On being tired of football

Amazing rant about football. Something many of us, I’m sure, can empathise with.

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I’ve found it hard to write this editorial, and I think it’s ultimately because I’m so tired.

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England player ratings: Simplified

Following on from my love letter to England, for the avoidance of doubt Thoughtsport has been asked to give our ratings for the England players against Switzerland.

We’re not sure about you but we’re tired of the x-out-10 ratings favoured by most outlets. They tend to lead to more questions than answers, like: “Why did so-and-so get 6 and not 7?” or “Is 6 ok? Or is that bad? 5 seems really bad… is it?” and, importantly: “He got how many?! I wonder how many of those he got just for turning up!”

We propose a new system. A simple system. One we can all understand. We’re going to rate the players as: Good, OK or Bad. If they did what we’d expect (bearing in mind they’re professional footballers) they’re OK.  If they did better than that they’re Good. Worse than that? Bad.

See? Simple.  So without further ado:

England v Switzerland – player ratings:

Hart: Good — some great saves that kept England in the game; and solid distribution
Stones: Bad — still very young but looked out of his depth at times
Jones: OK — kept a clean sheet but often more through luck than judgement
Cahill: OK — one outstanding block but needs to command the defence more as the senior man
Baines: OK — great going forward but caught out defensively too often
Henderson: OK — part of England’s new-look ‘industrious’ midfield, solid if not spectacular
Wilshere: OK — having to adjust to a new role to which he’s unaccustomed. Needs time
Delph: OK — a case of the headless chicken’s early on – too keen to make his mark but settled later
Rooney: OK — looked more like the Rooney of old, encouraging
Welbeck: Good — tireless and two goals (shinned or otherwise) is brilliant
Sterling: OK — Barely old enough to shave and just a handful of caps but already looks a key player for England’s ‘new world’. Time and experience will, hopefully, improve decision making. Needs to be more selfish at times.

Thoughtsport Man-of-the-Match: Danny Welbeck (and we had him marked down for such before his second goal too!) Welbeck is a Hodgson favourite and with good cause: he embodies Hodgson’s new philosophy: high energy; pressing; winning the ball back high up the pitch; tireless running – and capped by two goals. Not bad for a man shifted out of Manchester United for his lack of goal return.

P.S. A definite Good for Stonewall’s new #rainbowlaces campaign and kudos to the Arsenal players involved for having the courage and good humour to poke fun at themselves.

Dear England: Make me love you again

Dear England,

I want to love you again — really, I do.  I know we’ve been through a lot lately: I don’t think either of us expected the trip to Brazil to work out… but we had to try.  There were times when it felt like you’d betrayed me… that you just didn’t care any more — or at least not as much as I did.  Things were going wrong but it felt like I was the only one that wanted things to get better.

Even before Brazil we knew it wasn’t right.  People told me I was stupid to stand by you.  It would have been so easy then to go off with someone else – that would almost have made more sense.  I could have had a Spanish lothario — but it turns out they were just an exciting flash in the pan.  There were those German guys – I used to think they were boring (but they were so reliable!  You always knew where you were with the Germans) – but then they got exciting and they were still reliable.

But these decisions aren’t made just with the head, they’re made with the heart.

So I thought we should give it another shot. Clean slate. The past is forgotten. We cannot change history but we can shape our future and all that – if we work together.

Monday night was terrific. That trip to Switzerland… wow. There, I’ve said it. I was wary of expecting too much too soon (you’ve hurt me so many times in the past).

Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t perfect. There are still things we need to work on. But at last it felt like your Hart was really in it. (Your Hart was great in fact.)

Raheem Sterling - from http://www1.pictures.zimbio.com/

Sterling… it can shine – if you let it

I know, at times, you think that Sterling isn’t enough – but silver can shine brighter than gold… if you let it. On Monday you put that Sterling silver front and centre and proud. That made you nervous, I get that — no-one likes to be proved wrong but you took a chance — we can make that work.

It felt new and exciting again. You got a little over-excited at times and Delph‘d in when at times you shouldn’t have but you never Leighton how nervous you were and I loved you even more for that. There were flashes of the past when you seemed like you had Stones in your pockets but when you threw yourself in the way of that ball that almost made me weep – it felt like we’d crested a Cahill.

