Category Archives: The Panenka

Reo Coker continues his downward spiral (Video)

Rewind back to February 2006 and Alan Pardew’s newly-promoted West Ham side have just beaten Arsenal, who would eventually reach the Champions League final that season, a team that contained messrs Thierry Henry, Robert Pires, Dennis Bergkamp, Robin Van Persie and Freddie Ljungberg, 3-2 at Highbury. In fact they had not just beaten them, they had deservedly beaten them, particularly in a first half that saw take a two goal lead. At the heart of everything good about the Hammers that night was their skipper, Nigel Reo-Coker.

It was not just the goal scored by Reo-Coker, shown in the video below when he capitalises on a horrendous mistake from Sol Campbell to powerfully stride through to tuck away the opening goal, but his entire performance was simply outstanding. The then 21-year-old looked like he had the drive, passion, commitment and technical ability to cement himself as one of the country’s outstanding midfielders and indeed it was no surprise when he was placed on the stand-by list for England’s 2006 World Cup squad, though he eventually lost the chance to compete in the tournament due to a back problem.

However, those heady months in 2006 have proved difficult to live up to ever since for Reo-Coker, who now six years on finds himself signing a short-term deal at struggling Championship side Ipswich Town. So where did it all go wrong? Reports began the following season after the World Cup, a season in which West Ham struggled and only stayed up on the last day courtesy of Carlos Tevez, that Reo-Coker’s performances and attitude, both on and off the pitch was beginning to take a turn for the worse. Suddenly, the West Ham keeper was being accused of arrogance and disdain and was dubbed as the ringleader of the “Baby Bentley brigade”, as dubbed by incoming Hammers boss Alan Curbishley.

The tag proved hard to shift and the 2007-08 season saw Reo-Coker move to Aston Villa and although he made a bright start under Martin O’Neill, the midfielder was eventually released at the end of the 2010-11 season after failing to make a considerable impact in the Villa first team. The former England Under-21 midfielder’s next stop was Bolton and although by all accounts he was one of the Trotters’ better players in a miserable season, he was still unable to halt Bolton’s slide into the Championship, upon which he exercised an option to release himself from his contract.

Perhaps Reo-Coker was under the impression that there would be offers forthcoming from Premier League clubs. There is no doubt however that at the age of 28, Reo-Coker finds himself in danger of being on the footballing scrapheap unless his time at Ipswich proves a success.

Adam Mazrani

Is Jermain Defoe the unluckiest English striker?

When the team news filtered through that Danny Welbeck would be partnering Wayne Rooney at the expense of Jermain Defoe against San Marino, the logic of the move was apparent. Against an outfit that would offer no space for England’s attackers, Roy Hodgson preferred the movement of Welbeck to in theory, stretch the opposition into places they would hitherto be unwilling to go to, rather than the more static Defoe.

Of course, the ploy worked with Welbeck scoring two deftly taken finishes. Indeed, in a season where he could find opportunities lacking for him at Manchester United due to the arrival of Robin Van Persie, the goals will have done Welbeck’s confidence no harm at all.

However, spare a thought for Defoe. The Tottenham striker has been in breathtaking form so far this season and has been a key man in the recovery of Andre Villas-Boas’ team from a shaky start, playing as a lone striker, a role that many often said was beyond Defoe’s capabilities. Indeed, the 30-year-old was in fact picked ahead of Welbeck for England’s opening World Cup qualifiers against Moldova, where he found the net, and Ukraine, where he was only denied a superb goal by a questionable decision from the referee.

So what did Defoe do to warrant Hodgson’s decision to select Welbeck on Friday night? Surely on a night where goals were to be the order of the day, Defoe’s knack of finding the net for over 10 years now was worth considering? However, the move simply seems to sum up the Spurs striker’s England career in a nutshell. No matter how in form he may be, for one reason or another, Defoe is never quite the first choice that he often should be for England.

Evidence of this stems back to 2004, when Defoe, in great form during his first spell at Tottenham should have been taken to the European Championships in Portugal that summer. Instead, the conservative Sven Goran-Eriksson chose to take the out-of-form Darius Vassell and after Rooney limped off injured against the hosts in the quarter-finals, it was Vassell who came on and produced a limp performance and miss the vital penalty in the shoot-out. That is not to say that Defoe would have scored or made an impact, simply that on form there was only one man to take on that plane.

