Category Archives: The Layman

Rooney, Owen and the English distrust of success

There is something in the English psyche that seems to dislike success and actively wish for successful people to fall.

Perhaps it is jealousy, perhaps it is our innate love of equality or maybe we believe all successful people to have an inherent character flaw as that is the only way they can be more successful than us.

Whatever, enough psycho-analysing, let us bring in the football element to this. Two stories this week that exemplify this negative behaviour trait involve two one-time saviours of English football.

The first was the ongoing story regarding Michael Owen and his inability to find himself a new club following his release by Manchester United.

Many people (myself included) felt that his hunger for the game had gone as he chose not to join a ‘smaller’ club and didn’t sign for the two ‘big European clubs’ he said had been in to sign him before the window closed

The common consensus was that Owen had more interest in his horse racing stable now than his football and this was deemed to be a bad thing as Owen was doing a disservice to football; the sport that made him.

Clearly, after signing for Stoke, his commitment is still there but even if he did want to concentrate on his horse racing, why is that a problem?

Here is a man who does very well for himself outside of football and secured an outside interest; something that footballers often fail to do and occasionally with tragic consequences.

Perhaps it was an underlying resentment of Owen’s success in two separate fields; football and horse racing that led to the anger directed at him before he eventually signed for the Potters yesterday.

The other example is that of Wayne Rooney who has seen himself fall behind Robin Van Persie in the pecking order of strikers at Manchester United, ruled out for a month with injury, go public with his weight problems resulting from his lifestyle in the off-season and United being linked with further strikers this week.

Ultimately, Rooney has had an outstanding ten years at the highest level of football and deserves both a break from football and the opportunity to live a ‘normal’ lifestyle in his downtime during the summer.

This is a man who has spoken of the shape his body is in after 10 years of rough and tumble, playing through injury on painkilers and being, in his words, unable to walk for the first 30 minutes of each morning after a matchday.

If, in all of this, he has lost the hunger (metaphorical rather than physical), that is his business and not ours, no matter how much we want to bellyache about it and cite Olympic examples of contrast from our high horse.

Should United want to sell him, clubs will queue around Old Trafford to snap him up, regardless of whether his commitment is on the wane or his physical condition isn’t at its best; his talents remain.

Although, for all my talk of inbuilt English distrust of success, perhaps the opposite is true with regard to Owen and Rooney; they’re so skilled and have so much talent, the anger is at the fact they possibly haven’t made enough of their incredible abilities.

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Michael Owen; seeing a career from beginning to end (Video)

For a person of my vintage, the career of Michael Owen earmarks just how old we now are and have to act.

For someone of my age, he was the first player to be built up to be a world superstar that would finally fulfil England’s destiny to bring home a major championship. To illustrate my point, I believe in my old room at my parent’s house, there is a yearly annual style book entitled “Michael Owen; the story so far of English football’s great hope” printed in 1999 or so. Indeed.

He followed in the lines of David Beckham, Alan Shearer, Paul Gascoigne, Glenn Hoddle, Chris Waddle and countless others who were built up beyond their talents (football’s example of the Peter Principle) by the press and the country at large. The stories of Wayne Rooney and Theo Walcott to name but two are further examples of this truism.

However, at a young age, you really do believe that your childhood hero will make England great again and THAT goal against Argentina firmly cemented Owen’s place in the hearts of a million kids my age.

Subsequently, we have seen his career stumble and fall and despite winning pretty much everything there is to win in the English game, one always wonders what might have been. For my generation, he is probably the first career of a big time player we have seen begin, middle and end.

He is unlikely to win anything more in his career but his move to Stoke shows he still has the hunger at least. This is not the time to dissect his career so let us enjoy him doing what he has always done best and probably enjoyed most; scoring goals for his country.

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Will careful additions pay off for Reading?

There are a number of approaches used by clubs promoted to the Premier League to try to achieve the important goal of retaining top flight status.

One school of thought is that the players who got you into the position to get promoted in the first place should be given the chance to prove themselves in the next division and the confidence and momentum derived from a successful promotion campaign will continue on to the next season.

This approach is becoming less utilised as the TV deals get bigger and bigger and clubs go for broke to stay in the top division.

