start of Ferguson's tenure at United and Moyes' own are also entirely irrelevant. Whilst results were mixed in both cases, Ferguson was steadily stamping his own authority all over the club as he rooted out the drinking culture. United were also coming from a far lower base.

Moyes by comparison seemed in limbo, he had neither disposed with nor managed to harness the existing talent that had provided Ferguson's backbone.

His own signings Fellaini and Mata had done nothing to improve things either. He was in no man's land.

I have to say I'm on the fence as to whether sacking Moyes right now was the right thing to do. Personally I'd have given him one more season but such is the nature of the Summer that faces United in the transfer market, could the Glazers really trust him with such a big job? Again however, that situation is not of Moyes' doing.

It is Ferguson and the Glazers that over time reduced the United squad to what it is today, substandard for the level that they wish to be at. It was also not David Moyes that allowed Ferguson and David Gill to both leave in tandem.

Ushering in a manager to replace the most successful of all time and giving him a rookie football CEO to assist him was folly to say the least. Whilst Gill is not and never has been involved in team matters, it seems unlikely that United would have fallen so quickly had he stayed on another season.

Certainly United's nonsensical Summer transfer woes would have transpired far differently had Gill still been around. Whilst there does seem to be some recurring noise surrounding the Fabregas deal, the majority of the deals mooted seemed unlikely at best.

United also backed themselves into a huge corner over the Wayne Rooney contract and have made an enormous financial commitment to a player fast approaching his thirties.

Whilst the Glazers may not wish to spend big, they simply are going to have to as success on the pitch is the cornerstone for the continued success of their investment regardless of United's size. Jose Mourinho seems more and more like a missed open goal.

Moyes' other failing was in his handling of the media. Ferguson was almost tyrannical in his dominance of the press, treating journalists with venom and scorn in equal measure.

Respected commentators such as Alan Green have felt the full force and Ferguson famously wouldn't speak to the BBC for the longest of times due to a documentary on his son's activities as an agent.

Moyes by contrast would appear entirely clueless offering no explanation for poor performances. Mourinho or Ferguson or even Benitez or Wenger would go on the attack, deflecting criticism often on to the officials or anyone else they could think of, often each other.

To hear Moyes suggest that Liverpool were favourites when they came to Old Trafford and that City 'were where United wanted to be' was simple media suicide.

Of course none of this is to say that United cannot recover and recover quickly. A season outside of the Champions League is far from a disaster for such an institution and even with the huge debt, the club's revenues are absurdly big.

Only Barca, Real, Bayern (and possibly AC Milan and Juve if Italian football recovers) can really hope to match them in that respect (although a newly crowned Liverpool with a bigger stadium on the way will have something to say about that too).

United's next appointment is clearly key. The two leading candidates - given that Klopp has ruled himself out - are very different people and managers.

Louis Van Gaal is the obvious choice given his freedom of contract from July and his track record. He is a huge presence, plays attacking football, is a serial winner but he can also be a divisive character. It would also be unlikely he would enjoy Ferguson's continued presence at Old Trafford.

This is of course another elephant in the room that few have really grappled with given Ferguson's lengthy shadow being cast often over Moyes at games. It clearly did Moyes no favours whatsoever.

Carlo Ancelotti offers a more middle of the road option. He is hugely popular wherever he goes and has a good record of coaxing performances from ageing players - he did so both at AC Milan and at Chelsea.

He offers stability, good football and great know how in the Champions League once United can find their way back to the top four.

Davie Moyes' reign at United will not be remembered fondly, indeed it will be oft mocked and his reputation will take time to rebuild, indeed going abroad as Bobby Robson and Steve McLaren did may be a good option.

It would however be churlish to place all of the blame at Moyes' door and not recognise the more than a decade process at United that inevitably led us here.

Whilst United's performances on the pitch reside solely with the players and the manager, Ferguson and his relationship with the Glazers did much to lead Moyes into what rapidly became the impossible job - No Nonsense.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The spiritual wave sweeping global football

Football or soccer is oft chastised for the more seedy, salacious and hedonistic lifestyles of its' players with their bulging wallets and their celebrity lifestyles.

Indeed footballers are more often on the front pages of the newspapers as often as they are on the back.

Tales of crashed super cars, scuffles outside nightclubs, extra marital affairs - even doing the dirty on your brother - are the norm with a new phrase 'roasting' even being born. Everyone looked on and muttered under their breath.

The beautiful game however is capable of many renaissance periods and lately, it appears that a wonderful movement of new found spirituality has found its way in to the game.

The wonderful Brazilian Kaka was the first to embrace this. Everyone was aware of the importance of God in Kaka's life, he wore t-shirts under his jersey to that effect even. He has always been a model professional in every respect.