Similarly, by the time the 2006 World Cup had arrived, Defoe was ignored at the expense of the uncapped for his club let alone his country Theo Walcott. In truth, Defoe had not had the greatest of club seasons for Tottenham, scoring only nine goals. However, that remained nine goals more than Walcott had managed and again, once Michael Owen was ruled out of the tournament with an injury, the like-for-like replacement in Defoe was nowhere to be seen.

Into Steve McClaren’s reign and initially Defoe was first-choice as Owen recovered from his serious knee injury. However, despite scoring goals in McClaren’s opening games, the ex-Middlesbrough manager seemed to crumble under the media pressure and would often resort to Peter Crouch rather than go with Defoe’s natural goalscoring instincts. The eventual failure to qualify for Euro 2008 robbed Defoe, who by then was scoring regularly for Portsmouth, of another major tournament.

Under Fabio Capello, Defoe finally appeared to have the backing of the manager and seemed to carve a niche for himself as a super-sub capable of finding the net. Indeed, after an impressive run of scoring for his country, Defoe finally made his appearance at a major tournament at the 2010 World Cup and after Emile Heskey was dropped from the starting line-up, Defoe was finally awarded his big chance with a start against Slovenia in England’s must-win final group game. The Beckton-born striker had scored 24 times for Spurs that season and showed exactly why by stealing in to score England’s winner and put them through to the next round, where they would of course be defeated by Germany.

However, as Capello began qualification for last summer’s Euros, Defoe appeared once again to be first-choice and he bagged a hat-trick in England’s opening qualifier against Bulgaria. However, at club level, Defoe’s form began to suffer as Harry Redknapp preferred to partner Peter Crouch and then Emmanuel Adebayor with Rafael Van der Vaart and Defoe slowly slipped away from the England reckoning. Though he did travel to Euro 2012, Defoe was only awarded a few minutes of action by Roy Hodgson in their opening game against France, with the far more inexperienced Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Welbeck and Andy Carroll chosen ahead of him.

Now we enter into a new qualification campaign and it appears like it is de ja vu for Defoe yet again. So what is the problem? In the past we were told that his link up play was not what it should be to succeed at international level. That may be the case but as his form for Tottenham this season has showed, Defoe is more than capable of playing the lone striker. Regardless, Defoe has 17 goals in 51 appearances for his country, the majority of which have come as a substitute, giving him one of the best goals per minutes played ratio in the squad.

Perhaps it is his age that counts against him, but Defoe is hardly calling for his zimmerframe at 30 years old. Whatever the reason is, Defoe looks unlikely to ever fulfil his potential at international level and it is fair to say that in some ways, it’s through no fault of his own.

Adam Mazrani

Henrikh Mkhitaryan leads Armenian charge (Video)

Armenian football certainly has not had much the shout out since their independence from the Soviet Union in 1992. However, thanks to Herikh Mkhitaryan of Shakhtar Donetsk, hope abounds that though it may not be in this qualification campaign, that the minnows from Eastern Europe might just be about to cause a splash.

Indeed, Armenia almost qualified for the last European Championships, only to be denied a place in the qualification play-offs after a controversial defeat to the Republic of Ireland in Dublin, a game marked by a dodgy red card given to their captain and goalkeeper. However, despite being down to 10 men and 2-0 down, the Armenians managed to pull a goal back and had Irish nerves jangling as they pressed for an equaliser. The goalscorer that day? Henrikh Mkhitaryan.

On first glance he may appear just another Eastern European with an unpronounceable name but as the video below shows, Mkhitaryan looks one of the finest prospects to come out of the region in a very long time. Very much an attacking midfielder, Mkhitaryan not only possesses creative nous and an eye for a pass, but crucially is a huge goal threat, as Italy found out on Friday night in Yerevan, when a goal from the 23-year-old looked like it was about to give the hosts an unlikely point against their more illustrious opponents before Italian class brought two late goals.

That goal was no isolated incident for Mkhitaryan, who top-scored in Armenia’s valiant attempt at qualification for Euro 2012, as well as scoring over 10 goals in the last two sesason’s for his club side. Indeed, Mkhitaryan is currently the Ukrainian league’s top scorer with 14 goals after only 11 matches played. That is some record, no matter who might sneer at the standard of opposition he faces.

Moves to a Western European heavyweight have already been mooted and if Mkhitaryan can keep up his sensational form then it is surely a matter of when, not if, the young man moves.