Another approach is to keep the basic spine of your successful team in place and add some extra personal to your squad in the form of one or two first team starters and then some added fringe players to improve the depth of the squad.

Swansea and Norwich last season very successfully took this approach and the results were clear.

The last theory is to go for broke and splash a lot of cash on big name players and hoping that they will gel and their quality will see you through.

Queens Park Rangers took this approach last season and it was justified, albeit in the tightest possible circumstances on THAT last day of the season.

This summer, despite probably having a similar financial might to that of QPR following a recent takeover, Reading have gone more down the Swansea and Norwich road.

The bulk of the squad remains in place and the style of play remains similar, based on the admittedly feeble premise of pre-season friendlies.

Experienced players at the highest level such as Nicky Shorey, Pavel Pogrebnyak and Danny Guthrie have been signed up alongside young Championship players with everything to prove like Gareth McCleary, Chris Gunter and Adrian Mariappa. Premier League experience is vital to dispense advice but equally as crucial is young players with a lot of potential and everything to prove.

The likes of Shorey, Pogrebnyak and Guthrie join fellow senior professionals such as Jason Roberts and Ian Harte to provide the former while McCleary, Gunter and Mariappa join Alex Pearce, Jem Karacan and Adam Le Fondre in the latter category.

The typical Reading style started by Alan Pardew and continued by Steve Coppell and Brian McDermott will continue as the focus of attacks and inspiration comes from the wingers and busy, pain-in-the-arse strikers augmented by an unchanging and stingy back five.

This style took the Premier League by storm in the 2006/07 season when the Royals finished 8th, but slumped the relegation the next season.

The widely accepted reason for this slump was a loss of motivation and desire from key individuals and perhaps this is the reason why the club have gone for a number of signings this time around to keep the squad base fresh.

Whilst they have made more signings than most of their rivals, cash has not been liberally splashed as three of the six signings have been snapped up on freebies which suggests McDermott is eager to attempt to keep team spirit high by not bringing in the big names which, given how the team spirit was the defining factor in their meteoric rise up the table last season, it is a crucial element to keep.

The most successful promoted teams in the last decade or so (Fulham, Stoke, Wigan and Blackburn and Bolton until last season) have been the ones that have best kept to their playing styles and slowly building on that year on year.

However, for every team that has done this successfully, there are others that have tried the same approach and failed spectacularly, including Reading themselves a few seasons ago.

What Reading have in their favour though is a manager in the mould of Tony Pulis at Stoke who knows his team’s game inside out, spends money wisely and has one of the better records in the transfer market.

It probably will not always be pretty, but much like last season where they were ruthlessly efficient in the final two thirds of the season, Reading should have enough about them to survive this season.   

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Today marks another kicking for the poor League Cup

In all sports, there is a certain amount of tradition that must be stuck too for pure nostalgia based reasons.

However, in all of these sports, tradition takes something of a battering when the big £ sign is dangled out in front of them.

An example most pertinent in this is football where everything from terracing to 3pm kick offs have changed since the advent of the Sky $, some times for the better, some times for the worse.

But one tradition that has changed this season, starting with today, is the schedule for the League Cup (or Capital One Cup to give it’s correct name now), although it would appear not for monetary reasons.

Fans of bigger clubs may not be aware of this tradition, but for fans of clubs in the second tier and lower, there is an exact way the season should start.

The first weekend of the season is a league game, followed by a tie in the first round of the League Cup on a Tuesday or Wednesday and then another league game the weekend after.

However, this season, the first round of the League Cup starts today (before the Football League season) and ties continue on tomorrow, Monday and Tuesday this week.

The reason behind the switch appears not for monetary reasons as none of the games are televised as far as I can make out and, with the Olympics ongoing for the Saturday and Sunday at least, one would imagine the crowds are hardly going to be bumper too, even more so with the overexposure of football this summer.

The Football League season starts on the same day as the Premier League season this year as that tends to be the way when there is a major international competition during the summer which suggests the League Cup would be starting before the league games kick off anyway.

But the reason for shifting some of the games forward to the weekend rather than midweek appears to be that clubs wanted more preparation time for the start of their league campaigns.

The change in fixture times was authorised by the Football League, who run both the cup and league competition of course.

