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.

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.

Why Wio Woy?

So, Roy Hodgson has made his first big call as England boss.  Despite Thoughtsport‘s suggestion he hasn’t dropped John Terry.  Instead, he’s opted to leave out Rio Ferdinand.

Once we got over the shock, surprise and dismay that Roy either disagrees with our advice, or perhaps (gasp!) he doesn’t even read it… we going to say ‘fair play’ to Roy.  At least he’s made a call.

Ferdinand’s fitness may not be up to tournament football and it’s one way of resolving the Terry v Ferdinands argument — if not the one we’d have favoured.

Let’s analyse, Hodgson’s Euro 2012 squad against our picks.  Where we’ve differed we’ve highlighted the players in red:

Roy’s Goalies: Joe Hart; Rob Green; John Ruddy.

TS’s goalies: Joe Hart; Ben Foster; Paul Robinson.

Roy’s defenders: Leighton Baines; Gary Cahill; Ashley Cole; Glenn Johnson; Phil Jones; Joleon Lescott; John Terry.

TS’s defenders: Rio Ferdinand; Phil Jagielka; Joleon Lescott; Gary Cahill; Micah Richards; Kyle Walker; Ashley Cole; Glenn Johnson.

Roy’s midfielders: Gareth Barry; Stewart Downing; Steven Gerrard; Frank Lampard; James Milner; Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain; Scott Parker, Theo Walcott; Ashley Young.

TS’s midfielders: Steven Gerrard; Gareth Barry; Scott Parker; Frank Lampard; Michael Carrick; Ashley Young; Theo Walcott; Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

Roy’s forwards: Wayne Rooney; Andy Carroll; Jermain Defoe; Danny Welbeck.

TS’s forwards: Wayne Rooney; Daniel Sturridge; Danny Welbeck; Andy Carroll.

Roy’s standby list: Jack Butland; Adam Johnson; Daniel Sturridge; Phil Jagielka; Jordan Henderson.

Squad analysis

So there you have it.  Rio Ferdinand’s England career is, apparently, over.

Jermain Defoe on the bench for Spurs

Comfy seat: Defoe’s most utilised muscle of late has been his gluteus maximus

Looking at it in order, there are (as you might expect) pros and cons — but also some glaring inconsistencies.  Stewart Downing is, seemingly, in the squad on the basis that he’s left-footed.  Surely his (terrible) form for Liverpool cannot be the reason?  Yet the left-footed Daniel Sturridge is left out in favour of Jermain Defoe — the same Defoe who started just two of the last 12 Tottenham matches — and was an unused sub in four of them.

From the back: Our predictions were woeful.  We only got Joe Hart’s name right.  To be fair we wrote it before Ben Foster rejected Hodgson’s plea to end his international ‘retirement’.  Let’s face it, we’re hardly awash with quality between the sticks anymore.  If Joe Hart gets injured/suspended we’re in a heap of trouble.

In that scenario we’d still have preferred the experienced, Premier League (just about) goalie, Paul Robinson to come in — rather than Championship West Ham stopper Rob Green.  Fair enough, John Ruddy can gain experience coming along for the ride we won’t quibble on that one.

At the back Hodgson has made the headline grabbing call — dropping Ferdinand and picking Terry.  That comes as no great shock.  Of more concern is the right-back situation.  Again, we picked our 23-man squad before Kyle Walker was ruled out with a toe injury.

However, Hodgson’s squad leaves him with Phil Jones as a back-up right-back?  The squad seems to be crying out for Micah Richards — the blockbuster Manchester City full-back… the same City side that just won the Premier League title.

Micah Richards

Micah Mystery: Richards must have offended someone somewhere, surely?

Yes, Jones has the advantage of age on his side — giving a 20-year-old with a bright future some tournament experience makes sense.  But aged 23 Richards is hardly at pensionable age.

The midfield picks of Downing and Milner are just perplexing.  Downing, as any stat-fan will tell you, has scored 0 goals and has 0 assists for Liverpool this season — a staggering statistic for a winger.

Milner has started just one of City’s last 12 games.  His last noted goal or assist was back in January!  Yes his utility is useful in that he can play in a number of positions but then, so could Paul Warhurst.  It didn’t make him an international player.

