Category Archives: Up in the stands

Hodgson left to deal with the difficult basics of a very complicated case

 

On Sunday, football again utilised its power to be a relentless provider of headlines; if the highly emotive game between Liverpool and Manchester United or the enthralling battle between Manchester City and Arsenal were not enough to stew over in the evening down-time before most reverted to the weekly grind, John Terry, as if he couldn’t bear to be marginalised by the day’s events, threw his own name into the desperate competition for space of Monday’s back-pages with a decision to retire from international football.

The timing of his surprising self-abdication from a squad he has been an integral part of for just under a decade was significant, it came on the eve of an FA hearing into his racial dispute with Anton Ferdinand that occurred in October of last year. Terry, firmly adamant in his belief of innocence that was shared to a degree by the courts in the summer who decided there was insufficient evidence to prove Ferdinand’s accusations true, voiced his concern that his representation of the authority that was just about to try him was now untenable and chose to withdraw his hat from the England ring.

Of course, there are many more qualified than this spectator to comment on the Terry case; lawyers have trawled through the evidence and accusations to much interest over the summer only to discharge the centre-half from his court trial, but now the FA want to see if their own investigation into the matter can yield enough information to punish their former captain on the grounds of racism. This has brought a simple dilemma for Terry; how can he, if found guilty this week, continue to play for an organisation that has marred him for discriminatory language? It is a question Terry has answered with haste to absolve the early days of the Roy Hodgson era from dealing with a man whose nature for the contentious has been a dividing issue, even a job-ending issue, for those who have preceded the new manager of the national team.

Hodgson, in a way, should count himself lucky that he will not have to deal with a man who was at the centre of the main points of Fabio Capello’s stint in charge of England; from his withdrawal of captain for his extra-marital affairs with a team-mate’s girlfriend, to his re-instatement of the armband, to his once again withdrawal that spelled the end of the uncompromising Italian. Hodgson will not have to deal with the politics or the sensitivity the Chelsea man entails to the extent he has often threatened to trivialise a once highly-esteemed position in English football. Here was man with a list of misdemeanours as long as the Wembley arch that was, until his exchange with Ferdinand tipped his measure of judgement beyond that of assault, drunkenly mocking the 9/11 terrorist attacks or taking £10,000 bribes to show people round his Chelsea training ground, a successor of Bobby Moore, a figurehead of the respect and dignity the English game strives to be based upon.

The remit of the England manager is far simpler than to deal with the controversies or nuances that Terry will bring to the party, but to replace his previously untouchable position at the heart of the England defence. Yet, simple is perhaps not the verb to use, for Terry remains, for all his failings, a very useful centre-half and with the lack of alternatives available to Hodgson, his legacy, rather aptly, has been to leave the manager with one final problem.

Phil Jagielka and Joleon Lescott were the central-defensive partnership that started England’s last game, the limp 1-1 draw with Ukraine, but it was Lescott’s error that led to Konoplyianka’s opener and the Manchester City man has subsequently struggled for form, or even selection, in his club side. Gary Cahill has had a decent opening to the season for Chelsea but there remains a slight concern over his ability against the very best after Athletico Madrid’s Falcao put the Blues’ back four to the sword in the European Super Cup.

Perhaps most frustrating of all for Hodgson is that Rio Ferdinand has, judging by his excellent performance at Anfield on Sunday, returned to top form and fitness but remains in international exile following his bizarre exclusion from the Euro 2012 squad that cynics believe was related to his implication, being Anton Ferdinand’s brother, in the Terry affair that the FA are now looking at. Michael Dawson has not yet played a minute of first team football for Spurs while Steven Caulker, so bright in his loan spell at Swansea last term, has only very recently broken into Andre Villas-Boas’ team. Ryan Shawcross, still tarred somewhat by his involvement in the horrid leg-breaking challenge on Aaron Ramsey, has been in imperious form so far this season for Stoke, but again there remain doubts over his ability at the very highest level. Underneath those, there is a very limited pool of talent, a hindrance Hodgson himself bemoaned when watching prospective England players at the weekend.

John Terry, at the age of 31, remains a superbly resilient centre-half, indicated by Chelsea’s refusal to leave him out of this weekend’s trip to Arsenal regardless of his lack of training due to his trial at Wembley. It will be incredibly difficult, for Hodgson to replace a man that has been so often devoted and committed to the England cause on the pitch if not on it and to discover a defender so vocal as Terry will be one of Hodgson’s toughest assignments in the coming months. However, the manager will be thankful, when he looks back at the sensitivity and controversy the defender has caused those who have gone before him, his task to replace him is the only Terry-related problem he will have to deal with.