In a competition which takes a kicking from the larger clubs who field largely reserve teams, this is something of a even lower ebb when the smaller clubs prioritise the league so blatantly over this particular cup competition.

They have every right to do so of course, even more so than the way the larger clubs treat the competition, as they have less of a chance of winning the competition.

But still, another nail into the coffin of the competition perhaps?

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The anatomy of a modern football transfer rumour

Modern day transfer rumours have something of the whiff of the chicken-and-egg situation about them when it comes to the question of where does the waves of gossip come from?

A perfect example is today’s episode in the ongoing Robin van Persie saga.

At around 2pm, Twitter exploded into life with rumours that the Dutch striker was on the verge of signing for Manchester United.

Various unconfirmed reports stated that the player was on course to sign for the Old Trafford outfit as soon as this afternoon after the Red Devils had made an improved offer for the striker to Arsenal.

At a similar time, the odds from most bookies on van Persie joining United plummeted to odds on levels.

After these two events, the national newspapers and Sky Sports came into play and built on the story all without real basis for their stories seeing as United are currently away on tour and were preparing for a friendly against Barcelona.

Thus, no chance to get player quotes and it being too early to quiz Sir Alex Ferguson to get information outside of idle speculation and the ubiquitous “unnamed source”.

Therefore, the chicken-and-egg conundrum comes from where did all of this start?

Everyone knows there is no such thing as a poor bookie so perhaps they culled the odds on the striker joining United after a tip-off and Twitter users put two and two together and assumed a transfer was on the cards and it snowballed from there.

Or, perhaps one influential Tweeter posted the rumour and the way the social media platform works led to the reaction of the press and bookies?

Perhaps more far fetched but agents are known to leak information to the press to attempt to engineer a move so a new tactic for them is to do the same to influential Tweeters and bloggers and thus spreading the rumour like wildfire as happened today?

In theory, the odds on van Persie joining United should have plummeted in the wake of Roberto Mancini saying the Dutchman would not be joining Manchester City as the three widely recognised options for the striker are City, United and Juventus.

As it happens, van Persie has not joined United yet (despite Sky Sports News building up the inevitably of the move to stratospheric levels), Ferguson not confirming a new offer has been made and suggesting the ball is still in Arsenal’s court and the odds on van Persie joining United standing at 1/5 at the time of writing.

In essence, very little would appear to have changed in the situation, on the face of it at least, apart from lots of Tweets, column inches, broadcasting minutes have been filled and we’re all left just as confused as where van Persie will end up and where this huge tidal wave of speculation came from.

One thing is for sure, however, and that is we can fully expect a similar situation to happen again at least once this summer.

Blatter correctly identifies a key problem in African football

 

There is a school of thought in football punditry and football fandom that feels as if everything Sepp Blatter does is a veiled insult or threat to British (read English) football.

He commits to introducing goal-line technology after it benefits England in Euro 2012? Why didn’t he do it after World Cup 2010 when England suffered at the hands of it?

He criticises the number of foreign players in club teams? Surely a veiled insult towards the top Premier League clubs?

He awards the World Cup in 2018 to Russia following investigations by the British press into corruption at FIFA in the weeks leading up to the vote?…Yeah…fair point on that one.

Anywho, FIFA head honcho and part-time Churchill dog impersonator Blatter has said that African teams will not win the World Cup until they place their faith in their homegrown coaches. Cue ‘Little Englander’ point of view where it’s a subtle hint towards England for their reliance in the past on foreign coaches

Whatever. The Swiss said: “A coach must have a feeling for the heart and soul of his players – look at Nigeria for instance. The players may be in Europe but the coach must understand, deeply, the mentality of the players. How can someone from outside do this?”

Aside from the rather patronising and mildly racist tone, he has something of a point despite it being expressed poorly. Either that or I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt.

Many countries in African football tend to employ homegrown coaches in the qualifying stages of major tournaments and then panic, employ usually French or Balkan coaches on six month contracts for major tournaments and then go back to another homegrown coach again for the next qualifying campaign.

This does not breed consistency or help tactical evolution in teams for them to grow together. It smacks of something of a panic move and happens very often. It is terribly short termist as it does not give the national teams adequate preparation time for tournament football as the plans of the previous coach are thrown aside.