Amidst all this Michael Carrick who has, arguably, had one of his best ever seasons for Manchester United (and has also played in nigh-on all of United’s big matches this season) is left out?

The much hyped Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is in.  Thoughtsport quite likes that.  He’s got a big future ahead of him.  Comparisons with Theo Walcott’s call-up by Sven Goran Ericsson will be made but it’s hardly the same.  Walcott hadn’t even played for Arsenal when his call came — Oxlade-Chamberlain has played, scored and impressed for the Gunners already.

Up front, we can’t argue much with Rooney, Carroll and Welbeck — especially as we picked them too.  But the selection of Jermain Defoe has left us scratching our heads again.

Let’s look at those stats again.  He’s started two of Spurs’ last 12 games.  A Spurs side pushing for a Champions League place.  Stats often don’t tell the whole story but for a ‘fox-in-the-box’ type striker of Defoe’s ilk they can be more telling than for other players.  He’s in the side to score goals not much else.

Defoe has scored 6 goals in his last 20 matches.  That’s not bad, right?  Not great, but ok.  However, two of those were against League One side Stevenage in the FA Cup replay.  Yes, a replay after Spurs, featuring Defoe (in one of his rare 90-minute outings), failed to score in the first match.

He was kept quiet on that February afternoon at Broadhall Way by Messrs Darius Charles and Jon Ashton.  Two years ago both were playing non-league football.  Fancy his chances against the likes of AC Milan’s Phillipe Mexés?  No, nor us.

Don’t get us wrong.  Thoughtsport love England and we’d love for us to do really well at the Euros.  We’re just not convinced that we will — not that this, seemingly haphazard, squad is best equipped to do so.

Scouting for goals

A £20 note with Sheik Mansour's face on

Manchester millions: But who’s spending wisely?

Money has ruined football.  This is a truism held dear by many football fans — particularly those fans of teams with no money.  You can bet your last dollar that there aren’t many Manchester City fans complaining about money… and even those that are will be outnumbered ten-to-one by their Arab-cash-loving neighbours.

Glasgow Rangers fans are a good example of the two extremes.  Not so long ago you wouldn’t have heard many Rangers fans grumbling about how the fact their club was so stratospherically wealthier than most of their SPL rivals that it unbalanced things.  Nowadays, with administration (if they’re lucky) and liquidation the buzzwords at Ibrox, money is the root of all evil.

If you’ve got it, money is great.  So Thoughtsport wanted to look at how you get it.

Short of woo-ing an oil baron (Russian or Arab, we don’t mind which) you have to make your own money and the quickest way (as many troubled clubs administrators will tell you) is selling the players.

Glasgow Rangers FC gates

Glasgow gates: Soon to be replaced by a revolving door… allegedly

Fire sales of players aren’t the way to win trophies though, you need a conveyor belt of fresh talent.  Not only that, it has to be a consistent conveyor belt.  A one-off star is all well and good but one swallow does not make a summer — nor even a class of swallows (citation: West Ham).

Ensure you’ve got talent

Therefore, the real money is made in scouting.  Yes, you need coaches too, to make your profitable prodigy even better but spotting the talent is where it’s at.  The rising star of Graham Carr at Newcastle is a case in point.

Him aside, how many scouts could you name?  And John Baden Powell doesn’t count.  Two?  Three?  None?  They’re not the stars.  The players, even the managers — yes.  The scouts, no.

Carr’s case isn’t hindered by the fact his son is the famous comic, Alan.  However, ‘finding’ the likes of Cheik Tiote and Demba Ba haven’t done his notoriety any harm.

Ok, Carr didn’t unearth these players from footballing backwaters — Tiote cost £3.5m from FC Twente; Ba was a free transfer from West Ham — but both have already been linked with eight-figure transfers to ‘bigger’ teams.

Graham Carr

Do you recognise this man? Newcastle United’s accountant does…

However, even Carr’s success is moderately recent.  For the masterclass in scouting and talent production Thoughtsport goes back even further.

Athletico Madrid (or Atletico if you’re that way inclined).  They’ve been scouting for goals for decades.  Reading back through a list of their past forwards it’s almost a who’s-who of European star strikers.

