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.

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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.

Atlantic-sized threat to Premier League?

Earlier this month the Premier League roundly rejected Phil Gartside (the Bolton Wanderers’ Chief Executive)’s plan for a two-tier Premier League.

Celtic v Rangers - from Guardian.co.uk

Celtic v Rangers - from Guardian.co.uk

Most notably Gartside’s plan included the Scottish giants from each side of Glasgow: Celtic and Rangers.   There was also much criticism of Gartside’s planned ‘licensing’ idea which would, in effect have made ‘PL2’ a closed shop.  Gone would have been the hopes of teams dreaming of ‘doing a Wimbledon’ (as it was known in my day) or these days may be called ‘doing a Burnley’.

Either way – the plans were rejected.  Celtic and Rangers headed back over the border stung by rejection once again.

It may have been the biggest mistake the Premier League will ever make.

Let me be clear.  I am no fan of Gartside’s plan.  However, from the point of view of self preservation or at least self promotion the Premier League may live to regret their decision.

Talk has now, once again focussed on the idea of an ‘Atlantic League’.  For those unfamiliar with the idea it is, in essence those too big for their small ponds banding together to form their own version of a European Super League.  Albeit, it may not be so super given the very biggest fish won’t be in it.

A league with the likes of Celtic and Rangers; Anderlecht and Standard Liege (from Belgium); Dutch clubs like Ajax, PSV and Feyenoord; Portuguese sides like Benfica and Porto – would still make for interesting viewing, not least for these respective club’s bean-counters.

Let us be honest.  This lot haven’t a hope of winning the Champions League these days.  Their fans may argue against it – Porto fans with some justification (not to mention recent history) on their side.  In the main, however, their hopes are slim if not non-existent.  Most struggle to make it to the second group phase – assuming they even qualify in the first place.

Let us assume that the Atlantic League will go ahead.  We’ll ignore the questions about promotion/relegation; Champions League qualifying places and all the headache of away games and away fans.  There’s enough aggitation for this to happen – it is surely inevitable, eventually.

Arrogance or optimism?

What’s interested me lately is – will there be English representation?  Safe to say, I think, the likes of Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool would reject any invitation (should it come) with a “thanks, but no thanks.”  They have bigger fish to fry and also no requirement for access to bigger pots of money.

The ambitions/arrogance/optimism of the likes of Everton, Tottenham and Aston Villa may cause them to reject an approach too.  No matter the odds against it, these clubs harbour a hope of breaking into the mythical ‘top four’ in England.  Make that a top five these days, with Moneybags City of Manchester elbowing their way into the elite group through sheer weight of spending.

How far down would you have to go to get a club that would seriously consider it.  Would, or more importantly ‘could’ a club like West Ham or Fulham turn it down?  What about clubs on the up like Sunderland?  Even the most optimistic fan starts the season hoping for ‘top seven and a Cup-run’ – i.e. seventh place at best and not getting KO’d early in the FA Cup.

Silverware is a once in a blue moon opportunity.  The title is almost laughably out of reach – there’s more chance of finishing in the bottom three than the top three.

An Atlantic League would offer more prestige and, most importantly more money and more chance of actually winning something.  Could they turn it down – especially the “more money” part.

What if the Atlantic League had an additional two, or even three Champions League places on offer?  West Ham, Fulham et al would surely fancy their chances of finishing ‘best of the rest’ rather than the eternal quest to hang on to the coat tails of the English giants Man United and Chelsea?

Celtic & celtic derbies?

Let’s assume the Premier League close ranks and the riches of the giant $ky ‘goal-den’ goose are enough to keep them here.  Would yo-yo clubs be able to resist?  Are the league-skewing parachute payments enough to sustain them?  Birmingham is England’s second city.  What about West Bromwich Albion or Gartside’s own Bolton?

Cardiff v Swansea - from Guardian.co.uk

Cardiff v Swansea - from Guardian.co.uk

If the Atlantic League is serious about gaining interest around the continent and raising hard cash – what’s to stop them being more mercenary about it?

Why focus on the Premier League?  Some of the most well supported (and therefore more financially appealing) clubs aren’t even in the top flight any more.  Would Mike Ashley’s Newcastle be able to reject the Atlantic League’s advances?  What about Leeds?