It was therefore no surprise when he routinely looked upwards to the heavens and held both hands up with his index fingers pointed skywards in thanks to God for the goal that he had just scored.

What has been surprising however is just how profound an effect that Kaka's beliefs have had.

It would now appear that nearly all professional footballers have adopted his celebration in giving thanks, index fingers to the sky, the back arched and the head held back, sweat glistening in the floodlights.

In an average Premiership game, footballers can be seen all over the pitch saluting the heavens in exactly the same way as Kaka does. Whether entering or exiting the pitch or even for being awarded a simple throw in on occasion.

It is truly inspirational to see how quickly this new found morality and spirituality has swept the game.

Suggestions that players are simply imagining a mirror image of themselves is I'm sure entirely unfounded and untrue.

In time one must hope that the media grasps this paradigm shift that has overtaken global football and that the newspapers spend less time harrassing these most noble of gladiators.

It is time to turn a blind eye to the perceived excesses of their downtime, they are of course under extreme pressure and need their release valve.

Football is of course a global game now and surely the Mosques, Churches, Temples and Synagogues must be bursting at the seams with new attendees.

Extra car parking will be required, maybe even a valet for all the Bentleys and Range Rovers, the donation jars will surely be stuffed to the brim.

Bearing this in mind we may see a shift away from so many different kick off times over the weekends as TV has to come in line with players' needs to attend their various places of worship.

I for one feel invigorated by this new movement across football and see those I once saw as a majority of overpaid lager louts in a completely new light. They should be commended for mending their ways.

Three cheers for Kaka - No Nonsense.

So bored with Liverpool.

I for one am entirely sick of hearing about how wonderful everything regarding Liverpool football club is. yes they are a great institution, yes they have one of the great European histories but please can everyone just bore off with all this 'the neutrals are behind them' blah blah ad nausea.

The hyperbole surrounding a team that is simply challenging for the title - something several teams do every year - is just ridiculous. I understand they haven't won it for 24 years - because they have been crap - but they don't have any divine right do to so.

I would fully expect Liverpool fans to be delirious right now - as would I be - and I am pleased for my many mates who are Liverpool fans. What I do think is nonsense however is that the press expects the rest of us to all buy into it.

Maybe it's the vacuum that Sir Alex Ferguson left in that there is no God like United team of mythical status for the papers to worship at their altar.

Hey presto, along comes along Liverpool who are from 'old money' and the 'establishment' so let's pin our colours unashamedly to their mast now. It always helps if you play in red.

The ESPN coverage in Singapore was a farce at the weekend. We had two minutes prior to kick off (for about the third time this year) of 'let's just listen to the Kop sing You'll never walk alone', 'it's so spine tingling, amazing, is there anything like it in football?'

Well I'm sure Borussia Dortmund and Celtic fans for a start would tell you there is and for the rest of us (including City fans) who have paid for objective coverage, can we have our money back please?

This is not aimed at Liverpool or their fans at all but at the media simply wanting to find the next thing to suck up to so brazenly and to hell with being objective.

It might be worse here in Asia because there is such a huge skew to United and Liverpool but looking at the British press, it doesn't seem much better there, what happened to balanced coverage?

I actually thought Liverpool winning the title was a nice story at one point, now team allegiances aside, I would honestly want anyone to win it but them - No Nonsense.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Dear Fernando Torres

Dear Fernando,
This is such a painful letter to write for a Chelsea fan, we had so many hopes and dreams together that have ultimately been shattered.

Who is to blame I'm not entirely sure, you didn't force Chelsea to spend 50M and 200K a week on you and nor did you ask for the drop in performance, confidence and goals that has plagued you since your heyday on Merseyside.

Where it all went wrong I don't really know. Maybe the malaise had already set in before you arrived at Chelsea, maybe those first two seasons at Liverpool were the anomaly and we have simply had the real you.

Chelsea it must be said also have something of a track record for taking strikers and turning them into shells of their former beings. Others just weren't very good in the first place.

In 1992 we spent a whopping 2.1M on a certain Robert Fleck who went on to score a grand total of 3 goals in 40 league appearances over 3 years.

Fleck was replaced as Chelsea's record signing by no less than Paul Furlong who chipped in with 13 goals in 65 league appearances over 2 seasons and is widely considered to be the player responsible for the coining of the phrase regarding banjo players not being able to strike a cow's posterior.

The situation at Chelsea evolved during the 90s and Pierluigi Casaraghi arrived in 1998 for a princely 5.4M. He scored one competitive goal for the club before succumbing to a sad and career ending injury.