 

Paladini could spell more trouble for Birmingham

After transfer embargos, numerous delays in the publication of club finances, the President being arrested for money laundering, Birmingham City would be forgiven for the avoidance of the constant of the field unsettlement the club has persisted to attract in recent years. However, with Peter Pannu, the acting chairman at St Andrews whilst president Carson Yeung remains incarcerated in the far east ahead of a November hearing for financially-related crimes, looking for outside investment, the Blues’ soap opera mybe about to take another twist in its far-fetched plot-lines.

Gianni Paladini is the man at the head of a consortium primed to invest in the Championship club that on the field, has remarkably remained pretty stable despite numerous sanctions which failed to stop Chris Hughton guiding them to last season’s play-offs, a Carling Cup was even won by Alex McLeish the year before, it has been a kind of internal paradox to the external madness that exists in the exotic boardroom of Birmingham International Holdings.

Now the time has come, as decided by Pannu, for outside investment and when that is being predicted to be supplied by Paladini, you start to worry. A quick check through the Italian’s past history in English football will flag up allegations of blackmail and payments to friends and businessman associated with Paladini, with his position as chairman at QPR being used as a vehicle to line the pockets of agents and array of associates to the tune of amounts that the club could barely afford.

In admitting his interest in becoming involved with Birmingham (his consortium have already had a £12 million bid rejected), Paladini claimed he did a good job at QPR and one would tend to agree when it is considered the man from Naples first helped Rangers rise from administration and oversaw their rise from League One up to the Premier League. But it wasn’t achieved with settled calm, since Ian Holloway was ousted following a series of bust-ups with Paladini in 2006, the Loftus Road club tore its way through 13 managers under the stewardship of Paladini which came to an end in 2011 when Tony Fernandes took control and demoted the Italian to a consultancy role.

In setting out his stall for his proposed acquisition of Birmingham, Paladini also had to deny the involvement of close friend Flavio Briatore in his consortium, the Formula 1 mogul who played such a prevolent role, together with Bernie Ecclestone, in the 2008 takeover of billionaire Lakshmi Mittal. The turbulence that this boardroom, in situ at Loftus Road for three years, was that remarkable that it was seen fit to be documented in the BBC’s The Four Year Plan film in which Rangers’ rise to the Premier League was given a detailed expose through the volatile practice involved despite the eventual success on the pitch.

Paladini took Fernandes’ consultancy role for three months before moving on to now show an interest in getting back to the football boardroom in the form of an uncertain Birmingham City. Paladini will use his long-term chairmanship at QPR as justification for another crack at the whole football promotion project that provided the natural observer with so much entertainment at Loftus Road, however, it remains to be seen that with Birmingham currently on the roller-coaster of football’s rocky ground, whether they can withstand the madness Paladini will inevitably bring.

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Welsh work undone by Coleman (Video)

You could evoke the memory of Gary Speed on 6 different occasions in Nova Sad on Tuesday night as on a night where all home nations saw a stalling reversion back to the reality at hand in qualifying for Brazil in two year’s time, it was Wales’ result in Group A that stood out as the most startlingly significant for the observer, whilst those connected with the post-Gary Speed era begin to murmur the prospect of a change in manager in haste.

As sad and tragic the passing of Speed might be, it is rather insensitive to bring the name of a family man into a discussion of the Coleman era that should stand alone, but the new manager will struggle to escape the shadow of the man who generated such optimism ahead of the campaign for Brazil should his results continue in the vein of their first two in Group A, where the Dragons have shipped eight goals and scored just one.

Serbia’s Eagles were ranked just three places above Coleman’s men in FIFA’s much maligned ranking system, yet it was after Speed’s first competitive match, a 2-0 defeat at home to England in Cardiff, where they slipped to their lowest ever ranking of 117th. A quick-fire improvement, where Wales impressed at Wembley in slipping to a 1-0 defeat to England in the reverse fixture, before beating Montenegro, Bulgaria and Switzerland saw them rise rapidly to 41st. A 4-1 hammering of Norway in a friendly ramped up the feel-good factor to previously unseen levels in a Welsh team driven by the vibrancy of Aaron Ramsey, Gareth Bale and Joe Allen, plus the experienced head of Craig Bellamy. 