Buy > Sell > Profit > Reinvest…

Notably Fernando Torres started there but alongside him in the Athletico alumni of recent years is: Sergio Aguero; Diego Forlan; Juninho; Luis Garcia; Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink and Christian Vieri.

Again, they didn’t ‘discover’ all these talents, some of them cost the club a pretty penny when they signed but, importantly, they also brought in a lot of cash when they left.

Players like Torres (sold for £26.5m to Liverpool) and Aguero (£38m to Manchester City) are the dream ticket — brought through the youth ranks (or spotted very young) before being sold on.  But the ‘smaller’ Madrid team made a tidy profit on the likes of Vieri too.

Christian Vieri

Vieri: See that? That’s £18m profit

He signed from Juventus for around £1m in 1998.  After a whistle-stop ten-month spell at the Vincente Calderon he was off back to Italy, going to Lazio for an estimated £19m.  Not a bad profit for ten month’s work.

Hasselbaink’s move from Leeds to Madrid cost Athletico £12m in August of 1999.  By June the next year he went back to UK, to Chelsea, for £15m.

It hasn’t always been rosy, even for Athletico.  No doubt they’ll have watched on, slightly miffed, as their £26.5m player, Torres, moved on from Liverpool for £50m.  Likewise, shortly after stinging Lazio for £19m for Vieri the Italian moved to Inter for a then European record transfer of £32m.

But you cannot say they’re not learning and progressing.  So what was the spark?  Well, some years ago a young Spanish striker left the Vincente Calderon, after their youth team set-up was disbanded as a cost-cutting measure.  The name of that striker?  Mr. Real Madrid: Gonzalez Raul — or just Raul to most of us.

That was in 1992.  The following season Real’s ‘noisy neighbours’ finished 12th in La Liga.  This season they look set for the top six and have already lifted the Uefa Cup (or Europa League… if you must).

Firing them to that trophy?  Radamel Falcao, a €40m signing from Porto… already valued at €50m by the big fish sniffing around for the next striker off the production line.

John Terry: An accident waiting to happen?

Slippery slope: Terry’s on the way down

John Terry shouldn’t go to the European Championships with England.  There, we’ve said it.

A lot has already been written about whether the Chelsea captain should be representing his country anyway with a charge of racially abusing Anton Ferdinand hanging over him.

But it’s not for this reason that Thoughtsport think Terry should be left kicking his heels when Roy Hodgson takes his squad to Poland and Ukraine.  No.

We contest that Terry has lost it.  He’s just not the player he once was and, at 31, England should be looking elsewhere.

The case for the defence

Terry’s decline has been slow, steady but he’s definitelydeclining.  Chelsea have been leaking goals lately.  This season they’ve conceded 41 goals in the Premier League (with two games yet to come).  In his, and Chelsea’s, pomp they were a much tighter ship.

As the graphic below shows, Chelsea have been getting progressively ‘leakier’.  Now that may not be entirely Terry’s fault — selling Ricardo Carvalho; the doomed tactics of Andre Villas Boas; the rocky start made by David Luiz; the dip in form of Petr Cech etc. are all factors.  However, Terry himself is also a factor — a large one.

Year Finished Goals conceded
2005-6 1st 22
2006-7 2nd 24
2007-8 2nd 26
2008-9 3rd 24
2009-10 1st 32
2010-11 2nd 33
2011-12 3rd-6th 41+

Speaking of ‘large’, Terry has always relied on one key asset of his game.  The line between good players and top players is usually excelling in one (or more) aspects of the game (think: Michael Owen, exceptional pace; Paul Gascoigne, exceptional dribbling).

Terry’s exceptional talent was his size and strength — which made him good in the air and solid in the tackle, ideal for a centre-half.  He was never the quickest, but he had enough pace to get himself out of trouble if needed.  Paired with a ‘playmaking’ centre half, like Rio Ferdinand, Terry was the perfect foil.  The grit to Ferdinand’s craft.

“He’s behind you!”

Carroll playing the tune: Terry’s left floundering at Wembley

Recent events have shown some gaping (and growing) flaws in Terry’s game.

Take the two matches against Liverpool.  The first, the FA Cup Final.  The second the Premier League clash.  Both were big games for Chelsea, one for a trophy the other for a coveted Champions League place.

