All posts by Grant Miles

Wolves are down and out

Wolverhampton Wanderers have been relegated to League One after losing the last match of the season away to Brighton. A miserable 12 months has seen the midlands club relegated from the Premiership and then struggle throughout this campaign to end in 23rd place in the Championship. Fans and pundits thought that they would look to immediately bounce back from the drop at the end of the 2011/2012 season, but instead of enjoying life around the top end of the table they found themselves slipping further down the standings with alarming ease. Ultimately they had no answers to the situation and consecutive relegations will force many questions to be asked.

 

Several months before the end of the 2011/2012 Premiership season, Mick McCarthy’s five year spell in charge was ended in dismissal, as the owners sought to rescue the club from the bottom three position they occupied at the time. His assistant, Terry Connor, took charge for the remaining matches but was unable to turn the tide of poor results and ultimately the writing was already on the wall. 

Life in the Championship was going to be a different proposition entirely from the previous years in the top league in the country. The club appointed their first foreign manager by giving Norwegian Stale Solbakken the task of guiding them straight back out of the division. He had been in charge of Danish side Copenhagen for five successful years and although a disappointing stint at FC Koln in Germany ended in relegation, his reputation had already alerted Wolves chairman Steve Morgan.

Six months after beginning his English adventure he was sacked. Things started well enough, with six wins from the first ten games, and they were comfortably sitting in 3rd place in the table. Everything looked in place for the desired promotion attempt at the start of October, although this may have led to complacency to settle in. The subsequent months were disastrous with only 3 points picked up from a possible 27; the club slid down to 18th and they never recovered from this slump. By the time of his dismissal his record at the club was poor, with only 10 wins in 30 matches, and they once again found themselves hovering around the danger zone. 

48 hours after relieving Solbakken of his duties, Dean Saunders was the man entrusted with ensuring survival. However, there was little difference made and his record is actually worse than his predecessor, with only a 25% win rate. What has been so surprising about the club’s demise is that they still have some established players in their ranks, who should not have struggled so much at a lower level of football. Whether they were mentally prepared for the weekly battles that occur in the division is another question and it is often quoted that a side needs fierce determination as well as talent to get out of the most competitive league in Europe. Too many seemed lacking in this quality when they were going through a difficult period and now they have paid the price.

Understandably the finger has been pointed at the players, with accusations that too many were just going through the motions every week, collecting their huge pay packets and not really caring whether the team won or lost. Kevin Doyle, Roger Johnson, Sylvain Ebanks Blake and other high profile characters are unlikely to remain to fight it out in League One, and the wage bill will have to be significantly reduced so as not to leave the club in a perilous financial position. If Dean Saunders is allowed the time to demonstrate his ability as a coach then hopefully he can get rid of some of the dead wood at the club, get everyone working hard towards the same objective and lead them back to where they belong.

Real Madrid ready for a shake up

What changes will occur at Real Madrid if Jose Mourinho does decide to leave in the summer? He will no doubt be disappointed that his team have fallen at the semi-final stage of the Champions League once again, especially as he was brought in with the specific aim of leading Madrid back to the top of the European game. With recent comments and interviews indicating that he is on his way out of the Spanish capital, speculation has already begun about the future of this historic club.

 

When Gabriel Clarke interviewed Jose Mourinho immediately after the second leg match against Borussia Dortmund, he asked whether the Portuguese ‘special one’ would still be at the Santiago Bernabeu for 2013/2014. His instant response was “Perhaps not” and he also suggested that he would like to be “Where people love me to be”, sparking the rumour mill into overdrive that a return to Chelsea could be on the cards. 

After managing to wrestle back the Spanish league title from Barcelona last year and eventually working out how to beat the Catalan giants, the signs of progression were there for all to see and fans were confident that the long wait for Champions League glory could finally end. Ever since Zinedine Zidane scored a magical volley in the 2002 final against Bayer Leverkusen at Hampden Park they have failed to lift the trophy since. For a club of this stature it is unacceptable to go more than ten years with only domestic honours to show. 