That’s what I really wanted. You to be true to yourself – true to us. Yes, people can have their heads turned by ‘prettier’ packages – but don’t try and be like them. I love you for you. We know what we’re good at, let’s be the best at that. We’re crazy and impulsive. Fast, committed, brave. We’re not possessive – that’s not us.

In the past you seemed paralysed by indecision. Not going anywhere for fear of going the wrong way. Should you get me a Christmas Tree or a flying wing-back?  Did I want one striker or two? Or three? In the end you ended up giving me a mish-mash of all of them… half-heartedly and that didn’t make either of us happy, did it?

On Monday you chose a diamond. I wouldn’t care if it was a lump of Cole (although I’m glad you got rid of that if I’m honest) but at last it felt like you were being yourself.  Not trying to please everyone all of the time but taking your square pegs and saying: “You know what? I like square holes!” it was so refreshing.

England fan - from http://www.eurocuppictures.com

I’m here… with open arms.

Whereas before it felt like things were on the Wayne — even that seemed re-energised and exciting. And the finish… Wel-beck… what can I say? It was brilliant. It made me feel so optimistic for the future that you never gave up – you just kept on running and trying. All night!

Like I said, it wasn’t perfect – far from it. But let’s be honest – we never will be. All I want is that we try. Together. Last night it felt like you’d come back to me… or at least taken that first step back. I’m waiting here with open arms.

England stranded without Strauss

England two times Ashes winning captain, Andrew Strauss, has retired from cricket.

Whilst it wasn’t utterly surprising to see him go (the writing was on the wall once England named their three captains for T20; ODIs and Tests) the speed of his departure and that he’s leaving first-class cricket entirely comes as quite a shock.

More importantly for England, despite Strauss’s protests about his own form, it leaves a gaping hole at the top of the England batting order.  Not only does Alastair Cook now have to open the batting and captain the side but he has to get used to a new opening partner, potentially an extremely inexperienced one.

There are various options open to Andy Flower and the England selectors: Michael Carberry and Joe Root are the next ‘cabs off the rank’ as it were; whereas Jonathan Trott and Ian Bell have the ability to open the batting and both have played that role in other formats.

However, a top six of Cook; Mr. X; Trott; Bell; and James Taylor (who seems to have made the transition rather well for a youngster); plus Johnny Bairstow and/or Ravi Bopara does not fill ThoughtSport with confidence ahead of a tour to India — followed by the small matter of the ever so slightly pressure-cooker environment of The Ashes.

Kevin Pietersen and a mute symbol

Kevin Pietersen: Will not be silenced

 

It lacks one vital ingredient for a sub-continent tour and Ashes: experience.  How the ECB must be wishing they could fit Kevin Pietersen with a universal mute button.  Despite their numerous attempts they have yet to achieve this.

Pietersen at four would add crucial nous to the top order.  Yes he’s a liability (both with bat or mobile phone in hand) but he’s an experienced one.  Bopara’s had more ‘second chances’ than hot dinners; and whilst Taylor and Bairstow are full of youthful vigour and

promise, even the best players can find touring India a tough mental challenge.

The noise, the pitches and the opposition are unlike any other.  Factor in the weather, the food and did we mention it’s darned hot out there?  The Ashes is something else too.  It attracts interest far beyond the usual reach of cricket in England (and Wales).  The brings a unique pressure of its own — just ask Bopara.

Strauss was not only a decent batsman but an excellent captain: solid, reliable, stoic.  He was the very picture of the Kipling poem, treating “those two imposters” just the same.  Whilst most of the media focus appears to be on how badly England will miss him off the pitch (he played a very, very large role in steadying the England ship after Pietersen ‘resigned’ from the captaincy) they will very much miss him on the pitch too.