Admittedly Chelsea won one and lost one, picking up a trophy along the way.  Not bad.

If you watched the game(s) you may already know what’s coming.  Terry’s errors.  In reverse chronological order:

  • He slips to gift the ball to Jordan Henderson, who scores Liverpool’s second goal at Anfield
  • Andy Carroll easily beats Terry on the turn at Anfield.  Result, a clumsy, cynical challenge to bring Carroll down earns Terry a yellow card
  • He’s nutmegged by Luis Suarez at Anfield.  Result, Suarez shoots wide
  • He’s tricked by Carroll again at Anfield
  • He’s tricked by Carroll again (Andy Carroll!) on the edge of his own six yard box at Wembley.  Result: Carroll smashes it into the roof of the net.  Goal.

Toss in the torrid time Terry and co. had from, an admittedly resurgent Carroll, for half an hour at Wembley and it’s not looking good for ‘JT’.

Being nutmegged by Luis Suarez is no shame, better players than Terry will suffer that fate.  It was the tangle Terry got himself in chasing Carroll, not the most nimble of players at the best of times, that have sealed his fate in Thoughtsport’s eyes.

If Carroll can do that to Terry, what will the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Karim Benzema and Franck Ribery do at the Euros?  It almost doesn’t bear thinking about.

The solution?

Thoughtsport don’t like doing down players without positive alternatives.  Any hack can say”So and so is crap.” it takes a little more invention to say who should replace them.

Whilst England toiled over and dragged out the decision of whom should replace Fabio Capello, we were advocates of the school of thought that said: “Write of the Euros, we won’t win it.  Let Stuart Pearce take a few kids and give them some experience — it worked wonders for Germany.”

With Roy Hodgson in charge that won’t be the case.  It is extremely likely Terry will be on the plane to eastern Europe.  However, we’d advocate another route.  Take four centre-backs (plenty for a tournament).  On form the top four Englishmen would be:

  • Joleon Lescott (an under-rated season, in the formidable shadow of Vincent Kompany, at a City side that could be champions)
  • Phil Jagielka (already in the England shake-up and ‘rested’ after coming back from injury)
  • Gary Cahill (already out performing Terry at Stamford Bridge)
  • Rio Ferdinand (older than Terry but his time off injured has enabled him to adapt his game around his ever decreasing pace)

Throw in Micah Richards who can play right back or centre back and Chris Smalling (as a nod to his future/potential) and England don’t need Terry as much as some might think.

No room for extra baggage

That’s the footballing reason we think Terry should be omitted from Euro 2012.  Sprinkle in the pending court case; the captaincy debacle; the simmering tension with Rio Ferdinand; the needless red-card against Barcelona and countless other off-field distractions Terry brings and the argument becomes rather compelling.

Bear in mind as well as Ibrahimovic et al, all England’s opponents will have been watching Terry’s toils (both on and off the field).  As that red card against Barcelona showed the one time England skipper is liable to ‘lose it’ in key matches.  Terry will be targetted in the same way Wayne Rooney is.  Opponents will know he’s a walking red card waiting to happen, especially with the more fussy big tournament refereeing.

Drop Terry.  Will it happen?  We doubt it.  For argument’s sake we’ll name our 23-man squad now:

Goalkeepers x 3

Joe Hart; Ben Foster; Paul Robinson

Defenders x 8

Rio Ferdinand; Phil Jagielka; Joleon Lescott; Gary Cahill; Micah Richards; Kyle Walker; Ashley Cole; Glenn Johnson.

Midfielders x 8

Steven Gerrard; Gareth Barry; Scott Parker; Frank Lampard; Michael Carrick; Ashley Young; Theo Walcott; Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

Forwards x4

Wayne Rooney; Daniel Sturridge; Danny Welbeck; Andy Carroll.

Swap Richards for Terry and we suspect this may not be far off what ‘Woy’ picks.

Falling in love

A love football badge

I heart football

When did you fall in love?  We mean with your chosen sport you understand, not with your nearest and dearest.

Here at Thoughtsport we favour football.  Sure, we keep an eye on the cricket (especially The Ashes) and we rather like it when England win the RBS Six Nations; even that surly Scotsman Andy Murray catches our eye now and again.