When Florentino Perez returned as president of the club in 2009 he promised huge investment and certainly delivered on this with the immediate acquisitions of Kaka and Cristiano Ronaldo. His other major decision was appointing a world class coach to mould a collection of superstars into a team and he attracted Mourinho to the post in May 2010, after the tactician had just led Inter Milan to a historic treble, including a 2-0 Champions League final victory over Bayern Munich.

Three seasons on and a semi-final appearance each year in Europe’s toughest competition would for most clubs be considered an achievement in itself, but in Madrid there are no prizes for getting close to winning and certainly no pats on the back from an extremely demanding fan base. Mourinho himself has an extremely poor relationship with the Spanish media and often allows his assistant, Aitor Karanka, to face the questions after league matches. He has grown tired of their criticism and feels that he has been unfairly judged ever since arriving in the capital. With the latest setback against Dortmund, combined with losing La Liga to Barcelona and public disagreements with star players such as Iker Casillas and Sergio Ramos, now seems like the right time to move on to pastures new. History suggests that Mourinho never stays more than this period of time anyway, regardless of the success he has. Florentino Perez must look at possible candidates for perhaps the most stressful and pressurised job in football.

Carlo Ancelotti seems to be the man favoured to take the reins, although the current PSG manager may want to continue with the project that the French side’s owners have invested in. They are now part of the rich elite of world football and certainly plan on spending big this summer in an effort to fortify their squad. There is also the matter of the playing personnel currently contracted to ‘Los Merengues’, as they will attempt to sell off those surplus to requirement to allow some money to fund new signings. Higuian, Coentrao and Kaka are already rumoured to be on the exit list, with Lewandowski apparently wanted to lead the attack for next season. Whoever does manage the club, whether Mourinho or someone else, the pressure to win the Champions League is only going to intensify as the years go by and neither the fans, nor the president, will be content until they can once again lift the famous trophy.

Are we destroying English football with inadequate coaches?

For every child that plays football there is a team that provides them the opportunity to participate in the sport that they love. In order for young players and teams to improve, they need coaching and guidance from a qualified coach. Why then do so many unqualified people believe that they can perform this role satisfactorily and are we harming our football future by allowing them to do so? 

 

There is a clear dividing line between football and all other sports, and the line is one that separates the role of a coach in sport. Whilst parents are happy to accept that a swimming instructor is the most appropriate person to teach their child to swim, or that a badminton coach is the best person to teach their child how to hit a shuttlecock, many seem happy that an unqualified volunteer leads their child’s weekly football session. Why has this attitude been taken towards the most popular sport in the UK and what can be done to address a situation that is chronic throughout grassroots football?

Perhaps one of the reasons is that there are so many grassroots clubs and not enough coaches to go around. A recent study by the FA revealed that England is way behind other European countries such as Germany and Spain in terms of the number of professionally qualified coaches that exist. This study also revealed that whilst our European rivals respect and reward youth team coaches and academy coaches, the majority of English coaches see working with youngsters in academies as an inferior role and would prefer to work with adult teams or older age groups like U18 or U19. Consequently there is little interest for qualified coaches to work at grassroots level, where they are neither rewarded financially for their work and time, nor respected by the parents or other volunteers that they work alongside.

Interestingly, Sir Trevor Brooking is now focusing a lot of his attention on the development of youth football and the FA seem to have finally realised that grassroots clubs across the country are the lifeblood of the game. The top academies send scouts out every weekend to watch amateur matches in the hope of spotting the next superstar; only then will they invite the player to join their academy to train with professionally qualified coaches.

A typical grassroots club will consist of about 15 to 20 teams ranging from U8 to U18 and nearly all those teams will be managed by a parent of one of the players in that team. Volunteers are vital to the game and it is worth noting that I greatly respect their dedication, hard work and commitment to allowing these children the opportunity to regularly play football. However, from my own experience, and that of fellow qualified coaches, there is quite a lot of damage being caused by have-a-go amateurs who really don’t know how to plan, deliver, or develop a coaching session that adequately meets the requirements of the players that they are training. In their defence, why should they know anything about player development or skill acquisition? The most likely reason that they are even there in the first place is probably because no-one else was willing to commit to a weekly training session and match.