Bale, Ramsey and Allen were also present on Tuesday night but were seemingly lacking any kind of guidance or motivation that was evident in the previous era. Bale showed his quality hasn’t declined with a decent display coloured by a superb free-kick which gave the visiting fans breif hope at 2-1 down, but Filip Djuricic, Dusan Tadic, Branislav Ivanovic and Miralem Sulejmani quickly restored the punishment to an awful defensive display Coleman himself condemned as “criminal”.

The 4-1 demolition of Norway was Gary Speed’s final game in charge of Wales and it now seems so far away for supporters of the small nation who were realistically dreaming of making the finals of a major tournament for the first time in 54 years. It looks as though, already, another two years will have to be added on to that wait as Coleman’s side lie rock bottom of Group A after two games with a goal-difference of -8. 

Speed himself experienced teething problems as he came to grips with the job, but Coleman would be intelligent enough to show a reluctance to being judged against a man whose time has tragically passed. However, he must also be canny enough to be aware that five straight defeats against Costa Rica, Mexico, Bosnia, Belgium and the horrid night in Serbia, all achieved with a side that was on a crest of an optimistic wave, will not stand him in good stead if he is to be judged on his achievements alone.

 

Steve Evans can’t shake his “bad man” tag (Video)

As football’s ugly side, in this case the pathetic brawl between Crawley and Bradford at Valley Parade back in March, still has ratifications for those who were involved, it is Rotherham manager Steve Evans who has again been hit with punishment to plunge his reputation further into the low embers of footballing disrespect.

Evans, then manager of Crawley, will serve a 6 game stadium ban at new club Rotherham after being found guilty on a charge of indecent behaviour on that night which saw a plethora of punishments handed out for those involved in ugly scenes.

This, on top of previous misdemeanours including tax evasion and an investigation into financial irregularities from which he picked up an £8,000 fine. This murky record, which is coloured further by a long line of touch-line fines his volatile nature has picked up, paints Evans as, to understate, not the nicest of characters.

It remains strange then, to a degree, that Rotherham United, a club self-proclaimed as progressive, with a new stadium and bold aims for promotion after narrowly missing out on promotion from League Two last year, would find Evans employable. Yes, the Scotsman has proved his worth on the pitch by promoting Crawley to the Football League and played a significant part in gaining a successive elevation to League One, but the bad headlines the man seems to attract are enough to be a significant compromise for such success.

Rotherham have not started the season well either, with just seven points racked up from 5 games and a 6-2 defeat away at Port Vale occurring two days before Evans discovered his fate in front of a court over March’s disgrace. After a match which the Millers’ hierarchy described as a “reality check”, they will now be without their manager’s touch-line presence for the next 6 games as the ban comes into effect with immediate effect.

Evans would justify his departure from Crawley to the newly built New York Stadium on the premise that the huge finances available to him at the Red Devils, another reason for the masses of lower league contempt aimed towards Evans’ character, had began to dry up whilst Rotherham, boosted by the sale of Adam Le Fondre, began to prepare for an assault on promotion.

Why they decided to opt for Evans and his long line of idiocy and in some cases, criminal activity, to guide them to it is a question that continues to become even more difficult to answer, with every charge the manager recieves. 

Thrashings expose UEFA’s EURO folly

England begin the true journey to Brazil 2014 at Wembley tonight against Oleg Blokhin’s Ukraine side not too dissimilar to the opposition faced in Donetsk in the third match of Group D in Euro 2012. That match, shaded by Wayne Rooney’s goal against a host-dominated run of play in which 16 shots peppered the England goal and also forced a contentiously disallowed goal, shoud be a more reliable barometer into the standard of England should face tonight, a marked step up in quality from the demolition of Moldova last Friday.

Roy Hodgson has stuck by the blueprint for the future by drafting in the likes of uncapped Raheem Sterling and Adam Lallana for some vital experience, but there is also a clear feeling that in blooding such youth during a period of heavy transition where valid replacements for the still vital experience of Ashley Cole, Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard are being searched for as they approach the end of their cycle, Hodgson will have Euro2016 in his thinking as much as Brazil, which may be too early for any true shot at long-awaited glory.

But it is those Euros in France, four years from now, that will benefit the likes of Moldova as much as England as sadly, UEFA have decided to swell the numbers of qualifiers from 16 to 24 with this year’s tournament director Martin Kallen and supporter of the expansion, using the likes of Lithuania, Montenegro, Slovenia and Scotland to give strength to his argument, seemingly unaware of a qualifying process which can cause the likes of Lithuania to win just one in eight. 