But football is our first love.  More specifically Colchester United.  Yes, Colchester.  That last bit usually makes most fans ask “Why?” with the usual excuse that we grew up there.  However, we thought we’d delve a little deeper.  Just why did we fall in love with Colchester and football — could we even pin it down to a ‘when’?

After some thought (well, it is Thoughtsport) we found we could and the answer surprised even us.

Your first love?

Most fans can remember their first match or even a specific match from their early fandom.  A thrilling victory, an outstanding performance something that really caught their imagination.  Ours was a little different.  You see, Colchester lost on the day we fell in love with them.  Let us tell you more.

We’re going back to the early 1990s.  It’s 1992 to be exact.  To put this in context this wasn’t Colchester’s worst season.  A few years previously, after battling and bravely avoiding relegation in the 88/89 season, we’d finally succumbed.  In 89/90 we’d been relegated from the old Fourth Division.  Yes, Colchester were heading for the GM Vauxhall Conference (for younger readers, that’s what the Blue Square Premier used to be called).

Back then non-league football was proper non-league football.  Most of the teams down there, in fact almost all, were semi-professional at best.  That meant their players were the proverbial milkmen, postmen, factory workers and teachers of FA Cup headline writer’s dreams.

After two seasons in the wilderness the U’s had battled back into the Football League.  In 91/92 we did the non-league double, taking the GM Vauxhall Conference title and the FA Trophy (I know, I know!).  But our love for all things blue and white didn’t start there, no.  It didn’t start with the famous 2-1 win away at Wycombe (our only realistic rivals for the title) when our goalie thumped a 90th minute clearance which, with one glorious bounce, sailed over the opposition goalie to seal a 2-1 win.  No.  Not then.

It wasn’t all the glorious away trips to exciting sounding places like Merthyr Tydfil, Boston, Morecambe, Altrincham and Kingstonian.  No.

Nor was it when we trounced Barrow 5-0 to seal promotion.  It wasn’t even at Wembley (the proper one, with the twin towers) when, despite being down to ten men we tonked Witton Albion 3-1 to win the FA Trophy.

We fell in love with Colchester, and football on 16th December 1992.

A fateful day…

It was an FA Cup second round replay.  The U’s had bravely pinched a draw away at Gillingham to bring them back to Fortress Layer Road.  Victory would surely secure a glamorous 3rd Round tie against Liverpool, Manchester United or the like.

Standing in a freezing, wet, drizzle-filled Layer Road we watched as Gillingham tore us to pieces.  It was 3-0 and that was only at half-time.

Goalkeeper Ron Green

Do-don't-Ron-Ron-Ron: Ron Green one of the worst goalies seen at Layer Road

After his goal-scoring heroics our ‘keeper, Scott Barrett, had left.  Gone to sunnier climes (also known as Leyton Orient).  This meant the U’s were left with a succession of loanee goalies.  Between the sticks for us that day was a veteran stopper called Ron Green.  Ron was one of the most unlikely looking footballers I’d ever seen.  He was about 40 and looked older.

It was like my team were playing with the proverbial ‘fat kid in goal’ — last to be picked and bunged in goal.  He was a disaster.  It was, incidentally, his last game for Colchester — but only after he’d conceded 16 goals in eight games.

The second half was moderately less traumatic in that Colchester at least didn’t concede any more goals.  As the clock ticked into the last few minutes some fans started to shuffle out.  Out of the rain, out of the stadium out of sight of that humbling we were getting at home.

On the Ball

Then came Steve Ball.  Such a great name for a footballer.  Plain, unobtrusive, unashamedly English.  A run-of-the-mill name like Alan Jones or Matt Smith.  Steve Ball.

At a shade over 6ft tall, midfielder Ball single-handedly sealed my love for football and Colchester United that day.  In the 88th minute he picked up the ball in midfield, waltzed past a couple of half-hearted ‘its-the-88th-minute-we’re-3-0-up-what’s-the-worst-that-can-happen?’ challenges and smacked in a thudding long-range shot which crept into the bottom corner.

Mark Kinsella & Steve Ball

Ball boy: Steve (right) made me love football that day

Drenched with rain, hair plastered to his forehead he continued his run, collected the ball and ran back to the centre circle.