Goal line technology: No

Regular readers of Thoughtsport will know we’re not fans of goal line technology.  We realise this places us in rather the minority.  Here’s a mere snippet of those arguing for, just from a quick blog search:

Sepp says ‘enough is enough’Sporting Interests
Robbie Fowler: FIFA must end this goal-line farcePaddy Power Betting Blog
England 1 – 0 Ukraine. Co-hosts sent home as demands for goal line technology get another boostFull-Time Whistle

We won’t go over our old arguments that football is a great leveler.  Tall or short, heavy or light with the right application, skill and determination you can be a footballer.  If you play down the park on a Sunday you could (in theory) play with Lionel Messi, Pele or whoever the heck you want because you’d be playing the same game.

Same rules; same pitch dimensions; same ball — it’d be the same.  Introduce goal-line technology and suddenly the pros are playing a different game.

No, we won’t go over that again (you can read our old blog if you want to).

Last night’s England game against Ukraine, which reignited the goal line technology debate, didn’t alter ThoughtSport’s position one bit.

Watch the ‘goal’ yourself on the BBC website: The ‘goal’ that wasn’t: Ukraine denied equaliser

All the media talk this morning has been about Sepp Blatter, Fifa, Uefa, HawkEye, assistant-assistant refs (what do they do anyway?) — there’s even the age old “these things even themselves out in the end” with much smirking about Frank Lampard’s goal that never was against Germany in the last World Cup.

They are all missing the point.

Watch the ‘goal’ again — notice anything?  Probably not as the Beeb are glossing over the same key point too.  Even their tabloid-esque headline (beneath you BBC) ‘The ‘goal’ that wasn’t: Ukraine denied equaliser’ tells you they’ve made up their mind already.  Why let a few facts get in the way of a good story; especially one which means they can beat the goal line technology drum again.

Milevskiy: Shhh! Don’t tell anyone… but I was offside!

It wasn’t a goal.  Or at least it shouldn’t have been.  Artem Milevskiy, the first Ukraine player to touch the ball in the BBC clip, was offside.

You remember offside?  The rule that says you must at least be level with the last defender when the pass is made?  Yes, there are ‘interfering with play’ rules and caveats, but this fella, Milevskiy, receives the pass directly so no ‘interfering’ rules need interfere.

Why is it that one official’s mistake (the assistant referee who should have spotted the offside) is irrelevant when another’s (the extra assistant who didn’t spot that the ball had crossed the line) is deemed all important?  So important we need to exhort Fifa to sort this mess out?

There’s the rub with goal line technology.  It’s too black and white.  The question the technology is asked is: Did the ball cross the line?  There are only two answers: Yes or no.  The system Fifa are supposedly trialling will alert the referee, via an audible beep in an earpiece, that the ball crossed the line.

Technology would not tell him if the player handled it over the line; it would not tell him if the player was offside when he ‘scored’; it would not tell him if he had in fact fouled the defender/goalkeeper to reach the ball and ‘score’ — all of those things would be down to human judgement.

Dear old human judgement.  It’s what makes football the game we love.  Will the winger try to go one way or the other?  Will he have a shot himself or try and pass?  Will he lunge in now or try and force him wide?  Decisions that are made thousands of times in every game which make every game different.

Mistakes (interspersed with brilliance) are what makes football great — whether they’re mistakes by players or officials.

If those who advocate goal line technology think it will solve all such problems they need to think again.  What will the media broo-haha be if England concede a goal which is ‘allowed’ by goal-line technology but is punched over the line Maradonna style?

Think the sequence of events that would lead to that is all together unlikely?  Perhaps you should read our old blog post after all…  if you’re Irish you probably won’t need to.

Watch out nose, face needs some spite

Poor old Roy Hodgson.  The team have barely touched down in Poland (even though most of their matches are in Ukraine) for Euro2012 and already the brickbats are flying.

His latest crime is overlooking Rio Ferdinand — again.  Not content with having done it once he’s done it again following the injury to Gary Cahill.

Comic hero Desperate Dan

Desperately bad luck: Cahill’s jaw looks a touch swollen

A quick note on Cahill: it’s a real shame for him and desperately unlucky.  Yes, the crude shove by Dries Mertens in the friendly against Belgium was unnecessary but even in a competitive game would have drawn a yellow card, at most.  However, from the minute he crashed into the rather robust Joe Hart it didn’t look good.  When his jaw swelled to Desperate Dan proportions it was clear he would not be playing much part in the European Championships.

