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

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

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.

Unemployed man wants job – shock!


Sol Campbell - from The

"Hi - I'm here for my job interview...?"

Rumours abound that former England defender Sol Campbell is “interested” in a move to Manchester United.  Gasp.

They’re more than rumours, the man has come out and said it himself: Campbell keen on joining United – BBC Sport.

Why is this news?  What it boils down to is: ‘Unemployed man wants job’.

Sadly it is symptomatic of the British media (usually on the receiving end of many brickbats only some unfairly).  They have pages to fill, copies to sell and nothing else to write about.

Yes, it ties in with the fact that anyone at Old Trafford who has defended as much as an argument is crocked.  Campbell is at a bit of a loose end after walking out on the Notts County ‘project’.  A case of two plus two equals five if ever there was one.

There are far too many media outlets willing to lap this stuff up though.  Campbell, despite his recent heel-kicking is still a ‘name’ and Manchester United are about the biggest name in football you can get.

Media budgets are being slashed to the bone.  Investigative, in-depth sports journalism is about as rare as a Heskey hat-trick.  When a story that includes two massive names walks in and plonks itself on your desk what’s not to like?

You see it everywhere.  Recently sacked at Wycombe, former England manager (for a game!) Peter Taylor has “declared an interest” in every job going from Notts County (them again) to Ipswich assistant to the Sally Army shop down the road from me looking for volunteers on a Wednesday afternoon.

Of course he has – he’s unemployed!  It’s a non-story but we, the punters lap it up.  In this internet age we’re desperate for every rumour, hint, clue and possibility that may or may not be happening.  We all know that if every club signed all the players there were “linked” they’d all have 500-strong squads.

It’s not news.  It might sometimes serve our media outlets better if they twisted the old adage: No news is… not news!

The Burley & the bath water

So Scotland have sacked George Burley.  This after the former Ipswich boss failed to steer them to World Cup qualification or even the outside chance of qualification via the play-offs (though we all know how that would have ended).

George Burley (image from

"What do you expect me to do with this shower?" (image from

Most pundits say he had it coming – most Scotland fans would agree.  I may not surprise you hear that I don’t.

This is a classic case of throwing the baby out with the bath water – or to put it another way: fixing the holes in your walls when the roof’s caving in.

Scotland are just not very good.  Not that Burley is a genius but no amount of tactical tinkering and half-time tea-cup related wobblies will get you past that first and all important fact.  Would a Capello, Hiddink or a Mourinho make a Grimsby Town into world-beaters?  Exactly.

I should come clean at this point.  I’m an Englishman (a fair chunk of Irish blood too) but I’ve no real sympathies for the Scots.  Unlike most of our northern cousins, I’d rather they did well as opposed to badly but I won’t fall over myself to cheer them on.

However, as a Colchester United fan, I’m no fan of George Burley’s either.  Burley jilted us at the proverbial altar.  After we rescued him from football management obscurity he paid us back by jumping at the first opportunity to return to his alma mater, Ipswich – our fierce local rivals.  We never forgave him.

That said, I think Scotland got it wrong getting rid of him.

Scotland failed to qualify from the smallest and what looked a relatively ‘simple’ World Cup group.  Netherlands have first place taped, granted – but all Scotland had to do was best Norway, a side nowhere near the peak of their powers, to take second place.  Don’t embarrass yourselves against Macedonia and Iceland and a play-offs place should be nailed on.

Bad start

It started badly when they lost away to Macedonia.  A pair of beatings from the Dutch were to be expected but a tame draw and a 4-0 trouncing against Norway saw any hope of 2nd place vanish over the horizon.

How could this come about?  Sloppy management clearly, in the opinion of the Scottish FA (SFA).

Let’s look at the Scottish team though.  The players who actually lost those key matches.

The team is made up of a list of also rans and that’s being generous.  Between the sticks: David Marshall, who plays for League One side Norwich City.

The rest of the defence are Callum Davidson (an ageing, injury prone Championship player); Gary Caldwell from Celtic (don’t get me started on the ‘strength’ of the Scottish Premier League); Alan Hutton (whose matches for (admittedly) Premier League Tottenham you could count on one hand); and Graham Alexander (Burnley’s bearded centre back who must be nearing 40!).

The midfield features the one decent, top-flight player: Darren Fletcher – a key part of an impressive Manchester United side.  Scott Brown and Steven Caldwell are two more Celtic players plus there’s Kris Commons who plays for Championship strugglers Derby County.

Up front? Ross McCormack who plays for Championship side Cardiff alongside Rangers’ Kenny Miller.

Now I’m not knocking those players (ok I am – viciously so) but they’re hardly a collection of world-beaters are they?  Fletcher is the only one in danger of being any good – who may get into a top international team’s XI.