Belief.  Suddenly, like a wave of warm caramel coating me from the toes upwards, I felt it.  Ball became a man possessed.  He tackled everything — possibly even a few team-mates — and charged at goal with every opportunity.  The (remaining) crowd were fueled by his belief alone.  The noise lifted.  Ball won a corner and there were even a few cheers.  3-1 down with seconds to go…

The corner came over and guess who leapt like a salmon?  Ball seemed about a foot taller than anyone else, soaring through the drizzle to plant a header into the net. 3-2!  We couldn’t… could we?  There it was.  Doubt.  Doubt that the inevitable defeat may not be so inevitable after all.  We might equalise!

We didn’t.

It ended 3-2.

But that 90 minutes will stay with me forever.  Longer than the trips to Wembley, longer than the trips to Merthyr (I try to forget those), longer than any other game.  That was when the flame of my football passion ignited.

It was the classic rollercoaster.  Pre-match nerves, expectation and hope (might we draw one of the big boys in the 3rd Round?); crushing disappointment as the goals flew in… to our net; anger and frustration (even I’m better than Ron Green!); exasperation as the second half pootled along without the urgency I felt coursing through my veins; the rush of excitement of a great goal; the surge of renewed belief as the second went in; the wobble of doubt about my feelings for another man as Steve Ball embodied my every wish of that moment on the pitch; the realisation that all those dreams so recently shattered I was still stood amongst the shards may not be dead; the crescendo of noise and passion as, along with thousands of others I wished, willed and prayed for another goal… and the crashing of that wave, onto the rocks as the final whistle went.

That’s why we love football.

We’d love to hear how, when, why and where you fell in love with the game – or your chosen sport.

Always watch the quiet ones

The latest ‘next big thing’ is Leeds United striker Jermaine Beckford.  The Elland Road hot-shot has been knocking in goals for Leeds for a while now but his consistency (20 goals in 07/08; 34 last season and already 22 this season) have elevated him to one of the most talked about transfer window targets.

His FA Cup exploits have certainly helped his profile.  Scoring the winner at Old Trafford will do that for most strikers; doing in for a League One side, ousting the Champions in the 3rd Round will send your reputation stratospheric – at least for a while.  To give Beckford his due, he as good as repeated the trick at White Hart Lane, scoring twice against Spurs to earn Leeds a replay.

However, Thoughtsport question the focus of the attention in the Leeds forward line.  How many times have ‘next big things’ flopped as soon as they secured their ‘big move’?  Robert Fleck was a goal-machine at Norwich – ask Chelsea fans about him.  Savo Milosevic was the answer to Aston Villa’s goal-scoring problems… until he wasn’t.  The list is endless.

Peter Beardsley from Telegraph.co.uk

Face for radio? Peter Beardsley the ultimate front-man foil

Where the problem may be is in the supporting cast.  Alan Shearer was the headline striker at Blackburn Rovers as they romped to the title on the back of Jack Walker’s wallet.  Talk to Rovers fans as they heralded the ‘SAS’ – Shearer and Sutton strike-force.  Neither was as effective without the other.

The same is true for so many ‘big name’ strikers.  Ian Wright?  He

had Mark Bright – now more famous as a TV and radio pundit.  Andrew ‘goal’ Cole?  Dwight Yorke and before that – at Newcastle, Peter Beardsley.

Beardsley was the perfect front-man foil.  Quiet, un-assuming and generous almost to a fault.  There were times when, clear through on goal Beardsley would rather lay on the pass for his more ‘illustrious’ strike partner.

He even made an international career out of it.  Would Gary Lineker have scored as many as his 48 England goals without the ever-reliable Beardsley along side him?  Doubtful.

Beardsley was perfect though – he never complained.  The fact he had a face more suited for chip-paper than newspapers may have played a part too.  Lineker, as he has gone on to prove in his media career, was more suited to life in front of a lens.

One to watch: Robert Snodgrass

One to watch: Robert Snodgrass

For Beckford’s ‘Beardsley’ read Robert Snodgrass.