Lots of people (notably ‘the media’) expected Hodgson to go calling for Rio, asking for forgiveness and for the experienced Manchester United defender to step into the breach.

However, Roy, good as his word, went to his reserve/stand-by list and called up Liverpool’s Martin Kelly.  Thoughsport feels a fair bit of sympathy for the young Reds defender too.  Called up to a big tournament he’s already been written off as he doesn’t have 81 caps (he has one); hasn’t won the Premier League (though three of Hodgson’s defenders have) and isn’t called “Rio”.

Second best

Much has been made of Kelly’s utility.  Ostensibly he’s now back-up right-back to team-mate Glen Johnson and, supposedly, offers cover across the defence too.  Sorry Roy but if that’s the reason you’ve called him up it’s balderdash.  Even Liverpool fans would struggle to call Kelly’s a centre-half.  Yes, he has played at left-back too — in desperate times at Liverpool — and it’d have to be similar for England to deploy him there.

Realistically Kelly won’t play at all (so where’s the harm in taking a 23-year-old to gain tournament experience?) and it’d take injuries to three of John Terry, Joleon Lescott, Phil Jagielka and Phil Jones for Kelly to get a look-in there.

Yet Thoughtsport are still uncomfortable with his inclusion.  (Incidentally, we’re also fans of the growing school of thought that says England’s first choice centre-back pairing should be Lescott and Jagielka.)

Why?  Because it’s starting with a compromise.  Call us traditionalists but we say “Use the best tool for the job.”  If you had a hammer and a screwdriver, you wouldn’t use a Swiss Army knife to bang in a nail and screw up some shelves would you?

Tournament squads are made-up of 23 players.  Basic maths tells you that’s two players for everyone position plus one spare.  Most teams opt for a third goalie to make up the 23.  So why take a player who isn’t even first choice right-back for his club side?

Similarly with Phil Jones — yes, his adaptability is great.  If we had to pick a 15-man squad there’d be some sound arguments for taking him.  But we don’t.  It’s a 23-man squad.  We can take two right-backs — full-time, professional, do nothing else but be a right-back right-backs… we don’t need to take utility players!

Mind your nose

Fit of pique: Carrick & Richards opted not to be on ‘stand-by’ list

We risk over using the “Where is Micah Richards?” drum – especially as we know the answer.  Word is both he and Michael Carrick (more on him later) refused to be on the stand-by list.  Again, we risk exposing ourselves as the staunch traditionalists we are but… if your country needs you, even if it’s a “we might…” you stand by your bed, ready for the call.

It’s the David Beckham school of thought.  ‘Becks’ had his weaknesses but lack of patriotism was never something that could be leveled at him.  He’s always stuck to the line (we paraphrase) “I’ll never retire — it’s not for me to decide if/when my country doesn’t need me.”

Richards and Carrick would do well to take a leaf out of Beckham’s book.  With Lampard and Barry on the injured list Carrick would, surely, have been a shoe-in for the squad.  One would hope too that Richards would have been ahead of Kelly on the stand-by list too.

Still, both chose not to be on said list for whatever reasons they saw fit.  We can almost understand it from Carrick.  He’ll be nigh-on 31 by the time the tournament ends.  We’re family men at Thoughtsport and could possibly, maybe, just about see that, for Carrick, dragging yourself out to Poland/Ukraine to sit on several substitute benches, away from your family and kids for 2-3 weeks may not sound that appealing.

But Richards?  He’s 23.  It may be a little early for international-career-suicide moves like his fit of pique.  Yes, it’s disappointing not to be first choice but we’ve seen 4-year-olds ‘lose’ with more grace than the Richards/Carrick “I’m taking my ball home then…” hissy fit.

If I were either man’s nose I’d be watchful around shaving time… they might be out to cut you off.

Martinez: Did we miss something?

Roberto Martinez

Roberto Martinez: He looks as confused by it all as we are

Rumour has it Roberto Martinez is in Miami, talking to Liverpool owners Fenway Sports Group about the managerial vacancy at Anfield.