Now having their appetite whetted for more luxury goods, Chelsea turned to Chris Sutton for the tidy sum of 10M. London appeared to discombobulate the former Norwich and Blackburn man as he returned a grand total of 1 league goal in 28 appearances.

Adrian Mutu's near 16M move to Chelsea was much trumpeted. Unfortunately it soon became apparent that Mutu preferred a different type of 'bugling' and 6 league goals in 27 appearances before his sacking represented another considerable gaffe.

Hernan Crespo's time at Chelsea was actually a relative success and had it not been for his inability to settle in London he may have been a fine Chelsea player. Regardless, 16.8M for a return of 20 league goals in 49 appearances before leaving on a free transfer has to be considered a poor return.

This of course leads us sadly to Andriy Shevchenko.

Widely considered to be the pet signing of Roman Abramovich, the Ukrainain arrived in London in 2006 for over 30M. The Ukranian returned 9 league goals in 48 matches. Not what had been hoped for.

Shevenko was eventually loaned back to AC Milan before finally returning to Dimano Kiev, again with Chelsea recouping nothing on their considerable investment.

Fernando, there have been some great moments of course, your goal in the Nou Camp will always shine brightly and you of course scored in the Europa League final.

I was even present at Stamford Bridge when you scored a hattrick for Chelsea against QPR.

Fernando, I don't know what is to become of you. Maybe you'll be a makeweight in a deal to take Diego Costa to Chelsea with you returning to your home at Atletico this Summer.

Maybe you'll even score a hatrick against Atletico in the Champions League this month. Unfortunately Jose would have to let you on the pitch first for that to happen and he seems to prefer Demba Ba right now.

The Chelsea fans in the main still love you and somewhere somehow we all hope the defibrillators will eventually work, but alas I feel it is now too late.

We all however do still feel sorry for you rather than feel angry with you, maybe it's every time you get a new haircut, you end up looking like a bit of a girl, I'm not sure.

I'm sorry it had to end this way, financially you've done wonderfully from us but no one wants to see their career end in just such a sad and forlorn way.

All the best with whatever is still to come for you and I still definitely think you're better than Robert Fleck and maybe even Paul Furlong.

All the best to El Nino.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Chelsea are exactly where they should be.

Most football teams are surrounded with varying degrees of hyperbole when things are going well or going badly.

Liverpool right now are according to most of the British press just about the greatest team that has ever been produced by the Anfield club, ho hum.

Conversely, Arsenal right now are absolute tatters, Wenger should be jettisoned and it's probably best that no one mentions Manchester United.

With poor results against Crystal Palace and PSG, it's now Chelsea's turn.

Except that is if you look at what the pre season expectations were and where the club actually is. A title challenge was expected, they have duly mounted one and are still in the race.

No one expected Chelsea to win the Champions League and it looks unlikely they will. A 2-0 home win against PSG next week however would take them to yet another semi final. Other than last year's flop, Chelsea have been remarkably consistently in the Champions League.

Chelsea to a large degree have shot themselves in the foot in the past week with meek performances in both matches.

Two own goals and a very weak third effort against PSG and it's little surprise that they have been on the receiving end twice in five days.

Chelsea it was clear had deficiencies at the start of the season. Their pursuit of Wayne Rooney proved in vain.

The trio of a declined Torres, a substandard Ba and an ageing Eto'o was always going to leave Chelsea lacking in that department.

Mourinho signed Nemanda Matic to go a large way to solving the other issue of the deep lying midfield players that Chelsea were lacking.

At times this season Chelsea have looked like a 'Mourinho team', especially after Christmas and with the arrival of Matic. The team however started the season very unbalanced and Mourinho does not have a magic wand even if at times he appears to indeed have one.

Chelsea may yet recover and win the league and knock out PSG but even if they don't, assuming there isn't an almighty collapse in the Premiership, this should be seen as a bright season for Chelsea.

New strikers are of paramount necessity this Summer and Mourinho will have to decide whether he trusts David Luiz to replace John Terry in the long term - I suspect he does not.

The other issue that will require addressing is whether to persevere with Petr Cech or cash in on him bearing in mind he would still be a valuable commodity thinking about FFP.

Chelsea have had Thibaut Courtois out on loan for several seasons to Atletico Madrid with an extension to both his Chelsea contract and his Madrid loan now being mooted. Cech was at fault for two of the goals against PSG and whilst he has been a fine servant, it is worth a discussion at least.

Chelsea fans should not be to downcast right now and the press should find some context in the team's development. Chelsea are far from underdogs in nearly any match up these days but they are still a team emerging from a period of transition - No Nonsense.