Adam Mazrani

Marco Reus – the future of German football (Video)

British audiences caught just a glimpse of Marco Reus’ talent at Euro 2012 at Euro 2012 when the then Borussia Monchengladbach attacker cracked in a volley to secure Germany’s victory over Greece in the Quarter Finals. However, before these last couple of weeks, you will have been hard pressed to find an English football watcher who had truly seen him play.

Undeniably, that will have changed now after 10 days or so that first saw Reus, now of German champions Borussia Dortmund, score at the Etihad as the Bundesliga outfit threatened to run riot against Premier League champions Manchester City. Just over a week later, Reus scored twice against Ireland as part of his country’s impressive 6-1 win to ensure that if anyone was previously not aware of the 23-year-old’s ability, then they certainly are now.

Reus hit 21 goals last season for Monchengladbach and arguably outshone much heralded international compatriots such as Mario Gotze, Toni Kroos and Thomas Muller. However, when it came to the Euros, Joachim Low seemed reticent to unleash the forward on defences that might have been equally as unaware of him as the general public, instead preferring Lukas Podolski, who disappointed throughout the summer showpiece.

However, Reus’ summer move back to Borussia Dortmund, the club where he began his career, appears to have taken on his game to another level, with six goals already in nine appearances this season, as well as three goals for his country.

Reus’ greatest talent is his elusiveness. Ask German football watchers what his position is and an answer will not be forthcoming, such is Reus’ versatility and adaptability across the entire front line. He is no simple finisher, like a Klose, Podolski or arguably a Muller, nor is he a creator in the mould of an Ozil, Kroos or Gotze. Indeed, Reus is arguably a hybrid of the two, capable of scoring goals with regularity as well possessing the creative vision to unlock defences.

Certainly, after Manchester City travel to Dortmund for their return European clash, British defences will be happy not to see Reus again for a while.

Adam Mazrani

Which of England’s Under 21 stars look set to make the step up?

As England thrashed San Marino to get their World Cup qualification campaign back on track, it was refreshing to see so many notable Under-21 internationals take their place in the starting line-up. Joe Hart, Kyle Walker,Tom Cleverley, Theo Walcott, Danny Welbeck and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain have all been recent Under-21 internationals while going further back, Leighton Baines and Michael Carrick were also regulars at that level.

So which of the current crop of Under-21 stars, who on Friday defeated Serbia 1-0 in the opening leg of their play-off to reach the European Championships next summer, can expect to make the grade up to senior honours?

Jack Butland – Already an England senior squad regular and will surely only be denied a multitude of senior caps by the relative youth of undisputed first choice Joe Hart. However, can expect to have a future in and around the senior squad.

Adam Smith – A Tottenham Hotspur youngster who has only made a handful of appearances at Under-21 level and at the age of 21 already, appears unlikely to appear for the senior squad at right-back.

Craig Dawson – England’s match-winner on the night with a well-taken penalty, Dawson’s chances of senior caps will undoubtedly have been helped by John Terry’s retirement. Enjoyed a place in the Olympics squad with Team GB but perhaps just lacks the pace needed to play at the top level.

Steven Caulker – A player surely destined for a future in the national team. Already a senior cap after making his debut against Italy in August, Caulker is being earmarked by some as Terry’s natural replacement. A near-certainty.

Danny Rose – Appears to be a favourite of Stuart Pearce but the converted midfielder will have difficulties getting ahead of Ashley Cole or Leighton Baines in the near future, with Kieran Gibbs and Ryan Bertrand waiting in reserve.

Jordan Henderson – A surprise member of Roy Hodgson’s Euro 2012 squad, Henderson was once deemed certain to make the step up only for a poor senior debut against France to be followed by disappointing form after his big money move from Sunderland to Liverpool. With the likes of Cleverley and Wilshere manning the midfield, Henderson will need to up his game considerably to have a chance of senior success.

Jack Rodwell – Was highly regarded by previous senior coach Fabio Capello, only for injuries to curtail his progress. A summer move to Manchester City should increase his chances of selection considering Hodgson’s apparent pre-disposition towards picking players from the bigger clubs, although his form at the Etihad has hardly merited international selection so far. Has time on his side though and should mature nicely to provide a nice foil for Cleverley and Wilshere in the future.

Thomas Ince – A year or so ago, Ince was on the footballing scrapheap after being released by Liverpool. However, a move to Blackpool under Ian Holloway has reignited the son of former England regular Paul’s career and has set the Championship alight this season with some sparkling displays. Could well come into contention if suggestions of a January move to Manchester United materialise but could find his path on the wing blocked by several outstanding young talents.