Is that Burley’s fault?  Hardly.  He can only pick the players available to him and the sad fact is there just aren’t that many good Scottish players out there.

Dearth or death of talent?

Where have they all gone?  Scotland were never awash with world all stars but they still had a scattering of decent players.  Graeme Souness, Alan Hansen, Kenny Dalglish are obvious examples.  In more recent times players like Paul Lambert were good enough to be picked up by decent European sides (Borussia Dortmund) and went on to win the European Cup.

Fletcher aside which Scotsman could do that now?  And where are they coming from?  Researching this article I logged on to the SFA website to see that the Scots Under-16s had been beaten 2-1 by their England rivals.  The quote from the coach (Ross Mathie) was telling: “…you’ve got to remember these are the Premiership stars of the future we were up against.”

That maybe true Ross – but why aren’t your boys Premier League stars of the future?  It’s not like you can lay claim to the oft used English defence of “no top English managers”… I think Sir Alex Ferguson may fall into that category for the Scots!

The straw that broke the camels back for the SFA was a 3-0 defeat by Wales – Burley’s last game in charge.

The Welsh side were packed with talented youngsters.  Even those of ‘more mature years’ are Premiership players.

Arsenal & Wales' Aaron Ramsey

Aaron Ramsey: Exception or exceptional?

Arsenal starlet Aaron Ramsey was the star of the show.  Even if you take him, as perhaps an exception, out of the equation, the Wales team are superior and not just in terms of the scoreline.

They’ve got three goalies to pick from: Jason Brown; Wayne Hennessey and Boaz Myhill – all at Premier League teams.

In defence: Gareth Bale, James Collins and Danny Gabbidon – more Premier Leaguers.  I need not go on I think?

George Burley may not be in the same league as the Capellos, Hiddinks and Mourinhos of this world – but then nor are Scotland.  Even if the SFA were able to attract a top of the range manager you cannot make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

They need to roll their sleeves up and get into the muck at the bottom of their trough of talent.  At the moment it’s a pretty shallow trough.

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

Celtic v Rangers - from

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

Cardiff v Swansea - from

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.

Video technology: The argument against

Much hand-wringing in football following Thierry Henry’s handball in the Fifa World Cup play-off match against Ireland.

The Football Association of Ireland and Irish fans around the world protest;  Fifa, Uefa and the French Football Federation get their heads down and hope it will all go away.  Neutral’s are aghast and Henry’s reputation takes a severe dent.

Once things are cleared up and any (faint) chance of a replay is dismissed as impossible – only then does Henry concede a replay would be “fair” – not a million miles away from Andre Agassi only admitting his drug taking past only when he new it was too late to punish him.  Hardly brave.

Once again football fans, journalists and pundits around the world are baying for video technology to be introduced.  “There can be no argument against it!” they say.  Well, they’re wrong, because here it is.

The beauty of football, why I love it and I suspect you love it too is it’s universality.  Those heart-warming pictures you see of kids in ghettos playing with a ball made of plastic bags, with twigs rammed into the dirt as goal-posts (usually as part of one country or another’s World Cup bid) – they have a deeper meaning too.

Football can be played by anyone, anywhere.  Much as we all dreamt (or still dream depending on your age/grip on reality) of being Crufy/Pelé/Maradonna/Best/Cantona/Dalglish et al and knew it could never be so – we could still dream.  Football is achievable for everyone.  If you have a couple of mates and something anything that can serve as a ball you’ve got a game.  Heck, you don’t even need a few mates, a wall or something to bounce the ball back from will do.  Add imagination and you’re in the Bernabeu, the San Siro or scoring the World Cup winning goal at Wembley.

Same game

The team you play for at school, on a Sunday or in the Pub League – you’re playing the same game as those kids with twigs in the ghetto and the exact same game as Liverpool, AC Milan, Real Madrid, Corinthians etc. are all playing too.

Sure, they’re playing it better (mostly) but it’s the same.  The same equipment, the same pitch size maybe even the same ball if you put the latest adidas on your Christmas list last year.

As Sepp Blatter, Michel Platini tinker with the rules they’re still within reach.  Ok, your Sunday league may not have linesmen (sorry assistant refs) and your playground game may not even have a ref – but that’s not a rule that’s just down to availability.

Even if Platini’s experiment with AARs (Additional Assitant Referees) becomes law you could, in theory, still have those in place in the park on Sunday.

Add in technology: video replays; goal-line technology whatever – and that achievable link is gone.  Forever.

Most small local teams struggle to find the money for kit and bus hire to get to games.  Video technology is a million miles away from their budget.  Even many professional teams couldn’t afford it.  As more and more Football League clubs in England flirt with financial disaster the idea of adding to their costs is ridiculous.

Therefore a line would have to be drawn.  Videos would only come in a Premier League level or perhaps in the Championship too.   Is football really more important in those divisions?  Several tens of thousands of fans of teams in League’s One and Two would say otherwise.