England have Montenegro in World Cup group H this time around, a country that never one a match away from home in qualifying for Poland/ Ukraine, as well as San Marino, a team that has never won a single match in qualifying competition and Moldova of course, who were so drastically wretched in Chisnau last Friday. Yet, as Kallen holds the door “open” for many great teams who weren’t at the showpiece of this summer like Bulgaria, who failed to win, or evn score, at home during their last qualifying process, there will be a hope for those minnows that they could sneak in.

And UEFA would be blind of course, to the noticeable drop in standard that would be caused by repeats of Republic Of Ireland’s showing of this summer; played 3, lost 3, as more money would facilitate any amount of average footballers permitted to play on the highest level. Moldova probably won’t stand a chance even with a wider capture zone for qualification such was the woeful standard of their performance against what was a weakened England team in Chisnau, yet, like England, they will be waiting for Euro 2016 for what would be a proper crack at success, in their case, mere qualification. If Romania, winner of just 3 matches in their Euro 2012 qualification group are seen as a “great” team deserving of its place at the top level, then surely Moldova will fancy a crack at that too.

 

 

 

Di Canio blocks his own route to the top (Video)

It should be of no surprise that Swindon Town’s hot-headed manager Paolo Di Canio has been in the headlines this week, the Italian courting controversy and talking-point like no other in the usually humdrum world of League One.

It can be said that lower league domestic football has rarely encountered a manager as confrontational as Di Canio, his year and a bit at the County Ground being ultimately succesful but unfortunately, and rather predictably from the openly-named fascist, littered with a series of misdemeanours that will eventually block off the fledgling manager’s natural route to the top.

His touchline spat with player Leon Clarke, accusations of racism from loanee Jonathon Tehoue and the odd dugout ban have all preceded this season’s whirlwind that has demoted Swindon’s decent opening season form in League One. Paul Caddis, Swindon’s highly rated right-back, managed to give an insight into the Italian’s short fuse that seemed to be operating shorter than normal in his second season.

Caddis had the unfortunate honour of falling on his manager’s bad side in pre-season and he was immediately packed off to Birmingham City on loan, but if that was a warning to other players that Di Canio would leave absolutely no margin for poor standards, then it has failed to be heeded.

In the Robin’s fourth game, last Saturday at Preston, Di Canio took exception to 21 year old goalkeeper Wes Foderingham’s concession of the first goal to Akpo Sodje. He was substituted straight away with the first half not even half-way gone and Swindon went on to lose 4-1. The manager was inevitably fuming, taking to the public hemisphere to call Foderingham “the worst professional” he has ever seen, amongst other barbs, as well as asking for an apology from his goalkeeper in exchange for his route back into the team.

The damage was done, Di Canio, the notorious volatile character, had handed another stick for those who target his spiky nature from the stands every week; every news outlet and every newspaper was broadcasting his extraordinary outburst all because of his reluctance to deal with matters in-house. One would be tempted to type “disciplinary” before matters in that sentence, but it would feel a rather bizarre way of describing something so trivial as conceding a simple goal. 

If Clarke and Caddis had given the prelude to case Foderingham, then it would be of no greater evidence of what will eventually hold Di Canio back in his attempts to climb the ladder. A promotion in his debut year as a manager suggests the talent is well in abundance, but the level headedness is not; a reflection of Di Canio as a player in truth, capable of a sublime volley against Wimbleodn for West Ham one minute, capable of pushing referee Paul Alcock down the next. Di Canio is simply too much of a sensitive issue for top level employees who pride the running of their clubs on a settled assurdness.

For a man who is passionately ingrained in politics and aware enough to win the fair play award when back at West Ham, surely the notion would not be lost on him that top level bosses would look to stay clear of such madness and erratic behaviour. Sir Alex Ferguson, Sam Allardyce and even Jose Mourinho have experienced success at the top level despite being controversial men, for they operate on the golden rule that squad disruptions must be sorted out of the view of the public eye. As long as Di Canio persists with the lunacy, then the risk becomes to great for a Premier League or even Championship chairman to lower the rope and elevate the ex-West Ham man back up to the top in a managerial capacity.