Wilfried Zaha – A player that has really stepped up to the mark this season with some virtuoso displays for Crystal Palace that has left many Championship defenders with twisted blood. Can play either as a wide man or up front and considering England’s lack of senior striking options at this moment in time, if Zaha were to continue his development then he could become impossible for Hodgson to ignore.

Marvin Sordell – A clear favourite of Pearce and has performed with distinction at Under-21 level, although he underwhelmed at the London Olympics and has only scored once in three appearances for a struggling Bolton side so far this season in the Championship. Is only 19 but just appears to lack the necessary quality to succeed at the top level and is an unlikely candidate for senior international honours unless Pearce was to get the job.

Raheem Sterling – Was rewarded for some electric displays so far in this breakthrough season for him at Liverpool with a place in the senior England squad for the September qualifiers with Moldova and Ukraine. Looks to have the world at his feet at the moment with his combination of pace, trickery, dribbling ability and ice-cool composure for someone so young. Another who will be receiving the senior call sooner rather than later.

In sum, the future looks relatively promising for the Three Lions with six of the 11 above already either a part of the senior squad or firmly on Roy Hodgson’s radar. While of course the eventual number that make the break through is of course dependent on injuries and form, perhaps those who criticise the lack of young players coming through in the English game would be wise to temper their opinions just for now.

Adam Mazrani

Bale proves his worth on the international stage (Video)

There have been suggestions in the past that Gareth Bale perhaps lack a touch of commitment to the Welsh cause, particularly after pulling out of a number of friendlies with little niggles and injuries. The allegations increased when Bale pulled out of Great Britain’s London 2012 Olympic squad, citing an injury that would keep him out of Tottenham’s pre-season campaign, only for him to line up in Andre Villas-Bas’ very first friendly in charge.

However, on a rainy night at the Cardiff City Stadium, Bale answered his critics and then some with a virtuoso performance that stole three points for Chris Coleman’s men from the jaws of defeat. In a Welsh performance that carried much effort but little in terms of quality, the Spurs winger was a shining light, consistently driving at the Scottish backline on either wing and always looking to take players on and cause havoc with his electric pace.

Bale had already gone close with a couple of rasping efforts, as well as put chances on a plate that were spurned by the likes of Aaron Ramsey and Steve Morison, when a typically driving run into the box brought his side a penalty. Closer inspection of Shaun Maloney’s “challenge” showcased that Bale had in fact almost tripped himself up, a sign of the all-too-easy falls to ground that are a black mark against the winger’s outstanding ability. However, the winger picked himself up and showed good composure under pressure to slot home.

Bale’s winner was simply out of the top drawer. Question marks may be raised against the Scottish defence, particularly Charlie Adam who offered little to no resistance as he allowed the Number 11 to drift past him. However, no one in the ground was expecting the 30-yard blockbuster that rocketed into the top corner and sent the Cardiff City Stadium and the Welsh bench in particular, into ecstasy. Chris Coleman’s first win as Wales manager was secured and almost solely down to the brilliance of Bale.

Despite the win, Wales still look unlikely qualifiers for Brazil 2014, particularly with Belgium, Croatia and Serbia ahead of them but on Friday night, Gareth Bale showed that at least for him personally, it would not be for the lack of trying.

Adam Mazrani

Edgar Davids move a risky one for Barnet (Video)

The news that Edgar Davids was signing on at Barnet to be joint Head Coach as well as a player was a shock to say the least on Friday morning. It has certainly been a long time since the Underhill club were making such headlines, if they ever have, and it undoubtedly will provide give the team a boost as they strive to move off the bottom of League Two.

However, perhaps the excitement of Bees fans should be tempered somewhat when the stark realities of the move are analysed. From a managerial sense, Davids has no experience of coaching at any senior level. Beginning your managerial career anywhere is tough but for the former Holland international to cut his teeth League Two at a Barnet side rock-bottom and currently sliding out of the Football League, is brave to be optimistic and doomed to be pessimistic. Davids may well be up to date in his knowledge of the game but how much does he really know about the style of football necessary to compete in League Two, or indeed about the calibre of player he will be dealing it? These are all generalisations but questions that simply must be asked.

Of course, there are those who suggest that the Davids “coaching” role is a mere publicity stunt, that his actual involvement will be on the pitch. However, at the age of 39, the sort of tigerish performances seen in the video below have long been a thing of the past. In his pomp at Juventus, Barcelona and for a very brief period, Tottenham, Davids was simply outstanding. However, as Spurs fans found out towards the end of his spell at White Hart Lane in 2007, Davids was very much a footballer in decline and now over five years on, it is inconceivable to think that he will have improved much, even at League Two level.