Representatives from Wales would surely be welcome.  Cardiff City and Swansea City would jump at the chance – if they had any sense.   They’re currently enjoying quite a renaissance, fighting for promtion to the promised land of the Premier League.  If they think they’re going to be able to compete and survive there that’s optimism indeed.

The monied hand of an Atlantic League may be hard to resist.  Imagine the celtic-derbies – Cardiff v Rangers; Swansea v Celtic!  The interest in those matches alone would be huge.

Yes, even allowing for RyanAir/Easyjet etc.  away games would be tough on the fans.  Granted.  However, the promise that every other week the likes of Benfica, Rangers, Ajax or Celtic would turn up may cushion the blow slightly.

If you did have to travel several hundred miles to an away game, would you rather go to Scunthorpe or Lisbon?  Sorry Sunny-Scunny.

The overly self-inflated egos and self-importance of the Premier League chairmen may see ‘smaller teams’ like those listed as a drop in the ocean.  If that ocean ripples into being the Atlantic League the waves of regret may flow only one way.

Appealing but not surprising…

So Chelsea say they will “mount the strongest possible appeal” to the transfer ban imposed by Fifa.

Arsenal are appealing against Eduardo’s ban too.

Both bans will be reduced (you read it here first).  Don’t be surprised if the words “suspended” appear too – but sadly not of the banning variety, more of the ‘suspended sentence’ type.

Remember that scene in the Indiana Jones movie?  Indiana runs after the sword-wielding natives with his gun… until they realise he has no bullets, and chase the terrified Indy into the distance.

Remind you of anything?  Fifa and Uefa shout loudly but have no bullets…

Chelsea’s ban: It will never stick

So Chelsea have been banned from buying players for the best part of two years: story on BBC Sport website.

At first – and not purely because of an anti-money, anti-big club mentality – most football fans will think “Good” – non-Chelsea fans anyway.

But does anyone expect this to stick?  I certainly don’t.

If Chelsea did, as Fifa says, induce a player (Gael Kakuta) to break his contract then they deserve to be punished.

For too long football has been about the size of your bank balance and not the size of your talent.  Any time a smaller club has something good (a player, a manager even a physio) it’s only a matter of time before a bigger club comes knocking – or more often they don’t even knock, they just take.

It happens at all levels of football.  It’s not limited to Premier League clubs, bigger clubs further down the pyramid just pass the treatment on down the ladder – much like a playground bully is usually bullied themselves.

But it’s just the big clubs throwing their weight around.  Would Kakuta have been tempted to leave Lens by say Scunthorpe or Darlington?

Can you imagine how that conversation would go?  “Gael – want to come and play for us?  You’d have to take a pay-cut and… Gael?  Gael?  Hello?  He hung-up…”

Toothless tiger

Much as with Uefa’s ban of Eduardo a precedent has been set.  Fifa have set their stall out, backing up their own rules with action.  All good so far.

The ban on Chelsea, announced today, forbidding them from registering players for two transfer windows (effectively until January 2011)and fining them €780,000 is a strong and determined stance.

Chelsea have 21 days to appeal.  If they don’t I will be flabbergasted.

The thing with the big clubs is they have big lawyers.  An appeal will be lodged.  All it will take is a few mentions of the Court of Arbitration for Sport; “restriction of trade” and so on.

Again, the precedent has been set.  Roma were punished similarly over the signing of Phillippe Mexes.  Their appeal saw the ban halved and the fine substantially reduced.  Don’t be suprised if the same happens here.

If it does the ban is effectively useless and Fifa, once again, shown as toothless in their attempts to prevent the big clubs bullying everyone else.

If Chelsea’s ban is halved they’re banned from just one window (this coming January 2010).  The January windows are usually a course of last resort for struggling clubs and/or those that have changed manager and need a change of personnel.

Any decent players are usually so tightly bound into a contract and/or Cup-tied for important European matches that the big clubs rarely do business in January.

Fining Chelsea a few hundred thousand euros is the same as the FA fining multi-millionaire footballers a few thousand pounds for breaching their rules.  A mere drop in a vast ocean.

It’s almost as if Fifa dish out hefty punishments knowing they’ll be reduced on appeal.

As any sports coach will tell you, feeling beaten before you even begin is the first step to certain defeat.