Managerial Angst Part 1 – the Premier League frenzy
It’s November and the speculation about the futures of Premier League managers is in full flow. Of course the futures of those at the bottom – Steve Kean at Blackburn and Roberto Martinez at Wigan in particular – are vulnerable; but it’s the fate of some of those at the top which is the more intriguing.
First we have “AVB”, Andre Villas Boas. Brought to Chelsea from Porto with much fanfare and expense. The man who would finally turn Chelsea into the new Barcelona. Hasn’t worked yet, but might if he is given time, but will he be? The successive losses – QPR away 0-1, ending up with 9 men; 3-5 at home to Arsenal; 1-2 at home to Liverpool – have clearly created shock waves at the Bridge. It looks like there are six or even seven teams this year competing seriously for the top four places and Champions League entry. As John Motson – good ol’ “Motty” – commented on the Radio Five Live Monday Night Club tonight, we have the bizarre situation where there is more interest in next year’s Champion’s League contest than the current one, which is only four games in. Proof that the real excitement in sport is the anticipation rather than the reality.
So AVB is trying to introduce a Barcelona/Porto pressing game with the defence up on half way and much of the real defending being done in midfield as soon as you lose the ball. But it isn’t functioning too well just yet, and the slow-paced John Terry and slightly crazed David Luiz in defence, and the ponderous John Obi Mikel in midfield, are being exposed. I’m sure if they stick at it it will come together – Chelsea are a formidable machine. But will Abramovich panic and bring Guus Hiddink back, now that he has been released by Turkey?
And talking of wanting to be Barcelona, this was Arsene Wenger’s vision too. He has come tantalisingly close. Arsenal were one Niklas Bendtner poor touch from dumping Barca out of the Champion’s league last year. The margins are so fine: last season is declared a disaster by Arsenal fans. But it could have been magnificent.
Wenger’s vision has been shattered by the forces of very big money. I hope I’m wrong, but doubt I am. Over the past few years, the Emirates Stadium years, the business model has revolved around developing young players, ultimately turning them into a prize-winning unit. But the heart has been ripped out of the vision by the departures of Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri. Fabregas at least had the familial ties to Barcelona: he was always going to go back at some point. But Nasri’s move reflected the new realities – the Man City oil money. The massive wages that Arsenal can’t, or won’t afford. Nasri wasn’t cheap when he was bought from Marseille, but he was still part of the development policy. Now the question is, who’s next? Robin van Persie, for a last big pay day to City? Alex Song to Barca? Every Arsenal fan must live in fear that they have become a very high class feeder club.
And the interview that Wenger had with the French sports paper, L’Equipe, which was reported in the British papers this weekend, gave us the first hints that maybe Arsene has accepted that his way of doing things won’t work. So what will he do? Leave Arsenal, accepting that his vision can’t be achieved? Start using the money from 60,000 punters per home game to buy seasoned pros? Who knows. But there is a fin de siecle feel – even as the team are doing really well and are fighting back into that coveted top four.
Tell you what I’d like. Arsene for next England manager. Knows English football. Massively respected. Plays the game the right way. Thierry Henry and Patrick Viera and Lee Dixon as his assistants! Fantasy football. Dream on…
And to complete the London triumvirate of angst, ‘Arry at Spurs. Heart problems, accusations of tax evasion, just as Spurs are playing better than they have for many a year. They went third tonight with a routine win over Aston Villa. Gareth Bale torturing the Brummies, Scott Parker and Luca Modric bossing midfield. As a West Ham fan, I’m supposed to dislike Tottenham, but I never have. I used to go to White Hart Lane quite a lot in the early eighties and enjoyed their stylish but flakey football. Not unlike the Hammers, just a bit more successful. They’ve ditched the flakiness for now, but if Harry goes, what will happen? Will they blow it just as the real step up beckons? If I were a Spurs fan that would be my worry.
Managerial Angst Part 2 – did Johnno have to go?
England’s rugby team had a very disappointing World Cup. There was so much potential: Flood, Foden, Ashton, Youngs, Croft, Lawes, Tuilagi. A youthful spirit mixed in with the hardened pros. Surely semi finals at least. But it all went horribly wrong. After some of the vibrant displays of the past year – trashing the Aussies a couple of times, winning the Six Nations – the team seemed to retreat into its crab-like shell when the competition got going. The adventure went out of the team and nerves took over. Endless penalties conceded, balls knocked on at crucial moments. Panic rather than belief.
What happened? Why did an excellent team bottle it? Repercussions from dwarf-throwing bars and general lary behaviour didn’t help, but surely that didn’t do for them. They basically lost their confidence in their own ability. And the Management – Martin Johnson in the lead – seemed to revert to the old-style Leicester up-the-jumper approach, which Leicester don’t even play anymore. Crush the opposition with forward power then turn it on. Worked in 2003. Only problem was that our forwards weren’t powerful or quick or clever enough. They were good, but not superior to other teams. So the tactics concentrated on areas where the team wasn’t dominant and didn’t exploit the aspects where we were strong – the pace of Aston and Foden, for example.
Easy to say from the armchair, but it all felt like a hugely missed opportunity. England probably should have made it to the final, most likely then to lose to New Zealand. That would have been honourable.
So the knee-jerk instinct afterwards was to say Johnno should go, and he did resign this week. But should he have gone? The examples of Clive Woodward (failed 1999, won World Cup 2003) and Graham Henry (failed 2007, won 2011) have been wheeled out as evidence that everyone deserves a second chance. The experience of the first attempt providing valuable learning for the second. Instinctively I feel that is right and would have been happy to see Johnno stay. He probably shouldn’t have been appointed in the first place, but now all the experience has been thrown away and we start again. Maybe he would never have embraced the new attacking spirit which prevails in much of top level rugby, but we will never know.
So who replaces him? I don’t really have a strong view, except please don’t let it be Conor O’Shea at Quins. We need him!
And whoever it is, can they rehabilitate Danny Cipriani, an incredible talent going to waste?
The happy days continue… errrr!
Quins won away to Gloucester in the Heineken Cup (28-9) and hardly anyone ever wins at Gloucester; West Ham beat Coventry away 2-1, after going behind, the Arse beat Norwich 2-1 away. It’s all going so very well. Waiting for the fall!
Future pub quiz question- who scored England’s 2000th international goal?
Daniel Majstorovic (og).
Gareth Barry’s header deflected in.
England 1 Sweden 0, 15 November 2011.