Four days after the Foderingham episode, Swindon travelled to rivals Oxford for a Johnstone’s Paint Trophy tie and Di Canio was at it again. In losing 1-0, the manager was not content to just go home and discuss matters in silence, instead he went on record to lay the blame at one of his players’ doors, again. This time, defender Aden Flint took the hit, “we lost because of him” being the words Di Canio used in a line that would deflate any hope that man-management is one of the Italian coach’s strengths.

Supporters at the County Ground may get fortunate in that Di Canio cutting off his own routes of progression may keep him at the Robins for a chance for him to climb the ladder with the League One club, yet with the frequency the manager overhauls his squad, chairman Jeremy Wray may even grow impatient with the constant attraction of headlines to his club and jettison the contentious manager himself.

It is certainly fun to watch is the Di Canio show at Swindon, but it’s cancerous to his ambitions. Whether he is too busy shouting enough to realise that is anybody’s guess.

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Barnet look set to go down sensible route.

For a club that has been through eight managers in the four years since 2008, League Two’s Barnet would not be the most obvious club to use as an example of sensible stewardship and a settled hierarchy, though it looks like chairman Anthony Kleanthous maybe on the way to bringing a calm assurance to the seemingly forever troubled Barnet.

The London club have been entrenched in tier four relegation trouble for each of the past four years ith no league finish above 17th achieved since 2008. This year the outlook looks no different as after four games, the Bees lie rock bottom of the football league with just one point on the board.

This has bought about some feeling amongst the Underhill support that Mark Robson, installed as head coach in the summer following over a decade of involvement in the football league at youth level, is showing signs of not being up to the job. Playing the role of generous Chairman, Kleanthous has backed Robson with a much larger budget than in recent years but the optimism this has generated has been betrayed by a sluggish start and a reversion back to the position that Barnet seem to have reserved as their own.

Yet, in a climate infested by a knee-jerk lunacy characterised by near-immediate sackings of Andy Thorn at Coventry and John Sheridan at Chesterfield so far this season, it is rather refreshing to see Kleanthous re-enforce his stance of support for his manager, embodied by an open letter to Barnet supporters, in the build-up to the opening of the loan transfer market which could well act as the last-chance saloon for the welfare of Barnet’s season. 

For a club that has struggled near the bottom of the league for as long as the memory can go, Robson was always going to need time to imprint his ideas on his new squad regardless of the budget he was supplied with by Kleanthous. In this current culture of immediacy in which football demands a return on results as soon as possible with the manager acting as the expendable asset should they not flow so soon, it would be a pleasant exemption to the rule if Kleanthous honours his word and sticks by his man.

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How Abou Diaby has tightened Arsenal up (Video)

Prospects at Arsenal didn’t look too rosy in the run-up to the new season after the Gunners lost two of their most important players, Robin Van Persie and his 37 goals of last year headed to Manchester United, whilst Alex Song’s midfield creativity headed to Barcelona.

Yet, heading into the first international break after three Premier League games, Arsenal are sitting in a position where it is possible to formulate an argument that those two departures haven’t been missed at all. Van Persie maybe as Arsene Wenger’s team has only managed to score in just one of their trio of games so far, but they have coped with the loss of Song with much more ease due to the emergence of Abou Diaby and a midfield that boasts more tactical organisation.

Wenger’s leaky defence has often proved the downfall of the naïve Arsenal in recent years and in tandem with the work Steve Bould has carried out on the back four, the midfield partnership of Diaby and Spaniard Mikel Arteta have contributed to a surprisingly frugal defensive showing at the beginning of this campaign; three games in and Arsenal are yet to concede a goal.

In arguably their toughest fixture so far, away at Liverpool on Sunday, it is perhaps easiest to gauge the influence Diaby’s re-introduction to the side has had. Given a priority to stick tighter to the defence alongside Arteta, the Frenchman is a more physical force than Alex Song who was often further advanced with his positioning and so therefore, Arteta was not over-run by Liverpool’s midfield runners.

Arsenal’s midfield seems much more linear this time round, Arteta is happy to play the role of deep-lying playmaker with Diaby slotted in alongside as his protection. In front of them, Santi Cazorla is given license to play between the lines and bridge the gap between the Arteta/ Diaby axis to the attack. Because of a reduced need to move forward, Wenger’s reserved midfield duo can afford to stay deep and provide a shield to the defence, cutting off opposition supply lines and avoid getting caught on the break.

Here, in greater detail, is an illustration of Diaby’s influence at Anfield last Sunday.

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