Unless you’re a die-hard Leeds fan, or support a team in League One (which rules out most football supporters in this country) you won’t have seen much of Leeds’ almost imperious march to the brink of promotion to the Championship.  Therefore, allow me to enlighten you.

Snodgrass is everything Beckford is not.  Short, quiet, unassuming, youthful and loyal.  Having already faced adversity in his burgeoning career north of the border (he’s still only 22) the quicksilver Scotsman is fiercly committed to Leeds who ‘saved’ him – unlike the transfer-demanding (and then retracting) Beckford.

Snodgrass is consistent too.  He’s on target for this third successive season with a double figure goal tally.  How many chances he lays on for Beckford is less easy to research but the answer is surely “a lot”.

Thoughtsport aren’t knocking Beckford (much) putting the finishing touch to chances is a skill and a highly sought after one.  Beckford is likely to move on to ‘bigger’ team in the close season, whether Leeds are promoted or not.  Is it too simplistic of Thoughtsport to link Beckford to West Ham – a team short of mega-money but desperate for a goal-scorer?  Perhaps.

Wherever he goes Beckford will no longer be the big fish.  He’ll arrive with a reputation and (it seems likely) a hefty price tag.  It’ll be sink or swim time and he won’t have his ‘wing-man’ Snodgrass with him this time.

More examples spring to mind.  Andy Keogh and Billy Sharp fired Scunthorpe into the Championship (much as Snodgrass and Beckford are doing for Leeds).  Sharp was the fox-in-the-box goal-getter, an irrepressible force in front of goal it seemed.  Until he was separated from Keogh.

Sharp moved, amidst much fan-fare to his alma mater Sheffield United for £2m.  He didn’t cut it for the Blades (sorry) and has been shipped around the Championship on loan – currently plying his trade for Doncaster Rovers.

And Keogh?  A mere £600,000 took him to Wolves – now in the Premier League.  He’s also picked up a few caps for the Republic of Ireland.  Admittedly Keogh may not be a first-team regular but no prizes for spotting which player has gone on to better things.

All we’re saying is – keep an eye on the quiet ones.

Hughes – Dunne unto himself

So Mark Hughes has been sacked then.  No surprises there.  Hughes was the biggest case of ‘dead man walking’ the minute the Arab money-men arrived.  He wasn’t ‘their man’ so no matter what platitudes they spoke in public unless Hughes had steered them to the top of the league and at least two cup finals he was always going to be on borrowed time.

Much hand-wringing abound in the press about foreign coaches/owners/players/legion etc.  But did Hughes do it to himself?

Many have questioned his ability to handle the ‘characters’ (read strops) of stars like Robinho and Abebayor; still others his ability to shoehorn said players into a tactical set-up that works; then there are the bald facts of all those draws.

Richard Dunne - from Skysports.com

Dunne: I say, Adebayor... allow me to point out where you're going wrong...

But was Hughes’ biggest single mistake not a player he signed but one he let go?  Namely, Richard Dunne?

What have City been missing?  They’ve needed steel in their defence.  Someone who’ll go and attack the ball, cannon it (and the opposition striker if need be) into the proverbial row Z.  Dunne.

They have lacked a leader.  Someone who’ll puff out his chest and be damned if he’s going to suffer a defeat without doing something about it.  Dunne again.

Can you imagine Dunne would have put up with the cosseted likes of Abebayor, wearing gloves in November and ‘not fancying it’ against the likes of Spurs or even Hull?

One imagines Robinho’s hissy stomp down the tunnel after being substituted (after another lacklustre performance) would have got short shrift from the combative Irishman too.

Meantime Dunne’s been welcomed with open arms at Aston Villa (currently 4th – six points and two places above City).

There he has played his part in no fewer than seven clean sheets (nearly twice as many as City have managed in the league this season) and he’s chipped in with three goals too (as many as City’s entire defensive squad).

Dunne lived and breathed for City when he was there.  The fans loved him and he was a club talisman.

Maybe that was why he had to go – he was a reminder of the old school, inferiority-complex past the club were trying to shed.  Maybe he didn’t fancy sticking around as a squad player? Maybe Hughes knew he’d upset the ‘undroppable’ likes of Robinho and Adebayor – who knows?

Hughes may have been on borrowed time at Eastlands but he may just have hastened his own demise.