And then what about Cup competitions.  If a tie is at a ground with the technology, should it be used?  And if the replay’s at the ‘smaller’ team’s ground, without the technology?  It would just be a murky mess of a disaster, waiting to happen.

Referees aren’t perfect.  Mistakes are made – as the match in the Stade de France showed.  But mistakes are as much a part of football as the glorious moments when everything goes right.

The most glorious thing of all is that football should be like justice – for all, not just those that can afford it.

Reservations about reserves

Hmm… hardly convincing was it?

England beat Belarus 3-0 last night – without Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard, Ashley Cole, David James and Emile Heskey – who have played in most of England’s matches under Fabio Capello.

The team are already taking a shoe-ing in other quarters for not setting the world alight in a dead rubber.  Personally, I feel that many of the players should have had more than enough motivation to put in a stellar performance:  a full-house at Wembley; the last competitive game before the World Cup; and those World Cup places up for grabs.

Mostly, they didn’t seize the chance to push their claim for a place in the World Cup squad – demonstrating England’s reliance on the fitness of a few key players.

Peter Crouch rose (no pun intended) to the challenge.  Two goals for the 6’7″ target-man about all you can ask of a striker.

It gives me no pleasure to report that Glen Johnson did not excel as I had hoped he might in a previous blog.

In just the first 20 minutes I counted two occasions where he gave the ball away cheaply which ended in an attacking chance for the opposition.  Fortunately for him Belarus lacked the attacking power to fully punish those errors.  I fear World Cup qualified teams may not be so generous.

Ben Foster made one excellent eye-catching save – another dent to Rob Green’s World Cup hopes and his relationship with Rio Ferdinand.

But England have qualified.  Mission accomplished – in some style too.  Next blog I’ll pick my England squad for South Africa – and I’ll predict Capello’s too.

There’s something about Johnson…

For a while now Glen Johnson (featured in the lovely video below) has been bothering me.

Not in a prank calls, sending pizzas I didn’t order, hanging around outside my house way – more a slight nagging feeling.  A memory of something in the darker recesses of my mind (a scary place) that wanted to come out into the light.

Then, whilst watching the Ukraine v England match it came to me.  It came to me when Andriy Shevchenko (that fine example of why managers and not chairman should buy players) beat Ashley Cole for pace.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Shevchenko – beat Ashley Cole for pace.

The same Shevchenko who looked incapable for beating an egg during those wallet-lining years and months at Stamford Bridge.

It was then I saw it.  Glen Johnson is Ashley Cole.  Albeit a right-footed one – but also the Ashley Cole circa 2001.

This Cole was such a poor defender people toyed with the idea of playing both him and Wayne Bridge in the same team – so as to accomodate his defensive inadequacies whilst not missing out on his rampaging runs forwards.

Ashley Cole 2009 is no Franco Baresi (nor even a Paulo Maldini) but his defending has improved immeasurably since then.

Chicken & egg

With Johnson we are stuck in the chicken and egg situation.  Should England invest more experience/caps in him in the hope that he will improve as Cole has?   He has, after all, four years on his Chelsea counterpart.

I like Johnson, I want him to do well – same as I do any player in an England shirt – even the easily unlikable Cole.  However, his defensive naivety is glaring even to the most casual viewer.

At one point in the match against Ukraine, after one of his many fruitless-forward-forays (rolls off the tongue nicely that) he was caught out of position as Ukraine counter-attacked.

Johnson had jinked inside onto his weaker left foot and lost the ball in the centre of the pitch.  His team-mates are obviously ready for this and the defence all stepped across the pitch one place – which left England with Ashley Cole effectively playing centre-half and Johnson at left-back.  Bizzare.

The result?  A tame cross which would have been dealt with easily caused massed panic with everyone in unfamiliar territory.  It ended with two defenders leaving it to one another and the ball bouncing just wide of the goal.  In the World Cup a mistake like that could be the difference between progress and an early flight home.

Learning curve

I sincerely hope Johnson will improve his defending – that is after all why he is in the team.  England do not need another candidate to be right-winger – there are already numerous candidates for the role.

At Liverpool, playing in the Champions League and fighting for the title he will find himself on a steep learning curve.

All that said, he will probably play a blinder tonight (against Belarus) and all his defensive mistakes will be glossed over again.

As it happens the best thing to ever happen to Johnson’s career could well be out of his hands.  If France, Argentina and Portugal all fail to make the World Cup (as is a distinct possibility) he will be spared the task of facing Franck Ribery, Simão Sabrosa or the great Lionel Messi.

I know… the mere thought fills me with dread too.

P.S. I noted with interest that David James looks likely to miss the Belarus game through injury.  Another opportunity missed for Robert Green.  Thanks a bunch Rio.