This is the latest rumour surrounding the current Wigan Athletic boss after he rejected Aston Villa’s advances last season which hasn’t deterred them sufficiently to stop them chasing him again this year.  Bookmakers are also taking bets on him getting the top job at Chelsea.

Martinez has done OK at Wigan but no better than that.  Thoughtsport wonders: have we missed something?  It’s not often we find ourselves in agreement with (Big) Sam Allardyce but is it largely because Martinez has a “foreign sounding name” — better yet (gasp) he actually is foreign?

Let’s look at the facts:

Games Won Lost Drawn Win %
Swansea ’07-’09 126 63 37 26  50%
Wigan ’09-’12 127 34 36 57  27%

We’ve said before, statistics only tell half a story.  But those stats don’t look, to us, like those of a manager set for a job at a top four club.

Yes, he has managed well on the comparatively meagre budget at Wigan, a club “punching above their weight” to even be in the Premier League, leave alone remaining it.

But compare them to one of Martinez’s predecessors at Wigan, Paul Jewell (44% win percentage) even the much maligned Steve Bruce managed a better ratio (34% win percentage) in his meaningful spell there (it was 37% in his eight-game whistle-stop tour in 2001).

Parachute saviour?

So what is it about Martinez?  Surely the wise heads at FSG, Stamford Bridge and Villa Park haven’t just had their heads turned by Wigan’s blockbuster end to the season?  Seven wins in nine matches is decent by any standards, even top four clubs.  But those few months alone account for 5% of Martinez’s meagre return at the DW Stadium.

Lest we forget that Martinez wasn’t some ‘parachute saviour’ flown in to rescue Wigan’s floundering season.  He got them into the mess from which they escaped.  He presided over the nine-game losing streak in September/October which saw them lose to (amongst others) Wolves, Bolton (at home) and Crystal Palace.

Could it be his transfer policy?  Maybe he’s unearthed brilliant players, bought on a budget but playing like superstars.

This year he signed: Ali Al-Habsi, David Jones, Nouha Dicko, Albert Crusat, Shaun Maloney and Jean Beausejour.  With all due respect to them would any of them get into a top four side?  Would they even make the squad?

Jason Scotland

Scotland: £1m+ wasted?

To give him his due he did sign the highly rated Victor Moses (for £2.5m), himself now courted by some ‘bigger’ teams.  But he also spent £2m on Jason Scotland (just 14 league appearances and 1 goal) before he was shipped on to Ipswich a year later for (allegedly) less than half that amount.

Somewhere like Anfield ‘wasting’ £1m on a player is small potatoes.  At Wigan (record transfer fee: paid £6m) it’s a little more serious.

Basically it’s unlikely to be his acumen in the transfer market that has tipped things his way.

Perhaps it’s the football his sides play then?  Swansea City’s free-flowing, ‘total football’ style is said to have stemmed from Martinez’s time in charge there.  A little unfair on Brendan Rodgers’ stewardship perhaps but let’s give Martinez the benefit of the doubt.

Much was also made of his inventive switch to a 3-4-3 formation (5-4-1 in another guise if you ask Thoughtsport) and it’s effect on Wigan’s late season revival.  Again, bear in mind that this was more than likely borne out of desperation.  Wigan were, in many people’s eyes, already relegated.  They had nothing to lose.  Yes, Martinez’s gamble paid off (and in some style) but does a good two month spell make him a top manager?

Martinez had the same players he used in his 3-4-3 (and the 7-wins-in-9) spell as he did in their 4-4-2 (9-defeats-in-9).

We may get this wrong (we often do!).  A big club will take a punt on Martinez and it may come off.  Wigan chairman Dave Whelan is sticking to his guns (and we’ve a lot of respect at Thoughtsport for Whelan).  He doesn’t think Villa are a ‘bigger’ team than Wigan — on current form and Martinez’s rejection of them last year, you’d say he has a point.

But we’d argue that before he merits a job at a top four club or even a side (like Liverpool) with aspirations to be a top four club — he has a little bit more to prove yet.