There are a wealth of problems in African football including financial corruption at the governing level, the lack of youth facilities and the hawking of talented teenagers across Europe and there is no one silver bullet to help solve the problem and ensure the talent in African national teams results in corresponding success but Blatter has identified a key problem, albeit not particularly elegantly or humbly.

 

Gary Johnson; marketing genius? Perhaps not

 

As more and more ideas get used up, there is less room for innovation in human life. After all, once someone invented the George Foreman grill (probably not old George) what’s the point in trying to think up something new to go above and beyond it.

(That said, the George Foreman is a superior version of the good old-fashioned Breville so maybe that’s a bad example.)

Regardless, as innovative ideas become more difficult to think of, it is becomes clearer to see why some ideas were never used in the first place.

On this subject, we come to Yeovil Town who took a rather different approach to the traditional pre-season squad photo.

The players did it whilst not wearing a shirt (it was a sunny day thankfully) to highlight the fact that the club have yet to pick up a shirt sponsor for the forthcoming season.

Manager Gary Johnson explains: “If we haven’t got a shirt sponsor then we can’t wear the shirt. There’s been a lot of interest but we need to make sure they are paying the right sort of money to be on our shirts. It is a little bit tongue-in-cheek and it was my idea for the staff to keep their shirts on.”

Aside from the fact that there is very little evidence to suggest that a shirt not having a sponsor on the front of it means a player cannot physically put it on, there are other problems.

Notably, the opportunity for any local business to sponsor the football team in the town was probably quite well known unless Yeovil’s marketing department is run by a man with Homer Simpson levels of incompetency.

It is, therefore, rather unlikely that seeing 20-odd blokes without a shirt is on is going to make businesses think “hang on a second here” unless there is a Chippendales-style service in the West Country town that was thinking of putting in and giving the players a job on the side.

Given Johnson concedes it was his idea (and something that was tongue-in-cheek thus making his whole piece slightly irrelevant but whatever, we plough on) it was presumably a case of the manager saying to the marketing team he was going to run with this idea and the suits thinking that he wouldn’t see it through.

Either that or the ploy succeeds Johnson is a new marketing genius who might well spend most of his days drinking whiskey, making sexist remarks and staring out of a skyscraper window. Time will tell.

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Football will continue to dominate the national mood despite the Games

The UK is rightly bathing in the glory of Team GB in the Olympic Games thus far, but the Olympic buzz will not lead to an overhaul of the national sporting interest.

Every four-year cycle, especially when Team GB excels in the Olympics, or in the wake of outstanding achievements like the rugby World Cup in 2003 or The Ashes in 2005, the dominance of football on the national consciousness is predicted to end.

With such a superb effort by Team GB in the Games so far and the natural juxtaposition of the football team’s not doing as well (relatively speaking of course) the predictions have come out again about the status of football in this country curtailing in favour of cycling or rowing or track and field.

Like every other time in the last decade or so however, this will not happen.

For all of the inspiring sporting moments over the last eight days and those still to come over the next seven days, by the end of the month once the season is in full swing, football will retain its place at the top of the nation’s sporting interests.

It is a rather depressing state of affairs that little can challenge the omnipotence of football, but that is just the way it appears to be.

Even while the Olympics is in full swing, augmented by the two best teams in Test cricket going at it, football news still proliferates the media, taking up at least three or four pages in the national newspapers every day.

The chicken and egg situation of whether it is the media satisfying the public need for football news or the importance of football being overplayed by the press is the eternal question but the key point is that this incessant coverage means football remains top of the tree.

The stories of Jessica Ennis, Mo Farah, Ben Ainslie, Victoria Pendleton and countless others are fantastic and awe-inspiring but perhaps what makes them so is that they are so fresh and new due to their relative lack of coverage as opposed to football.

Come the end of August, regardless of however much it disgusts us at the moment, football will be back taking up the majority of the sports pages day in, day out with all of the sports we have become semi-experts on over the last seven days reduced to minority coverage in the ‘news in brief” sections.

We have been here time and time before where it looks like football’s dominance will be ended by other sports, but it has remained top of the tree and there is no reason to believe anything else will change come the start of the Premier League season.

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