What is the solution to this problem? If children across the country are experiencing this situation then it is only going to have a detrimental effect on the professional game and the English national side. The FA, in partnership with the Premier League, Football League and all its clubs, need to invest a lot of money in providing effective and easily accessible coaching courses to every grassroots club in the country. By this, it is not acceptable to say that volunteers have a Level 1 badge, as this is only an introduction to the game and not suited to long term player development. The new youth award modules are much better at preparing for the realities often faced, although even these are only an optional avenue and volunteers are not obliged to undertake such courses. Perhaps by raising the minimum requirements needed to run an amateur team we might solve some of these issues, but the likelihood is that potential volunteers might be put off by the work required.

A concerted effort to invest in employing full time coaches could be another option, with the majority of UEFA licensed coaches working in industries other than football due to a shortage of job opportunities in this field. These coaches could implement schemes at the grassroots clubs where they work  and help volunteers to understand why training players is not simply a matter of throwing them a ball and letting them get on with it. Coaching the coaches is a great way of maintaining the links between a football club and the local community and everyone would benefit from such a relationship. Alternatively, several full time employed coaches would be able to personally train the majority of teams at a club on a regular basis. They could also design a training programme to be utilised by the other volunteers and pass on their knowledge and expertise.

There are many possibilities as to how the current setup could be improved, and the examples I’ve used are by no means the only solutions. However, I am sure that we could definitely be doing a lot more to develop our youngsters and if the FA want to see England lifting a World Cup trophy in the future then they must act sooner rather than later.

Will Arsenal ‘find a way’ yet again?

Following a week in which Arsenal have beaten what many perceive to be the best team in Europe, can Arsenal ‘find a way’ yet again and secure another season of Champions League football?

Arsenal bowed out of the Champions League in midweek following a 2-0 away win against a Bayern Munich side that had already done the damage during the first leg at the Emirates.  Despite this, Arsene Wenger’s men still showed bundles of character to come away from the Allianz arena with the victory.

Arsenal followed this victory with a league win at Swansea, a team that have proven particularly on their own patch to be no mugs, and a team that took maximum points away from the Emirates earlier in the season.  It was another 2-0 away win for Arsenal in a week, all without their influential midfield dynamo Jack Wilshere.

In many recent seasons Arsenal have struggled for consistency synonymous with a team looking to quality for the Champions League, and season after season they put a late run together and find a way to seal their place in the following season’s competition.

With two massive wins, and just a importantly, two clean sheets under their belt, are the gunners starting to show signs of their now annual late season form which will see them dining at the top table of European football next season?

Aaron Sharp

Support for Torres all but gone

John Terry has come out and said this week that said that forever mis-firing striker Fernando Torres has the full support of the Chelsea dressing room, but is Torres’ list of allies at Stamford Bridge diminishing by the week?

One of the main briefs given to current Chelsea manager Rafa Benitez upon his appointment would have surely been to bring out the best in the £50m striker, particularly given their successful history together at Liverpool.  However, in recent weeks even Benitez’s patience with Torres’ seems to have all but disappeared and as a result considers January signing Demba Ba first choice striking option at Stamford Bridge.

There has also being growing unrest from the terraces for some time at Chelsea with regard to the form of the Spanish international.  Should Torres be substituted, it is met with ironic cheers from the stands and the squandering of chances is met with jeers.  It is clear that the Chelsea supporters, who it is worth noting have been extremely patient with their man throughout his troubled spell in west London, have had enough and are starting to believe that he may never re-discover the form of his Liverpool days.

Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich is not a man that likes to be proved wrong, certainly not when it has cost him £50m.  However, the list of people that still believe in Fernando Torres is shortening rapidly, could this be the summer Abramovich finally decides to cut his losses?

Aaron Sharp

Match Report – Charlton Athletic vs Millwall

Charlton’s poor home continued following this 2-0 defeat to local rivals Millwall at The Valley in yesterday’s lunchtime kick off.

Both sets of fans played their part in the build up to the game, whipping up a superb atmosphere almost unheard of for a game played so early in the day.  In truth however, the first half failed to live up to the atmosphere and was one of very few chances.