Indeed, the last time the Dutchman appeared on the football radar was in all ill-fated stint in 2010 at Crystal Palace, where the 37-year-old suffered in an unfamiliar left-back role before departing after only three months. Of course at the bottom of League Two, the level may well be more suited to his talents and one admires Davids’ desire to remain in the game considering how much he has already achieved. The fear is that his arrival at Underhill will perhaps paper over the cracks of the real task at hand: to remain in the Football League.

Adam Mazrani

Did Manchester City sell the wrong midfielder?

As the summer went on and it became clear that Roberto Mancini was looking to add one if not two central-midfield players to his Manchester City squad, it was clear that someone already at the club was to be sold. Clearly, it was not going to be Yaya Toure, David Silva or Samir Nasri so that left the choice between Gareth Barry and Nigel De Jong. With the latter hardly a first-team regular and with his contract expiring at the end of the season, Mancini eventually chose to dispose of his services for a cut-price fee to AC Milan rather than that of Barry’s.

However, judging by City’s defensive problems and the openness of their midfield, some have come to question the manager’s decision to sell De Jong. Indeed, Paul Merson in particular has voiced his concerns that Mancini may have made the wrong choice, arguing that City’s midfield is simply far too offensive-minded and is missing the combative defensive-work that De Jong was only too happy to provide in abundance.

The Dutchman had his critics during his time in Manchester, notably after the 2010 World Cup final where De Jong was widely condemned for his kung-fun like “tackle” on Spain’s Xabi Alonso only to then break Newcastle winger Hatem Ben Arfa’s leg when the Magpies visited the Etihad a few months later. However, one thing that could never be put against De Jong was his commitment to the team and in particular, his ability to play the “holding” defensive-midfield role superbly.

At times this season, it appears that is exactly what City are lacking, particularly in their failure to close games out effectively, such as against Real Madrid in the Champions League and against Arsenal. On occasions when City would have a slender lead last season, Mancini would often throw on De Jong to just shore up his side and ensure that opposition attackers did not take up dangerous spaces between the lines of defence and midfield. The move also allowed Yaya Toure to move further up the pitch and it was a combination that would eventually help bring City the title in the latter games of the season.

However, this year, Mancini is forced to choose between either Jack Rodwell, Javi Garcia or Gareth Barry. Rodwell and Garcia are both new signings and inevitably need time to settle in Manchester. For one, Garcia is a more creative deep-lying player and cannot be expected to fulfil the destructive defensive duties that De Jong carried out with such distinction while Rodwell, arguably the Dutchman’s more direct replacement, remains callow and has struggled at times, particularly with his passing. De Jong may not have been the most incisive or flashiest user of the ball but his simple passing was undoubtedly effective to City’s control of matches, as proved by his record of being statistically the most successful passer of the ball in the 2010-11 season.

The problem is that De Jong’s role, that of the holding midfield destroyer has gone completely out of fashion. Led by the Spanish national team and Italy’s Andrea Pirlo, the role of the “defensive” midfielder has been subverted and is now creative, rather than destructive. Of course, defensive discipline is key, but the “defending” is done by retaining possession and clever usage of the ball, rather than hustling and tackling and as successful as De Jong’s pass completion may be, forward passes are not really part of his repertoire.

Perhaps that is what led to Mancini choosing to keep Barry, for the England international not only takes up a defensive role but importantly, is seen to be a progressive and forward-passer of the ball. However, the 31-year-old has only just recovered from the injury that ruled out of both Euro 2012 and City’s pre-season campaign and has looked ponderous to say the least in his performances for the club since his return. Indeed, even his normally sure-fire passing appears to have regressed and if Mesut Ozil had Barry looking as if he was running through quick-sand at the 2010 World Cup, then one can hardly expect a Gareth Barry that is two years older and recovering from a serious injury to be any quicker. At this stage, there appears to be no suggestion that Mancini made the right choice at all in keeping Barry over a four years younger De Jong.

Selling De Jong might eventually be the right move to City, particularly if Rodwell and Javi Garcia overcome their early wobbles. However, in the short-term, City need to make up the ground in both the Premier League and the Champions League and it is certainly not a stretch to say that if De Jong still remained at the club, the realities may not quite be as stark as they are now.

Adam Mazrani