Millwall, who lost defender Karleigh Osborne early in the game perhaps had the better of the first chances, with both Dany N’Guessan and Liam Trotter finding the wrong side of the post.  Charlton did have their first half chances themselves with Bradley Pritchard and emerging youngster Callum Harriott forcing fine saves from lions keeper David Forde.

The second began with one way traffic, with the home side making a bee line for their rivals goal.  Yann Kermorgant came close with a drifted free kick which brushed the side netting, the Lawrie Wilson fired over at the back post following more good work from Kermorgant.

It was perhaps the Wilson miss that was to prove more costly for the Addicks, as within a minute they found themselves a goal down.  On-loan Richard Chaplow, who had been busy all afternoon got free on the left hand side and his low cross with his first touch by another loanee, striker Jermaine Easter.

It was to get worse for the home side when Millwall doubled their advantage, Bradley Pritchard, who had possibly been Charlton’s best performer on the day committed a fairly innocuous foul a full 35 yards from goal.  Shane Lowry, undeterred by the significant distance from goal, found David Button’s top corner with the expertly dispatched free kick.

From that moment on Charlton were going through the motions and were unable to mount a serious challenge to get themselves back into the game, partly down to some brilliant defending from Millwall captain Danny Shittu.  Shittu may not be the quickest, but the former Charlton youth product used all of his experience to keep his former team at bay in the closing stages.

Millwall now have an FA Cup semi final to look forward to and this win all but silences any possible relegation worries.  For Charlton, it is now just 4 home wins this season and with play-off chasing Bolton next to visit The Valley they could be waiting a little longer for their next home win.

Aaron Sharp

Why wouldn’t Ferdinand answer England call?

Sir Alex Ferguson has this week been very vocal that Rio Ferdinand may not answer the international olive branch offered by Roy Hodgson this week.

Ferdinand has always maintained since being overlooked for England’s Euro 2012 squad in favour of John Terry that he would not retire from international football despite his disappointment at seemingly being disregarded by England manager Hodgson.

If Ferdinand still held a grudge over his Euro 2012 omission after this time, then perhaps he should have himself called time on his own international career and not given Hodgson the option of recalling him following a string of performances which has elevated him to the top of the league in terms of English central defenders.

In hinting that Ferdinand may not join up with the England squad for their upcoming World Cup qualifiers with San Marino and Montenegro, Ferguson had pointed at the routine that Manchester United follow, tailored to the Ferdinand and his injury history in order to maintain his availability.  I am sure the England medical staff are sensitive enough to Ferdinand’s injury record to take such a routine on board and implement it themselves if needed.

Following United’s 1-0 victory over Reading yesterday evening, Ferguson informed the football world of Ferdinand’s intention to join up with the England squad this week.  However, having been very clear that he would not turn his back on England following his omission last year, Ferdinand joining up with Roy Hodgson’s squad should have never been in doubt.

Aaron Sharp

Premier League on the decline?

With there being no English representation in the last eight of the Champions League this season, there has been much debate on whether or not the Premier League is of the quality that it was just a few years ago.  Well, it depends how you look at it.

It was only last season that Premier League Chelsea were upsetting the odds to win their maiden European crown.  In the last 10 seasons, the Premier League has produced 8 Champions League finalists, with Liverpool, Manchester United and Chelsea with one win apiece from those finals.

Having no English team at the quarter final stage of this competition is unheard of, but it is not a reflection on the Premier League as a product.  From an entertainment point of view, the Premier League remains the best league in the world.  It is still the most watched around the world and is the most competitive.  It is perhaps an overused saying that on their day any team in the league can beat any other.

That’s not to say that rival leagues La Liga and the Bundesliga are not right up there with the Premier League.  In terms of quality at the top end of their respective tables, the top sides such as Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund have all shown they have edged ahead of the top teams that the Premier League has to offer Europe (with the help of the odd contentious refereeing decision).

Although rival European leagues may be able to boast superior superpowers at present, what those league offer beneath those is nowhere near the standard of the Premier League.  La Liga is a prime example of this, how often have we seen Barcelona routinely trounce all comers in their league, almost to the point where the El Clasico clash with Real Madrid only La Liga game worth watching as a spectacle.

It is the all round competitiveness across the board that is keeping the Premier League on an even keel with the rest of Europe.

Aaron Sharp